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President’s visit to Kaduna state: beyond roads

President’s visit to Kaduna state: beyond roads
January 28
17:39 2022

BY GODWIN NJOKU

President Muhammadu Buhari’s two-day working visit to Kaduna state, January 20 to 21, put Governor Nasir El-Rufai and his regime in the spotlight. The scorecard looked impressive, at least, to all dispassionate observers, including Mr. President himself, who had the privilege of cutting several tapes to inaugurate legacy projects across Kaduna’s three senatorial districts. In other states visited, it was always restricted to the state capital.

Within the Kaduna metropolis, the president formally commissioned seven transformational projects executed under the statewide urban renewal programme. These include the 800-metre span Kawo bridge; the Leventis underpass; the remodeled Murtala Muhammed Square; the 136-bed Infectious Disease Hospital, a primary school in the Rigasa, and the Aliyu Makama Road.

Massive as these projects are, it’s important to note they’re not the only ones executed by El-Rufai’s administration in every part of the state. Many had been done and dusted before now, and a lot more are ongoing as we speak, including the very strategic Kabala Costain–Barnawa Bridge. It’s also remarkable to note, that the Kawo overpass, said to have gulped N7 billion, actually serves key federal highways and is the responsibility of the central government.

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As El-Rufai mildly and stylishly put it during the commissioning ceremony, the state government “won’t mind the federal government reimbursing it (the amount) spent on Kawo bridge”. It was a reasonable demand, one that should be vigorously pursued. You would expect, therefore, that the honourable minister of finance, herself a Kaduna citizen, will liaise with her counterpart at the ministry of works and housing to work out modalities for the refund of the flyover cost to the state government, to be applied to other projects.

El-Rufai’s giant construction stride isn’t limited to Kaduna’s central senatorial district. It is a carefully planned statewide phenomenon. In the southern Kaduna axial headquarters, Kafanchan, Buhari had the honour to cut tapes to formally inaugurate three notable urban renewal road projects. These are Dan Haya, Katsina, and Emir’s Palace roads. These roads were either newly constructed or massively redeveloped to ease traffic flow and make city life more livable. Many other projects had been commissioned in the southern Kaduna zone before now.

As you would expect, El-Rufai did not leave out his own native zone (the northern flanks of Kaduna state) in his regime’s bold infrastructural revolution. During the January 20–21 visit, Buhari formally flagged off trading activities at the vastly remodeled Sabon Gari market, said to be among the oldest in Kaduna state. In the roads sector, he opened Queen Elizabeth Way, and Zaria Circular road, with two arteries to Kufena and River roads. Again, these are far from being the only infrastructural footprints of Nasir El-Rufai in this senatorial axis. Recall the president was in Zaria barely two years ago, to commission the phase 2 Zaria water project, which restored potable water supply to the residents after three decades of lack of potable water.

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Like him or loathe him, the fact remains that Nasir El-Rufai has proved to be an effective governor, easily the most outstanding Kaduna state since the return of representative government in 1999. Many would readily agree with President Buhari who, after commissioning the flurry of projects on January 21, said El-Rufai “has done a great job”, and that “Nigerians are appreciative that he is writing his history in letters of gold”. Detractors may argue to the contrary, but any such argument would likely stem from sheer envy, opposition politics, or biased emotion lacking facts or proof.

Mallam El-Rufai’s stellar performance transcends brick and mortar structures. Since he assumed office as the state’s chief executive officer, his administration has taken bold steps to leave indelible footprints in many aspects of the Kaduna landscape. Six years down the lane, there are positive results on all fronts, including the economy, in education, and in the promotion of democratic ethos.

In the strategic area of economic management, you can think of the many new businesses and opportunities that have become operational or available in the state under El-Rufai’s watch. In 2020, it was on record that Kaduna state topped the chart of 36 states, in the flow of foreign direct investments. By the first quarter of that year, a whopping $2.6 billion worth of FDI had been netted. Total inflows have increased by now, nearing $3 billion. A substantial part of the investment had gone into the critical areas of agri-business, construction, and real estate.

