As Nigeria turns 60, Katsina state governor and former speaker of the House of Representatives , Aminu Masari speaks about the need for a strong legislature. He also urges former leaders to be careful in their criticism . JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH presents the excerpts
As a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, you brought focus and stability to the lower house, and ensured maturity, giving legislatures a renewed sense of national belonging. What is your advice for legislatures?
Well, I think, going forward; you are not starting with the members but you should start with the process. What we have seen during our time and in the subsequent times. We saw a situation where, especially at that time where people, especially governors, were insisting that people loyal to them or people they like go to the National Assembly. One good thing about National Assembly is that, you may go in with a narrow minded idea, when you face Nigeria you see the aggregate of opinion, then it changes you to a better person. We all went there as local politicians and majority of us came out as national politicians. We now understand the country more and better. But going there simply because of the aura of the office is not good for the Nation. You need people who have the intention or the mind of giving representation in the National Assembly. As a good legislator, the best you can do is to know how to subsume your constituency into a national interest. What happened, especially when the Late President Umaru Yaradua fell sick and the processes, I think, that was when the National Assembly really was shaken. But I do believe we live in a dynamic society that keeps changing so really I cannot say our time was better, because our time suited that time and this time fitted the current legislators so they had to. The times are different and the nation is moving in a speed that you cannot say what worked in 2003 to 2007 when we were there can still work today. Some of it may and some may not. So really, I think we need people who have the right qualification to be there. You know what I mean by qualification is not paper qualification. I mean qualification to represent and they provide good representation.
How would you describe the strength of democratic institutions in the country, particularly relations between the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary?
You see, the institutions that can be very strong are institutions that can withstand any shock. For example I want you to imagine, if you have a very strong and willful president, like in some countries of the world, in Nigeria with weak institutions, it is the strength of the institution that will control the president so it is not only about the National Assembly or the Executive or the Judiciary and or other institutions that make governance work. The Executive, I think, as far as the National Assembly is concerned, it had a bad time that helped it to become to be a good institution. Because we had former President Obasanjo, it was all what that happened between the National Assembly and Executive. President Obasanjo, then, coming back from the background of the military to become a civilian president, under a democracy system, it was also challenging to him. And the National Assembly being new had no previous experience. This was what we had; the drag me and drag you we had with President Obasanjo helped to build the institution of the National Assembly to be on its feet. Because most of the internal institutions of the National Assembly are working, you saw them how they worked, atleast the bureaucracy in the National Assembly worked and flushed out some civil servants who had retired but didn’t want to leave. They wanted to manipulate the system. You could see the strength of even the internal mechanism within the National Assembly that pushed the bureaucracy out in conformity with the law. So if you want the National Assembly to work, you want the Executive to work, you want the judiciary and other institutions that will force this institution to work, the law must be in place. But if we are talking about independence, well yes, National Assembly within a very short period has come of age because of the emergence of leadership, independent of any influence. Leadership that took decisions, that made the assembly look good. Everybody thought the Nigerian constitution could be changed overnight, it didn’t happen, and that happened because the National Assembly on its feet.
As Nigeria turns 60, what is Katsina’s contribution to the growth of the nation, especially in political leadership?
Thank you very much for this opportunity. Looking at the role and contribution of Katsina State in the development of the country politically, economically and socially, one has to go back into archives for you to really appreciate the role played by Katsina State. Because what I am going to say is what I witnessed. But things have happened even before me about the contributions of Katsina State and its people to the emergence of what we have as Nigeria and to the emergence of what we have today as Katsina State.
Sixty years ago, Katsina was a Province made up of Katsina Emirate and Daura Emirate. And going beyond that, or before that, if you look at the array of leaders that governed at regional level, represented Northern Nigeria at national level, you will find out that if not all of them, majority of them schooled here in Katsina State.
