Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
IMMEDIATE past governor of Katsina State, Ibrahim Shehu Shema, has said that the underlying poverty in the North, is the reason insecurity, particularly banditry, is on the rise in that part of the country.
Shema, a stalwart of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who spoke with Sunday Sun in Abuja, explained that the approach adopted by his government during his eight-year tenure resulted to the low level of insecurity witnessed in Katsina State then.
The former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Katsina State, maintained that with concerted efforts, insecurity will be a thing of the past, even as he proffered solution on how to end banditry and other forms of insecurity in the country.
Shema also spoke on his life after office, why the All Progressives Congress (APC) produced his successor, the over five years APC administration, restructuring, 2023 presidency, amongst others. Excerpt:
What have you been doing since you left office as governor of Katsina State?
First of all, I must begin by giving gratitude to Almighty God who has kept us alive and healthy through these years, up till this moment I am talking to you. Alhamdulillah! What have I been doing? I have been doing a lot of things in the areas of my profession; that is the law. As you can see, you walked into this place, it is a law firm, a law chambers. You have seen people come and go, lawyers come and go, and it has been like that all my life before I joined politics.
So, you have really been busy?
I have been busy with my practice essentially. That I would say is the most important aspect of what I have been involved with since I left office.
In terms of politics, have you been playing any role or you have just been lying low?
Naturally, politics is something that once you start, you can’t just quit like that because politics is a vehicle for service; service to the people of your country and to your nation. And I am grateful to God that he gave me opportunity to serve at different levels in the political strata of Nigeria, as former Deputy National Chairman of the Party, the Chair- man of Peoples Democratic Party, as National Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee of the PDP at the national level, and indeed, as former Attorney General of my state under the PDP under the late Umaru Yar’Adua of blessed memory and as former governor of Katsina State for eight years.
Are you missing anything out- side office?
I would say that if you say missing directly, it is a bit large to say you are missing. We miss some things, we don’t miss others.
What is your next political aspiration?
My next political aspiration, as I have always said, is entirely in the hands of God our creator. You know that when you render service, you have opportunity to serve and you serve to the best of your ability…
(Cuts in) But you have to aspire and God blesses your aspiration…
You know aspiration is different. In Islam, the way we approach things, in my religion Islam, is that people who even aspire for offices, you don’t give them.
Is that true?
Yes. We should learn in Nigeria to look around for credible people. So, what do I aspire for? I aspire for whatever God has chosen to direct me into. That is what it is.
How did you feel that you couldn’t instal your successor while leaving office as governor of Katsina State?
Well, you don’t install anything in power. It is God that installs. We as human beings only make an effort in the direction we think we can offer our support. Yes, I did support a candidate in the PDP which was my party and indeed, we lost the election not only in Katsina, but in most states in Nigeria and at the national level.
Having done well in Katsina, what do you think led to the loss?
Because number one, politics is dynamic and believe me, what I have come to learn about democracy in politics, especially in advanced democracies, is that the feature of having one party replaced the other is a continuous thing in democracy. Take America, for example, democrats are in power today, tomorrow they are republicans; republicans are in pow- er today and tomorrow, they are democrats. Also take the United Kingdom for example. Labour is in power today and conservatives are in power the next day. So, it is like that. Nigerians seem to for- get that democracy is about choice of the people and things can change, especially where a political party has remained in office for long. People have a tendency to change it even if they are electing gods. They just want change. So, it hap- pens in democracy and that is why I believe substantially our party lost. Not just in Katsina. If you look at the election in sequence, we lost in Katsina, we lost in Jigawa, we lost in Sokoto, we lost in Kebbi, we lost in Kaduna, and we lost in Gombe; so it is just not Katsina. And Katsina was even more at the receiving end if you look at it because we were the ones who had a presidential candidate from the opposition party. And then, re- member one thing, the presidential election came first before the governorship election. For the people of Katsina, the president has been elected, so people would keep saying ah, don’t embarrass the president in our state ooooo! Abeg make sure you… So, it is not a question of quality of candidate that made us to lose. No, it is not. I think the tide that came along with that feeling and attitude made people to lose the election.
The APC and Buhari wind that blew in 2015, people believed, cost you that opportunity. Looking back, how do you assess that wind of change? Has it done any- thing better for the country?
This question is best asked by Nigerians. All of us collectively! I can ask you as a media guy, has the change done any better for you? Whatever answer you give, I will join you in that answer.
There were also high hopes that the APC would take the country out of the woods, from where the PDP left it. Did you also believe this line of thought at that time even though you are a member of the PDP?
I gave an interview to one of the media houses. It was Channels I think. Kadaria Ahmed asked me this same question after the elections were won and lost in 2015 when actually APC got the national election and other states in Nigeria. And I said in clear terms that after elections, everything must be put on the back stage. The nation and its people must take the centre stage and all hands must be on deck to support Nigeria to continue to grow and move forward and that promises made by people who were coming into office then; check the interview and see, and I said in very clear terms that I hope promises made by all candidates, President Buhari and the governors around the country, will be fulfilled. So, I leave Nigerians to answer the question whether those promises have been fulfilled or not.
