In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, one of the founding editors of Newswatch Magazine, Yakubu Mohammed, speaks about his ambition for the Kogi State gubernatorial position; his party, the All Progressives Congress; and the controversial partnership with billionaire businessman, Jimoh Ibrahim.
PT: By the time you declare your intention to run for the governorship position in Kogi State, it would be your second attempt for that post. What do you think you did wrong the last time?
Yakubu: What I, I wouldn’t call did wrong, maybe what I did that other people would think was wrong was that I was too trusting, trusted the people I was dealing with, trusted the people that asked me to come and run, trusted them and believed that, when they said politics is not a neat game, I still thought that there were some gentlemen in it and there are people you can trust, whose words you can take.
But on reflection now I just discovered that what you see may not be what it is. So if there is anything I think I did wrong, it was that I was too trusting. I wanted to trust people, I wanted to believe that any person you see is a decent human being first and foremost, until you are disappointed. That’s my own approach to life. Outside of that I don’t know if there was anything I did wrong. Because, if at all, of all the people who contested, I was virtually one of the few who traversed the whole state selling my candidature, telling them what I wanted to do for Kogi State, letting them know who I was, and engaging with them, getting their own feelings and putting my hands on their aspirations and their desires and their needs, what they want from Kogi State. And I did that in virtually all the 21 local governments of Kogi State. I don’t think anybody else did that and I don’t think I did the wrong thing by doing that. That’s what democracy was all about, that’s what it is. But I didn’t know that some people will sit down in their rooms and pour money into these things and get the ticket without following the due process.
PT: You said you were too trusting the last time. Are you changing your approach this time?
Yakubu: That I met the wrong people doesn’t mean that everybody is bad. So I still have to trust people. I’m from that state, and they are my compatriots, and I belong to them, so I cannot say I don’t trust them. One or two people cannot make you believe that everybody is wrong. The truth is that I think maybe those who had the levers of power in their hands, the kind of person they wanted was not my kind. I place premium in integrity, equity, principle, fairness, justice. Maybe we were not on the same page. Maybe when they asked me to come and run they thought I was on the same page with them. Maybe they thought that yes if I got federal allocation from Abuja, I’ll put it on the table we’ll share it and we are not going to use it to develop the state. Maybe they thought so. Maybe they didnt believe that my interest was to source for money to develop the state, not to develop some big godfathers somewhere. So from that perspective, they thought I did a wrong thing, as far as they are concerned, that will be it. But as far as I’m concerned, I did not do anything wrong.
PT: Kogi East Senatorial district, where you come from, has produced all the governors of the state since 1999. A lot of people are clamouring for change, for the West or Central to take their turn. What do you think?
Yakubu: There is nothing wrong with anybody clamouring for power shift. When you are talking about democracy, it’s all about inclusiveness, you don’t exclude anybody. In 1999, in 2003, in 2007, in 2011, when people came out to contest, no part of the state was left out. Nobody was left out on the basis of the fact that he came from so and so local government. So it wasn’t anybody’s turn. Nobody sat down and said ‘now this is your turn, you do it. When it is our turn we will do it.’ Nobody. It’s all about democracy, it’s all about going out to look for the best person . It’s all about the people expressing their wish and desire for a leader that will lead them properly and develop the state. So it’s not about turn by turn. I didn’t think anybody sat down and said ‘ok you start first, then it will be our turn.’ Nobody was excluded. From the East Senatorial district, from the West Senatorial district, from the Central Senatorial district, people came out to campaign, to be elected governor. And people expressed their wish through the ballot box and voted for whoever they wanted. So it’s not a question of since it started they have been coming from here. It’s not like that. Till today, people come out.
There are many people in Okun land who want to be governor today. There are many people in Ebira land who want to be governor today. And there are many people in Igala land who want to be governor. Nobody is excluding anybody. When I was going around that time wanting to be governor, I went to all those places and I was given mammoth reception. And their own people came to my place, equally they were received very well. They were being received in my place not because they are Igala people, and I was being received in their place not because I’m from Ebira land or Okun land. That is the beauty of the whole thing. We are talking about former Kabba Province, all of us grew up in that place knowing one another very well, living like brothers and sisters. And what is good for us, it’s the best that will be good for us, not a question of where this one is coming from.
