The immediate past governor of Kogi State, Idris Wada, in this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Musikilu Mojeed, Festus Owete and Hassan Adebayo, speaks on his life after office, his case at the election tribunal, achievements, regrets, and other issues.
PT: Sir, it’s nice to see you. How has life been outside power?
Wada: Life is interesting and I am trying to consciously re-integrate myself into a normal society. Throughout my tenure, I didn’t live a normal life. But now, I am back to normal life.
PT: We were talking to a former deputy senate president the other day and he spoke about how hangers-on believe patronage must continue to be dispensed even after office. People tend to come to your house to praise you and hang around you expecting to get aid from you. How are you dealing with your own hangers-on?
Wada: I don’t think I have any hangers-on but I have people who believe I can still help them as I did when I was governor. But probably, my hand of help is quite limited unlike when I was in power but I still do the best I can. My capacity to fund social assistance is not the same again. When I was in power the government handled most of my basic needs and expenses but now I handle them so my hand of charity is quite limited. If people are looking for large amount, I explain I don’t have the capacity.
PT: Is it because you no longer have security vote?
Wada: Partly yes. Part of my security vote was devoted to helping people. And also it relates to my total wealth situation.
PT: So when you were in power, you were more financially capable?
Wada: Certainly! If you are in government your expenses are paid for by government – your cars, food, entertainment, water, electricity etc. All these are paid by government. But now, I pay them myself. So in my budget, I have to allocate money to those basic elements of good living. Then, it reduces what I have for charity.
PT: People say there is lot of corruption in government. You got kick back. Didn’t you?
Wada: I am not a party to that. I am not in that category. I didn’t siphon public funds.
PT: So, you are saying you are not corrupt?
Wada: By the grace of God and to the best of my ability, I am not corrupt. Certainly, I am not corrupt.
PT: Didn’t you use fronts to get inflated contracts from your state?
Wada: I never did. I did the best I could do to develop the state.
PT: So, is this your retirement home? We know states have passed laws giving outgoing governors houses, several cars and huge money.
Wada: No, no! This is my home. I built this house myself in 1995 and I have been renovating it to make it comfortable for me. And this is more than enough for me.
Yes, we have a law in Kogi State where the government is meant to provide house for me and other basic things and good pension but that has not happened because by the time I left, the state was not in a buoyant position to pay me or any of the political office holders. We could not pay severance packages because the money isn’t there. You know our bail out was withheld by the federal government.
PT: So, if it had not been withheld, you would have used bail out to settle severance packages?
Wada: Well, I believe there would have been room for all that. It is law that I should have severance package and in due time I will demand it.
PT: So, you don’t have a retirement home. Why is your successor not willing to do that for you?
Wada: No, it is not a matter of willing. I have not approached him to pay me. These things were all approved and documented before I left office but I think he needs a period to settle down to face the affairs of the state before I present such demand. I am not in a terrible hurry. I have a place to live and it’s comfortable for me. I am just trying to adjust. Kogi is my state and the best interest of the state is what matters to me.
PT: Why did you not properly hand over to your successor?
Wada: No. I handed over. I gave him 895-page transition report.
PT: You were not available during the swearing-in ceremony of your successor. Why was that so?
Wada: We had done the normal paper work. We handed over to the director general of his campaign organization. I didn’t need to be there. My presence would distract the value of the day to him. It was his day and his ceremony. All he needed was the chief judge.
PT: People are thinking you were still angry and disappointed over your defeat, and that that was why you stayed away.
Wada: How can I be angry when am subject to the constitution of Nigeria and am also very committed to good government and progress of Kogi State? We had a smooth transition process and his (Governor Bello) team and mine were meeting. There is no animosity contrary to what people say.
The handing-over was peaceful and well documented. Two months before handing over, I set up a transition committee to put to perspective what we made what we had done and what we were planning to do and suggestions to new government on how to proceed from what we had done. A day to the swear-in, we organized a formal ceremony where he was supposed to be present and receive the transition report. But unfortunately, he didn’t come. So we handed over 895-page document to the DG of his campaign. I got my deputy to hand over the report to the DG. And let me say it was the first time Kogi State has had peaceful and smooth transition process. In fact, it was the first time a governor gave handing-over note to his successor in the 25 years history of the state.
PT: But your predecessor, Ibrahim Idris, was present when you took over.
Wada: Our own was a very special circumstance. It emanated from a Supreme Court judgment about 11 am and the ruling was that he should vacate immediately and hand over to me. It was different from what you had in the last transition. It was not a ceremony held at a stadium. It was very quick.
