Zamfara State Governor, Abudal’aziz Abubakar Yari, was one of those on the delegation of President Muhammadu Buhari to the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, in New York. He rates it the best of his outings to the global body since he came into office in 2015. He also explains why governors are seeking to takeover federal roads, saying it would be a win-win situation for everyone.
How will you appraise President Buhari’s UN outing vis-a-vis the reactions of Nigerians?
This is my second time of accompanying Mr. President to the United Nations General Assembly. I was there with Mr. President last year and if I have to rate the two outings, I can tell you that this year’s outing was very successful. We all know that Mr. President was away on medical vacation for more than 100 days but on his return, he was adamant to meet with his colleagues on the global stage in order to interact and address outstanding issues affecting our country.
At the general debate where he highlighted the issues concerning Nigeria bothering on security, our economy, he frowned at so many decisions that have been taken that were not implemented by member states. At the bilateral meetings too he did not disappoint. He pushed for Palestine to have its own state side by side the state of Israel. He recalled that the decision was taken in 1967 but up till now it’s not been implemented.
The President also used the opportunity to thank world leaders and friends of Nigeria that have contributed immensely to the fight against Boko Haram, especially Niger, Chad, Cameroon for their support against terrorism. He also thanked United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany and others for supporting the fight against terrorism by supplying intelligence, equipment, training the military among others. He was particularly grateful to Jordan for the supplies of over 200 units’ military hardware to support the anti-terrorism war. He reiterated that though he cannot say that the war on terror is over but the military has made tremendous progress and have reduced the menace of Boko Haram. He also called for more support from global leaders so that this fight can come to an end. So sincerely speaking Mr. President’s UN outing this year was excellent.
Nigerians are concerned that most states in the country are not viable which is responsible for dwindling resources for developmental projects. What are you and your colleagues doing to change the narrative?
There is no state that is not viable. We are blessed in this country. For instance, in Zamfara State, I’m even thinking that we should stop taking money from the federation account. Let’s face our internal economy and see what we do and I believe that we can do it. A state of over four million people, I can tell you authoritatively that less than one per cent of them are paying their taxes. If four million of us can pay our taxes or even two million of us because it is believed the four million include women and children, you will see the difference.
In the United States you pay tax on a bottle of Coke. How many people drink coke in my state? If on each Coke you buy at N100, N17 from it is for tax, can you just imagine what we will be generating? How many loafs of bread are being sold on a daily basis in my state and imagine if we tax that no matter how little it is what it will translate to? Imagine the number of pure water that are being sold on a daily basis, how many bags of rice are being sold in my state? All these are taxable items that can generate funds for us. We want to be like the United States and yet we don’t want to pay tax. We have relied so much on our oil and we thank God that the warning has been sent that in the next 10 years, oil is not going to be a commodity you can rely on, so we have to find alternative means of getting more monies to develop our states for the betterment of our people.
One of the things we discussed at NEC is the warning that in the next 10 years we will no longer rely on oil. India has said by 2030 they will not use injector but calibrator vehicles, they will stop using fuel. They are sending us a signal that we are going to stop buying your oil. So if they stop buying our oil, what will we then do with it? Eventually it will be just for domestic consumption and no longer foreign currency earner. So, this is the time for us as a nation to live 100 per cent on the thousands of resources that God has blessed us with.
Are you saying the states have resolved to look inwards and rely less on federation account for survival?
We are saying we are not just going to look inward but we can rely on what we generate inward. For now we are relying on federal government’s formula to survive but I think it is time for us to draw up our own formula and work out the modalities ourselves and the sooner we start the better for us.
Using Zamfara as example what are the steps you are taking in this direction?Before now, Zamfara in the early 60s had its commodities it was viable in. Eighty per cent of the tobacco exported out of this country is from Zamfara State, there is what is called Britain Cotton Gin (BCG), right now as I am talking to you, we have over 20 ginning companies all over Zamfara ginning cottons. We are the biggest cotton producing state in the country followed by Gombe. We have the Human Resources now and the technology that we can improve upon to increase cotton production so what are we waiting for? Republic of Benin another of our next door Neigbour, its total population which is seven million is not up to that of Sokoto and Kebbi but what do they rely on? Cotton export. So why shouldn’t we do the same?