I’m not seeking to be governor of Igala land or an Igala governor, I’m seeking to be governor of Kogi State. And if I become governor of Kogi State, like Buhari said, I will belong to everybody and I belong to nobody. Nobody chose where he should be born, from the word go. So if you happen to be Ebira, nothing stops you from aspiring to be governor of Kogi State. If you’re from Okun land, Koto, Igala, nobody stops you from aspiring. And it shouldn’t be held against the Igala people that you have produced before. The solution to all these problem is good leadership. If you are talking about turn by turn, it means that if you feel you have been maltreated, then you get there tomorrow then it is your turn to maltreat the people who maltreated you. That will not augur well for development, social cohesion, and stability.
PT: The last election was the first time PDP lost a federal election in Kogi State, because the state is seen as a PDP stronghold…
Yakubu: (Cuts in) You see, this is the problem. It’s a problem of perception. Yes, maybe you think it’s PDP stronghold, it wasn’t PDP stronghold before, it was ANPP…
PT: But the argument then was that ANPP won because PDP fielded a non-Igala candidate…
Yakubu: (Cuts in) I don’t know about the argument. The point I’m making, if you do the wrong arithmetic and you lose, it means you are talking about the dynamics of power and politics. So whatever you do the lose or win, it matters in politics, like in football or any other game. So the argument that PDP fielded a non-Igala person, I wouldn’t know that. Maybe they fielded the wrong person, who didn’t have the quality of leadership, who didn’t know what he was doing and so on and so forth. And then imposition. Maybe there was an imposition and people rebelled against imposition. But I don’t think it was because they fielded an Igala or a non-Igala person. You must field the right candidate to win election and the candidate must be somebody who has a vision for development, who has the courage to transmit his vision into reality and take his people from where they are forward.
PT: Do you think APC’s victory at the federal election in the State is a flash in the pan or is it a sign that the PDP is becoming weak there?
Yakubu: It’s not only becoming weak, it’s becoming irrelevant. You see, you get power and you don’t use it well. People somewhere along the line are bound to react. And that’s what they did. They reacted. They can’t be held down, they want development. They can’t be held down on the basis of… They didn’t create PDP, they didn’t come into this world with PDP. But they came into this world desiring to live like God wanted them to live and whoever wants to lead them must lead them justly. So if PDP did not provide that vehicle for them, they will change to another party. And that’s what they did last time, they voted with their card. And they can do it again. So I don’t think it’s a flash in the pan. People obviously are angry. They are yearning for development and they are not getting it.
PT: Money was huge factor in the last election. To what extent does money play a role in Kogi politics?
Yakubu: If anybody gives money it must be PDP, they are the ones who control money, they control power. But I do know that when people are tired, your money has no meaning to them. The era where you will be giving them money and you are not leading them well at the end of the day, I think that era is fast gone. And I think it may be gone for good. I went home to vote. I knew what happened in my own community, I didn’t go round the whole state. So I wouldn’t know what role money played. But as far as I’m concerned I didn’t see anybody giving money to anybody in my village where I voted. I didn’t see money exchanging hands. But whatever money exchanging hands was not enough to dissuade them from a chosen course. They wanted change.
PT: Can you, in a few words, give an honest assessment of the current administration of Captain Idris Wada?
Yakubu: He is a very good person, and a very simple person, and he means well. Maybe he was overwhelmed by what he saw when he got there. Maybe he didn’t prepare to be governor. Maybe the thing was just thrust upon him. He has not been able to find his feet firmly, as far as I’m concerned. But he is doing the best he can, in a very honest way, but it’s possible his best may not be good enough. He’s a very decent person. But you see, there is capacity, there is willpower, courage, all in leadership, there must be something you have to have to be able to do certain things. There must be lots of preparation, lots of articulation of desires and goals. I don’t know how much of it he did before he got there. But I think he’s learning fast. But you see, time is also running out. So at the end of the day, it is left for the people of Kogi State to decide whether he has done very well and he should continue or he hasn’t done very well and he should make way for somebody else.
PT: You crossed from PDP to APC, just like many other prominent politicians in the state. The APC on the other hand has former governor Abubakar Audu and other prominent politicians. Do you foresee a clash of egos sooner or later?
