In this interview, Katsina Governor Aminu Bello Masari explains how he dealt with killer herdsmen.
Buhari’s declaration for a second term didn’t come to me as a surprise because I was one of those pressurizing him to contest. When a party comes and inherits from a party that has been in power for 16 years, you expect a little more time to clean up the rot.
We (APC) are a party with a difference because the slogan ‘change’ means changing the way government conducts business and with the mess that was half known before the elections and what the federal government and the other State governments came to learn, it entailed having a vision of bringing the country back to normal.
We had to set the vision and start something, with full actualization of the vision of President Muhammadu Buhari; and APC as a political party required more than 8 years to get all of this done.
And clearly, there’s a pointer, there’s a direction of where we are going and where Muhammadu Buhari is going with the APC. It is now time to really actualize the vision.
So, like I said, Buhari needs the additional four years in order to finish what he has started. APC needs more than 8 years in office to redirect the country because the way we were going in 2015, even those who were at the helm of affairs, with all due respect, didn’t know where they were going.
When we say restoration, we were aware that things were no longer normal in Katsina, especially in the area of education. The quality of civil servants and the quality of education in Katsina used to be one of the best. And that is why if you looked through history, some of the best minds in the federal government came from Katsina.
And it wasn’t through federal character. It was through professionalism. And then throughout the nation, we ranked 33rd in education in 36 States of the federation.
So, for us, it was unacceptable especially for some of us who are products of public schools. No State or individual can develop beyond its level of education. We discovered that Katsina could no longer compete educationally because when you are producing 10 percent of those who got 5 credits (including English and Mathematics) and of this percentage, maybe 7 percent are from private schools.
And maybe of this 7 percent, a chunk may live in Lagos or Abuja. The real people who live in Katsina, cannot account for 3 percent in a population of almost 7 million. So, where are you taking that population? How can that population compete nationally? So, we looked at that and also factored in other components of the health sector.
The public health services were in poor states. Katsina ranks six or seven in terms of what is collected from the federation account because of its population and number of local governments. So, it wasn’t about money. The health sector is worse. If you can give people clean water, you have taken over 50 percent of water borne diseases. I know the conventional water system which we inherited in the State.
There were about 5 of those public water schemes. And even these 5, there were no improvements in terms of capacity or original design capacity. You needed to rehabilitate, change the pumps, you needed to look at the pipelines and you needed to look at the issue of energy because not enough power was coming from the national grid.
In some cases, there had been attempts to sink boreholes in the capital city by creating additional borehole networks. But by the time we came, none of it was working. We had to take it over, render diesel supply so that the semi urban centers around Katsina could benefit as well.
The water supply surrounding Katsina was commissioned in 1970 and upgraded in 1980. You can see that from the local government headquarters to the State capital. You have not addressed the pumps, the pipelines, the reservoir itself, then you have not increased.
By the time we came, the overall performance of the treatment plant in Katisna city was 40 percent because of worn out pumps, leaking pipelines..so many factors. All the machines that were supposed to be aiding treatment of the water were broken down.
What we did as a restoration government was to restore the treatment plants to their original capacity.
The issues are very simple. When we were in the opposition, I could remember some people petitioned EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) and petitioned the House of Assembly and the House of Assembly dismissed the petition. For obvious reasons, the EFCC file didn’t go anywhere with the petition.
Then after the elections, some elders invited us and said we should cooperate for a peaceful handover. And there and then I told them that, look, I have no intention of probing my predecessor because I have no time to probe a party that has been in place for 16 years.
Shema had 8 years. Even his own 8 years, I can spend another 4 years probing and not achieving much in terms of governance. It will be a waste of time, unless the financial mismanagement could become so obvious that nobody could do anything about it.
Well, first, they refused to cooperate. When we said let us set up a joint transition committee, they said no. So, the problem was the local government funds. It’s not about awarding contracts.
We said if you awarded contracts for a building or for a road or for procurement, for anything, so long as it is there, we will not ask how much. We did not.
But what we discovered…the entire money for local governments, what they were doing…you know there is ALGON—Association of Local Government Chairmen. It is not a body incorporated under any State law.
The record from the bank shows us that ALGON was removing from the bank 9.5, 9.5, 9.5. The money was withdrawn by ALGON in cash. That’s local government money. And some of the funds were withdrawn by ministry of local government by the cashier.
So, these are the funds were we said, Ok, since you have taken these funds without any records of spending....ALGON is like any other umbrella association. Can you take government money and give these associations? There’s no rule that says you should do that.
And if you gave them the money, how was it spent? And you know, government created SURE-P. We discovered that throughout, there was not a single purchase order, contract, job order given to use funds from SURE-P. These funds were taken. Cash.
Some of the cash money, we couldn’t trace what they said they had procured.
We couldn’t even say this is what the money was used to purchase. If they even said we had purchased this or that, we needed to see it or we needed to see the beneficiaries.
The issue between us and the previous government is this—we are not probing the contract they gave out either in construction, building or procurement of any equipment. What we are asking is this: the money that was taken from the treasury in cash, where is the money?
There was the SURE-P money, they created offices under religious garb and collected billions. We said, ok, if you say you have given it to people, let us see the records.
