Governor of Sokoto State and Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party Governors Forum, Aminu Tambuwal tells Nseobong Okon-Ekong that Nigerians will resist any attempt by the All Progressives Congress to rig the 2023 general election
Why do you want to be the president of Nigeria?
As far back as 2012, 2013, seeing how I have been able to preside over the National Assembly of the federal republic of Nigeria, very many well meaning Nigerians began to approach me on the idea of running for the president of Nigeria. So, it is not just about me wanting to be. It is also about people identifying some of these qualities that they think are needed in the president of Nigeria in my person. So, I believe that first and foremost, I have the requisite competence and understanding of the dynamics and complexities of Nigeria for me to be able to preside over that office of the president of the federal republic of Nigeria. I have traversed everywhere even before I became the Speaker of the House of Representatives. As a lawyer that had been practicing and very active in the politics of Nigeria and subsequently a member and Speaker of the House of Representatives, I have traversed the length and breadth of this country. I have established contacts; I have established friendships; I know and appreciate the diversity of the people of this country and I quite understand the differences in quote amongst the people of Nigeria. And the Nigeria of today, you need someone that really understands the country in terms of the diversity, the people, their mores, cultures and traditions. It must be someone that the people of this country can say look, this person has done something which we believe while doing it demonstrated capacity and competence in providing that leadership for the country. His pedigree must convince the people to say look, once this person is there, we can say that we are comfortable that every section of this country will be looked after. There would not be ethnic chauvinism; there would be inclusiveness, good governance and you bring some freshness into the system. So, I believe that these are some of the qualities that quite a number of Nigerians are seeing in me and talking to me about running for the office of the president. I am convinced that if given the opportunity, we can together with the right team run a government of the federal republic of Nigeria that Nigerians should be comfortable with; that Nigerians would appreciate as their own government and not one that is tilted towards a particular section or religion. It would be a government that would be there for all sections of this country and that understands also the issues and challenges of the nation. Today, we are very divided; that is the truth. This country needs a unifier; someone who can bring all the tendencies together and bring back our unity; it is key; not only a unifier but someone who knows the issues and understands the country itself. He must understand the issues of insecurity, challenges in terms of healthcare, education, youth employment and women issues; someone who has not only the training in terms of academic laurels but also the practical experience of governance. You do not get it off the shelf. You need that experience; you cannot take away the need for experience in running governments especially in a country like Nigeria where the institutions are very weak if they are there at all and in some cases, they are not even there. You need someone with that basic experience of governance and not only governance but democratic governance to be on the driver’s seat. So, these are some of the reasons why I believe that a number of people are saying that being a lawyer by training, and being someone who was in the legislature for 12 uninterrupted years; a deputy chairman of a committee, minority leader, deputy whip of the House of Representatives and then Speaker of the House of Representatives and now governor of Sokoto State in the executive arm for almost seven years and upwards to eight years by the grace of God, that experience is there. And of course, when you are talking about this age bracket and issues, when you look around, of all those that are being mentioned, I am probably the youngest in terms of age. I believe that with all of these put together, we can make things happen in this country.
Can you give us an overview of the challenges and successes you have recorded, so far?