PT: You are in the election petition tribunal challenging the outcome of the last Kogi election. What are the issues you are raising?
Wada: We are still in the tribunal and I am very optimistic that I am going back to office because there are critical issues related to the elections the tribunal needs to pronounce upon. But it will be illegitimate for me to speak on a matter in court in the public arena. We believe we are pursuing substantial issues the court needs to sort out. That’s all I can say.
PT: Do you have any opposition to the decision of INEC to go ahead with the supplementary election after the death of Abubakar Audu, the then APC governorship candidate?
Wada: We clearly objected very strongly. We went to the Federal High Court to express our dismay but the court said it had no jurisdiction over the election. So, as law abiding citizens, we went ahead with the election and this is part of our case at the tribunal.
PT: With the results declared even before the election was declared inconclusive and Audu’s death was announced, it was clear you were not going to win the election.
Wada: Well, you can’t say that. There were pockets of irregularities which made the results appear like that. And like I said, we have evidence and we are proving all these in court; so, I won’t say more than that here.
PT: Ok, what were the factors that made you lose the election? We meant political issues, not even matter in court.
Wada: There were many factors but I cannot comment deeply till we trash the issues out in court. We did well as a party and we did a very thorough campaign. We presented what we did. When I came into government I established a think-tank that will help restructure the state within 10 years. That’s why I wanted a second term in office so I can continue the process and I believe by the end of my term, I would have achieved 80 per cent of the plan. And I hope my successor in power should start from where I stopped for the progress of the state. I consciously pushed for free and fair election. An election free from violence and it was a major achievement for me.
PT: There are people who keep saying you didn’t perform and you were always abroad. In fact, they said you were always sick. So, your performance could have caused your loss.
Wada: In fact, I was the least travelled governor in Nigeria in those four years. You can quote me. The issue of being sick; there is no human being that does not sick. And if you go abroad to check your health condition, there is nothing wrong in that.
On performance, what could a governor that spent 85 per cent of his resources to pay salaries do? Such governor cannot be expected to deliver too many infrastructural projects.
But I will tell you; if you go to Kogi liaison office here in Abuja, you will see that I transformed it to very modern and befitting building for Kogi State. If you go to opposite Abia House, here in Abuja, I was building 11-storey building. It’s on a plot Kogi had got for 20 years and it was revoked before we came to office. When came in, we made sure we got it back and launched an income-yielding building in that location in the business district.
No doubt, Kogi will be earning hundreds of millions naira from that building. If you go to Lagos, our liaison office in Victoria Island was a dump (site), you can’t stay there. When I came to power, I said no, this cannot be. We then made arrangement with a team of young engineers. They transformed it and it is now generating income for Kogi State. We did the same thing in Kaduna.
If you go to Lokoja, I built a 16-kilometre dual carriage way as a bypass to create a new Lokoja on the western side. We were also constructing the main artery road through Lokoja which is another kilometre. It is on an advanced stage. If you remember, we had flood in 2012. So, through funds provided by the Ecological Fund Office, we were building an embankment to prevent flood. It is a big project and it prevented flood in the last raining season. We have a greater Lokoja project which was 80 per cent completed when I came in; I completed it. It is working.
We built the most modern vocational training centre in Nigeria, located in Lokoja, in collaboration with the Korea International Development Agency. Again, we built the most modern motor park in this country. You know we talked about air travel but don’t think of our people who travel by bus. The terminal we built in Lokoja, which has estimated 10 thousand passengers per day, is supposed to generate income to augment the state’s revenue. You can go there. Also, we were building the most modern medical diagnosis centre in the North Central zone in Lokoja. It’s in a very advanced stage. Most of the equipment had been delivered. The building work was almost concluded before I left. I upgraded the Specialist Hospital and I was building University teaching hospital at the Kogi State University. Anyingba.
We were building five zonal hospitals. We equipped most of the general hospitals in the state to a very good standard. I executed 52 road projects during my tenure. We had 400 borehole projects, more than 400 rural electrification projects, 500 classrooms and upgrade of schools. All the schools in Kogi State University, Kogi State Polytechnic and our College of Education are fully accredited. We were building a College of Education (technical) in Kabba. I am just telling you off hand.
So, if anybody tells you I haven’t done much, those are just opponents who would never see anything in everything we did. But I can tell confidently that my conscience is clear and I built structures which are not necessarily gigantic but add value to the lives of Kogi people within the resources that were available to me.
