Three-time Governor of Yobe State, Alhaji Bukar Abba Ibrahim, who is now a Senator and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Housing, Lands and Urban Development, in this interview with Soni Daniel and Ruth Choji, takes a look at the issues that informed his support for the controversial third term for former President Olusegun Obasanjo and insists that he has no apologies whatsoever for his action. He also maintains that the problem of insecurity in Nigeria can only be solved with the institution of social justice, free and compulsory education and liberal housing policy for all Nigerians.
As a three-time governor and now a Senator, what is the difference between the two?
I like the Senate more. From the benefit of hindsight I now know that, the Senate is better than the position of a governor. The post of a governor is very demanding, in that you hardly have time for yourself. In the ten years that I was governor, it was as if I was in prison. I never had time for myself, family and friends.
But now I have plenty time for myself while still handling the national assignment. If you notice, a lot of people have been passing comments that I look younger and younger. The secret is that I now have time unlike when I was a governor.
I always go home to attend to my people and family; I go to my farm now. Of course, being a governor was a good experience, but it should be four years or maximum eight years, but in my case, I did ten years.
What would you describe as the most outstanding thing you did for Yobe State during your tenure?
I did a lot of things, particularly in the field of education, infrastructure, industrial development and social services.
Can you be more specific since this is a serious matter?
The most important aspect of my government in Yobe state was in the area of education. I did my best in that area. I established nine tertiary institutions, 35 full fledge secondary school and over 600 primary schools. Those are the things that make me very proud whenever I remember my tenure in Yobe State.
We established 1338 junior secondary schools before we left; my predecessor reduced the number to what figure I don’t know. Later on, I learned some were reinstated. Since I left, nobody has established a junior or senior secondary school. We inherited 21secondary schools but I established 35.
When I became governor, we had less than 300 primary schools in the state, but on May 29, 2007, I left behind 1100 primary schools.
That is why I have been appealing to the governor not to establish new primary schools but to consolidate on the old ones that are there. What I know is that even if you give them 20 more years, they cannot do what I did for the state in terms of education.
Do you have any regret during those years that you were the governor of the state?
My main regret is not establishing the Bukar Abbah Ibrahim University in 1992. I mistakenly listened to people who were telling me that we were not ready for a university, that we would not even have enough students for the institution. I shouldn’t have bothered about them; I should have gone ahead to establish the university.
By now the university would have been a big university and nobody would have been able to change the name. I think that is about the only thing I regret not doing when I was supposed to have done it.
As the chairman, Senate Committee on Housing, what should Nigerians expect from your committee?
We are a law-making body; we are not contractors of houses. But of course, we can contribute towards creating more houses. Nigerians should expect more houses; they should expect a more liberal land policy, which will enable them to build more and more houses.
Is there a new law that is coming in regard of that?
All the laws pertaining to land are being reviewed. The Federal Housing Authority, Federal Mortgage Bank and the Ministry of Housing have all suggested a review of the laws including the National Housing Policy. What they are proposing is aimed at injecting more funds into establishing more houses for the poor and the middle class.
We don’t need to worry about the top because they will always take good care of themselves. About six of such laws are in the pipe line. The Federal Executive Council will deliberate on them before bringing it to the Senate. There is a bill before us that was introduced by one of our members on the provision of Social Housing for Nigerians.
The bill seeks to make it possible for the federal government to build houses for the unemployed. This is utopian and I am not sure that there is anywhere in the world where houses are built and given free to the homeless and the jobless. The government may not even be able to build enough for number of Nigerians and it would therefore not make sense for it not to go round. We are talking about affordable, decent houses.
First we have to build enough and then we will have problems distributing them. If for example you construct 200 houses and give Yobe State to distribute, how many people are going to live in those houses? So we want to modify the bill in a way that it will create room for the government and Nigerians to build more houses for the people especially in Abuja where housing is a big concern. In the FCT, there are houses all over the place, yet people can’t afford to rent them because of cut-throat prices.
So we are looking at problems like that as a committee in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing, FHA, and the FMBN.
But one of the lawmakers came with a bill to control rent in Abuja, but he was immediately shot down.
Of course, such a law will not work in that, you cannot control what you don’t own. You are only going to exacerbate the problem in the sector. You will discourage people from building houses and then what do you do? You cannot put a law on something you don’t own.
The solution is to construct more houses and force the rent to crash. The military passed all sorts of laws about rent in Nigeria, they set up tribunals but none of that worked anywhere in the country.
Nigeria is being faced with unprecedented security challenges, do you have an idea about how Nigeria can check this Boko Haram threat?
