Jigawa State Governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, in this interview in Dutse, reviewed the post-Bamanga Tukur era in the Peoples Democratic Party, the issue of the Northerners arrested in Abia State and others. Shola Oyeyipo presents the excerpts:
We were at the Dutse International Airport where the contractors are finishing work on the world class airport, would you to tell Nigerians what led you to build that kind of airport in your state?
Air transportation today is a necessity. When Bill Gate came to Nigeria, he was to come to Jigawa through the issues of polio and all that but because there was no airport he couldn’t come. There are other investors who would want to come here but then the access is not there because of the feeling of insecurity traveling on our roads, even from Kano State. And so the airport is a thing of necessity.
Minus this, the president said he was going to build six zonal airports for some economic purposes and he said he was going to build an airport in Dutse, which is going to transport our perishable goods; vegetables, water melons, mango; they are things that can be exported, even flowers. It is huge potential. We are also into livestock production and therefore it can export the products and so it is going to be a cargo cum commercial airport.
People from the Federal Civil Aviation Authority are there now working on where they are going to put the foundation for the warehouses. So this state has the potential to be the hub of the North in terms of economy, tourism and a number of things. So building an airport has been able to capture that kind of role which is unique and therefore the standard there is supposed to be world class. It is as simple as that!
Has your government borrowed any money to do all what you have done so far?
We have budgets, don’t we? And we spelt what we want to do in the budget. So why would you put what you cannot do in your budget when you don’t have the money? You know your income, isn’t it? But because the budgets are just some academic works – just ceremonies – a kind of ritual; you go to the house, present the budget and by the time you come you leave the book and begin to think of what you will do with the money.
As far as you are concerned the people have no right. You said you are going to build a road, hospital, airport and schools; it is in the budget but by the time the budget is passed you begin to think of what to do for the people because that office is yours therefore the money has no bearing with the budget. But if you have it in your budget why can’t you do it?
So I don’t see any big deal in what we are doing because in the world over, governments are functioning. So what is the big deal – what is there which is so full of wonder when you are simply doing your job?
The last time, you said that the prerequisite for peace in the PDP was that Alhaji Bamanga Tukur must be removed as the PDP chairman and Tukur eventually left. Since you didn’t leave the party with the other G7 governors, I would want to know; are you satisfied with the party now?
All human institutions have their challenges and problems; it is up to us to stay and face these challenges and conquer them. Most institutions where we talk of power and contests there will be interests, some of them altruistic, some very ephemeral and because of these contests between the altruistic and ephemeral, we need to be focused as a country to know what we want for ourselves, apart from our selfish interests.
It is true we have interests, all of us, but then you should look at the larger picture and get your subordinates to see the picture but when we ask the nation to be the subordinate of our ephemeral interests that is the problem. So when we talk of the power contest in our political formation, there is a problem with that but then when he (Tukur) came in and destroyed some of our operations he did some damages to the party, so many damages to be honest. So by the time he left it was almost too late. But then again, it is left to us in the party, to use our political sagacity, our political experience and skills to ensure that we do the right thing by effecting proper reconciliation and make sure that the party is now sticking to its own rules and regulations. The interests are there but the country first, simple!
So when we talk of power control, there will be some problems but it is up to us to be first of all patriotic to grow beyond our personal and ephemeral needs, sentiments and interests and see the picture called Nigeria because you can only become councilor, chairman, governor or president if the country is there for you. And Nigeria is not made for you or anybody and therefore Nigeria cannot be pulled down to encourage personal or anybody’s aspiration. It is the country first!
We must have a country that we can call ours and that is sacrosanct and then from there we can go into our parties; PDP, APC, CPC etc and go and contest. But then personal interest should not tear the country. So there are problems in the PDP. We are not there yet. There are many problems. But it is our ability and our sense of patriotism which must be that strong to make sure that we do the right thing.
You named some streets after the ‘rebel’ PDP governors in the most exclusive part of the state capital, what is the idea behind this?
