Alhaji Yakubu Mohammed, is former Director and co-founder of Newswatch Magazine. Currently, he is aspiring for the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kogi State for the November Governorship election in the state. In this interview with Peterclaver Egbochue, he speaks on the need to develop the state, promote fairness, justice and equity among the tribes that make up the state among other issues. Excerpts:
This is your second attempt at seeking a mandate to govern Kogi State. Why are you so determined to get this opportunity?
Well, you used the word ‘so determined,’ I am so determined to get the opportunity because I’m so committed to the total development of Kogi State and I’ m still not satisfied with what Kogi State looks like. I think that Kogi State deserves to be better than what it is. We have had the larger picture of Kogi State from inception in 1991. It will interest you to know that I was in the forefront of the agitation for the creation of Kogi State and I actually participated in the struggle for the creation of Kogi State and what we had in our minds was a Kogi state that would belong to everybody, to all the segments of the society where everybody would have a sense of belonging, where there would be rapid development in all aspects of our national lives.
Today, since 1991, many people are complaining that this is not the Kogi State of their dream. The Kogi State of their dream is the state where everybody is everybody’s brother, where you have very good roads with little potholes, educational facilities are adequate and standard, where the hospitals are adequately equipped with doctors and when you are ill, you go to hospital believing that you would be treated and when you come back home, you are cured, where agriculture would be given a prime of place instead of we depending on federal allocation, where the civil service is highly motivated, where all our talents both at home and abroad are galvanized towards development of Kogi State.
The problem has not been that Kogi state lacks manpower. If you look at the former northern Nigeria, almost all the institutions there have been serviced to the level of about 70 per cent by indigenes of Kogi State. So in effect, Kogi does not lack manpower, does not lack talents or people who are adequately intellectually prepared to give what it takes for the development of their state. But I think that over the years, we have lacked appropriate direction and vision that will take Kogi state to where we want to be.
With what you have said so far, will I be correct to say that all these would form the bedrock of your programme for the state should you win the forthcoming election in Kogi state?
In fact, this will form what I will refer to as my mission in politics, my desire and aspiration for Kogi state. I just returned from Birnin Kebbi, that state was created the same year Kogi was created, if you go there today, you will not believe that Kogi state took off the same time with that state. They have their own international airport, all the roads are well tarred and through out the four days I spent there, we did not go on any pothole. And this thing is not magical, it is just determination and will power of those who are at the helm of affairs.
Are you saying that those who have been at the helm of affairs in Kogi state all along have not been committed enough?
I am not saying that they are not committed enough. I’ m saying that their best possibly have not been good enough when we compare ourselves with other states created the same year Kogi was created. People are looking for higher things. We are still at the rudimentary stage of our existence, even when you build roads today, it does not last for just one year. If you build staff quarters for people and you don’t provide the roads and you are in a housing estate and you cannot drive around and there is no light and water whereas when you go to other states and see what is happening there, you will be ashamed to say that you are from Kogi state and that worries me. I am not saying that they did not do there best possibly, maybe compared with other places today, given the available resources, maybe given their handicap, maybe their best has not been good enough. I’m not blaming them, but the point is that Kogi State deserves better than they are getting.
What was your first experience in the governorship race like?
It was very exciting but the trust is that I was invited; you know I’m a journalist. I have been in it since 1972, I don’t know how many years now and all I have been doing is talking, thinking and writing about development of the state. And so when in 2009, people forced me more or less to come into it, I was instantly accepted by people across the 21 local governments of the state. And I went round the local governments and people said that is Yakubu Mohammed, if this man will come, there will be changes. In fact, it was a phenomenal development.
You will go to places, you will visit traditional rulers and you know what it takes to visit traditional rulers, you will give them kola nut and so on and many of them blessed me. But the one I want you to note is; I’ m an Igala man from the Eastern senatorial district. We have three senatorial districts, the central senatorial district is where my brothers, the Igbiras, are located and they were the architects of my coming out in the first place, they wanted me to the governor. And why do they say so? They said they saw in me the qualities that they require, that I will promote equity, fairness, as a detribalised man and we got into it. Now, when I was going to visit all the five local government areas in the central senatorial district, do you know that they prepared the budget and I’m not ashamed to say that they gave me the money that I was supposed to spend on their people? That is how committed they were and I was very excited.
I went to Kabba, my brothers there did virtually the same thing. And when I visited the traditional ruler in the place, they looked me in the eye and said ‘Yakubu, you are the best. We prayed that somebody like you should come out and salvage Kogi state’. But at the end of the day, the powers that be didn’t believe that they had the right person. I don’t know what their right kind of person is but given my reading of the situation now, it looks like their agenda, I want to say it the way it is, their agenda may not be the same with my agenda, their agenda may not be public spirited agenda, their agenda may not be Kogi state agenda because if it is Kogi state agenda, you will do the right thing for the people of the state. You had a situation where people want to sit down and share money and do nothing for the people of the state; it’s criminal!
Do you think this time the experience will be different?
