Former Minister of External Affairs; two-term Governor of Jigawa State
By Shola Oshunkeye
Like him or hate him, there is something no one can take away from Alhaji Sule Lamido, the populist governor of Jigawa State. And that is: he is a perfect gentleman. An advocate of the rights and interests of Nigeria’s toiling masses, he is not given to hitting people hard, no matter his disagreement with their point of view. Widely travelled, and with vast experience in diplomacy and public administration, Sule Lamido, Governor of Jigawa State, chooses his words. He never injects bile. At least, not without cause.
But when he appraised the state of the nation during an encounter with ICON in Dutse, the Jigawa State capital, recently, he maintained strong positions on certain issues, and even had some harsh words for some people he referred to as ‘interlopers’ who interfere with power, not for national interest but for self-aggrandisement.
The governor summed up the various obstacles lying on the country’s path to greatness, and fingered the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-not’, as a veritable source of fear he has concerning Nigeria’s future. Yet, the only way to avoid disaster, according to him, is for elected leaders to rededicate themselves to providing accountable leadership and fruitful service to the people, as if their lives depend on those virtues.
Born to a Fulani father in Bamaina, Birnin Kudu Local Government Area of Jigawa State, about 65 years ago, Lamido was Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister between 1999 and 2003. He 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 who held sway in the state for eight years. Many indigenes describe Turaki’s governorship as a monumental failure, claiming that it spectacularly underdeveloped Jigawa.
“When we came in,” the governor attested, “the state was below sea level. Our people were submerged; they couldn’t find their bearing. But now, as you have said, we have taken them above sea level and we have stabilized; their potentials have increased.”
If you think that’s an empty boast, take a trip round the 27 local government areas that comprise the state, like we did upper week, and you would marvel at what the Lamido Administration has done with the meager resources accruable to Jigawa. Virtually all the roads, both urban and rural, are tarred with deep drainages to tame torrents and flood. The roads that crisscross the state are almost as smooth as the skin. Many exotic structures are springing up by the day in the capital. And, as the governor would later inform, the state is witnessing such unprecedented infrastructural and human capital development that citizens should have no problems fulfilling their God-ordained destinies.
Last May, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was guest of the Jigawa State Government during the three-day economic summit the state held to commemorate this year’s Democracy Day. Obasanjo, who is not given to praising people, was so impressed by the high level of development in Jigawa State, that, during his keynote address, he said he chose Lamido for the people of Jigawa. Whatever that means…
“The way Sule Lamido has revitalised the Jigawa State Education sector, adequate provision of good roads network, infrastructures, social security, free trade, has now made the state to be a haven for investors, and to the best of my knowledge, today, there is nowhere in Nigeria where investors can have confidence in doing business that is greater than Jigawa State.
“I am optimistic that, this summit would help in making out long term economic plan that would lead to the successful economic development that would be translated into the increase of employment, wealth creation, poverty reduction and improve the well-being of the people of the state and Nigeria.”
And coasting home to a resounding applause, Obasanjo told the audience that he chose Lamido for the people of Jigawa.
Based on the verifiable progress that the Lamido Administration has made in the state, we asked the governor about the magic wand he used in swinging this inspiring success story that Jigawa State has become.
For answer, the man relapsed to a pin-drop silence for moments that seemed an eternity. For those fleeting moments, the only audible sound came from the humming of the air-conditioners in the expansive room. When he finally opened his mouth to speak, the governor did so with a muffled anger, bombarding the journalists with his own questions.
“What am I supposed to do?” he began. “Why did the people elect me their governor? Did they elect me to come to Governor’s Office and play around? Did they elect me to serve them? Then, why are you surprised at what you have seen?
“Are you saying Nigeria is poor? Do you think Nigeria is poor? If the nation is poor, is the country poor? The nation is the people – people like you and I. Do we appear poor? Ask yourself. Why are you like this while others are like they are? The country is well endowed. The country is very rich but the nation is poor. It is as simple as that.
“I’m being very honest. I feel very sad that we have lost the basics. The role of a person in office is to perform the functions of that office. But because of distortions and aberrations, we have literally submitted that we are hopeless. That is my pain. Why should you be surprised? What is there that any other country can do that we cannot do in Nigeria? It is the people!
“I mean, in any human endeavour-in the sciences, in medicine, engineering, aeronautics, Nigerians can compete with anybody in this world; and they have been competing with renowned professors from even developed countries across the world. The Nigerian is a very hard-working person. We, as a people, we are very industrious. So, how could we continue to evoke this kind of emotion in seeing something being done right? Must we do the wrong thing as a people?”
