Malam Umar Mohammed Nasko is the Niger State gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with select journalists, he bares his mind on his decision to govern Niger State. Umar Muhammad Puma was there.
You’re one of the most discussed governorship candidates in Nigeria, both within your party and from the opposition; you’ve been at war with some people over your ambition. How do you feel about this and do you feel threatened?
Let me quickly correct that I’m not at war with any one; neither do I even consider anyone really at war with me. It’s not unusual for a politician to be challenged by those aspiring for the same office as him. That’s exactly why it’s called a political contest. I did not come into politics with the expectation of having an easy sail. I knew what I was getting into from the very day I made up my mind to run for this office with the intention of touching the lives of our people. What, I think, makes an outstanding politician isn’t just his perception of politics as adversarial, but his determination to withstand distracting challenges or witch-hunts. Whoever has chosen to tread the paths of politics has indeed subjected himself to public scrutiny, often very unfairly. And I’m not exempted from this.
Why do you want to be governor?
I’ve always been passionate about human welfare. In fact, nothing pleases me more than being in, or given, a position to influence people’s lives positively. The satisfaction I got in all the time I touched lives and especially having uplifting feedbacks for giving a person or people hope, inspired me to embark on this life of a service to humanity, which is my own understanding of politics. Though my decision to be a governor isn’t an arbitrary one, it’s formed by my public service career as a Commissioner and then Chief of Staff. At all the ministries I headed as Commissioner, I made sure that I left a legacy to not just inspire my successor but contribute my quota to the development of Nigeria. As a Commissioner for Tourism, I worked hard and redeemed the tourism potentials in Niger State, and if you’ve followed the political and social events in Niger State, you wouldn’t have missed how we revived, introduced and hosted several festivals to boost this industry. We recognised that tourism was an under-utilised sector. We highlighted the tourism potentials of ideals like Zuma Rock, Gurara Water Falls, Zungeru Colonial Ruins, etc. I also introduced “Green the Niger Initiative” in developing an eco-friendly Niger State. At the Ministry of Works and Infrastructural Development and the Ministry of Environment, my engagements and experiences also redefined my understanding of the challenges of leadership, and I must now be thankful that, as a Chief of Staff, I got to understand the intricacies of governing a state as diverse and complex as Niger State. I hope I didn’t deviate; all I’m trying to say is, I’ve spent a significant part of my life in public administration already, and now my focus is on the next challenge, which is a victory in the February polls.
What is your relationship with other aspirants that lost out to you in the primaries in which you emerged winner and also the candidate of the opposition in the forthcoming general elections?
Have you heard me or read about me attacking anyone of them? While I understand that it’s natural to be bitter on losing an election, I think it’s ill-advised to allow myself to be drawn into any form of rivalry with them. If anyone of them had emerged winner, I would’ve been fully in solidarity and also give my best in making sure that he makes the right decisions in this period running up to the next election. No matter what, I still consider them members of my party, and I’ll do everything possible to make sure that we’re on good terms. Our interest remains promotions of our party, and now that I represent the interest of this same party of which they’re still members, it’ll only be wiser to continue respecting them.
How about the opposition party and its candidate? Do you consider him a threat?
In politics, the aim of any candidate is to emerge as winner. If you ask him the same question, I’m sure he will only assure you of his optimism. What I don’t do is engaging in the politics of personality attack instead of issues. I refuse to allow even those close to me to attack the personality of any politician against me. I want us to stick to issues, and these issues are the ideas and policies we wish to employ in developing Niger State. It’s really distracting to bother about some insignificant campaigns of calumny. The job is Niger State, and unless Niger is the issue being attacked, I’ll continue advising and encouraging supporters and well-wishers in and outside the state to remain focused.
Let us end this with a question you must have been tired of hearing, are you in any way distracted by the prevailing debate over your youthfulness?
Actually, that only motivates me. I don’t feel challenged, only grateful, that an opportunity has come for this generation to earn another political representative. But don’t forget that Cross River’s Governor Donald Duke was 38, a year younger, when he was elected in 1999. You don’t need to be told of his policies, and how he was indeed plugged to modern ideas in changing the face of his state, outperforming his older contemporaries. I’ve been enjoying massive supports from the youth across the state, but this is not to say that the older people have discriminated against my candidacy. I’m so happy to have been so accepted by both the young and the old in Niger State, and for me, this is a validation of the prospect of the Nigerian youth.