Ban on open grazing difficult to enforce — Gov Abdulrazaq

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*How APC leaders in Kwara  dealt with me

*Lai Mohammed can’t win election in his ward

*Many indicting contract files stolen by last administration

*It’ll take 20 years to restore schools in Kwara

Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq hardly grants interviews. In this rare chat with a select group of journalists, he speaks on the challenges of governing Kwara, how insecurity in North-West and ban of open-grazing in Southern Nigeria is affecting Kwara, his problem with Senator Bukola Saraki; and relations with Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, among others.

Excerpts: On his staying power in spite of challenges.

I took an oath to serve the people of Kwara State. I am focused on service delivery to the greatest number.

To serve well, you have to be a good listener. And that is one of my strongest attributes. I talk less and listen more. It takes a humble person to listen.We are not shouting about what we are doing. That is why it is like we are not doing anything, but the people are feeling the impact.

I started with where we’re coming from. The last administration was very good with the media, exceedingly good, the best in Nigeria.We did our manifesto and programme, thinking we were coming to inherit something good. What they were saying was not what was on ground.

We really didn’t know the depth of the challenges. It was when we got in that we found out that our manifesto was useless because we credited the last administration with a lot of achievement based on what they were saying in the media.

On peculiar security challenges he is facing in Kwara

Security challenges are huge, especially with insecurity in the North-West, and the declaration by Southern Governors to ban open grazing.Once they pronounced it and set a date, we saw a migration of herdsmen coming in to the extent that if you go to Kwara South, Kwara North now, in some villages, the Fulani have moved in. They are more in population than the indigenes.

Many times, I have engaged with the traditional rulers, especially to say, let’s be accommodating, it will soon pass.

The ban on open grazing is a law that cannot be enforced. It’s about fundamental human rights; the right to free movement. It is enshrined in our Constitution. You can try to minimize it.

But now you’re saying you have to buy your food and water from next month. It’s not going to happen. In terms of ethnic groups across Nigeria, in terms of literacy, the Fulani are at the bottom.

When you see the herdsmen, they are children, herding the cattle to the bush. Those children don’t understand. They are illiterate. You’ve gone to the bank to collect money to plant maize. He sees food for his cattle.

You see maize that you want to cultivate, sell and pay back your loan but he sees food for his cattle and he passes through your farm. What you also forget is where he is passing may be a grazing route from the colonial era.

They maintained that route. We don’t know it, they know it. It is like a federal highway. It’s been there. The British Colonial administrators created those routes; they put veterinary officers and tax collectors at certain strategic points.

They were collecting tax and vaccinating the cattle and all sorts of things. The routes were there like the federal highways. In Kwara, we have about four or five grazing reserves we inherited from the colonial era. They are there. We are going to take and develop those reserves.

With localization, global warming and urbanization, things have changed. Global warming means less water, less vegetation, desertification and therefore, smaller space, they have to come further South to graze.

Urbanization means that you have built on their grazing routes, where they used to graze 50 years ago for free, somebody else has a C of O on it now. He is doing his own plantation for maize.

But maybe from somewhere in Yobe, they have told the boy where to go, and he’s followed his father there before, so he knows where to go and forage, but when he gets there, corn is there but he knows that is where he used to come for food, but it’s now a farm.

In terms of literacy, he doesn’t understand that. He knows that this is where he comes to play. It’s his area.

When Yar’Adua came in, he had a challenge: militants in the Niger-Delta, production of petroleum products was reduced to less than 500,000 barrels a day from 2.2 million barrels.

What did he do? He sat down and did the amnesty programme which today has cost us about N1 trillion. Do you see any factories? Do you see anything? But we don’t care.

We know we used the money to buy peace and oil has been flowing well since then. Tompolo, everybody benefited. But we bought peace. Now, we are having a cycle of violence with Fulani herdsmen.

We’re not offering these Fulani anything other than the bullets. That’s the truth of it. What are the options? We say we ban open grazing, so what option did we give them other than move out of our state, we have banned open grazing?

They are Nigerians who have rights to freedom of movement. If you ban open grazing, you have to give them an option.

Northern governors agreed in principle that this thing is not sustainable forever. They said it will be sedentary but they need to set up committees to find out how to do it, to the extent that even Kano State said all the Fulani in Kano should remain, they should not move out.

