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I believe in power devolution – Masari

As House of Representatives Speaker between 2003 and 2007, Aminu Bello Masari, who is now Kastina State governor, was in PDP. To  him, his former party wrecked the country. In this interview with reporters in Kastina, he says he believes in devolution of power to the extent that the central government is not weakened. But he states that he does not know what restructuring means. State House Correspondent, Augustine Ehikioya was there.

TODAY we toured a general hospital; it is one of the many across most of the local governments. One key thing we learnt from there is that children within age five and below enjoy free medical care. We also learnt that cases like surgeries that have to do with hernia, caesarian section and all that are free.  How are you getting the funds to do all these?

Everybody is aware of the state of the economy when we came in and Katsina was not an exception. In fact, you could say our situation was bad when we came in. We started by cutting spending, especially on political appointees. So the intervention of the federal government from that 10 billion naira was what we used as seed money for our project. You know states were given 10 billion each. In our own case, we took three billion to education because our number one priority is education. We took 2.5 billion to health, 2.5 billion to water and two billion to agriculture because these are our key priority areas.

In the health sector, we met our hospitals in a terrible condition; in fact, I was there 3am, 5am there was no light in the delivery room; they were using improvised lightening system; it was a very bad situation.

So, we renovated the wards but ended up constructing new ones in most of the places. In Katsina, we have the biggest radiologist, A and E, paediatric. In fact, we have exceeded the 3 billion; we are no longer talking about 2.5 billion again. All the interventions we had along the line, we put them in education, health and water supply. In primary education alone since we came in, we have spent over 3 billion naira. In fact, by the end of this year, we must have spent up to 4 to 5 billion naira, including salary. We are not talking about the running cost. These are capital projects in primary schools.

For us, we cannot address poverty without addressing the issue of education and public education is the most guaranteed way of taking people out of poverty; you can’t take people out of poverty without education. You can’t do more than your size, so without education, Katsina cannot compete. Other parts of Nigeria won’t even wait for Katsina.

Do you have an incentive to take kids out of the streets into the classrooms and keep them there?

We are making the schools habitable and we have been paying teachers’ salaries as at when due. We have promoted teachers that were not promoted in the last seven years and we provided teaching materials and aids and we told parents they have to be responsible because they are ultimately responsible for educating their children. I held a parley with all the head teachers of all the primary schools in the state. They told us their grievances, the problems and we addressed some of them and are still addressing some of the issues, including overcrowding in schools, open schools, no fencing. Yesterday, I was in one of the secondary schools because I am completely rehabilitating, renovating and building new structures there; all the toilets, 25 of them, were down and out. For boarders, all the girls’ schools were completely dilapidated. We are rebuilding the schools.

Aside health and education, agriculture used to be the main stay of the economy in your state. How far have you gone in keying into the federal government’s agricultural initiative to attain sufficiency in food production?

You are absolutely right. When we were campaigning, we told the people very clearly that all of us, anybody above 40, was educated through the native authority system, which was relying on agriculture and livestock; that was the main source of revenue in the native authority system. It was from there we were trained; we built primary and secondary schools and dispensaries which we now call clinics. The secondary school in Funtua was built by native authority. It was started by native authority and we were midway when the northern Nigerian government took over. So, it was done before through agriculture and it can still be done. So we put agriculture as part of our priority and that was why I said we allocated N2 billion to that sector.