People are saying that Nigeria is at a tipping point, about to break up if the nation is not restructured. What is your position on this?
Restructuring is a language used by different people for different purposes. First of all, Nigeria as a nation has to define what we are talking about restructuring. Nigerians have to come together and define collectively, what each per- son understands to mean restructuring. And to restructure, for some people, may mean just economic restructuring. For example, the issue of revenue derivation, that is all. For others, it may be geopolitical. So, it depends on how you are looking at.
So, which do you support?
I support whatever will help Nigeria to grow and develop to the level we want to develop. But that can only be done with the voice of all Nigerians put together.
Banditry and other forms of insecurity are on the rise in the North, particularly in the North- east and Katsina has had a large share of it. What do you think is the solution to check what is happening?
Security is everybody’s business. I am not of the opinion that it is only the responsibility of the government to deal with security issues in Nigeria. All stakeholders must come together and work to address the issue of security concerns. These security problems were there be- fore APC came to power. But they have expanded.
Katsina wasn’t the way it is now when you were governor…
(Cuts in) What I am saying is that they were there on minimal scale everywhere. But Katsina was very peaceful.
So, why is the situation on the rise?
That is what I am saying. There are multiple factors, to my understanding. For example, the economic situation of people matter a lot wherever they are in the world. And economy, if not fairly and equitably distributed, if it is not working well for a large majority of Nigerians, you will certainly have insecurity. I will tell you one thing. You have a situation where bandits would raid a farmland, kill the farmer or members of his family, raid his house, cart away his food and valuables, maybe even set his house on fire. The little things of economic value that he possesses, he has been dispossessed and displaced of them. So, you tell me, if this guy has nothing to lose, nowhere to go, no food to eat, how he will not become a bandit himself. The average cattle rearer, the Fulani man, takes very dearly to heart, his cattle, what a single cow means to him. And then, you have a situation where a herd of cattle, 100 cows, 200 cows, would be carted away by bandits. Maybe his family are even assaulted or members of his family are killed and he is dispossessed of his cows and then, he has nothing to do, nowhere to go and nothing to lose. Tell me how these youngsters who have either lost parents or relations or cattle and their wellbeing and survival, tell me how they can now fold their arms and watch these things.
What is the way out?
The way out is that we must collectively come together and find a solution as a nation.
What type of solution?
The type of solution is, we have to ad- dress the local issues of crimes, we have to address the transnational criminals who come into Nigeria and cause havoc and then, we have to address the issue of poverty in particular because we have to find a solution to those people who have lost their farmlands, lost their cattle and lost their houses and lost their incomes.
But what approach did you use when you were governor?
When I was governor, I had multitudes of approaches. I had economic post- schemes. For example, I had at various times, N500 million micro credit schemes and those funds were going to the rural communities and the farmers to access. And my government engaged in massive construction because the construction industry, I am sure, you realised is a way to build economies and to grow incomes and actually to even create jobs. If you are building let’s say a 25-kilometre road, that 25-kilometre road, you can’t build it overnight. You will require nine months to 13 months to do it and complete it, a good road. If you start constructing now and you award the contract, you discover that the person who will sell rods, will sell to those contractors; the person who will sell chippings, will sell to those con- tractors; the person who is an iron bend- er, will find work to do; the person who sells bitumen or a contractor who buys bitumen and coal tar, will find a business to do. The labourer will find a business to do. Even the girl, who will cook and sell akara or bole or cassava or roasted corn, will find where to go and sell her food during the course of this construction. So, it is all encompassing. The same thing when you engage in construction of housing estate. When I was putting about 500 housing estates in Katsina, the Barhim Housing Estate which we built first…
And the one you built in Abuja…
Forget about even the ones in Abuja. We are not coming to that. But in the local community and in the local economy, when we started building these houses, you need to see the number of multitudes of labourers who were employed instantly. You need to see that. The people who were making blocks, you have to wait in the queue to procure blocks from blockmaking industries; you have to queue up to get cement. Ask the people of Katsina. You have to queue up to get a tipper that will carry sand and bring to your site. So, the economy was moving. In the agri- cultural sector, we introduced a mechanism of supporting the farmer, not just giving him money or fertilizer at cheap rate, or buy him an oxen pools and carts and farming implements to give to him at subsidised price, or give him micro loan to address his needs or attending to the vaccination of the cattle of the farmer or buying indeed, cattle feeds and giving at discount to the Fulanis. Not just that! But we were actually engaged in buying grains for farmers.
Yes. Our administration was buying N168 million worth of grain every month from the farmers because when you buy, you stabilise the price. You protect the farmer from getting…
What were you doing with them?
