By Dayo Benson, Political Editor
Governor Ibrahim Idris of Kogi State can be described as a conqueror. Three times, he defeated his predecessors in elections. Despite this feat, his critics say he is not in charge in the state. With journalists in Lokoja, the state capital, Gov Idris spoke on his numerous achievements, politics in the state and the legacy he intends to leave behind . Excerpts:
With three years left for you to govern, unlike your colleagues who have two, how would you describe your experience. How has it been so far?
Itâ€™s been a beautiful experience. I believe it was God that put me where I am today and I thank Him. In Kogi State, there are so many rich, intelligent and educated people who could equally govern the state very well. But God in His infinite mercy decided that I should be the governor. So, to me, it is a rare privilege and I believe there is the need for me to make good use of the opportunity God had given me to serve my people.
Before now, it was not easy, but everything has eased off now as far as I am concerned. Most of the difficult areas have been sorted out and I know what Iâ€™ve been able to do within the time I have been in office and I thank God people appreciate that.
It is not easy for someone to win a governorship election for three consecutive times in Nigeria of today. To crown it all, my winning pattern shows a very big gap between me and my opponent. I believe it is God and what I have been able to do that have endeared me to the people.
I came into office from the private sector and I found out that so many things were in conflict with the ideals that are obtainable in the private sector. In that sector, you set a time for certain goals and you achieve them within that time, but in government, bureaucracy will slow you down so much.
However, Iâ€™m happy Iâ€™ve been able to change that style of administration. Most things are quickened now in Kogi government, though it took me a lot of guts and patience because if you want everything to work the way you want it, youâ€™ll find out that you will fall out with every worker.
What are some of these things you have done?
When I came in, classes were being held under trees while school signposts were also nailed to trees around the state. With what we were able to do to reverse that, I won the award as the best governor in primary education in the country. No matter how small the village is, we ensured that there are well-built primary schools where our children can have their classes.
After that I went into the secondary schools to ensure the improvement of the quality of both the infrastructure and the personnel. We are still working on that so as to improve the entire standard because, to me, education is the best thing you could give a child. After that, I went into tertiary education. Iâ€™m proud to say that all the tertiary institutions in Kogi State have felt the positive impact of my government.
Where I performed magic is at the Kogi State University in Anyigba. The university was on the verge of being closed down by the National Universities Commission (NUC) when we came in but today, it stands as the best state-owned university in the country. It is better for people to go there and see what I have done in terms of infrastructure than to discuss it.
On roads, I can confidently say that all the roads dualised in the state capital were done by my administration, including the lighting of the streets. We are still on, as a matter of fact, I am working ahead of time.
It is also my administration that brought electricity into Lokoja from Ajaokuta, which improved the power supply to the state capital. I also ensured electricity supply to Anyigba and all the towns in the area. After doing it, I handed it over to the PHCN. This is unfortunate but all the same, what is important is giving your people what they are supposed to have.
We are already dualising the Ganaja Road even though it is a Federal Government road. And we are doing the job putting into cognisance the fact that it is a very busy road. I said if we have to allow the road to remain as it is, it will create more problems for the people as there will be no free movement. I have also started building a road from Ganaja to Ajaokuta.
It is a federal road but I have to build it because not doing it means the people travelling to the South- East and South-South, as well as my own people, will suffer. I had done the road before but it went bad after some time. So, the reconstruction is now being done with better quality materials that will endure the heavy traffic. I want the road and many others to stand as a legacy for which people will remember me.
Also note that development is not limited to the state capital alone. We spread development to all parts of the state. I am doing this because when I leave office and I drive round the town, I will be happy that the roads were done by me, including the university and the erosion control projects in Ankpa.
In the area of agriculture, I can tell you that Kogi State ADP is one of the best in the country while in the area of health; we have also done a lot. I built form scratch the Kogi State Specialist Hospital in Lokoja because there was no functional general hospital in the state capital. We have 16 consultants and over 78 doctors in that hospital alone.
I want to take the service at the hospital to new heights as I want to make it second to none; and the charges are highly subsidised. As a matter of fact, we are starting the College of Medicine of Kogi State University very soon and the specialist hospital is a part of the package. Everything is almost in place for that. I cannot start a college of agriculture alongside that because of the meagre resources of the state. Doing that will be deceiving myself.
