Former Governor Sule Lamido, has been criticized by many and praised by others for his eight-year reign in Jigawa State aptly known as “The New World.”
In this interview with our Regional Editor (South), IBANGA ISINE, the former governor addresses some of the criticisms against his administration and offers a rare insight into his past.
PT: What was your primary motivation for joining politics?
Lamido: You may not believe it. I was in business and working with a company in Lagos called Chrysler at No 49 Creek Road, Apapa. We were involved in the importation of toothpastes, Vaseline, Heinz varieties, Quaker Oat, etc. It was also involved in the making of confectioneries. I was doing very well at the time. But I was very concerned about the country because I considered Nigeria as my primary constituency. In those days, I used to drive from Ijebu Ode to Ore and then to Benin and then to Uli, Ihiala to Aba from where I went to Uyo and Calabar and then went to Nsukka after crossing Itigidi River from where I came up North. Really, I knew every part of Nigeria and its traditions and the level of poverty in the country. When I left that company in Lagos in 1978 and by 1979, I formed my own company in Kano.
PT: What was the name of the company?
Lamido: Bamaina Company Limited is the name. As I was saying, I was doing well but somehow, I found myself in the then Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, a party that had a lot of concern for humanity. PRP was a party that had so much like for those who are weak, the young and the orphans. It was a party that was primarily concerned about humanity and touched by situations which were below human standard.
Besides, as a child back then in my village, I was well off by every standard and my father was very prosperous. I had a good upbringing and I was pampered and loved and I did not know hunger. But even then, I also saw the contrast in the neighbourhood where many people were poor. I did not, however, for once imagined, why I was like this or that but I was concerned about the poverty in my immediate society. I think it was that concern and what I saw when I was young in relation to my status and those of others and my faith in Islam which is all about humanity. I have never believed in being a European, American, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Ibibio, Anang etc. I have always believed in humanity. It was that single consideration that defined my political belief – what I felt about human beings, what I saw in their lives, their social status and their comfort, misery and agony. I have always been concerned about how human beings are agonized by deprivation. These have defined my political belief – humanity.
PT: After serving in the national legislature, appointed as federal minister and recently a governor for eight years, can you confidently say you have fulfilled those dreams you had for going into politics?
Lamido: Get it very clear; human beings are not satisfied with anything. Like that animal that cries “moo, moo” the more they get the more they cry for more. And there is no way any human being can get to a level of contentment. Every human being is always aiming for something higher and to me. I cannot say I was able to really attain my dream because whatever it was cannot be defined by all what I did or what is found on the ground. Leadership is all about making improvement in whatever one is doing and making things better. I cannot really say that I fulfilled my dreams. I wish I could do more. I had done my best and I cannot go beyond my limits but obviously, I wish I could do more.
PT: Jigawa, the state you governed, was and is still rated one of the poorest states in Nigeria. Are you worried about that?
Lamido: You see Jigawa State is a part of the Nigerian family and to me anywhere there is poverty or anguish, a Nigerian should be worried. Whether it is in Jigawa State or Akwa Ibom or in Lagos, it is your brother or sister who is going through the poverty. Even when Jigawa is rated as the poorest, it is a source of pain and embarrassment but I also know that it is a Nigerian problem.
When I became the governor, I assembled all the leaders of the state including emirs, malams, political leaders and others and say look, this is how our state has been rated among others in the federation and I think it is an embarrassment because in spite of all the things claimed to have been done, it does not manifest in terms of education, economy etc. Jigawa’s poverty is caused by denial and deprivation. So whatever you see today in Jigawa State came because we the people on our own decided to save ourselves from ourselves by developing the state by ourselves and rally the people to solve our own problem and then give everything we have to Jigawa State. I think if there is any improvement in the state, it was through the collective sacrifice of our people across all divides.
PT: In the course of our investigation, we found that many primary schools in the state are dilapidated and this was confirmed by the permanent secretary in the state ministry of education. What can you say to this?
Lamido: You see, if you know what we inherited, and then you will understand the enormity of the problem. But when you say that we are the poorest, it means we are also poor in education, we are poor in agriculture and in infrastructure.
We were at the lowest level with so many competing needs. When you come in and face with such situation, how do you holistically address these issues? Education is very critical, so also is health, food security and infrastructure. So you begin to think on how to apply available resources based on priority. We paid serious attention to education because when we came in Jigawa State was only voting about five percent of its budget to education. But based on the need I met on the ground and based on available resources, we had raised the budgetary allocation to the extent that we even exceeded the UNESCO target of 25 percent. This was a state that spent about five percent of its budget on education and by the time I came in, we raised it above UNESCO standard. Again because of our terrain, by the time you re-roofed one primary school, the following year, the same storm will come and remove the entire roof. So it was a continuous thing. No matter what you do, because of the area is very windy, you find that most of the roofs will be blown off.
