No underage voters in Kano LG election — Ganduje

Recently, images of under aged voters allegedly casting votes in Kano state during the last local government election, went viral. The state Commissioner for Information, Alhaji Mohammed Garba has since denied the allegation. However, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has set up a committee on the matter. In this interview with news men, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje speaks on where the images were procured from, why President Muhammadu Buhari and him deserve a second term as BODE OLAGOKE reports.

You have spent three years in office now as governor of Kano state. What did you meet on ground and how are you surmounting the challenges of governance?

When we came in, we said that our administration is a projection from the previous administrations. That was why when we were campaigning, we said that our government will be a government of continuity, government of consolidation, a government of fine tuning and a government of new initiatives and ideas.

The issue of continuity in governance is something that is very important and it is one of the problems in developing countries, particularly in Nigeria, where there is always the urge to come up with new initiatives and leaving what has been inherited in the name of development, so that the person in power will have what he can call his own programme. I think that is a disease that has been haunting us for some time. So, we decided to take stock of all those abandoned projects by previous administrations because it is sometimes difficult to distinguished between what was left behind by one administration or the other.

For example, the Ibrahim Shekarau administration started two gigantic hospitals, but they were abandoned at 30 percent completion. It was abandoned for about ten years when we came in. We took the drawings, fine tuned and modified and completed them. After that, we started looking for the most recent hospital equipment. I am happy to inform you that the two hospitals have been completed 100 percent and right now, our staff are being trained on how to handle those sophisticated equipment and very soon, those hospitals will start operation. It is not going to be business as usual because we don’t want to run them the civil service way with a lot of bureaucracy. If we allow that, very soon, most of the equipment will break down and the huge amount of money spent on them would have gone down the drain and they will not be able to provide the needed services.

So, we decided to enact a law to enable us run them like private sector hospitals, but in conjunction with the state government because they are referral hospitals. Apart from providing health services to the people of Kano state, it is our intention to reduce medical tourism. It is also our intention to ensure that Kano will be a centre where people from other parts of the country will come for medical solution.

Apart from the Shekarau administration, did you inherit any abandoned project in the last administration that you served as deputy governor?

We inherited a hydro electricity project which the previous administration started. There are two hydro power projects. One in Tiga and the other in Challawa dam. I believe that by July, the Tiga hydro power project will be completed. We have also awarded contract to evacuate the electricity to our mega city, while work is continuing in the Challawa project. Also, there is the longest flyover bridge in the north which is about two kilometers long, which was also abandoned at about 30 percent completed. We continued with that project and I believe that before the end of the year, that project will be completed. It is costing us about N14 billion to execute that project. These are some of the mega projects we are executing even though there are others.

When we come to the aspect of human development, many students were sent abroad to study for various degrees and post graduate degree programmes and we found it necessary to continue to pay the tuition fees. While some states were bringing back their students because of the depreciation of naira, we decided to continue even though they are over 3000 of them. Of course there is the issue of fine tuning some of the projects which, sometimes, we need to adjust because of the economic situation and because of the time lag.

What new projects did your administration initiate when you came to office?

We also started what we regard as peoples’ programmes even though what we inherited were also people oriented programmes. First of all, we identified the fact that transport system is very important in a mega city because when you have so many hold ups, they affect then economic activities of the city. So, we awarded a contract for the review of the master plan of metropolitan Kano because of the new development of so many shanty towns and other infrastructural development. In view of this, we needed to reconcile a lot of things in order to have a smooth development of the city.

One issue that we have taken seriously is that of road infrastructure. We found out that there are always traffic jam in some places and bad roads in some places. Even though previous administrations tried their best, there is always room for improvement. So, we identified some junctions and introduced new concepts. Apart from the concept of flyover, we introduce the concept of under pass. Instead of going up, you will have to go underground. The design has been done in such a way that there no need for traffic lights and no need for people to wait for each other.

No matter the number of vehicles that are coming, there is no need to wait for the other person to pass first. They will all pass at the same time. I think this is a new concept we saw in Dubai and brought it to Kano and I am happy to inform you that the project has been completed and was commissioned by the president when he visited Kano. We are introducing it to other parts of the state.

