• Says North-West leads in illiteracy, ignorance, vices because of poor leadership
• ‘Schools attended by foremost northern leaders have been ruined…but we are fixing them’
By AbdulSalam Muhammad
Governor Aminu Bello Masari, in this interview, speaks on the challenges and successes of restoring the lost glory of education in Katsina State. Masari also speaks on the alleged factionalisation of the ruling All Progressives Party (APC) in President Muhammadu Buhari home state.
How come Katsina APC is factionalized under your watch?
The people around here understand the mind-set of those behind the factionalisation that, in this part of the country, it will be suicidal for anybody or group to attack the personality of Mr President, so they have to come through the back door, thinking doing so will destabilize the party in his home state. In other states, the governors are the leaders of the party, but, in Katsina, I am not the leader because the President is from here, but I hold the forte for him. So to discredit the President is to discredit the party. If these people are genuine and they mean well, if they had any complaint, since we have a leader, they should lay their complaint before him. The President is accessible to most of them. So I expect that they would have channelled their grievances either against me or the party or the government of Katsina to the President. Unfortunately, they chose to go to the market place.
Why the squabble?
Any discerning mind knows their direction and intention. We are here in Katsina waiting for them because the leaders of this renegade group were among the people who contested and lost to us in the last APC governorship primary in 2014. Some of them, since they lost the primary, abandoned Katsina and never participated in the activities of the APC in the state. Meanwhile, one of them was with us from the beginning but later on decided to stay away, and the reason we have been able to achieve the little we have achieved is simply because we refused to share the money accruing to the state to private individuals. This is an eye opener that delivering democracy dividends is doable, but the problem of this country is leadership.
Some people say you have achieved so much in the face of dwindling finances. How did you do it?
Nigeria has never been poor and it is not even poor today but the country has shortage of leaders at various levels, but the so-called big men are all over the place. I do believe that the direction Mr President wants to take this country is the one that would produce leaders and not rulers. And I’m sure that with the right leadership, the little resources we have will be enough to take us to the promise land. People say there is no money; yes, but I believe if there is enough, we will be better off, but when the country had the money, and, at a point, the price of crude oil was $140 per barrel and, from 1999 to 2015, the average price was $100, what was the achievement? The problem boils down to leadership. When China and India started, things were rough for them but where are the two nations on the scale of development today? When we fought civil war, there was no oil and Nigeria did not borrow to execute the war. The issue is leadership, poor leadership and the case of the North-West is not different.
So how do we resolve the problem?
If you have good leaders, they will be able to maximise the little resources at their disposal for the benefit of the citizens. If you solve the problem of leadership, you will have achieved a great thing for this country; after all when things are rosy, everybody becomes an expert but it is in difficult times that real leaders emerge. Look at Saudi Arabia, the founder did not have formal education, but he provided leadership and established the country on a sound footing. The founder of the United Arab Emirate was also a man from the desert who united seven emirates to have a powerful and blossoming UAE. He did not go to Harvard and neither was he at Oxford. He did not attend formal school but he provided leadership to his country. If we work towards producing the right leadership, we have the potentials and human resources to move our country to greater heights, not only for the benefit of Nigerians but also for the benefit of the entire black race because there is no country that is as populated with black people as Nigeria.
How close are you to fulfilling all your key campaign promises?
We made promises during our campaign on five key areas, and the last area cannot be achieved without the fourth one. We spoke about education because education is our number one priority. Katsina was synonymous with education and we made our name though education. We did not make that name from oil. The first western type of school in Nigeria was established in Katsina. Prominent individuals in this country, especially from the North, were either from Katsina or people who schooled in Katsina. Meanwhile, the position in which we found ourselves in 2014 was pathetic. We were number 33 out of 36 in both WAEC and NECO examination results. For the first time in decades, Katsina could not compete within the nation, let alone globally. We have sons and daughters who made their names internationally, and they were all products of public schools. The question we asked ourselves is, ‘what went wrong?’ Ours is to restore the faded glory and, in doing so, we visited all the primary and secondary schools in Katsina to establish the number of enrolment and the number of teachers and the deficit so as to reverse the situation through rehabilitation of the structures, employment of teachers, provision of teaching aids and training of teachers. We also reminded parents of their responsibilities one of which is that they must participate financially and physically in the development of their children. The first issue is how you manage the responsibilities of those entrusted in your care. So it is your responsibility to train your children while government provides the enabling environment and supports you to do so. When we came on board, what we had was five per cent of students passing exams with five credits in English and Mathematics.
What is the situation now?
I am happy to say that ahead of the last WAEC and NECO exams, we introduced qualifying exam and the matter generated uproar. Before now, government was reckless, highly irresponsible in spending money, whereas you didn’t have teachers, no teaching aids and attendance in schools was generally poor. Meanwhile, you had a situation where classes that were supposed to accommodate 50 students had over 100, 200. What magic then do you from teachers handling such classes? So, we introduced qualifying exam with benchmark, anyone that scaled though will be sponsored by government to write WAEC or NECO, but if you failed, your parents have to come to your rescue. And we made it clear, where such students made a stunning performance in the NECO and WAEC exams, government will make a refund to affected parents. That is how to provide leadership. Don’t forget that in the 50s, parents paid school fees and examination fees for their children, so why should they be exempted now? We have a primary school here with over 4,000 pupils and the head teacher told us that in any Parent Teacher Association meeting, the best attendance is 100, and these are mainly mothers. In essence, we have over 4,000 parents who don’t care what happens to their wards. You have to change this attitude by providing the kind of leadership that will force parents sit up on their responsibilities to their children.
Is the strategy paying off?
It is going by the result of the last examinations. We presented 21,000 students for the qualifying exam out of which 11,000 qualified for our sponsorship to write WAEC and NECO. Out of those we sponsored, 3,300 obtained five credits and above that include English and Mathematics. The most interesting thing was that those left out of government sponsorship due to poor performance in the qualifying exam, over 5,000 of them passed, and we are making a refund of N75million to affected parents. In the NECO exam, we had 77 per cent pass and WAEC 70 per cent with 48 per cent coming from public schools. And this is a state where we used to have five per cent in the NECO and WAEC exams. We talk about fighting poverty and illiteracy but it is evident that you cannot fight poverty without education and, for emphasis, public education because 90 per cent of the population attend public schools; if you address this problem, you have constructively addressed poverty. The purpose of providing basic education is that it guarantees the beneficiaries the opportunity to be self-employed. The population is here and the opportunity is here. Our intention is that by 2018, all our boarding secondary schools, girls in particular, would have been comprehensive with everything, because if what we leave behind is a legacy in education, we would have achieved our mission. We also believe that if you want to empower the ordinary people or the middle class, you have to help them more in the area where they spend their earnings. They spend the bulk of their money sending their children to private schools; so if the public schools are improved, they will make more savings. The next thing is security which makes other things achievable, and even with security, you need intelligence to predict, plan and focus on where the problem is coming from, and nip it in the bud. So we are building a solid foundation in Katsina to make the difference. The foundation is to address the problems of education, health, drinkable water because if you provide safe drinking water, you are cutting off 50 per cent of water borne diseases. And all these cannot be achieved without education and, unfortunately, we lost it long time ago. It has been systematic and became more pronounced in the last eight years, and it is worse in the North-West.
We have the highest population in terms of poverty, illiteracy and all the vices put together if you come to the North-West. I think it is only the North-East that is ahead of us and that is because of Boko Haram. We believe if we get it right in the North-West, it will have positive impact in the whole of the country. The important thing we must all focus in this country is leadership. When we get it right, every other thing will fall in place.