So, a committee is going to be set up to look at how to mitigate these issues. To say, those that have land should give them land. But even with land, it is a big issue.

They say states own land. State do not own land. If you take a piece of land, you’ll have to compensate the original owners. The state has to buy the land.

And that’s why some governors are saying that the Federal Government needs to put money in this programme, the same way Yar’Adua invested money in the militants issue. Let’s begin to settle them.

Apart from the National Livestock Transformation Programme, there’s no real effort, other than to say, stop this. We need to open an avenue for them to say.

We want you to stop this, this is how we mitigate and compensate you. Some people might say, why should you compensate them, but they’re transitioning.

You need to either compensate them or give them enough time to change because the cost of beef has to go up, because they’re now buying food to feed the cattle, instead of getting it for free in the bush.

On state of education in Kwara

Between 2013 and 2019, there was no investment in education. When we came in, there was a backlog. I started paying gradually.

Because of their political strength, UBEC could not go to EFCC. When we came in, there was N450 million left, we promptly paid it.

Between then and now, there is N7 Billion Naira available to us. But we also have to look for another N7 Billion Naira to match it. That is where we are gradually taking it now.

If you’ve not invested in education for six years, you will have total collapse. Schools’ infrastructure had collapsed, there was no furniture in schools and 30 per cent of the schools don’t have roofs.

With the kind of funding we have available, it will take close to 20 years to bring the schools back because we had allowed it to go completely bad.

Schools in Lagos are doing whiteboard, we were still doing blackboard and chalk. There was nothing to build on in education. We are reinventing, going back to the foundation. Teachers were promoted but it was not backed with salary, it’s not promotion.

We have three colleges of education. When we came in, they were on strike. They were being owed N750 million. We paid it in three months. And not just that, they had lost accreditation.

To bring them back up to accreditation, you are talking about N300 million. Our School of Nursing lost accreditation, we had to bring those ones back too and started fixing those schools.

To add insult to injury, we got another letter from WAEC, that some schools cheated in Kwara, that we should pay N30 million, or we would not do WAEC the following year (2020). So we had to pay quickly.

It shows you the depth of the rot in the system. Kwara used to be number one in education in the North, we are now at the bottom, trying to claw our way up. You can criticize us about what we found but what are doing something about it.

We started with teacher hiring. They were insulting me from my own ward, Adewole Ward, here in Ilorin, that I’m not employing people from there.

I said,  no, if we want to bring this education up, we have to have the best. Let everybody go online and do this.’

It was done and we got accolades, even from the opposition. We have no fewer than 50 First Class graduates who are now teachers, even those that lost out, agreed that it was done properly.

Then we started training the teachers, not only training but we made sure we paid all the salaries they were owed. Their promotions come on time now.

In education, our focus is to lift the state up. We have contacted the Bridge Academy. We have been talking to them for one year now.

What they have done for Edo is successful to the extent that seven months ago, the World Bank gave Edo $72 million for the programme. They put their weight behind it and put Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State on the board of a World Bank committee, based on this programme. We felt that’s the direction we should go.

We will start it next year. We brought them in, did some random sampling in some of our schools, in four local governments, and they found out that teachers absenteeism in the four local governments was 40%, student absenteeism 35%; and that is from just sampling. We have a huge deficit.

We have a lot of work to do. We have to get out-of-school children back to school, get the right teachers to teach, and get the school infrastructure back in place so that students are not sitting on the floor in dilapidated classrooms.

On the problem between him and Dr. Bukola Saraki

Leadership is not what you buy. You earn leadership. On the Saraki side, anywhere they go to, the party belongs to them. You join their party.

If you’re joining APC today, you’re not joining my party. You’re joining the party. But if you’re going to PDP today, if you are somebody of substance, they have to get Saraki’s consent to allow you to register even in the ward.

So, it’s their party and you’re subject to their own rules. I’m not going to join an organisation like that because I’m constraining myself.

I can’t contest for anything unless they say so. So they pick who contests the election, but in APC, we say everybody just go and find your space. That’s the difference.

Were you disappointed by the bad press arising from some of the controversies you had to deal with, for instance the Ile Arugbo and Hijab controversy, the corporal punishment to Islamic students, people digging up water in a distressed community?

