Mr Abdusalam Abdulkarim Zaura shares insight on economy diversification, business, Kano politics
By Eric James Ochigbo
Mr Abdussalam Abdulkarim Zaura (AA Zaura) is Kano-born multitalented, and multi sectoral international businessman, a politician and philanthropist, with over two decades of hands-on experience and private sector leadership in business development, management, strategy, innovation, and job creation.
Zaura plies his trade in the areas of Renewable Energy, Oil,and Gas, Real Estate Finance and Development, Financial Management, and Global Commodities Trading, Aviation, Air and Land Transport Services and Rentals, and Modeled Social Impact Development Initiatives among others.
In a chat with newsmen in Abuja, Zaura speaks on diversification of economy, Kano state politics, his journey through life, his foundation and words of wisdom for Nigerians youths.
Reporter: Can you tell us about your journey through life to the point of becoming what you are today, a successful business person, a philanthropist and a politician?
Zaura: My name is Abdulsalam Abdulkarim Zaura known as Zaura, a business person and a politician, I know nothing more than business, I started business from when I was in school, when I was in university and polytechnic, I use to be a business person.
I can tell you that I have been into business for the past 25 years. Recently I join politics and I combine the two at the moment.
Reporter: What are your motivations in each of these endeavours?
Zaura: Well, weather you call it the motivational factor or what attracted me into politics being a business person; let me go back to the period when I was in school and running as business person, I had no interest in joining politics.
But being a philanthropist, when I associated myself with the masses, I saw there is need to join politics because I think that, what I am doing as a philanthropist is not enough.
So, I decided to join politics so I can have enough time to touch lives and to do much more for the people.
At times when one say this, people always think that politicians always say they join politics because of the people.
However, to justify this statement, you need to check their antecedents; is this person really for the people or he is for himself?
Honestly, what motivated me to join politics is the people, I joined politics for the people, I have been doing it for the people.
I can beat my chest and say that I am one politician that know nothing about the sweet side of politics, all I know is the bitter side of it, I have never tasted anything sweet from politics.
I am doing it not because I want gain from it, I am doing it to give my time, to give what I can give to my society, to give what I can to my country. These are the motives behind my joining politics.
If I am to take us back before joint politics, I am someone who has passed though some stages in life like any other person, you will meet difficulties, they are times to smile, there are times of frowns and times to meet hitches which we all see in life.
As business person, I have gone though a lot, venturing into different kinds of businesses, some not even here, some are international businesses, some are here, local businesses.
I can tell you that I am someone who started early, going from local to international businesses and that where my motivations come.
Reporter: Specifically sir, what type of businesses do you do?
I started with solid minerals, I can tell you that far back in the year 2003/2004, we do mining and the mining we did was not gold mining, we are into tantalite and tourmaline mining.
This is something we go as far as Niger state and Zamfara state by that time, there was no violence, no kidnapping, nothing, you can even travel there alone.
At midnight, we take products from there and we pass to Jos (Plateau state) for testing and after testing, we ship it Germany or Belgium where it gets tested and we get our money.
When we ship the product, at times we do not even follow up because there is a very good relationship between us in Nigeria and those people we deal with in Germany or in Belgium.
But a time came when we shipped the product, we follow up the product, sometimes before we even ship them, we get our money, that is how we started.
Then we came back to commodities where we send sesame seeds, corn and other things to Turkey and we import “ankara’ pasta.
It takes time to build a business and that is how we started and today, we are into petroleum products, from there to general commodities, and to financial businesses and others; now we have stabilised in so many ways and we are into politics as well.
Reporter: I still want to stay with business because you talked of the mining activity with a lot of nostalgia but now, it has become twine with insecurity, what has really created this problem within the mining sector and what are the things government needs to do to bring it back?
Zaura: I can categorically tell you that in my own opinion, it in my own believe that what brought insecurity in those areas has to do with politics.
These are areas that are full of potentials, let me tell you, in those days, you can go in there and mine, even if you are alone, nobody will attack you, nobody will come for you.
