In January this year, this writer took a tour of the Borno mega schools. As one who had visited Osun’s mega schools, a visit to Borno’s modern classrooms will make the ones built by Ogbeni Aregbosola a child’s play. Governor Kashim Shettima revealed that part of the reasons for building the schools was to make private schools unattractive to the populace in the state. All the classrooms of the mega schools have modern cooling system. And he did all that in the face of insurgency ravaging the state. He speaks on why the government was investing heavily in education.
We have gone round the structures in some of your schools. What inspired you to put them up even at primary school level since some universities do not even have such facilities?
Actually the primary school is the key to the future and advancement of every society. It is the fulcrum upon which all our education rests. This is why I’m very particular about primary school education. In Africa, we missed the agricultural age and we missed the industrial age. We are now in the post industrial age and I tell you we have a moral burden to inform our society beyond that challenge and learn in a knowledge driven world. I tell you that if we don’t do that we will end up hurt. This is why we are adamant on repositioning the education sector.
All of us are from diverse background because of our access to western education which made us what we are. I believe posterity will not forgive us if we allow education to collapse in this part of the world because there is direct correlation between poverty and violence. The only way you can fight poverty in this age and time is through education. It has nothing to do with politics but the interest of this nation. It is projected that by 2050 Nigeria will surpass the United States and be the third most populous country in the world with a population of 440 million. It is also projected that by 2050, 70 per cent of Nigerians will live in northern Nigeria. With the desertification, deforestation and rising poverty, there is real danger. So we as the elite have to wear our thinking cap and make efforts towards creating jobs, towards investment in agriculture and towards entrepreneurial skills, because that is what our people lack. We have to initiate these, I think where there is a will, there is always a way. It is not for us to sit down and lament over our situation. Allah has given us the intellect and capacity.
We hear that you are not using real time contractors to execute the projects. Is that true? If yes, why?
The world has become a global village, if you want to leave a lasting legacy in the sands of time you have to close your ears to what people say. I have been accused of using direct labour, but when we gave contracts to politicians, some of the buildings nearly collapsed, we had to demolish some structure in Bulablin primary School. We demolish a structure in the state low cost. In Bama, a one storey building being constructed by a politician collapsed before it was roofed. It is the children of the poor that would stay in these classrooms, so that compelled me to become the chief engineer although I am an economist by training, we were able to drive the process and I believe we have done our modest best and we leave posterity to judge us.
Maintenance of structure is one of our greatest challenges in this country. What mechanisms do you hope to put in place to ensure their maintenance?
We want to put in place very robust governing council encompassing people largely from the private sector and academia to govern these schools. Before I leave office we are going to fund it in such a way that they can sustain themselves for a considerable period of time. We have shopping malls in Maiduguri, we want to dedicate these shopping malls to schools, and most importantly we are going to set up an agency that would take care of these mega schools. These institutions would be headed by technocrats and we are going to insulate them from government interference. Most importantly my successor is head and shoulders above me in terms of intellect, capacity and ability. I’m 52 years old and he is in his 40’s and most importantly he is a Professor of Irrigation Engineering, who is more at home within those setting than I am and I believe he would drive and sustain the process. Another important issue is the aspect of quality teachers; this is why I said they should advertise the positions. If someone is in Nepal and the person is capable of adding value to Borno, they should employ the person, if that person is from a neighbouring state and is willing to add value to Borno it doesn’t bother me, let them employ competent teachers. We want to employ digital technology and you can’t believe it, I personally went to inspect the training of our teachers in India; they trained 70 of our teachers who are now training the other teachers in the use of digital technology. In the fullness of time I believe posterity will be very kind to us. We are building 40 of those schools and we are accessing N2.8 billion by next month. I want to add additional 10 schools before I leave.
You have been in the private sector. Now you are a politician, what are the differences working in the private sector and working for the people as a politician?