Yes. I was disappointment, but then I take a step back and say, what’s the issue here? Like the one about digging for water, it didn’t faze me. I was disappointed that in Nigeria today, people are digging up water.

It is not my issue, it’s our global issue. It is happening like that all over Nigeria. It is not limited to Kwara but the irony of it, which is not out there, which nobody is talking about, or know, is that their representatives are people who were there for 16 years.

The House of Representatives member from that community was the Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources for 16 years, until this election when we voted them out. His name is Ahman Pategi.

The mistake they are making is they should wait till the election is close and start highlighting those, because once you highlight those, I’m rushing there to fix it. Once I fix it, I will make it known because you should have fixed it.

You were there for 20 years before we came. How come that village is still like that? They intend to use it to blackmail us and say you’re not doing anything, but I’m saying, you were there for 20 years, you had a committee chairman for 16 years in Abuja, and then you do thousands of constituency boreholes all over.

Saraki was Senate President, commissioning  thousands of boreholes in the whole of Nigeria but that community does not have water. They don’t have an answer.

The flogging one is a national problem. It’s just because it’s highlighted, it’s happening every day. It’s a cultural thing. It’s a private school, it’s not a government school, but we gave licence to the schools to operate.

Do you take their licence because of flogging students? If you do that, you will rusticate 300 students. The father of the girl that was flogged was standing there. He insisted she should be flogged. He was standing there watching. It’s a very bad thing.

That’s why we set up a committee to look into it. The committee also has to look at how we will deal with these issues in the future, and how to communicate to these sorts of schools on human rights abuses.

One of the challenges we have here is, if we take this matter to court, we’ll have no witnesses. The victim said she deserved it because she did bad and committed a sin. The father will not be a witness.

What witness do we have? The video clip? Yes, we can push them to the court system. But the important thing is without witnesses, we can’t get something out of it. They will argue that it is a fake video.

Whatever the argument is, the important message is to get into the system and say, this must not happen again and wherever it’s happening, they should stop. There will be sanctions. We will withdraw the licence of any school that does that again.

So, I won’t want to pre-empt the committee, but they have eminent jurists and Islamic leaders. They will give us a report, which we will now debate and act on.

The 2019 election was not your first. You made a previous attempt to be governor, so, why do people still talk about you as one who has no political structure?

I have never granted an interview before. Never. You cannot say you have seen me on TV. But what the media people say is that if you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it and you may not even like it. I’m reserved.

I keep to myself. People blabber what they want. When this republic started, everybody was with Saraki in the ANPP. Just a few of us were in PDP then.

We launched the party, very few of us. We knew our goal, to remain in opposition and remove these people from power. That’s our goal from then up till now.

If you stick to something you are deliberate, and God knows your conscience, you will succeed.

I’m not saying we got here because we were tough, or more intelligent than others. There’s something divine about getting here because all the institutions; traditional, religious were all stacked against us.

Along the way, they started pulling out because most of them saw that they had a glass ceiling on the Saraki side. They started pulling out. We started in 1998. Where was Lai Mohammed in 1998? He was in Lagos.

He came in 2003 to contest and went back. The other guy that was shouting was with Saraki. We remained here deliberately. We did not ask for anybody’s structure.

We had people like Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, as well. He was with us. He was the first Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP.

He has never been with Saraki. There were less than 10 of us. We deliberately continued to build our structure. In 2015, when Saraki moved to PDP, we left because we will not be part of it. We left the party for them. I moved out.

I never contested for office, I was sponsoring candidates and building a party. I was even offered the position of Board of Trustee of the party. I refused. I said I have my business.

Our goal was to change the system in the state. It was not until 2011 that we found ourselves in the ACN, but then ACN belonged to Asiwaju and Lai Mohammed was his front man here. So, they had their candidate.

We said let’s do free and fair primaries, they refused. Eventually, they threw us out and picked their own candidate.

We moved to CPC. In CPC, we built the party up. We did our best. Those were the days INEC was just nothing. Today, INEC has been cleaned up, it’s difficult to just write results any more. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but very difficult.

But in those days, they just wrote results and that is it, it stands. They shout the results and everybody goes home.