Yakubu: Ego? No. Maybe a clash of ideas or principles. At the end of the day people should be allowed to pick who they want. People will go out and market themselves, move around and tell them what they want to do. They are all human beings. They should know what is good for them. If the past is good for them they stick with the past. If the future is good for them they will change for the future. They are looking for new ideas, new personalities, they will know what they will do. If they want to stick to the old ways of doing things they will know what to do.
PT: When you say the old ways what exactly are you talking about?
Yakubu: There are some people who have been there before. Their style has not changed. And there are people who have not been there before, and they want to come with new ideas. So if we are talking about change, then the change has to go all the way. But the choice lies the people. If you stick to where you are and you are satisfied with it, fine. If you want change then you work for change.
PT: A lot of people voted APC because of the Buhari factor…
Yakubu: (Cuts in) And the desire for change in our place, not just the Buhari factor. There was Buhari factor in 2011, there was Buhari factor in 2003, there was Buhari factor in 2007, it didn’t go through. When people are tired, Buhari factor will now be meaningful. Those people who didn’t want Buhari before now wanted Buhari because they are tired. It’s not just the Buhari factor alone, Buhari factor is that of consistency and integrity. So now maybe they saw that this man is really a credible leader. Unfortunately we have been misled by people who we thought were good. They discovered it. So maybe that’s what you call Buhari factor. Because this factor, he didn’t manufacture it in 2014 or 2015, it has been with him. It has been consistent. It is Nigerians who have not been consistent. But when they are now pushed to the wall, they begin to see clearly. The factors in my own state is that people got tired, and they needed the change and Buhari brought that change so they latched on to it.
PT: You’ve talked about the people in your state desiring changes, but let’s talk about your chances in the party…
Yakubu: (Cuts in) If I go in my chances are very bright.
PT: But the whole party politics…aspirants sharing money to delegates and all that. Can you match the financial muscle of some of those who’d contest against you?
Yakubu: Even if I have the money, I won’t do so. I’m not going to steal money. If I go into government I don’t want to go and steal. So why will I spend money to go and help people? Let me give you an analogy, you have a farm, somebody wants to come to your farm to help you, and he’s bribing you, paying money to your children, paying money to everybody so that you can allow him into your farm to help you. He’s not coming to help he’s coming to steal your products from the farm. If you are so desirous of helping your people, to take them as Moses would do to the Promise Land, why are you distributing so much money to them so that they can pick you to help them? They are the ones who should be coming to you ‘Please come and help us.’ You shouldn’t be paying them to invite you to come and help them.
I don’t know whether we are seeing it. In this country people go and spend billions so that they can be voted into power. They are making an investment, they will go there and reap. And that’s why the states today are broke, they can’t pay salary. The money they spent to get to office they have to recoup, that shouldn’t be the way anymore. We cannot continue that way. And people must be prepared to say ‘No’ to money and they are prepared to say ‘No’ to money now. Because their eyes have seen it, their stomach is feeling it, their children are not in school. They don’t have hospitals, they don’t have good roads. What it takes to have decent living they don’t have. Buhari wasn’t the one who has the largest chest of cash during the primaries, but he came out. Look at the amount of money they deployed during the election, they postponed the election to spend more money on the electorate, yet he triumphed, in a monumental way.
PT: Some of your critics say how you and your colleagues ran the latter years of Newswatch, ending in a messy lawsuit with Jimoh Ibrahim, is a testament of how you will run a state government. What’s your reaction?
Yakubu: Newspaper is not the same as running the state. Who said we couldn’t run newspaper house? You are looking at Yakubu Mohammed. And you want me to blow my trumpet? If you want me to blow my trumpet, even in journalism, I will tell you a bit.
If you are equating newspaper with national politics and institutional development, this guy here has been pro-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, the biggest university in Africa, and I made the changes there. I was not running a newspaper, I was running the institution of ABU, providing leadership, providing ideas, and putting smiles on the faces of people. And I was dealing with professors, the most articulate people you can have in any society, and I didn’t fail there. Today, I’ve been appointed pro-Chancellor of another federal university in Birnin Kebbi and I’m not sure if I was a failure all that would come my way.
PT: But you could argue that that isn’t quite the same as running a state…
Yakubu: To even talk about failing to run a newspaper, I was 26 when I was appointed Associate Editor of New Nigeria, two months after youth corps. To me, yeah it may have happened in the past, but if you look at the last how many years to me that is some record.