]That brings us to the issue of prudent management on your part. You and your colleagues have been accused of spending the bailout funds on things that have no bearing on the lives of the people. How true?
Of course we have been putting the funds into appropriate use but you cannot stop those saying nonsense about you not to do so. Even the President is being lashed at daily, does it mean the things they are saying about him is true? Of course not. People keep referring to bailout funds, how much is it really? For instance, in Zamfara State we got N10 billion and that of the Paris Club refund is about N15 billion. Why are people fixated on these two items? Since I became a governor to date, about N300 billion has come to the state which I control. So if you want to ask question, first go and do your due diligence. You cannot just come out of nowhere and be shouting governors are mismanaging funds. A person that is managing N3 billion monthly and on a month things improves he gets up to N7 billion to manage, you are accusing such a person of mismanagement, how? There are laws in this country governing our management of funds. Any money that was approved by the National or State assemblies you cannot say such funds were mismanaged and I don’t think there is any governor that has spent money outside the budget.
If you say it is the issue of prioritizing then that is something different. Your thinking and my thinking cannot be the same. What is important to me cannot be important to you. Recently in Zamfara State, we awarded a contract for the dualisation of a road and the bypass and somebody started talking nonsense. According to him, that money should have been channeled into building a State University. That is his own opinion and he has the right and freedom to talk. But he is not considering the implications of building a university. The extra overhead charges of employing those who will manage the university, who is going to bear the brunt? It’s not only about bringing about the infrastructure there is also the issue of sustainability. For me, I prioritize projects based on the needs of the peopl
What is your take on restructuring and your advise for those clamouring for it?
Well, only recently we were talking with the Constitutional Review Chairman and that is the Deputy Senate President and he said there are so many agitations. To some people restructuring means resource control, to some other people, restructuring means independence of states. So restructuring has different meaning to different people. For me, my advice is let’s articulate how we want our country to be and set about achieving it. To me, Nigeria is still a baby at 57 years with an uninterrupted democracy of less than two decades. Those countries we are quick to refer to- the U.K. US, France, Germany etc, their development didn’t come over night. They suffered before getting to where they are including first and second World Wars, but gradually with determination and focus, look at where they are today. If we do same we will get there. So Nigerians should trust their leaders that they elected and give them the required support to enable them succeed. The days of rigging are over; today 80 per cent of those in office were elected so Nigerians should trust their leaders, pray for them to do what is right.
How do you reconcile states asking for bailout and at the same time asking to take over federal roads?
The governors are not saying we are going to build the roads with our meager resources, we are saying we are going into collaboration with the private sector. Globally, things are done through collaboration. We are going to engage investors who are ready to dualised the roads, toll it and recoup their monies from motorists plying those roads. The federal government saw reason in our suggestion and has agreed for us to sit down and draw up modalities on how we are going to go about it. You will agree with me that our roads are terrible. Even in the well established economies, you don’t find government building roads, whatever bridge or road you see they are doing, it is in collaboration with private investors which we also intend to do.
The Kogi State governor in his contribution at that meeting noted that his state is gateway to South, to North and the East. He said the only time one enjoys a smooth ride is from Abuja to Abaji thereafter you are on your own. The road is so bad and it has been like that for a long time. So we can understand the constraints of finances on both sides that is why we want to change the narrative and take it up with the private sector and fix these roads because we are all feeling the impact. But we are being frustrated by the civil servants who feel we are going to take away jobs from them. They want to continue to award contracts, do the monitoring and carry out maintenance but that can no longer fly, that cannot continue. We have to get into a new world order where things are done through collaboration with private sector.
So we are telling the federal government, this is too much for you, concession these roads to states so that the states can get investors to collaborate with them and get to work for the betterment of our people.