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Yuguda: Proposed National Carrier ‘ll Fail

| June 25, 2013 More

Alhaji Isa Yuguda

An investment banker now Governor of Bauchi State, Alhaji Isa Yuguda has recently been at the centre of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) controversy following how some of his Northern colleagues voted in the election after publicly endorsing the Plateau State Governor, Mr. Jonah Jang, as their consensus candidate for the chairmanship. Last Tuesday in Abuja, Yuguda fielded questions from a THISDAY team on his stewardship in the last six years; the NGF chairmanship election brouhaha; the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) crises; local government and state assembly autonomy; the proposed national carrier; northern interest in the 2015 Presidency and sundry other issues…

As the Governor of Bauchi State, what has been your experience in the last six years?
Well, the experience as the state governor in the past six years has been very challenging; having left the banking industry to join the federal government as a minister. But after winning the election as Bauchi governor in 2007, I had a lot of expectations of what I would meet on ground in terms of the structures that can support and facilitate the running of government.

But I was disappointed with what I met. The challenges were very daunting, ranging from the situation in the education sector where infrastructure was completely absent to the health sector where there were also high maternal and infant mortality rates due to a complete absence of equipment and medication in the hospitals. Security wise, we inherited some youths that called themselves “sarasuka”, which translated to Hausa means hacking down somebody with a knife. There were also political thuggery and general security challenges including of course, religious crisis which is actually not related to religion but often triggered by religious sentiments. All these were some of the challenges I met on ground. I had to sit down again and go back to the drawing board on how to address the problems that were staring at me in the face. The questions I had to address were: Where would I start from? What were my priorities? Would I take up commerce and industry without developing the education sector? My biggest priority was to develop the health sector. I had to rehabilitate and re-equip all the hospitals and come up with programmes that will reduce infant and maternal mortality rates by introducing free medical care for women and children and then with time, introduce the primary health care system. I had to set up an agency to that effect to at least, try to minimize the number of people that will need to go to the tertiary health institutions. We bought more than 300 million treated mosquito nets to address the challenge of malaria which remains one of the biggest killers of children in the rural areas. Of course, we also increased the number of primary health care centers.

As I speak with you now, we have over 1200 of them across the length and breadth of the state. That is where we started and we are happy today that not only have we been able to upgrade the specialist hospital in Bauchi to qualify as a teaching hospital but we are building a 300-bed state-of-the-art hospital with the latest equipments which we have just placed orders for. And like I have said, we have rebuilt and rehabilitated all the hospitals.

The intervention in the health sector is so much and the latest of course is the taking over of the Vesico Vaginal Fistulae (VVF) center by Mr. President to convert it into an international center of excellence for VVF, the second in the country after that of Katsina. We initiated that programme with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which partnered with the Bauchi state government to set up the VVF center and only two months ago, the President approved that the Federal Ministry of Health should take it over and to include it in the budget for next year. In terms of immunisation, we engaged in massive immunisation connected with the health sector because we had very frequent occurrence of cholera in Bauchi and some of the towns that do not have clean water. The treatment plant that we met in Bauchi was producing just about 1.5 million gallons per day but it was built for 10 million gallons; we fixed it to operate at full capacity and reactivated another that was abandoned in 1992 by a German company. We also sank so many boreholes in the town and now Bauchi town has a good amount of water that is averagely sufficient. We have therefore been able to reduce the level of cholera that used to kill people in the state. This was followed by the intervention in the education sector. I focused my attention on education because any society that does not educate its citizen is not preparing itself for development. I place a lot of premium in educating our people; my interventions in tertiary education have gone down to the kindergarten level. Bauchi and Lagos as you may have known are the only two states that have bought sufficient textbooks for their pupils and students; which is why the Minister of Education said they were going to buy books for other states except Bauchi and Lagos.