Let me say that the containment and provision of solutions to the current security challenges in the country are the business of the federal government and security agencies. My advice is, if we want to continue to have peace in this country and to avoid Boko Harams in the future, let there be social justice.
What do you mean by that?
I am simply saying that there should be justice, equity and fairness to all. Every Nigerian should have something he can live for, something to call his own as citizens of this country. The gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria is too wide. That gap has to be bridged.
Too many children are not going to school; these children must go to school. Majority of those who go to school still come back to roam the streets for non-existent jobs. Many others drop out of schools because they cannot pay their fees and become Almajiris. So, peace must come with justice.
Where there is no justice, there can never be peace. I read the other day that Mr. President had signed N5 billion for Almajiri education, which is a good move. We should have more of that and not a stop gap measure.
Our people are just too many for N5 billion to hive any significant impact on their lives.To my mind, I think it is time to declare free, compulsory education for children from primary to secondary school in Nigeria. No matter how much it will cost us, the government should not listen to anybody who tells it that it is not affordable.
Free, compulsory education for all Nigerian children is possible and achievable, given the resources at our disposal. It is a matter of political will. If all our children are going to school and are educated, we will not have this kind of social challenge. We must declare free education in order to avoid bigger Boko Haram in the future in this country.
There has been a renewed clamor by governors in the north for a review of the revenue formula, will this solve the problem of insecurity if that is done?
We have two sets of states in Nigeria today, the oil-producing states and the non oil-producing states. The latter enjoys only one source of revenue while the oil-producing ones get revenue from many sources.
For instance, in addition to the monthly allocations from the Federation Account, the oil producing states also get 13 percent Derivation, they have the Ministry of Niger Delta with hundreds of billions of naira dedicated to development of the region, they have the NDCC, another federal institution with hundreds of billions of naira dedicated to them, the oil companies also provide monies for their host states and they also have money pumped to them through the programmes of the Amnesty.
So you have a set of states with very huge sources of revenue that some of them do not even know how to manage the resources. You have another set of states that when they pay salaries and do service overheads, they are left with nothing tangible for development.
The revenue sharing formula can only do something viz-a-viz what the federal, state and local government get. This will not in any way solve the problems but it can bring a marginal financial relief to the very poor states and add more wealth to those with varied sources of revenue. So this is why we need the National Conference, it is necessary for people to sit down and talk about this.
But the National Assembly is opposed to the convocation of SNC
We have never debated it or taken a decision on it. The federal government has never informed us about it. If they want a SNC they should bring a bill and we will look at it. Alternatively, those who are proposing SNC should come with a private bill to that effect.
But the most important thing is for us to have free education, we can do it. This country is endowed with so many natural resources. God has really blessed us and there is no reason why anybody should not be educated.
Why did you support tenure elongation for Obasanjo?
Look, that is an old overblown issue that does not require my response anymore. At the time I said Obasanjo should continue, I was looking at it from the point of view of what he was doing for us in my state in terms of project allocation.
He had already allocated projects like the Mambila Plateau with over 4,000 megawatts of power to be generated, which was unfortunately revoked during the Yar’Adua Administration and up till now it has not taken off.
Obsanjo gave us 33 KV line from Gombe, through Damaturu to Maiduguri and he paid $24 million and over N3 billion for the work, which has now been completed. Obasanjo awarded the biggest road construction project in Nigerian history- Maiduguri/Kano Road with over 600 kilometers worth N185 billion and awarded to five contractors.
There has never been any such contract in Nigeria. Since Obasanjo left five years ago, that project has not been completed. So since Obasanjo left, all our major projects have been suffering. He awarded a contract to connect Nigeria and Niger Republic and he was the first head of state to do so and the road is now completed.
Now from Gaidam, you can drive to Niger Republic on a tarred road. There are other smaller projects he awarded in Yobe State and we can continue to name his achievements in the North-East zone.
As I predicted, we have not had a single federal project, five years after Obasanjo left. Neither YarAdua nor Jonathan has done a single thing in my state. Even some of the projects we carried out and Obasanjo agreed to pay us, up till today, the state government is following up, it has not been repaid.
That is why I have no regret what so ever in supporting Obasanjo to continue for the reasons I have enumerated. But now, it is a non issue. I was looking at it from my state interest at that time. I never said, any state governor should continue, I made the distinction over and over again that I wanted Obasanjo in whatever form because he was doing good things for my state during his tenure.
I know of my Hausa/Fulani brothers in the north who didn’t support him because he didn’t do anything for them, but he did a lot for my state and that was why I supported the idea that he should continue in order to complete the laudable projects he had started, particularly, in the North-East zone.