The highest allocation we can get in Kogi State is less than N2 billion, out of which you pay salaries and so on. I am able to manage the funds so well because I am a businessman. People have accused me of being tight-fisted and I say â€˜yes, I amâ€™ because without that, you cannot get anything done. If they are looking for a governor that will be throwing money around, let them wait till I have finished my tenure.
On water, you can imagine that Lokoja, a confluence town, does not have enough water. I think it will be failure on my part if I will have to leave Kogi State without giving the people enough water. That is why we awarded the contract for the Greater Lokoja Water Scheme. We have spent well over N3 billion on the project with no kobo coming from either the Federal Government or any foreign agency. By the grace of God, it will be completed before the end of our tenure.
However, we have increased daily water supply to the town to three million gallons a day from 3,000 and even that is not enough. That is why we embarked on the Greater Lokoja Water Scheme to give us 10-15 million gallons a day for the town and its environs.
Before the end of my tenure, Iâ€™m planning to build another one in Ogi Dam in West Senatorial district. In every town or village where there is no stream, I have provided motorised borehole and where there are streams, I provided a water package system. That of Anyigba has been completed and th
e people are using it.
The international market in Lokoja is also there for all to see. It has banking infrastructure, police station, fire station and everything you need in an international market. We are exploiting the fact that Lokoja is the centre of Nigeria and travellers from the North or South pass through there.
The market has warehouses. So, people can enjoy the opportunity of the marketâ€™s proximity to Abuja and, with the new road coming on, commercial activities would be enhanced.
On youth empowerment and employment generation, we have engaged our youths in various activities. As a matter of fact, the 40,000 capacity international stadium we are building in Lokoja is meant to encourage our youths to take to sports and shun vices. We can go on and on.
We have housing schemes in all the local government areas of the state and no local government area has less than 20 houses. There are two estates in Lokoja. All of the houses are in various sizes and are given to civil servants on owner-occupier bases.
Of course itâ€™s not possible to build houses for all the civil servants but at least, those who have are now out of the housing problem. They are paying for the houses in two installments. My infrastructural development strategy is to ensure that what we have in the state capital is replicated in all the local government areas for even development of the state.
You have said the money accruing to the state is barely enough. Is that the reason why you embarked on staff audit that led to the sack of the Accountant General of the state. How do you see the attendant controversy?
Indeed, there is controversy. I am happy I started this, especially in this time of economic recession. I envisaged what may likely happen and I did not want it to hit me when I would not have an answer to the problem. People are wondering why I started early and I say you have already seen the danger. So, why wait for it to get to you before you start moving?
I am happy I took the step and you will be shocked at what has happened in the civil service of the state. Dead people are still on the payroll of the state government. People callously corner the entitlements of a dead worker and refuse to give it to the family of the dead worker, despite collecting the workerâ€™s monthly salary in addition.
We discovered that when approval is given by me for salaries to be paid, and it is sent out through the Accountant Generalâ€™s office, the accounts office would substitute the approval I made with another document entirely. The approval they use in paying staff salaries is different from the one I sent to the Accountant Generalâ€™s office. We found out that so many civil servants donâ€™t know how much they actually earn in a month, it is the accountants who dictate how much they earn.
Even the state Head of Service does not know how much he earns because these people will just put in whatever they like as his salary. They have a special list that contains so many non -existent names and at the end of the month, you hear that millions are flying to the banks. We always hear that retirees are not getting their entitlements and it is because they are being siphoned by these accountants; and they do it so neatly that you canâ€™t detect it.
I am clearing the fraud because of the good people of Kogi State; for our children and for posterity. Again, if I donâ€™t do it now, there is no new government that will be able to do it because you dare not do it as a politician. If you try that, it will affect you politically and of course, your opponents will use it against you. I believe this is the right time to correct this nonsense as a second term governor but even at that, it is not easy to correct.
To take on a problem of this magnitude, you have to be ready and I know I have stepped on so many toes. They have been fighting me and scheming to scuttle the probe and I tell them they are lying because I have finished already and I am only just waiting for the report. But before the report, action is already being taken.
Imagine, we have not completed the exercise and our monthly wage bill has reduced by N700 million. By the time we are through, I am sure we cannot have a wage bill up to that.