Nations are built on history, sacrifices and vision and you need to know what was there yesterday before you begin to prepare for tomorrow. The Mallam Aminu Triangle – Mallam Aminu was the founder of our philosophy, our leader who had vision and who had ideals. We should not forget those ideals symbolised in him. So we should celebrate him, and it would help us know what he stood for. Now, G9, when we were fighting Abacha – all of you were celebrating him but we felt no matter how good he was democracy is better than him. He might have been excellent but democracy was better than him.
I rather am a poor man in freedom than rich in slavery. Because the human being no matter what you give him in terms of material fulfillment, if psychologically he feels owned by somebody – he is reduced into an article, into a material and then he loses his human essence. This is very important! And so those who stick their necks under Abacha; nine of us who met in the house of Senator Ela – we thought of what to do to bring democracy to Nigeria because the way Abacha was going it was to bury democracy and we could see him writing the epitaph. So we said “no” and stood up. Now, that should be part of Nigeria’s history. Those who are coming today, whatever they may be today they should know there were people who stood up and made it possible for them to be. Likewise, Mallam Aminu Kano, he also founded NEPU.
Now, when we were trying to (disagree with trends in the PDP) – we deepened the democracy in Nigeria. For us, we should be able to agree with our rules and regulations. If we used democracy to get to where we are we should not let someone stifle it and lock it up. There will be some problems. So when we said Tukur must go – for one and half year, during the time he was chairman of the party he never called a meeting of NEC of the party. And under the constitution of our party we said there must be one NEC at least every three months – quarterly meeting. He never called a meeting. He was taking actions on behalf of the NEC. So we called him to order. Even though the working committee is not part of NEC, he would say it was done by the working committee and not by NEC. He was trying to collapse PDP, an institution which has huge history, which has huge vision for Nigeria and he was acting as if it was a company where he was chief executive.
If you are in ACN, of course you know the managing director/CEO is Tinubu and the followers are just operators or managers of a commercial centre. The operator of CPC is Buhari, but in PDP – PDP is Nigeria’s history and Nigeria’s future where participation by all key players, by religions, by all tribes, by all people is part of the foundation. Someone in Lagos, somebody from Rivers, Enugu and somebody from Jigawa will converge because this is our party; this is how it was formed.
There were so many regulations under the constitution of the party which Bamanga was breaching – there was so much impunity and we said “no”, you can’t do that because this is the party that produced us, after getting there you can’t lock democracy up. So those governors that stood up against that impunity must also be celebrated. It is later on that they left the party but they have all made their contributions. That they left the PDP that is something else but the initial formation, the philosophy, the history and purpose should not be lost. So when someone says I’m seeing Amaechi Street, Baraje Street, Kwankwaso Street, Wamakko Street I say these are the people who saved democracy when it was being locked up in a store by Bamanga Tukur. Later on they might have gone to the APC, which is their own business but the essence cannot be lost. I think it is very important!
Was there any point where you contemplated taking up the vice president position or did anyone discuss with you to take up the position at any point because the newspapers recently carried it that there was a move to make you the next vice president in Nigeria?
That story was planted by one boy called Umar Sanni. And the story was aimed at destroying my reputation and in his folly; he thought he was promoting the vice president. Because he said Obasanjo went there to meet President Jonathan. If you know OBJ you will know he is an extremely proud person. There are some things he would not do. So they said he went to President Jonathan and begged him to put down Namadi and replace me as a condition.
Then the writer who brought in the killer line said Jonathan is a good person saying ‘sorry sir, I can’t do it because Namadi has been a very loyal vice president.’ It presents President Jonathan as a fair person who has a lot of integrity, fair enough and who also understands absolute loyalty. Again, he said we are fighting corruption, if we put Sule Lamido then I will be undermining my fight against corruption because he is still under investigation, so which means destroying me in the process. I’m the most corrupt person – I’m a corrupt father. And these are issues that have not been determined in any law court and they are drawing conclusions that I’m guilty.
Up till now nobody has said this is how much I have stolen. I know Pilot, which a paper is owned by someone from Bayelsa State said I have stolen N40bn. The Director-General SSS literarily shut down the Jigawa State Government for two weeks, picked up some bank managers that they must produce evidence against me because some journalists were showing their skills with some figures; from this account to that account, amidst some figures – tissues of lies which he was showing to the pressmen, so that I could be undermined and be smeared – my children have been caught with so amount of money in their accounts and all that.