But with time, people started discovering that they are hidden resources in Nigeria, go to Niger, go to Zamfara; that Zamfara you see, people have been mining there, you see Chinese there, a lot of people were coming there, I had partners from Milan Italy, we explored a lot of resources in Zamfara state.
I could recall it was during the time of Sani Yerima, we use to be in Zamfara and nobody will tell you anything; as time went, people started seeing that people are coming from outside, resources are discovering, people are exploiting them, then this issue of insecurity surfaced there simply to scare people away from there.
The resources are no longer going to be important, nobody will be there; this is my own opinion, we can as well say it is economical, when people see that there an economic activity going on in a place and they think they can go after those people and get money, it happens. But there insecurity there, I do not think it is natural, it is political.
Reporter: How can we address that?
It is simple, the way to address insecurity is so let in the hands of government; the resources lying there belongs to the government, it does not belong to individuals, government needs to derive revenue from those resources.
If government is to derive revenue from those resources, it is the full responsibility of government to deploy security in order to protect the revenue, the people and investment, in order to attract more investors to come in to mining, these are simple logics.
Reporter: We have seen how the oil sector is organised, though they those challenges but they are better organised compared to the solid mineral sector
Zaura: The only problem we have in Nigeria is that, we fail or we refuse to understand that we have a lot of resources and not only oil.
We are solely dependent on oil, there are lots of resources that will equally give us a large some of income if we diversify into them.
Simply because we are used to it or we tend to depend on oil and because it has been our main source of income, we tend not to focus or to give our attention or the government tends not to give attention those resources.
For instance if you take gold, how much is a gramme of gold? you can ever compare a gramme of gold to a barrel of oil.
The gold is definitely higher which means if we can shift our focus to mineral to resources, the mineral deposits which we have in Zamfara and Niger state, where we have a large deposit of gold, it means we will create more income and revenue for the country.
But I have no ideas why that is not happening, I have no idea why government attention is not focused on those areas or in mining.
But with the current administration, I see President Bola Tinubu is giving more attention to the area of mineral resources and mining, giving support to the Ministry of Solid Minerals.
I think something positive or something big is coming to the area of mining and to the Ministry of Solid Minerals. If government will focus on that, I can tell you that you that income will be amazing.
Reporter: You have been a player in the sector with wealth of experience, and as you have said, for the body language of this administration, it appears attention will be given to solid minerals, what are advice will you give on how to make maximum use of the resources for the benefit of all Nigerians?
Zaura: My advice to the Federal Government is one and it is simple, open a gateway where investors will come and invest more in solid minerals and before doing that, government should focus more and give more attention to solid mineral exploitation or exploration.
Before that is done, we have spoken about security and insecurity, are those areas where the mineral deposits are.
Are those areas secured? Are investors comfortable and feel secured to come and invest, to go to those areas and do mining and to export the resource?
Those are the parameters that government should look at, I am sure that if that is done, we will see the difference.
Reporter: What role should the people in the communities where these resources are deposited play?
Zaura: What role can you play when you have no army or police, you have no weapon, will you take laws into your hands?
You don’t take laws into your hands, the only thing you do as a person is to dispense information and this information has always been dispersed.
Yes this area is not safe, yes this area investors are not secured, who else will take care of that? you cannot deal with such insecurity with mere sticks and the Constitution does not give mere citizens the chance to bear arms or to take laws into their hands, this is solely government responsibility.
And do or forget, the same attention being given to the oil area, to protect the oil resources should be given to solid minerals area to protect the resources because all belong to the government, they all belong to the country and all will bring in serious revenue.
Reporter: As a player in the oil sector do you still believe in the removal of fuel subsidy or its existence?
Zaura: As a player in the oil industry I don’t believe in oil subsidy. The best that has happened to Nigeria is the removal of the oil subsidy and the President has said it, even before the inauguration of this government.
He said the first thing that he will do is to remove the subsidy. And you know there are things that a common man on the street will not understand simply because this is where already his brain is tend to be washed that the subsidy is for you.
