Sani Squares Up with El-Rufai over Kaduna’s High Debt Profile

John Shiklam writes on the recent outburst by Governor Uba Sani of Kaduna State over heavy debts inherited from his predecessor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and the role he also played in accumulating the debts.

The outburst by Kaduna state governor, Senator Uba Sani, on the huge debt profile of the state has confirmed rumours that all is not well between the governor and his friend and predecessor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.

El-Rufai governed the state for eight years from 2015 to 2023 before handing over to his anointed successor, Sani

Indications that the relationship between the duo had broken town, manifested in December, 2023, when the former governor visited victims of the Tudun Biri mistaken drone bombing at the 44, Nigerian Army Referral Hospital, located a stone throw to the Government House, Kaduna.

Despite the proximity of the hospital to the Government House, El-Rufai did not visit the governor to condole him over the incident like other dignitaries who visited the community.

Reasons for the strained relationship between Sani and El-Rufai appear speculative. Some attributed it to disagreement over alleged overbearing influence by El-Rufai in the appointments of commissioners and other aides to the governor.

Others said the sour relationship is caused by scheming ahead of 2027 poll and the governor’s reported romance with El-Rufai’s political rivals, especially in the Presidency.

The governor’s outburst last Friday at a Town Hall meeting tagged, “The State of Kaduna State”, therefore did not come as a surprise to many.

Analysts say the Town Hall meeting, was not just about informing stakeholders about the heavy debt burden that is hampering the activities of the current administration, but to mobilise support for impending political supremacy fight between Sani and El-Rufai.

Addressing the meeting held at the Yar’adua Indoor Sports Hall, Murtala Square Kaduna and attended by traditional rulers, religious leaders, prominent citizens of the states, members of the Kaduna Elders Forum, top government functionaries, labour union leaders, civil society groups, among others, Sani lamented the crippling effect of the huge debts he inherited from the El-Rufai administration, saying it will be difficult for him to pay salaries of workers without borrowing.

“I stand before you today as your Governor to report on my stewardship thus far,” the governor said.

He told the stakeholders that, “Despite the huge debt burden of $587 million, N85 billion and N115 billion contractual labilities sadly inherited from the previous administration, we remain resolute in steering Kaduna state towards progress and sustainable development. We have conducted a thorough assessment of our situation and are sharpening our focus accordingly. It gladdened my heart to inform you that, despite the huge inherited debt on the state, till date, we have not borrowed a single kobo”.

He explained that, Kaduna state only receives N3.6 billion from federal allocation after a deduction of N7.2 billion for debt servicing.

“What we received from the federal allocation in Kaduna this month was N3.6 billion out of over N10 billion. The sum of N7.5 billion was deducted from our allocation to service debts. We cannot pay salaries without borrowing. Our salary bill is N5.2 billion. We will have to borrow N2 billion to be able to pay salaries.”

He said he had approached President Bola Tinubu for assistance and the President has promised to help.

“I have taken our cry to the President over these deductions. The President told me that the debt of $556 million is a World Bank debt and there is nothing he can do about it.

“He however promised to see how he could help us. Some of my governor colleagues have also promised to approach the President to assist Kaduna. In the next three months we will be collecting N3.6 billion from the federal allocation”, the governor said.

Besides the written text he read at the meeting, the governor took time to explain details of the challenges faced by his administration in Hausa language.

He said he swore with the Quran to be accountable to the people by telling them  what he met, how much the state is owing and how much is spent on debt payments.

He disclosed that as a result of the financial difficulties, salaries and allowances of government officials and other appointees, including himself and his deputy were drastically slashed upon assumption of office on May 29, 2023.

“I told them (appointees) that we will not buy cars for them because we have no money to buy cars.

“We did not purchase cars for all the commissioners, including the deputy governor, myself and every other appointee. We adopted all these measures because we don’t have the money”, he said.

“I was made to understand that the deduction from our allocation will last for six years because the value of the dollar to the naira is high… the dollar was N460 (when the loan was taken), now the official rate of the dollar is N1,300’’, he noted.

Sani said everyday people bring papers for payments of contracts to the commissioner of Budget and Planning, adding some people were even abusing him for failing to complete the projects that were initiated.

According to him, “If I am to complete (the projects), I must pay N115 billion. We don’t have the money, that is the truth. What I am facing is payment of salaries.

“Even if we get some small money, I will use it to construct roads in rural areas so that our rural farmers will have roads to take their farm produce to the market”.

He said recent statistics had shown that 76 per cent of people in rural communities in Kaduna state are poor, stressing that his administration is determined to improve the living condition of rural communities.

