Posted by News Express | 17 June 2017 | 5,152 times
Prof Kabiru Mato, Kaduna State Commissioner for Agriculture and Forestry, was Special Adviser, Inter-Governmental Affairs to Governor Nasir el-Rufai. In this interview with EMMANUEL ADO, spoke on the two years of Governor el-Rufai’s administration, achievements, the challenges and the next two years. Excerpt:
Is Governor el-Rufai’s restoration agenda on track?
I think the restoration programme is very much on course. If we are to measure it against the backdrop of the agenda of the All Progressives Congress (APC), manifesto, we would award the Restoration Agenda A-plus. I don’t know about other states, but from what I see around my environment, I have no hesitation awarding Governor el-Rufai A-plus. This is a government that takes decisions basically from the stand-point of the desire to effect positive and meaningful change in the lives of the citizens of the state in particular, and Nigerians in general. When APC was campaigning, it told Nigerians there was complete breakdown of law and order; impunity had taken over and, basically, Nigeria was not making progress. There was indecision on the part of people charged with the responsibility of taking decisions on behalf of mankind.
One thing the government has done in the last two years is that despite the very difficult situation, it has taken lots of decisions and, I think, it is on the basis of this very foundation that I’ll say that the government is on track. And it is in the category of A-plus, as far as moving Kaduna and transforming the state from its hitherto backward status. Remember Kaduna is the headquarters of the defunct Northern Region. It is one of the first three capitals that we had in this country, but by the fall of 2015, it was in an absolute state of decay, as far as infrastructure is concerned. Kaduna was comparing with, possibly, Niger or Adamawa state. The issue of the next election is responsible for poor political brinkmanship, because by the time leaders desire to take decisive action on any particular issue, they’re afraid of what’s going to happen during the next election if you’re on the first term. If you’re on the second term, you’re considering the implications of that particular decision on the chances of your political party in capturing that particular entity in the next election. So in Kaduna, decisions have been taken in the last two years on the basis of the promises of APC, and that is to say effecting meaningful and positive changes in the lives of people. I think the government under the leadership of Mallam el-Rufai has done tremendously well in that direction, and we’ll be doing as much as that in the next two years. But, I want to think at the end of the day, other states in the country will learn a very important lesson and, that is: It’s not always a virtue for leaders not to take the right decision at the right time, simply because such decisions are going to provoke the anger of certain privileged individuals in the society or even that of the predominant members of the society.
The most difficult thing in any human setting is adapting into new methods of doing things. That’s what change is all about. People are used to an existing order and any attempt towards change is resisted, even if that order is making life miserable and much more difficult to live, people will resist, no matter how genuine and sincere it is to move them out of that difficulty to a better tomorrow. I think the government of Nasir el-Rufai is doing very well in that direction and, he’ll continue to do that with a view to transforming Kaduna, for the state to take its proper place within the comity of states in Nigeria. Col Dangiwa Umar once called it “the thermometer of Nigeria’s socio-political and economic temperature. The moment Kaduna sneezes, the rest of the country catches cold.”
Governor el-Rufai has been taking hard decisions. Are these decisions not causing him political capital?
Well, it is not about causing him political capital. You see, you’re coming from a scenario where political leadership would rather dilly-dally over fundamental decisions that need to be taken. Like I said, that’s one factor, in my view, that’s tremendously responsible for the near-collapse of the Nigerian system. Leaders must take decisions! If leaders don’t take decisions, then the entire society is in crisis. And, that’s why Nigeria is in crisis. That’s why most of our states are in crisis, because bold and fundamental decisions that require to be taken are not being taken. Now, I’m not sure if really the very radical decisions Governor el-Rufai has taken in the past are of any negative political consequences. But, like I said before, people of the state are in the realisation that there’s a need to be proactive and for the governor to take very serious decisions, in order to move the state forward.
(Cuts-in) Can you give us an example?
I will give you several examples: the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry where I work. In the history of this state, there has never been any government that had been involved in agriculture, but Governor el Rufai has cleared 50,000 to 100,000 hectares of land, in order to put citizens into agricultural venture. In Kubau Local Government Area, we cleared about 5,000 hectares of land for commercial farming; where 5,000 Nigerian citizens, especially youths, will be supported to cultivate maize, rice, beans for domestic and international requirement. In Kachia Local Government Area, apart from the grazing reserves, we’re cultivating 30,000 hectares of land, where about 30,000 young boys and girls from the state will cultivate pulses a kind of beans for export. Already, we have an agreement with India Pulses Association.
In education, this is the first time in the state where all primary schools have been subjected to massive repairs, renovations. You will agree with me that primary schools were in comatose before the coming of this administration. Government has renovated quite a number of them. In fact, government, at the moment, has secured concessional approval from World Bank. We’re going to have some resources to use in recreating model primary school system. Another very important area in education is that government is already renovating almost 30 secondary schools across the state.
