Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri of Adamawa State, in this interview on Trust TV’s 30 Minutes programme, speaks on the reasons the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has not been seen to be playing aggressive opposition, the crisis in the party, his policy focus for the state, among other issues.
Before you became governor, you were the speaker of the state legislature. What’s your relationship with the legislature, especially this talk about autonomy; is it skin deep, are you serious about it, can maybe the state legislatures challenge you the way national legislatures challenge the president and still sleep in their houses?
I was one Speaker that fought for autonomy. We voted in the constitutional amendment for us to have autonomy; and it didn’t come until when I was governor.
I graciously accepted that when it came, and I implemented it from the day the president signed it. And I have been implementing that. The Assembly has been on its own.
So, you are not trying to influence who becomes speaker, as well as chairmen of committees because that is what usually happens?
I was elected to occupy one office and the Assembly is another arm of government that has 25 members from different constituencies. And this time around, they came from two political parties.
So, assuming I could influence those from my party, how would I have influenced those from the other party? On their own they unanimously elected one of them, who is steering the Assembly very well. They are passing very good laws. Irrespective of the fact that we are different arms of government, we are all working for the interest of the state.
So we are working in unison. There is good collaboration and we are working independently; everybody knows their limits.
Your party, the PDP, seems to be in disarray. You have been stuck in one place. You have an acting national chairman and members of the party at the national level working at cross purposes. You have Wike, who is still in the PDP, taking up appointment in the All Progressives Congress (APC) government. Recently, Makinde was talking very harshly about your presidential candidate. I know you are still with Atiku; when are you going to fix the PDP?
The PDP is waxing very well, as far as I am concerned.
You mean you don’t have crisis?
We don’t have crisis. The chairman is out because he had crisis with his ward who removed him as a member of the party, which also affected his position.
But our constitution is very robust enough to have created a fielding gap, which the deputy national chairman, North, has fielded; and he has been doing very well.
Are you going to leave him there forever?
If the need arises – the man is versatile, very good, and he understands party politics. He has been turning things around, he has kept the party together, he has been building unity, he’s rebuilding the party; and today, there’s no party like the PDP.
But you have Wike, a member of your party, actively working against you. He has taken up a position in the APC-led government and you cannot sack him; why is it so?
I think it did not start with Wike; it started since the coming of this democracy in 1999.
In the past, a lot of members of the All Peoples Party (APP), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) had taken appointment in the government that invited them to serve. At the moment we are not talking about election, we are talking about governance and national unity. I think that is what informed Wike’s decision to accept the position he is occupying today. The man has never said he has jettisoned the PDP. He is still a member of the party.
Is that not because he wants to control the state he left?
He doesn’t want to control anything. His community asked him to accept the appointment. He has the endorsement of his ward, local government and his state.
He is still working in the interest of the PDP. He has said it times without number that he is only serving in the government of national unity.
So there are no disciplinary issues in the PDP as far as Wike’s position is concerned?
There’s none because I don’t think he has done any harm. He still attends PDP meetings.
Something tells me that the PDP is in a very weakened position, such that it can’t assert itself, which is why it has to walk on eggshells where the likes of Wikes are concerned; what do you think?
If you are talking about playing a viral opposition, it is still early. This government needs to be given time. We are in a multiple crises in this country, so we should not be boxing or putting every government into a corner. That cannot work for the national interest.
We should also be having at the back of our minds that there’s time to play politics and time for governance.
Having been confirmed as the governor of Adamawa State, what should the people expect from you?
I don’t think I have missed any gap since I was sworn in last year. I have been focused. I know that I wasn’t distracted; it is just members of the opposition that were deceived by an act of criminality. I have been doing what is expected of me.
I came prepared with my programmes, which I have been availing to the good people of my state, ensuring that we bring the kind of development, both capital and human, that will take my people and the state to a greater height. I have never been distracted to think one day that I was not the governor of my state.
Do I assume that this your programme of mega schools in the education sector is probably one of your signature projects, but people are skeptical that this is just a big contract kind of project instead of improving the lots and quality of teachers. Shouldn’t you start with the standard and human elements before you get to the big contract of mega schools?
Really when we came we were confronted with a big challenge in 2019. The United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) had categorised Adamawa as one of the states that have over 500,000 out-of-school children. And that beats my imagination as a leader.
I quickly settled down and started putting programmes and policies that would ensure that we take this chunk of children out of the streets and bring them back to the classrooms.
We started by turning things around, ensuring that we recruited good teachers. We trained and retrained our teachers. We built and rehabilitated our classrooms. We equally supplied teaching materials to our schools, which were hitherto not there.
Another thing we added to it was to also bring things that would entice these young people and take the burden out of their parents by ensuring that we give them quality free feeding, as well as make education free for their parents.
These have really repositioned Adamawa in the last four years and taken majority of these school children out of the streets.
So, the mega schools are just part of a package there?
Yes. As I am talking to you we have less than 100,000 children who are out of school.
But I also realised that most of these schools have been established 20 to 40 years ago; and population is growing and the society is expanding, so they will not be enough to take these children completely into the existing classrooms.
So there is need for us to start expanding infrastructure and building more schools so that we can be having enough space for our young ones to be taken back to the classroom, having now renovated and rebuilt the old ones. In doing that, we are able to assess it through our partnership with UBEC at the national level.
