By News Express on 20/03/2017
Aminu Masari, Governor of Katsina State, embodies key essentials of a remarkable leader. He is decisive in taking very tough decisions, has empathy, guides subordinates through challenges; he is focused, always planning ahead and, most important, is his unquestionable commitment to changing the fortunes of his dear Katsina State. His appearance belies the real Masari that is blunt, and never afraid of going against the current.
Nigeria took notice of him when, in 2003, he emerged Speaker of the House of Representatives. How he managed the House that has every semblance of Fuji House of Commotion, a soap opera, is a testimony to his leadership. You must be patient and accommodating to manage all shades of characters – the good, the bad and the ugly – that are called honourables. When then President Olusegun Obasanjo embarked upon his third term project, Masari, like Senator George Akume, another unsung hero of the anti-third term campaign, were effective in crushing the coup against the constitution. If Obasanjo was ever guilty of plotting a coup, the third term project was undoubtedly the one he should have been tried for.
According to Masari, “If you want to exploit people, deny them education. And, in the north, education is being denied to the public because public schools there have collapsed. The only schools functioning are private schools, but how many parents can afford them? Second, the public health system has also collapsed. So now people have to provide water, security, education, health care system and every other thing for themselves.”
In a fundamental sense, this quote encapsulates the consistency of his vision and belief. In 2013, when he made that statement, he had two years before, lost the governorship elections to Ibrahim Shema. And it took another two years before he will contest and win the governorship election. But Masari, unlike most politicians who lack conviction, has kept faith and, is now faithfully implementing these critical sectors. In Katsina State, Masari is known as Mai chika alkawari - someone whose word is his bond. He has the memory of an elephant - he never forgets.
The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), puts the number of out of school children in Katsina State at over 620,000 and 55 per cent of this number are girls. Of this number 74 per cent have never seen the four walls of a school, while 5 per cent are drop-outs. The implication, not just for Katsina State but for the entire country, is grave. The effect of our failure to educate the girl child is already obvious: unacceptable high infant mortality rates, recycled poverty and the low life expectancy rate.
In the 2016 budget, education got the lion-share of N22 billion, a clear statement of actions, beyond intentions. At the centre of the strategy has been creating a conducive environment for learning - rehabilitation, construction of classrooms and equipping of laboratories. Increase in enrollment had put tremendous pressure on facilities and on learning itself, as the teachers are not just enough. Governor Masari’s other headache is furniture for about 700,000 pupils. The Government Unity School, Malumfashi – open to students from the north, has been completely turned around; same with the Science School, Malumfashi; the ambitious model for Katsina State schools. For the first time in 15 years, teachers who had been neglected were promoted. And more than 2,000 teachers have been employed, but it needs further 7,000 teachers. Presently, classrooms are overcrowded – 80 pupils, instead of the more manageable 35. Majority are naturally sitting on the ground. The decision to engage the services of the Ahmadu Bello University Department of Education to train teachers shows a holistic approach.
Katsina State economy is agrarian, depending largely on allocation from the Federation Account. Internally-generated revenue (IGR) is totally non-existent. Thus, the only way it can meet its challenges is prudent management of resources and elimination of waste. And Masari hasn’t shied away from doing the needful. The first programme that was yanked is the Ramadan feeding Programme, which hitherto benefited only a tinny segment of the society. His conscience wouldn't allow him, in the face of the numerous challenges, to continue the programme. He said: “Can you imagine a governor that has not provided basic requirement of primary education, but is going to spend billions feeding people during Ramadan? Give them good education and they will find their level.” That’s the essential Masari that Katsina indigenes must contend with.
The 2017 budget has a capital expenditure of N92 billion. Substantial part of it is devoted to education, health, water supply, security and agriculture, as he still has his eyes fixed on them. Key, again, is working with agencies such as UNICEF that has embarked on an enrollment drive campaign. An estimated N120 billion is needed to turn around the educational and health sectors. Katsina State has the highest maternal mortality rate. That is the the reason why the government is tackling the healthcare sector. The 23 general hospitals and 30 healthcare centres are being given a comprehensive turnaround. Already, there’s a Katsina State Teaching Hospital: the target is to facilitate the establishment of a college of medicine in the state university, to address issues of manpower.
Experience, not necessarily age, can be of benefit. But Masari combines both. The Masari Dialogue and Amnesty Programme was initially scoffed at by his political opponents who had over the years watched while bandits overran 10 local government areas of the state, rustled cattle, and committed all kinds of criminality with impunity. When force didn’t work, the governor went back to the drawing board. The result was surrender of more than 104 AK 47 rifles by the bandits, through the Amnesty programme. More fundamental is that the bandits signed off to the state governments rehabilitation programme. Katsina State is now a safer place.
The Empowerment Scheme is also informed by this compassion and a perspective fear of what might be, if their situation, alienation and deprivation are not addressed. Masari fears a revolution in Nigeria. To him it is delusional to think it can’t happen.
His words: “Violence can occur and, maybe, this time it may not be religion, but between the rich and the poor and the rich will be determined by the type of clothes he wears, the house he lives, the car he drives and the area where he lives.” A very frightening future if the life of the rural poor is not improved upon.
But is this what has informed his social commitment to the poor? Are his economic and social policies informed more by enlightened self-interest or self- preservation? The concern seems genuine, considering the passion with which he tackles the issue of job creation. To some extent, the consequences might have also pushed him to continuously work at improving the lot of the poor. When the South Korean Ambassador to Nigeria visited the state, the governor had observed: “What we seek are simple machines, equipment and tools that can be used by our rural dwellers to make pencils, exercise books, erasers, and so on, that they can sell and improve their lives.”
Being a team player, he has spread the challenge. His deputy has been saddled with ensuring that the agricultural sector is revived. The governor wants about 800,000 hectares cultivated. The business of government is making the inputs, such as fertilisers and good quality seeds available at affordable price and at the right time. With 61 water bodies suitable for irrigation, the target is for Katsina State to become number one in cotton and rice production. He has commissioned the National Research Institute of Chemical Technology, to build a tomato processing plant at Danja. The Danja Sugar Factory is expected to commence operation soon. This will reduce farm waste, earn the farmers better money and save Nigeria the scarce foreign exchange. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) puts the importation of tomato paste at over 1 billion dollars. There are plans to construct a dam at Danja. So far, N2 billion has been spent on rehabilitation and construction of dams.
So much has been written about the face-off between the governor and Ibrahim Shema, his predecessor. Masari, from his narrative, was pushed to the wall by the refusal of the immediate past regime to answer questions about the finances of the state under his watch.
He noted: “It was not our intention to set up the commission of enquiry, but the previous administration refused to give us explanations on the missing funds.” Before the former governor got an injunction against the Justice Muhammad Surajo Commission, the testimony of his Aide-de-Camp Shehu Koko, of how he disbursed N680 million to security agencies during the 2015 elections raises serious questions about the job description of ADC's. How can an officer of the law be involved in disbursing money, for whatever project. These are areas that, if we must move forward, the police authorities must address. ADC’s job should be protection of their principals.
Masari, like most northerners, believes in moving forward, so as not to get bogged down, but not in this particular case. Those close to him insist that the money involved is “just too much” for the governor to overlook. The money in question is put at about N10 billion SURE-P Funds. His admonition to “governors and local government chairmen who behave like emperors, doing whatever they like with the wealth of the people because they depend on Federation Account and not Internally Generated Revenue (IGR),” shows the depth of his anger.
•Emmanuel Ado, Host of ‘Let’s Talk’ and syndicated columnist, can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
Source News Express
Posted 20/03/2017 08:26:19 AM
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