Governor Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State has robust political antecedents. A lawyer by training, he was the deputy national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He worked closely with the late President Umaru Yar’Adua when he was the governor in Katsina before succeeding him.Only recently, he was the coordinator of the north-west zone of the President Jonathan/Sambo campaign. Now, he is seeking re-election via next month’s polls. In this interview, Shema speaks on the controversial zoning of the presidency, the speculation that he is no longer in good terms with the family of his mentor, the late Yar’Adua, the strength of the opposition party, CPC, in Katsina and that of its presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, violence across the country ahead of the general elections and his experience as the Katsina chief helmsman. Excerpts:
BY WALE AKINOLA
Less than a month to the general elections, there are reported cases of violence and intimidation everywhere, especially of political opponents. Are you not worried about the scenario?
It is certainly a thing of deep concern to be in a situation like this in any country, not only because elections are coming soon. Democracy, as an instrument of governance, has rules and regulations. And, the democracy that has succeeded in other nations is due to the prevalence of rule of law in those places, which was what the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was trying to preach when he was alive, because democracy can only thrive if all the players respect the law.
But, in a situation where there is desperation for power, the national interest takes backstage and private, individual or group interest takes the centre-stage, and there is going to be a problem. So, all of us politicians must dedicate our minds to the service of the nation and its people and must understand that to practise democracy, we must follow the rules. Without obedience to the law, we will continue to wallow in this kind of situation and it is not going to help our democracy, which is young and growing. So, corrections must be made, bold steps must be taken and people in authority must learn to be fair and equitable to all players, no matter who they are, were or what they do. The absence of equity and fairness, often times, makes people to want to take the law into their hands.
If people fear that they cannot get justice and fairness in the scheme of things, sometimes there is a reaction. The bulk of these activities, I can tell you, in Africa and, I believe in Nigeria, has some connection with poverty, ignorance and illiteracy. It is these three factors that affect our democratic growth and stunt the growth of this nation in the socio-economic and other sectors. This is because if the issue of corruption is high, it is one way or the other connected with poverty, same for violence and other issues. Even if there are no elections, because of the high rate of unemployment, you find that there are ready armies of youths to be deployed by any wicked group or individual to unleash mayhem on the society. We have seen that happen on excuses of religion, tribe, election, etc, but the real truth of the matter is that people use other people’s poverty to drive in their ambition or interest or whatever. So, I think all the stakeholders in Nigeria must resolve to work together for a peaceful and successful democracy and must work against the fundamentals that actually work against our nation, its well-being, peace and security.
You were the coordinator of the Jonathan/Sambo campaigns in the North-West and some people say the zone has been the most difficult for the campaign organisation to penetrate. What is the experience like?
You see, sometimes you have to appreciate the fact that a lot of the stories that go into the media are not necessarily accurate. They are planted sometimes to serve certain political interests. Take Katsina State, for example, you observed our campaigns from one point to the other, you have seen what is happening on ground and compare it with what you read or hear in the media.
When you leave Katsina, compare what you have observed with what you have read about it and its politics and what you would even read later and you will find out that it doesn’t tally. There is no nexus, no connection; they are poles apart. Sometimes people are fed wicked lies, fabrications, half-truth and falsehood almost on daily basis, not only about Katsina, but also about issues of politics in Nigeria.
Are you saying, for instance, that the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who is from Katsina State, is not going to be a factor in what is going to happen in the coming elections?
If you are contesting election in your local government area, it is foolhardy to say you are irrelevant in the politics of your local government area. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari is from this state. As a former head of state and two-time presidential candidate, there is no way he won’t be popular in his local government area. So, we don’t take things for granted by thinking that he is totally irrelevant. No, he has his people. But the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has consistently won the elections in Katsina State since Buhari started politics. It is nothing new, but we are not going to deny the fact that Buhari has some pocket of supporters here. Democracy is about the majority having the way. Everybody would have their say, but the majority will carry the day. There is freedom of opposition; you can associate with any group, and, it will be foolhardy for anybody to claim that he or she is the only one that can play politics in Nigeria or in an area. I don’t do that.
To what extent has the popularity of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua impacted on you and your chances, politically?
