Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama is the President of Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Director General of the APC Governorship Candidate in Taraba State, Sani Abubakar Danladi Campaign Organization. In this Exclusive interview with BusinessDay Correspondent NATHANIEL GBAORON in Jalingo, the Union leader turned politician, speaks on plans to unseat the incumbent Governor, Darius Ishaku and other issues. Excerpts:
Sir, you were one of the Governorship aspirants that kicked against the emergence of Alh. Sani Abubakar Danladi as the candidate of your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Taraba State. Can you tell us what led to this turn of event that has seen you emerge the Director General of his campaign?
First and foremost, I want to assure you that I am a loyal party man, but in any contest particularly where there are challenges of irregularities in the conduct, people are naturally bound to protest. We have made our protest and the time for substitution of candidates given by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has lapped without any concrete result to the contrary coming from the National Secretariat. Also, during the period we had opportunity of interacting with people of high repute set up by the national working committee of the party and another committee set up by the President. We interacted with prominent Nigerians who pacified us, and to some of us we are members of the party not because of personal gains but for the purpose of service to humanity and particularly our own state-Taraba that has been infested with issues such as maladministration, corruption and pathetic underdevelopment. We had to revisit the situation and arrived at the fact that God cannot make eight Governors in a state at a time, He (God)can only make one Governor. So, as a man of my own status I had to come back home and evaluate the situation with my supporters across the sixteen local government area of the state, we all agree that we should be loyal party men and women and we should support the candidate the party has presented to INEC. You know very well that the National chairman is from my own Constituency -the organized Labour and in the spirit of comradeship; we cannot quarrel in the public. I have a way of meeting him and equally going over to express my grievances, I have done that, we have now understood ourselves. We need to put our personal interests behind us and and put the interests of the poor Tarabans that have been enslaved by the present administration of the PDP in the state and that’s the reason why I am honoured by the invitation to serve in the campaign council of Alh. Sani Abubakar Danladi as Director General.
In the days ahead you’ll be facing a challenge of leading the campaign in the state for your party, convincing the people of Taraba to vote for your candidate. How prepared are you for this task?
Well, don’t forget that I am coming from the background of mobilization, organization and so on. Organizing the people, men women and the youths all of this group will not be a problem for us. We already have advantage of marketing our candidate because he is a grassroot politician. He has interacted with the common people in the state because he has gone through the all the processes of what you can call the political ladder. He started as a Councillor, he has been a Council Leader, he has been chairman of Local Government, a Deputy Governor and later Acting Governor for so many months, so, he is eminently qualified to lead the state. The issue is not whether he is qualified or not the issue is whether we can trust him with power and the answer is yes. We have our reasons, anybody who is prepared to take constructive criticism, prepared to amend when constructively criticism are placed before him and is prepared to have a paradigm shift I think we should be able to work with him and I have seen all these in Sani Abubakar Danladi. He is that person who is willing to accept constructive criticisms, that person who is willing to accept new ideas, that person who is prepared to have a paradigm shift. He has said it on numerous occasions that we need to give the Local Government Councils their autonomy and to us comrades, that is key. He wants to ensure adequate development at Local Government level by giving them their autonomy. He has started reeling out his policy thrust and I think the people of Taraba should trust him with their mandate. If we keep rallying and giving him the appropriate advice, obviously he will be a listening leader.
There’s this an unwritten agreement that the northern zone did two terms of eight years, the central did same and now is the turn of the southern zone. But your candidate is from the northern zone, don’t you think this will count against your party?
No. I think that thinking is the thinking of people who want to whip up sentiments. Okay today, the Governor is from the southern zone of the state, he is on the saddle of leadership if you like to put it that way, so what has he really done? Is he a good ambassador of the southern Taraba? The answer is no. We want very good leadership in the state and if you cannot provide leadership let someone else take your position and that is the reason why the people of Taraba will vote for Sani Abubakar Danladi and the APC.
What has this administration done wrong and what would your government do differently if your candidate assumes leadership?
