( Governor Aminu Bello Masari’i interview with the press early this year) excerpts
Q. The state House of Assembly reduced the 2020 budget by about N5 billion. Will this innany way affect budget implementation, especially projects execution?
A. If you go through the budget, what the House of Assembly was able to reduce we have gone through, has nothing to do with the completion of projects. I think the key word on completion of project, one, put more effort to meet the target in terms of Internally Generated Revenue. Secondly, let us hope that the oil market which so far has been the main stay and other main sources of revenue coming from the federation account will meet because the demands we put here are on basis we expect from federation account. So I don’t think what the House of Assembly has done would affect the performance of the budget. What may likely affect the performance of the budget is that if we fail to collect Internally Generated Revenue projected and also if what we projected to get from the federation account is noth forthcoming, otherwise, we believe that the budget is compact enough to meet completion of all the projects. But not all Tue projects would be completed this year because if you take Danja dam, it’s going to take more than two years based on submission of the contractor and consultant. So there are some projects that their span is this 2020 and also we have projects that we have given the contract but they have ont started. But certainly they are starting this year. So, obviously, those projects would not be completed within one year. But we are talking about the projects we started two-three years ago. Some are 70, 80, 90 percent completion stage and we intend to complete all those projects that affects people directly especially hospitals, schools, and roads because of the economic importance of roads construction. Like we said earlier on, totally, we are spending over N30 billion in terms of construction of roads in the state, over 507 kilometers of road, over 389 for rehabilitation, over 2,000 kilometers of rural feeder roads. So we are doing a lot in terms of opening up the state for economic activities.
Q. What is happening as regards the security situation in the state?
A. Coming to the issue of security, let me say it for the avoidance of doubt, the peace process has not collapsed. Whatever the imagination of some people, whatever their conclusion, the peace process is on course and is achieving results. When we started this process in 2016, what was on ground then was cattle rustling. By the time, around 2018 going to 2019, we saw resurgence of invasion, banditry, kidnapping and rape. When we started exactly on 30th of August, we saw the reduction and stoppage of invasion of villages and communities by bandits. What followed was kidnapping. And kidnapping is happening all over Nigeria not only in Katsina state. The records are there. Why do we have resurgence of kidnapping? Because let us stop what Hausa man would say, Hitting the bag not the donkey; a Fulani man or herder who lives in the forest does not know where you and I live in this town. So the criminality has now come to the cities, towns, and semi-urban centres where they are inviting some of the bandits to come and kidnap for ransom. The criminals in the towns are more deadly than the herders in the forest for they are the ones inviting them.How can somebody who lives in the forest of Damburu in Zamfara know the place where Agaju lives in Katsina? Unless the neighbour to Agaju invites him before he knows. And you ask yourselves, how many times have you heard about burglary? It has reduced because some of the burglars and criminals have now turned to be informants and also part of the kidnapping syndicate. So for us, let us start looking here and make sure that we really work through technology to unearth those who are inviting the bandits living amongst us. And again when we made peace, not all the bandits agreed. The problem we are having, like somebody said about Batsari and Jibia, simply because those leaders who live in the forest of Zamfara, who are very close to Batsari and Jibia, did not join the peace deal. Gang leaders like Dan Karami, and to some extent Dan Gote, did not. They never attended any meeting, they never participated, at least with us here in Katsina. Sometimes they would say this is a representative who would go and tell them what had happened. But we never had any commitment from them that they are part of the peace deal. So for those with whom we have peace deal, from Sabuwa to Jibia, they are living up to the agreement we have with them. So the idea of breaking down is not correct. It’s false, it’s alarmist. To once again put Katsina in the bad map of insecurity. It’s unfortunate. So we are on top of the situation. What happened in Jibia, simply, if you could remember one or two months ago, those smuggling rice and other commodities from Niger, because of the closure, invited bandits to come and clear the road for them. These are the bandits now who have made their home in Jibia with the active connivance of the people living in Jibia. And this I’m going to deal with it tomorrow. We know them. We know who is doing what. We are going to deal with them and we have started the day before yesterday. So those we had peace with, from Safana going to Sabuwa, we have sold peace with them. I just finished meeting with the people from Faskari, from Safana, and from Sabuwa, and up till now I’m on phone the same people who have embraced peace today early in the morning recovered 55 herds of cattle from rustlers going to Kaduna state with them. Today in Dandume, as I’m talking to you now. So for anybody to imagine that the the peace has collapsed, no. It has its own problem, yes, agreed. We hope it would be the last phase of this problem of kidnapping because we have graduated from cattle rustling to banditry, now to kidnapping. So let us hope it dosent become something else tomorrow. The reality is, as far as we are concerned, our peace effort is on course. Yes, we are having challenges, we expect to have challenges, no doubt about it. And our biggest challenge, we can control our border by 70 percent of the bandits crossed over from Zamfara state. The notorious ones, 90 percent of the notorious ones who refuse to embrace peace live in Zamfara not in Katsina. We have our own number one gang leader, Dan Gote, who resides in Katsina state, we know where his camp is and we’ve sent a word. We are determined. We have a responsibility, we are not afraid, neither are we ready to shy away from that responsibility. No way. So the reality is our peace effort, llike I said earlier, is on course, it has challenges and we are determined to overcome the challenges which are naturally to come.
