Almajiri System Can’t Be Banned Without Providing An Alternative — Tambuwal

Mar 3, 2022

Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Sokoto state governor and Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors’ Forum in this interview with select journalists, speaks on how he has been tackling insecurity challenges in Sokoto state. He also speaks on developments in his party ahead of the 2023 general elections. SAM OGIDAN brings the excerpts:

The issue of insecurity in Sokoto state is in the front burner, what are you doing to tackle it?
We have done quite a lot and I have addressed it a number of times. And you see, basically, it is the responsibility of the federal government, you all know that, but what we do at state level is to support the federal security agencies, by way of providing them with the logistics and vehicles. When they’re on special operations, we will give them their allowances to look after their welfare. Even as we speak now, some of the security personnel that sustained injury somewhere recently, were taken to Abuja, on the account of Sokoto state government to one of the specialized facilities in Abuja. So we are giving them every support that they require.

There was nothing security agencies of Sokoto state requested from us in terms of support that we have not given them. And in the last four, five years, we have provided not less than 500 vehicles to security personnel in Sokoto state, 500. And as I said, all of the allowances, nothing outstanding, whenever they are having operations we support them. And we normally give them their monthly security support. So we’re doing our best and you can ask any of them. And we’ve been building and we are still building new police stations in the state and renovating the existing ones. Virtually all the divisional offices have been renovated and we’re building new ones for them across the state.

What about the commission to check insecurity in the state?

Well, we have established a Tenancy Regulatory Commission in the states that documents people, who are occupying properties, it is yet to fully take off, that’s why I didn’t address this. But it is there, the commission is there and the purpose is that anybody who is renting a property in Sokoto state will be properly documented; so that we will have your fingerprints, we’ll have your passport with that commission. Should anything happen? It would be easier for security agencies to trace you.

In terms of intelligence gathering, is there support you are giving to the DSS?

Yeah, we are giving them support by getting them the right equipment to use. We are giving the military support to procure drones, and we are doing same with the Department Of State Services (DSS).

How are you able to fund these projects scattered all over the state that are going on simultaneously?

When we came in May 2015, we all knew how the general economic situation of the country was, states and to some extent even the federal government was struggling to pay wages. Here in Sokoto, from that time, as bad as situation was till now, we don’t owe any worker any salary to the best of my knowledge. We pay our salaries as and when due and we pay our pensioners, any pensioner, we managed to stagger payments of even gratuities. We set aside every month either N100 million, N50 million to attend to gratuities that’s apart from salaries and pensions of retired workers, we make that as a priority. So the FAAC allocation we get is very well known, it is public knowledge, not until recently, Sokoto has never been able to hit N1 billion in terms of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) monthly, not until recently when we worked on board of internal revenue services, then the IGR is beginning to pick up. So it is all about planning and financial management, fiscal responsibility.

We try as much as possible knowing that we don’t have these resources to marshal and apply strategic expenditure money. We don’t waste money on frivolities, on things that are not necessary, that will not bring about any impact on the lives of the people.

We have very robust social schemes in the country, and we still pay monthly stipends to a number of indigent people in Sokoto state, education is free whatever part of the country, once you are attending public school in Sokoto the books, whether exercise books or reading books are free.

Added to that, as we pay for WAEC to indigenes of Sokoto and NECO, we also pay for all other students of Nigeria that are in our public schools. We don’t discriminate against any of them. So you can see that we carry all of these burdens, but we’re still moving ahead. It’s about strategic expenditure planning and, of course, we took some loans that are targeted at projects and loans that are for capital expenditure. We don’t take loans for recurrent and we apply them judiciously.

Generally, it is about discipline, prudence, and effective management of scarce resources. SIFTAN last year, scored Sokoto as number one state in terms of fiscal transparency. It is a World Bank programme, it’s World Bank assessment programme, guided by the federal government and we are an opposition state and we came first in terms of fiscal transparency. So it’s all about managing scarce resources and being disciplined and knowing your areas of priority.

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The country is talking about Nigeria getting ready for the non oil economy. How ready is Sokoto state?

Sokoto is largely an agrarian state, 80%- 85% of our populace are farmers, we do everything to support them generally, in the areas of extension services, we employed more extension workers that are helping them with skills and knowledge in terms of more modern knowledge and skills and also help them in terms of guiding them on the right seeds to use on their farmland whenever it is time for them to plant; choice of seedlings and all of that. We are moving them from where they are to a knowledge based agric business, and we support them with fertilizers and insecticide and all of that and I don’t think the states are many that really subsidized fertilizer the way we do here in Sokoto state.

I can tell you that in terms of subsidy, Sokoto beats any state, we have the figures in terms of giving farmers subsidy; be that subsidy on farm implements, like handheld tractors like sinking some kind of tub bred for them free of charge or even is it to some extent, even procurement of fertilizer during the dry season farming and the normal wet season farming and all of the inputs we give them some free, some of the seedlings free in most cases and some of the inputs, at heavily subsidized rate, and I don’t think that there is any state that can really, has done as much in terms of support our farmers.

When we ventured into anchor borrower scheme, we actually had to open accounts for farmers at the expense of the state government, because of the low level of income of the farmers they could not even afford the basic requirements of money for opening of accounts, we had to as government open those accounts for them. We heavily support our farmers by giving them modern technology, modern knowledge, skills, supporting them with knowledge and experience and all of that through the extension workers and subsidies. That has also motivated them to be more on their farms, that has also given them more encouragement and with the guidance of extension workers and then the knowledge and skills and the seedlings their output has increased. All of that has helped in showing up not only their interests but generally what they produce in the Sokoto.

