I HAVE written many pieces about Nasir El-Rufai’s near nine-month administration in Kaduna state. I have very strong connection with Kaduna, the city and state. I believed that Nasir El-Rufai, along with a group of other governors that I publicly endorsed, was certainly going to make a major impact on governance, over the next four years.
It is safe to restate that El-Rufai hit the ground running and over the past nine months, has set a pace that people around the country have admired. It was one of the first administrations to implement the TSA at the state level, thus discovering huge sums of money in accounts scattered in different banks over the years.
It was therefore interesting that El-Rufai could openly tell the people that his administration was not going to wait for the monthly Federal Allocations before paying salaries. The administration’s most ambitious programme must be the Schools Feeding Programme, which I have written about and which has been at the heart of discourse because of the teething problems of implementation.
Problems of implementation
Last Friday, for the first time, since he was elected and sworn-in as governor, I was finally able to visit Nasir El-Rufai in his office at the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House in Kaduna. On the morning I visited, he has just signed two bills into law: The Kaduna State Tax (Codification and Consolidation (Law) and the new Pensions Law.
The new tax law consolidates all taxes payable in Kaduna state in one law and in one document. While the new Pensions Law opens up the way for a contributory pensions system in Kaduna, as against the old ‘pay-as-you-go’ system. In 2015, the government had uncovered a pensions racket that was costing Kaduna N1. 3bn annually; while a verification exercise had removed 2, 484 ‘ghost pensioners’ from the payroll, leaving about 15, 781 pensioners in the system.
The tax reforms come against the backdrop of the painful fact that Kaduna does not generate or collect enough internal revenues to ensure the service delivery that the people deserved. And a study conducted by the Kaduna State House of Assembly had established that by 2025, the state’s entire revenues would barely satisfy pension liabilities!
This was the context which made the new laws very vital to the future well-being and the governance architecture of Kaduna. And in the nine months, the Executive has taken 20 bills to the House of Assembly, with nine already passed, including the two assented to, when I visited last Friday.
After the exchange of pleasantries with the Deputy Governor, the Speaker of the House and other leaders of the state assembly, Nasir met a delegation of the ABU Alumni Association. In the meantime, I was waiting inside the sprawling office and taking in the remarkable ambience. The former Vice President, Namadi Sambo, had awarded the contract for the new building, when he was governor. Of course, the construction of new government houses became one of the more controversial items of expenditure when civilian government returned in 1999. In many instances, state governors used these new government houses to fleece states of huge sums of money! It was after the meeting with the Alumni Association that I had the opportunity to sit and discuss with the governor. We examined the Schools Feeding Programme, and the problems highlighted by the media and other observers. He agreed that it was not smooth sailing, but any effort to feed about 1. 5 million children would likely face teething problems. He said it was a question of priorities.
Question of priorities
Was the government going to begin feeding the children, or wait till all the schools had been fixed? Well, it chose to begin the feeding programme, while the schools were also being fixed: roofs; doors and windows; water and toilet facilities are being fixed in over 4000 schools in Kaduna. And the furniture items are actually ready.
He had visited a school in Ungwar Sarki as well as Queen Amina College the previous day, unannounced. The children in the primary school sat on the floor as they ate; el-Rufai said he apologised to them and assured that soon as the schools were secured, the furniture would be put in place. At Queen Amina College, the children were happy about the quality of the food.
The state spends N314millon every week on the feeding programme. I asked where the money came from that went into that and other programmes of the government. El-Rufai assured me that his government was making tremendous effort to ensure that there were no frivolous expenditure; the entire administration is making sacrifices to conserve funds and a regime of efficient collection of revenue is also being implemented. He believes that Kaduna would arrive at a point when it would no longer depend on the monthly federal allocations for its services.
Just that week, a whistle blower had assisted the government to discover about N1.5bn that was kept away in a bank! And that was a major vote of confidence in the work of the administration. We discussed several other issues of development, including the urban renewal project; the plan to construct a sports institute in Jere; the rehabilitation of mini stadiums in every local government headquarter.
To sum up, Governor Nasir El-Rufai was quite proud that the feeding of 1.5million children, led directly to the employment of 17, 000 vendors, who in turn hire people to cook and serve food. The 4, 000 primary schools in the state are being rehabilitated: toilets, water and the buildings as well as furniture will eventually be provided.
Secondary school students have been measured and are being outfitted with free school uniforms, and the tailors will be paid concurrently with delivery, once quality is assured. Teachers can now reach GL. 17, without leaving their classrooms as part of a programme to enhance career progression, while a massive training programme, in collaboration with many institutions has been worked out.
There are programmes in agriculture, healthcare, urban renewal, jobs creation, the creation of a Kaduna State Geographic Information Service, mas housing and so on. It was getting close to Juma’a and he had promised to pray in a mosque which starts its services earlier; I reminded Nasir of that, and I left his office, feeling assured that these would certainly become the best of times for Kaduna state!