Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
Ex-Special Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan on National Assembly Matters, Sen. Abba Aji said he joined the governorship race to the Maiduguri Government House to lead post-war Borno out of the impact of the nine years insurgency.
Abba Aji, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state who represented Borno Central at the senate from 2003-2007, said in an interview with newsmen that his state needed a governor that could confront and address the challenges thrown up by insurgency to return life to the people. He spoke on other issues including campaign fund and the incumbent governor among others.
You’re aging. Why are you contesting at a time the state has lots of problems and presumably needs a younger person with vigour to confront these challenges?
I am not old to lead Borno. More than before, my community needs me, my state and even my nation. It is true I have contributed in various capacities in the past but now the challenges that are facing our nation and particularly our state are enormous. Borno is the ground zero of all challenges, it is the mother of them all and Governor Kashim Shettima has done his best. You can categorise him as a war time governor because most of his tenure was characterised by challenges that our country has never witnessed before. In the case of our state, there has never been anything that can be likened to the challenges we’ve gone through in the last nine years. The tenure has been watered in war with the problem of in-surgency. Aside insurgency, there were also political problem but in all, he has done very well. He has surpassed most of the governors whose territories are relatively peaceful. Once his tenure ends in 2019, it is my hope that my own will begin. It is also my hope that my own will be different from his because it will be a post-war, post-insurgency challenge. The challenges that I am expected to face will be different from what the present governor is facing.
What are some of these challenges?
Some of these challenges include the effects of the insurgency; the problems that the insurgency has thrown up over the years. For instance, official figures show that Borno currently has 52, 000 orphans and 55,000 widows. This is a very serious problem. Also, in the last nine years, nearly 90 percent of the school children have been out of school – out of critical education; primary and secondary schools because their schools and homes were burnt down by Boko Haram. People only survive with what they get. There is also huge problem of the condition of these children and don’t forget these are children of the poor who cannot afford private education. I want to dedicate my efforts to these challenges because it is my conviction and belief that unless you address these problems, we are likely to end up with more problem bigger and serious than Boko Haram. There is also the issue of Civilian JTF. They have put their lives on the line. They’ve done very well, they’ve defended their communities but very soon, the insurgency will be over and unless you channel their energies into something meaningful and appropriately too, you can end up with more problem.
There is also the problem of unemployment. Over the years, the federal government has share of the blames particularly the government before the current one. I am not being unfair in my assessment. The government has not been fair to Borno State.
How do you mean?
Usually, Borno was targeted whenever there is recruitment at the federal level but they will say no because they don’t want to inadvertently employ Boko Haram. So they were actually excluding us particularly in recruitment in security forces. But this is changing now. During the last administration, definitely this has been the case because I have also experienced it while submitting applications for some of our children in Borno who wanted to join security forces. I was severally told there was security alerts not to recruit from our state because they don’t want to recruit Boko Haram. Though this may be a genuine concern at that time but it has the effect of increasing unemployment among our youths. It was actually difficult to separate Boko Haram from any other good person but things have changed now. So I appeal to federal agencies not only to resume recruitment of our children into the agencies but also do some affirmative action that will enable us to gain lost ground. Over the years, many people from other states of the federation have been recruited at our exclusion. There should be special programme by all these agencies; Civil Defense, army, Air Force, navy, immigration, customs and DSS to do a special programme of recruitment of our qualified young men and women. These are the kind of challenges that I will take upon myself when I become the governor.
Why do you think Borno people should consider you to lead them and what are your core mission?
Borno will want to vote for me because they were very impressed about my performance while I was a senator. That also informed the clamour for me to come out for the governorship. I am very satisfied with my
performance as a senator, even as MD NSTF when I was there, as permanent secretary and DG here. People are also happy about my performance. My mission is to deal with the problems that insurgency has thrown up over the years. As mentioned earlier, the challenge of out-of-school children, unemployment, CJTF issue in the nine years of Boko Haram. It is time for us to pay the CJTF back. Some of them can be recruited into various security forces.
Political contest in Nigeria requires huge money. Where will you get your money from? Who is or are your sponsor/sponsors knowing full well you’ve been out of government for long and may not have access to public fund as is often the case with Nigerian politicians?
This has been made easier now by two factors. One is the fact that President Buhari has made some reform in the electoral system. We have a very conservative figure that has been enshrined in the Electoral Act. Now you don’t need too much to contest. In fact, if you spend too much you can lose and be prosecuted. This is part of the evolution of our system and it is good not because it will cost me less but also because it will clean up the polity. It is not good for a system that anybody who comes regardless of how and where he got his money buys his way into office.
You appear to be very ambitious about your mission but Borno isn’t among states with fat statutory allocation or high internal revenue. So how do you finance these programmes?
It will be very unfair to push the IGR on citizens that are themselves victims. I don’t expect that I will tax the people again. The fund will come from our statutory allocation, federal assistance, from multnational donor agencies, NGOs, philanthropists and other well-meaning people. Most people do not know the extent of the problem here. So it won’t be a bad idea if we showcase the situation for countries, states, organisations and people to assist and support us.