Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Aminu Bello Masari is the governor of Katsina State. He was the Speaker of the House of Representatives between 2003 and 2007.
Masari who is serving his second term in office in this encounter said that he would retire from active politics once his tenure ends in 2023.
He explained how the Northwest governors are tackling banditry, armed robbery and other crimes threatening the peace of the region as well as economic stability. Excepts:
We congratulate you on your recent victory at the Appeal Court. You presented a budget of N249 billion for the 2020 fiscal year, and promised to make the state attain economic growth. How do you intend to achieve this?
First of all, if you look at the breakdown of the budget, you’ll see that only 30 per cent of the budget is going for recurrent expenditure, about 69.7 per cent is for capital investment. Then if you are investing in capital, it means you are creating opportunities and all opportunities need some form of business activity or the other. We are also developing an economic zone along Jibia road, it is an 8,000 hectares of land and we have started developing 100 hectares by providing infrastructure for investors to come and invest especially in medium scale factories, in the area of agriculture more so and also we have repositioned the ministry of agriculture to go into commercial agriculture now and that is why if you look at our budgetary provision it has never been this huge for agriculture. Also we are working with the Central Bank of Nigeria on Agric business because it is an area where we have comparative advantage. There was a time when Katsina was producing 60 per vcent of cotton in Nigeria, so we are working to reinvent that, and this has to do with going back to our history to bring back our cotton production. If you could recall, the Anchor Borrower cotton programme was launched here, if we develop agriculture, livestock, we are repositioning the economy of the state, that was why we also included the rehabilitation of earth dams in the forest area. That is why we are also investing in production of qualitative grass for grazing areas. Luckily enough we have some indigenes who have started investing in rice mills, it is 300,000 metric tons of rice processing mills and they have also started fertilizer blending plant. We are doing so many things in order to encourage others to invest in commercial agriculture where like I said earlier, we have comparative advantage.
When you talked of agriculture, I recall you mentioned youth empowerment was one of your major area of focus. Has this been able to reduce youth restiveness in the state?
First of all, what we need was to upgrade the craft village and expand our intake, we identified every trade and every three to six months after the training, we give out startups kits. Through this, we have produced thousands of skilled manpower from the craft village. Also working with the DFID under the McArthur programme, we have rehabilitated about eight vocational training centres across the state. So far, they have produced over 4,000 and we have what is called business promotion centres and have about 105 participants. So really, all this is to capture the youth. We have also decided to go a step further, we will soon start training and already we have over 1,000 youths to train, this is to keep them off the streets and reduce their illegal activities to the barest minimum. Our major challenge is those who do not have any form of education, they are our responsibility even though it takes a lot of work to rehabilitate someone without any form of education and bring them into a skilled employment. We have also ensured that the tricyclist and motorcyclist operators are organised and supported with a means of trade, thereby keeping them off the streets. We also have special programmes for young women, some of whom are married or about to be married. We are giving them the capital and necessary skill they need to startup a trade. We believe that when a woman is financially empowered her children will be able to attend school and she will be able to manage her home better.
Statistically, how many people in terms of numbers are you envisaging to impact with agriculture or any other economic programme come 2020?
You know this programme of getting over 100 million people out of poverty was cascaded down to state and we are doing our part in ensuring we lift many in our state out of poverty. We can only do our own projection on how much we intend to spend on each person based on resources that come in.
Since you spoke about the Almajiri system, what specifically are you doing to address the issue of out of school children?
The most important thing is that we are working towards seeing how we can abolish the dichotomy in the school system because some of these children are already attending informal Quranic schools. Hopefully, UBEC and the Federal Government will join us to formalize issues in this regard so that those in Quranic and Islamiyya schools can acquire some elements of western education, craftsmanship, so that at the end of their training they would have learnt something and one day join the mainstream education system. So definitely, we have to think out of the box, come up with programmes that will see to the locality because up till now, in some rural areas, communities there is a bit of fear and perception which is as a result of collapse of basic and quality education.
You recently called on state governors to disarm repentant bandits. What informed your decision, and would you say the amnesty programme is effective?
For us, we can say the peace we negotiated with the bandits is working and since we started this on August 30, we have not had massive attack that we used to have, communities are no longer being invaded, killing and raping have stopped. We have not attained 100 per cent victory because human nature, because no matter how we try, criminal elements among them are still perpetrating these acts, so we are still battling with it and are calling on them to put an end to this because we will not hesitate to deal with any offender. We have the capacity to deal with the situation, but do not want a blanket approach in order not to lump up the good and the bad ones together. So, on the issue of surrendering of arms it’s in phases, we are working on peace and hopefully we will succeed in bringing total calm to the state. Some we were told are holding on to these weapons to protect themselves while the bandits are holding on to the weapons to attack, but if there is normalcy, every weapon in the hands of herders will be brought back when they are confident there won’t be an attack against them, but of course, bandits have to be disarmed by force. We have started receiving some of these weapons from repentant herders and bandits. It is a continuous process on both sides as we are looking at restoring normalcy, which makes the possession of any arms and ammunition useless.
You tried this method during your first tenure, but the bandits returned. How will you ensure it does not happen again?
Why the programme failed between 2016 and 2018 was simply because there was no similar programme in Zamfara, Kaduna and in the totality of the forest area in Katsina. So, the bandits, herders in terms of population are more in Zamfara, Kaduna and when we are experiencing peace here they don’t have peace. Most of the leaders we had peace talks with were eventually killed by bandits from Zamfara in particular, and it is safe to say Zamfara is where most bandits live, and in Kaduna because of the forest areas. But now Zamfara is running same amnesty programme alongside Sokoto and even in Kaduna to some extent and this will be successful as long as we engage our neighbours in the peace negotiation with bandits, but if that is neglected then, we will be back to square one. The peace we have will last for a much longer period with the other states participating.
You have been able to silence the opposition in the state, but what support is President Muhammadu Buhari getting from his home state to enable him succeed?
Governance is like politics. Some are on the table and others under the table. There is politics of campaign normally in the daytime, but then we have politics of meeting people, talking to them and making them understand. That’s why most of the people come out here en masse. Besides, I am not the only one talking to people behind closed doors, most politicians do the same and it is not out of place. The president is from Katsina State, so we have greater stake, greater responsibility to ensure the world knows that it is not only about the All Progressives Congress or the PDP, but also Katsina State are solidly behind the president.
You were one-time number four citizen in the country and now a two-time governor. After this, what will be your next political ambition?
I will retire. By the time I leave office I will be 73 years and at that age I will need to rest.
What about politics?
I will continue at the background.