Governors have been complaining about dwindling revenue from federation account and the daunting challenges of development that they are facing. How have you been able to complete the abandoned projects that you mentioned and initiate new ones?

In view of the economic situation we found ourselves, we found it necessary to improve our Internally Generated Revenue. That was not possible until we made the organization independent. When we came in, we told all the staff from the office of the Head of Service to return to their office so that we operate our revenue generating agency in the most acceptable standard.

So, we advertised and recruited the best hands to run the agency and currently, our revenue is increasing because we are able to put in qualified people. But up till now, less than 15 percent of those who are supposed to be paying taxes in Kano are doing so. So, we have not gone far. It is a gradual process especially under this democracy. Sometimes, you have to reduce your speed. But what is important is that is that there is hope. What we inherited was between N500 million to N700 million per month.

Now, we are generating up to N3 billion monthly. It is big leap and we will continue the sensitization because we have to do a lot of public enlightenment. People don’t want to pay tax, especially in developing countries where people think that their money is being mismanaged. What we do now is to tag the projects we are executing as tax payers money and people are happy to see that and the attitude is changing.

Obviously, these projects that you initiated can’t be completed in four years. Are you thinking of a second term? When will President Buhari declare his intention to run for a second term, given several calls from individuals and groups for him to do so?

I am happy that it is not Mr. President that is saying he wants to continue. It is people that are saying he should continue. But Mr. President has not made up his mind yet(the interview was conducted before Buhari’s declaration for second term last Monday). But when he came to Kano, I told him that anytime he decides not to contest, we will take him to court. Kano state government will take him to court anytime he decides not to contest. So, we are waiting for him. In this country, we saw some Presidents who spent billions on third term. So, what is the issue of second term when people spent billions to go for third term?

So, that should not be an issue. In Kano, people are saying 4+4, urging me to contest again and I feel that in order to continue with the good development that we started, and the fact that development takes some time, which explains why the constitution provides for second term to allow you consolidate what you started, I am convinced that I should go for a second term. Eventually, it will be up to the people to decide whether I am qualified or not.

Recently, images of under aged voters allegedly casting votes in Kano state during the local government election, went viral. Why did the State Independent Electoral Commission allow what is obviously a breach of the law?

For the sake of clarity, that local government election in Kano was the most successful local government election ever held in Kano state. Not because we won all the seats. After all, previous administrations also won all the seats. When you have a local government election where nobody was killed, nobody was hurt, no building was burnt and had a large turnout of voters, we are bound to say that it was a successful election. I have been around in Kano for a long time and can say in some cases local government election was not held at all because of insecurity and some local government secretariats were burnt. I am still reconstructing some of such secretariats burnt during previous administrations. In our own, nobody was hurt, nobody was arrested and nothing happened. We had a smooth local government election because of the level of public enlightenment we carried out.

Regarding the clip you are talking about, let me say that it was totally hypothetical. How can you see a queue of all children with no single adult? That was hypothetical because it was arranged in an artificial election arena that was created. We did not use any card reader for the election and the child was holding a card reader. So, you can see that it was a photo trick. There was no underage voting in Kano. Yes, INEC set up a committee and they came to Kano. The chairman of our electoral commission showed them our records and proved to them that the clip was taken some years back.

We used our ICT experts to find out the first time that clip went into the internet. We discovered that the clip first went into the internet in 2015 because you can always verify that. So, I want to assure you that there was no under voting in Kano. It was a kind of blackmail and anybody who is in doubt about the credibility of the election should go to court.

What is the principle behind Kano Economic City and who is funding it?

That project was initiated some 12 years ago by the Shekarau administration. But because it was not properly handled, it broke down. There was litigations and counter litigations. During the previous administration, we were not able to solve the problem. When I came in, I decided that I must solve the problem. So I engaged those development partners and had to prove to them that they cannot undertake that project and so, we negotiated and revoked that agreement peaceful and advertised for new investors.

We got Brains and Hammers, they came in and we provided them with land and certificate of occupancy, we paid the remaining compensation that was not paid. They are investing about N65 billion on the Kano Economic City and I can assure you that work is going on right now. We have provided the land in the eastern part of Kano metropolis and they have the construction. We are having an economic agreement with Lagos, to see how investors from Lagos can come and how foreign investors can also come in. But what is important is that work is already on.