So, we didn’t probe the previous government in terms of contracts. We are asking about money that was taken in cash from the treasury. We are asking, where is the money?
That is the issue between us and the previous government. No more, no less. We had our own judicial commission of enquiry. The transition committee came up with a figure of N73billion (as unaccounted for money). The judicial commission of enquiry came up with a figure which they could prove in court. That is N58billion.
We have an office of the Special Adviser for girl child education because we realise that if you give education to especially the girls who will grow up to be mothers, there’s no greater investment because whatever you are in life begins with your mother.
So, equipping the girl child by providing education is top priority for us in Katsina. In fact, all the empowerment we are doing generally, 60 percent goes to women and youth because of the role women play especially in a society like ours where the social services structure isn’t there.
What we have is the family structure and the women are better placed because they manage the household. Like I said, we have a special adviser who is in charge of girl child education, we are working with DFID to support girls by giving token amounts to their fathers and mothers to allow them attend schools.
And we have so far trained over 2,000 women teachers, those in local governments who attend secondary schools, we train them and then we support them to go for NCE. Because we believe that once they are trained, they go back to their localities and teach.
This is what we are doing in terms of education targeted at women, apart from so many interventions which the federal government is carrying out like the school feeding program. We intend to empower the women and the household.
There are several interventions we are carrying out with regards to girl child education because we believe that whatever investment we are making, especially with the international development organisations, are helpful to the education of the girl child.
The relationship between the legislature and the executive is unfortunate, to start with, because as national legislators, whatever problems they are having with the executive arm are considered normal as long as the executive and the legislature are working. Friction between both arms of government is normal in a democracy but not at the expense of the nation.
If you don’t pass the budget, who suffers most? If you don’t clear appointments for people…because the way the matter is being treated as though some of the actions will benefit the president. No! There are for the benefit of the nation.
You could see what the IMF said about the central bank not working…it was until they spoke, from outside, before the senate considered screening of CBN nominees sent by the president. Why should you personalize an official matter?
Because if you are dealing with the nation, you look at the face of the president. That’s what we did when I was Speaker. We looked after the nation, which is why we had agreements on issues. We had disagreements on issues that we felt were more of a personal nature or an ego trip for the president. On those occasions, we went on the side of the people.
Magu should not be an issue. Are you saying if you put Magu on one side and Nigeria on the other, Magu will outweigh Nigeria? Magu is not an issue.
The national assembly or the senate shouldn’t look at Magu in isolation. It’s about the nation and should be about the nation at all times.
When we came in, we had this fight between farmers and cattle herders. A year before we came in, there was this clash where over 140 were killed in two local governments.
At the inception of my administration, every day I was receiving reports of killings. Since the killings happened in border forests and communities—bordering Kaduna, Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara and on the side of Kaduna was Niger. So, we directed those who were directly affected to inform the security outfit under the divisional commander in Kaduna. It was supported by the president who asked the military to cooperate with us.
So, we formed this group under the GOC which we funded for about a year. In Katsina State we created 11 patrol groups consisting of the military, the police, the civil defense, the vigilante and so on and so forth.
We also knew that there is no way we can stop this without hurting people—farmers and herders and the vigilante who are like the armed wing of the farmers.
We were lucky. The leaders of the herders, we were lucky that someone who was elected director of the institute of local government services…through him we were able to establish contact gradually, those who couldn’t reach their local government headquarters for five days, gradually by going into the forest, we started bringing them out.
We discovered to our surprise that 90 percent of those in the forest were being forced to take arms to defend themselves because what was on ground was anybody from the town cannot enter the forest and anybody from the forest will no longer come to town. They will be killed.
So, if you go to the forest, you will be killed. If you are coming to town from the forest, you will be killed. Gradually now, we have restored normalcy. They can come to the town and the other party can go to the forest.
They were a part of the community before, so, why not?
After that, we began dealing with the criminal elements hiding under that for their own benefits.
In the forest, you sell your cow for N20,000, for instance. If you bring it to town you sell it for N100,000. So, those who were benefiting from this lopsided pricing were fueling the crisis. So, we came with so many arrangements that made everyone identifiable.
So, we said, come out, bring out your arms and the cattle you have stolen and we’ll release your people under detention—those who haven’t been tried. Those who have been tried and convicted will not benefit from this.
Once they agreed, we held a ceremony and they surrendered over 350 cows. From that time to now, another 200 have probably been surrendered. In turn, we released some of their confiscated motor-bikes and all those awaiting trial were released.
It’s not about laws. It’s about the people’s willingness to obey the law. Nigeria doesn’t lack laws. What we lack is obeying the law. And if you break the law in this country, it depends on what you have and who you know.
You see, you believe that God is a merciful God. So, if I want to stop you from eating amala, I’d have to bring an alternative. These people have been living there (in Benue, middle belt) for over 100 years. Some of them know nowhere else but Benue and cattle grazing has been their source of livelihood and some of these murderers are not Nigerians. And the government of Benue must have realized that.
Because I cannot be living with you for more than 100 years and you haven’t killed me all those years and you suddenly wake up one day and start killing me. It has never happened! There must be something wrong!
There’s nothing wrong with the principle of anti-grazing law. But since the people exist, they have the cattle and animals, where do you want them to go?
I promise Buhari no less than 70 percent of registered voters.