Aliyu Wamakko is the immediate past governor of Sokoto state. He was elected Senator to represent Sokoto North Senatorial District during the last general elections. In this exclusive interview with Newswatch’s Abdallah el-Kurebe, Regional Editor, he spoke on issues including his life, family, stewardship, G5 and the New PDP among others. Excepts:
Writers have tried to define Alu’s childhood life in their own ways. What was the true picture of Aliyu Wamakko’s childhood life, how did he manage life before he became self reliant?
To say the least, my childhood life was that of humbleness, fullness and simplicity, which I learned from my parents and later on from my elder brothers and friends as well. My life began on March 1st 1953 when I was born. At age five, I was enrolled into Arabic school and later primary school. After my secondary school, I took up teaching career where I rose from classroom teacher to headmaster, schools supervisor, area education officer, education officer and then moved to the USA for my first degree in 1977. I came back in 1980 and did my Youth Service and then continued with my work.
But during my childhood, I believed in hard work. I worked hard wherever I found myself. I believed in achieving results and I hated dependency. So, most of my friends then described me as one who related well with others by tying to respect opinions other than mine. I tried to respect views that deferred from mine. These have been my policy from my childhood life till today. Till today, whatever I find myself involved in, I do it to the best of my ability. I also try to accept the human factor – that I have limitations.
My life could be described as that of struggle. From classroom teacher to headmaster; to schools supervisor; to area education officer; to council chairman in the 1980s; to permanent secretary in the state civil service; to deputy governor for seven years and then governor for eight years. Throughout these years, I have tried as much as possible to respect any person or group of persons on any matter. I believe in mutual and reciprocal respect among people. I also believe in showing sympathy for the less privileged by assisting them to the best of my ability. I repeat, I believe in hard work and sincerity. I don’t believe in half-truths or half-trust. It is either truth or none; trust or no trust but not half way.
When you became governor, you kept your family from the purview of the government house, including first ladyship. What informed such decision, especially when that has become the norm in Nigeria’s political terrain?
First of all, the question of first lady is an act of illegality. In the constitution with which we operate and which brought us as governors, presidents and whatever, there is no provision for first lady. It is the military culture – an institution of one man, one wife. It was a military tradition that was brought to the political life of this country. But during the first and second republic in this country, nobody knew any about first lady. During Shagari from 1979 to 1983, there was nothing like that. It was after some military interventions that this happened. Even during Ironsi, there was nothing like that. Gowon’s Victoria did not play any such role. Buhari too did not give room to that. It was Babangida that made the first lady issue very prominent in governance in this country.
I don’t believe that having sworn to the Holy Qur’an to defend what is in the law and avoid anything that is against the law, I should allow the operation of anything first lady. And based on my religion, Islam does not encourage you to get your wife mess up with people at will like some people do. It does not prohibit women from going out but prescribes how she should relate with other men. I am not condemning anybody but as a matter of opinion, it doesn’t comply with the teachings of Islam. Three, as a matter of principle, if you allow your children to mess up in government, people will come through them without you knowing, to mess you up. They will go and see your wife or children to get you influenced to award contracts to them. These are things I tried to avoid. I am not saying that those who are doing it should stop. You asked me why I don’t do it and those are the reasons.
When you sit back to watch curiously as your children grow up, who among them have you seen to thread on your lifestyle?
Well, if you have been following the trend off my family pattern, I am one who believes in absolute discipline. I don’t allow my children to mess up in government. They must listen to me and take my instructions very strictly and seriously. As for threading on my foot-paths, I think all of them are doing well. Both are growing in their chosen careers. I have nine children and some of them have finished their first and second degrees; some read international relations, some Information Technology and some are reading law. They each have taken different ways and preparing themselves for the challenges of life. I am happy they don’t behave proudly as governor’s kids. We are working very hard to see that they are self reliant.
One weighty unofficial legacy you are leaving for your successor is that of ‘marketplace’ governance where your personal house is turned a tourist site. What informed that kind of leadership?
Thank you for coining my style of leadership as “marketplace governance.” Why I run an open government and make people feel belonging is that I believe in mutual and reciprocal respect. It is my conviction that when people feel loved and respected, they in turn love and respect you. Over the years, I have tried it and it has worked. I have realized that what people like most is to be recognized and respected. That is why I run an open door policy and allow people to freely go in and out of my house. Secondly, if you look at how I became governor in 2007, it was the people that showed me unprecedented love and support in the manner they never shown anybody in the political history of the state. Nobody!