I bought over six million textbooks and from kindergarten up to our tertiary institutions, we have textbooks. We went on to rebuild our schools from scratch because almost everything was absent; in the boarding schools there were no beds and some of them were near collapse. Even their feeding, we had to improve on that; we increased our budget from six percent that we inherited to 27 percent which is slightly above the United Nations standard. We also worked on the tertiary institutions especially the school of nursing, polytechnic, college of administration studies — we inherited these institutions with zero accreditations. They had lost their accreditations because there were no teachers and equipment; the infrastructure was dilapidated and we had to bring them to standard. Even the school of nursing had no accreditation and if nurses were trained, they were not qualified. I am happy to report that all their courses were accredited about four years ago; we have been able to make impact in that sector and as much as we have improvements in the WAEC and NECO examinations. The percentage of successes in these examinations were not up to my satisfaction and I had to investigate to find out that we had close to about 30,000 teachers in the state but unfortunately, a substantial percentage of them were not qualified and some of them forged their certificates, some never went to school but found themselves in the classrooms. These were some of the challenges and recently I had to set up a committee which came up with revealing outcomes and some of the teachers are losing their jobs; they even stand to be prosecuted because it is criminal of them to have done that. These were some of the challenges but after fixing the primary and secondary education, I went ahead to say that I had prepared myself for tertiary education and I set up the Bauchi State University and I am proud to say that when you go to the NUC today, they will refer people who are interested in setting up universities to us. It is an independent university without government intervention, the university is on its feet and we are among the state universities that our law degree has been approved by the relevant authority.

But how are you going to solve the challenges of recruiting qualified teachers considering your initial encounter?
We have over 40,000 applications from people who want to teach, if we finish the screening and confirm that their certificates are authentic, we will subject them to an aptitude test. They have to pass the test to become teachers and in the same vein others that will be employed will have to go through the test and interview and thereafter. We will place them based on their performance and areas of strength; I am sure that amongst the 40,000 applications, we should be able to get at least 15,000 to 20,000 teachers to employ.

What specific programmes of your government are targeted at girl-child education in Bauchi?
That is one area we have done very well and have even received awards; we have been trying to address the issue of girls hawking and those who do not enroll in school. We have identified such families and realised that no matter the quantity of material that the girls are selling, the total turnover might not be up to N20,000 per year. Does that really make sense? As part of the poverty alleviation and girl-child education in the state, government has identified so many families that send their girls to hawk to sustain the families; such families, we give seed capitals of about N50,000 to N100,000 to help them start something and it has gone very far and successful in Bauchi. USAID has also supported in that regard with girl-child education such that we have recorded an astronomical increase in the number of girls enrolled in schools today.

But the main resistance against girl-child education is that it discourages early marriage amongst other things. How have the people received these measures?
You see, the background that most people in Bauchi come from is this: for Christianity, it is very straight forward because you will rarely find Christian girls hawking and so, it is a culture that maybe is dominant amongst Moslem families. In Islam, God asked us to seek education without exception to certain gender. He said, “seek education even if you have to trek from where you are to the country where you seek it”, even if it is China; it is in the Quran and so, if you are challenged by the almighty Allah to trek from here to China to seek education, it means that education is very important without any reference to gender. We are trying to make our people understand that the religion of Islam encourages rather than discourage girl-child education and going to school does not mean that a girl will not get married early enough. I come from the Fulani culture and apparently we are one of the very few tribes in Nigeria that engage in cross-cousin marriage. In those days hardly will you find a Fulani man marrying outside the family, but today the situation has changed. Back then, relations can be paired when they are children and the marriage is consummated when they get matured. This sort of cross-cousin marriage is also practiced by the Jews. But Islam does not stop you from going to school, which does not mean that you will not marry early and there is also the birth control mechanism in Islam. That is working well and there is a lot of enlightenment in that direction and this has really helped in preparing our people to take up western and Arabic education.

Now let’s go to politics. You recently announced publicly that you do not want to be part of the Northern Governors Forum; we have Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso attacking your decision. What do you think of the NGF and what is your response to Kwankwaso’s comments?
Ordinarily, I would not have wanted to take up the issue again because I have spoken so much on it. However, Kwankwaso has spoken his mind and he has confirmed that his idea behind nominating Governor Jonah Jang at our meeting was to go and disgrace the Plateau State governor, if you read what he said. For me, that is a tragedy for Nigeria. If I, as a leader, as a governor, will look at my colleague and take a decision ostensibly to go and disgrace him, then it is a tragedy. Where is our morality? Where is Islam and Christianity in this country for goodness sake? I would never do that, I would rather look at Jang in the face and tell him that, ‘look, I am not going to go with you, I am going with this gentleman’. So, for you to say that you did this thing so that you will go and disgrace a colleague, I don’t know where we are going and if that is the caliber of leadership we want to bequeath to Nigerians. Secondly, like I have always mentioned, I did this thing, I reconsidered my membership of the northern governors’ forum as person and not as a government because the government of Bauchi through the deputy governor or SSG can attend the meeting to take care of the interests of the state. But for me as a person, it does not appear that I fit into that kind of set up because I am used to the kind of environment where decisions are taken and you stand by them. That is my own upbringing, culture and experience as somebody who has been in the banking industry. Also, from my religious upbringing, my word is supposed to be my bond, I will never tell you to go right when I mean you should go left or climb up when I mean you come down. So, that is the area that we differ with some of the northern governors and I do not see myself sitting down amongst a group where we are dishonest to one another.

