Ambassador Haruna Garba, who played an active role in the push for the creation of Gombe State from the old Bauchi State in 1996, tells CHIMA AZUBUIKE about the journey
Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Haruna Garba and I was born in Gombe on January 29, 1953, to a Tera father and a Tera mother. The late Emir of Gombe made me the Magayaki Gombe in 1997.
What does Magayaki Gombe mean and what are your roles in that capacity?
Magayaki literally means an individual who foresees war and advises the Emir. My contribution to the fearless struggle for the creation of Gombe State, even while I was a civil servant in (the old) Bauchi State then, certainly impressed the late Emir and he thought that the best way my people would remember my sacrifice was to give me a traditional title befitting the roles I played.
In my position as Magayaki Gombe, I recently pointed out to the present Emir, His Royal Highness Alhaji Abubakar Shehu Abubakar, and Governor Inuwa Yahaya, that I had noted with concern that politics was causing a lot of damage to our society; I observed that some groups only attend functions of their groups. I used the same opportunity to commend the governor for sending his Secretary to the State Government to attend a function organised by his predecessor.
Which local government are you from?
I am from Gombe Local Government Area.
What is your educational background?
I had my West African Senior School Certificate Examination in 1974; I obtained a Diploma in Accounting from the Ahmadu Bello University in 1977; I later obtained a certificate in Project Management from University of Bradford in London. I am also a Fellow of the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria.
Where were you when Gombe State was created in 1996?
I was in the service of the Bauchi State Government as Director of Finance of the World Bank-assisted Agriculture Development Project.
What role did you play in the campaign for the creation of Gombe State?
There were three phases of campaigns that led to the realisation of the creation of Gombe State. I was a party to the 1991 and 1996 campaigns; I drafted the memo for the demand (for the creation of Gombe State) in 1996.
Who were some of the people you worked with?
In 1996, I worked very closely with the late Emir of Gombe, Alhaji Shehu Abubakar; the late Abubakar Hashidu and Senator Yerima Abdullahi. There were also the late Umaru Kukani, Barrister Idi Apollos; Y.B. Tadi, A.J. Filiya, the late Usman Farouk, the late Saleh Amos, Senator U.U. Dukku; the late Danjuma Kent, Honourable Riga Dawaki; the late Abdulkadir Manu; the late A.Y. Gombe; Alhaji Lamido ABM; Alhaji Inuwa Lamido, Alhaji Abba Magatardan Gombe, and others too numerous to mention.
Where did you hold your first meeting?
We held our first meeting in the chambers of the Emir of Gombe, at the Emir’s palace. The first exco meeting was held at the Gombe Local Government Council chambers.
Can you remember the number of meetings you held while working to achieve your goal for the creation of the state?
The meetings were too numerous to count but I always want to remember the day we took the decision to bring in His Excellency, the late Usman Farouk, former Governor of North-West State, as our consultant; then I was appointed as the Chairman of the Public Enlightenment Committee, to engage especially our sons and daughters who were being misled then in the old Bauchi State.
In what ways were theses sons and daughters being misled?
It was through some negative stories that our dream for the creation of Gombe State was not realistic at the time.
Did you at any time have a one-on-one meeting with the then Head of State, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, in your quest to have Gombe State created?
No; our meeting was not on a one-on-one basis; but I was on the Emir’s entourage when we went to Abuja one night to solicit his (Abacha’s) assistance on the advice of one of our sons, the late General Stephen Shelphidi; and also Dr Aliyu Modibbo.
What argument did you canvass to persuade the government of the day on the need to create Gombe State?
The secretariat of the movement, chaired by Senator Yerima Abdullahi, with the late Abubakar Habu Hashidu (former governor of Gombe State) as secretary, had enriched our demand memo with information about the fact that we (people of Gombe) formed about 60 per cent of the Bauchi State civil service. Our population then, about 1.6 million, was more than some existing states. In terms of size, our market was second only to Kano in the North. We had prospects for generating high income through untapped resources, such as coal in Mai-ganga, gypsum in Zambuk, oil in Pindiga etc. Our potentiality for generating good internal revenue was very high. This must have impressed Abacha who granted approval for the creation of the state without a take-off grant since we had stated that we had the potential for making Internally Generated Revenue.
What were the specific vision and mission that spurred you to team up with others to agitate for the creation of Gombe?
One of the frustrating things that some of us saw as suppression then was the neglect of our people’s need for drinking water, the future of our teeming highly qualified and experienced civil servants and the fact that the only market in Gombe town needed other supporting markets. These were all achieved after the state was created even though most of our founders are today not alive by the will of Allah.
How was the appellation of the state, Jewel in the Savannah, arrived at?
