By Bashir Ibrahim Hassan
When Malam Nasir el-Rufa’i became the governor of Kaduna State in April 2015, there were mixed feelings in expectation of what would become of his tenure: would it be dogged by controversies as his media image portended; or would the man rise above his political tenderfoot and deploy his technocratic and results-focused antecedents from PIMCO, BPE and FCT Abuja?
Even el-Rufai would admit that as far as the politics of the Northern establishment goes, he was a greenhorn on the turf of what remains of the once regional political powerbase of Northern Nigeria. The turf once dominated by a colossus politician, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto. How would the self-styled ‘accidental public servant’ fare in comparison to politicians of the late Sardauna’s ilk at the helm of a state that has, of recent, acquired ill fame for religious-cum-ethnic conflagration?
Two years down the line, it is now clearer what the tenure of el-Rufa’i will bequeath to the people of Kaduna State. Well, that he wrestled power from an incumbent administration signalled readiness for the challenge, although it must be conceded that he leveraged on the Buhari domino effect.
Kaduna State has since sprung to national attention, evidence that el-Rufa’i had pulled the state from the brink of socio-political oblivion. That he has restored confidence in the people of the state in their yearnings for competent leadership is not in doubt. He certainly represents the anti-thesis of the old order—the eras of cronyism. From the results that are beginning to emerge, he has brought the competence of a thorough-bred technocrat to the business of governing Kaduna State.
Evidence of the man’s capability emerged early in his life when he graduated with a first class in Quantity Surveying from Ahmadu Bello University. It was also reflected in his decision, shortly after his national service, to go into private practice—when his mates were racing for positions in the civil service and juicy private companies. He was driven by one of his conspicuous traits—self-assurance.
A consummate activist, Malam el-Rufa’i has combined his professional commitment with activism. When he eventually appeared in public service—accidental or not—he made a good job of it, similar to the grounds he broke in private business.
In el-Rufa’i, all the three shades of experiences from private business, activism and public service are interwoven into complex mosaic of reform-laden art of governance. What could have demonstrated his businessman approach than his jettisoning of sentiments, when he decided to shut down Kaduna State Board of Internal Revenue; redeployed all the staff and start a new IT-compliant institution from scratch—the Kaduna Internal Revenue Service (KIRS)? The result was fantastic as the governor acknowledged in a recent interview: “Within a year we saw a jump in our revenues by more than 60 percent without any new tax being introduced. We just blocked leakages — no cash collections; only one agency collecting taxes; new people with a new attitude.’’
He applied the same tactics when he, in an unprecedented move, abolished the ministry of land and supplanted it with Kaduna Geographic Information Service, which is now the custodian of the records of all lands in the state.
If you want to see his civil society instincts at work, look no further than his appreciation and adoption of the Millennium Village project, which his current Commissioner of Rural and Community Development was implementing independent of the state government at a time. He told the story of how she was brought on board. “I did not know the Commissioner for Rural Development until after the election. We went to a project they were handling for the millennium project and met her and a colleague of hers. They made a presentation to us on what they were doing. The deputy Governor and I immediately said we will hire these people if they will come and work for us.”
The Millennium Village concept is a rural community empowerment project started in Pampaida, a rural community in Kaduna under the guidance of UNDP with the aim of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Today every village selected for the project is given 5 basic amenities that will enable them to become fully empowered to realise their full potential. The el-Rufa’i government has infused into the project components to improve education, healthcare, rural roads and the farming activities.
Malam el-Rufa’i’s approach to governance exemplifies the belief that the best preparation for tomorrow is by doing your best today. He is ever conscious of his place in history. He knows Kaduna has lost leadership of Northern Nigeria. He knows Kaduna, the capital, was a divided city with concentration of Muslims on the northern side of River Kaduna and the Christians on the southern side. He wants to change this situation. To assume its leadership status in Northern Nigeria, Kaduna needs to project itself as model state worthy of emulation in all ramifications—statecraft, defence of our shared values and regional interests, building a common regional agenda within a united Nigeria, etc. His starting point and indeed supreme test will be his ability to integrate the city of Kaduna to restore its cosmopolitan nature.
Without appreciating the finer nuances of Malam el-Rufa’i one is bound to miss the substance of his approach to governance. When he broke the tradition of appointing one commissioner from every local government of the state —twenty-three in total—has that negatively affected the smooth running of the government? In contrast that has only saved the government unnecessary overhead costs and free much needed funds for development work.
He always looks for the best practice and the best people or consultants in whatever endeavour he is pursuing. He went out of his way to hire General Electric (GE) to equip 255 primary health centres (PHCs). He hired Bain & Co. to train the state’s finance officers in the best practice in public finance and budgeting. The former head of Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), Ifueko Omoigui, was contracted to help in setting up the state Inland Revenue Service. She is one of the best consultants in the field. He doesn’t shy from seeking support wherever he can find one—IMF, DFID, EU, etc, have all found in Kaduna under el-Rufai a willing partner who understands their language.
So when the state achieved the feat of accomplishing the introduction of a treasury single account (TSA) in six weeks, IMF recognised that as a world record and made Kaduna a case study. The impact of the TSA was immediate. When the state closed its 470 different accounts in the process of creating one treasury single account, it discovered N25.5 billion that it did not know it had.
On attracting investment to the state, el-Rufa’i’s solution was to hold an international investment summit to showcase the state’s potentials. He followed that up with a one-stop shop for investors—the Kaduna Investment Promotion Agency (KADIPA). The whole idea of KADIPA is to be the surrogate for investors as far as interfacing with the government is concerned. Once investors make a convincing presentation, list what they want from the government, from land to building plan approvals, KADIPA is supposed to take that up with the relevant government agency and get it for them. Ease of making business in Kaduna for investor is the ultimate aim here. And so far many investors have expressed interest others have even opened shop—Notore, Google, Vlisco, CosCharis, etc.
May 29 2017 is half way into el-Rufai’s four-year mandate; so it is with all those elected in April 2015. It is time for stock-taking for all on the extent to which the dividends of democracy, as the politicians would like to call it, have been delivered. Those who have done well up to this stage can beat their chest; those who haven’t will have no one to blame but themselves.
– Hassan wrote in from Kaduna