As a banker you work within certain guidelines and framework. You pursue a big target but abiding by practical realities of what is achievable, you don’t live in deceit in the bank because you are dealing with finances, how to get the finance and how to grow it for the bank and the person dealing with the bank, so there is no room for double speak. The purview of politics is one that if you are fond of calling a spade by its name you will always have a rocky relationship with a lot of people. They want you to speak from both sides of your mouth, they want you to always tell them lies and engage in deception which I hate to do. That is the main difference between politics and banking. In the banking industry, the sole barometer for assessing you is your level of input, your level of competence, how far and fast you are able to hit a target. In politics, a lot of shenanigans tend to come up. You will be amazed at what politicians would do to one another all in the quest for power, and power is the most ephemeral of what keeps humanity. You cannot be in power beyond the stipulated time frame, eight years at most for the executive arm and even for the legislative arm which has limitless number of times people can aspire for office, electorate tend not to allow one individual to seek the same office for more than 12 years, at most one elected four times and those who get that don’t constitute up to 15 percent of the total number of lawmakers in the whole country when you combine that National and State Assemblies. Coming to terms with reality So, you will spend more years of your life outside power than in power, but it seems we are yet to come to terms with that reality. Many people are desperate; we undermine each other all for vanity.
What would you say is your staying power against Boko Haram?
Once there is a will there is always a way. As I said earlier, there is no politics greater than contentment with the masses and those of us from the north we have no option than to invest in the people. This is a country of two nations. The south is much more educationally advanced, while the north is much lower in indices compared to our brothers in the south. At the rate of our population growth, Nigeria’s population in 2020 is projected by population experts to become 210 million, by 2030 it is expected to be 270 million and by 2050 Nigeria is expected to be the third most populous nation in the world and would be 410 million and 70 percent of these Nigerians are likely to live in the north mainly because procreation is stabilizing in the south due to elitism. Most families have three to five or seven children but in the north there is massive procreation without responsibility. With desertification, deforestation, illiteracy, unemployment, et cetera, these are the recipe for disaster.
This is why I have always been an advocate for us to work for the people in our enlightened self interest because the masses are visibly angry. Our only outlets are to provide quality and affordable education to our citizens and to invest massively in intermediate agriculture which by the way, we have to see as the business that should make profit not just developmental intervention like President Olusegun Obasanjo said to me when he came to Maiduguri. Entrepreneurial capitalism is embedded in the body psyche of the average Nigerian, even in the years of the cold war, we were capitalists, Nigeria was never a socialist nation. So, our people lack the wherewithal to climb the access ladder of development and this is where I owe no apology to anybody for investing in primary education.
Borno is known for Islamic education and we just saw the advert of the commissioning of the central mosque 33 years after construction work began. How do you feel putting an end to the unending campaign promises by every prospective governorship candidate to complete the project?
It gives me great deal of satisfaction to have been the one to complete the project. I believe when you put your mind on something you will achieve it. Prayers, persistence, perseverance and patience are the four ingredients of success. When I saw the mosque, I was determined to complete it. You can’t believe the contractor abandoned the project and went his way. So many ad hoc committees were set up to complete the project and it came to naught. I embraced it as my own personal project, I am from that neighbourhood. It is very embarrassing when Borno, the great citadel of Islamic knowledge doesn’t have a central mosque for 33 years. We put heads together and got creative technocrats and sufficiently funded them and this is the work of God. Alhamdullah.
How would you want to be remembered after you leave the state?
I want to be remembered as someone who came at a very turbulent phase in Borno’s history, made his best efforts against all odds to ameliorate the situation of his people and left with high hopes that In sha Allah the madness would come to an end, someone who made modest effort in the repositioning of the education sector, the agricultural sector, who made a mark in the grassroots social economic empowerment with agriculture education, who made efforts to clean up the society and to strengthen the primary health care centre. In a nutshell, a young man, a green horn that came and thrive to change the narrative so as to have a quantum leap in the lives of his people. And I believe posterity would judge us.
What would you say was your greatest regret?
My greatest regret is my inability to do as much as I would have loved to do in the areas of afforestation, our environment is being abused and made inhabitable for human habitation. I would have loved to plant a billion trees. But I couldn’t because of the security challenges we are facing. I am a politician with a mission and a goal. If Allah gives me the will, I might take girl child education and afforestation as my life long projects.