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You were very close to Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna state, right from when he was campaigning in 2015. Recently, your Kaduna Restoration Group has been tackling the governor over sundry issues. Why did you part ways?
I wish to make a clarification; we are not tackling El Rufai. Members of Kaduna Restoration Group are mostly members of APC but we have some members from other political parties and those who helped in putting the present government in power at the state and national levels.
Our main mission is to ensure good governance. So, we are not really tackling Malam Nasir El Rufai. But we feel that at this stage of our government, having gone half way in the four year term, there is the need to give him some quality advice. And that was why we have been coming together periodically and issuing out press statements. We have written several letters to him. We are more or less his pen friends.
How did you transform from being real friends to pen friends. Friends give advice behind closed doors but you have been giving it to him in the media. Why?
I was chairman of Kaduna APC caucus and a very active member of the party right from the CPC days; I joined CPC when I left PDP, having realized that PDP was going astray. Most people thought I joined the APC from PDP, including El Rufai himself.
The truth of the matter is that we all gave in our best to assemble a fighting force, to take power from the PDP at the state level and it wasn’t a joke. I sacrificed virtually everything in order to ensure that we dislodge the PDP in Kaduna state.
Don’t forget, there was a sitting governor in place, with the vice president in the person of Architect Namadi Sambo who is also from Kaduna state. So, it was a big challenge. In fact, my Liberty Radio was accused of being pro APC and I don’t have regret from campaigning for the party.
There is no law in Nigeria that forbids any newspaper house or radio station to cast its lot with a political party. That is why Liberty Radio and TV stood 100% by our dear President Muhmmadu Buhari and Nasir El Rufai. We took the stand at a great risk. In fact, if PDP had won that election, only God knows where people like me and several others would have been.
We thought that Nasir El Rufai, with his intellectual capacity, will take our state to greater heights.
What happened since El Rufai assumed office? Has your opinion about him changed?
Honestly, two years down the line, we have been trying to give him advice one-on-one. We have gone to him, written memos to him and so on.
As chairman of the state caucus, I had access to the governor. I tried so many times to call his attention on the task ahead after we won the election. I advised him to form an all-inclusive government that is not limited to APC members alone but to include members of other political parties.
I have been in politics for 30 years and I felt that he should be able to learn from the wealth of experience of some of us. I started politics in 1983, under the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). I was the Special Representative of River state governor, the late Chief Melford Okilo, in the northern states.
I had an office in Kaduna. After that, I became the state chairman of the National Republican Convention(NRC). Before then, I was a member of the National Executive Committee of NRC.
I won election from Kaduna North local government as a delegate. I went to convention. I was the first Nigerian to win an election in a national convention without any zoning. So, I have gone through the mills of politics. During the campaign, we sat with MalamNasiru El Rufai severally and he appreciated my experience. After assuming power, I tried to put him on track severally, but he wouldn’t listen.
Give some instances
I tried to make him see reason why we should convene a meeting of the state caucus and every time, he will tell me to go and speak to Jimi Lawal. I told him, for God’s sake, this is Kaduna state. We are talking about APC and you are telling me to go and see Jimi Lawal. I told him that was wrong.
In some cases, if I send him position papers on how to reposition the party, instead of sharing it with some of the critical members or act on it in confidence, I find out that he used to give them to Jimi Lawal. I tried severally to make sure that we work together as a team to reposition the party and at a stage I found out that I was just wasting my time. Let me give you an instance.
Before the appointment of commissioners, that was the first indication I had that we are going to have problems with Malam. Many stakeholders of the party in Kaduna North came to me as the caucus chairman to complain that they have been hearing rumours about appointments. I told them that I have also heard the rumour but Malam has not contacted me; he is the governor and he is free to choose whoever he wants to work with. They argued that he can have his preferred candidates as commissioners, but there was nothing wrong to have a meeting with him for us to even rubber stamp the list.
Against my will, I convened the meeting at Umar Gana’s Guest House. Uba Sani who is now El Rufai’s Political Adviser, was invited but he didn’t come. After the meeting, we decided to see the governor but we couldn’t. After some days, Uba Sani went to tell the governor that Alhaji Tijani and others are trying to create problems for him.
When I met Malam, I told him the reason for the meeting and what was discussed in front of Uba Sani. There and then, I advised the governor that Uba Sani will alienate him from people instead bringing goodwill to him.
Is it true that you fell out with the governor because he didn’t nominate you to be minister and when his cousin got the job, you became angry with him?