What is the present security situation in Kano state, there was a time when bombs were exploding almost on a regular basis?

Yes, when we came in, it was the hey days of Boko Haram and so, we had to work round the clock with security agents. I think what is important is the coordination among the security agencies. That helped a lot in improving the security situation. There was a good coordination among the security agencies and a good coordination with the communities and that brought out a lot of information from the communities. I am sure you heard that a lot of Boko Haram commanders were arrested in Kano because Kano was a good hiding place for them, its a mega city where you can easily blend among others. With modern security gadgets, the security agents are able to fish them out. We are working hand in hand with the communities.

Also, we have addressed the problem of cattle rustling and we discovered that the Fulanis themselves were part of the problem because they were also snatching cattle from their brothers. We sat down with them and I was able to provide them with some empowerment. Since we entered into that agreement, we have not had any issue of cattle rustling in Kano.

We appointed a committee that worked round the clock to ensure that all the cattle that were stolen are returned. We have the Falgore forest which is as big as the Sambissa forest. I told the President that I wanted the military to use the place for training and he agreed and I also met with the Chief of Army staff and he agreed and right now, the military are using the place for training. The state government will contribute to the development of some facilities in the forest to make it a permanent training ground.

How have you been prosecuting the war against corruption, having plugged all loopholes and improved revenue generation?
Yes, corruption is fighting back. It is one of the cardinal principles of our party. Mr. President made it very clear during his campaign to improve the security situation in the country, improve the economy and fight corruption. We have taken a cue from what Mr. President said during his campaign and since we came in, the security situation in Kano has improved, the economy is improving. We have taken the issue of corruption seriously and established an anti corruption commission.

We employed someone we call ‘’junior Magu’’, who is fearless. He is an activist who does not fear anybody and because of his activities, I lost a commissioner, some permanent secretaries had to leave and even my Accountant General had to leave and is facing some charges. I gave that commission a free hand. We are constructing anti corruption offices in all the 44 local government areas and we have sent five of our officers to the EFCC for training. We are sending some others to ICPC for training.

Our law is on ground and the commission is independent and it is very effective. It goes into the civil service and even into the private sector and nobody is being spared. So, I am happy to say that Kano has been rated as having the best anti corruption outfit.

We have people who hide under the guise of politics to be attacking the government because we want them to return what they have taken from the government. Of course, everyone knows how it is at the national level and that corruption is fighting back. But we have to be persistent in the fight. What is important is to refine the system so that those who want to loot government fund will find it difficult to do that. The issue is that our institutions are very weak. We must have very strong institutions so that a junior officer can tell you, ‘’Sir, this is not in accordance with the rules and regulations’’ and you abide by it. So, unless our institutions are strong, the anti corruption fight will be difficult.

What do you think is the solution to one of the present security challenges of this era, that is the incessant attacks by the so called herdsmen?

This is a national security problem. In Kano, we are blessed with some dams and grazing areas. You must know that the middle belt is more blessed with grazing areas and that is why the problem is concentrated in the middle belt because the climate is different. The climate is more friendly there than in the extreme north. We have started providing some facilities and have identified five grazing areas and we are discouraging our herdsmen from going outside the state. We want to use the Falgore forest, especially now that the security situation has improved.

We have designed how to construct some dams. We had to start with feasibility study and that is what we are doing. There are some rivers and dams in the forest which we have to harness to provide some facilities for herdsmen. That is why we are inviting them to come.

When we launched our free vaccination, we vaccinated over one million cattle . We also sponsored the children of herdsmen to go and be trained in artificial insemination. The first qualification for that training was that you have to be the child of a herdsman because we didn’t want a situation where we train you and you abandon the trade. We sent 70 of them to Turkey for training and right now, they are practicing artificial insemination. We constructed two modern artificial insemination centres where modern animal husbandry is being practised. It is a programme we have taken seriously and it is a programme that will be a blessing to Kano state if the herdsmen can come to Kano and we are able to provide them with some facilities that will sustain them. We know that our environment is not the best for herdsmen.

But since the Isrealis can convert the desert to one of the best irrigation in the world, we can do the same in Kano. It is not that we have the best environment for herdsmen.

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