People didn’t understand the appeal process of the INEC; you’ve lost, go home. From CPC, it was still deliberate and we hung in there. We were there for 2015. Saraki left PDP and we moved to PDP. In 2015, I contested for Senate.

I wanted to run for governorship but I looked at it, the number of people contesting, the odds were difficult. Nobody wanted to step down. In Kwara South they had seven local governments, and two candidates. Kwara Central had about eight candidates in four local governments.

So how can we defeat the ruling party? I did the calculation. And in politics, people are not realistic.

I even went to one professor’s house, just to say hello, and when I was leaving, I saw some people running behind the mosque.

I asked the driver if he noticed some people running and he said, ‘yes.’ He said those were the people with us in the afternoon; the delegates that were with me in the afternoon, they were the ones hiding from me.

The delegates were playing games so I stepped down to contest for Senate. I contested against Saraki. I believe they rigged the election.

Even at the tribunal, they went to do nonsense in the tribunal but we left it and walked away. I was convinced that our day would come.

When I look at it, since I’ve been contesting or donating money to people for election, I’ve never lost money. Within three months of every election, I get my money back in business. Yes, I spent time, but financially I have not lost.

So coming to 2019, we found Saraki going into PDP again. And they told us in Abuja that it is Saraki that they recognise, so they are handing the party to him.

They don’t know us. How can you not know us? It’s okay, if that’s the case, we’ll go back to CPC. We had merged to form APC.

Lai Mohammed that is out there shouting didn’t have anybody. So we came and took over the party and we were in two factions, but we overwhelmed them.

From the first meeting, I just knew the direction we were going. They called us for a meeting in Abuja and after the meeting, they set up a committee for Kwara. Oshiomhole was there, a working committee member, the deputy chairman of North and South were there.

They announced that the chairman for the committee for Kwara would be Niyi Adebayo, the Deputy Chairman, South. It looked odd because Kwara was considered part of the North. When you give me Adebayo then there is a southern game being played.

We understood that and then we now saw Lai being the minister, the highest person in political office.

It is a game of numbers It’s about working. I’ve had the experience for almost 20 years. I’ve people in every ward. Because of my nature, I don’t talk.

People underestimate me and my capacity to do anything. But when you are deliberate and calculating and you know where you’re going, then you laugh at them, and just keep quiet. We built our own structure around the state.

For example, a few months ago we had some peace meeting with Lai Mohammed at the Governor of Niger State House.

It was the first time Lai Mohammed would meet the Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly. Is that the kind of person who is making noise about politics and governance in Kwara and you want me to waste my time responding?

The Speaker was with me when I was running in 2011 for CPC, so you can see it’s deliberate. Lai Mohammed knows only one member of the Kwara State House of Assembly. How did these state legislators emerge?

They say we don’t have people. All the members apart from one is with us. All our NASS members apart from one is with us. We are in the same group. And then they say you don’t have people.

Because we were deliberate and calculating, we knew where they were going. Even the one National Assembly member we don’t have, Lai Mohammed came to beg me to accommodate him because he lost the primaries.

He lost to our own candidate. It took a lot of pleading and we allowed him and that’s the only one member in the NASS from Kwara who is not with us. The only one in the State Assembly did not even contest. He did not contest for the state assembly.

He contested for the House of Reps. But after the primaries, the Senator, the person that won the Senate and the House of Reps were from the same town – Offa. It won’t work. We asked the community to decide. Obviously, they will take the Senate.

So, what do we do with the guy that won in the House of Representatives? We had to send him to the State House of Assembly, which he did not contest. He did not buy a form from the assembly. Those are the only two people, but they will say we don’t have people.

Lai cannot win an election in his ward. They’re good with social media noise. That’s all they do. But nobody’s asking how each member of the state assembly emerged. How did they manipulate their way to win their seats?

There was no godfather, putting people in place, everybody struggled to emerge. We would network and work with each other. No godfather.

Everybody struggled in their own way. Yes, I gave money, and they also sourced money for themselves. So everybody struggled to win this thing. But some people will sit down and say that it is their party.

It is this or that, that I don’t have anybody. If I don’t have anybody, I have all the legislators with me. Is that not something? Let them tell me, they have people, how many legislators do they have both in the state and NASS on their side?