Putting the issue of his performance aside, we asked Lamido if he thought that leadership was still the issue in Nigeria, as many widely believe.
Again, he threw back the issue to us: “Whatever the issue is,” he said, “you should know because it is you and I. It is all of us. Because when you say leadership, are the people willing to be led? Three things, which define a state, are missing. One, Nigerians don’t believe in law and order, which means we do not believe in due process.
“For example, see the way you drive, the way you beat traffic light, the way you attempt to manouvre dangerously past others in serious traffic situation. They are also Nigerians like you going to the same destination but, then, you are in a hurry, and, then, you drive on the pavement ignoring the feeling of other people; caring less about pedestrians. They are also like you. They are also in a hurry.
“What about the ports? The Customs? Government Houses in the states? The Presidency? Even banks today! What about the okada man (commercial motorcyclist), taxi driver, or vulcanizer, somewhere in Ibadan or Sokoto, who left his own family at home to eke a living because the government is not there for him; and he saves his money. He has a wife. Maybe he has a father or mother too. But he goes to a bank to lodge the money he makes, and he would never want his father or mother or wife or child to know how much he has lodged in the bank.
“Then, by the time he has saved his money for about three years, and he is now trying to buy either a new vehicle or a machine, or send his son or daughter to the university or whatever, he goes to the bank and they say the money is missing! They say there is no money! Is that not happening in Nigeria? Yet, this is not a Government House. So, where is the money? It’s gone! Gone where? We don’t know! That is Nigeria for you.
“What I’m trying to say is that we do not know what is called law. We do not know what is called law, order and procedure.
“Number two: this is a country of people who are largely not patriotic. Nobody wants to make sacrifice for this country. Everybody is just looking at what he or she would take out of it, not what they are going to give it. People keep on taking out of it. So, we are not patriotic.
“Number three: we are terribly impatient. You put in a government today and, tomorrow, you want result. Yet, you are not law abiding. You will be looking for an advantage to exploit. For a Nigerian to get what he wants, he can deploy anything. These form the character of a nation. We, all of us, must make sure to submit ourselves to the laws of the land. This is a country where people in the National Assembly who will make laws for you are on bail for criminal offences they have committed. Here is a party where somebody who has gone to jail would come out of jail and say he is still a member of the party. Isn’t it? That is Nigeria for you! It is a country where people who have taken money, through subsidy, can take the money out and nobody can tell them what they are doing is wrong. This is where the issue is.”
2015 and me
Since the countdown to 2015 began unofficially, despite the warning by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, that it’s not yet time to mount the soapbox, Lamido’s name ranks high among those being touted to run against President Jonathan in the 2015 presidential poll. We asked the governor that if the opportunity comes to him on a platter, would he grab it with both hands?
Here are his exact words: “This country is applying democracy with idiosyncrasies and our own peculiarities, that it is not the turn of the person yet. It is this Nigerian chemistry we have to look into, and this has been hijacked by people who manipulate it with differences. Today, if you go to somebody in the south-south, he would say ‘My son is there, he must be!’ It would not matter whether that man is killing him. So, first and foremost, is the Nigerian chemistry thoroughly healed? Are the elites honest enough? Are the people courageous enough to do the right thing?”
Me, Edwin Clark and Asari Dokubo
Lamido is worried about the insistence of Ijaw leader-turned-Jonathan campaigner, Chief Edwin Clark, that the incumbent president must get second term in office. Legitimate as that aspiration may seem, to the Jigawa Governor, it amounts to jumping the gun, or, rather, putting the cart before the horse.
“If you fall into our own compartment like south-south, south-east, Ibo, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani,” he said, “when, before election, somebody is saying ‘our son must serve a second term’, and the whole world knows that second term comes after election, is it not when you win election that you can talk of second term? But Edwin Clark would say ‘our son must have a second term.’ If he had said he (President Jonathan) must get the PDP ticket, it is within his right to say so. But when you say ‘he is our son, he must have it’, what you are saying is a function of election. If you are saying his party must give him the ticket, it is okay. They can give him, but it doesn’t mean he is going to win the election. But when you say he must win the election, then, what are you talking about? Where is democracy?
“This old man? In 2011, the name Edwin Clark was not part of PDP vocabulary. But look at it, today, his name has become the main vocabulary. And what is the qualification? Emotion and sentiments. Nigeria made him to grow till 86 and secured; is he giving Nigerians the same hope for them to be 80? By his pronouncements, what hope is he giving to those who are 10 and 20 now? Is he giving them hope to be what he is to Nigeria? …Because Nigeria made him and dignified him. He was a minister.
