How the ‘Giant’ Shows the Way

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Olusegun Adeniyi
Former editor of THISDAY and current chair of editorial board, Adeniyi was spokesman to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

As we sat frustrated in traffic on Ahmadu Bello Way in Kaduna after attending an event last August, the Director General of the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, Ms. Jacqueline Farris, said: “Segun, look at this town very well now. When you come back in two years time, it will wear a totally new look because Nasir (el-Rufai) is going to make a difference here.”

If there is one state chief executive that most Nigerians believe will “perform”, to use a common lexicon, it is the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai; and while it is still early days, there are positive signs that the man fondly called ‘Giant’ by friends and admirers, is making slow but steady strides in the once-upon-a-time headquarters of Northern Nigeria.

While some governors are still in pre-election mode, fighting imaginary enemies one year after they were sworn into office, a few of them have actually started making meaningful contributions by setting their priorities right, despite lean resources. For instance, in Sokoto State, Governor Aminu Tambuwal has allocated 29 percent to education in the 2016 budget while placing greater emphasis on harnessing the potentials in the agricultural sector and solid minerals deposits. The results may take a while to see but they will come.

In Kebbi State, Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu is pursuing his rice project with missionary zeal. By tapping into the Anchor Borrower Programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to develop rice production in the country with Kebbi pioneering the model, Bagudu is already positioning the state to reap bountiful harvest from the agricultural sector that is Nigeria’s way to the future. And in Lagos State, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has also been at work, putting greater emphasis on security, urban renewal and rural development. He is also tapping into agriculture in a way that positions Lagos to literally reap much from where it has not sown!

In Enugu State, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has demonstrated maturity and leadership in the manner in which he handled the provocative killings by some invading herdsmen while in Borno State, Governor Kashim Shetiima is gradually picking the pieces of years of damage done by Boko Haram. But the challenges ahead for him and the other governors are quite enormous.

While most Nigerians would blame the president for all the woes in the country, what is often forgotten is that Nigeria will not develop until there is also meaningful progress in the 36 states. That is why it is important that we focus at that level of governance, especially on a day such as this. For sure, there are many governors also making impacts in the lives of their people and they deserve all the encouragement they can get but I want to zero in on Kaduna where el-Rufai started with a clear determination to change the focus of governance at that level from the lazy fixation with erecting boreholes and repainting schools and hospitals.

Determined to effect long-lasting impact in Kaduna, el-Rufai began by reducing the ministries from 19 to 13 and even though the previous government had 24 commissioners he decided to have no more than 13 with their specific portfolios attached to the nominations he sent to the House of Assembly. To tackle the menace of fraud in the system, el-Rufai introduced a verification process not only for workers but also pensioners and with that, the monthly wage bill reduced by half a billion Naira from N2.7bn to N2.2bn. Rather than cancel the contracts he met on ground, el-Rufai renegotiated them. He also subscribed to the Treasury Single Account (TSA) by closing the multiple accounts operated by MDAs in the state and transferred all balances to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)–a bold move against leakages. He has prohibited cash receipts by government agencies and crushed the fertilizer racket.

However, if there is any area where el-Rufai’s intervention has become most visible, it is in access to basic education where there has been a big expansion. He introduced free education for the first nine years of schooling while abolishing the collection of fees and levies in public primary and junior secondary schools. He also prohibited the sale of forms to students seeking admission to public schools so that it would not be an impediment or excuse against enrollment.

Not one to throw money at problems, el-Rufai has obviously taken time to think through his policies and there is no better demonstration of that than a recent interaction over the education sector in Kaduna State. “On the school feeding the system, the budget per meal is N50 or N250 per pupil per school week. The pupils are served proper meals on Mondays through to Thursdays while they get a snack of biscuits with yoghurt, milk or fruit juice on Fridays. Since announcing our free basic education programme, we have seen primary school enrollment jump by 64 percent and secondary school by 60 percent. We now have to deal with challenges of congested classrooms and the legacy of about 700,000 pupils sitting on bare floors to learn, compounded by about 40 percent unqualified teachers at the same time” said el-Rufai.

To underscore the gravity of what el-Rufai inherited, it is important to recall that in 2012, the then Commissioner for Education, Alhaji Usman Mohammed, revealed that about 1,300 teachers in Kaduna State failed a test meant for primary four pupils. According to Mohammed, a total of 1,599 teachers selected from across the state were given primary four tests in Mathematics and Basic literacy. Just one teacher scored 75 percent, 250 scored between 50 and 74 percent while 1,300 failed outright–scoring less than 25 percent. Of course, the pupils also failed when the same test was administered on them. The Chairman of the State House of Assembly Committee on Education at the period, Hon. Yunusa Mohammad, estimated that, out of the 36,000 teachers in the state, 15,000 were unqualified.

