El Rufai: Making Kaduna great again?

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By Maryam Musa
In the last two months, Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna state has achieved so much with less, but a large chunk of party men, political elites and the larger society are yet to be carried along by the administration.

By Abba Kura
After the All Progressives Congress (APC) gubernatorial primaries in Kaduna state, Malam Nasir El Rufai made an overture to Hon Isa Ashiru, his main rival, which won the hearts of party men. On December 5, 2014, a day after the primaries, the APC flag bearer had gone to Ashiru’s house unannounced. El Rufai and his entourage met with the former House of Representatives member and the two of them prayed for each other’s success in their various pursuits. The meeting had lasted for about 30 minutes but the encounter resonated among APC members in Kaduna state.

Earlier, there were widespread fears that Ashiru and his team, including Ambassador Sule Buba, Alhaji Yaro Makama Rigachikun and Alhaji Ibrahim Yaro will return to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a party which they had defected from on December 24, 2013. However, at that meeting with El Rufai, Ashiru had debunked that rumour and pledged his support to the party and its flag bearer. Significantly, PDP was disappointed because it was expecting APC to implode, following Ashiru’s defeat at the primaries. In fact, PDP stalwarts had began celebrating when El Rufai had emerged as APC’s candidate, believing that it will reap from the fallouts of the primaries.

After El Rufai’s visit to Ashiru, the horse trading then began between the two camps, in the run up to the general election. During the negotiations, the Ashiru group had demanded to produce El Rufai’s running mate and it had proposed Mr Ben Kure, its Organising Secretary for the post. However, the El Rufai group refused to accede to that request. Afterwards, Ashiru’s camp had asked for El Rufai’s position of Deputy National Secretary since he had emerged as APC’s flag bearer. Again, its request was turned down. Yet again, the defeated camp asked for Alhaji Suleiman Hunkuyi’s position of Deputy National Organising Secretary, seeing that he has clinched the party’s northern senatorial ticket. Again, the position was not conceded to the Ashiru camp. In fact, against all odds, El Rufai had chosen Architect Barnabas Bantex, APC’s state chairman, as his running mate. Following that choice, the Ashiru group had pitched for Bantex’s position in the party but it was not given to them. Bantext, like El Rufai and Hunkuyi, have combined both party and elective positions.

At a point, the Ashiru camp stopped making further demands but resolved to remain in APC. However, Ashiru allegedly told his supporters that if El Rufai’s campaign team sought their support individually, they should readily give them for the overall success of the party. According to an insider, Ashiru had no choice because APC would have won with or without his support. In addition, going back to PDP was not an option for him because his Makarfi/Kudan constituency is predominantly APC. Secondly, he had figured out that defeating PDP will further strengthen his political clout because he will boast that the party only lost election when he and his team left PDP.

Significantly, few of Ashiru’s men found themselves in the APC Gubernatorial Campaign Council but they were chosen on their own personal merits. Ambassador Sule Buba, Alhaji Yaro Makama Rigachikun and Alhaji Ibrahim Yaro were made members of the campaign council. In addition, Engineer Namadi Musa and Mr Ben Kure emerged Director of Interfaith and Director General of the campaign team respectively. On this note, the campaign started in earnest from zone 1, comprising the local governments in the northern senatorial district. Briefly, Makama Rigachikun and Sule Buba made appearances in the Zaria campaign and a few surrounding local governments but backed out afterwards. Ben Kure and Namadi Musa went everywhere with the campaign team in all the three zones of the state. In particular, Kure thrilled the crowd with his attack on PDP whenever he mounted the podium, especially in his southern Kaduna zone.

With a wide margin, APC won both the presidential and gubernatorial elections in the north and central senatorial zones. Similarly, the National Assembly election results followed the same pattern as APC only lost the southern senatorial zone to PDP. However, APC made a strong showing in southern Kaduna because it prevented rigging in the area as such, PDP couldn’t garner the outrageous results that it used to harvest from zone 3.

After the elections, APC had set up various Transition Committees but none of Ashiru’s men was a member of any of them. The committees met and made far reaching recommendations but the Ashiru camp was not part of them. After the committees have submitted their reports, another round of scheming started again and for the third time, the Ashiru camp lost in every segment. First, the names of all Ashiru’s men who were penciled down for federal appointments were struck out. Similarly, no member of his camp has been appointed to any position in Kaduna state as at the time of writing this analysis.

