“Those that divided this country were officials of the government of Jonathan. They were the ones who divided Nigeria along religious and ethnic lines”
Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Bauchi State Governor Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar believes very strongly that his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has an edge over its rival, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 general elections. In this interview, he said the campaigns would provide an opportunity for both President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar to present their scorecards to Nigerians. The governor also spoke on other controversial issues, including APC primaries, saying that Hon Yakubu Dogara is a political lightweight in Bauchi State.
The recent primaries of your party have continued to raise dust- protests, litigations and even some governors complaining to President Muhammadu Buhari. Did you see it coming?
What you have just described is the definition of politics. That is what politics is about. There will be disagreements. But it’s the ability of the political party to surmount those challenges that will now determine whether or not it’s a strong political party. So, disagreements are usual in politics and I’m assuring you that most of these disagreements are being settled as we proceed. If you would recall, five of us went to see Mr. President last week and we discussed some of these issues. We implored Mr. President to wade in and he has done that and we are getting to the bottom of the problems.
The step taken by your party has also robbed it of fielding candidates in some states like Zamfara. The INEC is insisting that it will not accommodate your candidate in that state, what do you make of that?
As a lawyer, I’m quite shy of commenting on that issue because I know that it has been taken to court. I do not want to preempt the decision of the court in respect of that matter. But I’m sure that it will be settled in one way or the other.
The fallout of the primaries have made people to contend that internal democracy is still a huge challenge in APC. Are you in sync with this position? What is also your reaction to those who feel that the seeming less rancorous primaries in PDP means that the opposition party has put its acts together more than your party?
The PDP may appear to have had a better presidential primary, but all the other primaries were overshadowed by the presidential. So, we do not know what transpired in those ones. I agree that we have not reached the point of satisfaction as far as internal democracy is concerned in Nigerian political parties, but it is work in progress. This democracy is about 20 years old now. So, there is still a lot of space for improvement in the internal democracy of our political parties. But I think things are getting better generally.
What is your take on claims that the problem APC is having with its primaries is because the leadership of the party resisted attempts by the governors to impose their lackeys?
I don’t think so. I think actually, the reverse is the case. In the primaries, the entire process was managed by the headquarters of the party. In a lot of cases, the headquarters of the party has taken a stance against one or two governors who are insisting on installing what you called their lackeys. So, I think the reverse is the case. The entire process is owned and managed by the headquarters of the party, not the governors.
But governors are angry with the leadership of the party because they could not have their way in foisting their men as candidates?
I don’t think so. Bauchi, for example, is a good case in point. The NEC of the party sat and took a decision that presidential primaries should be direct. But for all other primaries, the State Executive Committees of the party should sit and determine for themselves, considering the peculiarities of their state, what mode they will utilize for their primaries. The State Executive Committee of Bauchi State of the APC met while I was in China with Mr President. They decided they wanted indirect primaries. But the headquarters of the party changed indirect to direct. So, I’m one of those governors that the policy affected. I’ve undergone direct primaries. In fact, it was done twice. It was done on a Friday before the committee set up by the headquarters came because people came out, they waited and, therefore, decided to count themselves. On Saturday when the committee of the party came, the primary was conducted again by direct method. So, if there is any governor that should be annoyed with the headquarters of the party, I should be one of them. But I am not. I’m happy with what transpired. As for me, what has taken place is like a mock election.
Maybe some governors who are not happy are in such emotional state because they could not have their way?
I wouldn’t know that, but I have given you a clear example of myself. In line with the decision of the NEC, the State Executive Committee chose indirect primaries. The headquarters of the party in its wisdom changed it to direct. We acceded as committed, loyal party members and we went ahead with the primaries and we are happy.
The emergence of Atiku has raised a whole lot of momentum and almost drowning your own presidential candidate. What do you make of that?
As we said when we addressed the press after our meeting with Mr President, the next set of elections are going to be run on issues. Everybody will bring out his scorecard. We thank God Atiku was at one time the Vice President of Nigeria and in fact between 1999 and 2003, everybody knew he was the de-facto President of Nigeria because Obasanjo allowed him a free reign of the government and of the party. So, Atiku must have his own scorecard to show and Mr President has his own scorecard to show. I want Nigerians to judge them based on achievements of the two candidates. There are so many things that Mr President has silently achieved. One, he took us out of recession within a period of less than two years. There are countries of the world, in fact, countries in Europe that have gone into recession and for over 10 years now, they have not been able to come out. Greece is one example of such a country. But in our own case, in less than two years, we came out of recession. Things are not rosy, but we are making slow progress. The exchange rate of the naira to the dollar is being stabilized by the day and projects that have for long been abandoned have been revived. You go to the Eastern part of Nigeria, there are major projects that may have been abandoned and hope was lost, like the Enugu/Port Harcourt Expressway, the Enugu/Onitsha Expressway, all those were abandoned for a very long time and suddenly, they have been revived and they are being done. In railway, a lot has been achieved. The otherwise abandoned projects are now seeing the light of the day. Everyday, we are commissioning projects. So, we are going to run the campaigns on issues.
