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How to go about restructuring –Abubakar, Bauchi Gov

Governor Mohammed Abubakar of Bauchi State was in Lagos recently to attend the Nigerian Bar Association’s (NBA) annual conference. In this encounter with Ismail Omipidan, he spoke on the controversy surrounding his relationship with Speaker of the House of Representatives,  Yakubu Dogara and other members of National Assembly from the state and his position on restructuring among other issues.

The picture that we have of you is one who is combative, but you appear like a gentleman, tell us why the National Assembly members from your state are not at peace with you?

In recent times I have deliberately used every opportunity to inform the people that as far as I am concerned, I don’t have any enemy. I have been calling on my supporters not to abuse anybody, even if anybody goes off and abuses me; they should not respond by abusing that person. I have told every person who feels aggrieved to come over. The story of the disagreement with the members of the National Assembly, if the true story is told, they would tell you of all the attempts I have made.

I have sent several committees to go and meet them in Abuja including at one time, asking the working committee of the party to move over to Abuja and see them there. At that time, only five of them attended that meeting.

I also asked the First Class Emirs of Bauchi State to go over to Abuja to see them and also the late Maitama Sule. The bottom line is that the most beautiful system of government is a constitutional democracy, especially the one that has a written constitution because the parameters are determined. Everybody knows their own role unless if you want to veer off.

The bottom line is that the National Assembly does not have any oversight function over me, they don’t. Our only relationship is that we come from the same state and we belong to the same party. So, there is no way the National Assembly can dictate to Bauchi State Government what Bauchi State Government should do.

But they are my brothers; we started this journey together, in fact, there is no single member of the National Assembly that I have not been to his constituency and raised his hands before the election.

I had intervened severally even during the primaries in support of some of them when they were having problems when some people were trying to behave like the PDP; after the primaries, you look at the face of the person who emerged, and you don’t like the person you say change him with another person.

But you were opposed to the election of Dogara as Speaker and instructed Bauchi members of the House of Representatives from Bauchi not to support him. Why?

Yes, if you recall vividly during the election of the leaders of the National Assembly the APC as a party took a stand and I am an APC member, I toed the lines of my party, simply and that was what I did, and I asked everybody to do the same.

We used the pedestal of that political party to become who we are and a few months after or less than two months after, the party is requesting something from us to do something for them, and we turn and tell the party that we are not going to do it. It is not right by me; that is not my training.

You see God in His infinite mercy ultimately chose the Speaker and when that I happened I told him there and then, that is the end of the matter. ‘God has chosen you, we will respect that. We will respect you.’

I put that in practise. When he came after becoming Speaker, I received him in my office, not only did I receive him, I escorted him to the palace of the Emir of Bauchi; I didn’t need to do that. The usual protocol is that I would receive him in audience and someone else, my deputy or someone else can escort him to go to the emir. But at that time, he had become the number four citizen of Nigeria, so I escorted him to go and visit with the emir. So all these issues are over flogged. Right now, serious rapprochement is going on even before the setting up of the APC Reconciliation Committee.

Part of their grudges against you was you took loan without approval by the Bauchi Assembly. Is that true?

I have decided that at my age I would not allow myself to be dictated to by anybody, particularly when I know that most of these persons did not support my bid to become governor. It is very, very important for people to understand the scenario when I took over.

I took over when labour was on strike because they had not been paid for four months. I asked them, please, call off the strike to enable us to take over properly and I promise you that the moment I am sworn in, I will address your problems.

They conceded and called off the strike. I took over an empty treasury and inherited a N155 billion debt out of it were staff claims including a whooping N15 billion gratuity owed to civil servants.

We took over in May, and at that point, Ramadan was around the corner, and Bauchi is a predominantly Muslim state, and it is a state that relies heavily on salaries. So, I needed to do something and what I took over was like a keg of gunpowder waiting to explode, and I needed to do something urgently.

So, I sought the then Speaker who was PDP and what most people don’t understand and especially commentators who have commented on this issue of the loan we took of N4 billion is that they assert that I took the loan without the approval of the House of Assembly and that is because of ignorance.

I inherited a House of Assembly that was inaugurated on the 15th of June 2011, and it had a four year tenure and had a life up to the 14th of June 2015 and I took over on the 29th of May; so there was a point at which I was operating with that old House of Assembly.

At that point, there was only one appointee in my government, the Head of Service that I inherited, and I called the Speaker, and three of us sat down in my office and I told the man, ‘you are from this state and you know the realities of this state, your government failed to pay civil servants for four months, the state is like a keg of gunpowder, Ramadan is around the corner, raining season has commenced and your government did not make arrangements for fertiliser, I need to buy fertiliser, so we need money. So, give me approval to borrow to take care of at least three major items and maybe get a little money to keep running the government until the next FAAC meeting.’

So, he told me that he had invited his members to a dinner that night and that he was going to table the matter. So, I told the Head of Service to write formally to the House of Assembly. A week or so later, I received a communication from the clerk of the House conveying the resolution of the House to me. This is what a number of people do not know. I am a lawyer of 38 years standing, there is no way I would go and affront the law anyhow.

I took that loan to douse the tension that was prevalent then. From that point on after paying one month salary, procuring ten thousand metric tonnes of fertiliser and facilitating for the hajj which was the most successful as at that time, we continued paying salaries as at when due until December 2015 when the local governments were unable to pay salaries, and I had to come to their rescue when I lent them N400 million to pay salaries and that was the point I decided I must conduct a verification of staff of Bauchi State.

If you compare Bauchi to Kano State which is the most populous state in the country, Kano has 44 local governments, yet has 92,000 staff between the state and the local governments. Small Bauchi State is said to have 105,000, so, any right looking person must look into that, and this was what necessitated the verification.

You have complained of a high salary burden. But what effort are you making to boost IGR in the state?

The issue of IGR it is easier said than done. People make comments on improving IGR. In the first place, improvement of IGR would not have been overnight. Two, when you talk IGR, there is no escape from the fact that you are talking about taxation in whatever form.

The people of the state I met, I met them prostrate, on their knees, so whatever I do, I have to put that at the top of my mind. My government is a populist government, so there is no way I can visit hardship on the people.

As a lawyer, what is your take on the agitation for restructuring?

I know there is a lot of hue and cry about restructuring to the extent that we have lost sight of the real meaning of restructuring because it means different things to different people. There has been a lot of hype about restructuring. In my mind, we have a government in office, and this government has a constitution, and our constitution is written, and everything contained there is very clear except for the need for interpretation one way or the other.

The system we are running can do with a few readjustments, but to my mind within the ambits of the constitution. I am not one of those who subscribe to the fact that this constitution was forced on us. I am not. I have read a bit of constitutional law, and I know that there is a principle that is called the principle of state necessity.

No matter what way you take over a government if so far as the entire people of the country welcome that take over, it confers legitimacy on you and if that is the case, as the legitimate government of the day, you can make laws for the further good governance of the entire nation. So, the constitution is there; the constitution needs a lot of amendments, the legislative lists, for example, need to be tinkered with for you to devolve power to the correct areas where such powers should go to.

 For example, agriculture. The Federal Government of Nigeria has no land anywhere, all the land is either in the state or the local government, so the power of agriculture except for policy and research should reside in the states and local governments. Ditto, education because the states and the local governments are the formulation agents, the Federal Government of Nigeria should not have any hand in education except for policies and research. So there are areas of the constitution that we need to tinker, and I believe if we do it wholeheartedly we can be able to answer the agitations of quite a lot of Nigerians.

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