Lai came a few months ago to make noise that he sponsored the campaign, did this and that. He made a lot of noise and pushed it to NTA.

When the House of Reps member from Omu Aran died, there was a by-election, six months before the general election.

 We needed to fill the candidate. The person who won the primaries then Ajulo is still the House of Representatives member.

From the day I refused to hand over money to them, the APC leaders in Kwara boycotted my campaign, till we finished the Presidential election and the governorship election was postponed by one week.

A few days to the election, I started seeing them. Before the election what were they saying? That they will decide after the presidential. They never thought we would win. So they thought that being the minister, Lai is the leader of the party in Kwara.

And when they are sharing posts that he will be the one to share it. They totally dealt me a bad card.

The party decided that where there is no governor, the candidate will be the President’s coordinator. They didn’t allow me to operate. They frustrated me.

Even when the President was coming, I set up a committee for the president’s campaign, they set up their own committee. I know where I’m going so I disbanded my committee and let them do it.

Even when the president arrived they put me at the back of a Coaster bus. It was when we got to the Emir’s Palace because it was from the airport to the Emir’s Palace then to the campaign venue, that the President’s ADC tapped my back and said are you not the candidate? I said ‘yes.’ He said I should be riding with the President.

I stayed where they put me. He said I should wait, then went to speak with the President. The President said I should ride with him.

Then Lai Mohammed got up and went to speak with the ADC and said he wants to ride with the President but the ADC said Mr. President has spoken unless you go and meet him.

Lai Mohammed went to meet the President and asked if he could he ride with him. The President said okay. So when we finished the event, one security guy on the President’s team just said I should sit in the car, opened the door and I sat with the President. It’s this sort of thing they were doing.

I have been sponsoring candidates since 1998, so I did not need anybody. I plan my campaign. I have one or two friends who donated to me. I plan my election, not with the money donated to me. It’s not part of it.

They create the impression that they built the party and I just walked in. We planned this thing. We stayed up late, we knew the people to meet. They were against us.

There was a lot of work. We were not sleeping, unlocking traditional rulers, but what helped us is not that the people loved us to put us in, it is because the other side lost their mandate. They were not getting water.

When we got in, no water works were working. The water workers were on strike. When we got in, radio stations were on strike, no radio station was working, everything was dilapidated. When we got in, the TV station was down.

And today you see one popular private television channel abusing us every day. But we looked at the record and saw that that television channel collected a N500 million contract. But there’s nothing to show for it at our TV station.

I asked for the file. It has been stolen, like so many files. I asked the former commissioner during that time, Raheem Adedoyin, what happened.

He said, I have one or two letters to show that there was a contract with that television channel, but the whole file was in Government House. They did it from the Government House. There were no files, like many contracts disappeared.

It shows you the extent of the rot we met.

Even the Herald Newspaper was dead, electronic media dead. Everything dead; no TV, no radio. We had to buy new consoles and build new studios for the radio stations.

We’re building a new radio station in Kwara North. It was a difficult challenge for us, we’re just rebuilding the state completely.

Like I said, we’re deliberate and calculating. They lost it because the state had collapsed under them. Their system of politics was simple. Take money, give to the gatekeepers, traditional rulers and clergy.

But while you were sharing money, the empire eroded because the structures of the empire: human capital development, infrastructure, and so on had started collapsing. In the whole of Ilorin, there was no water.

Workers were not getting paid. Some were just on 50% salary. When we came in, we had to clear all that one. Even judges’ work allowance was not paid in 10 years.

We cleared all that. That was why they lost the election. It was not a competition between us and them and who had the best manifesto. They allowed the state to crumble.

Grandstanding now doesn’t serve any purpose. That’s what they are doing. The people know that there are changes, and the changes are gradual and dynamic. We are getting water now.

We thought it would be a stage where we’ll expand on the water network and start building new water works. What we met there had collapsed. We have to bring everything back. When you ask us where are your legacy projects, we’ve invested the money of our legacy projects to bring these things back to where they should be.

Ninety Percent of Local Government Revenue is Spent on Salary

At the local government level today, by the time you pay salary there is nothing left again from what is sent from Abuja. Salary is a first line charge.

There’s nothing left after that to do any meaningful work. The local government system in Nigeria is on the verge of collapse because all we’re doing is paying salaries.

