INTERVIEW: My struggles between Jonathan, Saraki; and why Otoge movement succeeded — Ex-Minister

Bolaji Abdullahi
Bolaji Abdullahi

Former Minister of Youth Development and Sport under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Bolaji Abdullahi, spoke to PREMIUM TIMES mid-June on his experience as a political office holder at a time his political family alternated between parties, how the Otoge movement sacked the family from the control of Kwara, the education reform he initiated in the state and why he is advocating a new political culture in the North.

Question: Would it be right to say you are jobless now, since the OTOGE Movement silenced you politically?

Well, not really. I believe there is a season for everything. Election was conducted and it was won by some people who are in power now. I think it is only appropriate that those who won the elections are allowed to deliver the promises they made to the people.

Sometimes the mistake we make as politicians is that we don’t seem to realise when electioneering is over and it’s time to face the business of governance. So, if people like us are not as politically active as we should be, it is because people realise that this is not the season, it is the time for people who have earned the trust of the people to deliver on the promises they’ve made.

For me, jobless, politically speaking, yes.

Question: I am wondering how you’ve been affected by the OTOGE Movement, since some of you are young politicians. Would you say you were disappointed because of your attachment to the former Senate President, Bukola Saraki?

I belong to a political group that is led by the former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, and the counter mobilisation that happened in 2019 was to send away all of us that belong to that political group.

It was many years in the making but for some reasons, we were not paying enough attention to what people were expressing and what they were not saying. I think in 2019, if a chicken had been fielded against us, that chicken would have won. It was that bad. People somehow felt at that point that they had had enough of us, which is quite unfortunate, the situation we found ourselves in.

Some people even won elections against us without leaving their sick bed. It was a case that people were fed up with us. People saw sufficient reasons to say ‘enough is enough’ (OTOGE). That was what happened.

For someone like me who wanted to become a governor in the last election but never got beyond the primaries, there are different interpretations to what happened but I don’t think that story is ripe to be told yet. But the truth was that, what happened in 2019 was inevitable.

Question: Does that mean your group was disconnected from the people?

In a way. What happened was that we moved from building a system so efficient, and evidence abound of what happened. I’m limiting myself to the era of Bukola Saraki.

When we came in 2003, we were committed to rebuilding the state, which was traditionally known as a civil servants state. We tried to rebuild the economy, we tried to reposition the state, and I think we did quite well, because at that time, it was very unlikely that you would mention five top-performing economic states in Nigeria without mentioning Kwara State.

In fact, before then you had no reason to go to Kwara if you were not from there. But suddenly, we have an airport that was functioning, we have universities, we have the aviation college and all sorts of things that could now bring people to our state. That was the kind of system we set out to build.

I think, outside the government, it was difficult to maintain the centre, so we had to fall back to the traditional way of holding people together, which was patronage. The thing about a patronage system is that it consumes everything around it before it ultimately consumes itself. Because it consumes everything, it creates a small circle of people who justify their political engagement in terms of the patronage they are able to get from the system. Whereas politics is about bringing more in, these people survive and maintain their status by keeping people out so that there is no competition for the patronage they are benefiting.

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So, after a while, we began to drive people to envy because it is only the people within our political circle that were benefiting, looking good, within the system. From envy, people became resentful of us and began to look at us as people who are just existing to take from the state, as if we have never contributed anything.

Of course, from resentment there could only be one direction to go, which is rejection. And people within our system have become so swollen with patronage that they were no longer in a position to fight, they only knew how to take; they have lost the capacity to fight. So, when the battle came, when the enemies arrived at the gate, we were not in a position to mobilise any troops because everybody had grown so fat and lazy, they relied only on one person to always work the magic.

Question: When you were the commissioner of education in Kwara State, you had the ‘education is the bedrock of development’ philosophy. But after you left, it seems things you were trying to build were abandoned. Why did you sort of disengage, lose interest in what you started even when you still had influence in the government?

The education reform programme was very complex and that is probably the real first attempt in many years to truly reform education in Nigeria, because when you hear politicians talk about reforming education, in the end they end up spending money.

We define reform in education in terms of number; how many classrooms have you built, how many books have you bought, how many teachers have you recruited. It still comes down to number, but number alone does not make a reform in education. A reform in education requires that the system is built to deliver education to children. A classroom is not the same thing as education.

You have more children attending schools today than before, despite the growing statistics of out of school children, but fewer are getting education. Meanwhile in the 60s, 70s, the mere factor of attending schools guaranteed that you would get an education. But with the collapse we have seen over the years, in the 80s upward, attending schools no longer guarantees education. You see the distinction?