No, no, no that’s not correct. The governor is still alive, you can go and ask him. I never lobbied the governor for a ministerial position. But there is one thing that happened and it’s very important for the people of Kaduna to know. As chairman of the state caucus, I heard rumour that one Amina Mohammed was being considered for a ministerial nomination from Kaduna state. This took everyone aback, because with all the capable and senior members of APC in Kaduna, someone will just come from nowhere and be made minister. I then called His Excellency on phone, telling him what I had heard. I told him that in the interest of the party and Kaduna state, that was a wrong move and that I was conveying the misgivings of a lot of party members who asked me to advise him. He told me that Amina Mohammed was no longer coming as minister from Kaduna state but from Gombe state. I then thanked him. I went ahead to tell him that the issue of ministerial nomination in every state is very important to we politicians. I said that as governor of Kaduna state and the leader of the party, he should convene a stakeholders’ meeting quickly so that we can advise on the names that should be nominated to Mr President. He said okay but that meeting never held.
Then the rumour of his cousin’s nomination also came up and I called him. Incidentally, he was at Abuja airport and was about to travel to Kenya. When I told him what I heard, he said that he was not aware but when he comes back, he will meet Mr President. But when he was in Kenya, the announcement of his sister or cousin, Zainab’s appointment was made. We all felt disappointed because this was a lady that was having a very responsible job, representing Kaduna state as the Executive Secretary of NEITI. She was not even an APC member and we thought that nominating her was not proper.
When the governor came back, he said that he wasn’t consulted when the nomination was made but I never believed him. I have been in politics for a long time; there is no way that Mr President will make that nomination without consulting the Chief Executive of the state, who happens to be the governor. The entire stakeholders were not happy. The governor then asked Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi to convene a stakeholders’ meeting and let Hajiya Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed come and beg us. So, it is not correct to say that I lobbied for a ministerial position.
To be honest with you, I sent the governor an email, saying that if Amina Mohammed’s nomination should be dropped, I suggested Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi as replacement.
Why did you suggest Hunkuyi who had just been elected senator?
I did so because he will protect the interest of party members.
When we are talking about a party that is in government, a ministerial appointment should be given to a committed and serious party member. I looked at two areas before making the suggestion; one, Hunkuyi was the chairman of the El Rufai Campaign Council. He also has the experience and he contributed immensely to the structure that was used to win the election.
I also suggested Ishiaku Shekarau, who was the only APC candidate in the North West who didn’t win the senate seat. He is from Southern Senatorial zone. In line with party tradition, if you lose that kind of election you are automatically considered for a very high position. I was making these suggestions in the best interest of the party.
Did you at anytime lobby to become the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA), a position that Hadiza Bala Usman, El Rufai’s former Chief of Staff now occupies?
After the election, Malam Nasir El Rufai called me sometime in December 2015 and gave me a letter of appreciation for my personal contribution to his success at the polls and also the contribution of my organization, Liberty Radio and TV. He said that people like me should serve at the national level.
He promised that when the president settles down and asks for a list of people who will be given federal appointments, I will be considered. This is on record. I never asked for any appointment and there was never a time that I specifically asked to become MD of Nigerian Ports Authority. But he on his own told me that with my background in the port and maritime sector, he will tell Mr President that if there is any opening in that area, I should be considered. But I told him that at this age, I am not looking for a full time job in government.
I have served for eight years as the Chief Executive of a Maritime parastatal. So, I told him that whatever that will come to me on a part time basis, I have no problem with that. The governor then said that I will be considered for Board appointments in the Maritime sector.
Sometime in 2016, before Hadiza became MD of the Ports Authority, she called me in February or thereabouts when she was Chief of Staff to El Rufai. She called around 8.30 am and said that the governor has offered me appointment as chairman of Kaduna State Facilities Management Agency(KADFAMA), which was a new agency.
I told her to remind the governor that in December we had a discussion and I said I will like to serve at the national level. I told her to tell him that the KADFAMA appointment should be given to another party member. Or else, His Excellency should ask me to nominate someone who really helped in the campaign. That was what I told her. Hadiza promised to get across to the governor and she called me about an hour later. She said that the governor insisted that I should take the appointment and I said no. That was how the discussion ended.
But you eventually took the job. What happened?
Yes, I eventually took the job against my wish because when she said that the governor insisted that I should take the job, I smelt a rat. My instincts told me that there was a scheme that I couldn’t detect at that time. When I told her that I wont take the job, I left for Dubai a few days later for my treatment.
I was out of the country when the governor inaugurated the Board. On the day of inauguration, the governor stood in for me(General laughter). We I came back, I had to accept the offer; it will not be proper to decline the position at that point.
Then why did you leave the position?
I attended three board meetings. We are supposed to be in charge of all properties in Kaduna; buildings and even immovable assets. Sometimes in December last year, we had a Board meeting.
Before then, there was an advert in Daily Trust, calling for Tender for consultants to do the core job of the agency, which is the management of Kaduna state assets. The contract was approved by the governor even before I resumed as the DG explained to us. So, we endorsed that the process should continue. The matter never came to the Board.
The governor being an Executive Governor, who are you to challenge him?
