By bilesanmi lekan

Governor Abubakar   Muhammad Badaru of Jigawa State, in this interview,   explains that as Nigeria celebrated 57th year of nationhood, her greatness lies in her leadership which must be purely based on merit and politics devoid of tribal and religious sentiments.

Would you with all sense of sincerity say the Federal Government as controlled by APC has lived up to the expectations of the masses in the last two years?

I would emphatically say yes, and I am glad you mentioned the masses, because for the elite, their expectation is that the government of the day should fail and nothing short of that will satisfy them. General Buhari’s campaign promises can be summarized into three, provision of security, economic diversification and zero tolerance for corruption.

Gov Badaru of Jigawa State

Since assuming power, the nation’s biggest security challenge has been tackled with the lifting of the siege situation in three states  while 17 local governments areas have effectively been liberated. 12,000 hostages, including 107 of the Chibok girls, have been rescued, and you no longer have to endure a 10 – hour journey encountering 11 military checkpoints to travel from Kano to Abuja. There are several flights a day into Maiduguri and Yola airports and we have had several Christmas and Sallah celebrations without a single terrorist incident.

The dignity of our armed forces has been restored as they are no longer scampering to neighbouring countries to take refuge. I shudder to think where this country would have been if the insurgents had maintained their rampage at the pace they were progressing under the previous administration.

Apart from the decimation of the capacity of the Boko Haram insurgents, what other visible work or achievements of the federal government have you seen in more than two years?

I hope you realize that President Buhari inherited a comatose economy, characterized by a depleted treasury and oil prices that had crashed. As i talk to you, our foreign reserves stand at about $32 billion up from $7 billion in 24 months of a recessed economy and unprecedented speculative pressure on the Naira.

You can extrapolate and imagine where we would be if the same  sense of prudence and fiscal responsibility  had been applied in a  $140 a barrel oil price regimen. $500 million has been paid into the sovereign wealth fund, the first inflow since it was set up in 2012, Over N5 trillion has been captured by TSA with a saving of N4.7billion in MDA bank charges monthly. Critical

infrastructure projects some of which have been at a standstill for 8 years due to lack of funding have been remobilized, over N1 trillion was released for capital projects in the 2016 budget, the highest ever in the history of this country, dead construction companies have been brought back to life, thousands of jobs created and the trickle down effect has reflated the economy and helped end a recession.

The SIP initiative is another campaign promise fulfilled with over one million beneficiaries spread out across the various programs, N-power, school feeding, GEEP and the conditional cash transfer program. Agriculture has seen the largest and most focused national attention in the nation’s history with billions of   Naira in various programs, ANCHOR, CACS, NIRSAL and others being availed to farmers with dramatic results.

Our rice import has fallen from about 600,000 MT per annum to just 58,000 MT by the end of 2016 and a presidential committee on fertilizer which I chair has eliminated N260 billion paid fertilizer subsidy and foreign exchange. We have brought back to life over 12 dead fertilizer blending plants and plan to revive another eight by the end of 2017 and created over 60,000 jobs in the process, all the while providing excellent quality fertilizer at N5,500 a bag with zero subsidy instead of almost N10,000.

Fuel importation has been liberalized and subsidies withdrawn, and the government is supporting the establishment of the largest single train refinery in the world, freeing up about $8 billion in forex by the time it becomes operational in 2019.

Corruption was a major campaign issue   in the run off to the   election to which President Buhari/APC said it would fight to the finish. However,  the government appears to have been bugged down by the same virus- you have the cases of the suspended secretary to the govt, the NIA money laundering scandal, the Dubai property issue involving the chief of the army staff.

Hardly the case, Corruption was institutionalized and ingrained into our national psyche to a point where a public servant that refuses to partake is regarded as a fool by the very citizens he’s supposed to be stealing from. You can’t erase it overnight. There is no magic wand especial under a democratic dispensation with a judicial system that presupposes innocence until proven otherwise.

The first and most important step is leadership by example and a strict adherence to the rule of law. Even General Buhari’s worst critic can never accuse him of being a”do as I say and not as I do” leader.

He exemplifies integrity and incorruptibility, but the man can only do as much as the system allows within the ambit of the law. When you hear of conviction statistics being reeled out by the EFCC, get the number of cases under investigation and those in the judicial system and work out the conviction ratio, some cases have been at  pre-trial level for 10 years.

There are attempts to speed up the process through judicial reform and international treaties, but bear in mind that corruption fights back and it doesn’t fight fair.  As I am sure you are aware, the amount recovered from one case can fund the budget of the judiciary for two electoral terms.

