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Monday, June 25, 2012

Short Essay 33. The Muslim Brotherhood: Victory and Challenges

Short Essay 33
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

The Muslim Brotherhood: Victory and Challenges

Muhammad Mursi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood in the last presidential election in Egypt, and millions of his followers have every reason to celebrate his victory when it was announced by the authorities yesterday. Finally, despite the systematic suppression through assassinations, executions, arrests, tortures and long term imprisonment of its men and women by successive Egyptian military dictatorships since 1948, the Muslim organization has reached the top of Egyptian political hierarchy through popular vote.

The hardships and hard work have paid off because the organization, by the victory of Mursi, has proved the quantum of public trust it has earned during its eighty years of struggle for the establishment of social justice. When the chance came, the majority of Egyptians preferred its party – the Freedom and Welfare Party – to the old order. The victory, however, has come with many challenges. Mursi must now be scratching his head trying to figure out how to meet them. It will not be an easy task because they are many and complex.

On the surface are the immediate political challenges. There is the unfinished battle for supremacy between the military that wants to retain the levers of power and the civilian revolutionaries that want to divest it of any such influence. Unless it is settled in favour of the civilians, Mursi’s authority and success will be limited in many ways, if not undermined completely by the military and their civilian collaborators. It would not be easy for the military to give up power after commanding it for over sixty years. Navigating these waters is the first test of President Mursi’s political dexterity.

To tame the military in the next few days and succeed during his tenure, Mursi will need to preserve the public spirit of the revolution and earn the confidence of other players in the political scene. He has started talks with other parties and personalities in his effort to form a government that will be all-inclusive, thus allaying the fears of political instability. Good move. Thanks to its long experience in opposition, the Brotherhood would not be in a hurry to undermine its victory. It is likely to make all the compromises that are necessary to make the best use of it.

Then we come to the long-term challenges that are largely ideological. Would the Muslim Brotherhood be able to prove its long-standing campaign slogan - Islam the answer – in the modern world? Would it be able to show an exemplary leadership that will not only respect the rights of citizens but also those of the disadvantaged in the society? Would it champion the rights of women and the minority Coptic Christians or it would it try to emasculate them?

What would be the attitude of the brothers to multiparty democracy after its ascent to the Presidency and likely dominating the parliament? Would it respect difference of opinion and allow a level ground for competition between it and other parties or would it try to implement the ‘one man, one vote, one time’ dictum that Islamic groups are accused of implementing, like in Iran?

The questions on the international scene are not different or less difficult. Would Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood tread the path of Turkey to maintain a somewhat cordial relationship with the West and fulfil its obligations with Israel under the Camp David Accord or would it take the cause of confrontation like Iran and the Taliban?

Though world leaders from different divides are congratulating Mursi, one can hardly miss the scepticism in the atmosphere. The future of Egypt remains uncertain to many of them. The reason for the widespread uncertainty in lies basically in the ideological orientation of the Brotherhood. If it were a salafi movement, many would say the answers to the above questions are pretty obvious: It would be another Taliban that will transfigure Egypt back to the 7th Century. However, for many decades, the Brotherhood has cut for itself the image of a moderate movement that will be capable of taking a middle course on most issues thugh it is difficult to say how their salafi partners would influence its stand on some of these issues.

I am optimistic that the Brotherhood is more likely to value the hard earned opportunity than squander it. Power has a way of softening ideologues. The Muslim Brotherhood has spent many years discussing most of these issues. It is also aware that it is the mother of Muslim revivalism in the Sunni world. So it has the duty to practice the dynamism of Islam that it has been preaching since the 1930s. On the one hand, its failure can have disastrous consequences on the political outings of Islamist parties in other Middle Eastern countries. On the other, any success would go a long way to support the assertion of such parties that only Islam is the answer to the problems of governance in their countries.

I can bet that the long history of the Brotherhood has accorded it the intellectually capacity to handle such ideologically driven issues just as its long struggle has enabled it the political maturity to handle a complex society like Egypt. The entrenched plurality of the Egyptian society will also discourage it's drift toward religious extremism and political intolerance. The Brotherhood has championed the cause of women education and participation in public life for decades. The presidency gives it the opportunity to harness that further. Its intellectuals have also expounded the tolerance of Islam to Christian and Jewish minorities so it is less likely to infringe on their rights.

In a nutshell, on all these matters, Egypt under the Brotherhood is likely to be closer to – though less liberal than – Turkey, more moderate than Taliban, and more tolerant to the West and Israel than Iran. The Brotherhood will keep at the back of its mind the fact that it has just a quarter of the Egyptian electorate as its core supporters as reflected by the votes it got during the first round of the elections. It will not also overlook the fact that unlike Iran, it did not come to power through an Islamic revolution but through a secular one engineered by social media at Tahrir Square and elections that were hotly contested by its rivals. It also did not come to power through war, unlike the Taliban. These considerations are likely to make the Brotherhood eager to retain its moderation than shift it to any extreme position.

On the Palestinian issue, the Brotherhood is likely to prefer negotiation to confrontation. In the former it will be tough, as it will do its best to avoid the latter except where Israel deliberately proves stubborn. The same would apply to the United States. Hardly would the Brothers be interested in severing relationship with America, though they will definitely be less enthusiastic than Mubarak and Sadat. They will continue to welcome American assistance especially given the fact that they are likely to constrain tourism by abolishing un-Islamic practices.

I will not be surprised if Mursi takes steps to assure the Americans of his desire for the cordial relationship to be maintained. Where the two would differ is likely to be on the Palestinian question, Iran and the fight against terrorism. Yet, on all the three, Mursi will neither be an advocate nor a militant opponent of American position. My predictions are based on the fact that from the perspective of ideology, the Muslim Brotherhood is many times more moderate on most issues relating to the West and its civilization than most Islamic organizations.

Given its Islamic ideological leaning towards welfarism, the Brotherhood will most likely discourage wholesale privatization of government services and assets. Here, it is likely to reflect Nasserite Egypt than Mubarak’s. This policy will be pursued without much risk to concessions already made especially in the areas of communications. Tourism will remain a contentious area. The Brothers are more inclined to discouraging some of its aspects than promoting it. That will leave them with the challenge of finding an alternative source of hard currency.

Where the Brotherhood will impress the world most, however, will be the strong exception it will take on corruption. Mursi, in collaboration with other revolutionaries, is likely to sanitize government by prudent management of resources. If the Brotherhood will bring its long-standing experience in managing the welfare services it offered the Egyptian public through its scarce resources when it was in opposition, it will face little difficulty in utilizing public funds optimally.

The election of Mursi is a life-time opportunity for the Brothers. I have no doubt that they understand that and they will make the best use of it. If they do that, Hasan al-Banna, their founder in 1928, would smile from his grave. They would also have honoured the blood of their martyrs and the suffering of their followers. More importantly, they would have served as a good example to other Islamists and proven to a sceptical world – beyond the pages of the books they have published and the sermons they have delivered – that Islam, as the final religion, remains not only relevant today but also suitable for the management of human affairs in every place and time.

From his initial steps and language, Mursi sounds promising especially if he would not be restrained by the military. May God help them.

24 June 2012

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Short Essay 32 The Fall of Azazi, the Return of Gusau

Short Essay 32
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

The Fall of Azazi, the Return of Gusau

Boko Haram has claimed its most important victim yet last weekend: The National Security Adviser, A. O. Azazi. For an avowed enemy of the nation’s security apparatus and political system, only the ultimate target remains: the President. If it can manufacture his downfall or the end of his regime, the group would boast that it has proved its mettle.

The fall of Azazi must have surprised many Nigerians. Ah, so the ‘clueless’ and ‘weak’ Jonathan can also bite, they would exclaim. Beyond that, biting his Ijaw brother was least expected. Many people think Azazi did not expect his sudden fall. He has since his resumption as NSA walked firmly on the presidential turf with a mien that was informed by the confidence of an insider and the assurance of a kinsman.

As the weakness in the President became clearer, the arrogance of Azazi as his untouchable protector and indispensable ally was increasing by the day. His display of power reached its peak last week when his contempt for the president was reported online. Somewhere the idea of declaring the state of emergency in Kaduna State was discussed and it was agreed that it was a good idea. To seal its fate however, the former NSA employed a sarcasm that portrayed his level of disdain for his boss, the President. “Where is the president to declare it”, was his reported remark, as if Jonathan was missing in Bermuda Triangle or he has abandoned the hot seat for a mere trivial summit in Brazil.

Azazi left office with the same demeaning impression for the President. After receiving the news of his sacking, his spokesman issued some statements that did not hide his long-standing poor rating of Jonathan’s courage to face challenges squarely. The spokesman said when Azazi suggested that Buhari and some top northerners be invited for ‘questioning’, Jonathan refused and accused the NSA of trying to “scuttle his government.”

As a tribute, I feel compelled to attest that Azazi was different from former NSAs in his relationship with the Nigerian public. Two months ago, he declared the ruling party and the northern presidential aspirants guilty of precipitating the present security crisis in the country. Right or wrong, the public felt that such statements should not have come from a person so close to the President and his NSA for that matter - a Freudian slip, you can say.

The tradition of the NSA in Nigeria as cut by his predecessors is complete silence. They understood that the strength of any security apparatus lies in its secrecy, through leaving the public guessing about its opinion and what it onows about any security issue. Even if Azazi shared that philosophy, the politician in him was not comfortable with it. He preferred activism to mystery. Under him, even the secretive SSS went public, appointing a spokesperson, issuing press statements, parading suspects and holding press conferences. The public could easily discern from these development that there was a competition for its recognition between the SSS and the police in any success, no matter how small, which was recorded in the fight against Boko Haram.

Azazi might have usurped the functions of the police and demystified the office of the NSA. But if it were not for his approach, we would not have been able to read the mind of the administration regarding crucial issues like its perception of the causes of the Boko Haram insurgency. To the delight of journalists, commentators and the opposition, Azazi was always there to let the cat out of the bag.

Well he is gone, for whatever reason and for whatever sin he committed. He is the latest victim of Boko Haram. He is familiar with sackings though, having suffered one as the Chief of Defence Staff under Yar’adua when he was indicted by an army security report on the theft of weapons from his 1 DIV by a Niger Delta militant syndicate. Perhaps, that was the first time he established relationship with Jonathan, who the report fell short of naming as one of the financiers of the gun running activities of the syndicate.

Azazi's return as NSA might be a reward for his ethnic chauvinism. Our own, an Ijaw, possibly, my partner in the illegal arms deal is now the President, Azazi must have calculated rightly when Jonathan became the President. Jonathan too might have wondered if he could trust anyone better than the devil he knows. And on the NSA seat, we saw all sorts of sumptuous security contracts awarded to Niger Deta militants, the latest being the concession of our maritime security to them by the Jonathan administration. We also witnessed the largest allocation of our budget to national security in our history.

