In the wake of his victory as the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Bauchi State for the 2019 general election, the state governor, Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar, spoke to some of journalists. ISHOLA MICHAEL presents excerpts.
The battle for the state APC governorship primaries has been won and lost. What steps are you taking to ensure victory for your party in 2019?
In 2015, as the political soothsayers said, I came from the blues. Nobody saw me coming but Allah gave me victory as the candidate of the party, and ultimately as governor of the state. People failed to realise the kind of fight I had to put up in 2015. I had the sitting national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in power from Bauchi State. I had the minister of the Federal Capital Territory from Bauchi State and I had the sitting governor of the PDP in Bauchi, yet I got the victory.
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I have striven to remain true to the oath I swore to work for the good people of Bauchi and to be fair to all manners of people in Bauchi State. Ours has been a very difficult task. People need to understand the basis upon which we are operating before they understand whether or not we are doing very well. Take for example our wage bill, which is a result of the bloated civil service that we inherited. We have a total of 105,000 people on the payroll. The payroll is N5.7 billion every month. For some months, we would go to Abuja and were unable to get the amount needed to pay salaries. Yet, for close to two years, non-payment of salaries has been a thing of the past in Bauchi State. You are witnesses to the fact that during festivities in the state, I pay salaries before the end of the month. What that means is that the end of the day, I have little or nothing to take care of other aspects of development for the people. Notwithstanding, we have striven to work for the good people of Bauchi. I say without any fear of contradiction that in the last three years of the APC government is better than the 16 years of the PDP. Anybody who has lived in this state will tell you that. I thank God that I am at peace with the good people of Bauchi. I am at peace with all the traditional institutions. The same people after the state executive committee of the APC in line with the resolution of the national executive committee of the APC, sat and decided that they wanted indirect primaries. Those people said that if you carry out indirect primaries, the governor that controls the delegates will be elected. But if you carry out indirect primaries, the governor will not be able to go to the polling station and vote. None of them was able to go to their polling stations, but I went to mine and look at the number of people that received me. You can go to Azare; they will tell you that I am working for them. I am building roads for them. Go to Jama’are, Itas-Gadau, Giade, Toro, Dass, Ganjuwa and Bauchi, they will all tell you the same thing.
In Bauchi, you will see the work I am doing. The reason some of the road constructions have slowed down is because of the rainy season. I can assure you and the people of Bauchi that we will continue to deliver dividends of democracy.
What was your reaction when you got the news that you had been declared winner of the governorship primaries?
What came to my mind was to thank Allah, because I am a complete believer in the will of God, and that is what keeps me going. You can ask my aides. I always tell them that I have put everything in the hands of him that gives power, and that is how I am going to continue to look at life.
What steps are you taking to bring harmony to the APC in the state and reconcile all aggrieved members?
In 2015, when I won the governorship primaries of the APC, I visited every contestant in their homes so as to solicit their support for the APC during the general election. Some agreed while some did not. Dr Ibrahim Yakubu Lame was one of them. I visited him twice. The first time I visited him, he said he would consider my plea. Later on, he invited me to meet with his campaign organisation. I met with them and we reached an agreement and today, the chairman of Giade Local Government Area who was Lame’s director of campaign is my appointee. The deputy director general of the campaign organisation was my Commissioner for Information now ambassador to Switzerland. Another director of Publicity and Strategy of Dr Lame’s Campaign Organisation, Sabo Mohammed has been my Special Adviser on Education and Public Enlightenment. Another Director, Chindo Abdu, is the chairman of Bauchi Local Government Area; while Mamud Kari is the secretary of the State Universal Basic Education Board.
I have shown good faith in every respect and I am going to attempt the same thing. I have already spoken to the elder brother of one of the aspirants to speak to him. I want to build on that because my aim is to, as much as possible have harmony in APC. The prolonged disagreement between the members of the National Assembly and me is another issue. A lot of people choose to report bad news. When we started, out of the 12 members of the National Assembly, there were only three with me. Today, nine of them are with me and I think that is a great achievement and a giant stride at peace-making. We have run the most harmonious relationship among the legislature, executive and judicial arms of government in Bauchi State. I am willing to withstand quite a lot so that I can bring harmony.