What we started with, because you have to determine the type of soil we have, so we commissioned a consultant, someone who was a consultant with World Bank, FAO, who happens to come from Katsina State. So we pulled him out and appointed him Special Adviser on Agriculture. Then we established 34 other stations close to the local government. Now we have done farmers data capture and it was through that we were able to, during the last dry season farming, using the anchor from federal government, to organise 9,000 farmers who participated in rice production. That was only for dry season. Now we are targeting that for cotton production next year, we have minimum of 60,000 farmers. Also all the money we are pumping in we are pumping into research and development, including getting information because we can’t start like we use to do without information on seed, soil. In Katsina we have three types of soils. If you go to the northern end of the state, it is sandy, the middle between muddy and a type of clay. You have to consider the soils even to the point where you have to choose a tractor. For instance, if you want to go to Daura you cannot take a 7.5 horse power tractor, what will you be doing with that when with three or four horse power you can achieve result because the soil there is light, it is soft. If you go down south of the state you will need heavy tractor because the soil there is heavy. So, we have stopped doing blanket planning for the rainy season. So, from our resources we procure fertiliser, over 25,000 metric tons for rainy season in 2015, 2016 and this year because of the federal government’s intervention we targeted about 100,000 metric tons. We were only able to get 30,000 tons and that is why this year we did not do any fertilizer ceremony. We have stopped it.

We also gave money to the farmers supply companies because hitherto they were not doing anything to order for improved seeds, insecticides, herbicides and we also rehabilitated up to three irrigation projects. We built new canals, we invited contractors who bided and won and we gave them money; one at Malam Fashe, Dagura, which is an old irrigation dam that was built during the Northern Nigerian Government. Previous government attempted to spend money doing this and that and in the end money didn’t work because it was not applied the way it should. This time around we have the bidding, we have the contractors and they are doing a good job.

So really, we have taken agriculture as our second priority because we believe that with that, we can sustain the state. The native authority of yesteryears was a province made up of Katsina and Daura Emirate. Before you have equal empowerment, you must have a minimum of two emirates and so it was Katsina and Daura that formed the Katsina Province. So it is the same province that is Katsina State today.

So, I think if we go back to our history definitely, if we do the right thing in the next five years, we will be able to survive.

How vibrant is the economy of Katsina State in terms of internally generated revenue and adding value to agriculture?

It is now that we are building the infrastructure to generate internal revenue; prior to now, the state was dependent on federal allocation because if you have N10 billion from the Federation Account, all the salaries you pay, they will pay tax, the contracts you give, they will pay tax. It is now we are building the infrastructure of agriculture that will provide the revenue base. We have hired a consultant, he has surveyed the entire state, identified the revenue points. So, what we are working now is towards embarking on a lot of sensitisation because this area I can say since 1979, nobody was paying tax; only those who want to get tax clearance certificate that will pay whatever the revenue office ask them to pay. But those who are supposed to pay, the commercial, the farmers, there was no infrastructure on ground for them to be able to pay.  I believe we now know the taxable outlets, how many we are adding into our tax register and how to get it. You know when you empower farmers, the money will go to the pockets of the people, you will increase their purchasing power and they will in turn pay tax. So unless you build the infrastructure, you cannot generate internal revenue because like I said earlier, the entire revenue was based on the Federation Account.

Last year, you organised an international business summit in the state that attracted global attention with the president attending the opening. How has the outcome of that summit translated into gains for the state?

The outcome has been very encouraging. First of all, now we are working with Dangote on some agriculture projects; we are working with BUA, which is building a textile park, we are working with other Indian companies; we are building economic zone; we are taking advantage of this la-catch, and we are building so many power plants. Those that have indicated interest we have given them land. They want to build solar power plants but the process in Abuja is taking so much time. In terms of housing, we have given more than we will need to the extent that we are now even discouraging those who are building because the houses are too many. Because the houses are meant for civil servants but how many civil servants do we really have? Those working in the local government areas are not up to 100, so we are really encouraging all the investment more in the agriculture sector, power. We have a company who is distributing over 148,000 tractors. They came during the economic summit with 78 tractors. The government and the farmers’ association, the company met with a bank and reached an agreement. Now the tractors are available; all you need to do is pay 20 per cent of the cost while you spread the payment gradually. And during dry season, the company can come and take the tractors to work and you pay. The model we are employing is working and I believe we will see the result.

The federal government is fighting corruption at the centre, what is your state doing to curb corruption?

What we have done is to be transparent and open. In this state, at every opportunity I get, I tell them what we are getting from Abuja for the local government and for the state. Like last month (August), we got N3.6 billion. I told them this is the amount for salary, this is what is going for overheads, and this is the balance, the internally generated revenue is this. The local government last month got N4.02 billion and there are 34 local government areas.