I was fortunate to be part of the team that worked towards the take-off of the state from day one. The late Archbishop Henry Garba and I came up with that (appellation) and recommended it to the first military administration of Group Captain J.I. Orji. It may interest you to know that in Gombe at that time, the state was assumed to be run by three Garbas – Haruna Garba, Henry Garba and Orji Garba. The three (of us) laid a solid foundation for the state, notwithstanding the mischief. I have attempted to answer how Jewel in the Savannah was arrived at. Truly however, we are a jewel in the savannah as you can see being testified to by some of our neighbours, particularly the Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, and even his Kaduna State counterpart, Governor Nasir El-Rufai, and many others. The name depicts some of the positive strides of the state. The state has a referral hospital which is only second to the Maiduguri Teaching Hospital. Today, Gombe has five universities, three top institutions, two polytechnics, an airport, numerous radio stations and we are still counting.
Have you held any public office in Gombe since it was created?
I was the first Accountant General of the state and also an executive member for the establishment and bifurcation from Bauchi State. I was made the Commissioner for Finance in Gombe in 1998. I won an election to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria where I represented my people between 2003 and 2007. I was made the Nigerian Ambassador to Kuwait and Bahrain between 2012 and 2015. I served two terms, from 1998 to 2004, as a board member of the Nigeria Football Federation. I am today a member of the Board of Trustees of the Nigeria Olympic Committee and the founder of Gombe United FC.
How will you rate the development of the state?
I have earlier enumerated some of the state’s developmental strides. Be that as it may, note that the state capital, Gombe, has received favourable attention from all the past and present governors of the state in the areas of good road networks, water supply and peaceful environment. I am sure that you will agree that Gombe has developed very well.
Are you satisfied with the state’s IGR and how do you think it can be improved?
The collection of IGR in the state could be improved upon. The state has introduced new measures and we should keep our fingers crossed as the results materialise. Leakages in revenue collection have a national outlook and I hope we shall all work hard to achieve positive results.
How will you react to the argument by some that time has shown that Gombe and the five other states created by Abacha are not economically viable?
I totally disagree. You need to visit those states and make pronouncement on what you see. In Gombe, for example, our federal allocation, which was about N88m in 1996, has now grown up to N3.5bn. All banks in Nigeria have established branches in Gombe. The Central Bank of Nigeria has a big branch in Gombe and, in fact, one of the Deputy Governors of the CBN is from Gombe State. The state has invested heavily in generating electricity from the Federal Government-owned Dadinkowa Dam; and five major markets of international repute have been established in the state. The revenue is beginning to grow even before the oil-producing status, which is in the pipeline.
Will you say Gombe is doing as well as the five other states, such as Zamfara, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Nassarawa, and Ekiti states?
I am one for appreciating positive development. The states created in Nigeria from 1967 to 1996 are viable and have positively contributed to the development of our country, Nigeria. In Gombe State we have moved from what was then known as a local government headquarters to a state capital with good roads, an airport, five universities, two schools of nursing, a state and federal polytechnic is, a School of Horticulture, a Federal College of Education, the Institute of Transport in Kumo; and a referral hospital, which is the only one in the region.
You said successive governors have done a lot to develop Gombe as the state capital. What about other towns and rural areas in the state? What more do you think the state should do to better the lives of citizens in the state?
I am not a judge of what successive governors do or do not do. I believe and I have a right to my opinion that all of them have done a lot of positive things in the state. I also believe that the other towns and areas are fairly developed. You can see that markets in Gombe have grown to four in number.
What do you think the state government needs to do to take full advantage of its natural resources to become more financially self-reliant?
My thoughts and visions cannot be said to be superior to those of the individuals that have managed the state over time. The natural resources at the disposal of the leaders of the state can be tapped for the benefit of the state.
What is your thought about the state of security in the state?
My thought about the security of the state can best be understood from the many angles of how security or insecurity is viewed. The basic security whereby inhabitants go to sleep in their homes or workplaces and so on with their eyes closed is fairly okay. The security of the youth, general unemployment, lack of leisure places and cultural side attractions are questions that need to be answered.
Gombe State will be 25 years old in October. Are you satisfied with the progress made so far?
Yes, I am satisfied and I am praying that we shall soon reach the Promised Land.
Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State during his recent visit to Gombe said the state has been on a fast trail with good leaders since its creation. Do you agree with this assertion?
Bauchi is the father of Gombe and if the governor’s judgment is that positive, why would I disagree with him? I am fully in support of his position and pray that our leaders continue to work harder.
In what ways can the youths of the state be empowered to reduce the problem of unemployment?
Youths and women are groups that every administration should plan for. The first thing is to offer free and qualitative education to them. Encourage them to also make positive inputs in the development of the state. The government should use ICT very well to encourage many of them to be self-employed.
Gombe State has accumulated debts from previous administrations. Do you think it will be difficult for future leaders to clear the accumulated debt?
Debt in governance must be seen as a positive thing as long as the proceeds are applied to concrete programmes. Debt is going to be a continuous thing and present and future leaders must learn to operate with it and ensure that the projects that money is borrowed to finance are concrete and verifiable.
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