Talking about insecurity and how best it could have been approached by the current administration, I have had cause to say this a number of times; first and foremost, we have to identify what are the causes of all of these. Clearly, one of them is a situation whereby we have a number of able bodied young men and women that are out there without education; some have education but without employment. The criminals, bandits, Boko Haram and ISWAP recruit their members from the mass of these people and it is important for both local, state and Federal Government to pay attention to the education of the populace and ensure that the vast majority of citizens are properly educated and not just by passing the walls of either primary school, secondary school or even tertiary institutions. They must have the kind of education that is qualitative and impactful on them and don’t just pass through the four corners of an institution and come out half-backed. So, it is important for all of the tiers of government and the general public and parents inclusive to pay attention to the education of our young ones and it is largely on the government whether we like it or not; education in Nigeria is still being seen as a responsibility of the government; be it state or Federal Government. So, there should be that deliberate effort to really take those who are out of school back to school just like we are doing in Sokoto State now where even by the assessment of UNICEF, we have recorded very, very remarkable achievements and successes in taking the out-of -school children back to school and retaining them till they finish the full circle of at least secondary school education. So, education is key and providing employment opportunities and not necessarily white collar jobs is also very key. A situation whereby you have teeming millions of youths unemployed is very unhealthy in any society. So, government must come up with a programme and scheme that would now improvise ways and means whereby these youths can now be properly trained in terms of giving them skills that they can apply and be more useful to themselves and the society. It is not about just someone graduating with a university degree without an employment. Even those who are not university graduates, if you give them some skills, they should be able to now find one thing or the other to do. We have a lot of opportunities that are informal in our society. So, it is important that we mainstream all of that including the informal sector and ensure that we provide the enabling environment for small and medium businesses to grow and that can be done with the support of the government. Of course, industrialisation is also key toward providing employment but that is long term. So, education and employment are key. In terms of agricultural development for example, in my state, about 80/85 percent of people of Sokoto State are farmers and our government has been very deliberate in supporting farmers with a lot of implements like highly subsidized fertilizers, insecticides and all of that. We do that year in, year out, season in season out- dry season farming, wet season farming. We support our farmers with extension workers. We are recruiting more extension workers and they are helping the farmers especially in the introduction and reorienting them on the new and improved seedlings – be it seedling like that of maize, wheat, rice, tomatoes and all of that. So, it is a whole package of support for farmers. That is very important because the farms take more than eighty percent of our population in terms of supporting them economically and having what to do. It is important that the government at the centre supports it but they cannot do it. In any case, the Federal Government does not own state lands/farm lands so it is better done at the level of states and local governments. We devolve more of that to the states and local governments and we encourage them to give more of subsidies and support to farmers. That way, you would see that there would be a lot of improvement in the area of farming. And part of what we have been doing which is closely related to the issues of the moment is supporting the herders and cattle breeders in the state by first completing the scheme that was abandoned by the administration of former Governor Wamakko. When we came in, he was already into a relationship that had gone far but was abandoned with modern time farms. We had to bring in special breeds of cows from Argentina into Sokoto. When we came up, we employed some consultants that advised that look, instead of going to Argentina, we can rebrand and repackage the entire programme and complete it by bringing in those species of animals particularly cows from South Africa. And that was what was done and that are some of the clusters you have seen; that is how far we have gone. They have increased the volume of milk and even quantity of meat that our farmers and herders are collecting from the cows. Now, instead of 50 to 100 kg, we currently have up to 500kg from one single cow. So, all of these are innovations and support that our government is using not only in empowering the farmers, those who are into animal husbandry but also addressing the challenge of insecurity. This is because if you are able to convince them that if you stay in one place and have, be it ranch or a cluster, the tendency is that you have more milk and meat, and you are not exposed to the hazards like being beaten by snake or being in direct confrontation with wild life in the bushes. It would also take care of the heightened insecurity in the land. So, it is by clear demonstration to them that this is a better way to go about it that you can now convince them and take them off that. So, we have done quite well in that and we are going into the second round of it. The commissioner for Animal health just returned from South Africa for the second batch of that scheme. We are also supporting our farmers in fishery and goat multiplication. So, all of these, when you look at that comprehensively, it is an attempt to provide jobs, create wealth and address the issue of insecurity, all put together by educational interventions, agricultural interventions, health care and other interventions. We are paying serious attention to all of that. Before the current administration, we did not have the health insurance scheme but we have it in place now and it is working and the citizens are benefitting from it. We have not had a mandate agency that has been addressing the issues about malaria. One of the killer diseases in Nigeria and in fact in Sokoto State is malaria. It kills more people than even the COVID-19. So, we have a malaria agency established in Sokoto State for the first time with full complements of the office of the adviser to the governor and Director General and all of that. We have been having many collaborations with a number of international donors and agencies. Our campaigns against malaria has gone far in terms of sensitization, provision of basic drugs and giving out to people mosquito nets and all of that; so also the issue of primary health care. We have constructed more and renovated most of the primary health centres that we inherited from the past government. We have ensured that all of them are now properly staffed; we recently ordered for the recruitment of about 1700 middle class health workers that are being posted to these primary health centres. It is so that they would be more functional and that would reduce pressure on the general hospitals and the teaching hospitals in Sokoto. We will also make sure that we give free drugs and medication to the children and pregnant women. So, when you look at that and what we are doing more in terms of tertiary healthcare development by establishing three premier hospitals, 150 bed space each of the senatorial districts and also the teaching hospital itself. I think it is going to be the biggest in Northern Nigeria with 1200 bed capacity and the diagnostic centre that we have also established in Sokoto. You can see that we are paying attention to medi-care and we are employing more hands, more doctors, nurses and health technicians. We are training them more; we have sent a number of medical students out and in the country for courses and some of them are beginning to return. Only late last year, we received about 38 of them that came back from Sudan who are properly trained medical doctors and dentists. Our investment in healthcare is comprehensive right from maintenance, supplies of medicaments, medical facilities, to constructing new ones, general hospitals, premier hospitals, teaching hospitals and training and retraining and of course, the provision of drugs and all of that. So, we are doing quite a lot in that
The insecurity situation in the country has become a viable business for some including highly placed people; we now have crises entrepreneurs in Nigeria. Do you think it is possible to overcome the ugly trend?
