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Aminu Masari: Focused confident strides

*Different orientation to serving our people

Aminu Masari, the governor of Katsina State embodies the key essentials of a remarkable leader. He is decisive in taking very tough decisions, has empathy, guiding subordinates through challenges. He is focused, always planning ahead and most importantly is his unquestionable commitment to changing the fortunes of his dear Katsina State. His appearance belies the real Masari, that is blunt and never afraid of going against the current.

Nigeria only took notice of him when in 2003 he became the Speaker, House of Representatives. How he managed the House, that has every semblance with Fuji House of Commotion, a soap opera, is a testimony to his leadership. You must be patient and accommodating to manage all shades of characters- the good, the bad and the ugly, that are called honourables.

Aminu Masari Katsina state governor…bringing panache to administration of his state

When Olusegun Obasanjo embarked upon his third term project, Masari, like Senator George Akume another unsung hero of the anti third term war, were effective in crushing the coup against the constitution. If Obasanjo was ever guilty of plotting a coup, the third term project was undoubtedly the one he should have been tried for.

According to Masari “if you want to exploit people, deny them education. And in the North, education is being denied to the public because public schools there have collapsed. The only schools functioning are private schools, but how many parents can afford them?

Secondly, the public health system has also collapsed. Now, people have to provide water, security, education, health care system and every other thing for themselves. In a fundamental sense this encapsulates the consistency of his vision and believe.

In 2013,when he made that statement he had two years before, lost the governorship elections to Ibrahim Shema. And another two years before he will contest and win the governorship election. But Masari unlike most politicians, who lack convictions  has kept faith and is faithfully implementing these critical sectors.

In Katsina State Masari is known as mai chika alkawari– someone whose word is his bond. He has the memory of an elephant- he never forgets.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), puts the number of out of school children in Katsina State at over 620,000 and 55% of this number are girls. Of this number 74% have never seen the four walls of a school and 5% are drop-outs. The implications not just for Katsina State, but for the entire country is grave. The effect of our failure to educate the girl child is already obvious, in the unacceptable high infant mortality rates, recycled poverty and the low life expectancy rate.

In 2016 budget education got the lion share of N22 billion, a clear statement of actions, beyond intentions. At the centre of the strategy has been creating a conducive environment for learning – rehabilitation, construction of classrooms and equipping of laboratories. Increase in enrolment had put tremendous pressure on facilities and on learning itself, as the teachers are not just enough.

Masari’s other headache is furniture for about 700,000 pupils. The Government Unity School, Malumfashi – open to students from the north, has been completely turned around. Same with the Science School Malumfashi. The ambitious model for Katsina State schools.

For the first time in 15 years teachers who had been neglected were promoted. And more than 2,000 teachers have been employed, but it needs a further 7,000 teachers. Presently, classrooms are overcrowded- 80 pupils, instead of the more manageable 35. Majority are naturally sitting on the ground. The decision to engage the services of the Ahmadu Bello University Department of Education to train teachers shows a holistic approach.

Katsina State economy is agrarian, depending largely on allocation from the Federation account. Internally generated revenue (IGR) is totally non existent. Thus, the only way it can meet its challenges is prudent management of resources and elimination of waste. And Masari hasn’t shied away from doing the needful.

The first programme that was yanked is the Ramadan feeding Programme which hither to benefited only a tiny segment of the society. His conscience wouldn’t allow him in the face of the numerous challenges to continue the programme. He said “Can you imagine a governor that has not provided basic requirement of primary education, but is going to spend billions feeding people during Ramadan? Give them good education and they will find their level.” That’s the essential Masari that Katsina indigenes must contend with.

The 2017 budget has a capital expenditure of N92 billion, of which a substantial part of it is devoted to education, health, water supply, security and agriculture, as he still has his eyes fixed on them. Key again is working with agencies like UNICEF, that has embarked on an Enrolment Drive Campaign.

An estimated N120 billion is needed to turn around the educational and health sectors. Katsina State has the highest maternal mortality rate. The reason why the government is tackling the healthcare sector. The 23 General Hospitals and 30 Healthcare centers are being given a comprehensive turnaround. Already the Katsina State Teaching Hospital, the target is to facilitate the establishment of a college of medicine in the state university, to address issues of manpower.

Experience, not necessarily age can be of benefit. But Masari is combining both. The Masari Dialogue and Amnesty Programme was initially scoffed at by his political opponents who had over the years watched while bandits over ran 10 Local Government Areas of the state, rustled cattle and committed all kinds of criminality and with impunity. When force didn’t work, he went back to the drawing board. The result was the surrender of more than 104 AK 47 rifles by the bandits, through the Amnesty programme. More fundamental is that the bandits signed off to the state governments rehabilitation programme. Katsina State is now a safer place.

Masari fears a revolution in Nigeria. To him it is delusional to think it can’t happen. But is this what has informed his social commitment to the poor? Are his economic and social policies informed more by enlightened self interest or self preservation? The concern seems genuine, considering the passion, with which he tackles the issue of job creation. To some extent the consequences might have also pushed him to continuously work at bettering the lot of the poor.

He told the Ambassador of South Korea on a visit to the state “What we seek are simple machines, equipment and tools that can be used by our rural dwellers to make pencils, exercise books, erasers and so on, that they can sell and improve their lives.”

The Empowerment Scheme is also informed by this compassion and a perspective fear of what might be if their situation, alienation and deprivation are not addressed.

He said “violence can occur and maybe this time, it may not be religious, but between the rich and the poor and the rich will be determined by the type of clothes he wears, the house he lives, the car he drives and the area where he lives”. A very frightening future if the life of the rural poor is not improved upon.

Being a team player he has spread the challenge. His deputy has been saddled with ensuring that the agricultural sector is revived. The governor wants about 800,000 hectares cultivated. The business of government is making the inputs like fertilisers, good quality seeds available at affordable price and at the right time. With 61 water bodies suitable for irrigation the target is for Katsina State to become number one in cotton and rice production.

He has commissioned the National Research Institute of Chemical Technology to build a tomato processing plant at Danja. The Danja Sugar Factory, is expected to commence operation soon. This will reduce farm waste, earn the farmers better money and save Nigeria the scarce foreign exchange.

The Central Bank puts the importation of tomato paste at over 1 billion dollars. There are plans to construct a dam at Danja. So far N2 billion has been spent on rehabilitation and construction of dams.

Masari and Ibrahim Shema: So much has been written about the face off between him and Ibrahim Shema his predecessor. Masari from his narrative was pushed to the wall, by the refusal of the immediate past regime to answer questions about the finances of the state under his watch. He said “It was not our intention to set up the commission of enquiry, but the previous administration refused to give us explanations on the missing funds”.

Before the former governor got an injection against the Justice Muhammad Surajo Commission the testimony of his Aide-de-Camp Shehu Koko of how he disbursed N680million to security agencies during the 2015 elections raises serious questions about the job description of ADCs.

How can an officer of the law be involved in disbursing money for whatever project. These are areas that moving forward the police authorities must address. ADCs job should be protection of their principals.

Masari, like most Northerners, believe in moving forward, so as not to get bugged down, but not in this particular case. Those close to him insist that the money involved is “just too much” for the governor to over look. The money in question is put at about N10 billion Sure-P Funds.

His admonition to “Governors and local government chairmen who behave like emperors, doing whatever they like with the wealth of the people because they depend on Federation Account and not Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).” shows the depth of his anger.

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