Q. So the peace process with some bandits is still in place?
A. Our peace effort has not collapsed. It has challenges, yes. Like other things which we having challenges with, which we are dealing with.
Q. But what about what is happening in Batsari and Jibia?
A. The problem with Batsari and Jibia is the same. Jibia incident is the one that affected Batsari. Some people in Jibia invited bandits to help them clear the road due to presence of customs to enable them smugglers ttheir contraband. Today, they finished sending the customs officials and began terrorising Jibia people. Everybody knows now that Magama is trying to take another dimension, but God has helped us, the people of Magama have united against the bandits two days ago. They united and resisted the bandits who came to abduct a woman. The bandits had no option than to run away. They have united, and I’ll be going to Jibia tomorrow to have a meeting with them. We have reports of those that invited the bandits, those calling them on phone. No bandit would move from Dumburun forest or Kwanar Jaja, or Dinya forest and come abduct a person in Katsina or in Batsari without the connivance of someone in that community. Let’s not complicate the matter saying the Fulanis we sat with and agreed to a peace deal are the ones carrying out such attacks. No. People living with us in society are those calling them to come abduct people, and then share the monies realised. Also, ppeople should know that building the country and society is no child’s play. Those bandits would not stop abducting people so long as they are paid ransom. If you say you will n sacrifice your thumb for the body, then you may end up loosing both in the end. Today in one of the local governments, they now call residents threatening them to bring money or risk being attacked. And it is some of the ad elements in the area that are making such calls. The problem has moved from the forest into the communities. This iissue hhas now become a source of concern for the Fulanis that had embraced peace. We just finished a meeting with Fulanis from Sabuwa, Safana, and Dandume. They said it was with difficulty they were able to travel for the meeting because they were told that the peace accord was no longer in place and that they risked being arrested if they choose to travel for the meeting. We didn’t say our lapses should not be pointed out, but whatever you want to say, take the country into consideration and not man. Today, the story going round is tha the peace accord in Katsina has failed. That’s not true. Also, we need to look at what we are doing at a personal level. All these people coming abduct victims of kidnap are not coming from the forest. If they do come from the forest, then they were invited by an informant. Also, you journalists here, have interviewed several of those kidnapped and the victims have said their abductors were invited by someone. Where are the thieves amongst us today? They have now turned to informants for bandits. And the peace deal with Fulanis in the forest was not with all of them. There are some that didn’t agree to the deal because they never attended the deal meetings, but we have been able to get 90.percent to agree to the deal. When we wwere going round tthe state, we told them that 90 percent of the bandits had repented. Also know that human beings, if I may quote what one boss in a James Bond movie, Man has conquered the moon but he is yet to conquer crime. Man has been unable to fight crime to a standstill. There’ll be no need for the courts and security personnel if we hhave conquered crime. Because of this, what we have been doing is to return peace to the way it was before. Phase one is rustling, phase two is reduction in banditry llike before, now we have the issue of kidnapping. And everyone has a role to play on this issue. Don’t say you saw your neighbour doing something wrong and you decided to fold your arms, then tomorrow you say government is unable to address the situation. Governments work with information. It is only through such information that government can address problems facing society. Because of this, we have been taking measures since the day before yesterday, and today after we signed tthe budget, we’ve held meetings with security agencies on measures to take on security issues. Some of these measures are of no use if mentioned and not implemented. We would first implement them and see where it takes us. By God’s grace, we hope to come out successful. But journalists should know that I’m not against reporting what you see, same applies to government officials. But report it responsibly. Like a Hausa saying, it’s better to criticize than to outrighly condemn a person’s actions. Look at the extent of this forest and the number of security personnel we have in tthe county, and not just in Katsina. There is a local government that has not more than 20 policemen. There is need to go back to community living as seen in the past, and bouillon, you have a role to play. You have information. You need to help us and the security, so that we know where the problems are coming from. Like I told you this security challenges is everywhere, but what is surprising is that when it it comes to Katsina, the problem is made to look new. A single community in Kano is bigger than Katsina town.
