As governorship election gathers momentum in Kogi State , one of the major contenders in the race on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Suleiman Baba Ali believes he is the best man for the job.
Ali had an encounter with journalists recently after his declaration for the race at the party secretariat in Lokoja and spoke on the challenges facing the state, power agitation from minority ethnic tribes.
He denied the rumour that his aspiration is aimed at working for former governor of the state, Prince Abubakar Audu who he served as Commissioner of Health during the later part of his tenure as governor of the state.
With the chaotic situation facing the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kogi State do you think your party will make any impact in the coming election?
I will not agree with what you have just said. We have challenges, yes, we have issues, but they are not insurmountable. These challenges you are talking about were there with us when we won 63 percent of the total votes cast for the presidential election. Those challenges were there when we won the three senatorial seats in Kogi State; those issues and challenges were with us when we won six out of the nine seats for the House of Representatives. And why we lost the House of Assembly seats so to say, (mind you we have eleven seats while the PDP have fourteen seats), it has to do with some candidates in those areas, to a large extent. But even if that was a gubernatorial election, we still would have won, because when you put together the total votes we had from these eleven seats, is more than the total votes the PDP got from their fourteen House of Assembly seats, we still would have won, if it was a gubernatorial election. And the issues we have in Kogi has to do with leadership and if you ask me of my opinion about some of these issues, is what I can describe as leadership struggle, between the new group in the party and the older group of the party, led by Prince Abubakar Audu and I don’t even believe that there should be argument over who is supposed to be the leader of the party in Kog State, because the constitution of the party is clear about that, Prince Abubakar Audu, as the former governor remain the leader of the party in Kogi State and we accept and respect him as the leader of APC in Kogi State.
What led to the problem and the issues, is the fact that there are those who believes that Prince Abubakar Audu is bigger than being a governor and that he should allow the young breeds to come in and take that position, while he stays back and become a king maker. It is those who hold on to that opinion, who feel strongly disturbed by the fact that as the leader of the party he is also throwing himself into the race to be governor, while there are other aspirants who are also seeking to be governor, so that is going to throw up a number of issues, because as leader of the party, he is supposed to be an umpire among all the aspirants, but when he now become an aspirant too and being the leader at the same time then there’s a problem. That is the only issue that I see there, other than that, I don’t see any chaos. Audu remain the leader of the party, nobody argues about that.
It is assumed in the state that the victory of the party was borne out of President Muhammadu Buhari’s election.
I disagree with you. Like at the national level, the PDP did the campaign for us in the state through their non-performance. People will ordinarily not leave the government that is performing even when you have a virile and strong opposition. In Kogi State, apart from the fact that the APC had a compacted program, based on the APC manifesto at the national level, the state government of Idris Wada and also the national government of Goodluck Jonathan as far as I am concerned, helped and campaigned for the APC, by their non performance.
The APC in Kogi State worked hard, the reason is that this is not the first time, because we’ve had the PDP government in Kogi State in the last twelve years, which did not work, Ibrahim Idris did not perform in those two terms, yet he won, then he brought in Wada, PDP government didn’t work and people were complaining and are seriously tired, yet the PDP still won, why because at those times, the oppositions were not together. And so it was difficult to get them to work.
What is your view about agitation for power shift in the state?
First of all, power shift in Kogi State or rotation whatever it is called have been associated with aggressions and as if we have distrust or there is fight, though I am very reluctant to use the word power shift, but remove any doubt at all, I believe that every child in Kogi State irrespective of his tribe, religion, location, has a right to aspire for the highest position in the state, so by extension anybody from either the west, east or central Senatorial districts, should have the right to be able to aspire for the highest office within the land as long as you have the capacity to add value the state. When Buhari was going to run for presidency and we needed to link with the South West, Buhari didn’t go to South West and say “hay” I am from the North and power is supposed to be in the North now that is why you must support me as South Westerners, he went there talk about integrity issue, the security problem, economy, the massive unemployment and other bordering issues. He sold himself based on that, even though we all knew that there is the need for power to come back to the North, because Obasanjo had done eight years, Umaru Yar’Adua did only two years and Jonathan came and did six years, so it should rightfully come back to the North, but that was not the basis of Buhari’s campaign, so like I had said, I believe that every Kogites has a right to aspire for the highest office in the land, but you must also have something to offer, have the capacity to add value.