This then brings us to the question of your own reported aspiration: Were you really running for the chairmanship of the NGF or you were just a proxy of the president?
What happened in the governors forum like I said was a tragedy and it should not have happened in the first instance because as a governor, you are not a governor by your own making. We are supposed to be in the NGF for the purpose of uniting our country because any time Nigerians see us sitting together, eating together, laughing together, they will have that sense of security that our governors are united and we have to unite as people, that is the essence of having the governors forum. Secondly, when you talk about peer review, we sit and exchange ideas and then we have a team that will peer review us so that we can learn and benefit from the capacities of one another. The third one of course is when we come to review issues that affect us like the stalemate between our commissioners of finance and the ministry of finance on FAAC figures on which the governors intervened. We sought for a discussion with Mr. President and we were able to sort it out. We are not only solving problems with the interest and security of the country but also at our national economic council meeting. We meet a day before and look at issues that will be discussed and come to a conclusion that will be presented by the chairman of the forum. Being the chairman of the forum is not supposed to be a do or die affair the way some of our governors have seen it to be. It is not supposed to be an elective issue because since 1999 the first set of governors in the present democratic setting, never had elections. I was in Ilorin when Danjuma Goje proposed Amaechi as the consensus candidate, I seconded and he took over from Saraki. We were 13 in number and we all agreed that elections cannot be held because it will divide us, we belong to different political parties and even if we were all in one party, the issue of election should never arise. One other thing that Nigerians must be aware of is that the NGF constitution was doctored because five lawyers and the current vice president who was then a governor were members of the committee that drafted the constitution. The governor of Lagos State was one of them; it is very clear that it is provides for a two-year tenure and should rotate between the north and south; that was the situation. If that was not the situation, why did the northern governors sit in the first place? And when Shema and Amaechi came out to contest as consensus candidate, Amaechi insisted that he wanted election. We said no, you cannot have election.

The PDP governors said no, since we are the majority and we sat in Benue lodge where I was requested to stand as a neutral person and this was a decision of northern governors then at Benue State lodge. I never wanted to be Chairman. What would I do with the governors’ forum chairmanship? What have I not seen in my life that I will be gunning for the chairmanship? I said if that can bring peace as one of the governors warned that it is not good for us to be seen as fighting the president. Power belongs to God and in our books of faith, God said we should respect our leaders yet we have read media reports of Amaechi saying the president is fighting him blah! blah! Blah! I said such is not good for the governors and that was how I came out to accept the nomination because I didn’t want to disappoint my colleagues. On the day that we were supposed to pick a consensus candidate, the northern governors were requested to sit, they sat in the morning at 11am and Shema and I were inside and they were expecting one of us to step down. Earlier on, they told Shema that they would not vote for him and I felt very strongly that I would have disappointed them if I had stepped down at that time. We were asked to go out and we came in after about 15 minutes to be told that the consensus candidate was Jang and you can see Kwankwaso reporting in the paper today that he nominated Jang and he was seconded by Suswan, and we are governors. We are 19 while the remaining governors out there were 16; we went to the PDP governors’ forum and the chairman of the northern governors’ forum presented Jang as our consensus candidate and 25 of us from the PDP governors went to the main governors’ forum. So what would I expect? I did not expect the kind of madness that I saw from very mature people who are leaders and are therefore expected to show exemplary behaviour just like what the Niger state governor did by presenting Jang as our consensus candidate and the game would have been over. All this ridicule that we subjected ourselves to as irresponsible people that were incapable of conducting elections would not have arisen. There was not supposed to be any election in the first place and even if we decided to do the election, then it would have been won right from day one. So what are we talking about because we want to argue or look at it from the negative or opposite side? This is why I am pulling out from the northern governors’ forum.

