Dr Abdullahi Ya’u is a practicing accountant with over 20 years experience. He is also a lecturer, an astute management consultant, politician and the founder of the Budget Advocacy and Reforms Association (BARA) – a platform he created with the sole aim to educate, guide, empower and lift his people out of poverty, drug abuse and other societal ills. He is not just a man that wears many caps, he is also a beacon of hope in his state – Kano.
In this interview, Dr Ya’u spoke on how to get Nigerian experienced technocrats to be interested in coming into the political space to contribute their quota in developing the country.
He also decried the seething feud between Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, and Emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi II, and the negative implications on the state.
Your background is academic and professionalism, at what point did you decide to delve into politics?
I contested precisely in 2011. What happened was that my people urged me to step forward to contest and represent them in government. Also, I believed that I have what it takes to contribute to the community. And as a young professional back then, I was so prepared and interested, especially looking at the poor performance of legislators in my own part of the country, Northwest. I also had lots of thoughts and plans, that I felt that if I get opportunity to be in government, I’ll be able to realize my developmental agenda. I articulated about four agenda and bills which I would push to bring a change to the economic landscape of Nigeria.
What were some of those plans?
I can only remember two of them. The first is changing the approach of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). I noticed that the youths after graduating from various tertiary institutions and doing their one year NYSC, come back home and remain jobless for another three, four, five years. This is very terrible and it’s not a good indicator in the economic analysis. So, I wanted to change the system so that the first half of the NYSC period would be for national service, and half of the time would be for entrepreneurial training. Then these graduates are given half 50 per cent of the cost expended on their service to use as start-up grants. For example, when corps members are posted to places like Osun or Bayelsa, they look out for peculiar business opportunities there, it may be agribiz or industry biz. Then they can start practicing with that fund and with serious mentoring. Some of these graduates would come out and be self-reliant, instead of all of them relying on government jobs. So, I had the idea at the back of my mind to bring a revolutionary change and to enable NYSC to approach both national integration and entrepreneurship in the minds of the graduates. My second plan was about regional development plans. I so much believe that no serious country that is diverse can achieve any meaningful development if they don’t approach development from the perspective of regions. You can’t expect what is the problem in Kano to be exactly the problem in Lagos, and Enugu, it’s not possible. Economic problems are dictated by the economic environment and once the economic environment change, the type and nature and extent of those problems automatically change. So you can’t have a one-size-fits-all solution to Nigeria’s economic problems. That was why I was thinking of promoting a bill that would support the establishment of regional economic development agencies or systems or authorities or whatever name it can be called. Then part of the capital budget of Nigeria would be dedicated to these agencies so that they would look into the peculiar issues in the regions and resolve them. For example, if you take my zone, Northwest, you know there’s this issue of Almajiri which has been affecting the community. And has been bringing forth serious negatives to the development of the zone. But with establishments like the regional economic councils, they would be able to tackle those issues because they are peculiar to the North.
So, what happened at the polls, why didn’t these innovative ideas sway the voters?
At the primaries, I contested under PDP, and I was vying for a seat in the House of Reps, to represent Tarauni Local Government of Kano State. But unfortunately, before the primaries, a consensus was reached by the caucuses, and a particular candidate was favoured. Although they told me that they believe that I was a better candidate, but the problem was that I started my contest at the time when they have already made a choice.
But that was in 2011, why haven’t you thrown your hat into the ring again since then?
Honestly, from that time, the more the day goes by, the more I become less interested in politics simply because I discovered that the system needs not only people that can deliver, but it also needs people that have the political linkages and financial buoyancy to convince the caucuses at whatever level. And honestly, personally, I don’t buy into that idea of buying a political seat or bowing down to those that would simply appoint you. So, I decided to rather continue my personal efforts in impacting lives. Since I have the interest in developing my people, I believe that I can still do it through any other means, not necessarily when I become a political office holder.
How have you been able to help your people since after you decided to stall your political ambition?
