When he had an accident, President Goodluck Jonathan sent an aircraft to take him to Germany for treatment, but Idris Wada, the Kogi State governor turned it down. To him, he had confidence in Nigerian doctors to treat him and they succeeded in doing that. Humble to a fault, Wada said he learnt the hard way that you cannot apply private sector initiative to run public offices. To him, he has done enough to get his people to give him another mandate to do another four years. Part of the changes he has brought to Kogi was increasing the IGR from a paltry N150m monthly to over N500m but he is also aware that as long as states have huge overhead costs, developmental projects will always be difficult to execute. Excerpts…
Why do you want a second term in office?
Ordinarily, I am a very quiet person and I also have a conscience that troubles me in ensuring that I do what is right as much as possible. Therefore, I don’t believe in propaganda and deceiving people. That is why you see that I am not too loud with the things we are doing. When you aspire for public office, you have a purpose. My purpose was that having served in the civil service when we were in Nigeria Airways and the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria, where I started my career; my focus was to impact on the lives of as many people as possible within the limits of my capacity in terms of finance and influence. I tried to run EAS Airlines as a detribalised company to focus on the rules and efficiency of airlines operations. It doesn’t matter which part of Nigeria you come from, no matter your religion, we were just like a family trying to run an efficient company. So, for me, I have tried within the best of my ability to touch as many lives as possible with the little resources available to us. About 80%-85% of our income, that is both from the Federation Account and our Internally Generated Revenue, goes into the payment of personal emolument and wages because Kogi is more or less a civil service state. We were created from Kwara and Benue States and those civil servants were transferred to us. You know Kabba was the engine room of the North, so when the states were created everybody came back home and we were loaded, ab initio with a lot of workers.
What is your present IGR?
At the moment, it is about N500 million and N550 million per month. When we came in it was about N150 million to N180 million per month. We have been able to push it up. For us, it was a major improvement, because again the main IGR is Pay As You Earn (PAYE). Most of our people are not wealthy, we don’t have big industries, apart from Obajana Cement and few small factories through our encouragement of small enterprise there are ceramic factories and others coming up now, but they are not of the volume or quantities that generate enough taxes for government. Most of our people are petty traders and small shop owners and things like that. How much tax can they pay?
You have done a lot within your limited resources but what we hear from the opposition is that you have not done anything in the state. Why are you keeping quiet?
I don’t believe in propaganda, I have not been talking much. The opposition tended to have seized this propaganda initiative immediately I came to government by those who opposed me during the primaries in 2011. They have never let go despite my rapprochement and my efforts towards reconciliation. They kick every day. What we do is wrong before them. That is why you have that, but we have done a lot. For example, we started with a policy that all ongoing projects should be completed for the benefits of the people, because if a project is N5 billion and N3 billion of public money has already been spent and you abandon it, who loses? It is the public because N3 billion belonging to them has already been pumped into a project and you come in and abandon it in the name of trying to play your own. The losers are the people of the state. We came with the focus to complete all ongoing projects.
Your Excellency, you mean all these projects mentioned are on ground?
Yes, they are real. You can come down to Lokoja and see things for yourselves. They are real.
Then why are you not telling your stories?
It is just because I am not a loud person. I don’t go and lay a foundation stone and put it on the pages of newspapers.
Is it a matter of making noise or telling the people what you are doing for them?
That is why I am doing this interview now. Going by my conscience, I am working very hard for the people. But I agree with you that we have not publicised enough.
You came from the private sector to venture into politics. Please tell us if business and politics are the same thing?
They are not the same thing. They are miles apart. They are totally different. One of my wrong assumptions when I came to government was that you came in with the same energy and perspective from the private sector with the target to achieve results as quickly as possible and do the right things. The right thing to a private sector person is different from the right thing from the politician. The right thing as far as a politician is concerned is about interest, there is nothing like the interest of the people at all, it is about sectional interest and what touches them directly. Apart from these interests, to the politician, whatever you do, you are just wasting your time. When I came in I wake up by 5am and I don’t go back to bed again until 1am everyday for two years and nine months before it dawned on me that you don’t work like that. This is not private sector, this is government. Things take time and by the time you realise that you are not supposed to work the way you are working, a lot of damages could have been done. The way you approach public sector work is different from the way you approach that of government.
From your experience, do you now see why governments do not achieve much?