Azazi may now be bitter for losing the top security job but he can still keep himself busy by paying full attention to the execution of those security contracts that were fronted for him by Tampolo and other Niger Delta militants. With his departure, the dream of Niger Delta republic has suffered a serious setback. It is clear that Nigeria is bigger than his dream. Safe journey, sir.

At his heels comes Sambo Dasuki, a lesser known person from the Sokoto royal family. Compared to General Azazi, Sambo is a dwarf: a junior officer who retired almost two decades ago as a colonel. Politically, the highest position he held in the army was the ADC to President Babangida. He was nowhere close to commanding a division or becoming Nigeria’s chief of defence staff. Likewise, I doubt if he ever dreamt of becoming the NSA.

Now, if the NSA job has put his predecessor general to shame during these trying times, how did the President got convinced that Sambo would succeed in disabling the bombs of Boko Haram and silencing their guns? Look at the gamble: apart from his political appointment as the Managing Director of Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Corporation, the new NSA has nothing in hand to prove that he is competent in heading the security apparatus of country as it is today. At its face value, one is tempted to think that the appointment of Sambo is one of the most stupid things that Jonathan ever did as the President. So are we heading for the rocks, again?

Hold your breath. we are not. The President is not stupid. Come with me.

The reason is simple. Some things we get by birth. Many others we get by hard work. Few we get by association. Sambo Dasuki, I am tempted to believe, got this appointment by his marital link to the longest serving NSA, General Aliyu Gusau (rtd). Gusau is married to Sambo’s sister, the wife of late Aliyu Dasuki, may God have mercy on him.

In the past few months, there have been reports that Gusau was resisting the pressure to return to the NSA office. Gusau might have calculated the cool reception that Nigerians would accord him if he were to return for the simple fact that he has been there three times before. Man is hardly excited with the familiar. Also, he might have been hindered morally by his contest for the PDP presidential ticket against Jonathan under whom he last served as NSA. The idea of a proxy is therefore apt. Sambo would sit in as the figurehead NSA, definitely, while Gusau would ably determine the security operations of the country.

From his position at the top, Jonathan must have perceived that Boko Haram is inching closer and closer to him. It has caused the sacking of all categories of police and security chiefs. With some clerics warning him of an impending war, the President must have realized that he could be the next victim. The nation has, with distinctions, fulfilled all the requirements for a coup d’etat. The condition is so critical that he will not hesitate to call for the assistance of anyone perceived to be capable of making a difference between democracy and military rule.

It is easy to see the idea of involving Gusau as based purely on the merit of the former NSA. However, it surely goes beyond that. I do not also believe that it is a gesture made to appeal Northerners to dismiss the notion that the inability of the government to handle the situation is not a conspiracy to destroy the North.

In my humble opinion that the return of Gusau was due to two reasons. One, from what Azazi said two months ago – that violating the principle of zoning in PDP was responsible for the present security challenges in the country and that no one expects that those aggrieved would fail to respond by creating difficulties for the Jonathan administration – it is clear that he meant that Boko Haram is recruited by those who lost the ticket to Jonathan. So they must know the secret behind it.

Nobody expects that Azazi will make such serious accusations without any support from the hundreds of files he has treated on the matter. Jonathan, according Azazi’s spokesman yesterday, has resisted the fomer NSA’s advice that such people be called for questioning. Gusau, being one of those aspirants, must have made it to Azazi’s list conspirators.

Jonathan here took a directly opposite route. If he cannot invite Gusau for questioning, it would not be a bad idea to saddle him with the challenge of restoring security to the country.

The second reason is that possibly few people, if any, in our security domain would know about Boko Haram than Gusau. It was under the tenure of Obasanjo that Boko Haram was conceived, hatched and nourished to full growth. The first we heard about the group was when it called itself the “Nigerian Taliban” after it clashed with the police in Yobe in the early 2000s. Many of the arrests made then turned out to be sons of influential people in the old Borno State. The suspects were eventually released. From there, the group moved its headquarters to Maiduguri and enjoyed the support of people like Governor Sheriff. Perhaps few people knew that it would turn so dangerous. But the SSS director then, Gadzama, has raised sufficient alarms which, for unknown reasons, were not heeded to. It took the vacation of Obasanjo from that office, along with NSA Gusau, before the authorities could provoke a violent engagement with the group resulting in the present crisis.

Why was the group not stopped from blooming and fruition during Obasanjo still remains a mystery to many of us. But it will not be a mistake to assume that the person at the helm of our security structure during the formative years of the group clearly knows its dynamics and the forces behind it. Who else is then best qualified for the job than him?

So from whichever angle one looks at it, appointing a proxy to Gusau would make a lot of sense for a scared Jonathan who is presently confined by the terror to the Villa. By appointing Sambo Dasuki, Jonathan might have bought some time, but only a little. How far he can run before the monster that caught up with those immediately below him also catches up with him is a distance known only to his destiny.

Finally, I would like to put this question to my readers. Should the new NSA fail to meet the expectations of Jonathan and Nigeria precariously attains a tipping point, would the country be ready to sacrifice Jonathan in order to avert the impending disaster or would it prefer to go into an indefinable civil war and dismemberment simply to maintain him as the President of a democratic Nigeria?

Jonathan would be keen to know your answers. But he must be under no illusions as to what they would be. Nigerians have answered such questions each time the country reaches the brink in the past. And consistently, the answers have never been in favour of the presidents. This one too will not be different, I suppose.

24 June 2012

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Discourse 346: The Christian Answer to Boko Haram

Discourse 346
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

The Christian Answer to Boko Haram

Last Sunday, the attention of the nation was drawn to the killings of innocent Nigerian Muslims, including unsuspecting travellers on the Kaduna-Abuja Highway, by Christians as a reprisal attack to Boko Haram bombings of churches in Kaduna and Zaria. A number of Mosques and shops were also burnt that Sunday in Christian-dominated neighbourhoods in the southern part of the city. In all the attacks, as at the last offical count, has killed 21 Christians, while the reprisals killed 29 Muslims and hundreds werreinsured. As a result, I will pause my series on Kano to say a word about the matter.

Before we continue, however, I have a confession to make. Writing on matters of religion in Nigeria and especially where lives and places of worship are involved is very difficult for commentators that would like to remain impartial. So many times, as we try it, a writer finds it difficult to walk the tight rope of objectivity, balance and reason. Yet, the mettle of a writer is not tested by his treatment of populist topics or points of view but by how delicately he handles tough issues with equanimiyt and fearlessness. In the midst of high tension and soaring tempers, a voice of reason, even if faint, is most welcome.

The fact that a group of Muslims in the name of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnati Lil Da’awati wal Jihad – popularly known as Boko Haram - has been attacking churches in Northern Nigeria is a settled one. Its leader, Malam Abubakar Shekau, has twice featured on YouTube claiming its responsibility, and so does his spokesperson, Abu Qaqa, in the aftermath of many such attacks. The fact that there are Christians found involved in church bombing activities – and there are many reported and unreported cases – or in supporting Boko Haram as I once wrote on this page does not renounce the confession of Boko Haram; it only complicates our analytical equation by introducing more variables and, thus, making it less linear than most of us would wish.

Targeting churches and Christians with bombings by Boko Haram is a matter that has saddened every well meaning Muslim and Christian in this country. Attacking worshipers is not only un-Islamic but also cheap. The command of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to his companions on this is clear. A Muslim must not have a better model on religion than him. Demolition a place of worship is an act of fasad – or corruption of the world, as clearly stated in Suratul Hajj, ironically in the very verse that the leader of the group quoted in his first video to justify its resort to arms, though he did not complete it.

A worshipper is a guest of God. When a delegation of Christians once paid a visit to the Prophet in Medina, he not only camped them in his mosque but also asked them to use it for their worship. That is how the sanctity of worshippers and their place of worship became a settled issue among Muslims of various sects. That is why destruction of churches are hard to find in Muslim history. Muslims have left churches and even idols in Jerusalem, Syria, Europe, Egypt and Asia intact to date. The Taliban that destroyed the idol of Buddha in Afghanistan a decade and half ago was widely condemned by Muslim scholars across the world.

I am yet to come across a Nigerian Muslim – a scholar or a layman like me - that approves of the demolition of churches and attack on worshippers. That was how the first claim by Boko Haram came to the Muslim community as a great shockand shame. Of course, Muslim rioters have burnt churches before and they continue to do so, just as Christians also burn mosques when there are unrests. The difference is in organization. Those are acts of mobs. The ones of Boko Haram are organized operations of a sect that claims to be waging a holy warfor Islam, for God. But what is its justification, if we may ask?

Fortunately, the group is unequivocal on its reasons. It seeks to legitimise such operations based on the principle of retaliation. It is true, as it says repeatedly, that Muslims in the past twenty years became targets of barbarous attacks by some Christians in areas where the latter dominates. The examples of Kafanchan, Tafawa Balewa, Zangon Kataf, Kaduna, Plateau and Zonkwa cannot be denied. It is not the barbarity of such attacks that worries Muslims most, however but how Christians get away with the crimes so easily. Many accuse the Christian dominated security and law enforcement agencies of complicity.

It is difficult to recall any substantial prosecution or even arrest of Christians in all these despite the presence of hardcore evidence, including videos, in the hands of security agencies and the general public. The most recent of them are the attack on Muslims on Eid ground in Jos and the cannibalization of their bodies in the presence of law enforcement personnel and that of how Muslim villagers were massacred in Southern Kaduna during the post election violence, both in 2011. On the other hand, the violent reactions of Muslims to these atrocities are greeted by severe punishments by tribunals, courts and law enforcement agents that play the prosecution and the judge at the same time. From Karibi-whyte tribunal of 1987 to the latest arrests on the Plateau, it is Muslims who consistently receive the butt.

It is this selective justice and indifference of Nigerian authorities to Muslim blood, property and dignity that gives Boko Haram the pretext to retaliate on Christians. But here too, the group is wrong. No doubt, God has permitted the Prophet to retaliate against the polytheists of Arabia who transgressed against Muslims for over a dcade. In issuing that permit, however, God was specific about the target and the proportion of the retaliation:

“Whoever transgresses against you, transgress (in return) against him in proportion to his transgression against you, and know that God is with those who fear Him (i.e. those who follow his command without retaliating beyond the proportion of the offence they received). (Chapter Baqarah)

In another verse He said,

“And fight those who fight you and do not transgress (beyond the proportion that you were attacked with). God doesn’t like those who transgress.” (Chapter Baqarah again)

This is equal to the principle of proportionality in international law.