What efforts are you making to pacify your former boss and uncle, Prince Abubakar Audu from running the governorship race against you?
I think to a large extent, it is the responsibility of the elders of the party, like I said, I worked in an administration led by Prince Abubakar Audu, as a commissioner 1999 to 2003, Prince Audu still remain the best governor among all other governors in the state, we must give that to him and I always said, and I am proud to be associated with his government, but basically, like we said, I think others should be given opportunity to govern especially those who have learnt from him, particularly myself, it is an opportunity for us to do well. He is expected to play the father role and stay back, watch what we do, give advice and make Kogi better and fight for Kogi State at the national level to get bigger and better.
People are saying you are actually working for Audu in view of your relationship with him, are you truly a stooge to the former governor?
Do I look like one to you? Apart from my pedigree as an entrepreneur, I have what it takes to lead. I am coming with new ideas because we are in a digital age. I am not running against Atawodi, Obadofin or Audu. The state need new ideas, innovations and new set of leaders that can transform it and I have the answers. So to answer your question I am neither a stooge nor doing Audu’s bidding. I am sincerely in the race to win and work for the betterment of the people of the state.
There are insinuations through campaign billboards where people are crying saying “Audu where are you” are you also crying for him to come back as governor?
I really don’t know about that. Why did you choose to challenge your Uncle Audu? I am not challenging him, I had an interaction with him, before I came out to declare, I went to see him and I told him that I was going to run for governorship and at that point he had not made up his mind to run, he was still considering the possibility of running.
What did you discuss?
That is a private discussion between him and I when I went to meet him, so I will leave that, I believe when I went to tell him that I was going to run, if he chooses to come to the fray to run against me after I have seen him and told him that I was going to run at the point that he had not made up his mind, that is still okay, so that question of why he is still running, should be best answered by him and again I am not running against him, I am running for governor of Kogi State, let’s be clear about that, again, I am not running against Prince Audu, I running for governor of Kogi.
There are also speculations that you are fronting for your Uncle! Audu.
I am fifty three, my mates have been governors for eight years and have been Senators for another four or eight years and forgotten and I will come today and say I am fronting for somebody, and if you check by background, I was commissioner in 1999, that was long time ago, I was executive director in a publicly quoted company in Nigeria Stock Exchange as far back as 1989, then in 2015, I am fronting for somebody, I feel insulted why people think such about me. I am running for governorship and by the grace of Allah, we will get the ticket I will bring about change that work for every Kogites, the civil service, change that work for the Ebira man, the Okun man or the Igala man, change that work for the farmer, not just about change, but change that will bring about fairness and equity, this is not about getting the governorship seat so that you can have vengeance against an Igala man, because Igalaman have been holding power for twelve years or you are going in there as a western senatorial district man to grab all the power and give it only to your people, my agenda is bringing about change that will be fair to all, because we all own Kogi State. So the issue of fronting for somebody is ridiculous and insulting, like I have told you before, Audu is my boss and my leader and he is also my uncle by blood. I am not going to be the first person in the history of Nigeria to run against family, very recent history, the current governor of Sokoto, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal ran against his father in-law, his father in-law was PDP candidate, while Tambuwal was APC candidate in Sokoto State and there was no one who said Tambuwal was fronting for his father in-law, Wali and if you go back into same Nigeria history, in the First Republic, we also had similar issue, so this is not new, I am running a campaign based on a vision that I have for the state and what value and legacy I will bring to bear on the development of our people.
Given your upbringing, who would you say has had the most influence on your life (perhaps as a mentor)?