The 2007 election campaigns were hinged on the political platform from which we came along with the late President Yar’Adua. We worked with him; I was his Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice for four years. I personally pleaded with him after his first term to allow me to go back to my thriving international corporate law practice, which I was doing before I joined his government. He wanted me to stay back to become the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) or continue in my former position, but I begged him to allow me return to my legal practice. I told him I made sacrifice to come and serve the people and, having done that, I wanted to give opportunity for other people to also come and serve and learn. That was how I left Katsina. But the late Yar’Adua never left me alone; he asked me to participate in the political reforms conference, which I did. He asked me to participate in the drafting of the amendment to the PDP constitution, which I did. He asked me to participate in the Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola-led panel on the resolution of the Anambra State crises, which I did.
The party eventually nominated me for the post of Deputy National Chairman (1), next to Dr. Ahmadu Ali, which I held until I became the party’s governorship candidate in Katsina State in 2007. So, there is no doubt about it; the late Yar’Adua assisted me, supported me and even introduced me to wider politics. I am and will remain grateful to him; may his soul rest in peace. At the election, God, in His infinite mercy, gave us landslide victory. The votes I have were overwhelmingly one million over what the other candidates had.
Now, we are back to the field and asking the people to once again support us with their votes. We have done so much, and you can see it on the ground. We have made giant contributions to the state and its people.
Looking at the politics of the state, PDP dominates, but there is also the strong presence of other political parties. Which of them do you think poses any threat to your return to the Government House in next month’s election?
No political party poses any threat to us here. This is a PDP state; for 12 years, we have won the elections and will repeat the feat next month. If there is any threat to PDP dominance in Katsina State, it is only on the pages of newspapers, where the opposition is very prominent. But go round the state and feel the pulse of the people and you will find that there is no threat to PDP in Katsina State. Like I said, politics is about the majority; it is not about everybody. I don’t think that every voter in Katsina State will vote for PDP and me in the elections, but a majority of those who will eventually vote will cast their votes for PDP and me. I am very confident that we will get more votes in next month’s election than we got in 2007.
Why are you so confident?
Our deeds, our performance will speak for us. Katsina is one of the few states in the federation that has not borrowed any money, locally or foreign, to execute the projects we have done. Every project you see on ground was executed with the meagre resources of the state. We have done about 32 road projects. We were able to complete all projects initiated and started by the late Yar’Adua towards the end of 2006 to early 2007. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo laid the foundation of the state-owned Umaru Musa Yar’Adua University in Katsina, the state capital, in March 2007. That university was completed within 18 months and is operational now, including the female hostels. The expansion of the airport was awarded shortly before I assumed office and has now been completed.
There were eight major projects whose contracts were awarded shortly before I came in; I paid over N52 billion to complete all of them. I didn’t cancel any contract; I didn’t change any contractor and didn’t stop any project. After completing them, I introduced my own projects. Today, we have 32 road projects, some completed and the rest on the verge of completion. We have built over 146 new secondary schools across the state. We are building a 250-bed teaching hospital, the first by a state government.
We are building a 5,000-capacity stadium in the state capital. We have done ring roads around Katsina township, and dualised roads in seven local government areas, thereby turning them into urban or semi-urban centres. We have provided over 2,500 boreholes across the state. We have built craft villages and basic training centres.
In the area of road transport, we won an award as the best in that sector. We bought over 800 new vehicles for the state transport company. We introduced the students’ bus service programme and charge N10 per student. We offer free primary and secondary education and pay the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), National Examinations Council (NECO) and National Board for Technical Education (NABTE) fees of the students from Katsina State.
We sponsor students on foreign studies and have doubled the amount paid as scholarship to our students in tertiary institutions, and they get the money when due. We increased the Teachers Salary Scale (TSS) for the primary and secondary schools and we were one of the few states to implement the agreement between the government and the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT).
We have increased the salaries of teachers at the tertiary institutions and have, on two occasions, increased the salaries of the health workers. We are one of the few states in Nigeria that its teachers in tertiary institutions and health workers have not been on strike. Every child that can go to school in Katsina State is going to school for free, as nobody is denied education on account of poverty or indigeneship.
So, if these achievements don’t speak for us in the coming elections, I don’t know what else will.
As the elections approach, there have been upsurge of election-related violence and thuggery. Having allegedly being a victim yourself, even as a governor, how do you think this can be checked?
First of all, we have to align democracy to law before it can succeed. When thuggery is introduced as an element or component of electioneering, and law enforcement agencies fold their arms or connive or participate, and governments of the day look the other way, then nobody is safe in our society. When I started campaigning in 2007, I made it clear to all that I will not tolerate thuggery or thugs to accompany me on my campaign trips. If as I move around, I look around and see a young boy with as little as a stick, I will ask him to drop that stick. I have told the people of Katsina that I can’t feel comfortable that my own children are going to school to earn a degree and a living and then I will participate in destroying other people’s children. And, I will not tolerate anybody doing that for me or in the name of politics.