Many people believe that the controversy arose because of the events preceding the election. Until now, the presidency had never been interested in the chairmanship of the NGF so why was this presidency interested in installing its candidate for the position; to stop Amaechi?
Jang never dreamt that he wanted to be chairman of the forum and how the president could have influenced his becoming the chairman from Addis Ababa I cannot understand. Jang himself travelled the previous day and came in about 10 am that morning and came into the meeting late. If the president wanted to stop Amaechi, then it meant that everybody except Amaechi was the president’s man that is what it means. The president has to be insulated from all these things; in fact, we are always trivializing the office of the president and I don’t know why, because the public have always seen the president as maybe something else, but God asked us to respect and pray for our leaders and we should not ridicule the president by saying that he is interfering in the situation. He may, as a human being, indicate his preference if he is given a chance to choose, it is natural. But for you to say that he is sponsoring somebody is wrong, after all what is the president going to gain by sponsoring a chairman of the NGF?
Now, let’s go to the issue of 2015. Several of the notable stakeholders in the north have come out with a stance that they will not compromise on the presidency in 2015, that it has to come to the region; where do you stand on this issue?
God has already made his president in 2015 and I will not sit down and talk about what stakeholders from the north, south or east are talking about concerning 2015 because I am busy doing my job now as a governor. Politics as far as I am concerned has not started and I am busy trying to make ends meet so that I can unwind all my projects in 2015. As far as that issue is concerned, I have not given a thought about what people are talking about.

What is your opinion on the six-year single tenure recommendation of the senate?
That is the opinion of the senate and they are entitled to their own opinion; I keep my own opinion to myself.

Can you assess the efficiency of the security measures taken by the federal government in troubled states up north with regards to the partial emergency rule?
The state of emergency was long overdue by the time the federal government put it in place and you can see that since then, even when there may have been some incidences, violence has reduced dramatically in the two states that had been subjected to intense attack by the Boko Haram group. I also understand that the youths of Maiduguri have been involved in arresting members of the sect the way the Azare youths did in Bauchi when they tried to establish a cell. I think the military is doing an excellent job and should be given some credit and we hope that it will continue for Nigeria to become a safe place because to the extent that we are not able to provide security, development will become a mirage as we do not have the capital to develop our country but rely on foreign flow of capital and the only way we can get that to come in is to secure Nigeria.

Why do the governors oppose financial autonomy of local councils as recommended by the National Assembly constitution review committee?
States and local governments are institutions as well as the legislature; they have an income and expenditure budget and if they had known the difficulty of managing a balance sheet, they would never seek for that kind of autonomy. They are free to do that and I believe even the National Assembly is weeping because of that autonomy granted to them, the judiciary is also weeping because there are instances when three to four months of salaries are not paid. I know what I do to keep my local governments going; there are some local governments whose income is far less than their expenditure and I have to augment so that they can run as going concerns. I am telling you that if that is done, half of the local governments in Nigeria will have to merge. The same thing with state assemblies, if they do that the governors will be free, at least they know what they are managing and would not divert funds to procure vehicles for members of the assembly and do other things. I don’t imagine that the National Assembly will make laws for them to receive and spend revenues. They cannot do that and as somebody who has been in the financial service industry for upward of 21 years, serving at the highest level of management as an investment banker, I sympathise with them.

What is your plan for 2015? Are you like some of your colleagues going to the senate, some angling to be president or vice president; or as it is in your own case, since you are a permanent suspect when it comes to the job of CBN Governor, are you plotting to succeed Sanusi?
I thank God for what He has done for me and I have said it before that if I would have any inordinate ambition now at my age given what God has done for me, I would have been an ingrate to my creator. As far as I am concerned, I have my own plans; I am a very successful farmer and I intend to go back to farming not even to the financial industry as you are speculating. I think that I have served my dues as two time managing director of a commercial and investment bank; Inland Bank and NAL Merchant Bank, I served as a minister and two time governor of my state, what else do you want from me? You want me to continue as a career public servant? For those who know my antecedent at the ministry of aviation, they know that I did my best; the bill that gave birth to an independent NCAA was written by my team. The only thing that I regret in the ministry of aviation is the demise of Virgin Nigeria because I suffered for that project. As an investment banker, I raised $50 million from private sources to float that airline without a single kobo from the federal government but it ended up with Richard Branson having his properties destroyed at the airport in Lagos. The then aviation minister didn’t understand the dynamics that gave birth to that airline, we wanted to make Lagos a hub and Branson requested for some concessions which we agreed to and we wanted a flag carrier and Nigerian Airways was killed and liquidated. People do not know that you do not just go into aviation business because it is an economic of scales business and by the programmes we had, we used the routes as assets to sell to the private sector in the financial memorandum. If the minister had gone through the financial memorandum and seen what we had there, the exclusivity of route was only for seven years and by that time, we would have had about 82 aircrafts in the air, but somehow, it was misinterpreted. I turned around SAHCOL because the BPE wanted to liquidate it but I went to the president who asked me to prove that the SAHCOL should not die with the Nigerian Airways. I told him that we had over 1000 people working there as a going concern and that it was not a failed venture, that I could turn it around. The good news is that it was registered by staff of Nigerian Airways and not a subsidiary of the Nigerian Airways, there is no way it could have died with the airways, the staff are happy with me for that gesture. You can see that I have done my best, let me go and have my rest because the terrains have been very rocky.

