By Ishaku Yohanna
Some time ago, traffic problems in China’s cities were caused by buses that were so crowded and slow. So, people took to bicycles as a means of beating the traffic. The result: many bicycles on the roads, thereby chocking the roads and slowing the buses down even further. This type of situation is particularly appropriate with what is happening in Kaduna State right now where attempts to always solve one problem leads to further problems that only make the original position worse. Therefore, if one were looking for a very apt word to describe the policies of Mallam Nasiru el-Rufa’i, the Governor of Kaduna State, the word that readily comes to one’s mind is ‘vicious circle’ – a situation worsened by attempted solution.
When he was sworn on May 29, 2015 as Governor of Kaduna State, he vowed to turn things around while castigating past administrations on the sorry financially distressed status of the State. He left no one in doubt that the situation was made possible by the recklessness of his predecessors, that he was indeed the long awaited messiah. He did not only vow to turn things around for the state, but also gave hope to every citizen of the state that at last, the man to ‘Make Kaduna State Great Again’ has arrived. Nevertheless, public commentary about developments since el-Rufa’i had assumed the mantle of governorship of the state has been more of criticism than complimentary. Just as a ball that rebounds affect the person that threw it, so also it appears that the haughty self-confidence exhibited by the Governor has rebounded on him, as it is obvious that much of his course of actions have either exacerbated an existing difficulty or led to new problems.
As he said in his inaugural speech: “Kaduna state is in a difficult situation. Our finances are in shambles. Kaduna state is the second most indebted state in our country. Our state is staggering under the weight of billions of naira in debt and other liabilities. Our schools and hospitals, our roads and bridges, our villages, towns and cities, all are markers of backwardness. Too many of our children are hungry and in rags and in the streets. Our society is divided along religious and ethnic lines. Worse still, our state cannot stand on its own feet. We have become a state of beggars; a condition of dependency that is an affront to our dignity and our humanity. The state of our state is abysmal!”
Such were the kinds of alluring homilies that had endeared el-Rufa’i to the electorates, who gave him their votes with the enthusiasm that, at last, their tear-stained faces would be cleaned up. Now, two and a half years in office, the character of his administration, if anything else, has not only shown to be not as good, attractive, or satisfactory as expected, but has also given credence to the countless narratives that describe the style of his administration as one of eccentricity, fallacy, and failure. With a lot of criticism focussing on his decisions and policies, the optimism generated earlier in the day has led only to a feeling of being led down, even as his government is continuously disaffecting more of its former supporters. Today, all the promises made by el-Rufa’i that things would be fine have indeed turned out to be merely exaggeratedly impressive words.
So much has been said and written regarding his administration as Governor of Kaduna State – from the sublime and the ridiculous. However, a dispassionate view of happenings in the State will show that things have not been as rosy as being projected from some quarters. But all the same, one must beg to be consented with the rider that no matter how bad a leader is he would always have supporters; and by the same token, no matter how good a leader is he would always have detractors. That criticism is always two-toned is an evident truth that there is no gainsaying it. So, mindfulness of the kinds of backlashes that always follows any opinion that does not glorify Governor el-Rufa’i, is taken. Reason being the discernibly cult of personality that has been fostered and revolving around his stature, mostly his appointees and some wooden-headed supporters – centered around his deeds – which to them is heroic.
What is glaring in Kaduna State today is an abysmal lack of statesmanship from the leadership! It is a shocking paradox that el-Rufa’i has taken an entirely different route, which is in stark contrast to his earlier pious declaration. Governor el-Rufa’i, who had decried the position of Kaduna State as “the second most indebted state in the country” and staggering under the weight of billions of naira of such debts and liabilities, saying “we have become a state of beggars; a condition of dependency that is an affront to our dignity and our humanity” will be the same person wanting to procure a debt of $350 million – an amount that is the equivalent to 122 billion naira!
Here, it is important to dispassionately consider the wider implications of making such a decision. Kaduna State is already under the piercing weight of $225.8 million foreign loans, coming second after Lagos, and this debt profile represents 6.16 per cent of the sub-national foreign debts, according to the Debt Management Office (DMO). Therefore, if this loan request of $350 million is approved by the National Assembly, the debt profile is set to hit $575.8 billion. Under such circumstance, not a few have kicked against the plan by the government to secure the loan, with many saying that the state cannot survive such a debt burden.
Additionally, the loan’s quest has created an atmosphere of suspicion. Former Attorney General of Kaduna State, Barrister Mark Jacob Nzamah, encapsulates the feelings of those that view the motive with misgivings. He said: “If el-Rufa’i had applied for the loan at the commencement of his tenure, it would have been sensible but, it doesn’t add up for a government that have barely one year plus to go and is seeking for external loan. Beside, the fact that there is huge debt profile, the timing for another loan is absolutely wrong which shows clearly that the loan is targeted at something else and not development. It is just like a father going to mortgage a family land while on a dying sick bed, which is a mark of irresponsibility and careless disposition of the future of his children.”