PT: Now, you must have been reflecting. What do you think you should have done differently while in office?
Wada: I wish I had opportunity to complete the teaching hospital because we looked at it as centre of excellence that would drive medical tourism to Kogi State. I wish I had done that. Also, this Kogi House in Abuja, I would have loved to be there to complete it.
PT: You mean you don’t have a bit of regret, say for instance, on your not being able to cut waste and fight corruption among political officials and civil servants?
Wada: No. I did what I could do. In fact, most of the things I did were transparent and followed due process. I didn’t need to see you and you didn’t need to know me. If you were the best I would ensure approval without hesitation. I didn’t meet most of the contractors.
PT: You were saying about 85 per cent of your resources were spent on salaries. That showed you didn’t make efforts to cut down waste. How could your state survive if you had that kind of situation?
Wada: You need to look at the history of our State. Our state was created as a hybrid of Kwara and Benue States. Civil servants who had risen to certain high level were brought from those States. You can’t just cut their salaries. Our situation was compounded by the introduction of minimum wage. It was wrongly applied. It was supposed to affect those at the low cadres who should earn minimum of N18,000 but in Kogi it was applied across board. And people at the high level were getting like 50 per cent increment. That’s what I met and as democratic governor you could not just cut people’s pay.
PT: Were you not making money from IGR?
Wada: We were making money from Internally Generated Revenue, IGR. When I came in the IGR was about N150 million a month. By the time I left, we brought it to between N500 and N600 million by cutting waste and blocking leakages and computerizing fiscal processes. We were also training people on how to document taxable businesses and all that. We made a lot of efforts in that regard. But because of how people were transferred from Kwara and Benue States to Kogi State civil service our wage bill was high. Then, the minimum wage was wrongly applied and it increased the burden. The first wage bill I paid was N2.47 billion a month out of an income of about N3.5 billion that time. By the time I left office, our income had dropped to N2.5 billion a month below what you need to pay salary.
PT: So, you left so much debt?
Wada: We left about three months’ unpaid salary because we were funding the shortfall from May to December. And the moment I lost the election, the banks cut off the overdraft. And it became critical when the federal government withheld bailout fund to Kogi.
PT: They punished you?
Wada: Yes, for political reasons. But in terms of waste, in terms of whether there were ghost workers, we did checks and verifications we were able to cut wastes. But the issue is that because of the nature of Kogi State at its creation, we had people who were earning high income who transferred their service to Kogi State. That’s why our wage bill was high. You had to drastically cut the workforce to make impact.
PT: And you were not able to cut the workforce?
Wada: No, because I came in newly when these things happened and then the election was there. You can’t just cut people’s salaries.
PT: Why did your party lose the presidential election? We know you were in the thick of things.
Wada: Many factors which had been addressed adequately caused it. Everybody should know now why we lost the election. There was the cry for change. APC propaganda was that they were the change Nigeria needed. I think people now know better.
The reality was that PDP had been in power for 16 years and people were suffering PDP fatigue. And there were issues within PDP causing people to live and create dichotomy and confusion. All these impacted the level of votes. Also, the reality was that a name “Buhari” was even more of value than APC as a party. He was the force that drove things that happened during that election. To my mind, there was little PDP could do. In fact, I commend PDP for having 12 million votes. PDP did well, with the Buhari “tsunami” that was going on. We were in power in most of the states but you remember five governors left the party with mass following. And it was done in a very acrimonious way. And after 16 years, you have to be super human for people to look at you with value no matter what you do. Change is part of life. People always cry for something different. It’s happening in the American election now. Who would have thought Donald Trump with is aggressiveness and rash way of doing things could make impacts? But now, he is a leading candidate.
That’s how politics is. Just one thing triggered, Buhari and APC made PDP look bad. And APC had a major propaganda machine which they put to play during the election but PDP didn’t have response to the propaganda.
PT: One other issue was the disagreement in the Nigerian Governors’ Forum. There was election and somebody clearly won the election that you had. But some of you insisted the man that scored the lower number of votes actually won the election. Why was that the case? You were in the group that said the man who got the lower number of votes won the election.
Wada: I don’t want to discuss Nigeria Governors’ Forum now. I am no longer there. The leaders of NGF now should comment on their matter.
PT: Why is it that governors in this country are very corrupt?
Wada: I don’t know one who is corrupt. There is assumption. People assume that governors are corrupt, they are stealing money and all that.
PT: Some former governors are being tried in court for corruption.