How about the recent verdict by the World Bank that the Nigerian economy is not doing well and the caution by CBN that the country may slip into recession again. Are these not contradictory to your claims?
It is not a contradiction. At a point, we were in actual recession, but we came out of it. Yes, growth is slow, but that is expected in a recession. Let us not lose sight of the fact that it was not this government that pushed Nigeria into recession. If you recall, as far back as 2013, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala warned Nigerians that the economy was going into recession because of the way the economy was being handled by the government of the day and she was part and parcel of that government. I don’t know why Nigerians have suddenly forgotten about that. So, something that has taken 16 years to do, Nigerians are expecting magic that within three years or four years, we should be able to undo what has been done in 16 years. That is not fair. So, a lot has to be done and every hand must be on deck for us to be able to achieve this.
Apart from the poor state of the economy some have accused the APC government of dividing the nation more than any other government. Are you concerned about such accusation?
That is not true. Those that divided this country were officials of the government of (Goodluck) Jonathan towards the election of 2015. They were the ones who divided Nigeria along religious and ethnic lines and you expect a government that has come on for three and half years to be able to reverse this. I’m not saying that there are no problems, there are problems. Some of the problems are new. But the bulk of the problems were inherited and it’s not this government that has divided Nigeria.
Would you say in fairness that in terms of the way government has gone about things like appointment, siting of projects, it has been fair to every section of the country?
Are you saying that the Enugu/Port Harcourt Expressway is not being done? Are you telling me that the Enugu/Onitsha Expressway is not being done? I have followed it recently during the Anambra governorship election. I have seen it myself. It is being done under SUKUK. Some people were even saying that Buhari was using SUKUK to islamise Nigeria. I have read somebody from the East who said that if what they are doing now, building that road between Enugu and Port Harcourt is islamising Nigeria, then Buhari should go ahead and islamise Nigeria. The fact is that these things are being done. I am from the Northeastern part of Nigeria. I cannot give you the same example of the many roads that are going on in the Southeast that are going on in the Northeast. They are not, but we are not complaining. Even appointments, I read in the social media somebody giving account of the appointments that were done during Obasanjo’s time and during Jonathan’s time and the places where those people came from. It is not as bad as during Jonathan’s time. So, let us face it. Nigeria can never progress if when we are commenting on issues, we take sides based on either religion or ethnicity. It will not help us at all.
You have faced huge opposition in your state . The hazy political situation in Bauchi resulted to the Speaker House of Representatives dumping the APC. Why were key political leaders uncomfortable with you? Would you say it was a gang up?
Of course, it was a gang up, but we have been able to surmount this gang up and things are getting clearer. When we started, only three members of the House of Representatives were with me. But today, nine members of the House of Representatives out of 12 are with me. So, we have waltzed through the storm. The truth, no matter how much you suppress it, will one day come out. The truth has come out in respect of the Speaker. His heart has never been in the APC. That is the truth of the matter because you wouldn’t know the efforts that were made to resolve some of these things. Even towards the time he decided to move to the PDP, several efforts were made at a very high quarters. I called and I had given my word that I was prepared to look at the big picture and be accommodative. But the man refused towards the end. When we had our Senatorial bye-election that would have been the greatest opportunity for coming together, he was asked to come together with the governor so that we will succeed in delivering, but he switched off his phone. He was not taking phone calls from high-ranking members of this government who were trying to broker peace in Bauchi State because his mind was made up.
Dogara left PDP in 2014 and helped in forming APC, why would he lose interest in the party, on the platform of which he is where he is?
The answer lies in the number of those people who helped in building APC that have gone back into the PDP – Saraki, Kwankwaso, Tambuwal, they are all in the PDP today. Look at the antecedents of the Speaker, even his speakership was made possible by the PDP. You knew what transpired during the days when they were running for these offices. It was the PDP that assisted him in becoming Speaker.
There were claims that you worked against his emergence as Speaker because of his religion. How true is this?