Did you initially object to indirect primaries?
Like I said, that is not correct. There was a meeting of the national executive committee of the APC in which the president and the vice-president were present. A decision was taken at the meeting that the presidential primaries would be done directly while for states, their state executive committees would meet and determine the mode they would prefer.
In my state, I was not even there when the state executive committee met at Zaranda Hotel. I was in China with Mr President. They were the ones who decided on indirect primaries, but the national headquarters of the party changed that decision. I went to the national headquarters of the party and drew their attention because when I first saw it, I thought it was a typographical error. I told them that the state executive committee chose indirect. When they insisted, I said it was okay. We have done direct primaries and my opponents are not satisfied. I don’t know what else to be done.
What efforts is your administration putting in place to improve your state’s internally generated revenue?
I assure you that we are making progress slowly and I have a very good reason for saying that. Our revenue has improved and at the end of the year, the report will be given out and you will see the improvement. I have appointed a new chairman of the revenue board. I took away all the big shots of the revenue board and told them to report to the office of the Head of Service so that I could give the new chairman free hand to operate.
When I took over, I found my people on their knees. I cautioned all the chairmen of the revenue board that they should improve collection by all means, deploy technology and use whatever magic to improve collection of taxes. But I warned them against placing new taxes on the people of the state.
What do you think should be the role of journalists in your administration?
The media should do its jobs. I have never asked anybody to favour me. If someone says there is nothing going on in Bauchi State, as journalists, I don’t expect you to raise your voice and oppose that person. What I want you to do is to go round and investigate and find out whether work is going on. It is incumbent on you to report what you see. That is the commitment of your profession. All those local governments I have mentioned before, I know all the works going on within all the local government areas that I mentioned. The only ones I cannot name, because they are so numerous, are the rehabilitation of primary schools and junior secondary schools. They are all over. Wherever you go in the state, you will find a blue roof on a newly rehabilitated building or new classroom block. We have built and rehabilitated water supply systems and boreholes. I have sunk and rehabilitated uncountable numbers all over the state.
In primary health care centres, I have built 19 of them. There are 20 local government areas in Bauchi State; it is only Bauchi Local Government Area that I did not build a primary health care centre and that is because it is the capital of the state and it has quite a number of these facilities.
There have been widespread allegations that you used state apparatus to manipulate the governorship primary election. How true is this?
I don’t know anything about that. In the first place, I did not conduct this election. If you have followed developments, the state executive committee of the party met while I was in China with Mr President. They took a decision in line with the decision of the national executive committee of the APC. They wanted indirect primaries. Now that the direct primaries have been conducted, they are still crying. I don’t know what we will do to appease them. We have done everything within our powers. The national headquarters sent a powerful committeeconsisting of two professors as chairman and secretary and very eminent personalities as members. We sat with all the contestants in the morning before any activity commenced. They asked all the questions; they gave all their complaints; all their questions were answered. They accepted and consented to what the committee planned to do. The rest as they say, is history.
When they realized that they were losing the election, they went out to address the press. They said we were intimidating them. How? This is a contest within the APC. Some of them claimed that they were the owners of APC. They said that I am the outsider; they own APC. They did merger, they did everything before I even joined, and it is a contest within the APC. I think the committee sent from the national headquarters of the party conducted itself very well. I am not losing sleep; I will do my best to live in peace within the rank and file of the APC.
Due to the rancour within the APC, are you not afraid of losing the election in 2019?
That has not crossed my mind at all. Let me tell you that rancour is the second name of politics. Politics is about disputes and settlement of disputes. If you join politics and everywhere is quiet, then you should be concerned that something is wrong somewhere. We will disagree; we will find ways of agreeing. That is what politics is about. But rancour or no rancour, what gets you elected is what you succeeded in achieving for the people. I think my stake here is to work for the good people of Bauchi State. We are on course; we are not afraid.