Be that as it may, while the government of el-Rufa’i luxuriates in self-deception about its stellar performance, there is hardly any of its string of action that has not been majorly disparaged. It has been a galore of lamentations for the people of Kaduna State. From his beginning with the various attempts at demolition of buildings, which the courts have given injunctions against; to that of proscription of hawking and begging and that of regulating of religious activities – two policies the Governor has appeared to have flip-flopped on. His lack of tact in handling the killings that were happening in the southern part of the state, as well as his indiscretion in sacking of 390 Districts, and about 5,000 Village heads in one fell swoop, and the, lamentably, very harsh intention at disengaging 21,780 primary school teachers for failing to pass a controversial examination meant for primary four pupils – moves that are seen as malignant, and which will definitely boomeranged. Also are his alleged cronyism in award of contracts, and his lack of political correctness. And the last, but apparently not the least, is the attempt at cutting the work force of the entire 23 local government areas of the state almost by half. This is done without minding the social crisis that these dismissals will generate. As at the time of writing, the Nigerian Union of Teachers, some pupils, as well as many other sympathizers are on the roads protesting what they regard as harsh policy of el-Rufa’i. In short, writing about the lamentable policies of Governor el-Rufai’s administration in Kaduna State is like scripting an elegy.
It is also another shocking paradox that the schools and hospitals in the State, which the Governor had described as “markers of backwardness”, have today become like the crippled who moves on wheelchair. Here are easy-to-follow examples: Resident Doctors in the State had to declare an indefinite strike on October 3, 2017 over what they described as “the sorry state” of healthcare facilities in the state government hospitals, which they maintained include issues of that of poor funding, as well as equipment and staffing of hospitals, and non provision of living environment for medical, healthcare workers and patients.
Also, it is a queer situation that Kaduna State is the only State in Nigeria in which admission of students into the Junior Secondary School (JSSI) had to linger as the State’s education ministry was unable to conduct Common Entrance Examination as and when due. The exam was however belatedly conducted on the 7 October, 2017, while the result came out on 27 October, 2017, at a time schools have already observed the mid-term break. Likewise, the JSS3 examination that is meant to usher students into Senior Secondary School is still pending. Furthermore, the Mock Exam usually designed for those in SS2 to prepare them for both the West African Examination (WAEC) and the National Examination (NECO) which begun suddenly stopped after the practical exams on Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and Home Management were done.
However, it is ironic when such is juxtaposed against the lack of pragmatism exhibited through the School Feeding Programme which the state government embarked upon without first addressing the inherent infrastructural deficit in schools across the state. This is criticized as ‘putting the cart before the horse’. The Governor has severally stated that the policy had raised primary school enrollment from 1.1 million to 2.1 million. But the hitch is that conditions for learning do not exist in many schools in the State. The spike in pupil’s population as a result of free food in schools brought with it overcrowded classrooms with few sitting on benches while many sit on the floor. This is even as majority of pupils do not have exercise books, neither do they have textbooks. Paradoxically, these exercise books and textbooks were replaced by plates and coolers for the food they would be served in.
The problem is further compounded by the absence of even daily teaching materials like chalk, books, and registers. The overall result is that most of the schools are having more pupils that can expectedly be taught because personal interaction between teacher and pupil is impossible under such scenario. Another area is that of hygiene as there are fewer toilets to serve the geometric growth in pupil’s population. Therefore, the programme only created a situation of ‘quantity without quality’. The N10 billion expended on the programme by the State Government would have mitigated the infrastructural shortfall to a very great extend. Sadly enough, the School Feeding Programme had to be shelved for its impracticability.
What’s more, the Governor has also failed to convince observers that mutual antagonism is past in a State he had bemoaned as “been divided along religious and ethnic lines.” Instead of straddling the entire State, the Governor has not only by his reckless disregard for sensibility deepened division between the North and South of the State, and between the two major religions, but has also created an evil boundary while he stands between these lines of differences. His brand of politics has become a factor for mobilization of passions, while trusts between many communities have broken down completely.
Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, an APC chieftain from Kaduna state puts the case very succinctly when he said that: “His actions and utterances since becoming the Governor of the state had tended to suggest that he may not be in consonance with what it actually takes to be the governor of all the diverse ethnic, religious, and cultural groups co-existing in the state.”
The same el-Rufa’i that had shown himself to be a highly effective populist campaigner, able to capitalize on his appeal to the public, has today inadvertently pushed away many of these people who earlier on had been so friendly. With this evident growing despair and dissensions by the people over what they regard as bad policies, would the style of el-Rufai’s leadership not to be said to symbolize the antithesis of populism? Also, has the Governor’s campaign slogan “to make Kaduna great” being achieved? No doubt, the el-Rufa’i government’s popularity has fallen dramatically. The goodwill he had counted upon his coming to power has been severely discounted; he has become estranged from many and selfishly alienated himself from lots of others.
But while many aspects of his style of administration deserve critique, the State has achieved some successes as well. His ability to implement the Treasury Single Account (TSA), including the attempt at galvanizing economic activities in the State, and the emergence of a vibrant revenue drive is commendable. But the snag is that these distances he had covered appears to have been cancelled by the many indiscretions he has so far demonstrated. As a result, if the question as to whether el-Rufa’i has acquitted himself well as the Chief Executive of Kaduna State were to be asked, a substantial minority would admit they have seen lots of achievement, even as it appears that the 30 months that the Governor had expended out of a 48 months tenure can well be characterized as a period of extremes, where apparent solutions have often bred new problems. These ingredients are within the public domain and there is little indication that things will ever change. And however much one disagrees about the details, the basic facts remain the same!