How have you been able to cope with all the distractions?
As a leader, you must make sure that you are transparent. You must make sure your word is your bond. Make sure that you are clean because if you are not and you collaborate with the civil servants to take government money, when you see them do anything, you have no right to challenge it. If you do, you will be in trouble. So, what I think is that my being straight forward and confident as well as doing what I believe is right, has helped me. I also believe that truth will always prevail.
In the midst of all the troubles you still find time to travel overseas and we wonder why you wouldnâ€™t stay to fight your battles?
In fact, my travels have yielded very positive results. For instance, my Malaysia visit took me to the largest state in the country which is also the largest producer of palm oil. History has it that the first seed of the palm tree taken from Nigeria was taken from Kogi State and I told them to bring it back. Iâ€™m happy that they responded. The governor of the state came to Kogi and already, we have an MoU. They have the latest technology and the trees mature much earlier now. So we are laying the foundation and the result will be seen in the future.
You recently sacked two of your commissioners but it was alleged that it was because they were fraternising with the opposition. How true is this?
I am the one that appointed the commissioners and I have the right to hire and fire without asking anybody. This is the power the electorate gave me as the governor of the state. If I feel a commissioner is not living up to expectation, I have the power to say â€˜go, let me inject new bloodâ€™.
That is exactly what happened. If you say it is political, you will be making a very big mistake. Is it political because I want to be Senator or member of the House of Representatives? I am not looking for any elective post. After this position, Iâ€™m off. So, anything politics has no bearing with this. I want people who are ready to work with me and make impact because I want to excel. That is just the truth.
Are you saying that you are not interested in what happens after your tenure?
That is not what I am saying.
So, what are you doing to ensure that the legacy you are talking about is not just wasted after you are gone?
Most of the political problems we have in Nigeria now is because when a predecessor goes and a successor comes in, the predecessor will want to know what the successor is doing. In most cases, they try to police their successors, which, to me, is very funny. I donâ€™t believe in that. After your tenure, go away and allow the person who is coming to continue from where you have stopped. Give him freedom to do his thing and not you policing him, telling him where to go and where not to go. I will not leave office and start poke-nosing into how my successor will run the state affairs.
What is your relationship with Senator Smart Adeyemi?
Adeyemi knows that without my support, he would not have been a senator. He knows that I am the architect and honestly, I have no problem with him. But if he has problem with me, it is left to him.
Why was he against your ministerial nominee?
I donâ€™t know. In politics, anything can happen and you do not expect that everyone around you will respond to your gestures in the same way. So, we just take it like that.
The politics of power shift in the state has been on for a while. The Okun people are crying of marginalisation. What are you doing about this?
That is everywhere in the state. Even if you give Okun a state today, among them, there would be cry of marginalisation. Give Igala people a state today, there will still be cry of marginalisation among them. So, it is human. I take the whole state as my constituency and I donâ€™t look at where you come from. I believe in equity and fairness.
So, you are not grooming anyone?
Why should I groom anyone? I am neither a pastor nor an Imam, but I believe strongly in God. I think grooming a successor is rubbish because I am not a perfect human being. You should allow God to choose who would be there when it is time. Let my worst enemy be there, I donâ€™t care. I am only praying that it should be somebody who would take good care of the state.
But you will prefer that it is Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)
Yes. That is normal.
Reports have it that you are not in charge, that your actions are informed by advice from certain quarters in the state which are not in the best interest of your government?
How can anyone tell me that a governor is not in charge, who will be in charge then? Take the recent probe of the finances of the state that affected many big guns as an example. It was when I did it that I heard so many things. I heard that those affected were untouchables. Some people even said we sleep in the same bed in my room. People will say anything about a leader.
However, let me inform you that those they said were in charge in the state have all been shown the way out. I took my actions without even knowing the thought of the people. People are jubilating because the people I sacked were the ones thought to be in charge and could not be relieved of their duties.
Will you like to be a Senate after your tenure?
After serving for eight years as governor? After eight years as governor in charge of three senatorial districts, you still go back again to say you are looking for one senatorial seat because you want to be a senator? Are you the only one? So, you are the only one that knows everything? The young ones coming up are also very intelligent and in many cases, have better ideas. I believe we should give the younger ones a chance so that they too can get there and help in building the state.