Ibrahim, the first son of the late Balarabe Musa, is a vocal voice in the North and relieves the pain allegedly inflicted on him by former governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, and hits hard on northern governors for being the cause of the high poverty rate in the region in this interview with OLUWAFEMI JUWE and GODWIN ISENYO
The elections have come and gone, winners have emerged from that process, what are your expectations from the new administration at the federal level?
I’m still not yet comfortable because we are in a period whereby we don’t know what is going to happen next since the case is in court although the President has been sworn in and started work. Of course, people have no option because that is how the electoral arrangements were made whereby the President and the governors have to be sworn in before their cases in courts are resolved. But it would have been more comfortable if cases were already concluded in court before the swearing-in was done. Elections are normally held in March and swearing-in takes place in May. So, it would have been proper to move the elections backward; maybe say around November or December of the preceding year, so that from that time up to March, the country would have been done with electoral matters latest by April and then by the month of May of the same electoral year, the President or the governors would have been sworn-in. Perhaps, we may have a situation like that through constitutional arrangements one day.
Are you indirectly expressing your reservations over the conduct of the last general elections? Why the discomfort?There is little or nothing anybody can do because that has always been the arrangement. Whether you are comfortable or not, the President has to be sworn in because that is constitutional. They said by May 29 all those elected have to be sworn in. So, it isn’t the issue of whether one is comfortable with the elections or not. Mine is a suggestion that all we need to do is just to move three months backward so that by the time we finish with the elections and all the court cases are disposed of in March or April, then by May, we do the swearing-in and that will reduce any form of confusion.It’s what they arranged and not what we the followers arranged. But as far as life is concerned, the ordinary man is already used to problems and life goes on. The only thing is that let our leaders lessen the burden on the masses because of the effect of the removal of the fuel subsidy. Let them lessen the suffering of the ordinary man in so many forms. The oil subsidy regime had become a scam over the years and ought to have been removed a long time ago because the amount Nigeria lost as result of the scam is unbelievable.
In my own little research and calculation, Nigeria lost nothing less than $200bn to this so-called subsidy.In your estimation, when did the oil subsidy scam start?
It started long ago when successive administrations failed to carry out turnaround maintenance of the nation’s refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna, and resorted to importing petroleum products. In fact, the amount involved could transform every Nigerian into a millionaire. Our rural areas, schools, universities and so on would have been taken care of in such a way that there wouldn’t have been strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities or anything of such. Unfortunately, they left things undone such that a few people benefitted so much from this scam. The only period we thought the subsidy scam would have been checked was during Buhari’s administration, but he didn’t stop it. The then government of President Buhari promised so many things, including the oil subsidy removal, but here we are. During the Buhari administration, the hopes were very high that he would stop it, but It continued unabated. In fact, it became even worse under Buhari. Apart from the scam, there was the pilfering of the nation’s commonwealth. How can people be stealing directly from the nation’s source of wealth and nothing was done? It is unfortunate, to say the least.At this juncture, what will you recommend that the Tinubu administration should focus on as priority areas?The most important thing is for this government to tackle the security problem ravaging the entire country once and for all. The ordinary Nigerian wants to go about his normal business without let or hindrance, or go to his farm in his village. We are talking about security here. So, the President should put his energy into tackling the security challenges across the country. He should restructure the security architecture in such a way that the traditional rulers and local governments will be more involved before the state and federal levels get involved. The traditional leaders have their wards and villages; then, you have local governments as well as the states and the Federal Government. How is it then that the government cannot restructure the security architecture to cover everywhere? Why is it that billions of naira are voted for, yet insecurity continues to fester? This is unfortunate.Yes, so much is being spent on security, but professionals are not involved. You have to get the professionals involved. I mean security experts. I was once a state security administrator at a time when we had a big security problem here in Kaduna. What we did was structure the security architecture such that everywhere was secured.
Some people have said that before the petrol subsidy removal, the government should have put in place palliatives to cushion the effect. What do you think?