Against the backdrop of lean resources to tackle such challenges, the governor said he resolved from the beginning to deal with the issues sequentially and concurrently as necessary. Despite motivating the teachers in the state by removing the glass ceiling (they can now rise to Grade Level 17 without having to stop being teachers), el-Rufai admits that the quality of teaching is a problem that would take all the three tiers of government to address over a period of time. “Our national policy on education, at best, is a flip-flop! We are even yet to determine if teaching is a profession, despite all the noise that the National Certificate in Education (NCE) is the minimum teaching qualification.”

To el-Rufai, the problem is both national and systemic. “The NCE curriculum I once read addressed, perhaps, at most the junior secondary (form one to three) school teaching methodology It addressed child psychology, principles of teaching methods as regards to children and the accepted Montessorian methodology only superficially. The need for returning to the old Teacher Training Colleges as well as, for rapid result, pivotal teacher training (which gives a secondary school leaver a 2-year teacher training and then deployed to primary schools) necessarily urgently and imperative” he said.

On how he plans to address the issue, this was the way el-Rufai explained it: “We are first getting the classrooms to have windows, doors and roofs and the schools to have water and toilets. We have 300,000 items of furniture awaiting installation once the classrooms are secure enough to have them. We are working with NOUN (National Open University of Nigeria) and have approached NTI (National Teachers Institute) and ABU (Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria) to train our teachers. We will begin the construction of Multi-storey classrooms next year to reduce congestion. In the meantime, we may have to introduce morning and afternoon classes in primary schools to deal with the explosion in enrollment.”

However, it is not only in conceiving the idea that el-Rufai has scored big but in the implementation. “We felt strongly that improved nutrition is key to the long return success of the education programme of the state. We chose not to pilot but do a Big Bang implementation while correcting any lapses as we move. We are monitoring it closely and taking corrective measures. Every commissioner, Adviser and Assistant is required to make unscheduled school visits at KAEDCO once a week at 10am to taste the food and report back”, he said.

For a man who, as Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, was not seen as people-friendly, it is interesting that el-Rufai tailors his policies in such a manner as to generate employment. “We started the school feeding programme by recruiting the food sellers around the schools before reaching out to other areas for enrollment. We got some 17,000 women organized into cooperative societies for the purpose. They went through training in hygiene and cooking standards weeks before the Programme. On the whole, we think the first week went well in most of our over 4,265 public primary schools. The challenge is to sustain it in the light of our attitude to public services, dwindling resources and likelihood of disruption to supply chains. Our budget for this in 2016 is about N16 billion. We think it is money to be well spent.”

Leveraging on his personal reach and network built and sustained over the years both at home and abroad to help his efforts in Kaduna, el-Rufai is also collaborating with development partners, multinational companies and local investors for some of his programmes. For instance, General Electric is supplying equipment for 255 Primary Health Centres, one in each of the state’s 255 wards while he is also in partnership with UNICEF, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Dangote Foundation to support health care delivery in Kaduna State.

What makes most of the programmes by el-Rufai attractive is that they are also tied to job creation. I gathered last week that the procurement process for the seedlings for the Tree Planting Campaign has commenced with the programme targeted at engaging 25,000 women across the state to plant and nurture 1.5 million economic trees. The governor is also tapping into the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme for crops of comparative advantage: rice, maize, soyabean, wheat, sorghum and ginger while N20 billion will be provided for 40,000 farmers to harness 50,000 hectares. He is already in collaboration with World Bank on Fadama 3 with the target being increased tomato yields.

In partnership with the private sector, the groundbreaking for largest poultry in sub-Saharan Africa has been done with Olam Poultry; Dangote Industries has also agreed to do out-growers scheme for tomato and build tomato paste factory while Flour Mills of Nigeria is investing in production of maize, wheat and soyabean just as Reliance Industries is about to start a 10,000 hectare rice farm.

Under el-Rufai, the Kaduna State Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (KADSTEP) is training 5000 entrepreneurs in business skills with the aim being to assist them to develop business plans that can be funded by the Bank of Industry. The first batch of 300 KADSTEP trainees graduated on 17 May 2016. There is also the Kaduna Artisan Training Academy (KADAT) approved to train artisans with skills in construction industry trades.

Interestingly, why all the foregoing would be enough to task any man, the governor would not be el-Rufai if he still cannot create time to dabble into needless controversies with some critical stakeholders, including religious leaders. But notwithstanding, in terms of trying out new ideas and demonstrating enhanced problem-solving abilities for greater productivity, there is no doubt that with el-Rufai in the saddle, Kaduna is on the right path. With that, he is also showing the way to some of his colleagues that their job is not about awarding contracts, it is essentially about identifying problems and looking for cost-effective solutions.

The bottom-line is simple. For Nigeria to develop and thrive, it will take more than good leadership at the federal level, we also need thinking governors who know what they are doing and would bring to bear their intellect, time and energy for the greater good of their people. The ultimate lesson, however, is that now that the “Niger Delta Avengers” have shown enough capacity to practically cripple the oil and gas sector in Nigeria, state governors who base all their calculations on revenues accruable from that sector are already candidates for failure.