The interpretation of Boko Haram that every Nigerian Christian bears the burden of the crime that another Christian committed is absolutely untenable Islam:

“And no soul would bear the burden of another soul…” (Chapter Fatir)

Therefore, the actions of Boko Haram on these matters do not conform with the provisions of the Qur’an. Throughout his life, the Prophet of Islam was specific in punishing those who wronged Muslims on the few occasions he could not forgive them. For example, he never generalized punishment on the polytheists of Arabia then. When he was fighting those of Mecca, he was fighting those of Mecca alone. Neither did he treat the different tribes of Jews and Christians then in Arabia as one. He treated each on its own merit, befriending them except those who proved hostile to Islam. This is the provision against collective punishment in international law, again.

In the same manner, even if we were to accord amargin for retaliation, which I will discount later in the discussion, we must accept that Nigerian Christians cannot be treated as one organic collection of murderers that deserve a carpet treatment of bombs and bullets. In this case, the task is even made easier because the communities where these atrocities are perpetrated are known; so are the names and pictures of people who committed the crimes.

Why would Boko Haram then target innocent worshippers for God’s sake? Why not go for the criminals specifically? If it would avenge the cannibalization of Muslims on the Eid grounds of Rukuba for example, let the it obtain the video, take the pain of identifying the attackers and go after them with a surgical precision. Why then attack a cheap target of Christian worshippers in Gombe or Kaduna and leave those in Zonkwa or Rukuba? Come on. This is not Islam.

I remember the fatwa once given by Sheikh Salisu Abubakar Suntalma of Ahmadu Bello University during the Kafanchan crisis of 1987. He said, agreed that innocent Muslims were killed in Kafanchan, it does not warrant any Muslim to attack any church or Christian in Kaduna or Zaria. If you can find the culprits in Kafanchan and attack them, you may have a point, he said. Islam does not sanction attacking an innocent person, he concluded. During the same episode, Ibrahim Zakzaky expressed the same view. (Ironically, the Karibi-Whyte tribunal that was set up on the crisis jailed Zakzaky for five years, despite his opposition.) It is difficult to come across any scholar, leader or informed person in Islam that holds a contrary view.

So, though Boko Haram is in every sense right to become worried about the impunity with which some Christians commit barbaric actions against Muslims and go unpunished by the Nigerian authorities, the group misfired in its answer to situation even from the perspective of Islam. The Muslim community in Nigeria has repeated this objection times without number. This is not to mention the group’s lack of locus standi even from the Islamic perspective since in Islam only the judge can order the killing of a criminal if so ordained by the law.

By way of summary, if I were to grade the script of Boko Haram here, I would give it minus one (-1).

Now let us turn to our Christian brothers. The answer of some Christians in some Northern communities is, sad to note, a mirror reflection of that of Boko Haram. They too have collectivised Nigerian Muslims, as Boko Haram generalized Nigerian Christians, and made their blood and property targets of their retaliation. If Boko Haram has attacked a church, what stops the Christians from identifying Boko Haram, if they need to, and deal with them?

I question the need because the Christians have the mighty Nigerian security, law enforcement and military apparatus behind them, at their disposal, if we go by the sacred-cow treatment they enjoy from them. Why then resort to killing innocent travellers, burning mosques and shops? So if Boko Haram is wrong in attacking innocent worshippers and churches, what makes the attack by Christian fanatics on innocent Muslim travellers and burning their mosques legitimate? This is the wrong answer to the challenge of Boko Haram.

It is also wrong from the point of view of practicality. In how many communities are such Christians fanatics ready to barricade the highway and cowardly kill innocent Muslims? In how many states or communities in the North can they do it? Honestly, I see that possibility only in Plateau and Kaduna, in the very communities where those atrocities against Muslims have been repeatedly committed due to ethnic reasons and where there are state governors who would mastermind their protection from the law. (I was once told Yakowa is married to Jang’s sister but now I have confirmed that it is not true. The two only share the same local government of origin, Jaba. Yakowa's wife actually has her ancestry in Tafawa Balewa, in my state of Bauchi. I apologize for the inaccurate information I earlier published on this blog about the two sisters of mine.)

Man is a rational animal though he sometimes behaves stupidly at sub-human level especially when propelled by the spur of religion. Normally, he calculates his degree of safety before taking any risk on his life. Few are the fools that would dare start a fire that would consume them. Even in Kaduna State, why did not the Christian reprisal attack take place in Kaduna North or Zaria?

So, I grade the Christian answer script as minus one (-1), too.

When we add up the two, we end up with -2, two failures in the two negative quadrants of the Nigerian security equation. This is worse than where we were without either or both of them. That is where we are today. The fact is that retaliation could only serve as a deterrent for a short while. It often produces a vicious cycle of violence. Christians in some communities carry out war crimes against Muslims. Boko Haram says it retaliates but under the hidden tactic of bombings. Then Christians retaliate in areas they too think Muslims are weak. Both do it against innocent citizens, against places of worship, against God, though purportedly in the name of God.

This circle of cowardice can continue forever except we find a way to cancel the negatives and arrive at a positive digit. And to this we turn in the remaining part of the essay.

Christian leaders and opinion shapers have appealed to Muslim leaders to use their weight to restrain Boko Haram. But sincerely, which citizen would restrain any Nigerian that carries arms today? There is none. In the same vein, I have heard many Berom leaders saying that their youths are beyond their control. When some chiefs of Niger Delta tried to stop its militants from terrorist activities in the mid-nineties, the youths accused them of complicity and murdered them. Righ now, Nigeria has a high deficit of willing martyrs among its leaders.

The truth is that when it comes to violence, the answer lies with the law and nothing else. The law it is that can cancel those negatives. It is the instrument that stripped all citizens of the right to possess firearms. If people had the right to protect themselves adequately, some of these atrocities would not be committed. (Though think about it honestly: if all of us would possess arms, it will be 160million guns and billions of ammunitions. How would there be peace? We would be facing another form of instability.) However, in most contemporary states, the law has entrusted the security of lives and property to the state. In Nigeria, keeping that trust has been in the decline for decades now. Unless we are interested in replacing the state with anarchy, we must rise to strengthen the law.

Strengthening the law means using it appropriately as an arbiter when injustice is perpetrated and getting the right people to enforce it, whenever possible. Muslims, as I have maintained, should, in the absence of any interest to bring the criminals that have been perpetrating crimes against them to justice locally, refer the matter to the International Court of Justice. They must be prepared to walk the ladder to its top. Armed with hard evidence like the ones we mentioned earlier, it is inconceivable that they will not be offered justice there. So the question of their retaliation is cancelled, ab initio.

Christians on their part must also resort to the law and support it. They must ensure that the law enforcement agencies that they control have risen to the challenge. They must also be patient with them until they succeed without complicating matters through retaliation. The current President is their making. They boasted of supporting him to victory during the last elections. In his hands lie the keys to our peace. He is the commander-in-chief. They must get him to act appropriately. Making a President is the beginning, not the end, of his service.

I will be dishonest to say that the government is doing nothing about Boko Haram. Achievements are recorded daily, albeit not enough to see us through completely yet. But when the President’s primary constituency dismisses him and resorts to taking the law into its hands by killing innocent travellers, I would think he has a problem at hand. He should not claim to be helpless, as he has often expressed in church services. He is not Moses. And we are not the Children of Israel on the bank of the Red Sea. Appealing to God without working hard maximally will only embolden the agents of destabilization. He must yield the stick as well as the carrot to both Boko Haram and his Christian counterparts in Plateau and Kaduna. Only this democratic distribution of justice would finally bring peace to our nation.

Ordinary citizens like me who have a voice must come out and speak boldly. The Christians have often emphasized that there is not enough voice of condemnation heard among Muslims. True. But that has to do more with the lack of protection from the government for those who would dare to do so. Man is a rational animal. Again, our dear Goodluck comes into the equation.

The Christians, on their part, often forget that they have been most economical with their voice against acts of sectarian violence. It is very hard, very rare, and very unusual to hear a Christian voice – a leader or opinion shaper – condemning the atrocities committed by his fellow Christians against Muslims, except Sam Nda-Isaiah of course, which mbay Christian fanatics say he is with Muslims. I cannot remember even a few, specifically directed at Christians. The best I would hear, if I am lucky on those rare occasions, are general statements condemning violence and calling for peace.

Has any Christian leader called for the prosecution of the massacres in Zonkwa or other villages of southern Kaduna of recent, for example? No. Have Nigerians heard the voice of any pastor on his pulpit condemning the Christians that attacked Muslims in Eid ground, roasted their bodies on vehicle bonnets and ate them in the presence of security agents? No. And so was it with every occasion of violence, including the latest killings on the Kaduna – Abuja Highway. What we only hear is the expression of shock, but not a single call for arrest. As usual, none is arrested and none will be arrested, anyway. There was never a time when any Christian cleric or traditional ruler even admitted that his people were at fault. The closest we heard was the recent statements by our Rev. Hassan Mathew Kukah. The videos are there. Let them join us in calling for the prosecution of the culprits. The truth, I must tell my Christian brothers, is that Nigeria cannot clap with one hand.

There are many other ways we can express our voice to garner support for peace though. For example, someone online has suggested mass rallies for peace across Northern Nigeria. Yes. I have seen the federal government and politicians rent crowds to show their solidarity for a cause or a candidate. Why cannot the president go beyond the pulpit and march across the road to the Eagle Square for the sake of peace? Why would not state governments summon all their ulama and priests and their followers to a peace rally in the largest public square of their states? These guys enjoy free largesse to Hajj, Umra Jerusalem and Rome. This is the time to ask for a pay back. Ehe now! Let us reassure the world with the pictures of oceans of peace loving Nigerians on international television screen. It will refute the notion that majority of Nigerians are murderers. It will also tell the agents of destabilization how insignificant they are in our midst.

As for the other forces that are interested for various reasons in aggravating the conflict in Northern Nigeria – those within the region and beyond – I wI'll say that it is our negligence that has given the allowance for the expression of their nefarious interests, using Boko Haram and Christian groups. The people of Northern Nigeria, and those of other regions, will continue to remain where they are, each in his own domain. In the North particularly, God has enriched us with diversity. It is a blessing, not a curse. And so shall we remain together long after the guns of Boko Haram and those of Christian fanatics are put to silence.

19 June 2012

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Interview (4): Kwankwaso

Interview (4)
By dr. Aliyu U. Tilde


My readers may recall that in my interview with Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, the former governor of Kaduna State, he was sincere enough to acknowledge that performance among governors did not end with the PRP governors of the Second Republic. If properly searched for, he said, it is possible to find "even as we speak now in 2012" some governors who are performing equally well.

I did not press him to mention any. However, from my observation, I can suggest two here in Northern Nigeria: Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State and Governor Rabi'u Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State. Not coincidentally, the two PDP governors are both scions of the old PRP. I have four yeas ago written a page on Lamido when I crowned him my best governor of 2008. But where Kwankwaso may excel is that in addition to his spectacular performance in the last one year, which I have studied in the past two weeks while in Kano, is his wholesale subscription to the talakawa doctrine of Malam Aminu Kano. His austere lifestyle and approach to governance, his financial prudence and his pro-poor oriented programs, all combine to make him in the eye of the dispassionate a faithful disciple of Malam Aminu Kano and a rare gem among Nigerian governors.