“A construction company came to meet me, they asked me to pay them N40 billion, I asked them where do I see N40 billion? If I get N40 billion I will spend it on roads in rural areas,” he said.

The governor expressed disappointment that despite his appeal to contractors who have not been paid, especially the big companies, to be patient and continue working, they have packed their equipment and left the sites.

“I pleaded with them not to go, because they were still working in Zaria and Kaduna. In April 2023, before we came on board, they were paid N20 billion. That loan was taken from our IGR account, it was taken and given to Zenith Bank.  Zenith bank deducts between N600 million and N700 million every month from our account”, Sani said.

He maintained that whatever maybe, at the end of the day, a decision must be taken.

According to him ,“those who ran away with our money, must be ordered to come and finish their work or be arrested

“Go to Zaria and Kafanchan, I was in Kafanchan for a programme, we drove with the governor of Bayelsa state, everywhere we drove was dusty.  Why will you collect money in April, 2023 and you packed your things and left. Is that how contract is executed?”

Sani, however, said despite the numerous challenges, the collective efforts of the people are essential for the state to make progress.

Although El-Rufai has not reacted to the issues raised by the governor, his son, Bashir El-Rufai, berated the governor for always sleeping in Abuja, surrounded by incompetent aides.

“These guys have realized that they are wholly incompetent and the ony way to mask is to deflect. From a governor that is always sleeping in Abuja to a litany of incompetent aides that were only rewarded for foolish political reasons”, Bashir said on his X handle.

On May 30, 2023, a day after handing over to Sani, El-Rufai said, he left a foreign debt of $577.32 million and a domestic debt of N80.60 billion while N5 billion and $2.05 million was left in the state treasury.

“Kaduna State has receivables for reimbursements of infrastructure and security spending from the Federal Government, amounting to about N41 billion, that will be paid to the state in due course.

“This does not include the sums due to the state as share of the accumulated stamp duties receipts, estimated at over N100 billion, that the incoming government will certainly receive before the end of this year.

“I am therefore optimistic that the incoming government will, in due course, be in a position to settle all inherited liabilities, complete ongoing projects and initiate new ones by the Grace of God,” the former governor was quoted to have said.

In 2017, the World Bank had approved a loan of $350 million to the El-Rufai administration for infrastructural development. Despite public outcry against the loan, the rubber stamp House of Assembly at the time, approved it.

However, on May 30, 2018, the Senate refused to approve the loan request after its Committee on Foreign and Domestic loans, chaired by Senator Shehu Sani (APC) who represented Kaduna Central Senatorial zone from 2015 to 2019, advised against it on the ground that Kaduna state is the second most indebted state in the country.

Sani had argued that the loan, if approved will erode economic viability of the state.

His position was supported by two other senators from Kaduna state – Suleiman Hunkuyi (APC, Kaduna North senatorial zone) and Danjuma La’ah (PDP- Kaduna South senatorial zone).

Notwithstanding, the El-Rufai administration vowed that nothing can stop it from obtaining the loan for the development of the state. The state government condemned the three senators for rejecting the loan.

El-Rufai was extremely angry and threw decency to the wind by cursing and raining insults on them while flagging off campaign for Local Government elections in the state on May 4, 2018, at the Township Stadium (Ranchers Bees), Kaduna.

He described the senators as enemies of the people and urged that they should not be  re-elected while asking them to “shave their beards and heads” whenever they come to Kaduna. Sani and Hunkuyi eventually lost their bid for re-election in 2019.

They were replaced by Uba Sani (Kaduna Central) Suleiman Kwari (Kaduna North).

While in the senate, Uba Sani was said to be in the forefront in the efforts to secure the approval of the 9th Senate for the loan.

In an interview he granted on March 10, 2020, Sani said he should be held responsible if El-Rufai fails to prudently deploy the loan.

Reacting to the predicament of the state in an interview, Shehu Sani, said he had been vindicated.

According to him: “I was insulted for saying no to that loan. The hour of reckoning is here to every person in Kaduna state. I warned the people of this state, but they were told that that the money will bring paradise – land of milk and honey.

“Today, you can see the problems at hand as far as that loan was concerned. Today, the state is strangulated because of that money which we couldn’t pay. We borrowed $350 million when the naira was N400 to the dollar and we are going to pay when the naira is what it is today.

“If people had listened to my advice and understood me and agreed with me, we couldn’t have been where we are today”.

Can the governor who played a role in the $350 million loan the state obtained under El-Rufai exonerate himself from sharing the blame in the heavy debts and its implication on Kaduna state?

Citizens of Kaduna state are watching the unfolding political theatric with keen interest.

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