Ambassador Umar Mohammed El-Gash is the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Yobe State. In this interview with JOEL DUKU, El-Gash, who represented Yobe North Senatorial District at the Red Chamber during the Third Republic, says Governor Mai Mala Buni has abandoned his post as the chief executive of Yobe State for matters that do not have relevance on the welfare of the people. Excerpts:
How would you rate the administration of Mai Mala Buni in the last two years?
Let me say that as opposition, we are always critical of the other side of the ruling party. This has been the case. However, we give constructive criticisms; you criticise a person to perfect what he/she is doing for the betterment of the people. But, to answer your question, as far as we are concerned, we are not happy with the way and manner the APC administration under Gov. Buni is running the state. As a journalist living in the state, you can also bear witness to the constant travels in and out of the state by this governor, since assumption of office. Unfortunately, this has been the trend, prior to appointment as the acting chairman of the ruling party, the APC. Most of these travels come with heavy costs to the state.
To me, his assignment as APC acting national chairman should be secondary because they have not elected him to chair the ruling party. Everybody is talking about this; not only we in the opposition, but even members of his party are also not happy with the way and manner he is giving much emphasis to APC national assignment than Yobe and I keep wondering the benefits his engagement with his party at the centre will be to the state. When quizzed on this matter recently by reporters, he had retorted that ‘I can work anywhere’. This is unbecoming of him to have answered the question in that manner. Besides, most of these projects that he executed, I think it is not within the context of the budget.
Can you be more specific?
Like the ongoing housing projects across the state. They are actually the worst that this administration will do. This is because they are not of standard and who is going to pay for them? They said it is a private company but who is paying those private companies? Which company is doing that? Are they funding the projects with their money or the state is doing so through other means? Another scam is that you are building 3,600 houses on people’s lands, and the owners of the land have not been compensated. We learnt that the compensation has been put aside but now what they are trying to do is to relocate them somewhere else with less value to the landowners. This is satanic, inhuman and irresponsible. It is irresponsible for them to have engaged in such an exercise. Some of these lands were purchased for orphans. What this administration is trying to do through the Ministry of Housing with that firm is to short-change the landowners and allocate them somewhere far away. This is unacceptable and we have to fight for these people as an opposition party because some of our members are involved.
Do you have facts to back up what you are saying?
It is not a speculation but a fact. It is actually what the government wants to do. We know that public interest supersedes individual interest. Notwithstanding, people whose houses are illegally seized without due information through notices is not good.
Where did this happen?
Oh, in Damaturu, of course. These people have their grant and you just come and take away their land just like that without paying compensation? But, we reliably gathered that the money has been put aside and what they are now trying to do is to tactfully divert the same and relocate the original landowners to less valuable places. They actually think they can do anything and get away with it. They should do something about that; people should be compensated handsomely. If they try to do anything, we will instigate the people against them. You cannot just take somebody’s land and build these stupid building. They should do something about it; they should pay those people their due compensation.
When you say instigate the people, what do you actually mean?
Of course, we are going to urge them to demonstrate; why shouldn’t we do that?
Is your party prepared to take legal action?
Of course, yes.
Beside the land issue, what is the problem with the houses?
Those are capsized buildings. The houses should have been built with the consideration of the culture and tradition of our people here who are polygamous and give birth to many children. Even if the buildings are very small, the land should be big enough to anticipate a large family in the nearest future. How can you construct such houses in the rural areas of about 150 or 200 houses? Who is going to purchase such houses for N5 million or N3.5 million? If I have that kind of money, I can construct a better house than what they are constructing. They should do something better, let them create job opportunities for the people.
But, are you not aware of the government’s youth empowerment programme?
Look at the youths. These youths are human time bombs. I always want us not to forget about that. Look, 70 per cent of Yobe State population is made up of youths and these guys, if they are not employed with jobs, nobody will sleep with their eyes closed. So, I think they should devote more attention to job creation. They should also invest in agriculture; provide farmland and all the necessary inputs. With these, it can cushion the level of unemployment and stop those who are being recruited into Boko Haram. So, many cannot afford three square meals a day and this should be taken into cognizance. They should create jobs for them and train them in different works of life like carpentry, plumbing and the like and not just doling out money to them because this can’t take us anywhere. The problem is, we depend on federal monthly allocation 100 per cent. What happens if the allocation does not come? How would we manage our industries?