The first thing that the ordinary Nigerian needs with this subsidy removal is to secure his life and property. Secondly, the common man needs to see that his child goes to school without any difficulty. Let primary and secondary school education be free. Some of us got our primary, secondary and even university education free. Our parents didn’t pay anything. Free education is possible in Nigeria. If you do that to a common man, you have solved virtually all his problems. I was a primary school teacher. I was also a principal of a secondary school. So, I know what I am talking about. What the government needs to do is to build simple infrastructure in schools, especially that which is capable of lasting for over 50 years, and equip these schools. Once this is done for the common man, the devastating effect of the oil subsidy removal won’t impact negatively on the masses the way it is now.Thirdly, the government should provide free primary healthcare for the common man in such a way that even if he’s down with malaria, he can comfortably get treatment. This can be done in Nigeria. Let’s rejuvenate the Petroleum Trust Fund through which drugs were sold at cheap prices and in some cases, given free under the chairmanship of Buhari. Unfortunately, the same Buhari couldn’t do that for the two terms he was the President. That was the most unfortunate thing ever. What the hospitals were collecting then as charges for treatment during the PTF days of the military junta of the late General Sani Abacha was not much. When you give attention to the well-being of the ordinary man, what else does he want? Nothing!Finally, let there be affordable food for the masses. The government should prioritise agriculture as was in the First Republic. Nigeria can produce anything we need in this country once the government addresses the security of the common man, ensures free education for his children, provides affordable healthcare as well as feeds him well. Once these are done, the masses are good. The Nigeria Labour Congress or even the ASUU and other bodies won’t have cause to embark on strikes since the government is doing the right thing.How did you transit from a senior lecturer in the private sector into the civil service?It wasn’t easy. I was a lecturer in Zaria when there was still the old Kaduna State from the North-Central zone before Katsina was carved out of Kaduna. It was discovered then that the capacity of the service was low. It was during the military era. There was the advice that to bridge the low capacity gap in the civil service, the government should shop for good hands from higher institutions to be recruited into the civil service. That was how I was recruited into the civil service. But I wanted to be a professor. So, I had to leave for Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and later returned to the civil service and continued up to the time of my retirement as a permanent secretary by the former governor, Nasir El-Rufai, even before I reached the age of retirement.In fact, I heard of my retirement over the radio. Meanwhile, a day before my forceful retirement, El-Rufai was in my office because we were childhood friends. Before then, I wanted to leave. I was in my second term of the four-year tenure. There were barely six months for me to go. I was preparing to give them three months’ notice to leave. So, I was highly embarrassed to hear of my retirement over the radio. Perhaps, he (El-Rufai) believed that we were people he could not toss around. I worked with a lot of military and civilian governors too.
You are one of the vocal voices in the North, if you were to meet President Bola Tinubu, what specifics would you advise him to concentrate on for the development of the region?
The truth is there’s endemic poverty in the North. I will want President Tinubu to redress the poverty situation in the North and the almajiri problem. If you take the almajiri off the streets and make agriculture easy for them; ensure that farming implements like fertiliser gets to them directly; make tractors reach them at affordable rates for use; if they can produce their foods, half of the problem is solved. If I were President Tinubu or his adviser, I would boost agriculture in the North. He shouldn’t allow middlemen to hijack it as usual. Let him get directly to those involved. We have village and district structures. They know their farmers. So, if he can develop agriculture in the North, we don’t need much again. Of course, we talk about backwardness in education. The backwardness in education in the North is deliberate. It is poverty that is causing it. Anywhere you go if there is poverty, nobody will talk about education. Who will have the time for education when the stomach is empty?
But it is believed that the governors are the one instituting the poverty culture among the people despite the huge allocations they collect from the Federation Account. What is your take on that?
Of course, yes! The worst enemies of the North are the northern governors. They are the worst enemies. They don’t pay attention to their own responsibilities and they create a lot of powers, which are not theirs. They think they can do anything. If there is any form of lack of development and poverty and so on, it is the governors that caused it. There’s no doubt about that. Only a few of them are exempted. If there’s any governor that wants to perform well, they won’t allow him. They always have a way of discouraging him or ensuring that they make things difficult for him. You know, politicians in Nigeria can create trouble for those that want to genuinely perform. Imagine the demolition going on everywhere. Who gave them the power to do so? Only the court has the power to pronounce that. But here, the governor becomes the accuser, the prosecutor and everything. The various Houses of Assembly are almost useless. They are mere rubber stamps. The members are the governors’ boys. So, how do you expect development? Unless they are put in check, there is little or nothing that we should expect.What do you think are the factors responsible for the absence of security and peace in Kaduna State?That is a very good question but I want you to understand something. Good security has to go through those handling it. Security matters should be handled by professionals and security experts. Even the commissioner in charge of security matters, that is the Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, is just a journalist and not a security expert. Yet, he was appointed as one. How do you expect such a person to organise and execute