First and foremost, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SSG), Alhaji Lawal Balarabe Abbas was El Rufai’s Chief of Staff when he was Minister of Federal Capital Territory(FCT). Hajiya Hadiza Bala Usman, El Rufai’s Chief of Staff, had also worked with the former FCT Minister. Mr Samuel Aruwan, a seasoned journalist, who is the spokesman of the administration, has been the governor’s media point man in Kaduna. Similarly, Mr Muyiwa Adekeye, the Special Adviser on Communications, has been working for El Rufai for a long time. In addition, Dr Uba Sani and Jimi Lawal, Political Adviser and Special Adviser on Investments respectively, are all close associates of the governor.

Although El Rufai can be excused for selecting only his own men as personal aides because they are his confidants, the list of proposed commissioners that has been sent to the House of Assembly for screening is still loaded with his own men. For example, Alhaji Muhammad Bashir Saidu, APC’s state secretary who has been nominated to be Commissioner of Local Governments and Chieftaincy Affairs, was El Rufai’s class mate at Barewa College. Like El Rufai, Bantex and Hunkuyi, Bashir will also combine both party posts and government positions. In fact, out of the 13 member cabinet, there is no one from Ashiru’s camp in the list of commissioners and this winner-takes-all attitude may threaten APC’s unity in Kaduna state. Right now, the Ashiru camp is being referred to as ‘’APC mai tagumi’’, meaning the ‘’Sidon look faction of APC’’.

Significantly, it is not only the Ashiru faction that feels marginalised in the El Rufai administration. ‘’Professional politicians’’ have also been alienated as the government prefers technocrats who can add value to the administration. From the appointment of aides to the list of nominated commissioners, there has not been any notable politician whose name rings a bell in Kaduna State. At best, some have stood for elections in the past, others have been card carrying members of political parties but none of El Rufai’s nominees or appointed aides is what can be term a ‘’politician’’ per se.

In addition, some indigenes of Kaduna state have kicked against what they see as an encroachment of their political space by non indigenes. For instance, Muyiwas Adekeye is a Yoruba man although he was born in Zaria. Like Adekeye, Hadiza Bala Usman is a Zaria-born lady of Katsina origin. On the other hand, Jimi Lawal is from Kwara state while Hafiz Bayero, El Rufai’s Special Assistant on Youth Employment hails from Kebbi state.

Similarly, the El Rufai administration has incurred the wrath of a section of the religious community, for stopping Ramadan feeding and state sponsorship of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem. Ramadan feeding was a practice whereby millet, rice and sugar were given to the masses during the Muslim Fasting month. These ban on both Ramadan feeding and pilgrims’ sponsorship have attracted negative commentaries from some Islamic clerics and Christian clergy men. However, the governor had argued that the Ramadan feeding was riddled with corruption because the target beneficiaries got only pittance as against the elite who cornered the chunk of the largesse. He promised to reform the programme, whereby government officials and the well-to-do in society will be encouraged to donate foodstuff and money. Personally, El Rufai promised to contribute his own widow’s mite and his friends will also do the same. The entire donations will then be given to Islamic Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to distribute to the masses. As for sponsorship of pilgrims, the governor said that his administration does not have the money to do so, arguing that he inherited an empty treasury.

No doubt, the combined marginalisation of a section of APC, some of El Rufai’s unpopular but beneficial policies and a resurgent PDP will try to cast the administration in bad light in the short run. However, if he fixes Kaduna’s decayed infrastructure, improves its public schools and hospitals and makes Kaduna great again, this government will be the best thing that has happened to Kaduna state since the advent of this dispensation. Right now, El Rufai has plugged drain pipes, stopped wasteful spending and reduced the size of government by restructuring ministries from 19 to 13. In addition, he has reduced the number of permanent secretaries from 35 to 18 and cut overhead spending by 60 percent. In addition, the governor and his deputy have cut down their salaries and allowances by 50 percent. All these measures are aimed at reversing the financial deficit that the Muktar Ramalan Yero-led PDP administration had left behind in the state. In addition, the measures will free up resources in order to deliver the promises El Rufai had made to the electorate on the campaign trail. Further more, the funds are needed to meet the huge expectations of the people of Kaduna state from the APC administration. This is the task before El Rufai but whether or not his small frame can shoulder it, only time will tell. However, he has started on a good footing in the last two months of his government.

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