This season, we’ve had the highest rate of cholera, but nobody will admit it. Not just in this state, all over Nigeria. But the government would like to keep it down. And why is there cholera?

The primary health care is with the local government, motor parks are with the local government, markets are with local government, the Water Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programme is primarily with the local government. Once they pay salaries, there’s no money to take care of anything else. Even waste disposal is with the local government. 

We all have to come to the round-table to decide what to do with the local government. How do we fund them? Why is it that all the money is going to salary and we’ve not been able to do anything else?

When the Fourth Republic started, you had about 40% of local government funds as salary. That was when local government chairmen were going to Dubai.

They were building houses and governors too were looking, ‘ah, what’s going on here?’ So, governors too started saying these people have money because the local government chairmen were living large.

Governors started saying, let’s have joint accounts, bring your money, we will do projects together. So state governments were taking their money. What happened? This 40% started creeping up to 50%, 60%, 70% 80%.

We’re now at 90%, and in some states 100%. Because when the local government now saw how Oga governor is taking everything, when they employ local government workers or teachers, the local chief will bring three names,   the local government chairman’s wife will bring three names, the local government chairman will bring two names; so they too started loading the salaries, rather than allow the governor to take everything, so they were loading the salaries. 

I’ve never taken One Naira from local government money. Once the money comes, I tell them to make sure they pay salaries.

That’s the instruction to the local government chairmen, including the 5% reserved for traditional rulers. Don’t forget there’s a party structure, sitting on their head at the local government level.

The ward and local government chairmen are there to serve as a guide for them. So, for example, they deal with the DSS, police security agencies at that level. They deal with the local government party structure at that level.

They are tied to that structure. I deal with the party structure. It’s not like there’s a disconnect, if there’s anything going wrong, the party chairman will let me know. They’re always meeting at the party level.  

It is the party structure that puts them up. I meet with the chairmen of APC in the local governments. It is the elected local government chairmen that I have to be careful with. They are elected too like me.

I do not want to be accused of dictating to them. It’s a different tier of government. I will not go to the Presidency or federal and meet with the President and direct him on what to do. Same thing, the President will not come to Kwara and say ‘this is what you need to do’. Don’t forget, at that level, they are voted for and take charge of what they need to do.

Not that the governor should instruct them on what they need to do. Also remember that they have their own civil service system that has civil servants, so the structure is there.

We Passed a Law to Govern Our Social Investment Programme

  We didn’t politicize our Social Investment Programme. We did not say you must only give money to members of the All Progressives Congress (APC). When I first heard about the programme. I just thought “what a waste,” coming from a businessman’s perspective.

How can you just take billions and share it? But when the Vice President came to launch the programme in Kwara, I came with him, and I saw the genuine excitement of the market women, and I also realized that I was thinking N10,000 was too small.

I’ll go to a restaurant in Abuja or Lagos, and for two people, you are talking N20,000 for just one meal in a Chinese restaurant. That’s what these people are excited about. But when you now come closer and look into it, these women carry baskets of pineapples.

In that basket, all the pineapples are worth N3000 or N4000. That’s their net worth. For oranges or tomatoes, it’s not more than N6000 and they go to the market to sell that and survive on it. Some of them have husbands and children.

So when you give them N10,000 to scale up their business, you’ve changed their lives. People don’t understand. People still criticize it, but I’m a believer in it. Then we passed a law to govern it. We will not just be taking money and throwing it out.

When I met with the Minister for Finance a few months ago, she was saying, we are ahead of them because we passed ours into law. But they just put theirs under a ministry. There is no law governing it.

So we have a law governing our own. In fact, she said we should send them our own law, to see what they can do with it. If that programme is done well, it can make a big impact.

With this COVID-19 thing, what saved Nigeria is that social investment programme. It started well before COVID-19 and the World Bank has turned into what they call the Cares programme.

So the World Bank has adopted our social investment programme for post-COVID-19 re-emergence and replicated it in different countries. When I was campaigning with the President, when he came here,   I sat in the same car with him and I told him that, of all his programmes,   social investment was number one as far as I was concerned, because it gives people money directly into their pockets. There is no middleman.

The President said that he knows, that when the idea first came up, it took him time to digest it. Now, he understands that it is his best programme so far.  

