In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES Festus Owete and Evelyn Okakwu, two-time governor of Kogi State and candidate of the APC in the November 21 election, Abubakar Audu, says he was rigged out in the previous election and vows to defeat the incumbent governor.
PT: This is the third time you are going in for the governorship of Kogi State since you left office in 2003. What did you forget at the Government House that you are going to take?
Audu: As far as I am concerned, I forgot nothing there and it is not about forgetting something. Firstly I am constitutionally qualified to contest. Kogi State, I would say, without any iota of exaggeration, being the first elected executive governor of the state, that it achieved tremendous development during my period. And I can say that between1999 to 2003, precisely in 2002, there was a media tour round the nook and cranny of the state to assess the rate of development.
The media tour was put in place by the Federal Government, organised by the PDP, under the leadership of Professor Jerry Gana, who was then the Minister of Information and National Orientation. The media entourage criss-crossed the length and breadth of Nigeria and by January 2002, all the serving governors were assembled at the International Conference Centre, Abuja and we were given our confidential report. By that I mean we were told the performance of each and every one of us. There were 12 trophies donated for the governors to compete and out of 12, I won seven. And you will agree with me that that is no mean achievement. It was what led to my being crowned the best performing governor of Nigeria, and Kogi was then tagged the fastest developing state in Nigeria. And virtually every Kogite was proud of me.
Everywhere in Nigeria and in any part of the world, as a Kogite, you would be very happy to be called one. But now the story is completely different, Kogi is the most underdeveloped state in Nigeria. It has taken a new dive. And this is because all the succeeding governors could not measure up although their statutory allocations from Federation Account were much higher than what I earned between 1999 and 2003 in the state. And the reason for that is: from 2004 till date, the price of crude oil skyrocketed. And Nigeria, being a mono-product economy, depends solely on crude oil. So with very large amount of money accruing to the state from the Federation Account, the funds were not efficiently deployed. And the state went down the drain.
During my time, our earning per month gravitated between N200m and N300m. And in their own case, their earning was between N3bn and N5bn and sometimes with excess crude, they got between N10bn and N15 billion. But during our time it was only once we got N400 million. And the reason as I said earlier is that the crude oil sale was very marginal. It was selling between $9 and $12 dollars per barrel. Therefore our earning capacity was very marginal but in spite of that we brought development to the state. Any formidable structure standing in Kogi today is always attributed to me. And since I left, there has been no other development.
At best they white-washed the structure we left behind. They are not creative; they don’t use the funds at their disposal judiciously. And people started yearning for our return. They said with very marginal allocation, we did a lot for the state.
Perhaps you are not aware but you must have heard something about it; it’s on the pages of newspapers; I established the Kogi state university. A model; and then it was said. After inspection by the NUC, it was adjudged to be the fastest developing state university in Nigeria. Besides the university, I established the Confluence Beach Hotel in Lokoja. I established the Obajana Cement factory, which is the largest cement factory today in Africa. I dualized the road, provided portable water for rural dwellers; upgraded hospitals to general hospitals; making sure that drugs and medical facilities were readily available. Workers were being paid as at when due.
PT: So what could have happened to the funds your predecessors got?
Audu: It is not my responsibility to know how the funds were deployed, but they were not deployed in the best interest of the tax payers. This is because they have nothing to show for such a huge amount of money they got from the Federation Account as a statutory allocation. So because of the underdevelopment, virtually every Kogite is itching for my return to the office. They have admitted that it is where I left Kogi in 2003 that it is now and this has generated a lot of dissatisfaction. That is why they insisted. It is not my own making. It is not that I have inordinate ambition of returning to the office. They insisted that I must come and take Kogi out of the woods. They said because I did it well to the satisfaction of electorate in the past and that since the baby is sick, as a responsible father, I should come and treat the sick baby to be healthy.
PT: You contested the 2003 election, you didn’t win and you also contested under the platform of ACN. If you have performed so well, why did your people reject you?
Audu: You are looking at it from the ordinary point of view. Everybody in Kogi state knew that I won all the elections, but I was rigged out. To start with, I did not win the 2003 election because they brought the military. There was military intervention. Military came from the Air Force base and the army barrack in Lokoja to torture, maim and kill. For the first time I saw military personnel carrying ballot boxes. That is how they won the election. And the second one – it was rigging galore. To crown it all, the late President Yar’Adua mentioned in the course of his inauguration that he came into that office through a flawed election. That is to tell you that they have been rigging all along.
There was no true democracy then because of the rigging machinery of the PDP. I believe that throughout the sojourn of PDP in office, from 1999 to 2015, there was no democracy in Nigeria. There was civil rule but democratic processes were not followed.
And as a confirmation of that, Yar’Adua of blessed memory said that since he was not happy with the way he was elected into office. He tagged it as a flawed election and set up a committee headed by Justice Uwais to embark on electoral reform. So that is a confirmation. So, it is not that I did not win in 2003; I won but they rigged me out. Ditto in 2007 and 2011.