We have not started our campaign yet, so I don’t want to speak on what we shall do. We are going to unveil our blueprint officially on the day we shall lunch our campaign. When we get to the river we will cross it. We are going to launch our very soon. You are aware of what is happening in this state. They have gotten well over 156bn Naira since assumption of office. Show me one tangible project that has been done, not only that, show me one tangible project that has been executed with the right pricing. Go to the Taraba State University, in between the University and the College of Agriculture here in Jalingo, you will see a project called Green House,that project is not up to N100m Naira as far as I’m concerned, but it has gulfed over N2bn of Taraba tax payers money. Go to Mararaban Pantisawa, the Lacheke -Pantisawa road is about 20km, the project is over N6bn Naira. Let me me tell you, the reconstruction of the federal road from Numan to Jalingo, is about N2.2bn and its over 100km. I can go on and on. Is it the salary of workers that they are paying? They say they have been paying as at when due. I have been asking them and just recently one myopic thinker who is the mouthpiece of the Governor say they have been paying my salaries, so I said is it my salaries or the salaries of the people you’ve not been able to pay. I am a labour leader, if you pay me and you don’t pay my members is as good as you’ve not paid. The local government staff, how many of them are receiving their salaries as at when due. Since the inception of this administration, they have not paid one single gratuity. For over three years, anybody that has retired earlier than three years or later has not been paid a dime as gratuity. Pensioners are crying. Somebody told me they have been paying wages and salaries as at when due, I want to ask probably that person is coming from the moon and is not a Taraban. We are aware that the children of the Governor are being used to launder money, but when we get there, like I earlier said, we shall tell Tarabans what they don’t know Ishaku and why they should not trust him again. I don’t know whether Ishaku is in the state to make money for himself and family or he is in the state to render service. I have not talk about security. We are aware where issues are being ignited by agents of government in the state so that they can use it to syphon money. When we get to mount the podium we will open up and Tarabans will get to know who is governing them. We promise them change. Pragmatic change, positive change, a paradigm shift from what we have now.
Can you elaborate more on this allegation that the Governor is siphoning money meant for the state?
Like I said earlier, when we get there Tarabans will know fully but for now we want him (The Governor) to know that we have a dossier of his activities in the state and when the time comes, he will bury his head in shame.
The windstorm this year that blew up a lot of houses in state this year was attributed to the massive deforestation going on in the state. What’s your take on this issue?
Do you know that the pains I have is that even the resources generated from the massive deforestation is not coming back to the coffers of the government for the purpose of providing services for Tarabans, but is going into the pocket of the boys. Like I said, they should prepare, they’ll account for their deeds.
Some people will disagree with you because during the budget presentation the Governor said the state generated over N6bn IGR this year and probably part of this money must have come from these woods being cut in the state.
You mean N6bn in a year or month? Is that what you should brag about? Is that an achievement? I thought you say over 6bn in a month.
But for a state like Taraba that doesn’t even have industries, over N6bn may not be too bad revenue to be generated in a year. Don’t you think so?
Is it not absurd for someone to think like that? You don’t have industries, what about mineral resources and agriculture? Okay do know how much Madrid is sold in China? Do you know how much they make from Madrid which is being cut from here indiscriminately? We have herds of cattle, we have solid minerals, agriculture, tourism potentials, you cannot tap them and you’re telling me you’re getting N6bn IGR in a year, it is not a shame? What does that amount to. Divide N6bn by twelve months, what do you get? It means you are getting barely 500m in a month and don’t forget, it includes the payee of Taraba workers and virtually 60%of that is coming from payee, where is the balance going to. Is it the Madrid or our agriculture or our solid mineral potential? My brother we are experiencing the worst form of governance in the history of Taraba and we are going to end this era of milking Taraba dry come 2019.
The open grazing law enacted by the state government generated a lot of controversy. In your own analysis do you think the law is in the best interest of the people of Taraba?
Any law that is going to be very controversial demands a lot of stakeholders meetings. It demands a lot of stakeholder’s horse trading. In this case, bringing anti grazing law by the time you bring it and invite the people involved, the farmers, the grazers, they will provide you with a solution. Let me give you an example, I’m a farmer, and I use less fertilizer in my farm now. Why? It’s because I have a symbiotic relationship with my neighbours who are cattle rearers. After my harvest, my neighbours sell their stock to the grazers, but I don’t sell mine. What I do is this, I call the grazers who are my Fulani brothers and tell them that I’m not going to sell my stock. Instead, I’ll strike a deal. After harvest, bring your cattle and keep them on my farm for two to three months and let them empty everything there and after that time, they can leave my farm. I’m assuring you I have been doing that for over 6 years and I have been having bumper harvest and I don’t have any problem with the grazers and farmers. It is a matter of discussion, it is a matter of using your brain. I’m paying less for fertiliser and my Fulani brothers are grazing on my stock. This is always the problem when people don’t want to use their brain and they think adopting a stereotype solution for solving a problem is the right thing to do, but that is where we have a problem. There are thousands and one ways of solving farmers and grazers conflict than this trash we are having. When we get there in our own administration we will teach them how to live harmoniously between the farmers and grazers.