That subsidy is not for all of us, is not for all. The subsidy is for those at the top and they are those who enjoy the subsidy is not coming down to the masses.
There are always formulas when something like this is removed. Those people who think they are the players of the resource will tend to horde it so that the masses will go to protest but as time goes on I can assure the public that subsidy removal will be a blessing to Nigeria.
The President knows what he is doing and he is not just doing it by himself. He has a team, he has economic team, he has advisory team.
If we remember back, the then Central Bank Governor, said if we do not remove subsidy, the subsidy will kill us and it has being killing Nigerians.
So many people have been enriching themselves from fuel subsidy while those people think the subsidy was for, it wasn’t benefiting them.
So the blessing that is coming with the removal of subsidy is something that will definitely be good to the people of Nigeria.
Reporter: I noticed that we have instances of queue at filling stations and some are closed. What is the possibility of us not to experience the usual December scarcity?
Zaura: This is always our tradition in Nigeria. Once it is festive period, the product will be horded and kept somewhere.
What is the difference between Christmas and other months? What happened to the product? Sometimes is coming from the people because of panic buying.
People will just go to the filling station to just buy it and reserve as if something different is coming different, it’s nothing, the product is still there, the same quantity going out to the people is still there.
Reporter: What do you have to say about the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) Government in Kano as an APC member?
Zaura: I think there is nothing to say much about a government that is in the court, it is the government of Abba Kabiru Yusuf or is the government of APC, until the court decides then we can speak about the government.
You see the issues in Kano State is a court issue where the NNPP at the moment is in government but we in the APC, we do not believe is a legitimate government.
It is a government that belongs to us in APC and by the grace of God we are collecting it; we took it at the two stages; at the Tribunal we took it, in the Appeal Court it belongs to us.
It was affirmed that the government belongs to APC and we are waiting for the verdict of Supreme Court and finally we will take back our government.
Reporter: Will it not be a misgiving towards your party because if you look at the Presidential election, your party took the back seat. If you now go through the Court and collect the mandate, will not be anger, protests among the people?
Zaura: Well, in every circumstance one issue leads to grudge. Even in the main election there was an anger. A lot of people protested. So it does not make any difference if this government was taken during election or after the Tribunal because it is a system and the system allows that.
Definitely there are supporters of the other side, it will not favour you when you win. When we lost we abide by law and the Constitution that it was given to NNPP and the supporters remain calm. So I expect that if it goes to us they will remain calm. This is what the Constitution and Court say.
Reporter: I want to go back to the Presidential election where you were on the ballot. Why did your party lost that election, the senatorial and a lot of House of Representatives seats and presidency?
Zaura: Well, this is a question that if you told me that we were going to lost a single seat of either House of Representatives or Senate in Kano, I will categorically tell you no.
But of course, before the election so many things happened. I said one time when I granted an interview. You cannot be in the party in power and do certain things to the people when you are approaching such period of elections.
For example, it was at the same period that we were approaching election barely three weeks that they defaced Naira. The Central Bank changed the colour of Naira. And when they changed Naira, there was no availability of the Naira.
You have N100, 000 or N20,000 in your account and you cannot get access N1 or N100 to eat. Come to the place where I contested election, for the period of two years where I campaigned, no single person raised a voice that we don’t want APC.
Anywhere I passed, people adored me, adored APC, people cheered us, people come out to wave, some even shed tears of joy.
And when the people turned their backs, you defaced money and you put people in serious hardship and you expect them to go vote for the same party?
It was at that same time people sleep in petrol stations, sleep in ATM machines just to get money. And then the opposition will come out and tell them, this is APC, do you still want to vote for APC? No.
You don’t expect to win election in such calamity coming after you. You don’t expect when you have already built and someone from no where comes and destroy it over night and impose hardship on people, put them into terrible situations.
Even at that time people were losing lives. I can categorically give you list of people where I knew died due to hunger. A situation where they could not even get money, go out there to buy simple tomatoes to cook.