Sure; first as the president and Commander in-Chief, you must select the right people that can do the job as service chiefs. And identifying them should not be difficult because reasonably, we know ourselves; who can do what and who cannot do what in this country even in those services. So, if as president and Commander in-Chief, you recruit the right leadership, that should be the beginning. With that, you can now work out the framework for implementation. How to go about it, new ideas to be brought in; I do not see any reason why in Nigeria, we should still remain where we are in terms of the number of personnel that we have in the various security forces. Meanwhile, there are so many hundreds of thousands of able bodied young men that are willing and patriotic enough to be enrolled in these services and yet the Federal Government is not looking at that. It is one area that one must pay attention to; dutiful, diligent recruitment process of manpower. This is because now, it is a well known fact that we do not have manpower in the security services of Nigeria. You need to have manpower. Those that are there, that can be retrained especially on the new trends of criminality, you train them. And give them tasks. You must deploy technology; I have said that several times. The incoming Federal Government must look at a way of deploying technology in addressing these challenges. I made the comment recently and someone was asking me why don’t I bring it to Sokoto. But as governor of Sokoto State, I have my limitations. I cannot even bring in some of these equipment without clearance from the Federal Government. So, the Federal Government should be able now to get the right equipment for the armed forces and various security personnel and also take care of their welfare. These are some of the steps that any government that is serious must take and the Commander in-Chief must be hands on. And whether we like it or not, we must devolve some of these security powers to the states. Whether we like the idea or not, state police is one of the options with some measure of refinement, control and checks. I know that so many people are already concerned about governors taking charge of the state police but there must be a way that we can now oversight even what the governors are doing with the state police. So, it is not the right thing that people should just discard the idea of state police because they feel that someone somewhere would take advantage of it. We must come up with a mechanism that would suit our own local situation and provide state police and devolve security to that tier of government. State governments are in charge of people. We have countries where even universities have campus police. So, it is about how we really come up with the idea and how it is being implemented. So, I believe that all of these put together would engender a better and safer Nigeria for all of us.
I want to know if you as president would continue with making Africa the centre point of your foreign policy just as successive governments in Nigeria had done?
We have to be as dynamic as the world. We cannot remain static; we cannot just say for saying sake that Africa is the centre point of our foreign policy without any result to show for it. Yes, we shall pay attention to Africa but I believe that as Nigeria and where we are today, our centre of focus should be on those countries and those issues that can help Nigeria address her current challenges. What is it that we want to achieve in our foreign policy drive? Is it bringing in people that could help turn around for example the power sector that I believe that if you do that, 50 percent of the problems we are facing in Nigeria would have been addressed. Which countries are ready to help Nigeria resolve its power problems? I will do business with those countries. I would rather have foreign policy ideas and ideals of my administration centred on certain areas of our development and cultivate friendship with those countries that can help us resolve those issues. I have given you the example of power. On employment, how do we bring in industrialisation? Which are those countries that can help Nigeria within a record time realise its industrial opportunity and potential. We shall open direct communication with those countries. So, for me, while Africa remains a critical centre point, I believe that we should be dynamic the way the world is going. The world is a global village. What they do any moment for example in Ukraine will have a direct consequence on what is happening in Nigeria. At the very least, it will affect the oil price. So, we must be dynamic. We cannot remain and continue to say that Africa is the centre point of our foreign policy and then our problems remain with us. We would rather come up with policies that would now aim at supporting us as a country to solve our problems. We have too many problems in this country. I would not do like former United States president, Donald Trump who said America first. What I am saying is that whatever foreign policy that we are coming up with or implementing must bring in results and have direct bearing on addressing our challenges back home.
One of the biggest issues that people have been talking over the years is the structure of the country. What would you do if you become the president of Nigeria? Will you restructure the country?
