Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari is governor of Katsina State where President Muhammadu Buhari comes from. In this interview with select journalists, he speaks on the chances of President Buhari getting re-elected, what he (Masari) did in Katsina, and security challenges, among others. Excerpt:
You are the governor of President Buhari’s home state, do you think he deserves re-election and how would you campaign for him?
Luckily enough for me, I can campaign for President Muhammadu Buhari in Katsina and, however small, at the national level. I was Speaker of the House of Representatives from 2003 to 2007. Within that period, I had the opportunity of meeting over 300 House of Representatives members. I visited all their constituencies before the end of our tenure and we maintain cordial and good relationship with most of them.
I can safely say that I have a wider reach in terms of people I know within the political circle and business community. In fact, as Speaker, I had the opportunity of meeting all the first class traditional rulers of this country.
When President Buhari was campaigning under CPC, there was no state we went to that I did not meet people that I knew and people that knew me without me even knowing them, because they were not in the House but might have met me without my remembering them.
And why do you think you deserve a second term in Katsina?
Why not a second term? We came up with a restoration agenda – to restore Katsina State to its lost glory and pride which is education. Even before the coming of the Whiteman, the first Islamic institution that was built in Gobarau was over 1,000 years old, so Katsina was only second to Timbuktu in terms of Islamic education at that time. So, when the colonialists came, they found this level of education in Katsina and found the people very receptive of education, so that’s why there is the first post primary institution in Katsina in the northern part of the country.
If you look at WAEC and NECO results, by 2015 when we came in, Katsina was among the last three in terms of academic performance; so we have lost it. The people of Kaduna cannot compete in federal appointments, business, academics, name it, while in Katsina over 40 years ago, we had a pilot, who was piloting a 747; he was from Daura. I think he died last year. If you go to the members of the armed forces, you could see the array of Katsina people, the same in the judiciary and higher institutions, but this is declining seriously. So, the best we can do is to lay a solid foundation that will recapture the lost glory, especially in the area of education because it is critical.
What exactly did you do that will convince the electorate to give you another chance?
People have accepted what we are doing, that is why they turned up en masse for the flag off of our re-election campaign in Funtua. As a leader, you have to be sincere with your people. Dishonesty partly kills leadership in this country. Leaders don’t have trust, as they tell lies. What we are trying to do is to match our words with action. The time has come for us to answer what we promised the people of Katsina State. We cannot do it in a crowd; we will go to local government by local government. In 2015, I slept in almost all the 34 local governments in Katsina. People have recorded me and they are bound to ask me questions about what I promised.
To be specific, what have we done in education; before we started, we commissioned a committee that visited all the primary and secondary schools in the state, checking the population of students and the qualification of teachers; to know who are teachers and who are not.
We generated a report sponsored by DFID and other donor agencies under the University of Abuja. Luckily enough, one of the research fellows was Professor Salihu from Katsina State. He availed me the complete copy of their assessment. Our state was one of the states they visited and took samples of the quality of teachers. Over 60 per cent of the teachers they tested could not pass the test of the class they were teaching. Primary four teachers could not answer the questions meant for primary four pupils. I tried it myself; I visited a primary school and met a teacher teaching Hausa. We asked the students about the 7 Hausa states and 7 Banza states. They could not answer and he too could not provide the answer.
We looked at the infrastructure levels in the schools and they were discouraging. We did all these surveys and we have the record.
In order to admit 50 students per class, we decided to have additional 13,000 classes in Katsina State across primary and secondary schools, apart from those that were rehabilitated. As for shortage of teachers, we are looking for over 16,000 teachers in all subjects for primary and secondary schools. These figures may be difficult to get at the best of times, because, even if you have the resources, you may lack the manpower because teachers need to be trained. Not everybody is a teacher; you may have the qualifications, but may lack the principles.
We are looking at 58,000 chairs and tables. We have many schools in the state without a single desk or chair. We have to measure how far we have gone. I know we have provided more than 38,000 seats. We have rehabilitated 1,024 schools and built over 726 additional classes for primary schools alone. We deliberately selected girls’ secondary schools in Katsina and renovated eight new classes, built new dormitories, built kitchens and toilets for them, because they were schools where the girls were defecating outside, because all the toilets had collapsed.