The late Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa was here to study in Katsina, late Premier of the North, Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was here, and the late first Minister of Defence, Muhammadu Ribadu was here; I can go on and on and mention all the key principal officials at the level of governance in Northern Nigeria and the level of representation of the North at the national level. Majority of them schooled here in Katsina.
During the first Republic, that was 1960, Katsina also produced the first Minister of Lagos Affairs in the person of late Musa Yar’adua. And by the time there was the 1966 coup, the first military Governor of Northern Nigeria was late Gen. Hassan Usman Katsina; a prince of Katsina. He was the first Governor of then Northern Nigeria. When twelve states were created, General Hassan Usman Katsina moved to headquarters as Deputy Chief of Army Staff. So you could see that at every turn of events somebody from Katsina or somebody who schooled in Katsina was within the leadership at both regional and state levels.
If you look at the judiciary, we produced among the longest serving Chief Justices of Nigeria in the person of Justice Mohammed Bello. Many legal luminaries, Late Galadima of Katsina, Justice Mamman Nasir, was a pioneer in the establishment of what we have today as the modern judiciary of Nigeria. He was a Supreme Court Judge and first President of the Courts of Appeals of Nigeria.
After the coup of 1975, we saw movement of Katsina State indigenes into the leadership. President Muhammadu Buhari, then a Colonel, was made Governor of old North-Eastern State made of six states after the coup that brought Gen. Yakubu Gowon to power. Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’adua was a member of the military ruling council then, who later after the assassination of General Murtala Ramat Mohammed later became the second in command in the government of General Olusegun Obasanjo. And M.D. Yusufu, another Katsina man, became the Inspector General of Police.
If you go to the financial institutions, I think we were among those who produced the first chartered accountants. I am talking about the old generations. Umaru Mutallab, who is still very much alive, was among the early generation.
In the Northern part of this country we had the first female doctor in the person of Hajiya Halima Adamu.
After the handing over in 1979, going to 1983 and beyond that period, apart from producing Minister of FCT, Minister of Aviation from Katsina, we also had the Deputy Senate President in the person of Senator Mamman Danmusa.
After the fall of the Government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a Katsina man succeeded him as Head of State in the person of the current President, then General Muhammadu Buhari. You see, within the same period we had people in the government. So, after General Buhari was overthrown in a coup, in the government of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, we had ministers at very high level.
And by the time of the democratic experience when General Babangida was trying to democratize, you know the role played by General Shehu Yar’adua. He was the first to break the jinx, if it was. He contested the primaries of his political party against the heavy weights in the South-West and defeated them even in the South-West.
In terms of political sagacity, which he demonstrated during that period, it was unparalleled, it opened doors. It changed the equation in terms of political alliance. Going through the experience of first Republic, even the experience under Alhaji Shagari was an alliance with the political leadership of the South-East that produced Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as President. In the Second Republic under Alhaji Shagari, there was this alliance that produced Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Senator John Wash Pam, Deputy Senate President. Because they were coming from the opposition party being led by South-eastern political leadership. But during General Babangida experience, General Shehu Musa Yar’adua changed the equation by aligning with politicians from South-West and defeating those from that region. That time, the biggest names we were hearing were Lateef Jakande and others. He floored them, Yar’adua won, even in Lagos.
Evidently, Katsina State has played a pivotal role in major decisions taken in Nigeria in the last 60 years, and enjoyed leadership in almost every sector. What factors can we really attribute to the prominence of Katsina in Nigeria’s history?
Actually, if you go through the history of Katsina, even the Islamic Education, Katsina was first among the then states, because there was no province, to embrace education through the Islamic Education. Katsina was a centre of learning and if you go round you will see evidences that predates over five hundred years of existence.