We should be large-hearted to give honour to whom honour is due, whoever it may be. For me, it is a duty, especially in these days when all hope seems to be lost. I have seen a lot in Kano and prepared materials which I will avail my readers with shortly. The materials are a must read, not withstanding their number and lengths, especially for our youths who have turned despondent. Reading them will help to rescue the youths from the disturbing grip of pessimism, narrow-mindedness and political intolerance that have become commonplace in Nigeria today.

However, as a start, I think it is suitable to open the gate with an interview that Newswatch and I held with the governor at midnight on Tuesday, 13 June 2012, in his office. The questions, except the last, were asked by Mr. Kayode of Newswatch. In the interview, the governor speaks of his achievements eepecially in the area of education and poverty alleviation, why he brands every project with the "kwankwasiyya" mark, how he lost the 2003 election, why he has not probed his predecessor (yet?), his tight grip on the finances of the state, why he does not have the office of the first lady, how he saves much to execute projects, his disapproval of security vote, the next governor he wishes Kano would have, the present security situation, the ideological contradictions in the composition of PDP, and why Kano recovered so quickly from the 21st January attacks. Happy reading.

The Interview:

Question: what can you say ae your achievements in the last one year?

Kwankwaso: In the last one year so much has been achieved. We are happy that we didn’t disappoint our people. You can see our achievements in various areas. For lack of time, I will, as an example, briefly dwell on some of the achievemnts we have recorded in education.

We decided to put education as our number one program on our agenda because its critical in transforming the lives of people. During our first term, in the area of primary education, by the grace of God, we were able to build thousands of classrooms in Kano, feed our primary pupils lunch five times a week, give them two sets of uniforms, etc. we are still maintaining those important programs.

In addition to that we have our Community Reorientation Committee (CRC) in all the forty-four local government areas of the state and the supervisory committee at the state level that carry out renovations of old structures and conducts the school programs I just mentioned. In each local government, the CRC is composed of our "best eleven": the district head, chief Imam, local government chairman, chairmen of PDP and the second best party in the last election, member of House of representative in the constituency, a representative each of National Union of Teachers, youths, women, businessmen and elders. You must have seen our one-storey building across the state – the Kwankwasiyya blocks of classrooms. Over 800 classes are completed in the first one year, 400 offices, 400 toilets, furtniture, etc.

By the way, the CRC also runs programs on poverty alleviation in which we support our youths and women. We have trained 44,000 women and supported each with a N10,000.00, free. The training of another 44,000 is going on at the rate of 100 per local government weekly. Youths are also trained on animal traction and given a loan of N150,000.00 to cover the cost of bulls and plough. The Lafiya Jari program is also on, where we have trainEd 1,200 unemployed of from different health institutions on the basics of commerce and give them a loan of N80,000.00 each to open small medicine shops in rural areas and neighborhoods.

In the area of secondary education, you must have visited the newly established Governor’s College. We have three other similar schools. We have improved the feeding of pupils in all our boarding schools. We are paying teachers and other civil servants by the 25th of every month, including the payment of the minimum wage of N18,000.00 that started last January.

In addition to our existing 10 tertiary institutions, we are establishing additional 28 institutes – ranging from nursing school, midwifery, health technology, fisheries institute, livestock institute, agric mechanization institute, horticultural institute, sports institute, Kano Corporate Security Institute, Kano Informatics, etc. Some of these institutes have already started on temporary sites.

We have earlier established Kano State University of Technology during our first term. Now we are establishing the Northwest University, which is a conventional university instead of KSUT that is limited to technology based courses. As the name implies the new university will cater for the six northwestern states. Of course, Kano is shouldering 100% of the responsibility now but at the appropriate time we will link up with our colleagues in other states in the zone to see how we can work together on the project. We are building its permanent site already and have advertised for staff positions including those of its principal will take off this September. Having noticed that we will have delays due to the civil works, we will use the Ado Bayero House as our temporary site while we are working day and night on the permanent site.

Our investment in education is based on the belief that it helps break the vicious circle of poverty. If you are educated, you can cater for yourself, either in this country or elsewhere. Additionally, we believe it is in the best interest of this country. You cannot have two countries in one: one very educated, the other very illiterate. Then there would be danger. We felt we should narrow the gap, create opportunities so that we can move together. This is very important for the security of our country. At this juncture, I would like to appeal to all those concerned, especially those that are rich enough to establish private institutions especially in the North. I also appeal to those of us in government to give education a priority.

Question: Why do your projects bear Kwankwasiyya mark? Some people think you are personalizing them.

Kwankwaso: When people make such remarks, they are either not aware of our intention or they are our opponents in the first place. We are not the first to brand any project. Why are they not talking of ETF? In addition, PTF stopped in 1999 but its signs are still there. Why are they not talking of MDG whose signs are everywhere. Our action is based on experience. During my first term, I can’t remember one classroom that was marked to indicate that it was done by my administration. Some governors are naming institutions after themselves or locating them in their villages or local governments. We didn’t do that before; we are not doing it even now.

You see some people had the opportunity to perform for eight years. They didn’t do anything other than pick our projects and use them in their calendars. It was very painful. I was in the Ministry of Defence when I saw a calendar carrying projects that I suffered in various ways to execute during my first tenure. That is why when we came back, we said, “Okay. Now we are moving with supersonic speed in the execution of our projects. How do we mark them to enable people know? If MDG and ETF are doing it now, if you have Ahmadu Bello University – and remember I haven’t named the new university Rabiu Kwankwaso University – why not us?

This is politics. You have blow your trumpet. I have learnt that the hard way. We have inherited a project of 1000 classrooms from the former administration that it started since 2008. Yet, only a third of the money was paid. So two-thirds are abandoned. I have asked them to bring the estimates. We will complete them, now that we have made our marks. If I didn’t write Kwankwasiyya on mine, you would have thought that we are still on the drawing table, that our predecessors constructed the buildings.

We are not ashamed to mark the building we constructed. We would only be ashamed were we stealing projects. Now in one year alone, we have built 800 primary school classrooms, 400 offices for teachers, the same number of pit latrines, etc. We have bought equipment worth hundreds of millions of naira for our tertiary institutions. Teachers in these institutes were not even paid salaries because some people were stealing the money. We will not allow anybody to steal. If anyone steals and we catch him, we will punish him. So we will have enough money to execute our projects. We have 28 institutions of various kinds taking off as I said initially. But we will mark them as we build them such that people would know. It is no secret.

Someone would say, “Well, if someone comes, he will scrub it.” Well, if someone comes he can even use a bulldozer to demolish the building. But if he has the time to say he doesn’t like it, why wouldn’t he build his own and write his name? If he is handamiyya – people who steal public money – he should write it. We have seen some buses marked, “donated by so and so.” We did not stop them. If we execute a project, we will mark it such that at least for the next three years people will know that we executed them.

Question: After you left office in 2003, your predecessor probed you and issued a white paper that sought to ban you from holding public office. Why haven’t you chosen to probe your predecessor in return?

Kwankwaso: It is because of our experience. When I was leaving this office in 2003, it was unimaginable that I would return here. The chances were slim. May be, I came back because of the white paper. As they were doing it, I continued moving. I became the Minister of Defence, the adviser to the President, then to NNDC. Obsanjo told them, “You can go and probe. But bring a proof to me that my minister has stolen money. There wasn’t any.” Anybody can ask your enemies to write anything about you and receive it over a cup of tea.

In 2003, I didn’t contest election with them. I contested with Buhari because presidential and gubernatorial elections were held same day for the first and only time in the history of this country. Sentiments were built based on ethnicity and religion such that the political atmosphere was so hazy that people weren’t reasoning well. People were told that if you vote for a religious man, you would all go to heaven. As time went, people saw that these people were drinking SWAN water, building estates when they didn’t have even a plot before, and so on. Their eyes were therefore shined.

I am happy to say that we were able to manage success in 1999 and failure in 2003. When we lost elections in 2003 for whatever reason, I went to the house (of the new governor), in his sitting room, the first and only time in the history of Nigeria and said, “Congratulations! We will support you because this is Kano. If you fail, Kano fails.”

I believed then and now that if performance were the only requirement for winning a second term, I would have won then even if it were among few governors in Nigeria. I knew that in addition to performance, there are many other things. The good thing is if you build schools, as we do now, people will benefit; if you bring in water, people will use it; if you build roads, people will use them. You can criticize that we are writing names on the buildings but your children will go and use the buildings while those who have stolen your money are sending their children overseas.

You see, Kwankwasiyya is an ideology and you can see the result. Go and see how our streets are clean and lit in the night. This is not how we inherited them in 2011. Look at the four major roads that lead into Kano. Additional lanes are added to them, with shoulders, drainages and walkways. Even on the old roads, we are putting interlocking blocks for pedestrians. We are working, day and night.

So I believe it is always good to be responsible, reasonable and mean well to people. That is why I am not in a hurry to probe anybody. Give them the benefit of the doubt. But I know if you build around you so many deep wells and you continue to move around them recklessly, one day you are likely to fall into one. People will reap what they sow. That is my position.

Question: Despite meeting an empty treasury last year, you were able to execute so many projects. Yet, you have not borrowed a kobo from any bank, local or international. What is the secret behind this success?

Kwankwaso: It is the policy of our government, even during the first term, not to borrow a kobo. And when we were leaving, we left behind N4 billion cash in our treasury despite all what we did. So the same thing when we came back, we inherited a debt of over N77billion and over US$200million. But we haven’t paid, and we are not in a hurry to pay. We just said, “Draw a line. I don’t want to open any can of worms. Let me prove to the people that yes, Kwankwaso is back. I don’t want to hear N77billion or $200million. Let's move." And we are moving.

What we did was to introduce checks and balances. I was a civil servant here for seventeen years. As a result, most of the civil servants – especially the senior ones – were my colleagues in school and in the service. Mind you I am also a pensioner though I forewent my pension since I retired in 1991 as a principal engineer. So we know the level of wastages that exists and saved so much from the angle of the civil service. We inherited 43,000 civil servants. Along the line, based on our measures, we removed over 8,000 ghost workers. These were people who were practically getting money for nothing. We met a law that said we should pay civil servants certain percentage of their salary for fasting and purchase of rams, etc. We paid for the first sallah. But by the time the second came, we realized from the files that there were so many problems. Now we would have paid 8,000 ghost workers 50% of their salary. We are now trying to sort out things and pay the civil servants. Our target is the ghost worker, not the real workers that are messengers, permanent secretaries or directors.

On the part of the politicians – myself downwards: advisers, commissioners, SSG, Chief of Staff, everybody, we said, “Look. Let us not start dipping our fingers into government money. It is neither good for us, nor is it for the society. There are people outside there who have also supported us but who are battling with what they would eat daily. Many of them may sleep on empty stomach.” You see, if I take 10 million, for example, it may appear small to me but it can do a lot in terms of education, health, water supply, or even in maintaining street and traffic lights. We started from there.