I’m sure you’ve heard from the commissioner for commerce that we have done some trials and realised that between 250, 300 billion worth of onions goes out of Sokoto annually and that’s just onion. I believe that we have achieved a lot in that and that is about collaboration and the farmers accepting new ways of doing things and cooperate with the government.

We saw what you are doing, are you thinking of who will succeed you that will sustain what you have put in place?

Well, it is only natural unless if you are not planning to succeed or if you are planning to fail. If you fail to plan, it means you are planning to fail. I’ve been working with a number of my lieutenants and I have been understudying a number of them to see who can really serve the people of Sokoto state and do even more to surpass my own, whatever achievements I might have recorded as governor of the state. Not about who will succeed me, that will be loyal to me, let him be loyal to the people of Sokoto state. That’s my interest.

We notice you have interest in education, especially in girl-child education, what motivated you in this massive investment in the education sector?

When we came in, I commissioned some of our experts, both local and a very few that are outside Sokoto to understudy our health sector, our education sector, and agric sector, to advise the government because I have identified this three as my priority.

If people are educated, they will be healthy and they will know what to do in their farms. What else are you looking for from government? So we deliberately set out to really change the narratives in education because whenever you’re counting states, that are backward in western education, with emphasis, western education, you will count Sokoto as one.
It is about getting the right infrastructure, getting the right instructional materials, and getting the right teachers and personnel. We decided to, okay, commissioned study on the needs assessment of the education sector of Sokoto state and we identified all of those and said, okay, we will prioritize and said let us based on that report, begin to work towards implementation and ensuring that we improve education sector of the state, because if you educate these young men and girls, and prepare them for the future, what else are you looking for as a father. The desire of any father is to see his child educated.

Figuratively, the governor of the state is like the father of all of these children. So why don’t you sit down and look, reflect and see how best that you can give them education that is not only quantitative, not only providing them with many schools, but quality education, to prepare better for their future. That was why we said look we must take interest in it.

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Now, you can see for example, the bandits that we have in Northwest, the insurgents in the Northeast, when you check it out, these are young people who are not educated either in the Western education sense or even in religious sense.

So, education is key to addressing all of those challenges of insecurity or poverty and raising the standard of living of the people, educate them and let them go and find something to do.

And about the girl education, the figure has not been good and if you want to address the issue of a girl wanting to go to school; but there is a problem back home because she wanted to hawk for her mother, you must find something that will support that concern that is with the family.

And we’ve been very deliberate by creating an agency mandated to take charge of girl child education. In addition, we passed a law in the state for compulsory education, which is the first of its kind in Nigeria. All of these go to show that we have identified the gaps, we have identified the problems and the issues. And then we decided to be deliberate in seeing how best we can now change the narrative positively and have these children educated in it, and then reduce the number of out of school children, and all of that.

And closely related to that, the issue of Almajiri; when some governors were banning Almajiri, I said no, we are not banning almajiri in Sokoto because there is a misconception about Almajiri.

Almajiri is not these people that you see, roaming about, it is a system of education itself. But not the way it has been implemented. And we decided to say okay, there are countries that are largely Islamic in terms of population, in terms of their practices, and one of them is Indonesia not even Saudi Arabia.

So we set out, I personally led a delegation to Indonesia, we under-studied their system of Islamic education and that’s what we’re using now to reposition the almajiri system of education, it’s not something that you just throw away because it’s been practiced for hundreds of years and you cannot just say one day, you are now going to disruptively cancel it or ban it and without providing an alternative and that’s what we are doing in Sokoto. So we were taking all of that together.

In healthcare, same committee, the other committee on Health Care came up with what we should do in attending to the primary health care, which is at the very, very lowest level and we have well over 800 Primary Healthcare, dispensaries facilities across the state and then, of course, the general hospitals.
When we came in about two or three local government’s headquarters were not having general hospitals, some were under construction, some have been built up. We ensured that we have all of our local governments now having functional general hospitals. We provide drugs free to mothers and children, we provide free malaria drugs in the state and we set up a malaria agency, the first of its kind that has been mandated to look, to take care of issues about malaria campaigns and all of that, and even supplying and giving drugs free to our students. We decided and said okay, outside the local government headquarters, there are bigger settlements, they are not local government headquarters that you have a large population of people. We have now identified about four of those and we are providing them with general hospitals, upgrading their primary health centre facilities to general hospitals.

And when we looked at the general tertiary medical situation of the state, we decided to come up with an idea of premier hospital that is slightly higher than the general hospitals but not up to a teaching hospital. So, we identified the need for that and said, okay, let’s have three of them, one in each of the senatorial districts, 150 bed capacities and the apex should be the State University Teaching Hospital.

And we felt that okay, we should do what they call telemedicine, we connect these three premier hospitals with the teaching hospital. If a patient is been referred to any of the premier hospitals, by the time he gets to the teaching hospital, his recorded will be there because that is telemedicine. The moment they punch the system his history will come up; so, it will save the doctors some time especially if his condition is critical, he may not be able to express himself at that point in time.

We have seen multiple capital intensive projects going on simultaneously and you have a little over a year in office. Do you nurse any fear of the possibility of maybe one or two of these projects not being completed considering the paucity of funds in all areas of government?

Well, we have taken virtually all of that into consideration before we embarked on those project and we’ve done the financial planning, the outlay, and all of that. I believe that by the grace of God we should be able to complete all of the projects that we are carrying out in a matter of few months.

Do you think your party stands a chance with the Electoral Act?

Are you talking about thinking. PDP is the party to beat.

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