From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye , Abuja
The governor of Katsina State, Rt. Hon. Aminu Bello Masari, in this interview with a select group of journalists speaks on security, development, electronic transmission of election results and other topical national issues.
President Buhari just concluded a working visit to Katsina and the usual incidents of kidnapping and banditry that have been in the news lately were absent. What is the secret behind the seemingly peace in the state?
Well, as a government, we are giving all the necessary support to the security agencies, and we are collaborating with other neighbouring states in addressing the issue of banditry and other forms of cross-border criminality. We have involved all strata of society. For us, in Katsina, the issue of security is the responsibility of all of us. What we have done so far is to create security committees right from the village level. Where we are having these problems are the Local Government Areas, which are bordering the forest areas. So, we have formed security committees beginning from the hamlet level, going up to the village level and up to the district level, and trying to re-introduce a structure that was effective before. The Mai Unguwa (Ward head) who looks after a particular area; and for a very long time they have been without responsibility, but what does he do with his office? The answer is virtually very little, if nothing. Now, we have security committees, which include village heads or ward heads, as the case may be, and Imams. Here we have two strong Islamic sects, the Izala and Darika; we have involved them. Even the heads of our local barbers/shavers, who are very influential because once there’s any new-born baby delivered they are often invited. Since they’re the ones who usually participate in performing the ritual of shaving of the new child and also participate in the circumcision, as the case may be; this is common in these parts. So, they are vast, in terms of knowledge of their localities. Then the Imams, whom I mentioned earlier, also attend naming ceremonies, lead prayers, wedding ceremonies, and funerals. These people are people who are well connected. Then you come to the butchers, particularly the head butcher; one cannot slaughter an animal in the forest unless one has a customer, so they’re also very influential in giving information with regards to slaughtered animals. Then, you have the Sarkin-Tasha (motor park chairman), where a village is located by the roadside, vehicles pass and they are able to see who drives in and drives out in every location. So, these are the people, including the youth leaders in the villages, you’ll discover that they are the ones involved with local vigilante. And also, the women leaders, who normally go from house to house in their interaction with the womenfolk, they can provide information on any odd or unusual thing they’ve witnessed in places they normally visit. So, they are very important in terms of gathering information. These information, once gathered, would be filtered before any use. Mind you, the community police officer in charge of any particular unit is a member, as well as the head of the vigilante in that community. Also, if we have a Sarkin Fulani (Fulani Ardo, or Chief), in any area, all these persons are the people we have in our security committees that meet at least once a week to report to the village head, and from the village head to the district head. The district head also has a similar committee, and he examines and filters all the information. This we have passed into law, and a committee has already gone round, setting up these committees local government by local government. We have done a lot of sensitisation before we even came up with this. So, the Emirate Councils of Katsina and Daura are fully aware, and are involved in the main committee and have members. We have given it wide publicity through the various mosques and also through the radio and television. Also effective is the use of Imams, especially during Juma’ah (Friday) prayers. So, these are some of the things we have done in trying to bring on board everybody because we have realised that the issue is not about only the police; because, how many policemen do we have? How many military men do we have? But we have hundreds, thousands of villages scattered all over the state. If the people, by themselves, get involved in the issue of security, I think we will then be able to minimise the problem and bring everything under control. Because, you see, there was a system before that was operational and people were living peacefully, but that system collapsed. And then we have the issue of population explosion. And then there is the effect of climate change. There are those who live in the forests as well as those that depend on the forest for means of livelihood. It is not only herders that use the forests. You will find firewood sellers and hunters. So, all these people have been cut-off as a result of banditry or climate change, or population explosion in some of these communities or areas and, therefore, the available land for farming became small, while the families have grown. Then, there are other cultural and traditional issues involved as well. So, we feel that if you involve everybody, then it will go a long way. Again, working with the judiciary, we established Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) centres. We have already put in place many of them, and our intention here is to have them in the 361 wards in the state. From our little understanding of neighbourhood relationships, for instance, from financial transactions or debt issues, there are lots of issues that don’t need to go to the police. If you see what we have opened here in Katsina, in Kwado, if you see what they’ve done, in say a period of three months, is what our normal courts have not done in one or two years. They have resolved and settled differences between the people. We have already established one in the Central Market area; in Katsina here, I think we have already established five, which are already operational. So, we believe that these are also the kinds of things that would enhance good community living because we realised that the spirit of community living is virtually gone. We have involved the local property dealers and agents, who engage in buying and selling of lands, or others that are rent collectors. All of them are part of our structure, so that they don’t, in the course if their business or commercial transaction, give out lands or property for either rent or outright sale to any person that is not known, or who has no fixed address, or you don’t know his occupation. And I believe it is working very well, because before now, some of the bandits were moving their families to the urban centres while they themselves continue to live in the forests, but with this arrangement now, whoever comes to our state now to look for accommodation, such a person or persons’ address must be known. There is the issue of the transportation of animals without records; we are also working towards generating community and cattle tax from the communities as government policy; although, some people are only viewing this policy from the financial or monetary perspective alone. We are looking beyond that, because the issue is crucially that of knowing who and who lives where, how many people are in one’s household and what do they do for a living? So, a lot of information would be gathered in the process. We are really trying to set up a foundation whereby we should be able to know exactly how many adults there are in any given community, like how many female adults are living in each household. It even helps in planning, and even for security agencies, in case of any attack from bandits or anybody. Working with our neighbours, we are collaborating in information-sharing, keeping tabs on people’s movements, and I think now, in this state, nobody can come into Katsina, whether he is a herder or otherwise, to come and settle in any community without the proper identification. This is very important, in order to enable government know who lives where and what he does. The beauty of this cattle tax, once it starts, is that if, for instance, we know that you have 20 cattle, next year you cannot tell us you have 40, because we will ask you: “how come”? If you say you purchased them, then you should be able to say who you purchased them from and what did you do to earn so much money to purchase them? So, I think it is very important that we take this issue beyond the police or Department of State Service (DSS) or the military; after all, how many are they? They can’t be everywhere and they are also human beings like us, except, of course, that they have special training that gives them the opportunity to tackle such things.
One factor that instigates insecurity is lack of jobs among our youths. In other climes their leaders have given land to the Federal Government for establishment of farm estates, whereby the youths can be meaningfully engaged. Are you thinking of such a thing?
One of the things I mentioned earlier is the factor of population explosion, especially in this part of the country, whereby an average person has about two wives. I want you to imagine the multiplier effect. And the land, over the years, has been over-cultivated. The production has also greatly reduced. Thanks to God, we have improved seedlings, which are really helping the situation. And because of the population explosion, some of the cattle routes have been taken over by farmers, including the cattle breeders themselves. What we used to have as community grazing areas, there was one in my village, but where is it today? It has disappeared. In every village, there was a grazing community or grazing area. They have all disappeared. And you cannot bring all of them back, you simply can’t, because of population explosion, urbanisation and many other factors. However, you can use technology to mitigate some of these issues. Like I mentioned earlier, there are improved seedlings. What a farmer used to produce on one hectare of land 10 years ago, today, you can produce 100 hectares through modern farming methods and improved seeds. These are some of the issues we are presently tackling. I think the programme you suggested is the absorption of about 1,000 young farmers; we are working with the Ministry of Agriculture and KASIPDA, with a view to identifying those that are needed and eligible for farming. Farming does not mean only going to the farm. For somebody who is into poultry, he is also a farmer. The one who is into cattle rearing, or animal husbandry, is also a farmer. We have just finished the Sallah celebrations and you have seen the rams that were put up for sale in Katsina State. There are people who are engaged in these kinds of commercial activities, what they do nowadays is: they buy the animals now, feed them well for one year and then sell them profitably the following year and make up to 1,000 per cent profit. So, because the government is advocating that people should go back to farming, it doesn’t mean everybody must plant crops. There are so many things you can do in agriculture; some are entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector. The value-addition is critical. Because value-addition by young farmers helps in cutting off unnecessary middlemen, which oftentimes lead to farmers losing. Because, for instance, somebody buys one bag of maize at say N1,000 then he does some value-addition like packaging and subsequently he gets N50,000. The agricultural value-chain in Nigerian can help in employment of over 80 per cent of our youths.
Most of your development projects that the president commissioned, like roads, were in rural areas. Why focus on rural areas and not urban centres like some of your colleagues?
We have built over 543 tarred roads; we have built over 2,000 kilometres of rural feeder roads. We have rehabilitated roads, completed rehabilitation of over 300 kilometres of rural roads across the state. We all know that Katsina is basically a rural state; in most of the localities, because of the challenges we are facing and addressing, like the issue of this insecurity, it is because of lack of access roads in rural areas. So, even the road that the president commissioned, you know, the history of that road is that there was a banditry attack in one of the villages around the area, in Tsaskiya village, we set out to the place and we met the village head and most of the people living in the village by the roadside. Coincidentally, the village head was my senior, a prefect, in our secondary school. He is now the village head in Tsaskiya. Myself, the Commissioner of Police and Army’s Commanding Officer were struggling to reach that village, which was a very short distance. It took us almost two hours before we could reach that village. So, during the attack on the village, they were frantically calling the security operatives, but these kinds of attack were like flash floods, which come and go all of a sudden. These bandits come and operate and within 30 minutes they are gone. So by the time any security personnel will reach there they would have finished their operation and gone. And sadly, the anger of the people will be on the security personnel instead of the perpetrators; but how could they? So, that is the story of that road, which covers 50 kilometres. And since then, we promised to do the road and construction started since 2016. To provide these roads is one of the most difficult things, especially working with the National Assembly under the constituency projects scheme. We have been able to construct over 2,000 kilometres of rural feeder roads across the state. We believe that the majority of our people live in localities, so our focus is more on rural infrastructure; so that people should remain where they are, where they can afford to farm their lands and also transport their produce.
