Hon Muhammad Ali, former Minority Leader, Kaduna State House of Assembly spoke to our reporter Joseph Edegbo on politics and poverty alleviation. Excepts:
In the course of your politicking in the past four years, you have been in the State House of Assembly as a member, how will you describe your experience within the period?
It is an excellent experience and very satisfying because I like doing what I want to do best and particularly meeting with people especially the masses and doing the little one can do to put smile in their faces. I feel it is something very exemplary which should be encourage with a view to freeing our youths from the shackles of deprivation and social dislocation. We thank God for everything. We have in the last four years been able to impact positively in the lives of the downtrodden. We have been able to mentor quite a number of youths and in the process making them have a direction in their lives. So, to God be the Glory for all that we have been able to do in the period under review. I also thank my constituents’ for the opportunity to serve.
You concerned yourself with poverty alleviation and so you went into empowerment programme targeted at women and youths. What is the fate of these women and youths that depend on you all this while?
So far so good; all those we have been able to train, as of March this year; we have been able to train a total of 3,529 youths (males and females). Quite a number of them are on their feet now. They are able to hold themselves as an input from what they have been taught in the Centre for Human Resource Development and Empowerment Initiative, particularly those that were mentored in trades like plumbing, welding and fabrication, carpentry, fashion design, tailoring, electrical installation and computer studies. Most of them are gainfully employed either in some agencies of government or self employed. We have no fewer than 20 of our graduates that are working today in Abuja. Particularly for the women, those that were thought how to make yoghurt, liquid detergent, soap etc., most of the liquid detergents and car-wash you see being sold on the streets of Kaduna town are products of our graduates from this centre. So, the question of depending on me or what will they do doesn’t even arise because they are now men and women of caliber in their own rights. So, they will be able to fend for themselves and not only for themselves, they will also be able to assist those coming up into doing something in order to earn a living. So far, this is the situation.
For the purpose of continuity, the state government made a move to join hand with you, how far in this case?
The immediate past government of PDP were not serious as far as the issue of poverty alleviation is concern. It is just to make people believe that they are doing something but in essence they were doing nothing. A lot of money has gone down the drain with no visible or commensurate gain for the larger society. Poverty alleviation only became a status symbol within the corridors of power and the easiest way to divert public funds into private pockets. But I am confident that the present government under Malam Nasir El-Rufai whom I believe is a serious person will make the difference; he has the masses in his heart. So I believe and strongly too, that he will do something that will certainly be beneficial for the masses of this state especially in the areas of education, infrastructural development, the civil service etc
Meanwhile, what will happen to the programme since you are no more in the House of Assemblybecause it is capital intensive?
We will continue, by the grace of God, we will continue doing the best we can to train people, both males and females through the various areas that we have been training. In fact we have just taken stock and trying to commence a programme immediately after Ramadan because Ramadan is around the corner. We don’t want anything that will disrupt the process.
Is there any collaboration between this centre and NDE or any organization?
At the moment we have a collaborative agreement between the Centre for Human Resource Development which is here and the National Open University of Nigeria on one hand and then the Federal Ministry of Labour Skills Acquisition Center on the other hand. We are also working in partnership with the Industrial Training Fund (ITF).
The last four years, no doubt, was your first time in the State House of Assembly. What was your challenge during the period?
My challenge was more or less working hard to meet the expectations of my constituency. To a large extent, I think I will say yes, I have done what I can humanly do to the satisfaction of not only Kawo Constituency but the state at large because the people we trained here are not principally from my constituency, they cut across the state. We trained people from other local governments whom we feel will be able to say we used them to set example to other lawmakers to try and copy from what we are doing so that the dividends of democracy would be seen to spread around the state, not only peculiar to Kaduna North local government.
That you did not make it back to the State Assembly the second time was a big surprise to your political admirers. What will you say was responsible for your failure to return?
It is the will of God for me not to return. That is one. Secondly, my losing in the primaries only portrayed the level of confidence or political awareness of the constituents because if politicking or representation is about improving the lots of the people, I think we have been able to do much more than what we ordinarily should do as a member of the State Assembly. The literacy level of the people I represented and what they think representation should be, I feel are the two factors that can best explain why I was not reelected. But all said and done, I want to unequivocally say that there is no regret; I only thought of changing the social order
Does it have to do with illiteracy?
