The Debt Conundrum in Kaduna, as Debt Overhang Rears its Ugly Head

“The bad workman always blames his tools” – Our success or failure is determined not by what we have to work with, but by how we employ what we have….

The dust is yet to settle following the abduction and release of 137 school children from Kuriga School nestled in Chikun LGA earlier when the bombshell was dropped on Kaduna State’s debt portfolio and it’s near impairment to meet salary obligations. For any third party observer this was a colossal digression from the issues at hand during the Town Hall meeting anchored by the helmsman of Kaduna State, Senator Uba Sani while he was sandwiched by the Deputy Governor, Dr. Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe and other top government functionaries at the Kashim Ibrahim House.

 This latest “dramatis personae” revolves around Senator Uba Sani’s alarm that his administration inherited a huge debt burden of $587 million, N85 billion, and 115 contractual liabilities from the previous administration of Mallam Naira El-Rufai, making it difficult for him to pay workers’ salaries now.

He, however, said that despite the humongous debt burden on the State government, he was yet to borrow a single kobo in the last nine months of his administration. He, however, assured that the debt burden not withstanding, his administration remained resolute in steering Kaduna State towards progress and sustainable development, as the government has conducted a thorough assessment of the situation and it was sharpening its focus accordingly.

 According to the governor, “despite the huge debt burden of 587 million Dollars, 85 billion Naira, and 115 Contractual Liabilities 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.

Recall that the immediate-past Governor Nasir El-Rufai had said he left a domestic debt of N80.60bn and a foreign debt of $577.32m for his successor during his handover to the new govenor last year.

El-Rufai also said as much that he left N5bn and $2.05m in the state treasury to a teeming audience when he handed over the reins of power to his successor much earlier.

For starters, it would take a Houdini act for Senator Uba Sani to extricate himself from the actions and locomotion of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai as Kaduna’s erstwhile helmsman. Firstly, as Special Adviser, Political Affairs then as Senator representing Kaduna Central senatorial district from 2019 to 2023. Uba Sani was a bulwark that worked tirelessly to ensure the said World Bank 350 million US dollars credit facility came to fruition following the opposition to this development much earlier by the trip of Senators Shah Sani, Suleiman Hunkuyi and Danjuma La’ah.

The kernel of this submission will come back to this window later. To garner contextual and editorial alignment, this author seeks reference to Uba Sani’s tweets via Twitter then (now X) on 4th February 2020 where he joined his distinguished colleagues in the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts to receive submissions on loan requests from a high powered delegation from KDSG and honourable ministers.

Furthermore, he stated therein that Senator Clifford Order painstakingly went where through the requests and sought for clarifications where necessary. Questions asked centered around the purpose for the loans, impact on the people and economy, repayment plan, and sustainability. In his own words, he also added that officials of KDSG put up a strong defense in respect of the $350 million World Bank loan request aimed at addressing infrastructure challenges in critical areas such as education, security, and healthcare.

He wrapped up his treatise that he was confident that with the articulate presentation from KDSG officials and their responses to questions asked, the Committee would have no hesitation in recommending to the Senate for approval to the loan request.

It beat’s one’s imagination when Uba Sani makes such a pronouncement in public domain. The question that’s begging for answers is why not frown at such landmark decision(s) when it was at its embryonic stage. Why wait until when all is said and done to aim at the underbelly of a decision where he was a player, actor and integral entity.

Love or hate Mallam El-Rufai, with the benefit of hindsight he had premonition on this latest development either by clairvoyance or gut feeling. In his handover speech to Senator Uba Sani on 29 May 2023, he stated: “My friend and brother, I commiserate with you. You have a huge task ahead of you, but I am confident you will be luckier in the next eight years than I have been in the last eight years. Remember you cannot do this job alone. Your team, if competent and capable, will focus on delivering results and little ease. If you are unlucky enough to choose people you like that have no capacity, they will resort to blaming every other person for failures than the real culprit, which is the team itself. Be careful and watch out for this”.

Alas, before the eyes of all and sundry, the doomsday prediction is playing out before our very eyes. If a predecessor in a open, fair and transparent manner elucidates and articulates on touch points of public accounting in public domain then the onus is on the successor to leverage on such learning curves going forward to achieve development via the HDI index. Now is the time to appoint round pegs in round holes to address the accounting and budgetary deficits of KDSG. Primordial tendencies should be dumped like a bad habits when it comes to financial engineering to balance the books.

At this juncture, this author will be subject to poisoned darts and vitriol of the governor’s armada of Vuvuzela’s and hallelujah boys who sing his praises whether he’s right or wrong. The hard truth still remains that how does a sub-national entity that spent about 11.8 billion Naira on palliatives last week claim to be broke and unable to pay salaries? How can a sub-national entity embark on building an event centre worth 7 billion Naira within the confines of power claim to be broke? It should be amplified for whoever cares to listen that it’s a security threat in the scheme of affairs.

The debt portfolio of KDSG is no secret; it’s in public domain as Mallam El-Rufai stated these accounting obligations in black and white at Murtala Square much earlier. Like the old mantra that states: “Governance is a continuum” – The encumbrance is on Senator Uba Sani to verify claims of contractual obligations and settle the said contractors. The debt servicing benchmarks can be regineered by well-grounded financial experts, while the revenue base of Kaduna State can be broadened via stimulation of Kaduna State Investment Promotion Agency (KADIPA) initiatives to earn the requisite FDI’s.

Now is the time to start the real work, as the clock is ticking, tick tock, tick tock. This can be engineered via cabinet reshuffle where capable, tried, tested and well trusted hands are incorporated to achieve KPI’s and OKR’s, while deadwood can kiss governance goodbye. The one-year in office anniversary is under our nose and the jury will be out in full force that Mr. Governor – What have you achieved in terms of democratic dividends. The demonization and criminalization of debt portfolio that appears to be judiciously implemented for infrastructural projects is beyond beggar’s belief.

This author will not import words, comments, innuendos, aspersions, slurs and the storm of reactions that this development has generated since the announcement was made during the weekend. A word is enough for the wise as they say. One does not need to go far or wide to digest lessons on sub-national development. The second highest liabilities accrue to Lagos State after the Federal Government of Nigeria, yet there’s no fuss about it as the said credit facilities are serviced as at when due and governance is running smoothly therein. On a broader scale, the largest economy in the world, the United States of America carries a budget deficit of over 22 trillion US dollars – Now go figure it out.

Ayoola Ajanaku is a Communications and Advocacy Specialist based in Lagos.

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