By shola oshunkeye, Dutse
It was the second and final day of President Goodluck Jonathan’s visit to Jigawa State. And the president had come, had seen and had been dazzled by the dizzying transformation the state has undergone since his last visit; indeed, since the inception of the Governor Sule Lamido Administration in 2007. Before Lamido gained power in Jigawa in 2007, the state had been wallowing in squalor and wicked neglect, all byproducts of a preceding administration that preferred to govern from Singapore, rather than among the people that voted them to power.
As a dyed-in-the-wool socialist, as an unrepentant apostle of Malam Aminu Kano, the late leader and advocate of the talakawas (the poorest of the poor), Lamido made the people the centerpiece of his principles of governance. The result? An aggressive development drive that has transformed the state from its rustic, sleepy and abandoned state to one that has now been so comprehensively improved in content, outlook and development that people now refer to it as the New World. Yet, there is no stopping Lamido, who the president praised on end throughout his two-day visit.
For him, there is no self-adulation. After the president’s departure to Abuja at the end of the visit, upper Tuesday, Lamido, Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister between 1999 and 2003, reclined to his office, where he rubbed minds with some editors. I was there. Though he was grateful for the president’s endorsement and acknowledgement of his developmental efforts and strategies in the state, Lamido, who was born in Bamaina, Birnin Kudu Local Government Area of Jigawa State, 64 years ago, says there is no big deal in what his administration is doing because that is what it was elected to do in the first place.
The governor was taken aback when the editors asked him what drives him; what motivated him to turning the state to one huge construction site.
“That is a stereotypical Nigerian question,” he said. “Why ask for my motivation after I have been leading in the last 30 years? First, there are a number of things in your country which you do not like. And you now sit back and say what can you do to change the situation? What can you do to assist? What can you do to improve upon what you (journalists) write rather than complain; rather than just criticizing? So, you need to see what you can do to make the Nigerian dream a reality because we knew what those who came before us (the nation’s founding fathers) stood for in their time. We knew their sacrifices. The Tafawa Balewas, the Ahmadu Bellos, the Awolowos, the Azikiwes, the Tarkas, the Aminu Kanos. Considering the passion with which they worked, it’s all about their country and not their individual selves.
“It’s all about their country. After getting us our independence, we needed to build on what they had achieved and were proposing. We have been given a clearly defined roadmap by our founding fathers for the overall wellbeing of the Nigerian person, for the overall wellbeing of his dignity, his security, to make him the best human being on the face of the earth. This was their dream. So, what am I doing to realise the dream? What are you doing to realize the dream? That is the issue.”
If you think the governor waxed unnecessarily magisterial in his response to the first salvo, then you haven’t seen anything yet as the Americans would say. Ask him what obstacles he has encountered in actualising the dream of Nigeria’s founding fathers and watch him shift impatiently in his executive chair as he fires back.
“Tell me that engagement in life that there is no obstacle,’ he charges you, looking intensely into your eyes, making you shift uneasily, momentarily. “If you are getting married, before getting married, you come across obstacles. Do you stop that? Even after marriage, there are problems. So, problems are part of human nature and you must have the capacity to overcome or deal with them.”
But are there problems he has found insurmountable since he took power in May 2007, won re-election in 2011? Again, he looks you straight in the face as he answers: “You are talking of human problems. If they are human problems, they should be overcome. If they are God’s, for instance, like flood, I can’t overcome this because this is outside of me. But so long as they are human obstacles, and I am a human being, I should be able to overcome them. That’s why I am governor. That’s why I was elected. They have that trust in me. By electing be to be their leader, they are saying ‘we believe in you. You can do it.’ So, for me to now say, ‘sorry, there are obstacles, I cannot perform,’ that is certainly not part of the bargain. Tell them (while campaigning) that you can only function if there are no obstacles, and see whether they will elect you.”
Even paucity of funds is no excuse for none performance? We ask, somewhat mischievously. “Well, I know my income,” he says, facing one of the editors. “You run your own house with your own income. Maybe you earn more than the guy in the Mirror, so, what does he do? To start screaming? Certainly no. Rather, he manages his own wife and the entire family. So, the issue of quantum of money is out of it because in life, the more you have, the more help people will keep asking for. So, as much as possible, manage what you have and you won’t run into any problem.”
Concept of Jigawa as a ‘New World’
So, that is the Jigawa spirit? But how about the concept of Jigawa as a ‘New World?’ Whose idea is it? The words come tumbling out almost automatically: “This is not my own creation,” says Governor Lamido, who first contested the governorship of Jigawa at the onset of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic in 1999 but narrowly lost to Ibrahim Saminu Turaki, the All Nigeria’s Peoples Party (ANPP) candidate. “It is not my making. Just like Lagos is called ‘The Centre of Excellence,’ Niger, ‘The Power State,’ These are things I met on ground. But to me, I came at a time the state was being perceived to be below sea level and its failings in all aspects of human indices such as health, education, infrastructure and even in our mindset.