That was in 2019. If that programme was not in place during COVID-19, there would have been challenges managing the stop work order when everybody shut down. We were able to channel money to people through that system.

In fact, the system which the federal government also copied was transporters’ money. So we gave our Okada riders N10,000, because we knew that everywhere was shut and people stayed at home.

They used the state wallet; you register, and your money is sent to you via mobile wallet or to your account. The federal government too picked that one up. The social investment system works.

The school feeding programme is very good to turn around this stunted growth thing. Even if children go to eat in school and go home, they will sign attendance. You have them in enumeration.

The previous administration did not key into it. Only Bayelsa and Kwara were left out. So it’s just now that we are about to start it. It’s a very important project because you have to feed the school children.

You have to get the right vitamins. Some children are perpetually just on pap in the morning and they don’t see any food again till evening. How do you get the right protein and vitamins in that case?   It’s through the school feeding programme.   I’m a strong believer in the social investment programme.

It is a safety net, which we intend to expand next year. A lot of people have been left behind, there’s a lot of poverty. People are hungry, and it’s not about bad government policy, it’s just that COVID-19 hit us and the world panicked, not just Nigeria, we all shut down.

In Nigeria today, even if COVID comes again, nobody is shutting anything down. Even in Europe now, the price of food has gone up.

There’s a total global food security issue now. In England, they’re having serious challenges. Most of the shelves are empty. We shut down. We didn’t know what to do, that has affected a lot of people. It has created a lot of poverty.

What do you hope to achieve by having a lot of young people and women in your cabinet?

We’re very strong in SDG 5, women. We have the record in Africa. It pitted me against the party. But you have to look at the challenges women go through. They need to sleep with men to go up the ladder. That’s the truth of it, not 100% of the cases but there are abuses in MDGs, and so on.

So, I said, well, the best thing is, let’s promote women, not just in political offices. Fifty percent of our permanent secretaries are women.

So it’s deliberate, to keep them at advantage because I understand what they go through; harassment and all sorts of things. We have to promote them. In terms of efficiency and delivery, I find that women deliver more than men.

But our culture; the African culture, Nigerian culture, allows men to dominate the space. That’s what it is. We go to political meetings at 8:00pm and we know it’s going to run to midnight.

Which decent woman will sit at such a meeting when she has a husband at home, children that will go to school in the morning? She can’t sit in the ward leader’s house or local government chairman’s house till midnight.

Even her husband will say, you have to be home at 6:00pm. “What are you doing there?’’

People think of female politicians who try to excel in a certain way, like they’re doing other things. You see, that’s part of the problem we have. Even in Abuja today, call a political meeting at the National Headquarters of any party, the attendance you see of women is less than 5% but that’s not proportional to the national population.

There should be a deliberate attempt to promote women. The benchmark is 35 percent, how many states are meeting 35 percent? We have done 62 percent. Now, what can be done to get women in? I don’t know if you know about the SFTAS programme.

It is a World Bank and Federal Government programme where you get rewards for meeting certain goals, that is, publishing your budget before January 30, you get $2 million; publishing your state’s account, $1.5 million, having a procurement agency, $2 million. So, we comply, and we’ll get all this money, because we need it.

If you have a system like that that says if you have in your cabinet 35 percent women, consistently for one year, you get $2 million, states will comply because $2 million is about One Billion Naira now. So, if you get to 40%, we will give you $4 million, get to 50%, we will give you $10 million. You will start seeing changes because there’s money. Revenue of the states is very low.

In terms of finding them, mostly they’re nominated by Senators, House of Representative members, House of Assembly members; they just send names in. And then we interviewed them. I don’t go to one local government and say I pick you. I don’t even know many of them personally. The constituencies throw them up.

When we chose the youth corps member who was our youngest Commissioner then — she’s from Edu local government and a Christian. They brought several names to me, but I said I want a woman. Then they came up and said the only woman we have will finish her youth service next month.

I said bring her, we will wait till next month to swear her in. The community brought her. Maybe it was deliberate to show that she’s in youth service, but we embraced her. And she’s done well. She’s not in the cabinet any more.

We’re sponsoring her for a Masters programme in the UK. She’s had the experience but we have to also prepare her for the future. We will mentor her.

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