Different separatist groups are clamoring for independence of their own republic, as they all alleged that their interests are not being taken care of. Are these agitations not legitimate?

Any thing done outside the ambit of or in contravention of the law is illegitimate, so the question I believe is whether there is any justification in these agitations. My counter question is, why now? Where were the agitators before the advent of this administration?

Was the previous govt so repressive and brutal that they couldn’t voice out their aspirations? Some of them were active players in the politics of yore, some contested elections and lost.

I have seen some that were advocates of tenure elongation at some point in time. My take is that it’s all a case of sour grapes and bad sportsmanship. Instead of heating up the polity, let them get their acts together and participate in the political dispensation, then they can articulate their position within the ambit of the law and the constitution.

The PDP appears to be getting it’s bearing right, thus opening the space for a more formidable opposition. With many unfulfilled campaign promises, it does appear that the APC is in for a huge task of returning to power in 2019.

I just listed out our three – pronged campaign agenda and what we have been able to achieve under an extremely difficult economic and political environment, which is unarguably the result of PDP’s misrule. As for getting their bearing right, I think the real test is yet to come, there are a few political surprises still in the offing, I am sure you’re already aware that their 2019 zoning arrangement has been thrown to the dogs.

In what areas would you say your government has lived up to your electoral promises?

My number one electoral pledge is to create a local economy using agriculture, and statistics available show we are on the right track. We have encouraged significant investment into agriculture based industries by creating a conducive environment because we believe that the only way to impact the sector on a scale that will reflect on a state wide basis is to involve big businesses.

We have established a comprehensive land acquisition and reform policy that seeks to ease large saddle land acquisition for Agribusiness while protecting the rights of small scale land holders and integrating them into agri processing investors as stakeholders. Small holder farmers have been clustered to achieve aggregation in input supply , extension service provision and market identification.

We are actively encouraging out-grower schemes to establish a partnership between farmers and processors and we are extending this by developing a contract growing policy that will see longer term arrangements leading to price stability and access to funds for farm development. in Jigawa Agriculture   is micro managed by a steering committee chaired by myself that meets unfailingly on a weekly basis.

From your vantage position, can you tell us what can we do as a nation to be great again?

We should focus on what we have in common rather than our differences. We should sanitize the political space and do away with politics of ethnicity and religion, and focus on issues and not sentiment.

We must evolve a system that ensures quality leadership is appreciated and respected so that meritocracy takes root and we can begin to celebrate leaders with national outlook and exemplary vision and capacity.

Today no matter how good you are political and ethnic considerations will be used to denigrate you and pull you down. You can imagine a situation where a leaders illness is being celebrated in the name of politics. This is sad.

One would have expected you, as other governors do, to probe the financial activities of the previous govt, you chose not to. Yet, you continued with some of the left over projects, some have said you were scared if the ripple effects his (Lamido) probe/prosecution would have on your government. How true?

What ripple effect? The former governor has been investigated by the relevant agencies and he is currently facing trial in court, what would I gain from duplicating the issue simply to follow precedence and say I am probing him?

We continued with the projects for two reason. There were so many of them scattered all over the state to the tune of over N80billion, and abandoning them will simply mean a colossal waste of resources since they will simply deteriorate and in some cases even pose environmental hazards. Secondly, they were initiated with public funds, they were not a philanthropic gesture from anybody’s endowment fund. You cannot imagine the political pressure we came under to draw the line and award our own contracts. I did not know any of the contractors, we simply asked them to give us a discount, assured them there was no Commission or ‘on top’  to deliver to anybody’s agent or sibling and they went back to work.

To what extent has the austerity measure policy of the government helped governance in the state?

I believe without the measures we put in place we would probably have proved our skeptics right. There were elements in the previous govt who were betting that we would never be able to pay salaries from the first month, perhaps   because they knew the financial pitfalls that they placed before us including depleting the states account balances leaving behind only N16million.   It was not easy but because we started from my own office it was not too hard to convince the MDAs to make do with what was available, especially since we took time to discuss the measures with every MDA and mutually agreed on implementation.

Myoffice expenses have been cut by up to 80% in some cases and every expenditure including so called security votes are subject to extant audit and financial regulations without exception.

Lately the federal ministry of finance under the aegis of the National Economic Council subjected the states to a strict   rules on transparency and fiscal sustainability to be monitored by eight independent audit firms.

Last month, Jigawa was among the eight states that met the full criteria for budget support. We have not received a salary bailout and our Paris Club refunds can be traced to individual expenditure subhead that are public knowledge.

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