Many reasons were adduced, but not religion. If it were to be based on religion, he can never be even a Senator in Bauchi State, talkless a governor. There is nothing like religion in it at all. If you recall very vividly, the APC chose a candidate for Speakership. I’m a loyal party member and I took the line of the party. That was all. But if I should prefer anybody out of the 12 members of the House of Representatives to be Speaker, it will be Dogara because Dogara wouldn’t have constituted any problem to me. He wouldn’t have aspired to be governor of the state. So, take religion out of it. It has never played a part. My government is one government that has an SA, Christian Affairs. It has never been done because I want to cement the relationship. The Christian votes counted in my becoming governor of Bauchi State, no matter how little.
Some key politicians in the state accused you of arrogance, selfishness and not wanting to work with other political leaders in the state. Are you aware of this allegation?
Who are the key politicians? If you can name them, I will give you my reasons. This is the general thing that people come to Abuja and say. Don’t forget that politics is local, the politics is played in Bauchi State. Let me give you a reason for the insistence of the headquarters of the party that we should have direct primaries. Some people came to Abuja and told them that because the government is not popular, if we do direct primaries, he is going to lose. Direct primaries have been conducted. The result is that 85,000 ballot papers were taken. Out of the 85,000, 75,000 voted for me. People stayed in the headquarters of the wards until 3:00 a.m. to vote. So, the issue of people saying I refused to work with some elements, there are always Abuja politicians who will come to you, you journalists will report them saying they are the Alphas and Omegas in Bauchi State. But when it comes to the time for doing politics. The same people will know that politics is local, they find it difficult going back to their constituencies and communities. I contested with three other people, none of them was seen at their own units to vote. It was televised. A large crowd was at my unit. They even escorted me on foot back to the government house.
Would you say you have absolute control of Bauchi political structure, including Dogara’s Southern Senatorial District?
No human being can have total control. Politics is a human phenomenon and every human phenomenon, therefore, cannot be perfect. But all I know is that the APC chapter in Bauchi State is intact and it’s running its affairs without let or hindrance and come 2019, we will deliver as we have always done.
Are you saying that Dogara doesn’t have a place in Bauchi politics?
Dogara is not a factor. Politics is a game of number. Dogara in 2015 represented a total 70,000 registered voters, not people who came out to vote. The total registered voters of Tafa Balewa was 70,000. I can’t give you the figure now because continuous voters registration has been done. I don’t know the current figure of voters. But even then, I don’t think it’s going to be anything more than 100,000, even if there is a huge increase in that number. In 2015, I won election with a difference of 393,000. You can do your arithmetic. Take away the 70,000. Assuming everybody came out to vote in that area and they have not voted for me, you can give your own answer yourself. So, that is the truth about the politics of Bauchi State. In the Bauchi South bye-election, Dogara worked against the party. We lost only in his Local Government by 2,600 votes. We won the other six local governments, including the two local governments in his constituency, which are bigger than his own local government, Tafawa Balewa. So, that answers your question. It’s a game of number and that’s how politics operates. The results are what count. I believe the handwriting is on the wall.
Bauchi has been struggling with governance issue, with your predecessor being accused of not always being in the state to govern. Would you say that your government has filled that void in terms of your achievements?
My answer is find time as journalist to do some investigations. Come to Bauchi. I will organize for you to go and see it for yourselves. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet. I have done this with many reporters that have visited. I took them on a three-day tour of Bauchi State and the projects we have done. I wanted them to compare it with the 16 years of PDP. At that time, I was not yet three years in office.
Can you pinpoint the things you have done in the last three years to merit a second term?