So, the money is so transparently distributed. In any case, there is no money to steal. The Paris Club Refund for example, we were told to pay salary with it, we paid over N7 billion. In the state, we paid over N4 billion and another N4.8 billion. We are working on January to April 2017. By December 2016, nobody is being owed salaries, whether alive or dead; everybody has been paid. So, as far as salaries, arrears and gratuities are concerned, we have paid all.

Many Nigerians are disappointed with your party;  but others are saying the party should be given another chance in 2019. What is your take?

It depends on who is saying he is disappointed, maybe the person was not in Nigeria up to 2015 but the beauty of all this is that you can only lie with your mouth, your inside knows the truth.

For restoring peace and security in this country, APC has created the atmosphere, the environment conducive for living. Before 2015 election, we were not sure if there will be Nigeria or not. And for those who knew what was then in terms of revenue that was accruing to the federal government and what is now in terms of revenue accruing, I think any reasonable person will give kudos to the APC because for navigating up to this time, the population has increased but the source of revenue has gone down. The mouths to feed are increasing while the source of revenue is going down. When we had the opportunity to save, we didn’t save; when we had opportunity to invest in areas that will bring additional revenue, we did not. Everybody in Nigeria was a living witness to this. So yes, for us to consolidate the change and to see the fruits from these heavy investments, it will take years. It takes time.

You know, the APC has come to provide responsible and expansive leadership which it has done and it is doing. We didn’t say we are coming here to perform magic because we are not magicians. So, for anybody to say APC is a huge disappointment, you know whoever was in the PDP yesterday and is in the PDP today, inside him, he knows the truth. You can only lie with your mouth. If you are 5.6 inches tall you know but you claim to be 6 inches, you know it is a lie.

Is Katsina enjoying special benefits from the federal government, being the President’s home state?

You know this president is not somebody who will take projects to Katsina State because he is from this state. Of course, some investing companies or some ministries when you go and say you are from Katsina, they may look at you as somebody coming from the President’s state naturally but for him to put a project in Katsina because it is his state, it won’t happen. So, it is no longer business as usual that when you have a president everybody will be trooping to the place. How many jets have you seen here since he has been here? If it was the other time, this would have become a Mecca of some sought. Even I in my small house here would have become a king. But this is not the kind of president we have. These are the kind of leaders the nation needs.

What’s your take on the recent clamour for restructuring?

I believe in devolution of power because somebody telling you restructuring does not know what it means. I believe strongly in devolution not to the extent of weakening the central government because here we need the central government so that it can carry the nation forward to a greater height. This is because a weak central government can bring the nation down. But at the same time, I do not see the rationale of the federal government concerning itself with primary and secondary education. These are foundational education which is the responsibility of local governments and states. I do not see the business of the federal government in constructing boreholes, primary healthcare centres, fixing the salaries for my councillors here, fixing the same salary with Lagos. Even I as a governor I should not be earning the same thing as the governor of Lagos State because the revenue base is different from mine. The revenue base in Kano is higher than mine, these are the areas we really need to look at and address them. I believe in devolution but for restructuring, I don’t know what it means.

Katsina will be 30 in a few days, is there any elaborate celebration in the offing?

We are going to have a very simple celebration which will not cost tax payers so much. We will be 30 just like Akwa Ibom State but we are not doing elaborate ceremony.

How is the typical Katsina man feeling, coming from the home state of the President?

Very responsive! It is a huge responsibility because wherever you go to and the moment they know you are from Katsina State people will watch what you do. The era of beating your chest, breaking the law, doing as you like because the President is from your state, is over. We tell our people to try and show good manners; yes I am from Katsina so the best I can do for the president is to do something that will show good manners. We are law abiding and very responsible because to do otherwise you are wasting your time.

What is the implication of the country coming out of recession?

I don’t know how to put it. You know

The post I believe in power devolution – Masari appeared first on The Nation Nigeria.

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