The question now is, how do we now deliver education to the children? How do we ensure that when you put a child, at the age of 10 for instance, there is a reading, literacy, numeracy level you expect that child to attain? So, is that child able to attain that level of proficiency that is appropriate for a child that is 10, 12, 13 years old? If you look around Nigeria today, you will see a child that is 10-year old and above but can’t even do a basic numeracy that you expect a 10-year old should be able to do.

What we tried to do at that time was to set this as a standard of measuring what we do, the learning outcome as a standard of what we do. We didn’t care about how many classrooms we built. We didn’t care about the number of teachers we were recruiting, we didn’t care about the amount of money we are spending, as long as we ensured that a Primary 1 child was able to do what we promised to the people that a primary 1 child should be able to do. We asked parents to hold us responsible. It doesn’t matter if I build 100 classrooms if those children can’t do those things. That is the kind of system we tried to build.

You would agree with me that this system, because of its sheer complexity, requires a lot of capabilities at the level of managing the education level itself and in terms of political cover you can give to all sorts of behavioural adjustments that could happen. So it is very difficult when we exited the system at that time to keep the system at the same capacity.

In fairness to the people that continued, it required a level of consciousness, a level of knowledge and awareness of what it takes to deliver that kind of change. If you have not been tried to deliver that kind of reform, you will rather just sit down and continue to build classrooms.

Question: While you were away from Kwara, did you try looking back at what was happening in the education sector? Because it got to a point that the government was no longer even interested in paying the matching grants to access the Universal Basic Education fund?

Without meaning to defend anybody, payment of matching grants is not evidence that you are committed to a reform and all kinds of things has happened and are still happening. It is easy for us to bring money and dump it into the system and say ‘this is our evidence of commitment to education,’ it goes beyond that. What needed to happen is building a system that would deliver a certain level of results and it requires a certain level of competence. If you don’t have that level of competence, you cannot get the same level of outcome. No matter how passionate, committed you are, you cannot give what you don’t have. Zeal alone can’t do it, you have to have the competence.

This is why in Nigeria, we need to begin to focus on suitability rather than eligibility. We have over the years been focusing on eligibility. Who is eligible to contest a position? Who is eligible to occupy a position? If you have a school certificate, you are eligible to occupy certain positions, but are you suitable for that position? Suitability requires a level of competency, capability and efficiency, and if you don’t have it, you cannot deliver those outcomes. This is the kind of political change that needs to happen in this country.

Question: You aspired to become the governor but you couldn’t make it beyond the primaries. It has been one year since the incumbent governor got into office. Looking back, would you say some of the programmes are being implemented by current governor?

No matter what I say now, it would appear premeditated. I don’t think it would be ideal to start passing judgement whether he has done well or not, but the people are there. The best judge of whether the governor is doing well or not are the people of the state. I can lie to them, the governor can lie to them, any of those leaders can lie to them, but the better judge is: is your child education better than it was before now? Is the quality of your life better than it was before?

This still brings me back to capability and policy clarity. When you hear a governor say, ‘I’m committed to healthcare delivery, and the evidence of my commitment is the ultra-modern hospital that I have built. Or, ‘look at my budget, this is how much I have committed to healthcare delivery, that means I am committed to my people.’ And I said no, a measure of effectiveness and efficiency of a health care system is that people are not coming to the hospital, it means people are not falling sick. The most efficient healthcare services in the world is one that a few people need the services but when they fall sick they are sure to get help. The point I am making is that ultimately, the people will decide.

Question: When you look at the universal primary education programme from 1976 to this day of UBEB, if you look at the goals that were set for them, what are the drawbacks you have noticed and how do you think we can address them?

The thing is, one of the major reasons Universal Primary Education was founded was to also bridge the gap between the north and the southern parts of the country. That is one the major arguments for the UPE. Don’t forget that it was the same man who introduced UPE that later introduced UBEB. But if you look at the enabling law of the UBEB, I would say that is the major problem in delivering quality basic mass education in Nigeria.

One, the law itself specifies that the UBE Commission, its primary mandate is to administer five per cent of allocated revenue to basic education. That is their job! They don’t have the responsibility to improve quality or standards. They don’t have responsibility for hiring teachers. It is a fund management body. That itself is fundamentally faulty.