We had the southern edition of New Nigeria from Ijora, and the idea was for New Nigeria to be selling in the states in the south on the day of edition. Despite that we were producing in the south we were still not reaching Calabar on the day of edition. When I became Associate Editor in ’76 all that changed. We were competing effectively with Daily Times and all the newspapers in the south here.
1980 I joined Concord, and by ’82 I was promoted Editor of National Concord. The circulation figure was between 99,000 and 100,000 per day. When I took over in 1982, I took the circulation to over 400,000 copies a day. And that was when everybody was saying the largest selling newspaper in Africa.
It was my brain that gave rise to Newswatch. I, Yakubu Mohammed alone, was the one who thought of Newswatch, and I decided to bring my colleagues into it. And we became the best selling weekly news magazine in Africa. We gave birth to all the other publications you have today. That is not failure.
We decided to bring Jimoh Ibrahim into it because we had vision to expand. When we started Newswatch, we were not alone. We brought shareholders and other people to come into it. Journalism you don’t equate it with money. We had ideas, we didn’t have the money, we brought the people who had the money to partner with us and we ran a beautiful business for over 20 years.
Now we had a dream of expanding further, to go into television, daily newspaper and all the other ones. So we called for investors. So if we ran into a crooked person, which people do once in a while, that’s not mark of failure. The one that has closed down, Yakubu Mohammed is not working there, Are is not working there, Dan is not working there. Where is Daily Times today? Daily Times died, Segun Osoba left there and became governor of Ogun State. Why didn’t he fail to become governor of Ogun State because Daily Times died?
PT: Despite Kogi State having a democratic leadership for the past 16 years, it seems that despite all the promises the leaders have failed the people. What are you coming to do differently?
Yakubu: There must be some modicum of honesty and trust and integrity and willingness to sacrifice. I’m willing to do all that. I don’t want to talk about those who had been there before. But my summation of the whole thing is that in this country many people get to office with agenda that is different from the public agenda. Agenda that is self-centred, selfish, you want to go there and make money for yourself and your family and you are leaving the state bare. Some people get into this office not knowing virtually their right hand from their left hand, and I think I’m going to make the difference if I get the opportunity.
Look at the people who have been contending, people who have stolen money from where they worked before, they want to come there, so they have the experience of stealing. Then they come there they steal the state dry. That will not take the state from A to B. If you are not a poor man you can’t empathize with the poor, you don’t even know what he feels. In all the places I worked nobody has accused me of stealing one kobo. I’ve been in ABU, I can tell you they are awarding contracts of N200 – N300 million. I left there with my allowance anytime I come there for council meetings. And I will even share the allowances to students from my area who came to greet me, all I will be left with was my transport money, my air fare back to Lagos. If I did that for three years, without tampering with their money, I can do it anywhere.
And what is it? Simple, basic things. Our people are looking for roads, they don’t have. They are looking for decent schools for their children, the schools we have today are collapsed. Health conditions, people have to be hurried to Abuja, and they will hurry themselves to abroad. You can provide these things for people.
PT: Most of the states, including Kogi, are currently struggling to pay salaries. What would you do differently?
Yakubu: We need to do agriculture, we need to go into other areas of the economy. If we are getting money from oil, invest it in agriculture, it is the largest provider of employment opportunities in Nigeria, in Africa. There are countries that don’t have oil and they are surviving. We have solid minerals in Kogi State, these have not been tapped. Whoever is tapping them, they are doing it illegally. Put a platform in place that will make it profitable for people to engage in those activities and they will live decently.
This thing they call ghost workers, have you ever seen a ghost going to collect salary? They are fraudulent workers, and the people in power they know them. I happen to be on the think tank of Governor Wada when he started in 2012, there are things we saw which we can’t talk about. This thing you call ghost workers, I’ve not seen any ghost collecting salary. The chairman of local government who left office ten years ago, they are still on payroll, their wives and children are still on payroll. The chairman who took over from them put his own people on the payroll. The people who succeed him cannot remove him because your own has to be there. The chairman who comes after you has to protect your own people and all these so when money comes it goes round all these people. So where is the money for development? You must have the courage and the willpower to stop all these? If I do that alone, I would have done a lot for the state.