What will you do? You will repeal the law?
Absolutely, that will be the first step. Call the critical stakeholders and let them know we have a problem. The farmers need land and you the grazers need to graze what the best way is out. We are going to agree. If we are going to create grazing areas, we will create. In the olden days, we had grazing areas. Government will make more money for the IGR if they live harmoniously with the farmers because where you want to please one person at the expense of another that is where you have a problem. We have a population explosion in this country particularly in our own part. When you want somebody to adopt the strategy of another person by not allowing us to sit and talk, when you rely on the monopoly of wisdom, it doesn’t work like that. You are instead causing problems. The grazing law is there, tell me, is it effective, is it a political grazing law or is it a grazing law that is supposed to bring love to the people. What we are going to do is bring in a grazing law that will bring peace among the farmers and grazers. I have tested it as a farmer and I am pretty sure the farmers and grazers will be happy for it. My brother, we have a leadership problem in this state at the moment. See what is slowing down the Mambilla Power Project from taking off is lack of vision on the part of the state government. The project is being slowed down because we don’t want to have our own contribution as a state. What do you give. Because if I offer anything for that project, I will take it back tenfold in terms of taxes, employment and development because those that are going to build houses and those who already have houses that will be rented out to the employees at the construction site are Tarabans. The trickledown effect is going to be tremendous so, let’s begin to think out of the box because to some of us, we want to think without the box to take Taraba out of the woods. That is our target.
As the TUC President, briefly tell us some of your interesting and challenging moments?
For us in the Union, the most interesting thing is when we are selling trouble (laughter). When you have challenges that bothers on minimum wage, issues that have direct bearing on the people, issues that you are passionate about, you want to see to the end of that, that is my passion. Issues that affect the welfare of the people particularly their welfare, accommodation, transportation and pay package, these are the areas that I see and work with passionately. Other than that I want to thank God because our people who trusted us with leadership can well say we have provided them with leadership in our own little way so there’s nothing too special about challenges. We have been trained. So, if it comes, we will just see it as those challenges and we dust it up and move on from there.
Perhaps there might be something burning inside of you that readers need to know which I have not asked. So, tell us?
First of all, here is one of your own, particularly the workers of Taraba that this is one of their own who is a campaign DG of one of the gubernatorial candidate. They know him as a man of his words. This is more like for them to champion the movement of uncertainty to realism, a paradigm shift. We are prepared to provide realism in Taraba State. Let them give us the opportunity. You don’t have to be the Governor but if a gubernatorial candidate identifies with you as having something to put on the table for Tarabans and invite you to be part of the train, so you have to be willing and ready. So, that is what we are planning to do.
Okay, let me get your concluding statement on this interview. The universities are on strike and labour is demanding for increase in the minimum wage. What is your take on these issues?
First and foremost, the issue of ASUU is an inherited issue from previous administrations and issues of minimum wage is a negotiated process. It’s a tripartite arrangement. It is done through a tripartite arrangement. We have submitted our report to Mr. President and we hope that quickly, the President will take it to the National Assembly. What we kicked against is the fact that another high powered committee will be set up to look into the issues after months of negotiation with various stakeholders. That is where we kicked and we are saying no. But before the end of December, that should be transmitted to the National Assembly, but we are made to know the high powered technical Committee will be set up so that funds can be mopped up so that as the budget that contains the minimum wage at the National and state level is being prepared, the funding leg is already in place. We learnt that the draft law is with the ministry of Justice, so, what we are saying is that we have already provided a draft. It should be hastened so that if it requires a redraft it should be done within a month but it’s up to two months and we are worried and we are pretty sure that will be done before the New Year. So, like I said, the issue of ASUU it has been an issue that has permeated from one administration to another and that is simply because we don’t give appropriate priority to our education. In other countries public schools are preferred to private schools, but in Nigeria it is not. The quality of of education in public schools is a sad story. What we call on the President to do is to declare a state of emergency in education and that is if we truly want to revive our educational system.