People bided for the job but two days before the opening of the Tender, the DG called us and said that about seven companies paid about N7 million each and that he wanted the go ahead to call those that bided and to open the Tender. I said go ahead. After the DG briefed us, he came to my house the following day in the evening. He said that after the Board meeting, Jimi Lawal, the governor’s Special Adviser on Investment called him and directed him to abort the bid opening process. I asked why? He said Jimi Lawal said that he has chosen a Lagos-based company as the consultant for KADFAMA.
I pointed out to the DG that that was against the procurement laws of Kaduna state. How can we follow the directive of someone who we are not answerable to? Jimi Lawal is not even Commissioner of Works. KADFAM is a parastatal under Ministry of Works.
I told the DG that I will like to seek clarification from His Excellency. I wrote a letter to the governor on the issue, attaching his approval for the bidding process which was advertised. And I pointed out that two days to the opening of the bid, the Adviser on Investment directed the DG to abort the process and return bidders’ monies, which I think its not correct. I told him that I considered it to be against the Procurement Act but I said that I was seeking further directives from His Excellency.
The governor said that we should comply with Jimi Lawal; The governor had spoken so who am I to say that I will not comply.
I have spent eight years working in public service and today I can sleep with my two eyes closed. So, I thought that the governor’s decision was not in order. What else can I do. I told the DG that I can not go against the governor’s directive but rather, I will resign. There and then, I tendered my resignation.
There were allegations that you gave your son contract when you were chairman of KADFAMA. Why did you do that?
That allegation is also not correct; they said that they were going to investigate and up till date they haven’t done so. My son actually bided when it was advertised in the newspaper. When he bided for the job, I had not even resumed as chairman of KADFAMA.
The contract itself was not awarded by my Board but by Government House. And my son, don’t forget, is an adult and an indigene of Kaduna state and he was friends who are commissioners. When I realized that he got the job, I cautioned him to be careful and I told him that ‘’young man, you are on your own.’’ I never influenced his getting the contract. If I had a hand in it, they could have used it against me. The Board of KADFAMA never awarded a contract throughout my tenure.
In fact, another reason why I resigned was this issue of selling government properties. In one of our meetings, the DG Lands said that the Secretary to the State Government said that there is a list of government properties that will be sold, verbally. I asked him where is the memo? I have worked in government before, I asked him how he expected me to endorse such a verbal decision. I told him to put it in writing. There is a procedure. So, with the cries that I was hearing from civil servants over the planned sale, I decided that it was not a good decision.
With Jimi Lawal’s flouting of the procurement law and with this sale of properties that they want KADFAMA Board to rubber stamp, I decided that the best thing was to take my honourable exit.
You also seem to be complaining rather loudly, that Governor El Rufai has given political appointments to non indigenes. Are you saying that they are not competent?
I am a business man and I have been in business in the last 30 years.
I have businesses in Port Harcourt, Lagos and so on. I think the governor has to look at the way and manner he is bringing people to work in Kaduna state. And also, the way and manner contracts are given. Severally, I have told him that, ‘’Your Excellency, you cannot be giving out contracts without protecting the interest of the business community of Kaduna state.’’
There are so many companies that operate in Kaduna; we have a lot of Ibos, Yorubas, Kanuris and what have you, doing business in Kaduna. But the state government’s policy is to advertise for jobs and even companies who do not have offices in Kaduna come and collect contracts. That’s wrong.
I gave him an example that there is what we call local content policy in business. Anybody can come from anywhere to get a contract but he must involve the locals.
I have a maritime company in Port Harcourt. There is nobody who will come from outside the Niger Delta and set up a company, without giving a certain percentage of its share-holding, management positions and other cadres to the community. But in Kaduna state today, virtually over 90% of the contracts that are being churned out, go to people who don’t even have offices in Kaduna state. And that has been my complain.
The people circling the governor, the Jimi Lawals of this world, are the ones that are causing this problem. Its not that I am against them but I am against people that will come here and get contracts without giving back to the community. This is why I am fighting and I will continue fighting for the local empowerment of our business community in Kaduna state and for positions that are supposed to be given to the people of Kaduna state.
When I say people of Kaduna state, I mean residents. In Kaduna we have Ibos, Yorubas, Ijaws who are living and have lived here. I don’t want a situation where the government is bringing in people from Lagos and elsewhere.
Why is your Kaduna Restoration Group opposed to the decision of El Rufai to obtain the $350 million World Bank loan?
I want people to know that whatever we do as members of the Kaduna Restoration Group, we are doing it in the best interest of the state and our party.
That is why when we see all these anti people’s policies of government, they hurt me because Malam is being misguided. Honestly, those things that Malam wants to do with the loan are intangible items. And that’s our bone of contention with the loan.
How can he collect $350 million for the payment of consultancy fees? Capacity building, purchase of vehicles? Haba! And this is a government that is telling us that it is making N70 billion annually.
If today Malam wants to collect even $500 million to set up a power plant, to build roads, whoever opposes that is mad. But we oppose him because there are people that are experts in money laundering who want to steal this money. I’m telling you.