Then, character. People of Katsina have character and traits that give them places of leadership. And the people of Katsina are courageous. They have courage. I think if I tell you the story of “Kunan Bakin Wakei’’ you will understand better. You know before the coming of Islam, there used to be one of the kings, not an Emir. He was a king, an absolute ruler. One of his sons had the habit of not riding on horses but riding on human beings. Right here inside the city, if you go they will show you where the dying pits are; where it happened probably over a thousand years ago. So the man said whenever it comes to his turn for the son of the king to ride on his back, or on his neck that would be the end of it. And it happened. When it was his turn to carry the king’s son, he went to the dying pit and jumped into the dying pit with the king’s son and both of them died. That was the end of the story. That was the end of riding on human beings. Just to show you how courageous and principled Katsina people are.
And then in the area of education, we have two saints: Dan Masani and Dan Marana. The story we were told, whether it was true or not, but to show the level of education as at that time when they were arguing about sighting the moon. Katsina in terms of education, in terms of courage and in terms of character; probably that is why God has always blessed Katsina State people, especially when it comes to leadership either at national or regional level. No state has had the opportunity of producing Presidents four times in this country except Katsina.
President Muhammadu Buhari is serving the country for a second term of eight years, after an initial stint as Head of State in 1983-1985. Before him, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was also President, 2007-2010, and his elder brother, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, 1976-1979, was a military Vice President, Chief of General Staff. What lessons can emerging political leaders learn from Katsina leadership?
Well, you see, I think what is most important to learn is leadership is about service. To understand that once you are either identified or you offer yourself, it is about service to the people. Then you as a person; when I say you as a person it includes your family. You should be the last to partake. You should be the last to partake. And also, you know character is important. No amount of schooling can make up for flawed character. When awarding a degree they say: “character and learning’’. So without character whatever level of education you have means nothing. It’s simply like a mad man with a gun. That’s education without character. So the young men, when I say young men, it includes women, who are aspiring to leadership or who have been identified; for whatever reason, to come and provide leadership, should know that service to humanity, to the nation comes first.
Some people may say, maybe those who had opportunity to lead from Katsina didn’t do Katsina people well, that is a matter of opinion, they offered service. I didn’t say they were saints. But certainly when you go through the record and you make comparative analysis, you will say: “yes, these people served the nation and served their people very well’’.
Of course, in modern days now, if you happen to occupy those kinds of positions and you don’t own this and own that, people would look at you either as not serious, a bushman or you don’t know what you’re doing. Internal satisfaction is more important than any other thing. If you want to be a businessman, go and be a business man. It doesn’t matter, you can make wealth that can touch the sky but leadership is not a means of making money. You know we have a proverb in Hausa that you can’t be running and scratching you buttock, you either run or you stop and scratch your buttock. If you combine the two, then you are not running and you are not scratching; so somebody will run and pass you. One has to be compromised.
So, I think, for the young people coming up, there is hope for the country. Sixty years of the nation is not a very long period. Of course it matters a lot in the life of a man, so he can he can only compare what he was able to contribute within the period he was given opportunity to serve or opportunity to be alive. Because wherever we find ourselves, once alive we have contributions to make for the development of our country.
You became Speaker of the House of Representatives at a difficult time in the legislature. Former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was elected to office at an unusual time as well – against expectations in 2007. Seven years later, President Muhammadu Buhari was elected – changing the political dynamics. Is it a coincidence that leadership tends to locate Katsina?
Well, this is a question that I cannot answer. I don’t know how it happens. Maybe you could call it; I don’t know how to put it. I really don’t know how it happens. These things, I think, happen because God wanted them to happen that way. He knows the best and He knows why and there is never a mistake in his decision. But if you ask me what I have seen in the quality of the people of Katsina, I have said so. But I am not saying that quality is what makes God to decide, if He has chosen like you said; because these words come from you not me. It is something that is very difficult for me to say why it really happens that at very critical times or very difficult times, we always have somebody from Katsina at one position or the other. I don’t know how it happens or why it happens. Because all of us that find ourselves in positions at the time when we were either looking for the position or we were identified to hold the position some of the issues that come up, nobody could say that they had premonition that they would happen. It is only God that knows what will happen tomorrow or the day after. I don’t think that there is any foreknowledge by the Katsina people or by those who are making the choice; it just happens by the will of Allah.