Wada: Being tried is just matter of allegation. That’s what our law says. You have to respect the law of the land. You can’t say they are corrupt because they are being tried until they are convicted. Anybody can make any allegation. Particularly, in this day of social media, anybody can say anything about you.
PT: Like you, you are talking about lack of resources to pay salaries and build infrastructures. But we are sure you were also hiring jets all around while you were in office.
Wada: No, I never did. I never hired any jet on Kogi Government‘s account throughout my four-year tenure and I challenge anybody to go pull out such bill for use of jet. I used some private jets which were either given to me by friends or I hit a ride with some other fellow who was going same way I was.
PT: You mean as you moved around all those years, you didn’t hire private jet?
Wada: Given my aviation background, I had people who gave their jets to me to use but as a governor I never hired jet on Kogi account.
PT: And you didn’t make effort to buy an airplane for your state?
Wada: Kogi can’t afford to buy. When you can’t hire how can you buy? In fact, there were allegations that I had three or four planes which I bought with money stolen from Kogi and parked at the Abuja airport. Certainly, there’s no such thing. I never bought any aeroplane as a governor of Kogi State.
PT: Are you saying your colleagues who bought plane, jet or hire all the time have more money than you?
Wada: Hiring a plane is a need. For me, most of my trips as a governor were from Lokoja to Abuja. It doesn’t make sense to hire a plane in such circumstance. It’s just two or three hours and so most of the time I travelled by road. But the states of some of my colleagues are located in places where there are no regular flight services. So, if they call them for critical meetings at short notice, they hire planes. So, part of a governor’s work requires you to charter a plane sometimes. But for me, one, I could not afford it; and two, I have good road between Lokoja and Abuja and most of my trips are to Abuja. So everybody’s circumstance is different. So, I don’t want to use a straight jacket approach for everyone.
PT: You are an aviation expert. Is it more economical for states to buy aeroplane than hiring?
Wada: From an aviation expert point of view, not a governor’s, I will not recommend for any state to buy. It’s better to hire because running a plane is very expensive. It’s very difficult to maintain a plane. So, I will suggest plane should be hired when it’s needed. And again, it will be suicidal for a state like Kogi to buy a plane. Even though aeroplane is my first love, yet out of prudence and paucity of resources in our state, it never crossed my mind to buy a plane for Kogi.
PT: Why does a state like Kogi complain of paucity revenue? Why didn’t you, when you were governor, tap the mineral resources in the state?
Wada: One of the first things I did was to commission a study by a subsidiary of the Federal Ministry of Solid Minerals to map out all the solid minerals we have in Kogi. One thing is to say there are solid minerals; another thing is to know the quality and quantity. So we mapped them out using satellite and mapping techniques. They documented all the resources we have in Kogi State. That’s to enable us present them to investors to come to the state. You know the investment in solid minerals is not a straight forward thing. It has a long gestation period. It requires thorough feasibility study and very huge capital investment. Money for that is hardly available in Nigeria; so, you have to seek foreign investment. I went all the way to Australia to explore partnership for tapping solid mineral resources.
But what many people don’t know is that all resources below the ground belong to the federal government. They may be located in your state but you don’t own them. You need permission and authorization of the federal ministry of solid minerals to be able to tap these resources. We signed many MoUs with investors to explore solid minerals in Kogi. But many of the investors had difficulties in getting the documentation from the federal ministry of solid minerals.
Also, raising the required capital to enable investment is another challenge. Then, don’t forget we have been having security challenges for years in Nigeria. So, many investors are not comfortable coming to invest in a long-term business. So these were challenges. People will just say you have this and that but to develop solid minerals is very complex. But as governor I took the critical step towards actualization of development of solid minerals for the betterment of the state.
PT: What will you be doing? What’s next for you beyond being in the tribunal?
Wada: What’s next for me is to do as much good to humanity as I can before my time comes. I’ll do my best for people. I came from a very solid aviation background. I will continue to contribute to aviation industry. I have passionate interest in agriculture because I believe that’s a way out for the country. I’ll also go back to school. My goal is to have a Ph.D. before I die. I promised my father I was going to have degree. When I was going to become a pilot, my father said but I want you to have a degree. I said, “I will ensure I have a degree. Don’t worry but my passion now is aeroplane.” When my father died, I have had first and second degrees and I will still have a Ph.D.
PT: How soon?
Wada: I was talking to a professor this morning…as soon as the end of this year.
Wada: I am looking at options within and outside the country.
PT: Do you intend to write book?
Wada: Yes, I intend to document my experiences in life at some point not immediately, maybe after the Ph.D.