Weeks after surviving an impeachment plot by the state House of Assembly, Governor Tanko Almakura spoke with George Okoh on the issues behind his ordeal. Excerpts:
You have just survived an impeachment by the state House of Assembly. What was your experience during the Saga?
In the process of this Saga and after, I have refused the temptation to grant any interview because as far I am concerned, the process was ongoing then and in public domain. I did not want to pre-empt anything in the process. As you are aware, it has come and gone so to say but what I can share with you is to say that the people have spoken and as far I am concerned, the issue of impeachment is behind me.
I have put it behind me and I am looking forward to providing the covenant that I promised the people of the state to do. I know I have had a lot of distractions and setbacks as a result of this kind of thing but by the special grace of God and adhering to constitutional provision, this matter has been treated. I have been vindicated and I have been left off the hook to continue to provide what the people want and the kind of leadership they crave for.
Is it true that your challenges are being orchestrated by the political class?
You see when you talk about challenges, that is the second name my government will be better described. Right from the beginning of my aspiration and from inception of my administration, I have inherited these challenges. If I am to regale you with all the crises from the time I made the move to context till now, you will agree that this has really caused us a lot of distraction. You will be amazed by the size of challenges. Some that you will even think are impossible or insurmountable challenges but because of one’s commitment to the project and because of the support from the people of the state to our project, we are being emboldened and encouraged to weather the storm and stand those challenges.
When I came into office and declared to contest for the governorship position, I never had a single councilor or anybody within government that was on my beck and call. I didn’t have the paraphernalia of government that will support the project. Besides, I had a mounting challenge to face in changing a government that was in power when I am in an opposition not only in the state but at the national level.
However, it has come and gone through the people's will and popular votes in a free and fair election. That challenge was vanquished. I came and met a failed state; failed state in the sense that nothing worked. The physical wellbeing of the state was totally decayed. I don’t need to repeat this as I have said it a number of times. No infrastructural input, so the people of Nasarawa were just wondering like animals in the bush because there was no direction. There was no guide to the pace of development; no good road, no good schools, hospital, no power, no water.
People no longer believe in government action because they say one thing and do another. It became a vocation of a few elite who sit around a small table and share the booties. The riches of the state where squandered in the most unscrupulous way and I felt I have a duty as the leader of the state to be accountable to the state and also make people accountable to the state on what they do.
I also made sure every citizen of the state has a sense of participation to the state and the nation. Gone are the days when government or governors were autocratic and oppressed others. I have a different approach because I opted for change. I ensure that every individual whether you are educated or not, an elite or not feel a sense of belonging; feel this government is yours and participating.
And what was the result like?
This has wonderfully worked for us. I have changed the psyche of people and mentality of people particularly as regards ethical orientation of the people to some extent. Even though not completely but the way they have reacted you will see a high level of change. You can see some amount of discipline and self organisation by the people of the state.
When I came as governor, I met a hanging debt of over N40billion and within three years, I have been able to pay all the debt that was incurred by previous administration. That is a challenge we overtook. Now that we are as free as a bird, people of this state now have a relief that all the money that will come to government will not be used for debt payment but will be used to do other things that will enhance the development of the state.
Then there is this avalanche of impeachment. This is not the first time; the last one came dead on arrival. So you can see the distraction. Each time we are making progress, these things come up. These are the challenges we have been facing but with God and the cooperation of the people of the state, we have surmounted these challenges. However, that is not to say we are not expecting some other challenges but with the few months we have left, we shall try and accomplish all we set out to do.
There is a general belief that most of your problems are political. There is the 2015 election; the PDP is accusing your government of corruption. Is your government corrupt?
Well, I think any government that comes with a philosophy or values of accountability should be given the opportunity to prove themselves. When I came, my first proclamation was that there was going to be a change. A change in the way we do things; a change in the way we handle things; in the way we administer or spend government money. So for anybody to think that our government has not done what we promised to do, then it is left for that person or group to prove beyond doubt.
As you have seen some of what they are saying is so frivolous and speculative and I don’t want to be distracted by that but there are indices that one will know where this corruption accusation is coming from. I challenge anybody to bring out an issue that this administration has done that is not in the interest of people that is regarded as corruption or corrupt from when we came in till now. Is it the payment of the N40billion debt incurred by the previous administration that is corruption or is it the payment of minimum wage to every worker in the state including local government workers.
I was one of the first state governors that implemented the minimum wage. No single worker within a month that has not been paid the minimum wage as at when due. That is even with the lean resources available to us. What can you say about the schools, roads, healthcare facilities and markets we are building all over the place? We have elevated the status of public schools to the position of where they are competing side by side with private schools to the extent that parents prefer their children to go to public schools. This is because there are better infrastructure and facilities now in public schools.
This speculative accusation is coming from some members of the assembly and I don’t want to join issues with them but let me give you an example. Who will you call corrupt? As a governor, I receive one million and ninety naira as my salary but each member of the state assembly takes home N4.2 million monthly. I don’t think any government official receives such amount. I stand to be corrected that the salaries of only 24 member of the assembly is over one hundred million every month.