That was how we went about our campaigns and we did that successfully. We did the same thing during the local government elections and not even a fowl was injured and that is how we have been doing it in this dispensation. Of recent, there was an incident in the state. If you go round Katsina State, especially the state capital, you will notice that all the billboards of the contestants at all levels are standing intact. I said there should be a level playing field.
But unfortunately, the CPC governorship candidate in the state, Senator Yakubu Lado, who the court said should be recognised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the authentic candidate, gathered some people from neighbouring states and local government areas to make things difficult for us.
There is this insinuation that the Yar’Adua and their political associates have left PDP after the death of the former president and now constitute the opposition to your re-election bid. What is your relationship with the Yar’Adua family?
My relationship with the Yar’Adua family is very cordial. Before the late president’s demise, I had made an offer to his daughter to serve in my cabinet. Unfortunately, the late president took ill and, after his death and the prayers, his daughter came to me to say she wanted to pick up the appointment and we gave her the position of Special Adviser on Inter-governmental Affairs to the Governor. She was working with us until her husband, who is a member of the House of Representatives, took ill and she came back to say she wished to run for the office of her husband, because of his condition, which will not enable him to seek re-election.
I told her there were a lot of people aspiring for the same position and that she should give me time to plead with them to see why she should be supported in her bid, especially as her husband had already purchased the nomination form before taking ill. On top of that, her father had contributed to the state as governor for eight years and the country as president for over two years and I felt I had the duty to honour him with that.
We spoke to the aspirants, all of them agreed to step down for her, except one, who is her cousin.
So, we said the two of them should go for the primary election and she won and is now our candidate for that seat to replace her husband. As far as the rest of the family is concerned, we have very cordial relationship with them. Of course, there is the younger brother to the late president, who left the army and decided to join CPC and we heard the rumour that he wanted to run for governorship. But that rumour was not to be, as he is now Lado’s running-mate.
So, it is him and one of his sisters who are in CPC that held a press conference to say all the family members had agreed to join CPC. But some family members took exception to that, and you can see clearly that the late president’s daughter is the PDP’s candidate for the Katsina Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, while the first son of the late Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who is the icon of the politics of the Yar’Adua family, is current a serving minister in the PDP-led administration at the federal level.
Some people from your North-West zone still feel cheated by Jonathan’s decision to run for the presidency even with the zoning arrangement in PDP. Are the people happy with his emergence and what is the solution to the zoning issue?
As a former Deputy National Chairman of PDP, I can tell you that zoning is contained in the provisions of our party’s constitution. But at the meeting of the Northern Governors’ Forum, we made it clear that we recognise the zoning in PDP’s constitution, we equally recognise that there is a provision in the 1999 Constitution that gives every qualified Nigerian the right to contest for any position in the land. So, how do you marry the two? We have been trying to work hard to see that we bring Nigerians together as one family. But my attitude is that zoning is about equity and fairness.
There is no part of the country that will take the position of president and still take the position of vice-president. It can’t happen; no matter how you play politics in Nigeria, zoning must take place. The only area we have concerns is that people felt that if Yar’Adua were alive, he would have sought for a second term and nobody would have objected to that. People were hopeful that he would spend eight, and it can happen to any group. But what is important to me is that we must put the interest, peace, security, unity, progress and advancement of our nation first in whatever we do.
What do you think of Jonathan’s popularity?
Jonathan is popular to some extent, and, as you rightly said, some people don’t feel happy the way things have turned out. But power belongs to God. It is not a popularity contest; it belongs to God Almighty and He gives it to whom He pleases, when He pleases and where He pleases.
The North-West zone is critical to the emergence of the next president. Do you think Jonathan can get one-quarter of the votes from the zone?
He will get it; he will win. You will see; Jonathan will make a lot of headway here.
Where is your confidence coming from?
I just told you power comes from God.
How are you reconciling with the pro-zoning elements?
Both the pro-zoning and anti-zoning elements must come together to work for the interest of the nation.
How would you rate PDP in the last 12 years? Many Nigerians feel it has not done well but wasted several opportunities to move the nation forward.
It is not wasted. You cannot generalise in any society. At least, we didn’t waste it in Katsina State. We have done very well. For example, before PDP came to power, did you have mobile phones?
What has been your most difficult challenge in office?
The most difficult challenge has been meeting the abundant demands from the different communities with the limited resources available to the state.