Number two, whenever you introduce basic education without the right framework or structure, the first casualty is quality. You are bringing so many children into the system at the same time, have you provided the resources to cater for them? Are there teachers or technology to see to their needs? No. But you just tell everybody to bring their children to school, and anyone that fails to do that has committed an offence.

If you look at the private schools, they are concentrated around Ilorin and all other smaller towns. If you go the north of Kwara State, there are no private schools. So, these public schools are still the schools that majority of Nigerian children attend. Look at the north of Nigeria, how many private schools do we have? Even if you set up a private school, how many people can afford it?

The thing we need to do is to reorder the system of governance around basic education. What do I mean by the governance of basic education? Someone sits in Abuja, sends money to the states, is it by chance that the majority of the states are not paying the counterpart fund? There is a reason, and what is the reason?

The reason is that education is on the concurrent list. You pay me N500 million and you say that 70 per cent of this money should be spent on infrastructure. I had this problem when I was a commissioner. What if infrastructure is not my problem? What if improving the quality of education is my priority? I can easily say keep your #250 million, I keep my #250 million and use it for what is my priority. But they don’t tell us all these stories, they will only say that states don’t pay counterpart funds. All these things need to change.

More fundamentally is this, we need to start putting money where policy delivery is expected. In primary education, where is result most expected if not the school? But are we allocating any resources to the school? The answer is no. The school has to be the central that receives resources that you spend on primary education.

I sit in Ilorin as commissioner of education, I decide what happens to school in Kosubosu, what do I know that is happening in Kosubosu? I decide what happens to a primary school in a village in Ekiti or in Eruku, what do I know about that school in Eruku?

Imagine if every school gets to prepare its own budget. This classroom is broken, I need to fix it. This classroom needs one more mathematics teacher, I need to hire one. So, they get to prepare their budgets, which go to the local government education authority and it is these budgets that are collated by the local government education officer and sent to SUBEB. It is this same budget that is taken from SUBEB to the commissioner, from there to the ministry of education.

So, when the money comes, they know what it should be spent on. And every school has its own governing board. Tell me how these schools will not improve if each school board collectively gets to determine what to spend their money on? But this is not on ground now. It is the governor or the commissioner that sits in the state capital that determines how many classrooms to build in the state, or how many classrooms to renovate in the state. And you will see politicians like us will fight that ‘you have to give me one classroom in my village.’

At the end of the day, you will find out that it is not based on any logic, it is just patronage. The spending of the budget for basic education should be done at the school level and should be determined by the needs of individual school. Until we do an overhauling of the basic education system, we are not going to move forward.

Question: One of our problems as a country is that we don’t have reliable data, and youth development needs data. As commissioner, did you for certain know the number of primary schools and pupils you had in Kwara?

I had 157,000 children in Kwara and I am certain because I was the first commissioner to conduct a school census. We counted every single child. Before then, we were already told that we had half a million children, and every plan we were making were for half a million children. The teachers we were recruiting were for half a million children, the books we were buying were for half a million children.

Until we had the census, it occurred to us that we didn’t need so much money to buy books for these children or hire the number of teachers we hired, and we couldn’t sack those teachers. The injury we inflict on the system is a major hindrance to progress in this country. You mention number in terms of delivery efficiency but I am saying that this issue of number, getting the number accurately, is behind everything that has gone wrong. For example, we know that states sex up numbers, because it is one of the revenue mobilisation parameters. You are talking about the number of children in schools, do we have a reliable number of people in a state? What stops a state governor from counting the number of people in his state?

Question: There are still problems when it comes to quality of teaching in public primary school, how did you at that time try to address the quality of teachers?

Like I said earlier, we didn’t just decide to improve the quality of teaching. What we started with was to say this is our learning outcome benchmark. By the time a child is completing primary 1 in Kwara State, that child should be able to do this in literacy and that in literacy.

So, we now say, the teacher that is expected to deliver this, are we sure they will be able to deliver this kind of outcome that we desire? The only way to know is to test these teachers. That is why we developed Teachers’ Development Need Assessment (TDNA). What we wanted to do was to test the development level of the teachers. We asked all teachers to write primary 4 examination and must score 80 per cent and above.

Of course, we spent days meeting with teachers union before we reached an agreement that we wouldn’t sack teachers, whether pass or fail. They also agreed that any teacher that refused to take this exam would automatically lose his/her job.

I remember that I was in Washington D.C when the result of the assessment was sent to me and I logged on to my email to check. I was literarily paralysed because out of about 19,000 teachers that sat for the exam, I was expecting maybe 8,000 to 10,000 that would score up to 80 per cent. In the end, it was only about 75 – persons not percentage – that scored 80 per cent and above out of 19,000, including those with university degrees!