Who is corrupt in this case? Or can you come to terms with a situation where a member of the assembly receives N10 million quarterly as constituency allowance and this money is just paid into his account without accountability and retirement done and because I have four members in the assembly I cannot talk? These salaries and constituency project allowances were approved and paid to the assembly members even before I came. Also because I have very small members in the assembly to stand them, I know it wouldn’t have been the best for me.
I stood quite waiting for when members will see reasons and present resolution in the house to go back to basics but up till now that I am talking to you, Nasarawa State legislators are the highest paid in the country. So what do you call that? This is in addition to so many other things. Come to Lafia and ask who owns all the mansions you are seeing. Well I don’t know? Make your investigation and see who owns these edifices in the name of constituency projects. When we talk about propriety there are certain indices we have to look into to assure ourselves that perhaps the person making the accusation is the culprit.
What again is the problem with people referred to Abuja politicians?
You made an interesting poser when you talk about Abuja politicians who are from Nasarawa State. It is a kind of clique or cartel that short-circuits the state by dropping names and ego. You can see from the recent imbroglio of what happened in the state with the assembly. People kept on dropping names. Somebody will come from Abuja in the name of a federal minister and will be dropping the president’s name to curry support and acceptance of what they do. They try to twist issues and wherever they went wrong, they twist issues by dropping the president’s name or the presidency.
However, I refuse to be pushed into that because as far as I am concerned, opposition is not madness. Yes, I am APC and will remain APC. I have internalised the deeds, value, the philosophy of APC and I will continue to work towards the success of the party because I believe in the philosophy and principle of the party. But then, again, why will people try to bring names that will confuse the people? As far as I am concerned, the office of the President is so important; so sacrosanct that people should not mess with it.
The President is the symbol of our sovereignty and whatever party you may belong to, you have to respect and revere it in order to move the country forward.
That is why in all these saga, I have refused to be implicated; to be brought to join issues with the president or the presidency. It is them who are dragging the name of the president – the exalted seat to the mud where they feel they don’t have the capacity, the charisma and when they reach their weak ends, they drop the name of the president or presidency. I make bold to say that during this crisis, they have seen that they were on their own. The common man on the street knows their plans. That is why the people came out to defend their mandate and as long as they don’t toe the lines of truth, the line of honesty, the line of accountability, the line of synergy with the common man, so will they be rejected. They have been rejected.
Some of them cannot even deliver their wards, polling units but they are the ones instigating their members to foment crises; to protest; to impeach. No problem, we are waiting for them. 2015 is around the corner and whatever anybody sows is what he will reap. The people of the state are wiser. The people of Nasarawa State have already internalised democratic ethics, tenets and principle. Whatever you do, however you do it, they are awaiting the appropriate time to show you what they believe in and to show you what they want. No amount of money, cohesion and dropping of names will save some of these fake politicians we have in Nasarawa State. The people have known them much more than they know themselves.
The struggle for 2015 has been heated up with allegations that the PDP has vowed to make the state ungovernable for you. What does this portent for the state?
That has always been the trend of this same people and because they are benefiting from this impunity of their criminality. Many a time, some of these people are the masterminds of the security challenge we have in the state. Can you imagine someone who is a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; someone who swore to protect the welfare of the people will come after the impeachment process has failed to provoke and instigate people to come and riot, protest and destabilise the state government?
This is a minister of Nigeria. Somebody who mentioned and it is before the press, it is before the public domain that if they blow their whistle nobody will come out of Lafia. True to it, some days after the whistle, it claimed four lives in Dandaire. Where one member of the assembly believing in what he may have preached and going in line with the directive of the protest went and hired some thugs, who entered Dandaire, a citadel of the APC in the state. They moved into the town and started breaking offices and billboards that belong to APC and myself before they were stopped by APC supporters.
And just from nowhere, these people went to people’s farm and hacked down people who had no business with politics and killed them. Four people were killed. How can you imagine, somebody who is a Minister of Information for that matter will instigate people to riot. That is the kind of impunity we have, when we are yet to recover from the menace of Mbaste that is going about with all kinds of weapon despite being proscribed. They are the same people who caused this problem. We will toe the part of constitutionality; we will obey the rule of law. We will promote law and order.
As government, I will not be dragged into causing commotion. They want to create confusion and anarchy and as a governor, I hold the responsibility to maintain peace for the people of Nasarawa State which I hold very important. I will not relent in my effort to bring about peace and the security of life of the people of the state. I will not allow the state to slip into anarchy more so that we are close to the federal capital.
We will maintain order and that is what we have been doing with the collaboration of our people, the traditional rulers, whereas some politician who feel they cannot achieve their aspiration in a peaceful atmosphere want to create confusion using thugs, weapons and other things.
The tremendous support we have which even cut across political parties will definitely bring such people to order. We are waiting for them and we will ensure that no matter the level of their impunity, we will cut them to size with the support of the people of Nasarawa State.