By Henry Umoru
Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema of Katsina State is a lawyer, Administrator, a former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and a member of PDP National Executive Committee, NEC. In this interview with select Journalists, Shema bared his mind on his developmental agenda in his state, completion of projects started by his predecessor, late President Umaru YarAdua, 2015 Presidential bid of President Goodluck Jonathan, crisis in PDP, in Rivers State, the way forward, and other salient issues. there. Excerpts:
Before you became the governor of Katsina State, you were the Deputy National Chairman of PDP, what is your take on the crisis in the party where five governors left, Bamanga Tukur resigned and now Adamu Muazu?
Yes, I was the National Deputy Chairman of the party, I was the Chairman National Disciplinary Committee, I was the Chairman Peoples Democratic Institute in PDP, I was chairman South-South Reconciliation Committee and if you like, I was the chairman of fire brigade or fire quenching team of PDP when I was there, because I was in every fire burning state then. I was in Imo, I was in Benue, I was Edo, Ibadan to resolve crisis. So, it is something Iam quite familiar with.
On the issue of the party, we had our own challenges, that is not to say other parties don’t have challenges. You know why you see our own is because of our size. And in politics size does matter. It is always easy to talk about differences in political parties or even in any organisation, but what people failed to realise is that PDP has succeeded to rule Nigeria since 1999. There are so many forces. First of all, in capturing power and retaining power. It has succeeded in the first transition from one civil rule to another and to yet another since independence.
I know PDP belongs to Nigeria. That is what people don’t understand. That is why everybody talks about PDP, even non-party members who belong to other parties talk about PDP because it is a fully Nigerian party. Every Nigerian feels that PDP is his own, unlike other parties. You can say that Mr. A owns this party, Mr B owns this party, but PDP belongs to Nigerians.
That is why whatever affects PDP affect Nigeria. Even the opposition talks about PDP. Even you journalists talk about PDP as if you belong to that party. It is because it is truly a national party.
We have challenges with some members of our party. I am sure you are aware of spirited efforts made by the President to lift the party, to turn the tide of those who wanted to leave the party. In any family, there is bound to be a quarrel but to solve it and to resolve it maturely is the problem of PDP. Look at the complaints that have been loaded against our immediate past Chairman, Dr. Bamanga Tukur. At the end of the day, PDP maybe the only party in Nigeria that a chairman can simply resign and another one will step in without fight, without rancour, without breaking heads or tearing agbada. I don’t know any other party in Nigeria that does this except PDP, because we truly have the interest of this nation in our minds. Hope is not lost on the question of reconciliation.
We can still reconcile. We can reach out and reconcile. Politics is a voluntary business. I am sure most of the governors who left have reasons why they don’t want to belong to PDP, but as they are leaving, others are moving in. That is politics. In fact, some of those who left PDP are rushing back. But we will make our efforts. We are not closing our doors. We are honestly speaking to our members who have left. And those who are not even our members, who want to come in are welcomed. And I am sure our new chairman, Adamu Mu’azu is equal to the task. He has been a governor for eight years in Bauchi state under the platform of PDP and I have no doubt in my mind that he will reach out and make deliberate effort to see that our party grows from strength to strength.
It will be the happiness of Nigeria if PDP continues to do what it is doing, stabilising this nation. You people know the situation of this country in 1998. It was the emergence of PDP that was probably the saving grace for our nation to continue to strive together in harmony, peace and love for each other. In PDP Yoruba, Fulani, Ibo, Hausa, Ikwere, Tiv, Itsekiri man are all there. Every nook and cranny you hear this is our party. If we now hand over to a group of individuals and think that is our saviour, well I don’t know….PDP belongs to all of us.
There is stiff opposition against President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid especially from the North. What are your comments?
We have spoken about the issue of running for office in 2015 severally. Whenever it is time for election, the temperature goes up. Every time there is election, even if it is the Chief of a market that we are electing , human temperature will go up. So, it is no exception. And the president has not declared whether he will run or not but there have been speculations that he will run, that he will not run and so on and so forth. But I have always asked people why it is only in Nigeria that people start running around for election right after swearing in.
So what worries me is whether are we really thinking of rendering service to our people or rendering service to ourselves as politicians, because if we are thinking of service, you should allow yourself to serve. I think the time is right for issues of politics, but I can tell you that 70 percent of the time, people are rushing in to talk about who will contest, who replaces who, who will do this? Unfortunately, that is Nigeria for you.
Maybe it is because our democracy is just coming up, is young. We can’t be in so much of a hurry that we will say we have caught up with 250 years old democracy. It is stupid to think that way. But it is good to learn, it is good to make corrections when mistakes are made and it is good to try our best to reform. The President will come out and make a statement at the right time, whether is right or is not right.