Some of the issues that came out of the commissioning of the Zobe Regional Water Project in Dustin-ma sparked national debate; we learnt then that the Federal Government released N5 billion to Katsina State for cattle grazing reserves and some governors said…
(Cuts in) The history of this is under the Natural Resources Fund, many states have applied for it from the Federal Government for different things. In our own case, we applied. The totality of the amount earmarked for the project is over N12 billion. Then the Federal Government said we have to contribute 50 per cent and the Federal Government will contribute the other 50 per cent. We are now talking about the 50 per cent of the Federal Government’s contribution. What have we put in place? We have spent more than that in terms of providing the necessary grounds for this project to take-off. The governor of Benue State is asking for N100 billion. The Federal Government gave us N6.2 billion; what is the relationship between 100 billion and N6 billion?
You have been known to defend President Buhari at various fora despite the fact that he is being criticised across the country. Why is that so?
You see leadership is not a bed of roses. What kills leadership in most societies, and in particular our own, is that leaders want unnecessarily hailing – applause. But if you are providing good leadership, you have to step on toes because your vision should be such that after you have left the place what you did will be a legacy. I cannot please everybody and even God, I said it. The only time one may be satisfied is when one is in the grave because one can’t do anything about it. God has said don’t allow anyone to slow you down towards achieving your destiny as a human being. I can be good to you, but you can return the favour in a very bad way, does that mean I shouldn’t be good to the next person? No! Like you rightly mentioned, the end of the quote is that ordinarily, the human being is very ungrateful. When he comes to you looking for something he will go to any length to get it, but once he gets it he will turn against you because that is human by nature and the way God has created us. After all, why did Adam leave paradise? It was because he disobeyed God, his maker. So, it is in our hearts to disobey and it is in our character to fear. Let’s say, for example, on your way from Daura to Katsina you were lucky to meet somebody you don’t know who gives you N100, but after you arrived in Katsina and somebody asks you to give him one naira, the person would say, ‘why should I give you one naira?’, forgetting that you got N100 without doing anything. That is part of human nature, it’s normal. What I am telling Mr President is that he shouldn’t be discouraged by the criticism, whether from media or anywhere, some people are criticising him from all corners, but he shouldn’t be discouraged, so that at the end of the day, he will leave office a fulfilled and happy person and that is when people will start judging your performance. You see, there is an Hausa proverb that says: ‘May God not bring a day of people’s praises’; because that will be the day when you are no longer in that office, or even in this world.’ Whatever the president does some people would never be happy, but what is more important is that one has to make sure that whatever we are doing, it is in the interest of the majority.
What is your view on the Electoral Amendment Act, especially when it comes to the electronic transmission of election results?
First of all, going through history, there was never a time that the Electoral Act was passed without some people disagreeing with some portions of it, so for some to support it and for some to be against is normal. What is more important is that we have to look at what the level of our infrastructure is. Can the level of our infrastructure be able to cope with electronic transmission? We need safeguards. For me, my opinion is that even if you get electronic transmission you have to confirm it manually, because these young people that are computer savvy, I am wary of them. Some people can easily hack it. Whatever somebody does, there is someone somewhere who is more intelligent and can beat the system, if he intends to. You can see how Information Technology professionals are constantly battling hackers. Some hackers relentlessly attempt to break into systems. Even Internet Service Providers are always changing their codes on a daily basis to safeguard their systems. For us in Nigeria, some people regard elections as a do-or-die affair. For them, you can go to any extent to either hack or sabotage the transmission. So, whatever you’re going to do you have to look at your level of infrastructural development because something is being done in America or Europe, you have to ask yourself: ‘Am I in a position to do what they are doing? Do I have the infrastructure to do what they’re doing and what is the nature of our elections?’ These countries have conquered issues of hunger; but have we? If INEC says it has the capacity to do it, fine. What about verification? Because, you wouldn’t be sitting in your village with an authentic result and somebody somewhere is busy announcing a totally different result. Yes, transmission of election results, but what about verification?