The experience will be different because the atmosphere is different. Why the experience will be different is because if you have suffered for a long time, you will not like to continue. Our people have suffered for too long and now need redemption and anybody can deliver them at this stage. You see, they have been pushed to the wall; you can’t have leadership and people are causing the leadership. For God’s sake, do one little thing that will put smiles on the faces of the people. It looks to me that leadership is incapable of doing that or meeting the aspirations of our people and I do not think that it is a very big deal to do that. But the only way you can succeed in doing that is if you are selfless, you are not looking at how to develop yourself first, develop your family first, develop your surrounding first and do nothing for the people. Even colonial masters came here and we said that they exploited us but when you compare them with what we have today, the colonial masters were merciful to us. They developed us and provided education, what are we providing ourselves now?
Then you were in PDP and you left the PDP?
Well, the PDP asked me to go.
They didn’t expel me or suspend me. They did not need my aspirations. They don’t need people like me. Maybe I’m too good for them. They didn’t need me.
Was it because they did not give you the ticket to run for the governorship election?
Not only that they didn’t give me the ticket, they didn’t even care that I was there and so I don’t care that they exist. I have been helping them to think but then I don’t think that they want change or development and you can see that they have collapsed in almost all parts of the country, not only in my state. Today, of all the northern governors, how many of them do we have now? Only two. So what we call change has happened. The people are tired. People ascribe it to Buhari but for me, the most serious factor is that the people are tired of their living conditions and they are desirous of change and they got the symbol of change in General Muhammadu Buhari, who has become president of Nigeria today. So when you push people to the wall, they will react and that was what they did in the last election. You can’t continue to take people for granted.
Although Prince Abubakar Audu, has not publicly declared interest to run for the November governorship election, but people around him say his body language seems to show he is very much interested in the race. Do you think you stand a change to pick the ticket?
Prince Abubakar Audu, is our leader, a very ambitious and visionary man who likes good things and knows what goodness is all about. But the problem he has now is that he is our leader. A leader who is supposed to be an umpire; ordinarily, would not be part of the team player now because you are a leader who is supposed to guide the people to choose an excellent person. The man is brilliant enough and knows the people who can deliver. At the end of the day, I’ m sure you will say in my esteemed opinion, we have to go this way. He was the first democratically elected governor of Kogi state and he did his best. He was removed and he came back and still did his best.
Maybe people are misreading his body language, I’m sure he is one leader who will promote good successors and he will sit down up there and play the role not the godfather but the role of the man who is fixing things for Kogi state and I am sure he can identify brilliant people to use to fix Kogi state. I’m not sure himself wants to run. I think it’s his enemies who are ascribing all these things to him. I’m sure he wants to create Kogi state and bring it to what he believes it should be and he has enough people to deploy to achieve that objective without himself being the governor of Kogi state.
He has been there many times and now we are looking up to him to aspire to become the president of this country and that is our prayer for him. I don’t think he wants to come down to our own level and begin to struggle with the people he has been leading. I don’t think it will make sense. In fact, it will take something out of his personality. That’s my view. I’ m sure he has higher ambition and if he doesn’t, we will push him. He is from the north-central zone and we want people from the north-central zone to take a short at the presidency one time or the other and I think he is a good material for that.
Given the fact that you have a PDP incumbent in your state that wants to run for a second term, do you think the APC has a chance?
It is a question of they doing their arithmetic very well. There are people in APC today, if you put them up, they will not make it. Incidentally, the man who is at the helm of affairs today is my friend and brother and he is doing well to the best of his ability. But at the end of the day, you have to give in to the wishes and aspirations of the people. Do they want continuity of what is going on or do they want a change? If they want a change, they will get change and if they want continuity of what is going on, they will get continuity and I’m a democrat, I go by the wish of God and the people.
In Kogi state the agitation for power shift has remained an issue, what is your take on that?
It will remain an issue because Kogi state hasn’t got the leadership that is supposed to weld the state together, a leadership that will look at an Igbira man as a bonafide Kogi man, a Kabba man as a bonafide Kogi man and same with an Igala man, brothers and sisters eating and sharing from the common wealth equitably without the issue of marginalization. Nobody in his right mind would want to be governor and preside over an ethnic group. If you want to be a governor, as I want to be, I will not be a governor of Igala but governor of Kogi state.
I just gave you an example of what my brothers, the Igbira people did for me and are still doing and you expect me to go there and an Igbira man will talk about marginalization, it means I don’t even fear God. People who sat down and said yes, some of our own people here are nursing the ambition of becoming a governor but you from across the water there, we thing that you are the best and we think that you promote fairness, you are going to promote equity and all that, so you do not have to go into the place and surround yourself with people from your own place as if you are afraid of those people from the other ethnic groups and you have to take cover in your ethnic cocoon.
You see, what is required is dialogue, engagement with the other ethnic groups. If I’m the governor today, I cannot be a deputy governor, I cannot be the secretary to government of the state, I cannot hold all the positions. So we will share these positions to all the groups to promote unity and sense of belonging. I have to take adequate measures to check issues of marginalization. You have to recognize quality and merit. You have to also recognize population.
If you are ten in your house and they are twenty in another house, if you are going to bring two from the ten, then, you are likely to bring four from the twenty and by the time you do that, the issue of this people have more than us will not be there. If you are going to build two schools per senatorial district and you build two per each local government, some people are bound to be cheated because they are more in number, there are people who want that facility than you.