But would the governor have preferred that Nigerians ignore Chief Edwin Clark?
“No,” he fires rapidly. “What I’m saying is that there are some people who have acquired a kind of statesmen’s status. They should be circumspect in whatever they say. There are some things they should not say.”
‘With the way you speak, you seem terribly disappointed in him?’ we observed
“Absolutely!” Lamido said. “Because it is about politics and about PDP; and he (Clark) had no input in making the president. He met Jonathan as a finished product, not as a raw material. That was why I said Edwin Clark was never part of the PDP vocabulary in 2011. Was he? Absolutely not!”
Again, we prodded him on, asking: ‘What you are saying, in essence, is that Chief Clark should be beyond sentiment, as an elder statesman. He shouldn’t, because of his proximity to the man in power, be part of a cheap sentiment, such that he now begins to carry his (the president’s) fights and wars on his head, and all that; displaying brazen ethnicity, kind of. Is it not part of the problem?
Lamido’s words, again: “There is something called sobering character; something which encapsulates what you call the Nigerian mission; the Nigerian interest, the Nigerian collective interest, which will unify us and, then, define us. Something we should hold very dear; something we should cherish. Something we should defend with our lives.”
So, with people like Edwin Clark and Asari Dokubo at the forefront of Jonathan-for-second-term campaign, what are the secret fears that the governor has for Nigeria?
“Well, it is just like Bola Ige of blessed memory, and others in Afenifere and NADECO. When we talk about June 12, they were not anywhere near it on June 11. That is my worry. My worry is that people don’t reckon with history. People who take advantage of a national effort and kind of appropriate it. Where were they on June 11? It is the same thing we are going through! Where were Asari Dokubo and Clark on 2010? Where were they when PDP held their primaries? They were not there. So, they must not diminish Nigeria.
“It is true that Nigerian president must come from a tribe, a village and a zone but by the time you get there, you are absolutely a Nigerian. Once you have been inaugurated president, you are the president of all Nigerians. That is why, in 1999, in trying to heal the wounds of June 12, we said fair enough; let us locate the presidency in the southwest. Truly, it is not the preserve of northerners only but then in taking it to the southwest, we were looking for a Yoruba-Nigerian President. And we decided on former President Olusegun Obasanjo. We were looking for Yoruba-Nigerian president and not just because of the agenda of the Yoruba. That was why we picked Obasanjo and the Yorubas didn’t want him.
“Coming to your question, what I’m saying is that, today, it is not about my aspiration. Are we cured? Are the emotions gone? Are the sentiments all gone? Are they ready to melt into what I call a genuine effort to restore Nigeria as the leader of Africa, leader of the Black race? For me, my aspiration is not a big deal. As far as I’m concerned, by my upbringing, there are some ideals I cherish and once they are being followed by anybody there is no problem. The entire thing is not about personal ambition. It is about working for a larger picture. It is about how to address the Nigerian problems of poverty, under-development, nepotism and all those kinds of things.
“We are working around something to bring some changes fundamentally, so, that the Nigerian person, for once, will learn to know what is called dignity. For once, he would know there is honour around him. When poverty has taken away your pride, you don’t feel honourable anymore because you are diminished; you are debased. So, to me, if the person in place is doing the right thing, I have no problem. Let him remain there forever. Now, it is left for us to sort out what we want. With emotions, sentiments, and appropriation of power, we will remain where we are. The richer will be getting richer, while the poor will be getting poorer.”
There is no way you would have an encounter with a personality like Governor Lamido without talking to him about the rancour in the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, especially as it pertains the disappointment of Nigerians in the state executives. Nigerians have expressed disgust that why should a small club for 36 hold an election and it’s generating so much rancour and they are supposed to bear the torch of democracy? We also pushed this to the governor.
His response: “Despite what you have said, you must realise that you are also dealing with human institutions which cannot claim perfection. The NGF is an informal forum. You don’t have to belong to it. It is just for our own convenience and the issues we discuss are just purely economic and security. That’s all. We don’t discuss politics in that place. Really, the NGF is not a very big issue that people should be worried about. For God’s sake, it is nothing. But in Nigeria everything is for entertainment.”
Okay, straight from the horse’s mouth, we sought to know if the friction within the NGF is it not about 2015, like some people are suggesting. The last word of that question hardly tumbled out when the governor picked the gauntlet. “Sometimes,” he began, waxing philosophical, “while the mind can leap out and begin to invite imaginations, me, Sule Lamido, as a person, I’m a Muslim, and I strongly believe that there is something called destiny in my religion, which is God’s template for one’s life. Everything has been put in that template. For now, who has that 100 per cent guarantee that he is going to live till 2015? Why are we wasting our energy and steam over 2015?”