This same teachers that could not pass primary 4 examination, we developed a training institutes for them, and before we left office in 2011, parents had started withdrawing their children from private schools to public schools.

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What that taught me was that these teachers who failed this exam were not stupid, they were also victims of a system that failed. Many of them have NCE from our colleges of education. Rather than treating them as culprits, we treated them as victims that needed help, and they turned out so enthusiastic and committed to their jobs. We didn’t sack a single teacher.

It is a lot of work, it is not money. If we want to improve the quality of teaching, we need highly qualified teachers. Why private schools do better in quality than public schools is because they determine who to recruit and who not to recruit, how much to pay, the school assess you completely and so on. That is why private schools are getting results. If we want to get results, we need to mimic that model. We need to decentralise the governance of primary education into the smallest unit which is the school.

Question: On one or two occasions, when the political group you belong to left the room (power), you also left. What do you say of the price you have had to pay for loyalty to a political group? It happened under Jonathan and in APC.

I never set out to leave those positions. If I was not required or placed in a position that I would have no choice but leave, I would probably not have left those positions.

I think you may not agree that I am one of the best Ministers of Sport in this country but we achieved something and I was happy with what we were doing. More importantly, I was happy with the direction were heading.

President Jonathan was one of the most committed presidents to sports in Nigeria’s history. As minister of sport, I didn’t feel less important. He was interested and he sat in a summit of sport with me for 14 hours and participated actively. He gave me all the necessary support and that was all I needed. I did the same thing in Kwara as commissioner because I had a governor that supported me.

The truth is, I was not part of anything Dr Saraki was doing politically. Meeting with APC leaders, and the likes, I didn’t know anything. He is a politician and he is in every right to do so. Maybe I was naive but I was focused on doing my job as minister of sport.

On the other side, President Jonathan gave me the belief and was interested in all that I was doing. And things would have continued that way till the end of his administration, but it got to a point that when Dr Saraki left, some people felt because I was his nominee, I don’t deserve to continue in that position. They wanted their person in that post. So, they had to put me in a position where they wanted me to choose between President Jonathan and Dr Saraki.

When we went for a rally in Kwara while President Jonathan was in power, they actually wanted me to mount the podium and begin to attack Dr Saraki. If they didn’t put me in a position that seemed that they wanted me to fight someone who by all practical purposes was my benefactor; that is like telling me to go against all that I believe in. If Dr Saraki had asked me to mount a podium and begin to attack President Jonathan, I would have refused too.

When that happened, I had to say no and when I said no, of course, I should expect consequences – the consequence was getting sacked. I have no regret whatsoever. It was not because of Saraki that I left.

The APC own, because I wanted to be governor, I would probably have resigned from APC to contest for Kwara State governorship seat. The change of leadership in the APC hastened my decision to leave. It became so suffocating when the new chairman who came in assigned himself the sole responsibility of getting Dr Saraki out of APC, and Saraki was not my enemy.

So, there was an inherent contradiction, to the extent that he wanted me to be issuing statements, it was so bad that even when the spokesperson of the Senate, Sabi Abdullahi, issued a statement, they even went to the villa to tell them that I was the one. That was the depth of the prejudice. They were expecting me to be attacking people.

My personal commitment to myself at that point was to change the temperament of political communication in Nigeria that is not about thuggery. I called a meeting of all the publicity secretaries across the country and I told them not to fight people when they criticise us as a party. The day we told people to vote for us is the day we gave them the right to criticize us, and it is not everyone that criticizes or attacks you that means evil.

The last thing they did was the dissolution of the executive of the party in Kwara State and I was a member of that executive but they never consulted me. How could you dissolve the executive of a party in my state without telling me, a member of the NWC from that state? When you do that, you have insulted me. So, instead of continuing to pretend that nothing happened, I decided to leave.

Question: Your political group’s foot soldiers in Kwara classified you as a technocrat and not a politician, that you were aloof to politics at the local levels.

It is not about my followers classifying me as a technocrat, I classified myself as one and it was a wrong thing to do. Nobody in government or politics should define his or herself as a technocrat. The label of a technocrat is a label of exclusion.

I suffered for defining myself as a technocrat because when you say you are a technocrat, when decisions would be taken, you would not be in the room. They will exclude you. Using this holier than thou attitude will rob us of a lot of things.