“Having being elected, I was able to identify the problems and confronting them would not pose to me any major problem. The essence of my position (as Chief Executive of Jigawa State) is to simply confront and deal with the problems and get them demolished. This is the essence of each of the offices. The office has a function. It is a responsibility. It is a duty; and confronting these problems could be very, very huge and could be horrendous. “Definitely, there will be problems and as they emerge you stay there and face them. You will have no excuse not to confront these problems because when you were asking for the mandate, there was no condition given. You did not say ‘elect me and we will function under this condition or circumstances’. No! You say ‘elect me and I will function under whatever condition I find myself; no matter the enormity of the problems, no matter the paucity of fund. Give me the trust.’ That’s what you said. So, by the time you are there and you begin to find excuses for your inability to confront some challenges, what are you there for?”
Leaders not omniscient
Most Nigerians have varied perceptions of the Nigeria Nigerian State. I ask Lamido, who, in June 2007, accused new generation banks of helping state governors to loot their treasuries, and called for tighter regulations, what is his perception of Nigeria. “The Nigerian environment is your own reflection,” he says. “You are a Nigerian essentially. Being a governor, president, member, House of Assembly or National Assembly does not transform you to something unique and different from other Nigerians. It does not make you all-knowing. Leaders are not omniscient. So, stop ascribing this power to deal with these problems to the leaders alone. You are part of the problem first and foremost. Because, one, you want to see your governor, and the first day in office, you want him to solve your own problems instantly. Oh, come on. You want him to work under rules, under law and order or don’t you? We need to have the discipline, first, to work for the system and commitment to make sacrifices for the society and even the patience to allow things take shape. You are not disciplined, you are impatient and you are not patriotic, yet, you want the best. Who will do it for you? Nobody.”
But leadership has to flow from the top, you suggest to the governor who often waxes poetic and loves to speak off the cuff.
“But the leadership is produced by the society,” he fires back. “When you were going to school, you were being prepared to grow and assume responsibilities. But at a point in time, you abandon that particular formation. The governor or any other elected public official are just like you. They are your schoolmates. Why must you look up to them to provide the right leadership? They are your own reflection.
“What I am saying is that we must have faith in ourselves. We must believe in our capacity. We must come together to address our common problems and make sacrifices, work hard and cross-fertilise ideas, good ideas, in order to develop. So, if you are a governor, that does not absolve you from support from other people. Imagine a country where people want effective power supply, yet, they don’t pay their electricity bills. Would power drop from the sky? People want good roads, they don’t pay taxes, they don’t pay tenement rates. Do you conjure roads? A number of citizen responsibilities have been abandoned. So, where do we get the money?
“That’s why there is over reliance on oil. God gives you the talent and the intellect to be able to conquer your own environment. So, if you are asking about government and performance, what are you doing to make sure the governors function? I have been saying this: the Europe we have been talking about, people work very hard. They pay their bills. They are law abiding. They operate within the rules and regulations. In Nigeria, to obey simple traffic law is a problem. The Japanese or German who made the bus ensures that a red light blinks when the boot does not close. But Nigerians would load and use rope in tying round the boot, and they see the light blinking. There is impunity all over, yet you want governors, president, senators, reps., to cure you of these ills. What are you doing to help us help ourselves?”
Between idealism and reality
How about people’s general belief that leaders across board should pursue and see perfection as an attainable goal? Or is it too much to expect leaders to aspire to or live accordance with high standards and principles?
“What is ideal?” the no nonsense governor asks. “Are you ideal. Simply, you cannot demand what you don’t give. You can ask from others what you cannot give them. What I am saying is that if Nigerians would be able to pay tenement rates for all their buildings and make proper declaration in income tax, there will be so much money for development. But how many people in Abuja pay what is called tenement rate or property tax? How many of them? Nations are built on the people’s sacrifices. If you want the best, you work for it. It is just like a tree. If you plant a tree, and you nurture it with water and manure, it will bear fruits. You just don’t sit down somewhere and say I want this, I want that and you don’t make sacrifice. It doesn’t work.
“Our newly acquired system and values are today undermining national growth. Even when we speak politically about government or people in government, we don’t show restraint. We are not circumspect in what we say. You can say anything and when you say anything, you destroy the sense of honour of those growing under you. Because the way we abuse and criticise Nigeria, those coming under us will imbibe it.”
Leaders are not omniscient, Lamido posits. We agree. Leaders are neither all-knowing nor super humans. Yes. But, don’t they, like other normal humans, have secret fears? Maybe. Maybe not. So, what are Governor Lamido’s secret fears? I ask him pointedly.