How would you describe the level of political awareness in Katsina, and how does it reflect on participation in national politics?
I think first of all, if you look at the generality of the people, I think there is very high political awareness. Go to the basics; look at how many people registered to vote. It’s an indication. The political parties have memberships. Even if you look at the membership of the political parties, and the presence of most of the political parties here. And also, if you look at the voting pattern, if you compare the population of Katsina, the population of registered voters, those who registered to vote, you will find out that Katsina State has always been number one. That shows you that there is general political awareness. People register and they come out to vote. At a point, during the era of late General Shehu Musa Yar’adua, Katsina was almost like centre for all the national and international correspondents because of the political activities. Even now, Katsina is very much alive politically, very active populace and very inquisitive population, asking questions and making criticisms whether objectively or otherwise, it has always been with us.
It is like I said when you were asking me about qualities of the Katsina people, I said courage. Courage give you confidence, confidence makes you to ask questions. I think from what we have from our elders, from what we’ve read, the Katsina people have always been very sharp and active in asking questions especially about leadership.
Looking at leaders from Katsina, like the first Governor of the North, Gen. Hassan Usman Katsina, who was also Chief of Army Staff during the Civil War, and later Deputy Chief of General Staff, Supreme Headquarters, do you see Katsina maintaining its frontline leadership role in Nigeria?
I think it will, especially if more attention is given to education because what made Katsina to have that head way in the old Northern Nigeria and even beyond Northern Nigeria is education. Like I told you earlier, that even those who were not indigenes of the state, or province at that time had opportunity to go to school here. I think in the Northern Nigeria, the first post primary institution was established here in Katsina. So you could see that if we want to invent a way we can do so, especially through education. Because education gives you opportunity for character. Of course there are some people that despite their level of education that lack character. Probably, they missed it at home. But certainly, if we go back and invest more in education; certainly, the sky is the limit. We are not even talking about political leadership alone, we are looking at all sectors of life. People who have gone to the moon, you don’t have to be president to go to the moon. Being in office is simply one segment of the entire human development. Now, science and tech seems to have superseded everything now. Yes, you need leadership to drive it. To drive it, you need leaders; competent, hardworking and trustworthy leaders. So, I do believe it is doable, it was done before, it can be done now and it can be done tomorrow. It is not magic. It is not about magic. It’s not magic, it is simply hard work, loyalty and dedication.
What does it feel like being the governor of a state that has produced two Presidents rated highly on integrity, with one currently serving a second term in Nigeria’s 21-year old Fourth Republic?
Very challenging; very challenging. In Katsina, the people are mindful of their history, very much mindful of where they are coming from so the demand they place on leaders is very high and since we have leaders; those who passed away and those who are serving now, whom I have told you that you can traverse the whole of this place, and even in Abuja you cannot see an establishments that belong to a former leader. That has become an eye sore. It is the expectations of the people on leadership is to see how far are we able to follow the footsteps of our former leaders and current leaders. So for that, I am always mindful that the number one citizen of this country is from Katsina and so the number one citizen in Nigeria is the President. We happen to come from the same political party, which means politically he is the number one. So I want you to imagine the challenge, and if it’s someone like President Buhari, known as Mr Intergrity. The expectation on some of us is very high.
Despite being a state with majority Muslim population, Katsina has been rated high on religious and ethnic tolerance. What lessons can other parts of the nation draw from Katsina on peaceful co-habitation?