One of the things that I have learnt as a reformer from Kennedy School of Politics, is to ensure you remain in office. And the only way you can remain in office is through political authorization. And if you are not in the centre of political authorisation, where will you derive your power from? These are some of the things that have dogged my experiences. This has been my advice to young people that come to me for advice. I have always told them not to allow themselves to be defined as a technocrat. You are a politician, if the room is smelling, stay there with them, when you go out you can fumigate yourself.

What was going on in your mind while resigning as APC spokesperson? Were you regretting being a disciple of Saraki at that point?

The interesting thing is that, you are pushing me to divulge too much, I will talk about this extensively in the memoir that I am writing.

I have been asking myself lots of brutal questions about what happened. When I was resigning from APC, I didn’t have a reason to think that I was doing anything wrong because I was in a very good position to contest for the governorship seat, so there was no basis for me to regret, even after this turned out the way it did.

Some of the things people ask me to do then were easier options for me to choose but I would be betraying my upbringing and I would have lost my legitimacy to educate my children accordingly. You will be a hypocrite to stand for a certain principle and expect no consequence.

Question: Talking about betrayal, did you feel betrayed following the outcome of the governorship primary in your party, PDP in Kwara?

Did I feel betrayed? Of course, initially I was bitter, especially what happened 24 hours before the exercise, things that were not consistent with what happened during the primary and it got me confused more than before. It makes me challenge assumptions that I have had over the years.

In terms of feeling or saying this person betrayed me, I didn’t feel that and I still don’t feel that. As a 50-year old man moving to sixty, I have received love almost all my life but hate is alien to me.

Question: You spoke glowingly about former President Goodluck Jonathan, but you wrote a book on how he won and lost Nigeria on a platter of gold, so many believe it was written to get back at him.

Whoever reaches that conclusion has not really read the book. I have written two books but writing remains difficult for me till date. It is never easy. So, I will now sit down and the purpose of that is to attack or get back at another person? It will be such a waste. There is even nothing to get back at President Jonathan for. I was the one that made a choice and I deserve the consequence. I was the one that said I will not deviate from my principle, so I should expect consequences. There is nothing to feel bitter about.

The book I wrote is very clear that President Jonathan is one of the most widely embraced presidents in this country. In 2010, going to 2011, go and check the election results. Go and check the build-up to him taking over as acting president, he was one of the most popular and well received president, especially among the younger population.

So, how did we move from such popularity, love and support to being probably the most hated president? That was the question I tried to answer in the book. It has nothing to do with getting back at him.

Question: If you are given an opportunity to manage the affairs of Kwara or get appointed as minister again, what are the things you didn’t do well then that you would love to do better next time?

Don’t forget that these two positions require different temperament. The temperament and mentality that is needed to function as governor is not the same thing as minister.

As a minister, you don’t have any power. The only person with power is the president. As a minister, you only have power as delegated by the president, and he can wake up tomorrow and sack you and reappoint you the day after, if he wants. As a minister you really don’t have any power of your own. In whatever you do, you have to ask yourself if you are doing it in line what the president’s desire. You need to ask if you are doing what the president promised Nigerians in this sector, how best you can help to deliver those promises. You still have to go back to the president for approval before you do anything.

As a governor, you are the chief executive, you have the power to distribute resources as you wish. That is why I said they are two different things. I have not been a governor so I can’t tell what I would have done differently. But as a minister, one of the challenges is negotiation. When you come from the position of a state governor to minister, it may be difficult. It is then that you realise that you can’t even fire a cleaner. But a senator finds it easier to function as minister. So, it is your ability to negotiate that matters.

Being a sport minister is even worse, your performance is judged by how others play their parts. You cannot jump or run, they have to be the ones to do that. And, don’t forget those forget that this people work with the orientation that they belong to the federation which belongs to another federation called Nigeria.

As a hot-headed person, one of the things I told myself when I became the minister was to take my ego and lock it in the drawer. It is the kind of bargaining I do every single day I resume office that determines whether I am able to achieve result or not. You cannot command anybody to jump higher than they used to jump or command someone to run faster than they used to run. If I go back, I think what I would love to improve on is my negotiation skill.

In your recent article, Who Speaks for the North?, you noted that the region is filled with poverty, violence etc. You seem the blame the political leadership of the region for everything, knowing well that other African countries with similar geographical elements are not doing better. Don’t you think natural elements like climate change are also compounding the development problems of the north?

If we want to be charitable we can begin to look for all other arguments, but I would be reluctant to say that. I would be reluctant to say that in the sense that people with more terrible geographical and climatic environment back then still do better.