Between 2003 and 2011, so many things in the cost of running government have been inflated, like overheads and so on. So we said, "let's return to where we were in 2003. That is the one we know. Let us revert to that in terms of recurrent expenditure." I said that if they have any complaint, they should refer to me.

My commissioners and advisers wanted vehicles. I asked the SSG to estimate the cost. It was over N2billion. I said, “No. Use the old vehicles we inherited.” At the Ministry of Defence, I used the only two vehicles that I inherited from TY Danjuma. On many occasions, the 607 would fail on the road. There is nothing wrong with that.

Now we can go on and on. So we not only saved so much money there but we also sent the right signal. Despite what we were executing in terms of projects, from N77billion debt in May when we took over, by January this year when we were opening our books we had over N20.5billion cash. I still believe that up till now we have a similar figure. Commissioners now have to defend their budget by proving value for money. No commissioner was ever declined any request because we don’t have money. We return him only because he hasn’t followed due process or because it is too expensive at that rate. We told them that this government is a serious one. There is no room for anybody – from the highest level to the lowest one – to break the law. You have to abide by it. If you break it, we will put the maximum weight of the law on you. That is why so much is happening in all areas, so much so that nobody, including my humble self, can tell you how much we have done in the past one year.

What is critical is that we have confidence of the people. One thing good is that the people of Kano are law-abiding people. They want to see you lead by example. You don’t, as their leader, say one thing and do the other: You swear by Allah but everybody knows you are telling lies. If you do that, people won’t take you seriously. If you tell them don’t do something, they will go and do it.

On internally generated revenue, the state was generating only between N300million and N500 million when we came in. We believe that everybody must pay tax. If you have enough, even if you’re not paying zakat, you have to pay tax. By December, we were getting over up to N1.2billion. My target, despite the security challenges, is to have enough money to pay salaries and allowances. We are making progress. I wouldn’t need to get money from Abuja to pay salaries. If we cannot pay civil servants and ourselves, then there is something wrong with us. People have to pay. That is why I asked the commissioner of land to assess my ground rent. It now enables me the moral locus to ask others to pay theirs. No matter how big you consider yourself, you are small if you cannot pay your tax. Nobody is perfect. But as far as we can, we want to do the right thing.

Question: Could it be why you jettisoned your security vote?

Kwankwaso: Now, the same thing applies to security vote. I told people that governments are using it to siphon away resources. We have seen records here that, apart from N70million, N80million and so on – in one day N127million was withdrawn as security vote. That was the highest. Since a governor cannot give an approval of more than N10 million, the money was removed in twelve installments of N10million each, plus N7million. (Here, Kwankwaso adjusted his red cap and gave a sardonic smile.) In four years, billions were thus withdrawn in the name of security vote.

So the way we are handling it here is to account for everything. If you come as a big man and I want to dash you N10.00 from my pocket, I give it to you. If I would give you N10,000.00 from public money, I will give it but it will be on record. So if you like it that way, take it; and if you don’t, leave it. That is important. If I want to give money to the police or army – and we give them very little despite the security situation – we write it. We even arrange for their feeding and allowances in addition to what they get from the federal government. Now, what I give the contractors for the feeding is there on record, for example. In addition to that, we follow up. I go there sometimes to count the bread and the cans of fish they are given, just to make the contractor understand that he is not left alone.

I believe that governors, as much as possible, should avoid the issue of security vote. You know mischief-makers used it against me in the white paper. I used N97million as security vote for the 2003 elections. The record is there. I gave N2million to the security committee of each local government. The panel summoned each of the chairmen of those committees and none of them disputed that I gave him the money. They explained how they used it and nobody said he gave me even N2.00.

Question: Has the present security situation affected governance in your state with effect from January this year?

Kwankwaso: Every leadership, throughout history, has faced its own version of challenges. There is none that is not facing one form of security threat or another. We can put it on scale and measure it. Southeast has its own challenges; so does the south-south or southwest. Come to the north, you find the same thing. Of course, you when you weigh them you can say this one is heavier, the other lighter. If you’re in the area where people are kidnapped and your father is kidnapped, you wont believe that Jos is less secured than your place. So it is an issue of how it affects you.

Coming to the issue of how it affects us, you see we didn’t know the security challenges that will face us when we came in last year, just as we didn’t know the ones we would face when we were elected in 1999. From then to 2003, you find Hausas were killed in Lagos. The issue of shariah also came up. I didn’t campaign for it. I didn’t even thought about it in 1999. But it became a serious issue and it cost me even my seat at that time because the sentiments were too much: Obasanjo was our candidate, Buhari was their candidate, so went the sentiments. They blocked roads to polling booths and demanded which of the two voters were going to vote for – mosque or church? If you do the same in Port Harcourt, the persovoter which one he is going to vote for. It’s the same thing in Kano. So we didn’t lose election in 2003 for lack of performance or somebody was more popular than us. No. It was mere sentiments.

However, now, the dust has settled and things are clear. (Smile) By 2011, the young men and women we bred during our first tenure were 18. They were in charge of the polling booths. The women we empowered with a free capital of N5,000.00 – thousands of them – came out. The tertiary institutions and secondary schools we established or supported all came out and voted for us. We had no state government, no local governments, no contracts, and no money; yet, people voted for us and defended the votes. Some people wouldn’t imagine that it was this evil called Kwankwaso that was returning – the most hated Kwankwaso. All the promises of 2003 about Shariah were gone. Kano people, you know, are very smart, very fast.(Smiles) They can surprise you anytime. You can only deceive briefly. But the moment you start moving, they would say, “Ah. God don catch you.” That is why we have this challenge to prove ourselves.

The challenge of security is not peculiar to Kano. It is all over the country and the North in particular. We are working very hard. That is why whenever I have an opportunity like this, I appeal to all people, including all politicians, to join hands. When the attacks happened on 20th January we gathered people across parties, including the ANPP, businessmen, the Emir, the Chief Imam, everybody. We sat down and discussed what could be done. We have been meeting and we will continue to meet in the interest of the state, appealing to everybody to come forward and put the issues , if any, on the table. And if anybody wants us to facilitate anything – the federal government, anyone – we will be very happy to do so to make sure that there is fairness and justice. And unless there is justice from both sides, we will continue to have problems. The problem of security doesn’t help anybody.

Question: Due to time factor, I will put two questions in one. One, you are the only governor in this country that doesn’t have the office of the first lady. Two, when we look at the people in your cabinet, they are almost the same ones around during your first tenure, particularly your deputy. What is the secret behind this practice?

Kwankwaso: I am sure the position of first lady isn’t in the constitution. So, first things first. First of all, my wife is my wife – the wife to Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; then, secondly, if you like, she is the wife to the Governor of Kano State.

You see everybody has his own way of doing things. I am not saying that what others are doing is wrong, but I don’t believe that others should think that my own is wrong. My wife doesn’t go to any ministry. I don’t allow commissioners to go to my wife. In any case, if my wife has the governor at her disposal anytime, why would she need a commissioner? "If you want anything in government, tell me," I told her. But she knows - and everybody knows - that I cannot steal anything in government and bring it to her. If there is anything genuine that everybody is entitled to, then she can also go for it.

To me creating an office of the first lady endangers the wife by exposing her to all sorts of risks – the inherent problems associated with politics, with leadership, etc. If you put all your eggs in one basket, you end up in one problem or the other. Also, if you have people who have not gone through the system – like our wives – they may create one problem or the other for themselves. Sometimes, if you cannot fell the tree, you go for the branches because they are very easy to cut and fell. That is why you should not give your enemies that opportunity. We have people who cannot come to terms with marking buildings with kwankwasiyya, what would they do if they catch my wife stealing public money?

On the issue of the deputy governor, I will say that he is someone I knew very well. We have worked together for long. The issue is you can throw away an object and buy another one. However, it it isn’t the same with human beings. We have only one Dr. Ganduje in Kano, in Nigeria and probably in the whole world. That is very important. If I have made the mistake of picking him as a deputy governor, that mistake was done in 1999. At that time I had the liberty to pick another person. But not now.

He became the deputy governor and we were there for four years. We went into election and lost. He was my SA in the ministry of defence. We had to keep on moving together. And these are the secrets that kept us strong. Friendship is based on mutual agreement between two people. A friend is the sort of thing that you choose willingly, unlike your father, mother or child. The deputy governor is committed to this friendship nd so are other people with whom we are working together.

The longest time I would remain here is three years. Now given the treacherous nature of politics, one has to train many people – not one, not two, not three – such that if anyone decides to defect, there would be others to continue with the struggle. That is why we continue to build up the team.

In fact, the way PDP was constituted doesn’t help matters. In 1998/99 we were just interested in the military leaving. So three groups – MDF and the two groups from PRP – formed the new party. There is no way we can go together. The ideologies are different.

Our ideology is now coming out. We are speaking about the poor, women, children and the sick. Many people don’t want to hear that. They are speaking of the interest of the big man. How much did you give him? What is his benefit? Which benefit? Let him go and sleep well. He has so much to eat, so much to enjoy. That is not to say he doesn’t benefit from our services. When you build road in the city, the poor doesn’t have the road. It belongs to the big man. That is why we put interlocking blocks on the side walkway so that the poor that sells garden egg or motar (turmi) can also walk or sit on a hard clean surface. The large part of the road is for the rich. If you are providing security, it is mainly for them. They have twenty taps in their houses; use twenty gallons to flush their toilet, while the poor would just use his small kettle to clean himself.

So our concern is that the poor should have the minimum requirements for life. It is based on our ideology, that of Aminu Kano. He wears this red cap, white cloth and black shoes. That is the colour of the PRP. Ours is red, white and black; if you like, you can use green in the shoe to represent the colour of the PDP.

That is the PDP by coincidence. But some in the party don’t believe in this. We are not fighting them but we can’t work together. In 1998/99, we were sharing positions amongst the three groups. When I became governor, many people didn’t want to recognize that life is dynamic. They kept on fighting, calling me “this boy.” I said, “Thank you very much. Yeah! This boy, the governor of Kano.” I am afraid that many of them will develop high blood pressure because they are not reconciling their thought with the decree of God.

And you see, people have to understand the dynamics of life; otherwise, they will get frustrated. If God has decreed that you will be xyz, you have to be and I have to prepare my mind to accept it. The least person I expected to come and inherit my seat was the one who came. God had decreed so. I was here. He was a permanent secretary. Now I see my deputy governor, commissioners and advisers. One of them may inherit this seat. I don’t know. The only thing is that I am training them. Everyday, I go out with my cane, if you like, and ask why is this so, why is that so? I just want anybody that would come here to be a competent person. It will be the biggest disservice to this state if I would see somebody come here who would once more allow what we have seen in the past eight years. We want strong and powerful people, those who agree with our philosophy.