(Cuts-in) Let’s talk about the invisible, because you’ve mentioned quite a number … the invisible ones that people don’t see, such as the Civil Service Reform, the financial management, the Kaduna State Revenue Service, etc. Could you please, talk more about these invisibles
I think this government has created more institutions to bring about development in the state. Apart from the target of the Kaduna State Internal Revenue Service, you also have Kaduna State Facility Management Agency (KADFAMA), Kaduna State Investment Promotion Agency (KADIPA). You have the Micro-credit Bank, etc. Now, the invisibles, as you call them: Let’s take the civil service reform, for instance. Kaduna State has a population of about 10 million people, and we have a civil service of about 30,000 strong workers. What the Civil Service Reforms is talking about is simply making government slim and more effective, in terms of service delivery. What is the percentage of 30,000 people to about 8.0 million people? It’s very negligible and if our resources, 70 per cent of it is being consumed by less than 1per cent of our population; then, of course, it calls for questions. It’s only a reasonable, bold and responsible government that will sit down and say: you have a civil service of 30,000 people and it is consuming 30, 40 per cent... we must do something about it. Until we came, the salaries and other entitlements of the 30,000 workforce of government was taking more than 60 - 70 per cent of the entire resources of the state. So, what do you do in order to provide enabling environment and basic socio-economic infrastructure that are required in order to move the state forward? The civil service reform is not necessarily about displacing people out of work; but it’s about creating an efficient workforce that will be able to partner with government in the implementation of policies. Government has also been able to double its revenue generation from about N600 million to over N2 billion. The fact of the matter is that this was done at a time when no new taxes were introduced. What we simply did was to make sure that all those leakages that used to exist within the revenue collection system were blocked. Now, by the time new tax laws and new revenue-generation areas are identified and exploited; the ambition of Governore El-Rufai is that Kaduna State will not go to the Federation Account meeting. We will simply sit down in Kaduna, and when they meet and distribute the money, will expect them to credit our account. That’s what a state is all about. So we’re going to be second to Lagos in terms of self-sufficiency, as far as revenue generation is concerned; God willing, by the end of this year or by 2018. And this to me is a very positive achievement. Look at the major investments we have in the area of agriculture in the state. Look at the multiplier-effect of the horizontal and vertical integration of the various agricultural ventures. But in our own case this is not the issue: we take strategic decisions with short, medium and long-term views. I think we’re really doing very well and the benefits already accruing to the state are both tangible, as you did see and I believe that by the time it is three years people of Kaduna State will see tremendous changes. They’ll realise that there are lots of improvement in their quality of lives, the way things are done, the way government business is run, there will be respect for law and order.
I know this government does lots of auditing, in what areas in the last retreat did the government find itself wanting, and moving forward . . .
This is a government that took off from below ground zero. Infrastructures have collapsed. Sometimes, it is much more difficult to rehabilitate dilapidated infrastructure. It is, perhaps, cheaper to build afresh, than renovating them. What the government did was to come up with short-, medium- and long-term plans, in order to navigate what can be addressed immediately, and what it can lay the foundation of achieving in the long-run. So, virtually, in all the areas: transportation, education, health, water supply, agriculture, every sector of lives. We were starting from below ground zero. Before now, previous governments made it a habit to buy tractors . . . every year . . . These tractors get missing, or broken down. The governor has refused to go that same road. I agree with you that there are quite a lot of challenges, basically in every sector. So what we do is to look at these challenges: how far we’ve gone, what are the road-blocks, and the successes we have been able to achieve.
There was no doubt about the capacity of Nasir el-Rufai to shake up Kaduna State; but what some analysts are saying is that his politics distracts from his achievements. Do you think so?
Well, I don’t think so. Like I said, it is basically about decision-making. And when you take decisions, there will be reactions. Now that he is taking decisions boldly and in the best interest of the people of the state; people that use to feast on government will naturally not be happy. So, if you’re coming as a political leader to take decisions that will favour majority of the citizens, it will obviously be a decision that will be counter-productive to the wishes and aspirations of few senior citizens that constitute the highest class of political elites complaining. But I don’t see any decision that Nasir el-Rufai has taken that distracts ….on his politics. People come around and say: do this because of 2019. And, like I said at the beginning of this interview, I’m proud to serve in a government that takes bold decisions without necessarily considering 2019, because I believe just like the governor says ... 2019 will squarely be predicated on the achievements of the government. How majority of the citizens of the state fared because, whether anybody likes it or not, the democratic space is widening and expanding. People are becoming more conscious....what the expectations of citizens on their leadership should be. That is precisely what in my view is going to determine 2019. It is not about satisfying one of two individuals within the polity at the expense of the vast majority of citizens. So in this case, the decisions of government of Mallam el-Rufai, in my humble view, are decisions that will best impact on the lives of citizens and people of the state. And, therefore, it will be a political plus and not political minus.