Given your experience in aviation, what then is your position on the new national carrier being planned by the government?
I am afraid, they should get consultants to advice them because in today’s world, aviation without alliances will not work. Let them not start it because without these considerations they will just fail. Let them allow the private airlines to start getting alliances and when they start getting alliances, then foreign investors will come in to invest and expand their operations so they can eventually become international players. The penetration is very difficult and even the British Airways is finding the business terrain rather difficult; with stiff competition from Emirates. It is an economic of scales business and at a point in time, Emirates was charging the lowest rates because the airlines was subsidised by their government until when they had the financial muscle. Aviation is a high-tech industry and we are not ready. When I was aviation minister, I had to learn from the professionals and made sure that NCAA was alive to its responsibility.

What are the things you would like to see accomplished in your last two years in office?
Our budget as from last year has been that of finishing our existing projects; I do not want to leave behind any abandoned project; no matter how small, I want to finish it and there are some very big legacy projects that I am very proud to complete. For rural development, I have about three roads and each one of them is about 130 kilometers and we are completing all the three roads by the end of this year. We have earlier completed two, one is 33 kilometers and the other is 60 kilometers; both opening up Bauchi state which is the second largest in land mass after Borno state. There are so many parts of the state that have not been penetrated; Toro local government is almost the size of Nasarawa, Imo or Anambra states, and that is just one local government. One of the roads that penetrate Toro is about 130 kilometers and it’s from within Toro to the boundary of Kaduna state. The same thing with the road from Alkaleri to Kuto which is almost getting to the boundary with Taraba state and it is one local government, 140 kilometres. There is also Ningi local government that has another road of about 110 kilometers. We have also been able to plan for an international airport which is a federal government airport but I had to construct it because it is the future for the state as a tourist destination. Tourism is the future of the country, many countries depend on that for foreign exchange revenue; so, I am constructing an airport that will be completed soon. The immediate past MD of NCAA, Dr Demuren had visited the airport thrice and when we complete the airport, it will become an alternative to Abuja and the fifth international airport in the country. It is already registered with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in Canada and all the equipment from Norway have been calibrated with recommendations from ICAO and it is also going to have zero visibility landing light as the only airport in the country with that kind of facility. Everything in there will be world class; with that we would have opened Yankari and tourism in the state such that you can take off from anywhere in the world and land in Bauchi.

The university which is located in Katagum local government is also my legacy project established as a center of excellence without sentiments or whatsoever. We are even working very hard to get the university to start teaching Chinese language. We have contacted the embassy to see how the department of languages can be strengthened in this regard by a university in China. There are some other legacy projects. I am a beneficiary of the US$1.6 billion loan from the Exim Bank of China, and we are setting up a power plant. I had a delegation of Chinese engineers and they promised that instead of the 18 months they had earlier promised to complete the project, they will complete the 180 megawatts power plant in nine months. It is a thermal plant driven by LPFO or crude oil and there is the Kati-Zanfi dam that we are going to construct along with Dangote group of companies and the federal government. The president has approved the project as a PPP (Public Private Partnership) and it will provide over 250 hectares of land under cultivation with irrigation. Our teaching hospital is also our legacy project; they are so many of these projects and all I know is that I have done my best in Bauchi state.

How feasible is fuel supply fuel to the thermal power plant in Bauchi when we have challenges with plants that are closer to fuel sources?
Well, we have a tank farm that will take six months stock and another good news for us now is that Niger republic is pumping oil, most of the oil that is consumed around Katsina, Kano axis is from Niger republic. Chad too is producing oil and I think we may not have a problem because we can go to Niger and Chad which are much closer to Bauchi than the Niger Delta. They are not more than 400 kilometers from Bauchi so it is easier for us to get it from there and we have initiated actions in that regard. There is no fear in that area and we have already signed an MoU with the distributing company that is in charge of North east zone to buy up excess power from us.

Category: Bauchi State News

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