Don’t forget in Nigeria we living in a situation where people daily go out to buy what to eat, they do not store foodstuff in the house.
At that period, how do you expect them survive and how do you expect such people to come out and vote for you? You tell me? Those were the terrible things that happened to us APC in Kano.
And that arrangement was not aimed at Kano, it was aimed at Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu not to win election. They changed the Naira because they said Asiwaju kept a lot of money and he will not have money and he will not even win election.
God’s willing today we have the centre, Asiwaju is the President where are they now? Go back to the constituency where I come from, they do not know what happened to them.
They wake up to ask where is Zaura? If I were there as their senator, it is a different issue, but it is a different ball game now. Now there’s nobody, the place is empty and I am still working, I am still doing reaching out to them, the do not even know what they voted, they are now regretting it, they have seen the reality.
I can tell you another factor is that, Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was contesting for President and he is a Kano person. A lot people want to see Kwankwaso becomes the President without minding whoever was on the other side.
And with the anger of the money they defaced and the anger of lack of petroleum, anger of hunger, a lot of things.
And I know now they have realised, they have seen it, It is something you do overnight in the morning you opened your eyes and ask, what did I do? So this is what happened. This is the situation in Kano.
Reporter: NNPP and other parties have formed a coalition, what is the future of APC in Kano?
Zaura: I can tell you still in Kano, if you go out tomorrow to cast vote in Kano, APC will emerge winner. No party will beat APC. Now the people realised because something happened. Some do not know what they did until after the declaration.
Reporter: What is driving this new change of mind?
Zaura: There are a lot of things even you have seen it in the media. The government came into power barely a week and it destroyed properties worth billions of Naira.
You know government needs focus should the focus be towards development or destruction? Is it the comfort of the people or taking them back?
Look at the eight years of APC government in Kano and what they have done as against what has happened in less than 200 days of this government. That is enough for the people to judge.
Reporter: There was this issue of $1.3 million you were accused of?
Zaura: Have you heard about it again? After the election, is the issue there again? So it is enough for you to know that it is a political issue. And during the election when there was allegation of $1.3 million making the rounds, who the money belong to was not established.
Have you seen a person in Kano complained, there was nobody, so it is a political case. If there is issue of $1.3 million there should be a complainant standing for his money not an agency representing somebody who you doe not see.
Can you represent a ghost or someone that does not exist? If somebody goes behind somewhere and reported a petition against you, you will know.
Then you should come out and justify your claims if someone is holding your money. You go to court; the court has struck out the because it lacked merit. So there was nothing, there was no merit, it is a case that was determined in court and it was ruled in our favour.
It was enough to see that the reality of the case was not there. If you believe in the Nigerian judiciary and the court, then it is not a case but if your believe in political propagandists, then you may call it a case.
Reporter: For a man that has tasted more of the bitter sides of politics than the positive, what the future like?
Zaura: There is always a saying that goes thus, ‘when you strike hard, you get it hard and get stronger. When you strike soft and it hits you hard, you collapse.’
I am someone that the system prepared to be strong. I am someone that finds it hard but I am stronger daily. Don’t forget that in 2019, I contested governorship under another party but I was dealt with by bigger parties.
In 2023, I came on stronger than, I am getting stronger by the day. The more I find it hard, the harder I become. I am still there, resilient, focused and ready to face bigger challenges.
In APC, we are aiming to build a more dominating party and by the grace of God, let me say there is no going back.
Reporter: Perhaps you can tell us more about your foundation and its activities.
Zaura: The foundation has been there, and it has nothing to do with politics. The foundation has been there even before my venturing into politics.
It is a single foundation that has never received any form of donation from any individual or group all over the world or in Nigeria. Whatever activity the foundation is doing is 100 per cent coming out from me.
I can tell you now that as I am talking to you, the foundation is working even after the election. The day we lost the election, the next day we started working.
We do not have selected days do work, this foundation is for the people, the day the foundation stops working is a day I stop breathing.
Today, you tune into any radio station in Kano, you will hear them giving out food in Kano. You will hear people calling to answer question and win a bag of rice.