Well, when we came we know we have, like you said, over ninety per cents Muslims. They may belong to different denominations, but the few of us categorized in two; one, indigenous Christians, that are natives to Katsina and those who are either here on business or on work and chosen to make here their home. They have an umbrella, but we as a government decided to go beyond the umbrella to identify the indigenous Christians in Katsina State and their leadership because if you’re not indigenous to Katsina, you could lay claim to another place. When you go to Lagos you claim Lagos. Some people are indigenes of Katsina. They have nowhere else. So we must first recognize him, and give them a sense of belonging. I thank God I played key role in establishing the office in 1999, because the first person to occupy the Office of Special Adviser to the Governor on mainly Christian pilgrims came from my Federal Constituency, Malumfashi. But when we came we upgraded the office because Christian Affairs is not only about pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is an annual event. So we upgraded the office. We also brought another lady to give the women wing a sense of belonging. So in everything we do, they have their say and they have their share. So if we go under their umbrella we invite leaders of denominations and associations. The leader of the state Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is my very good friend.
In the village where I grew up, there were people, then, who didn’t have any religion. Most of them have become Christians now.
How is the security situation in Katsina State? And your efforts in improving the situation in the North West?
Well, today they we can say we thank God because a lot has been achieved and a lot of work needs to be done to sustain the level of peace and go forward. At least, what we used to have as massive attacks have now been reduced to isolated cases of one or two and these isolated cases are not coming from the forest areas. They are within the community. You know, when we had COVID-19, people who came from outside Nigeria were suspects, gradually we moved to communal transmissions. So the stage we are now in addressing issues of banditry have become communal problem. Because those young men who were hitherto army of bandits in the forest of Katsina; now the leaders have moved into the forests of Zamfara; that is the people who were calling and training them are no longer there.
They have been taught the evil act of banditry, evil act of kidnapping, evil of cattle rustling. Now you will be surprised somebody was telling me they went to a household and stole goats and chickens. Suddenly we have many people who know them. They started gradually and have become very dangerous. People were telling them the military are here, police are there. Some people also misinformed the security outfits. Security outfits, like all human endeavours, face their own challenges as well, just like local traditional leaders and religious leaders. So a lot of sensitization needs to be done for people to understand the dangers. Apart from what we are doing with the military, police, Civil Defence and Local Government Councils, our contributions to security outfits, we are now amending our laws to create security committees at ward levels in order to bring back district councils at district headquarters, principally their main objective is to look at security issues.
We have established Office of Special Security Adviser, who is here, and we have also established offices in zones and three senatorial districts. We are going to equip their offices and bring experienced retired security officers to advice. In 2015, it was cattle rustling, by 2018 and 2019 it has become banditry. As we move into 2019, it became kidnapping, rape. Now, we are dealing with two types of kidnapping; kidnapping for money and kidnapping for rape. So, we don’t know what will emerge tomorrow. We have to prepare ourselves. We are not averse to dialogue but what we are saying; this time around, dialogue has to start between neighbours. These nine Local Governments that are in the frontline, in addition to them, we have three Local Governments with forest entries. We have Dandume, Matazu, Musawa and Dutsuma. They don’t bother the forest directly but the forest areas also extend, linking routes that provides going in and out for the bandits. The issue of this security is so important to be left in the hands of either the police alone or the Civil Defence. We want citizen participation; we want the community participation as it was done before in the area of security. So that’s where we are. The state government will do this bearing in mind that the security itself is under Exclusive list in the 1999 constitution as amended. Whatever we are doing is to support and since our people are the victims we will have to take driver’s seat to assist the law enforcement agencies.
Where do you see Nigeria in the nearest future?
Well, I think it is unfortunate that most of the people who had opportunity to lead this country one way or the other have become prophets of doom instead of raising hope and offering constructive criticisms. They should offer way out instead of predicting collapse or end of the country. We need to be more responsible in what we say and how we approach issues. All these predictions have been done before. I see a bright future. When you say leadership, it’s not about being a governor, no, somebody who is not a governor in Katsina maybe more influential than me. Somebody who leads market women is a leader; somebody who leads motor trucks is a leader. It’s not all about looking at you, if you say this camera is not good, maybe I am not sitting in the right position for the camera to capture me. But we tend to look at only people at the top, yes, the person at the top maybe responsible for things like that but all of us can be liable.