Ahmadu Bello died in 1966 but how come he is still a reference point for development in the north? He was the one that said the north was not ready for independence and the moment he said that, he knew that was only a matter of time, then he built university, schools and all kind of things for the North to catch up with the rest of the country. In fact, he even projected that with time, the North would catch up with the rest of the world. He had a vision that was driving him.

Somebody had a vision of development for the North of Nigeria. So, how can we begin to use geography to excuse the kind of situation we have found ourselves after fifty years? Billions of naira have gone into those states, it was not the Sahara desert that ate up the money. Nobody is saying that every part of Nigeria ought to be like Dubai, maybe they should have been, but there are certain basic frameworks that should show that we are moving in a particular direction. You can’t see it.

The point I am making is that the kind of politics that we have played in the North of Nigeria is primarily responsible for the kind of situation we have found ourselves. Sometimes, it is difficult not to wonder whether the kind of people who found themselves in public offices in the North especially, are not people who believe that the reason they are there is not to serve themselves.

I saw a video this afternoon of over 100 children in a room singing nursery rhymes. It nearly brought tears to my eyes. Meanwhile, when we have money, we send our children to the best schools and we don’t even care if the majority of the children in the country have education at all. How do we feel comfortable being big men in the midst of so much endemic poverty? It is like we measure our wealth relative to the poverty around us. It is like we are not convince that we are big men until we see so many miserable people around us.

What I am saying in essence is that we embrace a different kind of politics in this country, most especially in the North. Until we are able to carry the North along, Nigeria may not make progress. It is obvious that blood that is keeping us together as one in this country, is oil money. Now that oil is gradually losing its value in the international market. What happened during the coronavirus pandemic is just a yellow card, now that we have recovered a bit. What this means is that, sometimes soon, it will happen and we will be forced to accept that regionalisation is the way to go in Nigeria. That was how we started, we should go back to it.

Whether we like it or not, sooner or later, it will happen, it may not be in our lifetime. I speak Yoruba but I am a northerner. My argument is this, as we approach 2023, we must see an opportunity for a new set of political elite. When I say political elite, I am not saying we should bring a new set of people we don’t know, what I am saying is that we should bring people that will play a different kind of politics. Even if you were part of the disaster of the past but you are ready to embrace a new kind of thinking and believe that politics should serve a different purpose other than helping yourself.

You advocated that progressives should come up and take over leadership of the north. That view motivated people like Aminu Kano, Balarabe Musa and co, but because of the density of the culture, they never got far.

When I say progressive-minded people, I am not saying those in the left wing or people who believe we have to have a new power base. What I am saying is that it is the elite that can solve this problem. They have been the problem and they should be the solution.

The culture you made mention of is not essentially Northern, it is everywhere. The people have become so cynical and distrustful of politicians that when you go to people to vote for you they ask you how much are you willing to pay? So, it is not essentially Northern in a sense. So, when politicians pay for votes, then it becomes difficult for these politicians who pay for votes not to accumulate the reward from what he has paid for.

When I wanted to contest for the governorship election, people asked, ‘how many people has he given jobs? How many infrastructures did he attract to the state as a minister?’ And some of my followers are coming to me on what to say and I simply said they should give me the opportunity to serve. If I start telling them that I have done this and that, it would look like I am asking them to reward me for what I have done. I am not asking them to reward me for whatever I have done for them in the past, I was simply asking them to give me an opportunity to serve them.

When they ask that kind of question, they were not asking for the reforms I brought to education in the state as a commissioner or the ones I brought to sport as a minister. They are talking about the people I gave jobs to. Meanwhile, I am not in a position to give jobs but I can help people that I can help. So if those people I have helped to get jobs did not come forward to say I helped them, is it right for me to come forward to say that publicly so that they can vote for me? I don’t think that is right and I will never do it. I will not show off that I helped a man as political achievements so that people will vote for me.

There is nothing so retrogressive about the Northern culture that the Northern elites do not have the capacity to dismantle. The almajiri culture can be solved if the Northern governors and elites unanimously decide to end it. If you continue to treat people like potential votes, you cannot help them to take charge of their lives. When we stop that, we (Northern elites) can then put people in positions where they can take charge of their own lives. When you empower them you have given them license to make decisions to better their life and even determine who they want to vote for.

Some of the questions we need to start asking ourselves is how do we begin to pull down that culture that has held people down? Poverty is not a measure of virtue and every human was born with certain talents to live a dignified life. We have to give people the liberty to take charge of their lives.


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