Yes, I have seen it because there is no private sector company that will use 80-85% of its income to pay wages. You will go under in a few months if you do that. You cannot prune down workers because they have terms of employment. If I find you wanting and I fire you they will bring sentiments in and say it is because you are from this part of the state because they didn’t vote for you or because you hate their brother. They will bring in all kinds of sentiments. They adduce reasons for every action that you take. Whatever you do, one person would say you should have done more for them. We are a multi-ethnic religious state, a very small state. Don’t also forget that people are used to the normal ways of doing things, so when you come with a different perspective from your private sector background driven by result they begin to query your actions.
Tell us the political dynamics at play in Kogi State because some people are saying Kogi West must produce the next governor because other sections have produced the governors before and now is their turn. Tell us the political dynamics.
In Kogi State, we look at it from senatorial district basis. There are three major tribal groups in Kogi State. You have the Ebira people from Okene area. They are about 25 -26 percent population of the state. You have the Okun people who are the Yoruba speaking ones from Kaba area who are about 20 percent of the state, and then you have the Igalas from the eastern axis who are about 50-55 percent of the state in terms of population. There are other sub-ethnic groups in these areas. Because of democracy the majority always carry the day. So in the history of the state in the last 23-24 years, apart from the military interregnum the governors of the state have always come from the Eastern flank where the majority of the people come from. There has been a continual agitation from the people of the Central and the West that they too should produce the governor of the state, which is legitimate. In a democratic setting it is not something that can be enforced by executive fiat. It is a political situation and for me it requires a political approach and solution. While I am for power shift, if an Ebira or Okun man becomes governor tomorrow I don’t have problems with that but it requires a systematic and structured approach and it should not be narrowed to only when people are looking for office holders. We hear about this every four years when it is time to contest election. It is that time you will hear an Okun man saying we too should be governor, the Ebira man we say we want to be governor as well. To me, it belittles what we are trying to achieve. I think it requires continuous communication between the political leaders and the stakeholders, which is the elite the academicians, businessmen/women, youths. They should be meeting with these three ethnic zones to discuss this matter and work out the modalities. We have to look at the social and economic issues. Right now, the way it tends to be approached is confrontational. You see different groups belittling and insulting each other and this is creating an atmosphere of discord and instability. The leaders should sit down and discuss the way forward instead of quarrelling all the time.
The complaints we get in Lagos is that the state of roads in Kogi is very bad, especially in Lokoja. Tell us the state of roads in your state
The state of roads in Kogi State is reasonable. You have to look at the geography of our state. From one end of Kogi State to Egbe in Olamabolo Local Government you are driving for five hours. Kogi is a very wide state. From one end to the other you are talking of about five hours of continuous driving. So if you have such a large space because of the limited income we generate, we are limited to how much we can do in terms of roads. A lot of the roads constructed before I came were what we called surface dressing. They earthed the roads poured kontas and after two years the roads will deteriorate. The kind of soil we have in Kogi State is generally low soil so if you don’t do proper asphalt it does not last long. That deterioration tends to create the tendency that there are no roads. One of the things I did when I came in was to set up Kogi State Roads Maintenance Agency to focus on the repairs of roads. We started very well because they were doing a lot of roads and it reduced cost of road construction by at least 30 -40 percent. It also gave me the opportunity to employ young engineers and bought equipment for them and they were working hard.
But most of these maintenance agencies don’t do quality works
I was going round to inspect their works and they were better than some of the jobs contractors do. I will welcome you any day to come and do your independent investigation of our roads. We have built about 58 different roads, in fact there are about 60 now and some are ongoing. I agree that we have some bad roads at Lokoja and it is because of the nature of the soil. We are by a river. We are a confluence state of the two major rivers in West Africa. The two rivers have come to meet there so it has impacts on the kind of soil you have. Before I came, roads were just awarded and contractors do what they like. Their own is to quickly finish the job get out of the site and go and get another one elsewhere. They were not properly supervised and they didn’t take into account the nature of the soil. We have awarded the contract of the main road to Lokoja to RCC, a major contractor, because I want quality. My own goal is if we can build 10 kilometres of roads let it be properly done so that it can last for about 20-30 years. It is not how many kilometres of roads you build that matters, but it is the quality that matters, particularly with the minimum resources available to me. We discover that we have to resurface that road every two years. What we have done now with this contract we have awarded is to do proper drainage, concrete drainage, not blocks.
When you had a motor accident you refused to be flown abroad. I was very happy about it that you have confidence in our own medical system. Have you been able to build a standard hospital that can handle such a case in your own state?