When we took over, education was in complete tatters. The percentage of success in the two major examinations of WAEC and NECO was 3.5 per cent. By 2016, we were able to raise it to 17.6. By 2017 last year, we were able to raise it to 27.8. This is a rare achievement. I have either constructed or renovated 1,700 schools all over Bauchi and they are there. Wherever you go, every nook and cranny, when you see cream coloured building with blue roof, that is my project and you will see them in every nook and cranny. It’s part of the achievements in education because the learning environment is very important. But it’s just a very tiny factor whether or not you succeed in education. What determines success in education is what I have told you – raising the percentage of success from 3.5 per cent in 2015 to 27.8 per cent in 2017. When we took over, health was also in doldrums. We started by first and foremost surpassing the Abuja declaration of calling on states to vote at least 15 per cent of their budget to health. I have consistently been voting 16 or above to health and I have been trying to revive that sector. I have constructed 19 brand new healthcare centres, fully equipped with staff quarters and water supply. Some of them, where ambulances are not available in the secondary institutions, we have even provided ambulances. In the realm of infrastructure, I started by rolling out the construction of 400 kilometers of roads all over the state, including the headquarters of the state where we are dualising all the entrances into Bauchi to modernize the city. We are doing same in Azare, the second largest town in the state and we are doing the same in the Misau the third largest town. We have not left it at the urban areas only. We are constructing rural roads in nine out of the 20 local government headquarters for the time being, more than nine because some of them connect two local governments in the state. We are succeeding a great deal in that. But most importantly, in the area of empowerment of particularly the youth and women, we have a large population of unemployed youths, some of them educated, some of them half educated, some of them not educated at all that we have to attend to. So, we have evolved a system of teaching them skills and then starting them off. We have an outfit called Basiwo. Basiwo takes care of the empowerment of youth and we have succeeded a great deal in doing that. So, the people of the state are happy. One of my policies is that I hate the phenomenon of uncompleted or abandoned projects. What I’m doing is that I am completing projects that were started by the past government because the argument is it is people’s money that have been used in starting these projects. So, you cannot wish them away, especially housing estates. I inherited four uncompleted housing estates. I have completed one that I named after a later Deputy Governor of Bauchi State, Dr Shehu Wunti Estate on the way to Maiduguri. I have entered into tripartite discussion with the Mortgage Bank and the developers of these other estates. They came in to do PPP with the former governors. They sank their money. They took loans from Federal Mortgage Bank and started off these projects. The government of the state did not perform its own part of the bargain. They abandoned them halfway. So, I said we cannot have that because if you leave those estates the way they are, they will turn into dens of criminals. So, we have reached an agreement with the Federal Mortgage Bank and the developers to continue and complete these projects and then government will now allocate them to civil servants and deduct the money from the salaries of civil servants.
Are you worried by insinuation that the over 14 million votes your party said President Muhammadu Buhari polled in the direct primaries is cooked up and is part of the strategies by APC to rig next year’s election?
That is a very simplistic reasoning because with the advent of the card reader, how do you now go out and say 14 or 15 million people have come out to vote for Mr President? The votes from my state were reduced a great deal. From 2003, Buhari has been defeating even sitting presidents. Sitting presidents were not even getting 25 per cent in Bauchi State. Obasanjo did not get. Yar’Adua did not get. Jonathan did not get. So, the issue of the number that voted for Mr President in the direct primaries, there is no way you can take that number and just supplant it on election day and claim that you have won it because people have to go out there and vote. The good thing about what we did during the direct primaries for Mr President, we insisted not only on the registration cards of the members, but also on the PVC. There must be your APC card, as well as PVC before participating in that. So, it was like a mock election for many of us and I assure you that the numbers will come out.
How do you feel about the continuous reference of the victory by APC in Osun election as dubious by some people?
I don’t understand some people’s argument. There was a makeup election in some units and the APC was now able to enter into an understanding with some strong people in the areas. For example, Omisore has never lost election around Ife area. In every election he participated, he won. So, what is strange about Omisore coming over and APC winning that?
Some senior lawyers have faulted the recent travel ban slammed on some Nigerians by the Federal Government. As a lawyer what is your take on that?
From the point of view of a lawyer, I disagree with Femi Falana because what transpired was this order was issued and then the National Assembly countered. The government went to court and the court said that the order was constitutional. So, until an appeal court says otherwise, the subsisting judgment is that of the Federal High Court, which has stated that the order is constitutional. So, for any lawyer to come and say it’s unconstitutional is unfair.
The judge said the execution of the order must be in line with the constitution…
(Cut in) To issue it is constitutional. The execution must also be in line with the constitution. That was what the court said. It did not say that the issuance of the order was unconstitutional. If it has said that, that would have been it. But it said that the order itself is constitutional and then cautioned that when you are executing it, you must do it in line with the provisions of the constitution. So, I think the government was acting in its right to issue that order. Anybody who feels strongly about that can challenge it in court. That is the way of democracy and constitutionalism. Of course, you know lawyers will always make comments and for every problem that you take to court, there will be many opinions, depending on which lawyer you are talking about. The most important thing is the judgment of the court. If the judgment said the order is constitutional, that is what is obtained till a higher court now says no, that is my take.
What are the things you feel APC leadership must be doing between now and the election to avoid a defeat?
Reconciliation, reconciliation and reconciliation. Then we must organize the campaign structure of Mr President and the governors must be inclusive.
Can you with confidence say that your programmes and policies have made Bauchi better?
When we came on board, we determined for ourselves three broad areas of comparative advantage. One agriculture; two, solid minerals; three, tourism; and we have been pursuing development in these broad areas.