Now we go out coloured to show everybody who we are. We are not ashamed of our identity. We are consistent in what we say and believe. That is why people believe whatever we promise to do. During the campaign, we study our facts before we mount the podium. When we said we will give women N10,000.00 support, some people were doubting it, wondering from where we would get the money. But already, within one year we have given it to 44,000 women and we will continue doing so until the last day we are leaving government.

What we want to do in Kano is to help people at the grassroots to start small businesses as we have seen in the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, etc. That is how they started, not with mega things. If our resources are prudently managed, there is enough to help the poor in different sectors, ranging from health, to agriculture, education, everything. By the time December comes, we would be generating over N3billion. Aliko Dangote, as a demonstration of the confidence that people have in the prudence of this government, gave us N600 million to partially finance our poverty alleviation programs. Again, as we start the second batch now, he is giving us another N600million. So we are happy that people in different levels of society have confidence in us. Of course we have enemies. These are the ones talking about kwankwasiyya. And they are the very ones that motivated us to put the mark. And the more they shout, the more we put it.

Question: I have gone round and seen that Kano has bounced back within a short time. All shops are once more open unlike when I visited it three weeks after the 20th January attacks. People who left the city have returned. One can say that Borno and Yobe aren’t that lucky. They are practically paralysed to date. What is the secret behind this quick recovery?

Kwankwaso: Kano is a centre of commerce. People of Kano really love peace because they know that without peace there will be no business. When the attack of the 20th happened, people were shocked... We placed a 24 hour curfew. Later we reduced it to 18 hours, then 12 hours, and now 6 hours. We are considering ensuring that there is no curfew in Kano. When you came then you might have seen many checkpoints. As the situation is improving, we kept on reducing the number of checkpoints. Now we have few of them and each one is there for a reason. And very soon we will make sure that they are removed from our streets...

Security is the paramount responsibility of any government. And while people are working very hard to ensure that there is security in Kano, at the same time I am calling on everybody to come together and work with us in the interest of the state. This not withstanding, let me say at this juncture that Kano is the centre of knowledge also. We have people who are praying across the state 24 hours a day. In fact, that was why on 29 May instead of celebrating we went to the mosque to pray to Almighty Allah for peace not only in Kano but also throughout the country. The same thing took place in all local governments and wards in the state that day. And you know God is great. We are beginning to see peace coming back in Kano.


16 June 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Discourse 345: Kano Bounces Back from Coma

Discourse 345
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

Kano Bounces Back from Coma

Like a victim of a ghastly accident, Kano went into a coma last January when it recorded the most elaborate bomb attack yet in the country. The scale was as devastating as it was elaborate. Over 150 people were killed and hundreds injured that afternoon. The city was thrown into uncertainty about its future. Some felt it was its version of 9/11. Many feared it would go the line of the northeastern states of Yobe and Borno, where all activities remain in constant state of paralysis for more than one a half years. Few – and I was not one of them – entertained the hope that it would overcome the shock and not only forge ahead but also regain its vibrancy in the few months ahead.

That was the physical and mental states of Kano when I visited it last February for the first time after the bombings and before I continued on my tour of the bomb-affected areas of the North then. The old Kano of traffic jams at junctions, of two-million okadas polluting its air, of hundreds of thousands of richly packed shops, of several supermarkets that remain open until midnight, of seven million people each waking up every morning to one commercial activity or another, of clubs and cinemas, “of women and vehicles”, as Shata would put it, was pathetically absent.

The new Kano I met three weeks after the attack was totally strange. It was a patient in the intensive care unit. It was a Kano that very few traders would visit, of few opened shops, empty streets, scarce and difficult movement, checkpoint in every hundred meters, few commercial vehicles, and people trekking on its roads. There were no customers for the few shops that opened even in the large Sabongari market. Few Igbo traders remained after sending their families back to their hometowns in the East. At Kantin Kwari, there were no traders to buy the bulk textile materials. They hardly came. Those who came arrived late due to checkpoints, and leave early to avoid spending the night in their buses and trucks due to same reason. The market had to close at 4.00pm and the scamper for the few buses to convey people to their homes would immediately start. Many would start to trek. At the bus stop along the nearby Ibrahim Taiwo Road, I saw many men and women compete in joining the one or two buses that arrived after a long wait, some getting in through the booth, some through the window, and only few through the door because it was blocked by disembarking passengers. Life, with all the vastness of its space and time, was reduced to few hours and places .My heart appealed to my eyes for tears. I restrained them and allowed it only to share in the sorrow of the departing passengers. I took few snapshots of the scene of despair and confusion at the bus stop before starting to trek back to the hotel.

Back in my room, I sat down to review my experience of that day. My mind remembered Uzair, the prophet who once passed by the ruins of an ancient city and wondered, asking, “How long would it take God to revive this city after its death.” The same question readily came to me: how long would it take the city of Kano to regain its normalcy? And would that path be littered with blood, rape, arson, summary executions and other human right abuses that characterized the path of Maiduguri? How long would the distress last?

The following day, I gave my advice to the authorities before I headed for the epicenter of the crisis, the two states in former Borno State. My experience there made me pray that Kano be spared from the pain and horror of their unending trauma.

Less than six months after the first attack, God in his mercy seems to have answered our prayer. As I now sit in the hotel to write this article, I can hear that the noise of the old city has returned, including that of a train that is filling the air with its siren. In the past one week I have been in the city, I have seen almost everything return to normal except for those things that would require time to heal. I have gone round in the mornings to witness children going to school like it was before and just as in other cities. All schools are open. I have witnessed vehicles take over the streets at dawn and continue to build up their presence as the days grow. Throughout the town, I have seen shops open – all shops, except those that are near police stations. At the peak of activity, I have visited the Sabongari and Kantin Kwari markets, as well as the numerous Igbo spare part shops in the neighbourhood of Ibadan Street. I could breathe freedom and calm in the surrounding atmosphere.

I interviewed a number of traders, each of whom expressed delight at how quick the recovery took place. In particular, I met the family of Ugochukwu, the satellite parts dealer, in his shop. His daughter, Chidimma, told me that they returned to Anambra after the January bombings. Now they are back. With little reservation, she agreed that there is little to worry about now, except that business is still not as much as it was before the bombings. At France Road where last February I listened to traders complaining about the closure of their shops in the whole segment of the dual carriage street where a police station is located, I found all shops opened, though traffic is still controlled on the side of the station.

“We are happy that traffic now flows freely, unlike before”, said Auwalu, a dealer of ceramic plates and other kitchen wares at Sabongari market, when I interviewed him. “Our only remaining problem is the 6.00pm ban on motorcycles”, he complained. Though he corroborated Chidimma’s assessment that business has not fully returned, he nevertheless expressed delight that it is picking up, especially from the past one month. “Auwalu”, I tried to remind him, “when you wake up from illness, it takes time to fully recover your apetite and vigor. Let us hope that the trend continues and very soon you will see your customers return fully.”

Across the road and on the recently rehabilitated overhead pedestrian bridge, I took the photographs of the mass of people below who were preoccupied with their businesses on both sides of Murtala Mohammed Way. I took the steps down and as I walked up Bello Road, I found myself greeted by hundreds of small and large trucks, each loading bulk household items like flour, biscuits, soaps, etc. This is the centre of bulk commerce in Kano. On the eastern side of Ado Bayero Street that cuts across Bello Road, I found trucks of Alhaji Harisu and other traders from Niger Republic that come to Kano for trade every Saturday and Tuesday. “Are things okay now, Alhaji,” I asked him. “Wallahi”, he replied, “we are grateful to God. Things have normalized and all my colleagues have resumed their weekly trips.”

I took Ado Bayero Street to Kantin Kwari. It was a fascinating scene. Kano is really great. Sometimes I just wonder how these traders, most of whom we deride as ‘illiterates’, successfully coordinate their transactions hitch free so much so that we take for granted the availability of the little items they provide in our neighbourhoods. If we the elite had shown similar commitment in our various offices, this country would have been great. On that street, all shops were opened and everybody was consumed in business.

At its southern end, the street ushered me into Ibrahim Taiwo Road, which I crossed to embrace the famous Kantin Kwari market. The spectacular sight of thousands of shops stocked with wrappers and other textile materials was just overwhelming. This is the lake that would quench the thirst of every Nigerian girl interested in traditional dress. I doubt if a better collection of wrappers and brocades would be found anywhere in the world. As I walked on one of its lines, a voice shouted at me, “Stop Malam.” I turned back to notice a familiar face. It was Hamisu, my guest when I visited the market in February. He asked me: “Wasn’t it here where you stopped some months ago, bought us oranges and asked us some questions? You were holding the same camera.” I nodded. We chatted for a while and I asked him about the position of trade now. Hamisu sounded pessimistic. “Still, things are not back to where they were”, he said. I concurred, but persuaded him to appreciate the development: “But there aren’t those many checkpoints you were complaining about the other time, neither is the curfew now 4.00pm. In fact, except for motorcycles, you can now stay outside until midnight.” He agreed, but, again, he was quick to express how the limitation on motorcycles hampers the activities of small traders. He said, “Not all of us have cars. Every major trader has boys who travel by bike. So once it is time, they have to close shop and head for home before it is too late. Wallahi, once it is six you would find it difficult to ride your bike in some areas beyond the major roads. I wish the ban (doka) will be shifted to say 8.00pm.”

That evening, I went out to see how the city looks like at night. From Suleiman Crescent, I left to visit a friend at New Site, Bayero University. I noticed a congestion of traffic along Post Office Road. “That is always how it is because of the ban on motorcycles once it is six,” said Muhammadu Auwalu that I found selling engine oil by the roadside. I made the mistake of passing through the Emirs palace where the checkpoint also creates another jam at dusk. As I drove up towards Kabuga, I realized that there were more roadblocks in the city at night. During the day, however, they are reduced to the barest minimum. If you were to enter the town from Hadejia, you will meet only one check point from the first roundabout you hit on the eastern ring road up to Kofar Nassarwa. That would be the one on Ahmadu Bello Way, just after the railway crossing. And if you were to go straight through Murtala Mohammed Way, until you reach Babban Titi after Rijiyar Lemo, which is like traversing the entire city, you would not find a single checkpoint during the daytime. This is a tremendous relief. At night, one would meet several such checkpoints.

I arrived at New Site, stayed there late, and returned to the hotel just before 11.00pm midnight. I wanted to assess the city by the traffic on its streets that late. On my way back, I admired the bright traffic lights that illuminated my path immediately I reached Kabuga Gate and all the way back to the hotel through BUK road. Many motorists could still be seen on the streets.