My doctor is here. He was with me when I had the accident. He was the one who rescued me and put me in his own ambulance. When I had the accident the car somersaulted and I came out sitting down and he came to me. He asked if I was alright and I told him I think I am okay. He got me up out of the car and I stepped on the ground and put this my right foot on the ground I almost collapsed and sat on the ground and he came and asked if I had any injuries or pains anywhere, I said no, but this my right leg is paining me. He touched it and said look you have a fracture don’t move I must protect this leg immediately. He went to his ambulance and brought some crepe bandage and protected the leg and kept saying whatever you do don’t move this leg. I sat there and he evacuated me into his ambulance and we went to Kogi State Specialist Hospital. When got there, they did an x-ray within 20 minutes and he said you have double fracture here. Then the Chief Medical Director told me that they knew what was wrong with me and that they can operate it there. He asked if I had objections and I said I had no objections. The point I am making is that my condition was treated in Lokoja and I consented. I said they should go ahead and do the operation. As they were getting ready to do that and take me to the theatre, one of the doctors said if we treat this man here a lot of people are already flooding the hospital and if he is here for a few days we won’t be able to attend to anybody again because people will be coming to commiserate and that it won’t work.
They have the capacity to treat me but it will disrupt public service. Then the doctor said that we have just equipped our Government House hospital and that the place was good enough for the operation. He asked if I have objections again if they take me to Government House hospital and I said there was no objection from me. They now put me back in the ambulance and took me to the Government House Clinic. As we were approaching there, there was a message from Abuja that the President has sent a plane to come and pick me to take me to Germany. I said why Germany if they can do it in Lokoja? The medical team then said we should go to Abuja first and take the decision from there because we don’t have time and by that time I was in pains. Initially when you have such a trauma you don’t feel the pains but now pains were setting in. They said the plane was almost landing at Dangote Cement Airstrip at Obajana. They put me in the plane and took me to Abuja at the National Hospital and that another plane was coming to take me to Germany. Somehow, decisions were made that a private hospital would be more efficient. We got to the hospital and within 15 minutes the doctor (Ogedengbe) came and said Your Excellency we know what is wrong with you we can do this operation in two hours and you will be out of the operating theatre and by tomorrow, a day after, you will be walking with crutches and you will be alright. He said if we take you out of the country you won’t get proper medical attention, at least for the next 10 hours, assuming the plane is here now because we have to fly about six and half hours from the ambulance to the airport and to the hospital, they have to do their own diagnosis and schedule you for operation. He said there is a danger and further damages may be done because I could be bleeding inside. So I said it should be done at the hospital in Abuja. They said the President said they should take me to Germany but I said they should tell him I was comfortable where I was. Coming from a professional background, I know that a professional doctor here is as good as anyone trained abroad. The difference is the equipment and the environment. Honestly you can see what they are doing because it was not full anaesthetics that they gave me; they only disabled the part that was affected. I could see what they were doing. They put a titanium rod in my femur and nailed it and in about two hours I was out. They took me into a ward in two days I was walking with crutches. Everything worked according to what they said and till today, I still have that metal, but I thank God that I am back.
I took that decision because I believe in the capacity of the Nigerian professional doctor and it is good to show that we can do these things in Nigeria.
What have you done with that experience in Kogi State?
All our local governments have general hospitals, including all the five zonal ones and we are equipping all the hospitals in the state. We are building a very big modern diagnosis centre in Lokoja adjacent to the Specialist Hospital which we hope will be a profit centre, self-sustaining. It is going to have modern digital diagnostic equipment like X-Ray, Endoscopy, MRI, Citi Scan and other modern things. Most of the equipment have been ordered and delivered; it is only the civil work that is remaining. It is a three-storey building at a very advanced stage now. We hope that we will be able to commission it before the end of the year.
Our health system in Kogi State is three-tier. We have primary health care, health centre in big villages and cottage hospital in larger towns, we have general hospitals in all the local government areas and we have the Specialist Hospital in Lokoja. I am also building a University Teaching Hospital, also as another tertiary institution in Kogi State University. This will improve access to medical services and enhance medical tourism because complicated cases that were taken to Abuja, Enugu or Ilorin can be brought to Lokoja. So, these are the things that I have done.
With what you have done, are you optimistic that they are enough to take you for re-election?
Yes, I am optimistic and with faith in almighty God I believe I have done enough with the little resources at my disposal. But in politics with the opposition, as far as they are concerned you have done nothing. That is the truth. But I think with efforts to spread the message out, when people see the truth, pictures don’t lie, we are sure of re-election.