The third cohort of Kashim Ibrahim Fellows concluded their programme last Saturday and by mid-August, 24 young Nigerians will resume as the fourth cohort. Curiously, this year’s number is eight people more than the other intakes, why did you increase the number from 16 to 24?
We started off our pilot programme in 2018 with 16 fellows, but as pilots go, we were trying to test the system that we were setting up. So, we thought to start with a small number of fellows and then grow the fellowship as time goes on. We are now three years into the programme and we’re comfortable that we have established a system that works and we are seeking to expand the pool of competent hands. We would take 100 if we could, but then you have to consider resources and all that is required to run the programme for one year. So, His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Kaduna state, Malam Nasir El-Rufai thought that we should expand with another eight persons and see how that goes for another couple of years. If possible, we will grow until we get to full capacity which will be determined by funding and all other resources that are required.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai remarked that Fellows in this cohort, like the three previous ones, were carefully selected. How transparent and rigorous is the selection process for the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship?
We have about five steps in our selection process; we have tried to automate it as much as possible. So, we have a portal which opens up every year to which applicants can send in their applications. They register and put in all the required documents and then they write an essay because that’s a critical aspect of the application process for us. We want to understand their thinking pattern and how they relate to contemporary issues. We try as much as possible to make the subject matter of the essays contemporary, so that we can just understand their thought processes. So, they write the essays and submit and the portal helps us with the initial screening for plagiarism, which we have found to be very rife. Some people just copy and paste anything about the subject matter into their essays. The portal shows us the plagiarism levels and from where the essays where plagiarized. We also have the grammar software, that grades them for use of English grammar. In the second stage, we have independent editors who are not even based in Kaduna state, so they do not even know anybody who has applied. We remove the personal data of the applicant, so you do not know the name or state of origin or gender of the applicant. All you see is an application number.
They also assess these applications for use of English, strength of the argument and those who meet the cut off mark now go to the third stage. This is where you have a Steering Committee that comprises senior Kaduna State Government officials. Each essay is then assessed by at least two of them for the same strength of arguments, use of English and the strength of the applicants’ CVs. We also want to see people who have done things for their communities or are eager to do so. We have the personal statement where applicants can make a case for themselves as to what they have done and what they intend to accomplish. If an applicant passes the third stage, the Steering Committee now asks for video submissions, where he or she answers certain questions; the videos are assessed and then passed to the Governing Board, which consists of accomplished Nigerians, who have been selected by His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Kaduna state, Malam Nasir El-Rufai. The Governing Board now watches these videos and decides who the final candidates will be in the next cohort of the Fellowship. That is how transparent the selection process is, it goes through different phases, each phase is made up of an independent body and not Kaduna State Government officials.
Can you walk us through what the Fellows are expected to do during the one year leadership training and the significance of each segment to the overall Fellowship programme?
The fellowship has four components, the first of which is the Work Placement. The intent is to attract the best of our youth into public service and the only way that they would come in is to demystify it. We have a visionary governor in Malam Nasir El-Rufai, who has noted the governance gap that exists between young persons and the public service. It is a mystery to them, they do not understand it and they criticise it from the outside. So, he says come and work with the heads of MDAs at the highest level of the sub-national government, and see how things run. See the challenges and the opportunities therein and then you will have a driver’s seat view of how government works. They come with an outsider’s perspective and learn.
Sometimes, when you are in a system for so long, you are not able to see some of the issues, to fully comprehend and understand. They come from the outside with out-ofthe-box thinking and solutions to some of these problems. Asides from learning the ropes and seeing for themselves how government works and appreciating the challenges which they would not understand from the outside, they come with a different perspective. They contribute, they sit at meetings, they write papers, make recommendations to the governor and to heads of the MDAs. Now, that is for the Work Placement. The second, is the Education component. We want them to be fully groomed and trained in the art of leadership because it is one thing to sit at the table, it is another thing to be equipped to deliver when you come to the table. So, we take them through workshops, through leadership seminars. We take them to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru, Plateau state, which is the apex of policy formulation in Nigeria, to learn about good governance, to learn about critical thinking and policy formulation and the likes of it.
They go through all the Local Government Areas of Kaduna state to understand leadership at the grassroots, so they are not just confined to the state capital. They understand the most important aspect of governance which is at the local government. They sit with people who have distinguished themselves in various spheres, through the “Speaker Series”, to learn about their leadership experiences. They ask questions, learn from their failures and also be inspired by their successes. Then we have the Community Service component. We want the Fellows to be public service oriented because governance is about the people at the end of the day. So, this allows them look `at the environment and come up with developmental projects for them to be able to give back to the society. Every other aspect of their programme is run by the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship (KIF) Secretariat but this is the only component that they run themselves.
They come up with the project, raise the money and execute it. We make sure that we incorporate two weeks of this into the programme so that even if they return back to their private lives, they will remain public-service oriented having had their hands ‘’dirtied’’ with community service. The last component is Fellowship, where we bring diverse people from different backgrounds, different genders, different religions, to live and work together to have a common goal and to understand that our differences are very superficial. The essence is to bridge the gap which currently exists in Nigeria as we seem to be divided along different fault lines. We want to be able to showcase a new set of Nigerians who just have Nigeria at heart, who are not thinking about what tribe or what religion the other person is from. We want to showcase our diversity as a point of strength. So, these are the objectives of each of the four components and together we believe we have been able to build a solid programme.
You have been the Administrator of the Fellowship since inception more than four years ago, what challenges have you encountered so far, especially in molding the minds of young people from diverse backgrounds into a group with common purpose?
It has been very interesting because it was something that has not been done on this side of the continent. It was originally Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s vision but it has now become the mandate of the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship (KIF) Secretariat. I do not take the glory for the success of this programme alone, it has been a solid support system that has brought us this far. People come with different ideas of public service, we do an orientation first when they come, we just talk about some of the challenges that they may encounter in the workplace. We even talk about challenges that they may encounter in their relationships because as long as people work in teams, there will be frictions and disagreements. But one thing we have been able to establish in The Fellowship is that we can disagree to agree. We have challenges of misinformation because a lot of them have never been to this part of the north or have heard a lot of stories, but when they spend a week, a month of course that perspective changes. When they meet the governor of Kaduna state and they stay under his tutelage, that perspective totally changes. Then, they become Ambassadors of the north, and of the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship Programme. So, after a year, they have shifted in their mindsets completely, they now become part of the system that helps us to bring in more people.
-The Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship selection process, which has largely been automated, is very transparent and credible;
-The portal is opened every year and applicants from all over Nigeria can send in their applications, with the required documents;
-They are also expected to write and submit an essay to the portal which is a critical aspect of the application process;
-The essay enables the secretariat to understand applicants’ thinking pattern and how they relate to contemporary issues, and to understand their thought processes;
-The portal will screen the essays for plagiarism and there is also the grammar software that grades the applicants on the use of English;
-In the second stage, independent editors will re-assess that applications and essays;
-The personal data of applicants are removed so that the editors will not know their names or states of origin or gender–they will only see their application numbers;