“Secret fears?” he retorts. “Well, in my personal capacity, of course, yes. I have wives and children. I love them very much. I want their comfort and wellbeing. And so, I’m hoping I don’t fail as a father and as a husband because of their expectations from me. And where I fail to meet certain expectations, expected of me, I get a bit worried.
“As a governor in this office, I got elected. And by the time I leave the office, somebody else will come. It’s not a personal office. So, I don’t have any fear for this office. It is not my problem. I am simply doing what I am supposed to do within the mandate given me. By the time I leave here, the concern of the people is how to bring another person here. That is their worry, not mine.”
Lamido and 2015
The rumour is rife. It’s so thick you could slice it with a knife. It has become a recurring decimal of sort, any time the subject matter is the big prize-the presidency. The rumour is that some kingmakers may be priming Governor Lamido for the presidency, come 2015, on account of his sterling record so far. We put the question to him. He answers sincerely.
“Again, if your question is genuine and sincere, if it is devoid of any mischievous insinuations as to further distort and create an endemic problem, why do you ask? When (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo became the president, did you ask him? Every human being would be what God says he would be. You cannot be what God says you won’t be. So, let us believe in faith so that we begin to remove these areas of friction, of misunderstanding, of criticism. Let us distance ourselves from insinuations because you may be unavailable and somebody reading answers to the question may misinterpret it.”
Opposition in Jigawa
Back to base, and talking precisely about Jigawa politics and Governor Lamido’s all-inclusive style of governance, involving the opposition in his administration, we ask, howzat? Again, the governor doesn’t see any big deal in him not only extending the olive branch to the opposition but also giving them roles in his government. That makes a huge distinction between him and many of his peers in the Governors’ Forum. This is how he explains the matter:
“There is a difference about me and what you think you know about the other people. My election as a governor does not, and cannot, confer on me any particular talent or wisdom, bigger than that of others. I am just like any other person you can think of. There are others who are not governors but who, by the special grace of Allah, are far better than me. So, my role here is to say ‘I am here for the people.’ After election, the government is owned by the people. It is no longer a PDP affair but that of the Jigawa people.
“Political parties are avenues for acquiring power, but by the time you get there, you should be guided by fairness and justice. Therefore, whether you voted for me or not, I have responsibility to you just as I also have some expectations from you. Where we differ is when I make the government personal, then, there is alienation, and a great disconnect. But what we did here in Jigawa is to tell the people that ‘take the government, it is yours. It is a collective, you have been made a partner, and, as a partner, you know somebody in that government. You can oppose me when I am doing the wrong policy. Your are free because it is your right but you should not attempt to destroy me. The office of the governor or president should not be demystified. It should not be eroded; it must have some aura and myth around it.
“So, because of our status as a failing and sinking state, when I came in, I said the cream of Jigawa elites doesn’t manifest those failures being ascribed to us. The Jigawa indigene has in him all the attributes, all the status of any group in Nigeria-very good education, and very, very prosperous. It was the people who gave us education through their efforts. We are their investment. We only seem to appropriate this opportunity to ourselves. So, we need to restore the linkage between the leadership and followership because when there is linkage, it restores connectivity. It inspires and motivates; and you can also demand for sacrifice on their part. That is how it should be. I am not doing anything unique from any other person in Jigawa State. I am only doing my job as a governor and I will leave this place in the next three years.”
A state in a hurry
As he enumerated earlier, Governor Lamido, here, reiterates that he is positively aggressive on the issue of development because of the urgent need to restore the years of the locusts, and put the state on an irreversible trajectory for progress. “Jigawa is a state in a hurry,” he continues. “We are very much in a hurry. We are far, far, far behind in this race and we want to catch up, and we cannot catch up without embarking on these programmes. With regards to funding, we cut our coat according to our own size. Whatever we do is within our own budgetary provision, based on our specific income. We follow the budget to the letter, and whatever we say we will do, we will do. And if the earnings accruing do not meet the expectation, people understand. That’s why we are able to attain 90 percent implementation every year because if you embark on a programme and it somehow slows down, then, we make sure we push it over the years. We are not indebted to anybody in terms of loan.”
Jigawa of my dream
As the director of press gives the closing signal, I fire the last shot. Where does Governor Lamido want to see Jigawa State in 10, 15, 20 years time? Or do you think the question is too hypothetical? I don’t think so. Anyway, this is the governor’s response: “Like a Nigerian from Jigawa State, like you coming from your own village, local government, state, and the country, there are things you want for your local government, village, town-which is to make it the best ever in the world. My wish, therefore, for Jigawa is that it should be the nation’s reference point in everything excellent in Nigeria. That is talking of the environment, the inspiration and all what have you.”