Zakari Mohammed represents Kaiama/Baruten Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. He is one of the close political associates of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki. He served as special assistant on sports when the Kwara Football Academy and Abubakar Bukola Saraki, ABS, FC were established. He was later appointed commissioner for energy before his election into the House of Representatives in 2011. He, along with other faithful, followed Saraki to rejoin the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from All Progressives Congress, APC, recently. Mohammed signified intention to run for the governorship this year. However, he stepped down on the instruction of Saraki and was asked to pick the ticket for the Kwara North Senatorial District instead. He spoke with Wole Adedeji.
How has it been out there campaigning?
We thank God. I mean what is important is that by the timetable we are going with, we are campaigning now. Our campaign centers on exactly what we did in the past not on what we are about to do because for us it is acting on experience. We have said this couple of times that it is better to give your job to an experienced hand rather than giving it to somebody who will keep on trying and that is exactly what has happened. We are focused. We are coming from the standpoint of experience and we have firm belief in the fact that the people and the immediate society have the absolute confidence in us.
What is your agenda for the people as a senator?
In the last eight years or even before then, I had the opportunity to serve them in various capacities. Of course, you could have shown them what you could offer and what you have been able to offer. For me, running for the Senate is a familiar terrain having been in the Green Chamber for almost eight years. I have given good accounts of myself in terms of representation, oversight and lawmaking.
How are the people of Kwara North where you come from feeling now that the governorship slot which was promised them eight years ago has been denied them?
They will be disappointed, which is obvious. We have been talking to them that is; you missed a step, there is another step to take. There is a better day ahead. We don’t need to think of the problem, but the solution. What is available for now for the Kwara North is senator and we will do that though grudgingly.
But of course, it is in our interest that it is more guaranteed to be in Saraki camp than elsewhere because that is where you have leadership and you can hold them to their voice eventually. But of course there, who will you say will give you his voice. And we don’t have the number to produce a governor. No one senatorial district has the number and strength. You need the support of others to win as governor. In the interest of communality, we need to work together and forge ahead.
READ ALSO: I’ll probe Okorocha, if… – Ihedioha
Looking back, what would say you have been able to do as a representative of your people in Abuja?
We helped over 100 people secure pensionable jobs with the state and Federal Governments, scholarships and bursary awards for students, empowerment programmes for women, widows and youth. My boreholes that I built are close to 100; they are both motorised and hand pump, intervention programmes in construction and renovation of classrooms in various locations.
For me, it is about service. Service is something you can offer in any capacity either as a senator, House of Representatives member or as a commissioner. To my credit, when I was appointed commissioner for energy, the only community that had electricity in the whole of Baruten Local Government Area was Ilesha. We then took it to Gwanara and Chikanda, the border town with Benin Republic.
Although some of the cables had been vandalised, that notwithstanding, we have taken stock of the cost and we are attending to it. We are sensitising leaders of the affected communities on how to weave security around such facilities and move in to fix the damage.
Some people have gone there before (the senate), what is their contribution? I have done my best within the limit of my office to ensure that I meet up to the peoples’ needs
You need to give the assignment to a man who knows the road; who knows what it takes to represent you. Anybody who goes there now will have to go and learn in the Red Chamber. For me, I won’t use them for experiment; rather, I will hit the ground running because I am used to legislative maneuvers in the House of Representatives and National Assembly in general. I got appointed first as chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs and secondly as the current chairman, House Committee on Basic Education and Services. Some will go there only to become ‘I support’ member. I am not an ‘I support member’ and I can never be. I am not a bench warmer as a representative. Those are the things I think give me credentials to offer more services and my people can look at me and say he is accessible.
Of course, as you are facing some people, you are backing some as well, but what is important is the majority in bracket that you are accessible to. You come here into my house now and you see a lot of my people. That tells you how accessible I am. So for me, senatorial election by the grace of God, if one gets into the Senate, we will make a difference and I assure everybody on that.
What are the problems or the needs of your people in Kwara North?
We are having a lot of problems in the senatorial district. Of the three senatorial districts in Kwara State, ours happens to be on the backward stand because we have lots of infrastructural deficiencies. We thank our leader (Saraki). When he was governor, he was able to take the road from Ilesha to the border… I believe we are lacking roads as well because we have some feeder roads. We are agrarian both in Baruten and Kaiama and we believe that part of the problems is the issue of road. It is that if we have good roads, we will be able to deliver our goods as an agriculture hub and of course provision of water. Water is a very basic necessity that our people earnestly need.