My dad and my mum are extraordinary people. My mum is an entrepreneur and I believe I took that entrepreneurship spirit from her. She was very vibrant as a contractor, a tailor, and catering at some point. My dad is a core disciplinarian and highly religious and contented civil servant. My grandfather too worked with the Nigerian Marine and left the service as a Captain. Now talking about mentors, they are first, but outside them as family, I have two very important people I look up to. They are Sir. Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and they represent two different things for me. Ahmadu Bello represents for me service. I grew up in Lokoja and in the then Northern Nigeria, I grew up to meet Water Works, that is, public water working and running in Lokoja for the use of the people. I grew up in Lokoja with good tarred roads, with good power supply. I grew up to meet public schools then function optimally, built then by the Sir. Ahmadu Bello. I see passion in all he did, because he represents everything that our current Northern leadership lost. If they simply had carried on the prints of Sardauna, we won’t have the challenges we face today. For me, that is somebody that any day, I stand for what he represents once did for the good of mankind. The cohesion also, before, we used to have a monolithic North, because the Sardauna saw every Northerner, be it Christian or Muslim as one. He saw everybody, Kabba, Ilorin, Lantang, Igala, Tiv and so on as one North. To him, whether you are from Sokoto, Maiduguri, Kano, Zaria or Kabba, you are from the North and he treated everybody with equal measures. He was fair to everybody. We have lost all of these and I feel sad about it. It shouldn’t be so and we can change it. That is about the Sardauna. I see him as one of my mentor. The second person as I mentioned is Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Tinubu represents also something different that is also not too common in the Nigerian politics, especially for some of us in the North Central. Tinubu represents the face of those who groom people. He is like Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore. He left office in the Singapore and became Minister Mentor until his death. He became Minister Mentor even after he left office because the programme they have set continued to run. He brought Singapore from Third World to First World in less than thirty years. He took the best brains around and moved them to civil service. He started a deliberate mentorship programme with succession plan. Tinubu to me is one person that has been able to groom people. You must give that to him. People will want to pull him down and say different types of things about him, but he is who he is. In 2003 when we lost election in Kogi, he became the last man standing, because the then President Obasanjo had taken all the South West. By 2007, he came back, if he was a selfish man, that would have been the end of AD or ACN that it latter metamorphosed to. From Lagos he started building; he went into Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Edo and then later Ekiti until recently. It takes a lot of selflessness to do that. It takes a lot of willingness to give other people a chance to excel. Tinubu is one who is not afraid to bring up a prodigy who will be better than him. Most leaders are afraid of doing such, he brought up Fashola, he performed and we all saw it and now Ambode is on board. You can also see Aregbesola in Osun. His types are few in Nigerian politics. People want to go there and hold onto power for as long as they wish. The reason we are celebrating democracy today and the reason we are celebrating a situation whereby a sitting government have had to give in to an opposition in Nigeria at the Federal level, I give 60 percent of that credit to Tinubu. He had foresight, vision and self discipline. He understood what sacrifice was all about to get that partnership to work. He even sacrificed his vice presidential ambition, when he saw that it will not help the matter and the ticket, he stepped back and brought somebody who was a Commissioner under him to be Vice President. He also has a very uncanny gift of identifying talents. He is a man who understands partnership and that is why we have APC today. Without that central role of Tinubu, this merger wouldn’t have worked. Yes, I agree, there are people who also contributed to make this possible like Amaechi, Kwankwaso and so on who put in their best and even President Buhari, but still I give it to Ahmed Tinubu. Take that away from him and you are being unfair.
What is your view of the concept of free education in Nigeria and youth unemployment in Kogi State?