The night, if I will summarize it, has almost normalized. Large supermarkets and restaurants now open until late, as it was the case before the bombings. I often take my dinner late at Sultan Restaurant along Sani Abacha Way. The atmosphere in the sleeping hours of the night is peaceful. I am only awakened every morning by the call of the dawn prayer from the nearby mosque of Sheikh Ameenuddeen Abubakar.

In all, one has every cause to rejoice. The patient is discharged, though he is still under observation. It will be wrong to think that all is okay and the crisis is over. Though there are still complaints about harassment of citizens by security personnel at checkpoints and about the ban on motorcycles after six as my various guests have pointed out, there is a lot of difference between how government has handled the security situation in Kano from that of other areas. Elders, like the Emir of Kano, have spoken on a number of occasions on such abuses. The state government too has not let the work of the Joint Task Force to paralyze the state. The removal of most of the checkpoints as well as withdrawal of the curfew has contributed in no small measure in stabilizing the situation and give citizens of the city a sense of relief. This may not apply to Maiduguri and Damaturu. There too, elders have spoken but it may be a different situation all together.

Despite expressing this reservation, when all is taken into consideration and the situation is assessed dispassionately, we cannot fail to commend the people of Kano for the courage with which they have faced the challenge. They did not shrink into their shell, like snails in face of danger. They have endured, as I appealed to them in the concluding words of my article, “Weep not, Kano. Be Innovative.” The city might have wept in the moment of the attack – as the Capliph Abbad of Seville wept when his forces were once defeated at Cordova – but it has not allowed the tears to last long. Truly, the great endures great calamities.

Also, the innovation I expected might have come from both the state and federal governments. We may never know the secret. What is however certain is that the treatment they applied to Kano appears to be more effective than the one they gave other cities afflicted by the same plague. Did the two differed in kind or regime, or in both?

As I was editing this article, I received an invitation to interview the state governor along with a team from Newswatch magazine. I asked him what is the secret behind the fast recovery of life in the city. And he modestly answered:

"Kano is a centre of commerce. People of Kano really love peace because they know that without peace there will be no business. When the attack of the 20th happened, people were shocked... We placed a 24 hour curfew. Later we reduced it to 18 hours, then 12 hours, and now 6 hours. We are considering ensuring that there is no curfew in Kano. When you came then you might have seen many checkpoints. As the situation is improving, we kept on reducing the number of checkpoints. Now we have few of them and each one is there for a reason. And very soon we will make sure that they are removed from our streets... Security is the paramount responsibility of any government. And while people are working very hard to ensure that there is security in Kano, at the same time I am calling on everybody to come together and work with us in the interest of the state. This not withstanding, let me say at this juncture that Kano is the centre of knowledge also. We have people who are praying across the state 24 hours a day. In fact, that was why on 29 May instead of celebrating we went to the mosque to pray to Almighty Allah for peace not only in Kano but also throughout the country. The same thing took place in all local governments and wards in the state that day. And you know God is great. We are beginning to see peace coming back in Kano."

From the modesty of the governor we will now express the caution of his predecessor. I posed the question to Malam Ibrahim Shekarau two days ago at his Mundubawa residence when I asked him to evaluate the performance of Governor Kwankwaso in the past one year. “Your Excellency," I asked him, "don’t you think that your successor and the federal government deserve some commendation on how they handled the security situation in the state?” His reply was both honest and cautious:

“Well, I commend the effort of both governments – state and federal – particularly the security agencies for being up and doing in terms of trying to restore peace. But I am sure if you crosscheck, you will find that the one day bombing was one big thing that happened at a time and attracted attention. Naturally, that would send the people underground but thereafter the threats have been on. It is almost a daily affair now. There is hardly any forty-eight hours in Kano without you getting a report of some shootings here and there, some people attempting to bomb one place or the other, or police finding a bomb about to detonate, and so on. So the scare is still there. The tension is very much around and people are still completely not at ease.”

True. The shootings and the bombs may not be over. Nobody ever claimed they are. As I write this paragraph, by coincidence, some shootings are reported at FGC Kano. Yet, like other citizens of Kano, I look forward to the day soon when this tension would disappear and that ease would return. Meanwhile, the city, I believe, has bounced back, with its streets free, its markets open and all its traders back to their shops. It should continue to trust in God and remain vigilant. The chance of relapse is always there hanging over patients that suffer such severe strokes. The doctors must not relent in observing the patient. Slowly, he may be completely relieved of his condition, we pray. And may God answer our prayer.

11 June 2012

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Interview (3): Ibrahim Shekarau

Interview (3)
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

Ibrahim Shekarau

On 17 April 2012, I was hosted by the former executive governor of Kano State, His Excellency, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, the Sardaunan Kano, who spoke on the measures required to improve on the standard of education in our public schools. A digression led us to a discussion on President Jonathan’s almajiri schools project for which Shekarau foresee a woeful failure. Finally, he discussed the position of Northern Governors and the need for a central body to coordinate common development projects in the region. This is how the interview went after the exchange of pleasantries.

Me. Your Excellency, I know you have been a teacher and a civil servant all your working life before you were elected the governor of Kano State. You have spent eight years on that seat. You have seen it all. You felt the heat. You wore the shoe, so you know where it pinches. In the recent seminar on Muslims and Democracy in Nigeria, I heard you eloquently analyze the endemic problems that have afflicted the education sector. I would like this interview to focus on the solutions for the benefit of all.

As a start, which areas, in a nutshell, constitute the silver bullet in improving the standard of education at the primary and secondary schools level in this country?

Shekarau: In a nutshell, three things must be provided to substantially improve on the standard of education. They are: infrastructure, teachers and instructional materials.

Let us start with infrastructure. This means the infrastructure of classrooms, laboratories, hostels, library, game facilities, etc. Most schools are currently overpopulated. Facilities, where they exist, are therefore overstretched. This has a bearing on learning due to its effect on the other two components – it overloads teachers in their duties and overstretches the use of the available instructional materials.

Over the years, there has been a deficit in infrastructure in virtually all public schools. It has not been commensurate with the increase in population. There is the need to catch up, which calls for every government to do a lot of sacrifices, in fact to spend even beyond the 26% of its budget as the minimum recommended by the UNESCO. For this, some people are even calling for declaration of state of emergency in the sector, whatever that means.

The difficulty here which all governments face is that of competing demands. Let us on the hypothetical plane say that the idea of state of emergency is accepted and all levels of governments allocate, say, 40%, of their resources to education, people will not stop to take government to task on other sectors: water supply in urban and rural areas, access roads, basic healthcare, etc. Here, the decision of the executive alone to allocate such resources would not be enough; the electorate and the legislature have to be sufficiently sensitized to accept that from now to about, say, ten years, we should forget any serious road construction, forget expansion of our hospitals, forget establishing new water treatment plants, forget..

Me: But that is impossible because people will face these politicians complaining about lack of attention to roads, hospitals, etc.

Shekarau: There you are. Unless that is done, you cannot catch up. Two things are involved in this infrastructure business: Expanding it to reduce the population of classes in existing schools, and opening new schools to accommodate many more new students. The two have to go hand in hand.

Me: Sir, with due respect, many of my readers will ask – just as some people did at the seminar – what did you do while you were there as the executive governor of your state?

Shekarau: We approached the problem from different perspectives. One, we said, since we cannot solve the problem at a go, we decided that between now and ten years we will annually take about five schools – three for boys and two for girls – and address every need of each of those schools. We build more classrooms to reduce students’ population to say 40 students per class; provide more teachers, staff room, toilets, sporting facilities, and staff quarters; furnish every classroom, laboratory, etc. Schools that enjoy this upgrading of their infrastructure should not complain for the next ten years. Then we instruct that no more overpopulation should be tolerated in such schools.

Then we said we will annually budget for building 1000 classrooms in our effort to build new schools and expanding existing ones which have not benefitted from the complete overhaul program I just mentioned. If we would be lucky to achieve continuity, we thought, my successor would continued along that path. This is the secret of the success of Lagos. I was at the 60th anniversary of Tinubu. All his commissioners, including the present Governor, were summoned to speak. All of them admitted that 90% of what Fashola is doing now was planned during Tinubu. Fashola was part of the government as chief of staff. Tinubu also retained 90% of his council members throughout his term and second term. So assuming that in Kano this program has continued for another eight years, one could see how far we have gone.

Me: How much of that target have you achieved, and what exactly were the constraints?

Shekarau: We have overhauled about ten schools and built between 5,000 and 6,000 classrooms during my tenure. We recruited 6,000 additional teachers to man them. Unfortunately, there is a limit, we clearly understood, to how far one could go along this path because while, on the one hand, every increase in classroom space will lead to the desired goal of decongesting existing ones, it will, on the other, demand for other things, like additional teachers and infrastructure. At the secondary school level, you will need at least three additional teachers per each additional classroom. That will in turn increase your recurrent expenditure. Therefore, unless you moderate your ambition, you will reach a point where other sectors become severely affected due to competing demands on the scarce resources of government. And people will start to blame you.

With all due respect, this is the problem with the almajiri schools which the President recently opened in Sokoto. In the first place, it is wrong to call them almajiri schools. You can call them Qur’anic schools or tsangaya schools, but not almajiri schools. Two, the President has created a bad impression by giving them new uniforms and school bags, meaning they are automatically going to undergo the primary school system. It won’t succeed. Yes. That is the ultimate goal, where we will have all children going to Qur’anic schools or tsangaya are well dressed, etc. But where you have a system of six hundred years, you want to supplant it with another that is less than a hundred years, where you want to overnight change a population of students that is five to six times what we you are used to, you are bound to fail. First of all, when you bring them to the classroom, who is going to teach them? You are expecting their malams to adjust overnight to a new teaching method where you have a classroom with students taught in bulk instead of the individual-student approach that they are used to. As we are today in Kano, government is not able to solve the current problems of infrastructure for its existing schools. How do you take care of new the ‘almajiri’ schools?

Me: Sorry to cut in. You have delved into this tsangaya project during your tenure. Again, what then was your approach?

Shekarau: What we did was to keep their curriculum undisturbed; and without bringing in new teachers. What we did was to initiate confidence building measures by improving on the condition of learning of the schools and the welfare of the students and their teachers. We started providing for halls to accommodate the children when they learn or sleep; basic drugs and toilet soaps to improve on their health and hygiene; electricity to light the schools when they read at night, reducing the hours they waste in gathering firewood and exacerbating our desertification problem; etc. They started to trust us. Then we picked the young graduates among them that have memorized the Quran. You often find that they are don’t have a trade to live on. Some we taught them tailoring, some shoe making, some welding, etc. They were thus empowered to employ these skills in earning a living during non-school hours or school-free days.

For those that could justify that they had farms, we bought them ox-ploughs and the bulls to drive them; each year we distribute fertilizer to them, free, to encourage in feeding their families and their students. We picked about five of them from every local government and took them to Gambia for a week’s study of how schools like theirs are run without bara (child begging); they were also taken to Sudan, Saudi Arabia and so on – to five different countries – to enable them know that the transformation we were calling them to undertake was not a ploy but something that is undertaken by their Muslim colleagues in other countries. When they return, they share their experience with others.