First, there has always been this misunderstanding of the concept or people seeing it from their own perspective of restructuring. But I believe that from whatever standpoint one looks at it, there is a need for us to look at Nigeria and restructure. I was just talking about the police and the need to devolve power to the states. It is part of restructuring. Now, while as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, when the 7th Assembly was carrying out the process of constitutional amendment, we came up with one idea of conducting public hearing in 360 constituencies of this country. It was never done. And no member including myself as Speaker was allowed to drive the process in his constituency. We brought in civil society groups including labour, Nigerian Bar Association, medical practitioners association and all of those civil society associations; they were the ones that formed the committees that drove the process of the public hearing in the 360 constituencies. The member would just be there to collate the outcome of the public hearing. So, one of the issues that came back to the House of Representatives which it then passed but which unfortunately the president then did not sign into law, was in terms of fiscal issues. It was to make the Accountant General of the federation being separated from the office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government. That is the restructuring of the office of the Accountant General of the federation. This is because as the system is now, the accountant General of the federation is the Accountant General of the federation and the Accountant General of the Federal Government. So, he is not in a position to be fair to other tiers of government –the states and local governments. If you have the Accountant General of the Federation and Accountant General of the Federal Government, the Accountant General of the federation would now be answerable to both the federation, the state and local governments which will in turn also kind of bring about some kind of transparency in how the revenue and resources of the Federal Government and federation are being distributed. Now, part of what I believe should have been done is also to allow states to nominate commissioners into the Federal Revenue Mobilisation agencies. A situation whereby we have what we have today- a president will stay in Abuja and nominate his cronies is unhealthy. It is against the spirit of federalism but if you allow states, the governor would nominate, the state Assembly would clear the nominee that would now come and represent the state. They would monitor him to know whether he is doing well or not.
That is also restructuring in my own context and by my understanding. If you have nominees to the population commission, being screened by the state House of Assembly and nominated by the governors, and being sent to the population commission for example or the federal character commission, it is also restructuring. This is because they are there to represent the interest of the state. So, some of these amendments, we attempted them but unfortunately, former President Goodluck Jonathan did not sign them into law. Of recent, I heard that the National Assembly is trying to now separate the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. Of course, by the constitution, for you to be a minister of the federal republic of Nigeria, you must be a card carrying member of a political party. Now, you as the Attorney General of the federation and Minister of Justice, you are already biased because you are a member of a political party; you are partisan. So, we also accepted to separate the office of the Attorney General from that of the Minister of Justice. The Attorney General of the federation need not be a member of a political party and we are saying that his appointment should even be sanctioned by the agency and he would be screened by the National Assembly. So that if the president nominates him, the agency would now also have an input and then the National Assembly would now screen him. By so doing, you would have strengthened the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and made it independent. It is also restructuring. I am sure most of the people talking about restructuring are not talking about physical or geographical restructuring of the country. If you are talking about that one, it is going to be extremely difficult because I am sure for example that the people of Ado Ekiti would not want to go back to Akure as their state capital; not to talk of going back to Ibadan. The people in Abakaliki as close as Enugu is would not want to contemplate going back to Enugu as either state capital or regional capital. This is not to talk of people in Asaba; to ask them to come back to Bendel or people in Kebbi and Zamfara and ask them to come back to Sokoto. So, I believe that we are not talking about physical or geographical restructuring of the country; we must be talking about what are the steps we would take in restructuring governance structure in Nigeria to make the government of Nigeria work for all in terms of fiscal policies or federal appointments and all of that. So, this is what I believe is all about or should be about on how to make things work. It should be so. For example, what stops us from moving up the entirety of power from the Exclusive legislative list to the Concurrent list so that states can generate, transmit and distribute power? These are steps of restructuring of some of these sectors that I believe if well articulated and carried out will give us better results and Nigeria would be better for it. I believe that we must do some form of restructuring in this country; in security, power generation and distribution, infrastructure, railway and a number of sectors.
Nigerians would resist any rigging by the APC. By the grace of God, the PDP would form government in 2023.
You were earlier sharing your thoughts on what the Nigerian foreign policy would be but one of the things that would discourage countries from doing business with us is our inconsistent monetary policies; what would you do to ensure that we have a consistent monetary policy?
At the beginning of this interview, I mentioned that as a leader and president, you need the right team to work with. From the very beginning, as the president, you need an economic team with clearly defined economic policies that you pursue. Part of the problem with this administration is that there was no clear economic team or direction and the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) was just doing whimsically what they wanted and what they like in the country. So, it is about coming out with a team and monetary policies for the government and the CBN. This is an area I would really like us to take some time and discuss. We must sit down and discuss this issue of the economy and economic policies at an appropriate time.