Q. I want to ask whether on a wider note the states in the North-West would plan to replicate what happened in the South-West where they launched a security outfit; whether they may be condiering it in the future as a way of addressing the security situation. I want to find out whether Katsina state would spearhead that arrangement.
A. We have a lot to learn from other areas. We do not claim to have monopoly of knowledge or wisdom. Certainly, I have been following up with what is happening in the South-West, and in the North-West, I am tthe chairman and I will call for a meeting and look at the situation. We’ve agreed to have a common approach which I do believe those states that are more affected, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna, aare doing; you know this issue of banditry at the time we started, Jigawa and Kano was not as rampant aas we we were having in the four states, even though Kano had their own share through Belgore forest. Definitely, we’ll learn from them and see what tthey have done and see how we can borrow some parts of what they have to see how we can improve our situation.
Q. Second, the state is under information siege. And what I mean by this is that you have information about security coming from different angles. I want to find out that if there are plans to streamline it so that one doesn’t get confused on which one to pick and which one to ignore.
A. With regards to information, in this era of freedom, you can hardly gag anybody and say do not speak. As for the local government, sometimes the urge for giving information by you journalists. You travel to a local government to get information and without verification of the information, you went on air. And I know some of the stories you write are stories you get from the local tea seller, but we can’t gag anybody and say that yyou can’t speak. But it’s for you to know somebody speaking on behalf of this government house, you need to assess him. Is he really in a position? Maybe when you come to government house, it is either the permanent secretary or chief of staff. Any other person talking to you about government house, you should be weary about publishing. Is he in a position to do that? So if you go to the government house, somebody would say he’s a staff of local government, yes, this iis what is happening. It doesn’t mean he’s speaking on behalf of government or that local government. He may be speaking to you as an individual not with the authority of the council. Obviously, they have their own information officers doing their own thing. Sometimes, when you go it’s up to you. You go to a local government to get information, you don’t verify it with the head of information or the chairman then the next thing you go on air. Well…
Q. My question is intertwined, it’s about politics and security. There is this vague allegation that absense of constituted authority at the local government led to this return of banditry. And with the recent Supreme Court judgement, are we going to have election soon at the local governments?
A. There’s no way you can separate politics and security, whether you have local government councils in place or not. They are intertwined. Politics, security, economy. These are intertwined, one way you look at it. But unfortunately, what we are having today in terms of security affects everybody. Like I said when we we were going out, when the bandits come or when the kidnappers or armed robbers come, they don’t request for political party membership. That’s why I say let us remove partisan politics in terms of approaching this issue of this security. It is not about failure of the government of APC or governor Aminu Bello Masari. No. Its about the lives and properties of the people of Katsina state. So I think we a problem that is not peculiar to Katsina, has become more than a regional problem but a national problem. Any responsible person would like to see what would be his contribution in order to solve this problem. Because if you don’t solve it, it would continue to grow. If you are from the other side, from outside, tomorrow if you are inside, you’d be confronted with this, maybe in a harsher way than now. So, obviously it is our responsibility come down.
Election at the local government. If today the Supreme Courts gives verdict on our case before it, we’ll comply. For the past 16 years of the previous governments, they have not provided a permanent accommodation for state independent election commission. I did, because I believe that we need to have the umpire. But unfortunately, those who feel that we used the law that they created in terms of abolition of local government councils. It is their law. We inherited the law, we used it and now they challenging the same law that tthey passed in the court. So have gone to the Supreme Court, they are dilly-dallying, they don’t want the case to move forward, and they are insisting that the court should decide. The fact that some pronouncements are made somewhere, they don’t directly affect Katsina state unless there is pronouncment from Supreme Court, on our own case. So I think I consider it to be one of those stories. And circumstances are different. What kills somebody here maybe a different disease that kills somebody there. The fact that some other states have dissolved the local government aand they said take them back, does not mean what we did. Maybe they didn’t follow the law. We followed the law that was enacted by our predecessors to dissolve the local government councils. So until and unless there is a clear pronouncement on our own case that is before the Supreme Court, before we can decide. But I assure you that today, if there is a positive deceleration by the Supreme Court, we would not take more than three months to have election; because we are ready. As far as we are concerned, We are ready for election. So we are not even afraid of it.
Q. Can you say that Katsina state government is getting the due cooperation in fighting banditry and kidnapping?
A. By the actions of the military in the last two days, you know that tthe federal government is giving the needed cooperation. It has brought and created a Brigade and we now have three Battalions one in Katsina, one in Daura, and the other in Malumfashi, and our Batallion has been upgraded to a Brigade, and even from these four states of Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi and Sokoto, we have now a Division. So the federal government has really shown interest and given us full support by bringing more personnel.