We replaced all the teachers who retired. We did a survey in the local government system and removed over 723 graduates and transferred them to the Ministry of Education. We employed 1,950 teachers and we are now replacing on quarterly basis. Even now, we are replacing about 58 retired teachers. Despite the fact that we had recruited over 1,000 teachers for primary education, we were not still getting the figures.
Why did the APC decide to launch its presidential campaign in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State?
It is strategic. If you want to test your popularity, go to where you think you are not popular. People from the South South came from different places to fill the biggest stadium in the country, in a state where we don’t control the government. Those who say that Buhari rented crowd do not know him; he is a man who has not printed a single poster for himself, let alone rent a crowd. Any poster you see of Buhari was provided by somebody, because he normally delivers on any policy. He is still writing cheques by himself.
We learnt something from our past leaders. Malam Aminu Kano never had a box of clothes, until his death, he got the best of everything he wanted. We don’t need anything else in life, except a place to sleep, hospital for the sick and food on the table. Anyone saying that Buhari is pretending should uncover his pretence and tell us where the supposed money is, because others have been to where the money is and their lifestyles also portray them as having stolen money.
Don’t you think leadership is not just about being honest but about redeeming promises?
Like we said, Buhari cannot solve all Nigeria’s problems; but if he can lay a solid foundation, anybody who comes will hopefully not take us back to those dark days.
We are fighting corruption, but corruption is also fighting back in a more vicious way by using some of the media outfits and legal loopholes to exploit and escape. When Buhari was fighting corruption as a military head of state, it was up to you to prove your innocence. Once you are strongly suspected, it is left for you to prove your innocence. But today, it is the other way round, as it is the government proving beyond reasonable doubt that one is corrupt.
Are you not worried with the resurgence of insecurity in the North-east?
As a state (Katsina), I am also a victim because we have spent billions since we came into government…If you can remember, this killing in Zamfara started even before 2010. The forest leads to Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso down to Senegal across the River Niger; so it is not an ordinary forest. It is 100 kilometres if you are crossing from Zamfara before you reach any reasonable distance and another way to the Central African Republic. After the fall of Boko Haram, these people became more energised with arms and ammunitions coming through because of the fall of Libya. The crisis in Mali and Niger Republic helped the Boko Haram.
The people in the forest are stark illiterates both in Islamic and Western education; so their behaviours are exactly like that of the animals they are rearing. Before you know it, a small matter has become something else. We tried to isolate all the herdsmen living in Katsina and we succeeded up to 80 per cent. We had an amnesty programme and they returned over 347 arms, including AK47 rifles, revolvers and some Dane guns, and we are still collecting gradually in pieces of twos and threes.
We were able to restore normalcy as people could not farm when we came in. We have not restored total normalcy because it is a wide area covering nine local government areas and over 200 kilometres; so they can easily infiltrate. If they come under attack, they come in. We have the Nigeria Air Force stationed here. But if you kill one person, another one will come out, because they don’t know the value of life because of lack of education.
There are many allegations going round, especially the involvement of local traditional institutions in villages and towns. They were stealing from non-Fulani in their farms and they are now stealing among themselves. What is worrisome is the spate of kidnapping. They are no longer stealing cows, because if you steal a cow and take it to the market, it may be recovered. But if you kidnap somebody you ask for ransom. It is a serious situation because the area is vast. When you push them out, they spill over to Kaduna or Niger with vast forest.
In Zamfara and parts of Katsina, there are many settlements in the forest and they can easily attack them, steal their food, rape their women and kill them. I recently visited IDPs, who were sacked from their villages. If the story they told us is true, then what is happening in the forest is no longer the issue of cattle rustling. The killing resembles Boko Haram killing in a way, though we have not confirmed what we heard, because it is only Boko Haram that kills for nothing. One IDP said seven of his friends were decapitated and their stomach opened, but we have not confirmed that, though he seemed learned from his language. There is a correlation, otherwise where are they getting their arms and ammunitions? It is a circle.
Those supplying Boko Haram with arms have found another market. If you see the way the military and police are fighting in the forest and the people keep on moving, you wonder if the population in the forest is not being under reported.