During the daunting electioneering campaign, incumbent Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el- Rufai – whom many regard as controversial – promised to make the state great again. With that promise, coupled with the Buhari tsunami that swept many states during the polls, Mr. el-Rufai received massive support from the electorate, eventually winning the contest against ex-Governor Ramalan Yero by popular votes. But barely three months after taking over – as el-Rufai celebrates his 100 days in office – there are divergent views about his conduct so far with many citizens describing his policies and approach to governance as insensitive and anti-people. But to some, despite widespread grumbling among key political stakeholders in the state, Mr. el-Rufai is a revolutionist, writes Maryam Musa
Palpable excitement and expectations pervaded every nook and cranny of Kaduna on May 29, 2015 as Mallam Nasir el- Rufai took the oath of office. After the 16 odd years of the locusts epitomized by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its successive misfiring governors, in Nasir el-Rufai they could see a ray of hope. Riding on the crest of the refreshing by different change which the All Progressive Congress (APC) symbolizes, el- Rufai had promised to galvanize Kaduna state to the Promised Land sooner than later.
Barely three months down the line, that solemn promise seemed to be turning to ashes in the people’s mouth? Recall that a famous remark in one of William Shakespares works: no sooner meet than they fall in love; no sooner fell in love than they fell apart; no sooner fell apart than they began to seek the remedy…. Like the characters in that epic play, the romance between the ex-FCT minister and the people of Kaduna State seems to be thawing barely 100 days into his four years tenure.
“To be frank with you, majority of us are becoming disenchanted with the direction of the el-Rufai administration,” remarked a founding member of the APC in Kaduna who asked not to be identified. “From the appointments made so far to the sort of peculiar programmes which seem to favour outsiders more than indigenes of Kaduna, we feel quite disappointed with the governor. This is more so as he is running a one-man show and is quite full of himself, hubris and arrogance”.
Indeed it is not hard to understand why palpable angst pervades the land. Consider, for example, the series of appointments made so far by Governor el-Rufai quite a number of the appointees are from his native Zaria town while some are even non-indigenes. These include the likes of Hadiza Bala Usman, Jimmy Lawal, Gambo Kurfi, Prof. Gyang, Peter etc. Normally, few would have raised eyebrows even despite that indigenes of Kaduna residing in other states of the federation are not being appointed by other governors as is being done in their home state. What unsettles many, however, is the fact that despite the alarming rate of unemployment, Kaduna is hardly in good stead to begin its own charity abroad – a situation which el-Rufai seems to be blissfully unaware of.
As if that’s not bad enough, the governor’s main policies thus so far, even though seemingly well-meaning, have been having debilitating effects in the masses who voted massively for him last April. For instance, although the administration is yet to construct houses for the people, it has been ruthlessly rendering thousands of families homeless through the ongoing demolition frenzy. To many residents, the idea of demolishing illegal structures particularly those that were developed in lands belonging to public schools is indeed a welcome development but the timing of the demolition and the short notice given to the owners by the governor which coincided with the rainy season is not only insensitive but a misplacement of priority. They averred that such a demolition should not be the immediate priority of a government that belongs to the people as there is more important and urgent needs the public want the new government to concentrate on.
As el-Rufai explained through his spokesman, Samuel Aruwan, the demolition, which started in the thickly populated Zaria metropolis, is meant to “reclaim government land” on which “illegal properties” had been constructed. That may be fine, but what many in Kaduna find astonishing is that little or no thought is being accorded the fact that many of these houses (owned mostly by the poor) had been approved by certain government officials in the relevant ministries and agencies. They said some of those properties are complete with Certificates of Occupancy (CfO) and building Approvals.
Speaking the minds of the legion of helpless residents whose properties were bulldozed in one fell swoop last month, Hajia Ramatu Bello, a retired school teacher, said: “When we first got wind of the demolition exercise, it sounded like a rude joke. I mean, how can one believe that a months ago, would just come here and destroy our properties with reckless abandon, without caring to provide any alternative to us?”
She added: “The most painful thing of all is that the whole thing was done indiscriminately, with little or no regard to whether you have legal rights to the land or not. In my own case, as in the case of plenty others who I personally know, we were issued certificate of occupancy and approved building plans by the relevant government officials. So how can anyone, least of all a supposedly responsible, people-oriented government, come to destroy our legitimate properties in a patently indiscriminate and heartless manner?”
Incidentally, lamentations bordering on rashness and heartlessness also hallmarked el-Rufai’s decree for beggars to quit Kaduna streets. Ordinarily, removing them would be a welcome development, but as many, (including the beggars’ leader, Mallam Abdullahi Ismail) pointed out, taking such an action without considering the implication on the hundreds of families involved – let alone making alternative arrangements for them – is hardly in the character of a responsive government.
According to Ismail, the Kaduna state chairman of physically challenged persons, “The ban (on street begging) was unfortunate. We least expected it. Most of my members earn their livelihood through begging of alms. Don’t forget that most of us have family members. It may interest you to know that some of my members have two or three wives with several children … if government can find something for us to do, most of us will not beg. The society forced us into begging.”
Little wonder, Mallam Abdullahi Ismail and his members raised a storm, lamenting that they had voted massively for el-Rufai, only to be paid back with heartlessness. Only in the heat of the public outcry that ensued did the governor find it expedient to visit the beggars’ colony Mallam Ismail poignantly put it, what el-Rufai saw at their dilapidating centre shocked even him silly. Only then did he soft-pedal on the controversial ban. “Having gone round the centre, he promised to rehabilitate (it) and build a skills acquisition centre for us,” the beggars’ chairman added.