I went for election as deputy governor two times I was elected as deputy governor; I went for election three times as governor and three times I was elected as governor; now I have been elected as senator. Anywhere I go to, even if it is for a condolence visit, people troop in to see or even touch their governor. Even when the security try to stop them, they make efforts to see Alu. Although the security see every action as a threat, I see public action towards me as friendly not hostile. I don’t believe in trampling on the rights of the people and that is why if I am traveling, I tell the convoy to maintain one lane. Those who want to be faster must not be delayed. I have demystified governance in two ways. During my tenure as governor, I made people to believe that it is the governor that is people’s servant and not the other way round. Two, during my time, people could come close to the governor, shake hands with me, talk with me and eat with me with molestation. These are two legacies I so much cherish. I believe in human dignity and mutual respect. So, all I am doing is try to reciprocate the kind of love the people of Sokoto state have for me.
Talking about your stewardship is like a TV series, which cannot be done within the purview of this interview. But let’s look at those projects, programmes and policies that, when you sit back in retrospect, you feel fulfilled?
The ones I cherish most is my modest efforts in the area of education, especially what we have done at primary, secondary and tertiary levels; the bursary and scholarship awards both within and abroad. When I came to office the state polytechnic had only two accredited HND courses but now they have more than 17. Shehu Shagari College of Education had not more than three degree courses that were accredited. Now we have about 15. When I came in 2007, 6,905 indigenes of Sokoto state sat for JAMB. That number rose to 15,500 in 2013 because of the efforts we made. As I am talking to you now, I have over 1,000 students overseas – in Europe, America and other parts of the world. I have been able to put in place, five additional tertiary institutions in the state.
In the medical sector, we had only one indigenous medical consultant when I came. I immediately sent 20 state owned doctors to go and qualify as consultants. I have been able to provide a primary health centre in the 244 wards across the state; one general hospital in each of the 23 local government areas; ambulance in each ward in the state. I have provided employment for everyone with medical-related qualification in the state. I have done similar thing in agriculture, youth empowerment, transport, commerce and other sectors.
Of controversy today, is the take-home pay of members of the National Assembly. Do you subscribe to slashing their salaries and allowances?
Well, slashing salaries of members of the National Assembly will not save much. What we should do is to try to fight excessive corruption in this country. We should try to ensure that every revenue that is due to government is remitted to government coffers. Merely slashing salaries of political office holders is like doing nothing to get effort money for provide services for the people. I don’t mind if that is done but the issue is we must fight corruption with full force. We must also diversify our economy. We must shift from mono-economy for better results.
The G7 suffered a setback by the withdrawal of two members (Jigawa and Niger states governors). At what point did you differ that resulted in their withdrawal. How much did G5 stive?
I don’t think they told us why they withdrew. They should be in the best position to say why. But let me start by telling you that we began as G3 – Governors Murtala Nyako, Sule Lamido and my humble self. It was after the election in 2011 that we moved to G5 then G7 and reverted to G5. We went to so many leaders beginning with former President Obasanjo. We told him sir, you brought President Jonathan to the political scene of this country. The way he is going will not augur well for this country. We believed it is very unusual for a president to loose primary election for a sitting governor. We asked him what our plans were for winning elections. He listened to us and felt we were right. He picked his phone and called President Goodluck and said, “Mr. President, can I see you with some of my friends?” We drove to the Villa and met Mr. President. We bared our minds to him, of course taking into account public expectations; the hostile media and many other things we felt stood against us. He listened to us but from the way it went, it seemed he wasn’t convinced and so we left him and came back to Obasanjo’s room in the hotel. Obasanjo cupped his two chic and said, “We are in trouble,” because when the President spoke that day, Obasanjo concluded that this man had a different understand of this country.
We also met people like Adamu Chiroma, T. Y. Danjuma to tell them there was need for their intervention. Nothing much changed. It was at this stage that our number grew to five and then seven. There was discontent among many Nigerians. Government was insensitive to public opinions and views. It felt if you feel differently, you could just leave.
The issue of Governors Forum election also propped up. Some people wrongly advised the government to get involved; the President should appoint our chairman. We felt that what was the business of the President with appointing chairman of Governors Forum? But Jonathan was so hard on it. I personally spoke with Tony Anenih, Sambo Dasuki to advise the President to get out of that. Whoever became chairman of the Forum would be a governor of a country of which he is President. We stood our grounds, went for an election and won. Some so-called elders thought they have a way of overcoming the leadership problem by forming the PDP Governors Forum as a way of crippling Nigerian Governors Forum’s relevance and chances.
One day we were summoned for a meeting in House 7. The meeting was so stage-managed, so funny. The President came in when Anenih, Bamanga, and so on were there. The President then said the PDP was a dominant party and “we are going to have a meeting with PDP Governors. We give you 10 minutes to go and decide and then come back.” They already made up their mind that they were going to appoint Akpabio the chairman. I have never attended the PDP governors Forum because I don’t believe in it. I believed should look more about Nigeria than selfish interest.
When the convention approached, the seven of us decided we should walk out, which we did and after which we formed the New PDP. Atiku came late and when he asked what was happening, he joined.