We stored them and then we resell them back to the community at 50 per cent discount. So, the farmer sells his products, the small contractor you give the supply of one or two trailers will make small money from the supply, and the consumer will get discounted grains. Our economy is agrarian in the North. So, when we were doing that, a lot of farmers were happy. The farming activities had picked. We were buying grains from even neighbouring states. So, you can see that the economy is fundamental to creating jobs, to creating wealth and to keeping people happy and to discouraging all these things that you see today. Frankly speaking, we need to focus essentially on the issue of poverty because hunger, let me tell you, was the cause of revolution in China and Russia. When people get hungry, there is no limit to how they can go. And when you have a lot of youths, hundreds of thousands of millions of youths that are unemployed, that are milling around, they don’t have a place to go, they have lost hope, some even educated to the university level, have no jobs, you tell me how on earth those guys will sit in contentment.
How do you x-ray the administration of your successor, Governor Masari?
Masari administration, I will pass it to Katsina people to x-ray and not me. I am not the right guy to x-ray it for him.
Some people have also called for the sack of the Service Chiefs. Do you think that their removal will solve the problem of insecurity in the country?
The general consensus is that in service, especially in the area of security, you need all hands on deck. My take is this: When people are staying on a job of security for too long, they might have gathered enough experience, but it is equally important to let in fresh hands. There is nothing stopping a Nigerian security chief from being invited on another platform to contribute even in retirement. But there are certain things that happen. For example, when you don’t retire Service Chiefs when they are due for retirement, in my honest opinion, then the tendency is that those who are capable of growing up, who are supposed to come up and help to build it, it will kill their morale, it will dampen their morale. And I am not sure even the Service Chiefs that you were talking about all these time, I am not sure all of them, I don’t know, I have not spoken to any of them, but I am not sure any of them will be happy with the way they are going now. I am not sure about it because nobody would want to be doing a job, putting in all the sacrifices and you get all manner of abuses instead of accolades. I don’t want to be in that kind of situation. Rather to be in that situation, it is better for me to leave that job, retire honourably and then continue to give my support and cooperation to the institutions of government that will implement this. And then, the younger ones too always look up to how they can grow. How do you now grow the system if nobody moves? You have to be fair to others. Other younger ones are coming up. You see, this hole is different today as it was yesterday. And the same thing, the issue of the Service Chiefs is something that I hope the Federal Government will look into. It is not for nothing that Nigerians are clamouring and talking constant- ly about the issue of Service Chiefs. So, I don’t want a situation where the Service Chiefs will be blamed continuously for being where they are. Remember, they can’t be there on their own. They have to be appointed and kept there. So, you can- not put all the blames on them. Equally, the government has the blame to share in the sense that if people are calling for the change of something, then government has a responsibility to look into it, especially since people are complaining continuously that things are not changing for the better in the area of security.
Last week, the National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, said the PDP has not lost hope in Atiku. Does it mean the PDP will still give him the flag to fly in 2023?
Well, I think it is better you direct that question to the person who made the statement, that is, the chairman of the party. But what I can tell you is that our party will not lose hope on any of its members and leaders.
Will you be comfortable if the flag is given to Atiku in 2023?
You see, I will be comfortable with whoever my party gives the flag to, as I was comfortable in 2019 when the party’s flag was given to Atiku. I was one of those who actually worked in order to get a candidate for our party to fly the flag.
There is the argument that power should shift to the South. What is your take on it?
Power shifts not because human beings talk about power shift. Power shift, yes, I believe with planning, consensus and God’s will. Remember when the late Yar’Adua died, the general feeling in the country, especially in the North, was that power after Jonathan has completed his tenure, should shift to the North. But then, President Jonathan chose to exercise his constitutional rights to contest again and Nigerians supported that. There were hues and cries around that why should he do that, that it is supposed to remain with the North until Yar’Adua completes his tenure in PDP. But still, because God designed that that is the way He wanted it to happen, Jonathan completed his second term. Then he wanted to try after he finished the tenure of Umaru, did the first term of his election, wanted to go for second and then we lost. So, shifting of power always depends on the dynamics of the day – politics, democracy, the people of Nigeria and above all, the will of God.
But where do you stand on power shift?
Why would I stand on anything now when the matter has not been tabled? These are speculations. People are air- ing their opinion and in democracy, everybody has a right to air his opinion. But as a democrat, I cannot three years before the time. This is just one year into the second term of this government and then, three years before the time, I will tell you what part it has to be? People have to sit and agree on what it should be. And I am a democrat, I go with the majority of opinions.
What do you have to tell those who believe that power should shift to the Southeast that has never governed the country?
Whatever fairness and equity present, I am for it. We must be just and fair at all times. We must learn to be equitable in the process of our democracy. That will bring peace, and that will bring unity. Whatever can unite Nigeria and bring us together, believe me, that is what I am for because Nigeria is a country of about 200 million people and for us to be able to succeed as a democracy, we must give equal opportunity to all. So, my take is equal opportunity to all Nigerians, whether Southeast, Northeast, North-central, South-south, Southwest, Northwest; any section of our country that has stake and interest in Nigeria can participate in the process. And at the end of the day, I hope we pick what will serve Nigeria and Nigerians better.