As a case in point, recall that Mr. President, during his visit, commissioned the Barbedos fertilizer plant, a private sector investment facilitated by the government. In the same vein, Olam feed and hatchery mill are contributing to national food security, while creating jobs. The ubiquitous Dangote Group is ready with its brand new Peugeot automobile assembly plant. These, among other companies, have greatly impacted the economic outlook of Kaduna under the man they call Malam.

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In addition to winning over businesses to the state, the government of El-Rufai also holds the gold record in proper budgeting and actual implementation of annual budgets. Do you wonder why this is important?

Well, we’ve got a country where annual budgeting means nothing more than a hollow ritual, and where financial acts aren’t worth the paper and ink used to prepare them. Estimates of income and expenditure are made with utter carelessness. Afterward, nobody refers to the estimates, and no reasonable effort is made to meet revenue targets. Worst of it all, you find governments routinely deploying 70%, or more, of their actual revenues to recurrent expenditure. You then have a government that basically exists to maintain its personnel and spare only the crumbs to serve the people. Shameful!!

Well, under El-Rufai, the Kaduna state government just happens to make a refreshing difference to the shameful norm. From the onset, the regime had viewed budgeting as a cardinal tool to drive development. The estimates are carefully packaged. Strenuous effort is made to keep to the terms and spirit of income and expenditure. Strategic tax reforms helped the government to grow IGR (internally generated revenue) from N12 billion per annum in 2015, to N50 billion at the last count. This puts Kaduna state high on the list of states that can sustain services to their people without waiting for federal allocation. Recall that the quantum increase in IGR was achieved without an increase in any line tax head.

Still on budget integrity, you’ll find that expenditure always weighed heavily in favour of capital projects. In 2020, Kaduna achieved an all-time record of devoting nearly 74% of its revenue to capital projects, while 26% went into recurrent items. You’d wish every government would copy this example.

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In the education sector, the governor equally strived to make things better. Where he saw the need to make an omelet, he didn’t hesitate to crack the eggs. Prior to El-Rufai’s tenure, the public education system was in shambles. It was bad that untrained and even fake “teachers” populated basic education schools. The governor took up the gauntlet and fought a titanic battle to ensure Kaduna pupils are taught by those qualified to be called teachers, those who have something they can impact to the pupils. Today, after much ripples, one would expect there’s been a marginal improvement in the teaching and learning environment in the basic education sector. The reorganisation of the scholarship board came as the icing on the cake for this sector.

On his democratic side, El-Rufai’s admirers can easily point to the fact of the integrity of local council elections. It is only in Kaduna state that opposition parties can hope to win local council area chairmanship and council seats in the country. In all other places, the state electoral commissions ensure the party of the governor makes a clean sweep of every contested slot, irrespective of how people cast their ballots. This makes a complete mess of democratic choices and also questions the need to devote huge sums of public funds to organize mere charades.

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There’s so much that’s outstanding about Nasir El-Rufai’sachievements as Kaduna state chief executive. But, is he a saint? Well, nobody is a saint. Nor does anybody need to be a saint to perform well as a governor. An effective governor just needs to identify the basic needs of his people, mobilize resources as much as he can, and apply whatever he gets judiciously, to meet the most pressing needs and improve the lives and livelihood in his domain. From what one sees on the ground, without wearing the dark goggles of hatred and bias, Nasir El-Rufai rates among the most effective governors in the country.

Love or loathe him, this Mallam looms large as a shining comet in the political skies of present-day Nigeria. In a matter of months, his second gubernatorial tenure would be coming to an end. The question is will El-Rufai remain a key factor in the unfolding political equation? With the little I know of him, and of his capacity to weather the storms, you’d trust he’d remain relevant far beyond 2023!

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Njoku was associate editor, New Nigerian Newspaper, Kaduna

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