But by the grace of God, with the emergence of opposition, on the front banner, we are all very grateful. After all, nobody knew that Buhari would win because they had been rigging him out. That also is my own case. But God in his infinite mercy took control in 2015, the riggers went to bed; they were sleeping when the election was conducted and the result declared. Nobody even believed that Buhari would win, but God took control and made Buhari the winner of the election. And it was declared in his favour. And that was the first time that Nigerians conducted free, fair, credible and transparent election. Even the international community made comments to that effect. So we are grateful to God that APC has been able to come to Nigeria’s rescue.
PT: People say you are arrogant. Are you arrogant?
Audu: Yes, I am very arrogant, if what you mean by arrogance is being strict and being disciplined. And I have not refrained from being strict, very prudent and have financial discipline. This is because what they wanted me to do was to share the statutory allocation to the people who tagged themselves as the state leaders. They met me and said they have no farm land. They are retired people, and that the state was created because of the respect the then military president, General Babangida, had for them and therefore when I get the statutory allocation, I should share to them. They said we are not in London, that we are not in America and therefore I should not think about development. I should think about their stomach infrastructure. I said I could not do that, share public funds among individuals. If I am arrogant, how can I win an election? I went to the grassroots. Any day you see me in Kogi State interacting with the grassroots, you would feel that I live in their midst, because we curdle, we hug, and do virtually everything together. But the leaders, since I refused to share the money they say I am very arrogant. They said they would show me. And I went through the travail that not many politicians went through in Nigeria, courtesy of those my detractors.
PT: You think they will allow you to come back?
Audu: Well, if God decides, nobody can stop it. Mark you, there was intense hate campaign against Buhari. Even the government in power did not want him to come into power, but he came into power. That is the will of God and the wind of change. So whether they like it or not, if God has ordained me and anointed me as the winner, nobody can change that. And I believe that he has already done that based on comments from all and sundry and from all well-meaning Kogites. They have relegated that slogan to the background.
Some of them came and said they heard that I am a very arrogant man but that they don’t subscribe to that. But even if that is the case, it is better to be an arrogant performer than a humble failure. So the origin of my arrogance is because I have refused to share money meant for the public to a few individuals. And my successors share money and that is why Kogi State has been thrown into total darkness. The money that should be used to provide infrastructural facilities for the people has been divided among very few individuals.
PT: If elected, how do you face the retrogression which you allege your successors have thrown Kogi into?
Audu: My priority is to take Kogi out of the woods. The people of the state know my pedigree and antecedents. I am associated with development and every sector in the state is crying for action, for development. So I will not say I will embark on road development, health care delivery system and so on; virtually every aspect of the state requires attention.
Immediately I won my primary I went abroad and interacted with the international community like I did in 2003. I sensitized them and they are willing to come to Kogi. They told me that in order to speed up their coming we should declare the state a disaster state, especially some towns in the state. They said we should declare a state of emergency in Kogi. And by the special grace of God, we will register the difference in the first or second or third month after we are sworn into office. By this time next year, the story will be completely different.
PT: I recall that when you emerged as the APC candidate, there were some complaints here and there. Have you resolved them?
Audu: You must have heard that the most credible primary ever held in this country is that of Kogi state. The returning officer who conducted the election, that is the Kaduna state governor, Nasir El-Rufai said the best primary ever conducted anywhere in the country was in that state. All the 27 aspirants – I am number 28 – we all agreed that it was the most credible. If at a letter stage, somebody starts complaining, then you know it is an afterthought.
Up till this moment there is no petition. That was the only primary conducted in Nigeria without petition. The day I went to take my Certificate of Return, I was asked to wait for another one day, by which time the limit set for the submission of petition would have expired. After that, they told me that there was no petition. So, I would be given my Certificate of Return. If I hear that there is any petition I would be surprised because the time for petition is gone. If somebody is writing petition now, when all of us admitted that the election was free fair credible and transparent, then it is an afterthought. In a political set up, upheavals are natural. It is not devoid of upheavals.
PT: So in clear terms, in your opinion everybody is with you
Audu: It is not possible to assume that everybody is with me. Majority of the people are with me.
PT: There are corruption charges against you currently in court. What is the state of the matter now?
Audu: Well, it is a political vendetta because in the first place the EFCC was not in existence between 1999 and 2003. The act came into force in 2004 and you cannot make a law and backdate it. It is not retroactive. Secondly they were accusing me of stealing cars. They said I stole the car that was given to me as honorarium. The one given to my wife as honorarium, I stole it too. So also the one given to the deputy governor and all public officers!
They were given these vehicles in consonance with the Revenue Mobilization circular. The circular stipulates that at the terminal point of a public officer, any mobile goods like vehicle for instance, you either sell it to them at book value or give it to them on honorarium. If you discount the cost of a 504 Peugeot car on book value for four years, the value at the end of the four years is zero. Therefore you give them out. And how much did I earn when I was in office. They kept changing the amount. First of all they said its N1.5 billion. In another breath they said N5 billion and lastly they said it is N10 or N11 billion. The same thing happened in my trial. They kept changing the courts; I went to four different courts in Kogi.