People call and win cartons of spaghetti, this is a foundation that at this preset time, is going around the 44 local government in Kano, fixing boreholes and building new ones.
If you make a call to any of the radio stations, you will find money we keep for people that call for medical assistance. Prove me wrong by calling Freedom FM or Express Radio, or any of the radio in Kano if you do not find money I deposited there for people purposely for medical. I am not saying tomorrow so that I won’t go and deposit it, call them now, they will tell you yes.
This is a foundation that has reserved one thousand bicycles for students in secondary and primary schools purposely for spelling competitions.
Answer a question and win a bicycle, we do all these to make sure the items get to the people; we have a system that makes sure things get to the people.
In the next few months, we will go back to eye care. Last year, we gave free eye care to over 30,000 people. This is why I said it is not political, it is for the people.
There is a police station there, which we built. We also have ambulances and firefighting trucks. There is also scholarship, home and abroad.
If we give you the list of people we sponsored outside the country, you won’t believe it, building schools, in fact, I cannot give you a list of the schools.
Yesterday, we partner with the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to give them N200 million for the purpose of building houses for those
Who do not have Houses. How many houses have we donated to the people? Myself cannot tell you.
All I know is that when I see a vulnerable people, you don’t need to tell me this person needs help. When I look at you, I know what is this person’s problem.
Reporter: As someone that has accomplished a lot. What can you tell young people about going into business or politics.
Zaura: You know, there is nothing you can make overnight, this is why there is a saying that ‘nothing good comes easy.’
In the past, before I used to go to the comment section to read what people are saying, now I have stopped.
When you go there, you see a lot of people don’t even know what they are saying. Somebody may end up saying something bitter things not knowing that he/she is very wrong.
If a young person wants to make it, there are always process. Go legitimately and do something that would build you tomorrow.
For example, let us take education, you don’t just wake up and become educated or a lecturer. You move from primary school to secondary school then to higher institution to acquire knowledge to become what you are.
You don’t just wake up and become a millionaire overnight. There are process to go. Anybody that wants to go faster than his speed would fall. Go gently, be yourself and work hard, you will make it.
Reporter; Tell us about your experience in Nigerian schools, many people now a days just want to ‘japa’.
Zaura: I am someone that did all his education in Nigeria. I was on February 7, 1977 to the Zaura family of Babba, Unggogo Local Government Area of Kano State.
I attended the premier Zaura Primary School, Babba, Kano State where I obtained his First School Certificate.
Thereafter I proceeded to the Government Junior Secondary School, Babba, and Bagauda Technical College, all in Kano State, Nigeria where in obtained Junior School Certificates and Technical School Senior Certificate as a Technician majoring in Agricultural Mechanization in 1994.
I then joined the Brainfiled College, Meran, Lagos state where obtained the West African Senior School Certificate (WASSC) with flying colours in 2007.
I have a National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering from the School of Technology, Kano State Polytechnic, Kano in 2000.
I went on to obtain a Bachelor of Science (BSc) Degree in Political Science and Public Administration and a Master of Science Degree (MSc) in Public Administration both from Baze University, Abuja
I am also running an online Master’s Program in Financial Management Services in the Robert Kennedy College, University of Salford, Manchester, United Kingdom.
I did not even have the opportunity to go to anywhere in the world for school. After polytechnic, I went into business like I told you. Before I acquired my first degree, I already trained 100 people.
In Baze University., I would be in the lecture room from morning till 6 p.m. everyday. Some people cannot even believe it. I stayed like most student do.
I can tell you that Baze University is very credible. No bypass, nothing, no matter who you are, you come to class, that is why hen I completed my first degree in political science, I went straight for my masters.
All my education careers are here; the only one I did online is Robert Kennedy College for my masters, and that was not as qualitative as the one I sat down in class for.
I can tell you, if I missed lectures, I won’t be more than two althrough my stay in the school. For me, if you want to achieve something, go through the system and obey the rules, Nigerian institutions are still good. I encourage people to go into Nigerian schools.