The origin of Gombe, the Jewel of the Savannah is traceable to a Fulani Jihadist, Buba Yero Abubakar dan Usman Subande, a disciple of Usman Dan Fodio who in a famous Islamic Jihad between 1804 and 1808, created a new Muslim entity that spread far and wide in the northern part of today’s Nigeria. The emirate prospered from its original base Gombe Aba (“Old Gombe”) until the 1880s when religious warfare and the encroachment of British colonial rule brought severe disruption to the area.
Gombe has an excellent architectural design, a serene landscape and huge arable lands for all kinds of Agriculture. It is a major collecting point for peanuts (groundnuts), cotton, sorghum, millet, cowpeas, cassava (manioc), beans, onions and tobacco. In addition, her people keep cattle, goats, sheep, horses, donkeys and practice the traditional crafts of weaving and dyeing cotton amongst many other human enterprises. The state is also rich in the large deposit of limestone and hosts one of the five Nigerian sites that have been proposed to be enlisted into the World Islamic Heritage list- the Mbormi Battle Ground.
It became a state in Nigeria on 1st October 1996 and has 11 Local Government Areas and 14 Emirates/chiefdoms. The current Emir is Alhaji Abubakar Shehu Abubakar III, while, the Governor of the state is His Excellency, Alhaji Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya of the All Progressives Congress.
Alh. Abubakar Inuwa Kari, alias Alhaji keremi (small Alhaji), is pan Nigerian and the Chief of Staff to the Governor. He came to governance with very rich private sector experiences which to a greater extent is impacting the sterling achievements of his principal. He had his education both in Nigeria and overseas.
In this interview, with Abdulfattah in Gombe, he opens up on the giant strides of his principal.
What are the cardinal programmes of the Governor and how has the journey been so far?
Alhamdulillah, it has been a very good one but challenging. The beginning was tough if viewed against the backdrop of what the last administration handed over to us. We virtually started from ground zero. Without sounding immodest, with what we have achieved so far, in two years in the state; I do not think in the history of Gombe state any of the previous administrations achieved such. Having said that, the cardinal programmes of his Excellency, Governor Inuwa Yahaya are peoples oriented programmes meant to quickly deliver to his people dividends of democracy, yet to be seeing in annals of the state. It focuses on qualitative education, accessible health, large scale agriculture, empowerment, security and extensive infrastructural developments. In all these, we are doing well beyond what many people would have thought possible.
Can you expatiate more on a few specific sectors?
Long before the swearing-in the governor commissioned a team of young professionals to conduct the need assessments for the state. They went to all the 140 wards in the state with questionnaires asking the people for their primary expectations and immediate needs. They conducted physical inspections of the infrastructures available in the primary health care facilities and education sector which includes the number of schools, the state of the buildings and staff with the view to knowing how the government should address such. They also inspected infrastructure on water provisions and Its availability or otherwise. These assessments were done with precisions deploying the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) technology and backed up with pictorials. Their findings were compiled into a report that formed the blueprints’ for the execution of our activities. As I speak to you, all our primary health care facilities in 140 wards are functional. Initially, where there was none, we built and renovated the ones that were in a state of disrepair. The same thing was done under education, provision of water, empowerment and other social amenities. There is no ward in Gombe, we have not touched with our programmes. In agriculture, we already recorded a very big impact on our farmers. 80 % of our people are involved in agriculture. What we have done particularly upon coming to office is solving the major challenges hindering the meaningful agricultural process and that was access to fertilizer by farmers. Within weeks of the administration, we were able to provide fertilizers to them in every polling unit. The Governor directed us to take the fertilizers to the polling units and farmers who needed them to come there and purchase them directly for their farms. This increases our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Internal Generated Revenue (IGR). Previously these fertilizers were given to politicians who diverted them for commercial gains.
Does the government of Gombe have a concern for out of school children and girl-child education?
Of course! Let me tell you. When we came into the office, we were confronted with very large numbers of out of school children. As at that time, the figure we had was about seven hundred thousand or more. Through our interventions and collaboration with Better Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA) and Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC); we can confidently tell you that we have taken more than two hundred thousand kids, of those children back to the school system and away from the streets. We achieved that, with a work plan, whereby officials had to go from one house to the other in all the communities in the state, sensitizing people on reasons why their kids have to be in schools. In addition, we remodelled the Almajiri’s schools, where we now combined for them Arabic and western education modes of learning; as well as provide essentials like school uniforms, books, other learning materials and feeding. Alhamdulillah, we have been able to do a lot in this area. On the girl-child education, we are also doing very well. We have particularly done programmes targeting the girl-child. We once invited successful and prominent women of Gombe, in all human endeavours to brainstorm on how best to tackle the challenges inherent in a girl-child education and how to ensure she has the equal opportunity as her male counterpart
How are you combating youth restiveness in Gombe state?
We positively engage the youth in order to keep them busy, get them out of the streets and orientate their minds away from hooliganism. Very soon, we shall have the citizenship and ethical orientation centres opened across the state, where more of them shall be trained with entrepreneurial and vocational skills. We are trying to do our best but there is still a lot to be done for them to combat their restiveness.
Sir, can you unmask for our readers the personality of your principal?