Within the last four years I was able to assess about six tranches of the counterpart funding from UBEC; so that has allowed us to build and rehabilitate over 5,000 classrooms across the state in the 226 wards.
Does the plan stop at primary and secondary school education. or is there something at the tertiary level?
This is at the primary level, but we are all round. After we have done the wonderful job within the last four years, in the progressive manner of expanding our programmes, we thought we should be building more of these schools.
So I came up with this model of having these mega schools in the first instance, in all the headquarters of the 21 local government areas, having nursery, primary school and junior secondary schools.
Are you still going to hold hands for people up to the tertiary level, especially for specialised areas, and what have you?
Yes. I know that in our planning from the pre-nursery, nursery, primary and secondary school, now that the students are getting good results, the only thing we can also do to take these students to a higher level is to expand and ensure that we prepare the tertiary institutions.
Our state university is the only one that is ranked in the country. We have really put a lot of time and resources there.
Also, within my period of four years, we have built four brand new faculties. We have built hostels, we have virtually built an entire campus for the university; and now, we have started moving to our colleges of agriculture, colleges of education and the state polytechnic, to ensure that we really position the institutions to take and absolve our students.
That does not mean that our students are not competing very well in taking their quotas in other universities across the country.
What about agriculture? Largely, Adamawa and many Nigerian states are agrarian. What exactly are you doing new, different and productive in that sector?
What I did differently was to introduce an ADASPEE programme in the state; and that has helped not only in farming but in ensuring that our farmers harvest all the value chains that are there in agriculture.
From farming to harvest and processing, we have opened a lot of market for them. This has also opened a gateway for us. And that has helped in raising the internally generated revenue of the state, which is one of the key areas that any serious government should focus on, ensuring that for us to keep expanding these infrastructures and development and human development in the state, we have to expand on raising our revenue and not depend only on federal allocations or resources that only come from the federal government.
How significant is the rise of the IGR?
When I came, it was less than N300million, but today, we are collecting between N1billion and N1.5billion. We are progressing; and it will keep increasing as we keep expanding on our policies, but not by squeezing taxpayers.
Adamawa is not one of the rich states, so I wonder whether this taxation is not also squeezing life out of the people?
We are not one of the richest, but in terms of development, we are catching up with the developed states in the country. And I want to ensure that by end of eight years, if we are not one of the two best, we should be ranked among the five best states in the country, in terms of turnaround development.
We have also ensured that we made Adamawa a major cattle hub in the country.
There is so much talk about ranching and importing grass from Brazil and other places, but we are yet to see it in reality. What happened?
In Adamawa, we are not forcing it on our people because we have a vast expanse of land that could take grazing and the farming population.
You don’t have farmer-herder clashes?
What we are doing in the state is to formalise the market and incentivise the business. We are building the markets and ensuring that we empower the businessmen and women in the state.
So there’s no plan to develop formal ranching like the one owned by your predecessor?
We are getting there because like I said, there are phases. We are formalising the market and expanding it.
Before we came, we scientifically took a census. From the Mubi cattle market alone, yearly 29million cows move from Yola; I mean Adamawa to Lagos market alone. And on that, the Lagos State Government makes N29bn because on each herd of cow slaughtered in Lagos, you pay N10,000. So, if you multiply that by 29 million herds of cow, that leaves Mubi market alone to Lagos, not to other parts of the country and not from other markets within the state. You can see the enormous business that is leaving Adamawa to other parts of the state.
What we are trying to do here is to ensure that we create a good market within the state. We have started talking with businessmen that are coming to establish motorised abattoirs so that from there they will process the meat and take to markets within Nigeria and outside the country.
Are you drawing any lesson from what happened in the 1970s? I remember that the late former federal permanent secretary from Yola established the Adamawa meat factory, but it wasn’t alive when he died some years back. Why can’t we maintain those kinds of ventures for a long time?
I think a lot of lessons have been learned from that and that has also informed our decision of ensuring that we bring modern techniques into the whole thing.
I was trying to link up how we are formalising the market and now moving to the processing industry.
We will not force our farmers to go into ranching. For them to feed these abattoirs with good cows, they have to ranch and fatten their animals so that they can make more money.
So, seamlessly you have created a business and relationship among the government, business community and farmers without forcing anything on anybody because whatever they are doing is to everyone’s benefit. This is what we are able to do.
Insecurity is a big issue all over the country; and in Yola there are Shila boys who have been there for a long time. You have been battling with them but people are still concerned every time the sun sets. Have you factored that situation?
That was actually a concern when we came in. In the streets, randomly you could not move; women could not move with their bags, and you could not go to the market because the miscreants had taken over the city. But I think that with our efforts, in collaboration with security agencies, we were able to control that; if not completely, it doesn’t exist much in the streets again. But like any city in the world, you can’t say that criminality is zero. Today, I can rate the activities of the Shila boys, kidnapping and banditry at a minimal scale in the state because we have put a lot of efforts.
Is kidnapping not an issue now?
In the state, not really because in the last two months reports from security agencies and communities is less than 20, which to me, when compared to what was happening before now, the number has gone down drastically.
And we are still doing a lot; we are putting in a lot of efforts. We are not sleeping and we will not sleep until we ensure that the society is sleeping and there’s zero criminal rate in the state. That is doable.