So what that guy did was literally to destroy me and to promote his boss as a very loyal person. To me, he (Sambo) is a wonderful vice president. He is very loyal. I have nothing against Namadi. Nothing against him in my life! But you could see how they are using me – to promote his boss by destroying me. That explains what they planted in the papers. And in any case, four days before the story was published I got the story and that one boy brought the story. Obasanjo did not meet Jonathan over anything. He has never met Jonathan over any arrangement about me. Nothing like that happened.
Some of those arrested in Abia State returned to Jigawa today (last week Friday) and some people were at the NYSC camp where they were received. This issue created a kind of misunderstanding in the polity, and at a point it seemed as if the Jigawa State Government and the Abia State Government were sort of exchanging words. What really went wrong and how do you think this issue should have been handled to avoid the kind of unpleasant atmosphere that came out of it?
There is nothing between Jigawa and Abia States because Abia is a state. Abia has no authority to ask anybody out, so it cannot be Abia. Nothing like that! It is the issue of security they were arrested over, remember though, three months earlier, there was an incident in Rivers State where three people were arrested. Because it is an issue of security I don’t have to go out to say I’m seeing Mr. A or Mr. B.
What we did here as a government was to tell the house that you are best suited to pursue this issue as a House of Assembly; go to Rivers State and engage the appropriate authorities to know what is the problem. On my part, I was speaking with the NSA and he was briefing me and I was briefing him about what is happening. So it was followed through the normal channel which is devoid of any particular emotion or sentiment so that we do not aggravate the problem of these people by introducing politics. So it was resolved and they were released.
People were saying they are Jigawa State indigenes, but there were people from Bauchi, Jigawa, Kano and Kaduna who were picked. So when some people were saying Jigawa, immediately I called the NSA. And from here, I call our National Assembly members, I said go to Abuja, you are members of the National Assembly, call your colleagues to look at the issue and from there go to see the Chief of Army Staff, because Hon. Sheu Adamu is the chairman, House Committee on Defense – go there and find out what is the problem because formally we would have handled it politically but we want to take politics out of it. Peoples’ lives were involved and the issue of security too, Boko Haram, so if you handle such issue with emotion – if you introduce politics you may compound their problems. So they went there, they met the Chief of Army Staff, they discussed and he said ‘please give me some time. We are sorry.’ He said there was a report and that after screening them, they would be released and they were released.
But people said I should go and speak and I said how do I as a governor of my people exploit their predicament for political gains? Who do I speak to, the Army or to the newspapers? I got some text messages from some people saying ‘sir, if you do so you would have some political advantage.’ People were saying so but I said ‘no’, it is utterly forbidden. How do I exploit this issue to gain political advantage out of this issue which is very serious? I can’t do that!
The NSA and myself have been talking, the rest of them that are still being held they will be screened further. There is a procedure that must be followed. And I said, today in this country the Minister of Defense is a Northerner, the NSA is a Northerner, the IG is a Northerner, the vice president is a Northerner; can we be more Northern than these people? And therefore, when the issue is about security, we are talking of processes, isn’t it? We must respect their offices and believe in their personal emotions and sentiments and that there is no way they will be there and see that Northerner are persecuted. They wouldn’t do it. So we said no, we should not make anything out of this issue, it is not political. I think as leaders we must be very careful, we shouldn’t try to exploit every situation for political gains and that is why we refused to get into political exploitation of the matter.
What implications do you think the present security challenge is likely to pose to the coming 2015 general election?
I agree there are challenges and they are very worrisome, but somehow, I’m an optimist. I feel that we should be able to overcome these challenges. All of us – Nigerians should be less emotional about issues first, and less political. Let us have what we would identify as a Nigeria that we co-own. It is then that whatever we do will be in stability and in peace. We are not able to unite because of the various divides. Take away sentiments of North, South, Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba. There are Christians there, there are Muslims there. So, let us not fight about the country, once we are able to take it is ours, as a common entity, I think we will be overcoming the problem. Let’s take ownership of it. But today, people are exploiting Nigeria and her difficulties for political advantage.