Erstwhile Minister of Information and Coordinating Minister of Defence, Labaran Maku, is the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
In this interview with ONYEKA AJUMOBI ONOCHIE and SYLVESTR OMOSE, Maku speaks on the forthcoming general election, his efforts to foster good governance in the system, noting that Nasarawa citizens are already agog with expectations of a new government led by APGA after the election in the North Central state. He also speaks on the need for continuity in the presidential election, underscoring the imperatives for President Goodluck Jonathan to continue his Transformation Agenda in the overall interest of Nigerians.
QUESTION: How would you assess your time as the spokesperson of the Federal Government at a point in time in Nigeria’s history?
I would prefer Nigerians to do the assessment for themselves. I was the spokesperson for the Federal Government as well as the Minister of Information and also Supervising Minister of Defence. It is more modest for others to assess one if he or she has done a job.
QUESTION: Presently, you are aspiring to become the next governor of Nassarawa State. What are the peculiar things you would want to offer the people in terms of change?
I have been in the politics of Nassarawa State since its inception in 1996. I played different roles. As a journalist, I played a crucial role when it was created. I did my best to aid with ideas in its takeoff. As a community leader, I tried my best to proffer solution for the state’s challenges since 1998. I came up with a paper outlining steps for the development of the state. In 1999, I became the pioneer Commissioner for Information, Youths and Sports, Nassarawa State. As a member of the state’s Executive Council, I contributed immensely to policy formulation and implementation.
I supervised the construction of the television and radio stations which is still serving the state till date. I supervised the building of the state printing press located in Lafia. I supervised the establishment of the Newsday, the state owned newspaper which is still in existence till today. I supervised the construction of the state mini-stadium which still serves us till date for sporting competitions. I supervised the establishment of the Nasarawa United Football Club and even gave them the name. I registered the club. I also supervised the establishment of the Amazon club, the female football club. Virtually, all the communication infrastructure was established when I was commissioner. I also projected the name of the state via the media despite its size. I am one of the forthright journalists of my time and I tried to project the image of the state using my professional skills.
Between 2003 and 2007, work slowed down because the governor wanted to become president, and so, his attention span reduced. Fortunately, one of the earliest ideas I put on ground for the establishment of the university in the state which I put down as far back as 1998, eventually came to pass as the university in Keffi was established. We also established the state polytechnic in Lafia and the School Of Nursing. We also established General Hospitals in virtually all the local governments of the state. This was done within the first 100 days of the administration.
In 2007, I contested for governorship and I went round the state campaigning. Majority of the delegates wanted me to be governor, because of my leadership qualities, effectiveness and loyalty to the party and the people. At the end of the campaign, the leaders of the state, including my boss, said it was agreed that they should bring in an elderly person, Akwe Doma who was a foundation member and an agreed choice. They said he was the one they had agreed to support. This was not so at the beginning, but at that time, Alhaji Doma was a foundation member of the ANPP. He was brought in to take over from my former boss. Of course, at the end, everybody prevailed on me to be patient and I stayed in the party.
After the transition, I went back to my village. I was there when by divine benevolence, I was catapulted to become a minister in President Jonathan’s cabinet. I did my best as a minister in the cabinet and projected the image of the administration and Nigeria positively in the most difficult circumstances the government was in. I discharged myself creditably and broke new grounds in information management. I leave Nigerians to judge.
I thank Mr. President for the confidence reposed in me. He is the most qualified democratic president of our time since 1999 and has demystified leadership. He has brought governance closer to the people. Throughout his dispensation, we didn’t have a singular political detainee despite the fact that he has been the most maligned president. He has shown maturity and tolerance. He has promoted political reforms so much that our elections are getting better by the year. You can see that the opposition has come together to challenge the ruling party. All these would never have been possible without the deep reforms under his administration.
I have always told people that Jonathan may not be appreciated now because Nigerians are too cynical and because of the military rule and its disappointments
QUESTION: There was the initiative you came up with while in government targeting the monitoring of projects around the country. What gave you the idea? What is the chance of its continuation in future?
Even in my younger days as a student leader, journalist and human rights activist, government worker and politician, I have always seen governors’ deficits as the number one problem of our nation. Unless a nation is governed properly, it will not have respect in the comity of nations. Governance, for me, has always been a matter of Nigeria’s image and development. When I came into governance, I have always held the view that the best way to proceed is to fix governance. And you can’t do this in an arm chair way. I set in motion two ideas; one, the Ministerial Platform which says that every minister would have to present performance report directly to the Nigerian people and answer questions from the media. The platform created a lot of competition amongst ministers. Of course, you must justify all you have done yearly by speaking directly to Nigerians and accounting for your actions. It demystified governance and made public officials more accountable to the people. It makes ministers more accountable for the funds they get. It has never been done in any country I know of. Some West African governments approached us on how the Ministerial Platform could be implemented in their own countries.
We also check out whatever each minister said on TV; we will check it out on the good governance tour so it would not be simply a theoretical report. We follow it up on the field fully accompanied by journalists who will verify such projects. It was an idea I developed and I brought the National Planning Commission into it. And also, the Special Adviser to the President on Performance Monitoring was carried along in the whole process. We also involved the Governors Forum through the National Economic Council. It was debated and accepted. We wanted everyone to be involved so it was non partisan. The private sector also accepted it because of the innovative policies galvanizing their own investments. We went round and it was wonderful. Before I came in, most of the commissioners in different states were slothful, but once they heard that the good governance tour was visiting their states, they would quickly put their houses in order. It forced state governments to compete against one another.
I’m out of government now and the matter of the idea being followed up is determined by who will be there afterwards. I am sure that if the person sees the success of the idea, it will be done either directly or in a reformed manner. It was a joint achievement for the state governors, the Federal Government, private sector, media and the citizens’ forum. In one of the states, Ebonyi, the state governor, Martins Elechi, in his 70s was challenged intellectually by a young school leaver over his achievements. Elechi was nearly provoked by the affront, but he quickly checked himself and understood the times had changed and that public officials had to be accountable to the people who put them there. He quickly said, yes sir, I will hurry and give you the water as soon as possible. Leaders are now seeing that sovereignty belongs to the people. The rough edge of leadership was being demystified. I wasn’t the pioneer. Professor Jerry Gana also did it (media tour) during his time as Information Minister. I was Commissioner of Information in Nasarawa State then in 2001 and 2002. It was not as elaborate as when I did mine, however.
QUESTION: Your slogan now in the campaign is ‘Let the people decide.’ How do you see this working out?
People will decide through their votes, of course. That slogan came about when I was schemed out by the party I laboured for over 15 years in a very unfair primary process. The appeal panel I applied to at the national level failed to look into my grievance. APGA came to me and put a lot of pressure on me and I said, look 2007 I wanted to be governor, I was schemed out, 2015, I have laboured as a party leader and I was also schemed out, but I know that I have people on ground, I have the following and the network. I will not allow my ideas to die on the altar of a few party bureaucrats using anti-democratic
QUESTION: What is your message to Nigerians as we enter the election period? Do you see INEC as being prepared; should this election be postponed once again as some people are agitating?
ANSWER: I don’t want to comment on agitations for or against postponement. I leave that for those who have more information than I as I have been campaigning in the villages for some time now. Speaking from the national level, my appeal to Nigerians is to vote for continuity and transformation.
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