Oh yes. The literacy level like I said is what really matters because people feel going to the Assembly is for them to come and line up in my house for me to give them handouts. That, I don’t believe in. The best I can do is to try to empower people or educate them so that tomorrow, even if I am not there, they will be able to stand on their feet and say yes, I am. This is what matters most, not giving money. For the 3,000 plus that we have been able to train in this centre, today they are men and women standing on their own and fending for themselves without necessarily going to look for handouts from anybody. So, if this is done and understood, I think this is what should be the expectation of anybody but in our own case, I think people prefer handouts, and that I said is not part of my agenda. This is why the election went the way it did, but there is no regrets.
What Bill will you say really gave you tough time?
The issue of commercial motorcycling was one of the real testing times because after that, politicians tried to cash in on it and even sent hooligans after me. They came to my house and did all sort of rubbish. Whoever is doing something has to believe in what he is doing. People came here to plead with me that I should go over the radio and announce that I am withdrawing and I said no. I don’t say things today and tomorrow make a reversal; that is defeatist and I don’t belong to that extraction. That is not my life, whatever will happen, let it happen, I stood on the issue of the ban of motorcycle and there was no going back. Today, what is happening? Even the commercial motorcyclists who were banned are today better-off because they are making more income with the Keke Napep than they were using motorcycle. Health wise, there is a lot of improvement. Safety wise, there is also a lot of improvement because we do not witness the kind of accidents we have been witnessing during the days of motorcycling. These are things we should be proud of. Those who were against it or calling me names because of my insistence that commercial motorcycling be banned, I believe, wherever they are today, they must be singing the praise that oh yes this is a good thing. I sincerely believe that the real operators are happy with what they are gaining today in terms of health, in terms of safety and also in terms of income. They are better-off than what they were during the motorcycle days.
From experience, what is your advice to the new members of the House?
They need to be patient and work together like a family. We have only seven people from the opposition party (the PDP) and twenty-seven members from the ruling party (the APC). They should work as a family. Opposition is nothing other than bargain and compromise. So they should work as a family and be less frivolous in terms of material acquisition because if they are in the House principally not to make laws that will aid the growth of the state but to look at what they will get materially, I think they are making a mistake. They should look forward to working together and working hard in order to move Kaduna state forward. We, at any point in time, will be willing and ready to assist in whatever little way we can to help in their cause. This is my position and also that of other members who have not been able to make it back to the House.
Looking at what happened at the National Assembly when they elected their principal officers, it seems the ruling party is in disarray. What is your reaction?
There are certain tendencies that are trying to creep into the APC in order to create discord. Although we look at it as part of the process of democratic growth, we are in all sincerity not very happy with the development. We hope the leadership of the party will sit-up and make analysis of what happened, where they went wrong, why they went wrong and then resolve to take a position to make corrections. Most importantly, Saraki and his cohorts, his co-travelers, must bear in mind that they are products of APC, never did they make APC but APC made them. So, they should not for any reason at the last hour …, if they think they want to jettison the APC, they are making the biggest mistake. My call on them and the party is to try to close ranks so that we can be seen to work together for the common good of all.
With the composition of the Assembly, how safe is the ruling party?
The ruling party is very safe. The fact that Ekweremadu has become the Deputy Senate President does not matter, we are not in any way scared or disturbed. Much as whatever will happen will have to be by majority votes and whatever anyone wants to do will have to be by the rule, everybody will have to work by the book, nobody will bring personal or any primordial sentiment to bear. Whatever will be done will be done by the book. So we have no fear about what has happened so far.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai has announced the restructuring of the state ministries. How do you see the action?
That is the best that should happen to Kaduna state. Before now, we have about 24 ministries. There is duplication of efforts. About 3 ministries are doing the work of only one ministry. For example, we have the ministry for local government; we have the ministry for chieftaincy affairs. The functions of these two ministries correlate with one another. There is no point having these two ministries. You can collapse the ministry for chieftaincy affairs into that of ministry for local government and create a department handling chieftaincy affairs. You can name it ministry for local government and chieftaincy affairs. That makes sense and cost less. This is why I think the administration decides to collapse some of these ministries – some two or three into one so that it will make for effective performance, supervision and very functional ministries against what it used to be before. So, I think what El-Rufai did is in the best interest of the people of this state and for developmental purposes.