But how would the Jigawa governor react to the speculation by the interim national publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress, APC, that by the middle of this month, July, there would be 23 governors in the alliance, making it bigger than the PDP? In other words, some of the governors now being called ‘renegade PDP governors’ would have jumped into APC…
A wry smile played across Governor Lamido’s lips as he answered: “I’m highly amused. Do you know what they call self-wish? These are local propagandas that are terribly elementary. Look at it this way: of the three major parties that began the race in 1999, namely PDP, AD, APP, only PDP has remained 14 years after. AD had gone from AD into AC, into ACN, into something else, and now going to APC. APP had gone into ANPP, later on, they were going to something. Now, they are going to APC. Now, CPC is a one-man party. And the fact that some parties see Buhari as their industry is not lost on us. So, they hang on him. And because he is very naïve, he thinks they are serious.
‘Did you say Buhari is naïve?’ I asked him pointedly
“Absolutely!’ he responded automatically. “He is politically naïve. Yes, he is politically naïve. Absolutely!”
Okay, could he be more explicit? We played the devil’s advocate…
“I would say he should be walking with his eyes wide open because those around him in 1999 went somewhere else. Or were they with him? Our people will say that if you see a horse fully dressed, walking alone in the forest, don’t mount it. Run. It must have thrown the owner off. Don’t ride it because it threw somebody away.
“I have been wondering; they abuse the PDP and call us a party of murderers, a party of riggers, a party of whatever that is evil. Fine. But why do they want murderer/governors in their midst? Why do they want us to be there? Number two, this so-called APC is, again, what you call political fraud; because you may change the nomenclature 10 times over, but the question remains: did the people come from heaven? They are the same old people. So, to me, I laugh at it, more so because the entire contraction is a creation of pain and anger. It is not about Nigeria. They are people who failed to make it in their political parties, who think that by coming together they can make it. If you input one PDP governor in APC, they will collapse. It will collapse.
The point I’m making is that, you don’t simply say because of some misunderstanding, you destroy yourself. The PDP has attained a level in Nigeria. Yes, they call us ‘Renegade Governors’, or whatever they call us. But, today, who is there in PDP who is older than me in the party that I should leave the party for him? Who is that person? So, there is no way you will say because there is heat wave in your house, you leave your house. Where would you go? To someone else’s house? I laugh when they say that because who will change and go to them? To do what?”
What Drives Me
Perhaps, because of his welfarist inclinations, many have dubbed him the incarnation of his mentor, the late Mallam Aminu Kano, under whose tutelage he learnt his leftist tendencies. Like his mentor, Lamido sees welfarism as a veritable instrument of service, and he is driven by a strong sense of history, and a deep-rooted desire to stand on the right side of posterity.
“I want history and posterity to judge me well,” he said, as we began to draw the curtain on the interview. Then, he gave us the closing shot, revealing what motivates him to do the great work he is doing not only for the good people of Jigawa State, but, more significantly, for humanity.
“I was lucky that I grew up in what you can call a fairly wealthy family,” he said. “I come from a village by which standards you can describe us as ‘wealthy’. My father is Fulani. He owned cows and horses. It is left to you to define what wealth is in a developed environment. In my area, my father owned cows and horses. I grew up in a family where there is so much love. There was so much pampering and I could then relate myself with those who were less fortunate; as well as those who were my peers, playmates and who were coming to our house. I treated them like human beings. I began to wonder why our house was different. It was something that challenged my thoughts, even in those days. I grew up in an atmosphere where what is called security, protection and comfort reigned. And because this is something I enjoyed, I am in a better position to give it to others. You cannot give what you don’t have. I am not immodest or haughty; I am only saying that you can only give what you have. You can only give a kind of feeling, which you think distinguishes you from others. So, to me, that kind of advantage, that kind of privilege I had, gave me the idea to ask why others should not be like me.
“It is something that has really tormented me since I was a small boy. I have no idea why I am lucky to come from a family where my father was a chief of the village and was very prosperous-by village standards. I can understand what deprivation is because I could compare and contrast my condition with that of others. I realised that it was my duty to insist that others should also be like me. That’s all. It is something that could be called ideological, or philosophical. For me, though, it is simply a natural thing. For instance, if calves cry in the night, I cannot sleep! You may not believe it. If I saw a calf in my father’s house and it was missing the mother, I would get worried. I would have this uneasy feeling within me. I also have this kind of feeling for fellow human beings. That is all.”