First I went to a court under the control of a certain judge. When he was about giving judgment, they moved it from there because the judgment was going to be in my favour. They took it to another court. He did the same thing, and the court said nothing was incriminating. Again they moved the case to another court, also in Kogi. The judge was also convinced that there was no prima facie case against me. They withdrew the case when they realized that there was going to be judgment in my favour and took it to Justice Husseini. This is a single case! Then they kept changing the amount. Lastly, they took the whole case from Kogi State judiciary and brought it to Abuja. They were looking for a court that will nail me. This is a matter that is already before the court, and it will therefore be a contempt of court for me to disclose what happened in the court. But as far as I am concerned, they have not established any prima facie case against me in the past 12 years.
PT: Don’t you think this could affect you at the polls?
Audu: Even if it will affect me, now that we have free and fair elections, let’s go to the public. They will decide. Let me tell you what happened to me, particularly. When I was handcuffed and taken to Lokoja, the students of Crowther Memorial College came out and it was a big battle between them and the police. If I was earning very minimal amount, marginal, and I did all what I did in Kogi State that enjoyed the accolade of all and sundry and even made the Federal Government to crown me the best performing governor in Nigeria and my successors have had tremendous amount of money allocated to them and have nothing to show for it, yet they were not arrested by EFCC, don’t you think that there is injustice?
PT: There is this other controversy over your wife’s age. Are you married to a minor?
Audu: My ex-wife is the architect of it. You cannot be a minor and graduate from the university. My wife finished from the University of Jos. So if they say she is a minor, (that means) she graduated or was even admitted to the university at the age of 10. Her name would have gone into the Guinness Book of Records as the only woman that was admitted to the university at the age of 11.
PT: So, how old is your wife?
Audu: She was born in 1992. So she is 23. All her documents are there. When someone wants to blackmail you, he will do all sorts of things. That’s why I said it is dangerous to lend credence to speculation.
PT: There is intense agitation for power shift in Kogi State. Kogi East where you come from has produced all the governors since the creation of the state. Why are you people depriving the other two senatorial districts from producing the state governor?
Audu: We are not depriving them. The problem is that their approach is wrong. You don’t achieve that through violence or conspiracy; you achieve that through dialogue, negotiation.
Let me take you down the memory lane. In 1991, we assembled in Okene. By that I mean the Igalas, the Igbiras and the Okuns, to decide on who should get the first slot among the three groups. It was virtually agreed that the Igalas should have it. The agreement is that after we have completed our own tenure we should return it to the other side, that is, the two sides and that they on their own will decide whose turn it should be. I am a party to that but most of the people that were present during that agreement are now late. So I told our people that we must make power shift a reality.
The Igalas were in the northern region but we did not have any opportunity to present one of our own as a governor. We went to Kwara, the same thing repeated itself. And that caused a lot of disenchantment among a lot of ethnic groups. So that part of Kwara was amputated and merged with Benue.
Again in Benue, we did not have that opportunity, until Kogi was created. I told my people that if what motivated us or prompted us to agitate for the creation of Kogi State was the mere fact that our own did not have the opportunity of becoming governor, and we have the opportunity now, can’t we extend the same olive branch to our brothers? The Okun, Igala and Igbira had lived together for 75 years, under Kabba Province and we have lived together as brothers and sisters. Why should we allow this to cause friction? All the Igalas agreed. Now my first term was 1999-2003 and my second term would have commenced from 2003 and ended 2007 after which I would have returned power to them. But the lifespan of my administration was abruptly truncated in 2003. This is why we are dragging this up till now.
My contention is that since I was privy to that agreement, I will be the first person to make power shift a reality in Kogi state. And by the grace of God, in 2019, we will have either somebody from Okun or Igbira to be the governor of Kogi State in the process of making real our drive to embark on power shift. But unfortunately their approach is totally wrong. They want to kill, maim and do all sorts of things because of power shift.
PT: So, what are you doing to calm the frayed nerves?
Audu: Well I have gone to Igalaland and told them that the last time an Igala will be a governor until after we have completed the circle of rotation is 2019. After 2019, we will hand over to our brothers. This is because if you are eating sugar (you know that sugar is very sweet) but if you are eating alone while others are watching, you are creating problem for yourself. If you share it with your friends or neighbours, that will generate a lot of peace. But I do not know whether it is the fault of the elite or whoever is responsible. They are always saying ‘power shift, we either do it now or never.’ That generated a lot of friction among brothers and sisters, which should not be the case. I have promised them and it’s only me who can speak to the Igala community and they will agree. As for my colleague in the PDP, he cannot even say it without being lynched.
PT: Some people have complained that you always name public institutions after your relatives while you were governor. Is it true?
Audu: It’s very true. Ahmadu Bello named the university after himself. George Washington (former US President) University was also like that. Even the Washington city was named after somebody. So, it is nothing new. It is better to provide a structure and name it after yourself than not providing anything at all.
PT: The PDP said that they have beaten you before and they will beat you again. What is your take on that?
Audu: I have said it before. They rigged the election before not that they beat me. But this time, that there will be free, credible and transparent election. Let’s go and face the electorate. They purported to have beaten Buhari before, 2003, 2007, 2011 but in 2015 what happened? So our history runs pari passu.