My first commissioner for education was Prof. Ruqayyah Rufa’I, who later became the minister of education. In the first two years of our administration, we were able to address 50 percent of the schools affected by wind storm in the state. Later on, all the schools were renovated. But it was not only renovation we did because in most cases after the renovation, there was no furniture. If there were no roofs, then it means they were no furniture and enrollment was low. So when we addressed the problem of roofing, we also looked at furniture, feeding and books. It was a huge phenomenon and a continuous effort at rehabilitation. We used available resources to address these issues at every given time.
PT: If one is building a super structure, the foundation is very important. And in this case, primary education is the foundation for any educational development. How much did you spend in the primary education during your eight-year tenure as governor of the state?
Lamido: In our budgets and because of what we found on the ground we invested so much and unknown to us, we had even exceeded the UNESCO target. It is not about the quantum, it is about the budgets. It is difficult for me to say it in quantum but before I left, our primary school enrollment had increased by more than 20 percent. The rot we found was a huge thing we had addressed continuously. We were not only engaged in renovation, you know education is one huge industry in which when you get the structure, you worry about the furniture, the books and then you also look at the learning environment including the teachers who must be properly trained. We also looked at the issue of education inspectorate system to ensure that they monitor what is being done by the school management. We also set up management committees for schools and they go round to see what were being done, including the environment and the curriculum. I mean it was a huge problem.
The fact that we were able to give over 25 percent of our budget to education means we were very committed to the education of our people.
PT: If you had put that much into the system, why is it that over 70 percent of the schools we visited didn’t have furniture?
Lamido: I don’t know it when you say there was no furniture. You see, when we came in, some schools were virtually empty and then the urban schools were having over 50 pupils per classroom sitting down on the bare floor. If also look at the pattern, you will find out that in areas with high population, school attendance is more and vice versa. I don’t know what you mean when you say you didn’t see furniture. Your conclusion may be wrong because you have to look at the schools in terms of those in urban centers, those in semi-urban centers and those in rural areas and must also look at the enrollment and population. You don’t provide furniture just like that. It has to be based on the population and enrollment of pupils. When you have between 20 to 30 pupils per classroom, you don’t give more furniture to such schools. We hired very committed and professional person, who is also an educationist as my commissioner for education. And so in looking at the issue, you need to know what the enrollment in Jigawa State was in 2007 and what it was after I took over and up to 2015 to be able to know the difference.
PT: Let’s now talk about primary healthcare service which is also in a very pitiable state of decay. In the Due Process report for 2012, the contract for the renovation of Gwaram Cottage Hospital was duplicated and over N28 million was paid in each of the awards while the primary health center in the area is dilapidated. Can you tell us what happened?
Lamido: Let me clarify something here. The Due Process should have been able to go and inspect every contract before they issued any certificate for payment. Therefore, if they had issued certificates on jobs that were not done or duplicated, then they should be able to tell you what happened because the ministry of finance only paid for contracts based on the certification issued by the Due Process office. If they had issued certificate for a job that was duplicated, then they have to tell you why it happened. All payments in Jigawa State were based on Due Process certification. In any case, the ministry of finance only paid vouchers approved by the Due Process office. So if they brought two vouchers which were approved by the Due Process, then it means something was wrong.
PT: Given all that your administration invested in the primary healthcare sector, we found a health center fifteen minutes drive from the Government House, Dutse, in a terrible state. How can you explain that?
Lamido: If your mission was to find fault generally, I will tell you that in every human institution, there are faults. Right now on your head, I can find fault in the way you shaved your hair. There are areas which have more hairs than the other and I can clearly see it. You must have a reference point on what Jigawa was before and what is Jigawa now. Before we came in, the state recorded one percent success in WAEC. I mean only one percent of the entire students who wrote the exams. Before we came in, the state owed N13 million in WAEC fees. Remember you said Jigawa is one of the poorest in the Federation and now you are speaking on specifics in spite of the general efforts we put in to remedy the situation. I have no case when you are looking at specifics but I want to remind you about the fact that you said the state is the poorest in the country. What that means is that our healthcare delivery system was bankrupt, our educational system was zero but we were able to increase school enrollment by 20 percent before we left.