Then in every quota, we pick a number of the allarammas (teachers of Quranic schools), under the sponsorship of their respective local governments, to attend a seminar where they will listen to great scholars and professors in Islam who, like them, have equally memorized the Quran.

So in the end, we did not introduce anything new into their curriculum…

Me: But you tried to build confidence first…

Shekarau: Exactly. This is the way. But if you jump overnight and bring in ABCD, 2 + 2, pencil and exercise books into a student population that is five to six times what you presently have, you will go nowhere. You will fail.

Me: Was it why in the recent BBC Hausa program, all the allarammas that were interviewed on the project expressed fear, saying, “Look! These people are coming to take over our schools…?

Shekarau: Exactly. That is the impression. It is not even the fear of losing the Qur’an, but also that of turning them unemployed because you are introducing a completely alien system. They would say, “Even the little that we get from the tsangaya through zakka, sadaka, etc., because of the presence of these students will stop once they are not there.” So you are indirectly denying them a source of income and they will be ready to fight you for that. Since they are a sort of a misfit into your new system without a role to play, they will hardly accept it.

Me: Okay. Let us return to the infrastructure issue in our conventional schools. I am sorry for digressing us into the tsangaya thing. I knew you did something about it and it would be good to share the experience, as you have ably done now, with my readers.

Shekarau: The only way out of the infrastructure problem is for governments to put in a lot of funds, if the public would permit that because the same people would not accede to lack of water, electricity, healthcare, etc., to dedicate 50% of the budget to education for ten years.

Me: And on teachers?

Shekarau: How do you produce the teachers? Per every classroom in junior secondary school, with the seemingly professionalized curriculum, you need a minimum of five teachers per class, even with the possibility of some teachers manning more than one subject. This will not be a small number. So even if you provide money for the infrastructure, what plan have you made to provide the required number of qualified teachers and sustain them on your payroll?

During my tenure, I have employed additional 6,000 teachers, as I said previously. But because of political mischief, people think that by doing so you are bloating the pay roll and increasing the wage bill, forgetting that it is not wise to be building classrooms without employing more teachers. In some states, teachers are even retrenched. In fact, in 2001, Kwankwaso’s government then retrenched over 1000 teachers in the name of non-indigenes while there were no indigenes to replace them. One school alone lost about 32 teachers in that exercise alone.

My thinking as a solution to this is two or three things. There should be an automatic scholarship for all students in our colleges and faculties of education. This will attract qualified students to participate. But what is happening now, only the leftovers go for education courses, generally speaking.

Secondly, instead of the prevalent belief that products of our science schools should read courses like medicine and engineering, a certain percentage of them could be granted a package of sponsorship and incentives to read science education such that they can come back and impact on these children. We started it towards the end of my tenure. This is what led me into teaching. As a product of Aminu Kano Commercial College, our vision was to become accountants, etc. But I was good in arithmetic, and then mathematics. My result got missing in my form and my uncle was contacted by the university. When I went to the Academic Office at Ahmadu Bello University, one of the staff, having seen my excellent performance in mathematics and other science subjects said, “What the hell are you going to do with accounting. Come and read mathematics. That will make you great, renowned.” Then I went for that. Then at departmental registration, another counselor said, “Why don’t you go for B. Ed (Maths) such that you can go back and impact this talent on others. That is how I got to read Maths (education).
Then, thirdly, comes the issue of teacher retention because it is one thing to recruit teachers, it is another thing to retain them. That is why we introduced different incentives during my tenure: science teachers allowance, rural teaching allowance, games master’s allowance, house master’s allowance, etc.

Me: Okay. We have heard you on infrastructure and teachers, what remains is the aspect on instructional materials…

Shekarau: Lack of instructional materials is also part of the reason behind this massive failure in examinations. Before, when we were students, if you take English for example, you are given assignments in composition, essay writing, etc. The teacher will collect it, at least once or twice a week, and mark it for you, indicating your errors and correcting them accordingly. This is practically absent in public schools now. No books to refer students to. Even teacher’s materials like protractor, campus, etc. are absent. The child doesn’t have a math set, and the teacher doesn’t have a blackboard set. There is no way learning would take place. It is imperative, therefore, to provide instructional materials.

Me: So what did you do here?

Shekarau: As a policy, we said during my administration that provision of English and Maths textbooks for every child are compulsory on government and we started it. A bank offered to build classrooms. We told them to instead buy Maths and English books from publishers, and they did. The same thing with old boy’s associations. We gave them the statistics of our students at the secondary school level and they also assisted.

If you speak about laboratories, there aren’t sufficient labs. Where they are available, they are at most designed to accommodate forty students only. What do you do where you have more than five times that number of students? Five students would gather on an apparatus. Some of them may not touch it throughout the period. It may take even more than a year before someone would have the turn to run a single test.

The whole thing became a vicious circle. These half-baked students are admitted into colleges of education and universities. At the tertiary level too, such problems obtain – no enough infrastructure, no equipped laboratories, etc. These products are those that return to teach at the secondary school level. That is why, as we were just discussing before the interview, you can find a mathematics graduate who cannot pass a common entrance examination in mathematics! So it is like garbage in, garbage out.

My idea on all these, is that these facts have to be brought to the attention of the President, legislators, governors, etc. And the general public needs to appreciate the degree of the problem. A consensus must be reached regarding the enormity of the problem and the attention it deserves. I raised this issue thrice in the Governors’ Forum. I did not want to enumerate the problems myself but advised that we needed to assign a group of professionals who will study this problem and report back to us. But most governors are only interested in their re-election, so they go for things that the ordinary brain will appreciate quickly - physical projects, like construction of buildings and roads, electricity, hand pumps, etc. The public accepts that you are not performing until they see your grader on the road, regardless of whether you stealing their wealth or not.

So from the President down to legislators and the public, an appreciation of the problem is needed. If that appreciation is acquired, an agreement on reducing physical development projects must be reached at such that less boreholes are drilled, less roads are built. More money can be saved for education and human development. This is only possible, despite the intention of the executive, with the understanding and approval of the legislature who, traditionally, will veto it because they want physical projects to be carried out in their constituencies to justify their elections.

Now, in case such funds are available, they must be spent on all the three aspects we mentioned earlier – infrastructure, teacher training and provision of instructional material. Increasing classrooms without increasing teachers and improving their welfare will take us anywhere. When I was first employed as a teacher, I had a furnished house, a car and a rural teaching allowance such that once I shop for the month, I didn’t need to return to Kano until another month. In the morning I would be in the class, in the evening on the games field, in the night at prep and so on.

Me: Sir, is there anything you would like to put across to my readers?

Shekarau: Yes. I would like people to appreciate the nature of government and how its present structure particularly in the North hinders our regional development. In the North, we always talk with nostalgia about the era of Sardauna, forgetting the structure of government then. There was only one Premier for the entire Northern Region, one government. Policies of that government in almost all the sectors are uniformly applied in all the provinces from Adamawa to Sokoto to Kwara to Benue to Kano, etc. There were all over the place same marketing boards, same agricultural policies, and so on. Groundnut from Bauchi and other provinces is brought to Kano, piled up and loaded to wherever. That was how the pyramids were produced. Today, there are nineteen independent Sardauna, each heading in a different direction.

We need experts to study the benefits of our commonality and political leaders to believe in their proposals and implement them. If I were to bring an investor to Kano today and I could produce only a thousand tonnes of raw material, it will be of little benefit him. But if we will bring the same material from all nooks and corners of the North, it will be a big market.
Unfortunately, many people ask of what benefit is the Northern Governor’s Forum. If you ask me, I will say, “Nothing.” Meetings are held to discuss Bank of the North, NNDC, etc., while the same governors killed these things. There was a time when Joseph Sanusi, the former CBN governor, gathered us, the Northern governors. He was a southerner, a Christian. He challenged the nineteen of us to retain our accounts with Bank of the North. By that time, only four of us retained those accounts, all the rest have transferred their monies to other banks, largely for selfish interest. Sanusi continued to appeal to us. There and then one of us told him that he will not return his money to the Bank, saying, “After all, it is a bank of Kano.” Sanusi said what are you talking about?” Wallahi, it was something so trivial, unexpected of a person at the level of a governor. He was aggrieved that when the banks were reorganized, the management was changed and Abdulkadir Yakasai was brought in as MD, and, by some coincidence, Sadauki Kura, was appointed to head the supervisory team. Sanusi swore to us by God that the two appointments were made by two separate bodies without any consideration to places of origin but the records of performance in the banking industry. Most of these governors collected the loans of the bank and abandoned it without paying them.

Again, with all due respect to all of us as the governors, each of us sees himself as the chief executive of his state so why would he learn from another or collaborate with him? So we tried to sell our experience of tsangaya but some people, from side talks, were saying, “Are we so bereft that it is ANPP governors that will tell us how to handle our cases?” So the absence of a body that will coordinate things makes it difficult for any progress to be made. If Bauchi would solve its almajiri problem today, for example, it will experience an inflow of almajirai from Kano. But if these things are coordinated, a fairly common treatment will go a long way in resolving many of the issues. The same thing applies to desert encroachment. Tree planting was common during Sardauna, from Borno up to Sokoto. But today, what Jigawa plants will not be known to Kano.

This made me in 2006 to suggest an idea to General Gowon. I said, “Sir, why don’t you constitute a committee of reputable people to make twenty of you, who will summon us to a meeting. Each governor will keep aside his cap as a governor at the gate of the meeting. Challenge us with guidelines on our common problems – desert, agriculture, almajirai, etc. – to adopt common policies.” Though each governor is doing his best – especially if you listen to him – but there is no synergy in spite of the common environment within which we operate.
It is I mentioned to Justice Mamman Nasir at the recently concluded Elders Forum meeting that was summoned by Maitama Sule: “So long as we do not carry the Governors Forum along, we will only be wasting our time. Whether we like it or not, they control the resources and, by extension, the people; it is they that cause the money to circulate.” That was also my argument with my friend Nasiru (El-rufai) in an initiative that we started initially. He said that the problem is the governors, ‘yan iska, that we must fight them, etc. I said, “If they gang up, they can frustrate you. You can only abuse them. But kyan dara kasawa (of what benefit would it be?). So instead of abusing, call them and give them their due respect. Let our elders and get them to agree on some things such that anyone amongst them who reneges on his promise would be held accountable by the public. A blanket treatment will not take us anywhere. People will just say, ‘When you were there what did you do, without coming and listening to your explanations?”

So these are some of the things I wanted to highlight at the seminar though I was not the speaker at the occasion.

Me: Thank you, Your Excellency, for hosting me and sharing with us from the wealth of your experience. I believe it will be of immense use to my readers. Ma’assalam.

3 June 2012