That, in other words, was vintage Nasir el-Rufai in his true elements: act first and think later. This leadership trait which is more associated with the military and or inexperienced or ill-equipped politicians, had been on parade during el-Rufai’s reign as the FCT minister in the president Olusegun Obansanjo era. So much so that he infamously demolished the Abuja residence of a respected judge despite a court ruling which specifically barred el-Rufai from doing so. Many Kaduna people had assumed that the “accidental public servant” had learnt from his mistakes, but the reverse they said seems to be the case.
In the same vein, there is restlessness across the land over what Senator Shehu Sani branded el-Rufai’s heavy “investment and dependence” on external online media which will not help him govern Kaduna well until he accepts the fact that arrogance is inimical to governance. Coupled with his penchant to farm out appointments to non-indigenes at the expense of Kaduna’s teeming army of unemployed population, el-Rufai’s unprecedented “investment and dependence” on non-Kaduna resources has become a veritable source of concern to even his most ardent supporters.
Against the foregoing backdrop, it has come as little or no surprise that someone like Senator Sani has embraced the challenge of speaking what his supporters said is the truth to power. Normally, as someone who was elected senator on the same platform (APC) as Governor el-Rufai, Sani according to some keen observers of Kaduna politics would be the last person to criticize the Kaduna helmsman. But keenly conscious that the electorate had voted for him on the assurance that the APC – led government would deliver the dividends of democracy which Kaduna citizens have been yearning for, the human rights activist – turned – politician is worried by the level of hubris, arrogance, and anti-people policies on parade.
This obviously explains why even though the policy direction of Governor el-Rufai’s administration is being hailed by his supporters as “progressive” and “visionary,” the Hajia Ramatu Bellos, Senator Shehu Sanis, Mallam Abdullahi Ismails and many of their ilk in every nook and cranny of Kaduna, remain to be convinced that el-Rufai’s government isn’t swimming against the current of APC’s change mantra.
Shockingly, some aspects of the state’s affairs are being conducted as if Kaduna is the personal estate of someone in the corridors of power. This is very evident in some of the contracts that have been awarded without any tender, let alone following due process. The governor was said to have single- handedly awarded such contracts, just like that:
One of these deals described by an insider “as a veritable sweetheart contract,” was farmed out to the husband of his chief of staff, Dr. Kurfi, for the identification and marking of buildings in Kaduna metropolises. The other multi- million naira contract was allegedly awarded to KFCC, a company owned by one of President Buhari’s uncles, for the supply of school furniture. “Both the one awarded Dr. Kurfi’s CLTR and the one given Buhari’s uncle were unilaterally awarded by el- Rufai,” the insider disclosed.
While His Excellency has been over- eager to pamper a privileged few such as his chief of staff’s spouse, ingratitude and strong- arm tactics have been the lot of majority of the masses who had contributed so much to his electoral triumph. Aside from the ongoing demolition spree, el-Rufai has also abolished the long-standing gesture of government sponsoring or subsiding Muslim and Christian pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem respectively. To compound these unpopular decisions, the governor further directed that henceforth the government would no longer give out food items to the less privileged during the holy month of Ramadan – a welfare gesture which, despite their poor leadership, successive PDP-led governors had pursued with vigor.
In the midst of all these comedy of errors, the budding Kaduna helmsman penultimate Monday placed on advert on page 50 of an Abuja – based daily newspaper for tender for, of all things, a five star hotel! Not only are the legion of top class hotels in Kaduna enduring poor patronage, some of them are either closing down or being bought over by schools and churches. According to hotel operators who talked to DESERT HERALD, except for the 70% or 80% patronage they enjoy whenever customers troop in from Abuja to participate in one event or the other, the hospitality sector is in dire straits in Kaduna. Yet, to the astonishment of people and despite the disgraceful conditions of Kaduna- owned schools and hospitals, el- Rufai wants to expend billions on construction of a five- star hotel!!! Another misplacement of priority?
But despite his seemingly faulty beginning and the criticism that heralded his appointments, el-Rufai is generally seen as the best governor Kaduna ever had and that going through his blueprint which were well articulated and if properly implimented the manner he has started, he may at the end of his first term tenure in 2019 be rated as one of the best if not the best performing governor in Nigeria. To his credit even though it is hardly been acknowledged by his critics, Mr. el-Rufai remains the only Nigerian governor today that abolished the notorious state/local government joint accounts and practically give all the 23 local governments in Kaduna state financial autonomy. Local government chairmen in Kaduna state under el-Rufai can now execute projects directly while federal allocations are directly being remitted to their accounts even though his critics said he dictates the tune for them. He has also introduced and implimented the Single Treasury Account (STA) which has so far worked in favour of the masses and save the state millions of naira that are being diverted every month.
But notwithstanding the successes he is practically recording in some of the sectors of the state’s economy there is indeed a major challenge the Kaduna state governor must continue to contend with if some of the policies he is insisting to impliment and which are seen by many as anti-people is pursue despite opposition from his own political party and some notable stalwarts of the APC in the state like Sen. Shehu Sani. But whether Mr. el-Rufai’s vision can be achieved in view of many interests within his fold that desperately wants patronages at the expense of the people and the opposition that is gradually mounting and threatening the overwhelming support he hitherto have remains to be seen.