Q. You said security issues in Katsina is being blown at alarming proportions. Is there any cohesion on government officials speaking contrary to what we have heard from you?
A. Any report that does not come from authorised person becomes a personal opinion of the person giving that report. It’s not official, it’s personal. That’s why I said whoever under whichever circumstances would comment on issues, should do so responsibly, looking at the wider implication whatever anybody is going to say or do.
Q. You signed a law recently which stipulates death and stiffer penalties for kidnappers, bandits and related crimes. Also, during the dialogue with bandits, there was issue of them surrendering their arms. What is the situation concerning tthe two issues?
A. Just like you have a problem, I also have a problem. I have signed the law. If police and other agencies don’t take a matter to court, I will not go arrest an offender and take him to court. I have given them the ammunition to take offenders to court and see if I will not sign when the court pronounces the death or related sentence on an individual. Whether it is cattle rustling, or kidnapping or rape, I’ll sign for maximum or related sentence once it comes to me. But the issue is police need to take a matter to court, and there needs to be prosecution before I can do anything. But I’ve given them the ammunition which iis the law.
Q. This is a follow up to an issue raised before. When you are negotiating, Nigerians would want to know, is it possible that somewhere along the line government has breached part of this agreement that is why this crises is coming back? And we have some of these crises in Malumfashi, in Dutsinma and your own local government, Kafur.
A. We are not seeing resurgence as such. I think explained this. Yes, another phase of the problems that we inherited which is going into phases because you are talking of resurgence here and there. Criminality like I said, if you watch one of these James Bond films, the Boss was saying, ‘Man has conquered the the moon but has not conquered criminality. You must find criminals. What is our responsibility is to make sure they are not a level in terms of number, in terms of even sophistication to disturb our way of life completely. So the issue of resurgence, if you have hehear the resurgence of cattle rustling, banditry, even at that, you have to have records like I do have. It gives what happened last 12 months, what happened last six months, and compare it with what is happening today. Are we making progress or not? We have facts to prove that we are making progress in terms of the nature of the type of criminality we’re dealing with.
Q. Just a follow up question. During the peace talks at the frontline local governments in Katsina, you promised to implement tthe second phase of the dialogue which is disarmament of repentant bandits. Where are we at the moment?
A. Disarmament, yes, I think it is the next phase of what we trying to do. But we want to stabilise the existing situation. We have started receiving some arms forwarding tthem to the military who are assessing tthem for us to see their condition, and to ssee if you are to buy them from the market, how much will it cost. All these factors we have to consider in the process of disarmament. It doesn’t make sense disarming you with two guns and tomorrow you buy four. That is also one of the problems we are also having. But we believe the closure of the border and other measures taken by the federal government, is reducing the inflow of firearms into the country. And we are seeing the positive results because in dealing with them, we are finding out that some of them have the guns but don’t have the ammunition. I think it’s the next step we are going in the area of disarmament. But the problem we have with those who have accepted peace is that in 2016 when they accepted and surrendered their arms, those who did not surrender in the forest used their arms to kill them. Almost all the leaders of those we had in 2016 were killed. And now, when we have key elements llike Dan Karami, and to some extent Dan Gore who had not embraced peace completely, holding onto their arms iin the forest, and you disarm your own in the forest, what would be the consequences? I think we have to balance and I do believe that with the actions the military and other agencies are taking on those who have rrefused to accept peace, I think we would be iin a comfortable position tthat we can say, okey, now tthere is relative peace so return your arms and ammunition to government to see how to take it to the next level.
Q. On plans by federal government to withdraw military from troubled regions of the country. As chairman, Northern Governors Security Council to government the issue?
A. We haven’t received any instructio with rega to withdrawal of military from troubled spots. You can only remove military from troubled spots if you have replacements. We are not aware of this, but we are waiting to see.
Q. Secondly, the security situation revolves around the youths who use don’t have formal education. What do you intend to do this year to improve the education standards of the people?
A. You absolutely right. Influence of drugs especially on these uneducated youths in the forest. You’ll be surprised the repentant bandits are asking us to do whatever it takes to stop drugs going into the forest. Because drugs going into the forest is influencing their children to rebel against them. They are rebelling against their parents because of the influence of drugs. You are absolutely right. And the the advice I gave t I will not say here. But the government through closure of borders, have been able to reduce significantly. Also, here members of the press and the general public can do better by helping authorities locating those places where they are selling hard drugs and iin some cases where they are even producing them. Because some of the drugs were told is being produced in some bigger cities, not Katsina. But I will not be surprised if somebody tries to produce it in Katsina. You are supposed to use your medium to create awareness in the minds of our people. Our people have a kind of attitude which I don’t understand. You see something going wrong in your neighbour’s house but you are afraid to talk. But if we can be the eyes and ears of our neighbours, I believe the problem will be significantly reduced.