His Excellency, Alhaji Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya is an embodiment of humility, a workaholic and too passionate about delivering on his mandate. He does not accept excuses from members of his cabinet on tasks assigned. Being an accountant, he is a very good manager of resources and a very good financial planner. Once he gives a task, he ensures he keeps a tab on the person until he or she accomplishes it. And that is not surprising, considering the fact, that, he came to government with a wealth of experiences from the private sector and once served as a finance commissioner and planning in the state. His background and training from a private sector accorded his administration a big advantage in helping him to make the public sector efficient, keep the civil servants on their toes, thus reducing the bureaucracy it is noted for. To be honest with you, the civil service is too slow, but the Governor is using his experience to overcome the sluggishness in the service. His administration is youth-friendly; he brings a lot of young people into his government.
How comes Gombe has achieved so much infrastructural development in spite of its smallness?
Kudos to the Governor, his financial planning and prudent management of resources helps. A lot of people did not give us a chance of being able to pay salaries not to talk of infrastructural developments because the previous administration bequeaths almost 200 billion naira in debts to us. But with the financial skills of the Governor, we overcome the initial challenges, by blocking financial leakages in the system. Unnecessary expenditures were discarded with and we cleaned up the civil service to weed out ghost workers. The ‘ghost workers’ syndrome in the civil service was a drain in the system and blocking it, freed the government more funds.
What is the secret behind the peace in Gombe state compared to other parts in the North East?
Gombe is cosmopolitan in composition and hospitable in character. Over the years, a lot of tribes and people from different parts of the country settled in the state without much ado. For example, the Governor’s family home is sandwiched by houses populated by other tribes particularly Igbos and Yoruba and they are living in peace with each other. Here, we do not have Sabongari-a place for settlers unlike other parts of the North eastern States. We have been living peacefully as our brother’s keeper for years without suspicion and mistrust. I think this is one key reason. Furthermore, the clergies of the two principal religions, Islam and Christianity have been playing very significant roles, in the peaceful living in Gombe State. On their pulpits weekly sermons, they extend to the generality of the people right messages that foster unity. They are partners in progress.
Can the Northeast and Nigeria be in peace again?
Yes, it can, if there is a sincere collaboration between traditional, religious and political leaders. Here, we hold meetings from time to time. We invite clergies, traditional and political leaders to discuss and resolve amicably issues and matters that may lead to mistrust, bickering and skirmishes. This has helped our situation. In addition, we closely monitor developments around the country, particularly in the Northeast, once we heard of any ugly development in other parts of the country; we call for a security meeting and address the issue ahead before it gets to us. Therefore, there can be peace again in the Northeast, if other states religious bodies, traditional institutions, political leaders and governments can emulate our model, particularly our synergy with the clerics. Also, to have peace in the country at large, community leaders and parents need to play their roles in monitoring their children and subjects. Once they envisage a problem, proactive measures should be taken to nip it in the buds. I have to be very honest with you, peace will only return if we have leaders that are ready to provide good leadership, lead by example and live above primordial sentiments and followers that must be ready to follow and do what is expected of them.
What do you have to say to people that are beating the drums of war in Nigeria?
Most of these people that champion these discordant tunes are young people that do not understand what war is or have never experienced it. Anyone that has lived in the Northeast during the peak of insurgency would not wish for war. Same for those that witnessed the Nigeria civil war. I could recall the war recorded nasty moments for many and till today, the scars are still visible. Some politicians are pushing these young people for selfish reasons because these young ones do not know what war is.
What is the office of the Chief of Staff all about?
It is the back office of the governor, where we get the office of the governor functioning. It is a 24/7 job that oversees both the official and personal affairs of the governor. Being the chief of staff, one is in charge of the machinery, which oils the governor’s activities to ensure things are getting done in the expected manners and timely. It is a tough job but, Alhamdulillah, my training from the private sector background, has come in handy and luckily I have a principal who has a lot of confidence in me, allows me to do my job the way it should be done and gives me leverage to do what is right for us to succeed as a government. These notwithstanding there are overwhelming moments and one of such was the management of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath. It was a trying period for me but again, my principal was there standing by my side.
How did you get into politics and what is unique about Gombe politics?
I got into politics by accident. I was working in the private sector as a banker when I was invited in the year 2005 to serve as Senior Special Assistant to a minister in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. That was my first exposure to the public sector and politics and since then I have not to look back. Afterwards, I went to party administration and became the national organizing Secretary of the defunct Alliance for Democracy later Action Congress of Nigeria. Before my present position, I worked as the director of the organization for the ruling party, APC. Politics in Gombe is not different from what we have in other areas. Ours is only more orderly because we are small and are united by family links. Although at a point in the past, we experienced the ugly side of it, especially between 2003 and 2007, things have since changed for the better.
Who is your mentor in politics and administration?
My mentor in politics is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I trained under him and learnt how to be a team player from him. He believes in teamwork and can identify talent and nurtures that talent to be part of a formidable team to achieve the desired results and goals. Asiwaju is a master strategist. Mark you; if in the future, he indicates interest in any political office in this country, I will be at the forefront of his campaigns. Chief Bisi Akande is my mentor in administration. I worked directly under him for close to 10 years. Then, he was my National Chairman and I learnt a lot from him too. Dr Usman Bugaje and Chief John Oyegun are also sound administrators, from whom, I learnt a lot. God bless them all.
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