near-perfect security architecture? The immediate past governor, El-Rufai, had no good rapport with the security agents. He was always at loggerheads with them. He was always making noise over what he had no proof of. The incumbent governor just came on board and there’s so much expectation from him in that regard.The former governor didn’t care to research why Kaduna is a problematic state. If you look at the position of Kaduna and even the infrastructure in the North, Kaduna is central such that if you want to go into the North, you have to pass through the state. The state is the junction that connects other states. Kaduna has so many forests that were not governed. There were no arrangements in place to have these forests well protected. They became ungovernable because terrorists hid there. They captured those forests because nobody was checking on them, so they became ungovernable. Before now, there were forest officers and management who were given money for the maintenance of the forests, but the reverse is the case now.Kaduna has so many cultures, tribes and differences. Little things can ignite chaos, which mostly has to do with mere rumours. Some of these don’t usually start from the ordinary people but the so-called big people. The ordinary people are good and peace-loving, but you see these politicians and other frustrated people, they are the ones causing problems. Some of them are retired military officers and civil servants. If they don’t hear their names for some time, they go and sit with their village people and foment trouble. They will start telling them lies to instigate trouble. So, most of the troubles emanate from the elites. Does the ordinary man have access to the media? No. The elites are in charge of the media. It is through them you hear some of these unguarded utterances that can inflame passions to cause trouble.What is the way to de-escalating tension in Kaduna State?Honestly speaking, it has to start from the politicians themselves. You see these political elites, they know themselves in the night. I am telling you because I know how they operate. I know how they meet. If they want peace, peace will come. If they have a commitment to peace, they will do it. Get these politicians to commit themselves to peace and security, and you will see wonders. The other people that we need their input are the traditional rulers. You see, the traditional institution is very important. When I was a local government chairman, I enjoyed my relationship with them. People that do not know them sometimes abuse them. If you go close to them, you will enjoy them and have peace. They know the trouble areas in the community more than anybody. The only thing is that they can’t talk.Even at the family level, the village or district heads know where there is trouble. They know almost everything and everyone in the communities, let alone a criminal coming into the community. They know them. They also know people with tendencies to commit a crime. If you want peace, you have to move along with them. When I was an LG chairman, I made them my friends. We sat informally for breakfast and lunch, and informally discussed the areas where there would be trouble. The security agencies were represented and I would tell them not to make it formal. In fact, we could easily identify those causing trouble in the local government when I was there. I was the Giwa Local Government chairman and also Soba. But I was chairman of Giwa twice. That’s my own local government and my village is Kaya. That was where my father was born and I am also a traditional title holder of ‘Madakin Kaya’
.What was your relationship like with Malam Nasir El-Rufai when he was the governor?
First, we were schoolmates and childhood friends, but when he became the governor, he became another person entirely. Coincidentally, we attended the same primary school in Kawo, but he was my junior and we went to different secondary schools. We went to the same Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and we went for the National Youth Service Corps scheme in Abeokuta, Ogun State, together. So, we know each other well. When he became the governor, we were still on friendly terms until he unjustly retired me from service for no reason; from that time, I distanced myself from him. I don’t even want to see him.
As an academic, what’s your view on the student loan scheme introduced by President Tinubu?
I think they rushed into signing the law. If I were President Tinubu, I would make sure that the universities do not lack infrastructure and are well financed so that they don’t charge students much. The President can even empower the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TetFund) and we can even have primary and secondary schools TetFund. Do you know why the TetFund is working? It is because it is managed by experts and professionals, and not the normal civil servants. That is why it is working. If you make universities have good infrastructure, they won’t bother being distracted looking for funds, because you have done all. There will be no need for student loans. This will also reduce the pressure on students. Pay lecturers good salaries and for the students, ensure that they have free meals just like during our days and make sure they are not charged exorbitant tuition. Look at the money they are stealing; do you know the number of universities that will be properly funded? Divide the billions being stolen among Nigerian students and see how much they will get. Provide decent hostel accommodation for students. It’s not too much for the Nigerian government to do.
If you are to meet your state governor, Uba Sani, what will you tell him to focus on in ameliorating the economic situation of Kaduna State?
It is useless telling most of these governors what to do because they have the way they do their things. They only respect you when you go to them for advice. They even sit with you, drink tea with you, but won’t make use of what you advise them on. So, there is little or nothing that I can do. Let me give you an example of when I was a permanent secretary. There was this governor we advised. These infrastructures that you are seeing today had been on the drawing board for so many years. They would have long been completed before now. We advised them but they didn’t do it. If you go and tell them what to do on education, when they come to the cabinet, it will be a different thing and when they go to their own political parties, it will be another thing altogether. Giving them advice might not be the solution to what is going on in the state.