The challenges you hear from all over the country, some are challenging this, while others are challenging that. To me however, it is because some of the people who are challenging, this is their very first time in the office. Some of them have made categorical public statements. Some speculations are happening there and so if somebody is interesting in running for office, he can go to any length. That is the truth.
What advice do you have for the major gladiators in Rivers State crisis?
Crisis in Rivers is something the leadership in Rivers should be able to address. I am not from Rivers so I am not in a position to effectively comment truly and deeply on Rivers because Rivers state has its peculiarities and these peculiarities are best resolve by our leaders there in the best interest of Rivers’ people and in the best interest of Nigerians
From t he projects you have executed and what one has seen, one is wondering where the money is coming from, what is your internally generated revenue or are they executed with loans?
Whenever leadership performs and is accepted , it is due to the guidance and support from our creator. Secondly, I have no other source of revenue than the usual source of revenue to all states in Nigeria from the federation account which gives us an average of N3billion to N4 billion per month and, of course, the IGR. When I came into office , our IGR was as low as N130million per month but now it is an average of N1 billion per month. So, if you put it together, it will be maybe N5 billion per month.
We were the first state to implement minimum wage and that takes out more than 50 percent of our funds every month to pay the salaries and running costs. In short I have no other source of revenue beyond the IGR and taxation.
We did devise some methods and those methods have yielded results. Those methods are that we do not award contracts in Katsina, even if it is one million naira without money to pay for the contract. We tried to imbibe financial discipline.
My background is that of a lawyer and yet I did a Masters degree in Business Administration and another Masters degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy.
That helped me a lot and I started running my law firm from the time I left school and I was managing a lot of businesses before I eventually went back to international corporate law and practices. Based on that, if we award one million naira contract, we keep one million aside for that contract. We give the contractor N400,000 (that is 40 percent) and he has to give us bank guarantee bond for that.
The other N600, 000 (60 percent) we keep in project savings account. The project savings account has been generating revenue for the state government and we do that for all our projects without exception. At the end of the day, when the contractor finishes his job and comes for payment, we pay him and you find that the account has already generated interest.
I am not putting public funds into savings accounts, they are money that are tied to specific projects. Working like that over time, we generated over N10 billion naira interest separate from all our other sources of revenue. When we made over N10 billion interest, we asked ourselves what do we need to do with that? We took part of it, about N400 million and built a brand new governor’s lodge in Abuja and that encouraged us. We took part of it and put it into this new government house and we still have some money from it to spend. So, the source of funding for our projects are same except this unique approach that we adopted in revenue generation otherwise my revenue remains the same.
When I came into office, my revenue was about N2.3 to N3 billion per month but now, it hovers between N4.7 to N5 billion per month and of course, with the increased cost of labour due to the minimum wage and cost of running the government, we have very minimal left but we manage it as best as we can. I think you can say if corruption is controlled to the minimum level, there is possibility that resources can be used more effectively.
We are not just talking about the level of available resources alone- we are talking about resource utilization, effective utilization of meager resources we have in the service of the people. That is why we have built over 48 new road projects in the state, we completed every project started by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and these projects are no mean projects. It included a university, the foundation of which was laid on 27 March, 2007 and we finished that university within 18 months of my becoming the governor.
On top of that there was a 165-bed child-maternal care hospital. It was started by late Umaru Yar’Adua. We finished that in about 12 months. Our women and children are getting Medicare for free in that hospital. Late President Yar’Adu of blessed memory started expansion of Katsina airport and I came in and completed it in a matter of six months because the company that was given the contract has gone some distance and we were about to start functioning. Even 747 aircrafts can land at the airport now.
There are other projects like roads, water, street lights, and school buildings.
There is no single project started by late President Yar’Adua that was not completed by this administration in 18 months. While we were completing his projects, we were planning our own. The moment we completed the circle of projects left for us we launched ourselves into our programmes. We built over 200 secondary schools across the state; we built over 2000 housing units across the state; 34 girl-child secondary schools have been built in collaboration with local governments.
We have been paying our salaries on the 22nd to 23 rd of each month since I became governor without failing. We have only two incidences we couldn’t pay on the 22nd, 23 rd of the month. That was January and December last year because we were doing biometric data capture for our staff to implement the minimum wage. That slowed us down but even with that we paid on the 30th of the month.
After you leave office as governor, what next?
Planning ahead you forget the saying: that man proposes, God disposes. You can plan whatever you want and I can plan whatever I want to plan, but my fate is in the hands of God almighty. I have said severally at every fora, international and local that as for me my plan is to continue to serve this nation in whatever capacity I find myself. I am grateful to my God.
When you enter into politics and if you don’t have a second address, that is when you run into trouble, but I have a profession, I have a second address. If God chooses for me to participate in politics in Nigeria in any other level, I will be grateful, if God chooses for me to go back to my practice, honestly I will go back to serve my people and serve my nation and contribute to the development of my profession, that is my position.