Guest Columnist: Uba Sani

Today, I join family members as well as the teeming friends and associates to celebrate an extraordinary Nigerian, a leader of leaders, a patriot to the core and one of this best minds of our generation – the inimitable Mallam Nasir el Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State who turns 58 years old today. Mallam El Rufai was born in Daudawa, in Faskari Local Government Area in the present day Katsina State on February 16, 1960. Given my deep knowledge of Governor El Rufai and my very close, albeit regular, interactions with him, I can take the risk of making some predictions: beyond offering prayers and fervent supplications to Almighty God for keeping him alive and well, Mallam El Rufai is not likely to be in a celebratory mood today. No, musicians and merry makers are not going to besiege his home or anywhere else he would be found today to “celebrate” his birthday. Typically, this incredible man will all too certainly spend the better part of today behind his desk or at project sites, giving not just his best but his all to Kaduna State in particular and our dear nation as a whole. However, for me and his other close associates, the occasion of Mallam El Rufai’s 58 birthday provides a rare opportunity to reminisce on what he champions and represents: transformational leadership.

I have said elsewhere before that my dear friend and leader, Mallam Nasir El Rufai is an angry man. Not just a few persons misunderstood this assertion. Perhaps the occasion of his birthday offers me another opportunity to expatiate this point. The truth is that in spite of his phenomenal educational attainments, professional and governmental accomplishments, Mallam Nasir el Rufai wakes up every day thinking and generally carrying on like he could have done much more. In the same vein the Governor, who shares same birth year with post-independence Nigeria, seldom masks the fact that he is vexed by the glaring failure of the nation to achieve much more, 58 years after independence. He believes that Nigeria has grossly underutilized its huge potentials both in human and natural resources. El Rufai is of the firm belief that in a rapidly changing world, Nigeria ought to have become matured enough to seamlessly tackle basic challenges such as provision of modern infrastructure across the country; efficacious delivery of the best of health care, power, education, security, science and technology as well as food to the citizens. He believes the nation has been grossly mismanaged by his generation and seems desperate to do his bit and his very best to help atone for this. Sometimes, though he gets really emotional and fastidious about this. I suspect very strongly that this accounts for why he is sometimes misunderstood even by those who ought to know better. El Rufai is not the typical politician but he believes that his emergence, through a free and fair election, as the Governor of Kaduna State has offered him an opportunity, a vista of sorts, to help recalibrate Nigeria using Kaduna State as a starting point.

I have worked very closely with Mallam Nasir El Rufai for more than 20 years – spanning his days at the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), the period he served as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and of course when President Olusegun Obasanjo graciously appointed me his Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, I benefitted immensely from wise counsels from Mallam El Rufai, who was at the time a key and highly respected member of the Obasanjo administration. Even more memorable for me is the fact that I and a few others worked round the clock with him to achieve electoral successes in Kaduna State for our great party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) in all elections in 2015. I have remained a key aide and ally of the Governor since he assumed office. From my vantage position, I have, in the last three years, seen him doggedly and sacrificially pilot the affairs of Kaduna State. I have learnt a lot. Watching, listening and learning from him, I now have a deeper understanding of what it takes to be a transformational leader. Mallam El Rufai has imparted in me and other members of his team the expediency and urgency of moving outside of the transactional leadership space and into a transformational leadership space that focuses on long-term solutions rather than short-term gains. We have all learnt from Governor El Rufai the critical place of vision. He ensures that every member of the team understands this vision and can communicate it to the good people of Kaduna State who have reposed confidence in him. Today, every member of El Rufai’s cabinet understands the Governor’s vision for Kaduna State. Largely, it is a vision that is steeped in deploying new thinking to urgently meet the needs and aspirations of the of the long suffering people of our dear State

From the get go, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, made it abundantly clear to all team members that driving and actualising the vision of the administration would demand uncommon courage, especially given traditionally entrenched interests that were far from being altruistic. El Rufai insists at all times that an effective leader needs courage and must take tough decisions, no matter whose ox is gored, for the greater good of the greatest number of the people. In other words, Mallam Nasir El Rufai has groomed transformational leaders in Kaduna State who have the courage to key into his vision and make the difficult decisions necessary to achieve this vision. Similarly, El Rufai has deployed across all facets of governance in Kaduna State, transformational leaders who have passion and motivation that the people can sense and feed off – men and women who are passionate about his vision for the State and are willing to do the hard work needed to see this vision achieved. Keying into El Rufai’s vision is easy though. Like all transformational leaders, the Kaduna State Governor has the ability to inspire others and get them to buy into his vision of making Kaduna State the fastest growing economy in Nigeria and an investors’ heaven.