I went to public schools all my life. I began my education at Holy Trinity Transferred School, Lokoja, from where I proceeded to Government Secondary School, Koton Karﬁ for my secondary education, Zungeru College of Advanced Studies (ZUCAS), Bida, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and University of Lagos. They are all public schools. I can sit down and tell you they represented excellence at that time. To answer your question, Education can be free at the Primary level absolutely. At that level, there is no reason why any child should pay to attend primary school. I am coming up with a programme which is part of APC Manifesto, “Feed a Child a meal a Day”. It has a lot of effect, social and economic effect. I also intend to begin a boarding system. I went to a boarding school and today those structures have been dismantled, the reason I just don’t know. We have great schools in Kogi. The GSS Dekina, AAMCO, OSS, TITCOM College, Egbe and so on. Different key schools that when you mention their names then, it’s like you are talking about Harvard. None is working now; these are schools that bring people from all over the country in those days and we gather to become one. Why should we now deprive our children that opportunity of integration. For me, if by the grace of God I am elected as the governor, and got sworn in January, by the next academic session in September, we are starting with three pilot schools per Senatorial District, so that we can have different norm from today, where in Okene only Ebira students attend the schools there except those who are not Ebira, but living in Okene and so it cut across the state. It should not be so. There is what I call educational diversity programme and that is our plan that will kick start those schools in the Senatorial districts. For me basically for education, I think that is key. This is in addition to the upgrading that will also be going on in other schools, since, as you know, we can’t turn all the schools into boarding. Then also, when I say this, it has been done in other states; it takes us to Osun again. I would have mentioned Rivers, but you would want to argue that Rivers is rich and have enough money. But in terms of revenue allocation, Osun is far below Kogi and there are more civil servants in Osun that Kogi. In terms of salaries, Osun does far higher than Kogi and yet, Kogi gets more money from the Federation account than Osun. So basically, if Osun is able to do all they have done, there is no reason why Kogi should be different. Like I said for primary school, it is going to be for free and we would feed the children. Everything will be free for them in the primary level. In addition to that, in terms of youth development, we are going to be training a minimum of thirty Kogites with best brains that make good grades in WAEC in the best school across the world. I have done the costing, I know how much this will cost the state government and we can do it and can afford it. With such certificates, you can’t come back and be roaming around for jobs.
Where do you hope to put Kogi State among the states of Nigeria when elected?
I know Kogi can be the best. Kogi State was the engine room of the old Northern Nigeria. The civil service was powered by people from Kogi. The core civil servants of the old Northern Nigeria were from Kogi. Kogi State also in a long time remained one of the most educated states in terms of natural and human resources. For me human resource is key, Singapore for instance thrived on her human resource, they have no oil. They are the major financial hub in the world today. Japan also has no serious resources and yet, they produce everything, why, it is their human resources. But what Kogi State have above all those economies is the fact that, out of the thirty-four key mineral classified by the Federal Ministry of Solid Minerals, Kogi State has over twenty of them. We are classified as the third poorest state in Nigeria. In terms of IGR, Kogi State is classified as the 12th lowest in Nigeria. It shouldn’t be so. Considering that we also have one of the biggest human resource base in the entire North. Then you ask what our problem is. There are key issues there. Once we get the human resources issue correctly, which is why I talked earlier about attitudinal redirection. Kogi State should ordinarily be the food basket of the nation because of what the state has in terms of agriculture. Take the Riverine area in Lokoja Local Government for instance; go to Jamata, Lokoja, then Bassa, Shintaku, down to Omala, Idah and Ibaji, with all these places I have mentioned, Kogi State can produce all the rice Nigeria needs. All we need is better coordination, and money put properly in Agricultural land development scheme. This is just agriculture alone; we also have palm oil in large quantity. Then Ajaokuta, this is something that is germane to every Kogites. It is a big white elephant project. We cannot continue to pursue it same way always. This is the reason why I say my programme for Ajaokuta is different; we are going to pursue the Federal Government to put it to work. They say Ajaokuta is the biggest steel plant in Africa, but of what use is the biggest steel plant if it is not employing or producing anything. Pursuing the Federal Government to make Ajaokuta work is plan B for me. We can have all the materials for production here. To make Kogi work, we have to have the courage and will power to do that.
*****What would you do about the psychological disintegration among ethnic groups in Kogi State?
I have in my programme, what I call the Confluence Cultural Renaissance. The objective is to bring about veritable unity, love and trust among the various ethnic nationalities that make up Kogi State. You can see that I have it even inside my agenda. Now let me take you back to history, because everything you said is correct. The greatest problem in Kogi State is the problem of trust among the major ethnic nationalities in Kogi, the Igalas, the Okuns and the Ebiras. The Igalas are scared of the Ebiras, because they feel they will come out against them if they have power and the Ebiras on their part believe that the Igalas have dominated them too long and so also for the Okuns. There use to be love and peace and harmony among us all. To solve this problem, we must take it to perspective and I can say that am the most suited candidate to solve these problems. I understand very clearly the problem. My mum is Igala, my Dad is from Lokoja and my wife is from the Ebira area. In a way am connected to all three Senatorial districts. Kogi State can be great again and that is what I will do. I know the problem and I can say that I am the best candidate to fix Kogi State.