What are the implications of the above housing project, lack of youth empowerment and the governor’s continuous absence from the state?
Such abandonment of responsibilities would create indiscipline. You can’t delegate such responsibilities to lieutenants. To me, I’m scared of civil servants; they are extremely very smart. They always say yes. They don’t argue but when something happens they will say well, you are the one that approved this and that. To them, they don’t care; they can write just for you to append your signature; if anything happens, they will say you are the one who approved it. If he is in the state, he can monitor and keep track of all transactions.
Is there any positive thing that you have seen or any project that you feel has a direct impact on the people?
There is also one serious blunder that this administration made about the purchase of tractors to boost agriculture. It completely negates the principle of improving agriculture.
What do you mean?
We reliably gathered that the local governments have been provided with six units of tractors each and we have also reliably gathered that each tractor costs N25 million. If this is translated, that means each local is about N150 million is expended on the purchase of a tractor. If that is true, these tractors are meant to be used within each local government, but the government later sold them to cronies who have nothing to do with agriculture, at a lesser cost of N11 million. It sounds very good but the reality is that those tractors are no longer in the state. Those cronies, bootlickers and sycophants of the government that purchased the tractors have sold them to serious agricultural businessmen outside the state and our people are now left empty without tractors. They just sold it to make a profit of maybe half a million or two million naira.
What about the market that they are building?
Yeah, I agree with you, I can’t say bad things about that. I quite agree this is actually a very good initiative but honestly, I don’t know how much it costs. We don’t know how much is involved. We hope it is not a conduit pipe that will drain our resources because they will never tell you how much it is; they will continue reviewing and stealing money if that is the case we are not happy but we are okay because this is one project I can say it is a good thing in the right direction because more commercial activities will boom, more people will come when there is market and everything. This is a very good idea, it is good and I appreciate that.
What are your comments on the Cargo Airport project?
Ahh! Cargo, you see if there is an antagonist of those projects, it is me because it is an avenue to steal money. It runs into billions, nobody knows how much. Even during the last administration when Ibrahim Gaidam was leaving he approved about six billion but I learnt that money has been returned. These are avenues for them to just siphon money but I also learnt that they are handing it over to the Federal Government that is actually good but it is nonsense. There are better avenues to spend money for the people to feel instead of Cargo. What are you going to export?
So, are you saying Yobe State does not need that airport?
Well, is there any solution to it now that it has been done? There is nothing one can do about it, probably they did it for their ego because all the state within the sub-region have their own airport and we don’t have one so, now we have one but actually, I don’t think it is a visible project. I don’t think so.
The perception of the public is that the PDP is dying in Yobe State.
That is what you think. It is not what I think, that is what the ruling party says.
What would you do differently to challenge APC come 2023?
That is a very good question. Actually, the PDP has never lost an election in this state.
Of course, you see the problem is this. We are with the masses and the masses are with us.
But the PDP has never ruled the state?
Of course, we have never governed the state for obvious reasons. But, now look at all the APC big shots; they are all from the PDP. It is just a change of name from the governor to the secretary of government and commissioners; they are all former PDP members.
So are you together?
We are not together.
That is the difference…
They are our own trainees; just that, they are not working the way we want them to do things. Now you see, you said the PDP is gradually dying, but it is not dying. I know we have an internal crisis but now that I have been elected as the chairman, I think things will take an excellent dimension. You see, I am a political careerist. We are the pioneer politicians of this state and they all know me and they respect me very well for being a seasoned politician and I live among them. All along, the people of the state don’t have much conflict with leadership but with me ascending to power, you will see a lot of difference and it will be a positive difference.
How soon do we expect this difference?
We are on it. We are gradually doing our very best to bring new entrants into the party, including those in the APC. Now that somebody like me is saddled with the responsibility of revamping the PDP, I am sure many will come back to the party. Just give me some time, you will see the PDP brimming with new members.
How are you going to do that?
I am someone well known to the people. They all trust me; all of them, even the leadership of the APC, they also respect me. They know me as a political careerist, we are the pioneers; I was their pioneer senator here and I am also a political careerist. So actually, they know me very well and they respect me. I am calm and accessible and I come with confidence and I am sure they will join me because the APC is not democratic and everybody knows about that. It is undemocratic and dictatorial.