With the greatest sense of responsibility, I dare say that El Rufai’s vision and sheer doggedness is paying off handsomely in Kaduna State, three years down the line. Faced with the arduous task of speedily creating an economy for the State outside allocations from the Federal Government and also saddled with the task of revamping inherited decayed infrastructures in the State, Governor El Rufai, on assumption of office in May 2015, opted for, and continues to assiduously pursue series of homegrown options. In particular, the Government began focusing on mining and agriculture to rev up the economy of the State. Effectively collaborating with key players in the private sector, the administration has practically made Kaduna State the agricultural hub of sub-Saharan Africa. Not too long ago, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai was joined by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, to perform the ground breaking ceremony for the establishment of a potato farm and processing facility worth $120 million in Manchok, Kaura local government area of the state. The project, jointly initiated by the state government and Vicampros Farms Limited, is cultivating 10,000 hectares of land and is expected to generate 30,000 job opportunities for youths in the State and beyond.

Mallam Nasir el-Rufai has attracted to Kaduna State, the biggest poultry and hatchery farm in the whole of West Africa. The farm, which is worth about $150 million (about N30 billion), was constructed by the Olam group and was commissioned at a very colourful event by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari himself. The agricultural revolution in Kaduna State under Mallam Nasir el Rufai has caught the attention of other top investors, including the highly successful Dangote Group, the Stallion Group and Indorama, one of Africa’s largest fertilizer companies.

Conscious of the fact that Kaduna State is the leading producer of ginger in Nigeria, Governor Nasir el Rufai has perfected plans to more than triple yields this year. On this score, the State Government is collaborating with the Central Bank of Nigeria to enable ginger farmers in the State access a N5 Billion loan to boost ginger farming. The Governor believes that if and when the loan is properly harnessed and utilized as intended, ginger farmers in the State would be empowered economically as the crop is in great demand across the globe. Already many ginger farmers in Kaduna State are hitting gold as they are merrily exporting several tons of their produce to China, Chad, Sudan and Ghana while a considerable volume is being sold locally across the country.

Worth mentioning also is that under the transformational leadership of Mallam Nasir El Rufai, Kaduna State became one of the first subnational governments in the world and the first in Nigeria, to conduct an in-depth analysis of local SDGs data and strategy development to implement all 17 Goals in the State. At the last United Nations General Assembly in New York, Kaduna State was the cynosure of all eyes as the State showcased to the world how it integrated the SDGs into its State Development Plan for 2016-20 as well as how the integrated system is improving livelihoods, investing in education and ensuring access to life-saving services, while boosting environmental sustainability, social cohesion and peace for its citizens. The overall goal of the El Rufai administration is to leave no one behind as every citizen counts in this development agenda. To achieve this, the State has taken drastic steps on the journey to sustainable development to generate sufficient data to understand where Kaduna State stands in relation to these SDG goals, and to help guide policy interventions to target the deepest and most persistent pockets of poverty.

Governor El Rufai believes that the processes of governing a people in a civil, democratic administration should not be shrouded in secrecy. This undue confidentiality, he insists breeds corruption and impunity. To this end, the Governor deploys the highest level of probity, transparency and accountability in governing Kaduna State. In fact he has since instituted the culture of town hall meetings, as a necessary mechanism to constantly feel the pulse of the people of the State with a view to getting regular feed backs that ultimately help shape the policy direction of the Government. This regular interface with the citizenry at town hall meetings has also become a platform for the citizens and residents of the State to have access to, and directly participate in the preparation of the State’s annual budget estimates before the estimates are presented to the State’s House of Assembly for further scrutiny and passage into law. This robust public participation in the preparation of the State’s budget led to far-reaching adjustments to the initial budgetary estimates of Kaduna State for 2016, 2017 and 2018. The Governor has deservedly won accolades for this, especially given that in some States in the country, the budget is usually regarded as a highly classified document and thus hidden from the people.

At 58, Mallam Nasir El Rufai remains a workhorse, a voracious reader, a highly introspective thinker, teacher, motivator and a chronic optimist. He believes that in spite of the lost times, Nigeria is mending and that the nation under President Muhammadu Buhari is shaking off the shackles that have for years held her down. He sees light at the end of the tunnel. Mallam Nasir El Rufai is truly driven by this optimism, uncommon patriotism and his can-do spirit. This is to wish a very close friend and a great boss a happy birthday and many happy returns.

• Uba Sani is the Special Adviser on
Inter-governmental Affairs and Political Matters to the Governor of Kaduna State