Talking about Ilesha-Gwanara road…..
On the Ilesha-Gwanara road, the bad state of the road has lingered for a while. The earlier we finish it, the better for us. It is true that Rome was not built in a day, neither in million years. For me, I believe the state government has started it and I believe if this government completes it, the next thing for the next government will be how to extend it to Okuta and that will give us a big relief and a sense of belonging.
What about the Kosubosu-Kaiama road?
Kosubosu/Kaiama road project is a project of about 88 kilometres that would gulp up to N14 billion, but the construction has not been cash backed. That of course takes me to Kaiama road. Kaiama is a community that is permanently aggrieved because all roads that lead there are in a very terrible shape. If you take the road from Kishi junction to Kaiama, it is very bad. Also, from Wawa up to New Bussa up to Kaiama is bad.
From Kosubosu to Kaiama and Bode Sadu to Kaiama have long been abandoned. The entire place is completely cut off. So you could understand why people sometimes will feel a bit shortchanged. They will feel they are being neglected over time but mind you, the roads are federal roads. That is why we keep on saying there must be equity in terms of distribution of resources of government. Let me tell you, one doesn’t need to have somebody in government before he can be attended to.
What is your take on infrastructures generally in the country?
It is not compulsory for government to invest in infrastructure. Now people in other climes don’t even do that. We have companies that are reputable that can mobilise funds from any part of the world to come and develop these roads and then, they toll it over a period of time. Our laws are very simple. They should bring their proposals and we rework our laws to suit that purpose. Let people be given these roads to maintain and we will be the best for it.
The money we have and the resources that are not enough to do all we want can be channelled into other areas to fix some other things. A typical example is a road between Lokoja and Abuja. It has been awarded and re-awarded several times. It is a total mess. Even if the road is completed, we will ask ourselves what the cost is at the end. I believe the private sector must be brought in to build Nigerian roads. It’s simple!
Take the law aside, if you need a road from here to Lagos, take a fresh land give us a road from here to Lagos, toll it. So if you want to pass through it, come and pass through it and pay. You can toll it at four points and you pay N100 each. As long as I know that my car will be okay and enjoy my journey, I can pay N400 and move smoothly on that road. If you want to go through the conventional one, which is not tolled, you can go through it, the choice is yours.
It happens abroad; the choice is yours. So for me, I don’t know why we are hesitating about it. You have to free the resources of government to fix our critical needs. No government has ever succeeded in fixing infrastructure through the yearly budgets. It is a waste of time because of the bureaucracy involved in releasing funds, the bureaucracy of the legislature, the bureaucracy of cash-backing or no cash-backing; cash-forwarding.
All these are jargons I believe will not give us results on the table. So, I believe bringing in private sector is the solution to our infrastructural challenges. Let us look at it; any country that is developed attains that feat through its deliberate efforts not by mistake or accident. It is the result of a deliberate planning. I believe these roads are not too expensive to fix with the private sector.
What’s your take on the Nigerian Border Development Commission. You are from a border community?
The commission cannot do any magic because of the fact that they rely on government budget, government patronage to function. And the agency is not having its funding coming from anywhere other than the government budget. I remember I have to battle before I can get some projects to this area. The commission needs special funding to function
We are in a season of politics now. What is your advice to the political class?
It is simple. When you lose, you lose. The electorate knows what they want now. If you think you are going to manipulate election, I think you are wasting your time. The electorate knows exactly what they want and they have displayed it on several occasions and it happened in every part of the country. If they want a particular thing, they know what they want. It happened in 2015; they wanted a particular government out and we are in the race again.
They want this government as well out because of the empty promises they have made, which they have failed to meet. The government at the centre promised heaven and earth and, of course, they have not been able to deliver on any. It has been blaming past governments. Governance is not about what is the past, it is about a solution. We know there is a problem that is why you were invited to fix it. Nigerians should begin to open their hearts and talk about issues.
Nigerians should sit round the table to discuss. That is why I prefer political debate. For every position, let there be a debate so that you can be held accountable for what you said. I believe our campaign should be issue-based rather than attacking personalities.