I established some non-governmental organisations. One of them is the Budget Advocacy and Reforms Association (BARA). And in this NGO, we have a number of programmes, one of which is Community Budget Advocacy Clubs (COBAC) where we build the capacity of the community and make them aware of national and state budgets and make them own the budget. We translate the budget in local languages and encourage them to oversee projects that have been mapped out in the budget. And let them put pressure on the government to make sure that budgets are reflecting the economic reality of the people rather than the government’s taste or appetite for getting money or achieving some political interest. So, we’re doing it and we’re making a lot of impact on the lives of people. We have started with the Northwest region, and we’re making plans to come into the Northeast and other regions of the country so that we can get our budget translated in local dialects, and get Nigerians empowered. We want to reach a level where no state and Federal Government budget body can do anything that has to do with the budget without fully involving the citizens. Also, we created a group called House of Reformers, where we target curing drug and substance abuse among young children. We are tackling this drug abuse problem at the roots. So, we go to primary and secondary schools establishing House of Reformers Clubs, where we show them the evils of drug addiction. We also partner with Kannywood and Nollywood celebrities to come up with jungles and short movies that would instill in them that drug addiction is evil. The second thing I did after losing out of politics is conceptualizing a programme called Partnership for Enterprise Development (PED). It’s a registered business association trying to support entrepreneurs or business people that are operating, especially in the North and they don’t have that entrepreneurial mindset, management experience, and modern business skills that are at par with the people of the Southwest, Southeast or international community. So, they find it difficult to compete, make profit and standardize. We have the sub-Saharan market, people come from Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad, and other countries to do business in the North, but our people are always losing the ground. They are lacking capacity. Thus PED is coming with the sole purpose of building the capacity of business people in terms of telling what to do to standardize their businesses, open up their mind to the international markets and put them on track of best business practices. So, these are the two important projects that I took up that are replacing my political ambitions because through that I’m making a very big impact on my people.
What are some of the things you’ll love to see change in politics today, to encourage more brilliant professionals to be brave to come out and be part of the electoral processes?
The first is the change in the electoral law. The electoral law must be competent enough to ensure transparency and checks and balances in the election process. An example is the issue of independent candidacy, had it been in 2011 there was an opportunity for independent candidacy, I would have gone ahead to contest and I was likely to win. If such changes are made in the political system, many people that can contribute positively to the government would get the chance to come out. Nigeria has a lot of good people, but the problem is that the system is like a funnel through which everybody has to pass through to get political positions. And that funnel is so rough, that the good ones can hardly pass through it. But by the time you liberalize the electoral system to make it more competitive. There’s hardly any political party in Nigeria today that has that competitive system, it’s purely based on money and relationships.
In your state Kano, there is this seething feud between the Emir, Sanusi and Governor Ganduje. How has this affected you and the natives of the state?
That conflict is not supposed to have a place in Kano State because since my childhood, I grew up in a Kano without a feeling of any difference between someone from Eastern, Western, South, Northern and Central Kano. Once you stay in Kano and you speak the language, you’re seen as a family, and that is why we enjoyed relative peace in Kano. The state is a business hub, so the people avoided conflicts that have to do with political, personal, religious or traditional systems. Kano believes in one Kano, and anybody from one zone can support people from the other zones. But the problem is that the political system is encouraging this long rift between the Emirate and the state government and it’s not good for the people. Now you see persons having access to opportunities saying that they will not help people from the other side of Kano. This is too bad, and I regret seeing this division in my lifetime. I never expect that such nonsense would happen. The right thing that should have been done is to let the government and political system demonstrate leadership. They should know that establishing additional Emirates is not going to solve any problem. It is not connected to any physical or infrastructural development, it can only expand gaps, and create more loopholes among Kano indigenes.
What’s your view on President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal and explanation that he has no constitutional right to intervene in the conflict between Ganduje and Sanusi?
We are not talking about Federal Government constitutionally intervening rather President Buhari in his own wisdom can intervene in virtually anything. Because the president has the principal interest of ensuring peace and stability in any community, whether state or even local government. I believe PMB can do a lot in trying to resolve the issue. We are not after him taking sides with anyone, but for him to point out to the state government that this unbecoming fight with the emirate undermines the successes being recorded in Kano. I can tell that many people that are against the state government are not because of failure to provide infrastructure and economic development, but they go against the government because of this feud. But I’ll advise that even if the presidency doesn’t intervene, the state government should come up with a more technical and fair approach to this problem and they can solve it. Where they cannot solve it, then they should call on the Sultanate, and other people, not just the president, to broker peace between the two.