So if you are looking at it in terms of our failures, of course, we are human beings and as a governor, I cannot sit here and tell you that in every village, town and local government, we had water, health facilities, education, transportation and food security; right. It is not humanly possible and that is because we are running a human institution. You can’t find a perfect situation anywhere in the country. But you must also look at the situation in terms of relativity- what were the needs of the people and what were the available resources to meet them and how were the resources utilized? Does it mean that you didn’t see anything good when you went round the state?
PT: While many have commended you for the modest achievements in secondary and tertiary healthcare system; the primary healthcare which is closest to the people and very significant, is not working. What can you say about it?
Lamido: But you must understand that we were not running a normal system that is popular in Nigeria. We introduced the Ganduma Healthcare System which considers primary healthcare first. We met a primary healthcare system that was not functional at all and that was why we had so many cases of, whooping cough, malaria, diarrhea, tuberculosis, meningitis and high maternal and infant mortality in the state.
In the past, before a woman could deliver a baby, she had to be driven in a cart for over 50 kilometers to a medical facility. When a woman under labour is sitting on a cart to the hospital which is located very far away, then you can imagine the fate of the mother and the baby. Our duty, therefore, was to provide the primary infrastructure to alleviate the suffering of the people and by every standard; we were able to achieve 90 percent in infrastructure development and even in water supply. If there is no good drinking water, then you know the people are in serious trouble. That was why we achieved 90 percent in the provision of water in villages across the state.
What I’m saying is that based on what I met on the ground when I took over, we should be praised for what we did and with all sense of modesty, I am not saying I did so much but I put in my best and those who know what the situation was in the past can attest to what we did. We were able to lay the basic foundation for the development of the state.
PT: Between 2007 and 2014 when you left office as governor, you spent a total of N21.3 billion on basic education with 48 percent of the funds coming from the state. Can you say the funds achieved the purpose for which they were deployed?
Lamido: First, you must understand where we were coming from and what was responsible for why we were there. That is very important. When I got into office in 2007, we inherited a total of 18,000 primary school teachers and out of these; only 6,000 were qualified, meaning that 12,000 others were not qualified. We also found that some of them could be trained while a vast number of them could not be trained at all. We went to the National Teachers Institute in Kaduna and asked them, how do we train our teachers? However, during our first three years, those who were trainable were trained and others had to go.
PT: How many of them did you sack?
Lamido: It was not a matter of sack. When you are talking about an issue, you must put it in a proper context. When you find that people are not trainable, you don’t talk about sack because if you say that, you would be bringing another dimension to it. What happened was that they themselves knew that they were not supposed to be there in the first place and they left on their own.
We insisted that people should not be wage takers but wage earners and there is a world of difference between wage earners and wage takers. It was when these people had left that we started employing new teachers. Education is one huge investment for us having to turn around a situation where the state recorded only one percent success in WAEC. As I said, before we left, primary education enrollment had improved by over 20 percent and the success recorded in WAEC was also significant in spite of what you said about dilapidation.
Education is a consuming industry and not like something you plant today and harvest tomorrow. By the time you give your people the right education, you find out that you have produced people who are knowledgeable, people who can defend their rights and ready to save the society and humanity. Education is not all about employment; it is also about creating better human beings.
PT: In many of the places we visited, the people praised you for the development you brought to the state but there were some who complained that primary healthcare sector and primary education were abandoned by your administration. What can you say to that?
Lamido: You must know what we met on the ground first. With all sense of modesty, there were not even roads for children to go to school. So we started by creating roads even in remote areas. Health services and education don’t function in isolation. They have to operate in harmony with other development fundamentals. Our people used to produce large quantities of food but there were no roads for them to move these to the towns where they were needed.
It was not possible to take a piecemeal approach. Everything you do must be in tandem with the overall needs of the people. When you are investing in education, you must also think about agriculture and infrastructure in order to make meaningful change to happen. Before we came in, there was pain on the faces of our people; there was a feeling of lack and misery everywhere. There was no hope. But today, things have changed. I don’t want to be praised. I did not get elected as governor so people could praise me at the end. I was simply performing the duties for which I was elected.
PT: Can you tell us one of your greatest achievements or something you think you will be remembered for as governor of Jigawa State?
Lamido: Well, I am not in the best position to say that since I was the governor. The people are the ones to tell you about it. Go and ask the people of Jigawa what they think Lamido did for them. I cannot tell you anything on that.
PT: You are alleged to have collected bribe from a major contractor in the state. Can you tell us what actually happened?
Lamido: I cannot speak on that because the issue is already in court. Secondly, the EFCC should proof whether it was a bribe or a Code of Conduct issue. In the charges they brought against me, there was no where they said I stole the Jigawa State Government money. Because we are in court, I don’t want to say more on the issue. Let the court determine whether I am guilty or not.