So, you go through the budget, Education is having 20 percent allocation. We are not counting what is coming in as counterpart funding from UBEC. And on this we are emphasising and continue to emphasise on the foundation, education, that is primary and secondary. And we believe once you have sound education at primary and secondary level, then you can be able to be a very good craftsman, or whichever profession. Not all of us have to be Engineers, Doctors and Professors, but all of us can have what we can do to support our lives, and we’ll do it better if we have a certain level of education. Even an educated vulcaniser would do better than an illiterate vulcaniser. A meat seller that is educated would do better in the trade in meat selling than somebody who does not go to school. So the reality is if we can provide. What we are having problem now with the forest people, is that they have totally no education of any kind. They have no Islamic education, they have no western education, because they have been abandoned in the forest and forgotten. So these are the kind of children that have come up now and fighting us, are fighting the society. And if we don’t do more to address it, what would come out of the forest in the next 20 years compared with today, would be a child’s play. Because that lack of education, they only know one pleasure- pleasure of the flesh. So they keep on producing. I was surprised when this evening, I was told somebody can bring over 350 armed men from the forest. And I’m sure of the 350, none of them has gone to any formal schooling, either Islamic or western. And they are all married and have children. So we have to move in, that’s why it’s important we restore normalcy in the forest so that we can move in and take education to them. No nation fights poverty successfully without education. No nation. So we are still giving priority number one to education, in terms of our budgetary spending.
Q. What is government doing in the area of disarming the bandits so that people would have rest of mind in terms of security?
A. The arms surrendering by bandits agreement is still in place. Not all those living in the forest embraced the peace process. Those that didn’t join who are not more than 10 to 15 percent, are still holding until their weapons and are leaders in the forest. If you say those that embraced the peace should hand over their arms, The other group still holding unto their arms may kill them or force them to go back into banditry. What those 10 to 15 percent group want is for the repentant bandits to come back and continue with them. The only way they can protect themselves is by holding unto their weapons. If all the bandits had agreed to the peace accord, the issue of arms surrender, where the Fulani man has one stick and one machete; stick for controlling the animals, machete for cutting trees or grasses; if not at this level, all shouting to surrender arms would fall on deaf ears.
Q. One of the bandits at time of dialogue said h bought his weapon N750,000. Are you going to pay such person or just collect the gun?
A. Somebody said he bought his weapon for N750,000. But like I said ealeir, we have the military, we have the police. They know firearms, they know the cost of firearms. If you are purchasing, this would be the approximate cost of these firearms not what was been purchased in the black market. So I think black market price shouldn’t be a benchmark. It is in the interest of everybody who owns guns in the forest in peace time to return it. Because those who play with guns are similar to those who played with snakes. Any snake charmer ends up being killed by snake. So anybody who keeps guns would end up a victim of that gun. Naturally, and we’ve told them and they’ve seen it, where Buhari was killed by the same gun that he was holding and terrorising others. All the known naming, not only in Nigeria but all over the world, were killed by the same weapon they were using in terrorising others. The weapons they were using to kill others was so used to kill them or dominate them. You know they say Those who live by the sword will for by the sword.
Q You are the first governor, as far as I know, who risked his life to travel and dialogue with the bandits. As part of your pledges to the bandits, you’ve constructed a lot of clinics and schools fo them. When are those facilities going to be put in use for their benefit?
A. Some of the schools are already in use, I think the one we recovered was the one in Batsari being used by one bandit. We have already completed arrangement to rehabilitate and reconstruct all the earth dams in Rufus forest, numbering over 30. The team of the federal government have come under the livestock improvement programme to reestablish some parts of Rugu forest for diary and other livestock production. A lot of things are coming and they can only be successful if there is peace in those areas. And we are determined that when they come to do the project, there would be peace in those particular areas. We are on course and I think even the military has now built two schools, one in Musawa, one in Malumfashi and donated the schools to the state government, and we have taken over. And schooling has already started in those two places. No part of Katsina is under the control of bandits. Unfortunately, in some of the communities, the issue we are dealing with is that in some of the places, bandits have succeeded in converting people to their side, so we have to do something in terms of talking to the people and bringing them back to their senses so that normalcy and normal schooling would take place.