The impression the people have is that the governor is having too many fights – Shehu Sani, Inuwa . . . Is this correct?
I don’t understand having too many fights.
They point at his quarrels (in quote) with this person, he fought with that person . . . Then the memo . . .
No! The governor has sufficiently addressed the issue of the memo. The issue of picking fight here and there is simply replication of what I’ve just told you. It’s about decision-making. When you take a decision that is popular with the populace, it won’t be popular with the very few individuals at the top. It is the habit of the governor that once he’s convinced that the decision is of the best interest of the people, he pursues it with vigour and determination. In that process, lots of people don't get their way, and the next thing we hear is crisis. People who see themselves as principal stakeholders in the political enterprise have different perceptions. That’s obviously what politics is all about: reconciliation of interests, as there is obviously likely to exist misunderstanding one way or another. I see these things more as responses of dominant powerful forces against certain decisions the government has taken. These decisions, I assure you, are in the best interest of the people of Kaduna state. There’s nowhere a government can work if the leadership is not bold. And boldness here refers to taking decisions, the right decisions to address daunting challenges that afflict the society. And that’s precisely what Nasir el-Rufai is doing. It won't go down well with quite a number of people and, of course, such people who feel otherwise obviously will have to come out and paint a picture of a man that is quarrelsome. El Rufai is not quarrelsome, he is just being bold, he’s taking the right decisions at the right time and then being focused. People love to see weak leaders, and that’s true. Someone they can control . . . for selfish reasons.
When the governor approached you to come on board, what are those qualities that made you say yes? Many think el-Rufai lacks human feelings, he’s difficult . . .
Well, it’s call to service. I think one will lack any moral authority to either comment or criticise any policy, if he/she is invited to contribute in making things better and he/she decides to reject. My friends that heard about the appointment were excited about it; because this is a government that any person of quality would want to be part of. It’s an honour and privilege for me to serve. I assure you, in Nigeria today, with all sense of humility, Kaduna State has one of the best quality, and wherever you go and say this is who you are, the respect from people is so obvious. And it is because there’s this consensus among Nigerians that the el-Rufai government is focused. For me, it is a great pleasure to be invited to serve as the Commissioner for Agriculture and Forestry.
What kind of boss is Nasir el-Rufai?
I think in the 36 states of this country, I’m not aware of any other state, possibly Lagos, where a governor holds you responsible if, for any reason, you fail to access your budgetary allocation. I’m aware of certain states in the country where every decision is taken in the government house. In Kaduna State, we take our decisions in the ministries, first. We go to source for monies from our budgetary allocation to implement with very minimal direction. And I’ve not seen any government that there’s this synergy and interaction. There’s nothing new in the ministry of rural development that I don’t know of. There is nothing in the Ministry of Agriculture that the Commissioner for Education doesn’t know that is of policy consequence. We interact, we debate, we try to create the best situation both in formulation and implementation. So, my boss is the easiest person to work with. The bottom-line about Nasir el-Rufai is you have to have your facts ready; you have to have a superior argument. He is versatile no matter the area you come up with any particular issue he has some knowledge it. He’s decisive and anybody that is decisive, that is not ‘political,’ is not necessarily popular with people upstairs. I enjoy the working relationship with him: he listens, tolerant, and exchange ideas. You must just be prepared at any time to make sure that you are on top of the issue you’re discussing, the issue you’re presiding over, the issue you’re executing. Laziness is not part of the agenda, incapacity, incompetence are issues that will naturally put the governor off. But, as long as you stand on your point, know what you’re doing, you can discuss it, exchange ideas, then I assure you that he is the best person to work with.
If he travels, for instance, does he buy you a perfume?
(General laughter). That’s very personal. I won’t tell you
No, I’m asking because the impression outside: the impression people have about el-Rufai is that he is a demon. He has been so demonised . . .
That is the work of political and economic opponents. People who would rather think that things should be done this way and not the other way. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a matter of conviction. Conviction drives the process. It is the conviction that he has that is responsible to a large extent for the courage we’re seeing and the courage we’re seeing is what is required to correct the mess that is all over the place.
Does it worry Governor el Rufai when he reads certain posts online and in the newspapers?
In fact, you worry for him about criticisms about him in the press. The reason is that of focus. Criticisms are only being deployed in order to weaken the zeal and spirit that is in him to do what is right, that’s just about it. He has given his position on that. And he’s very clear. Say anything about him, abuse, insult him. Say whatever you want about him you are on your own; you’re not going to stop him from what he’s going to do or what he’s doing. Mallam Nasir is hardly distracted by negative media. He laughs!
Of late, three areas that the governor has received serious bashing from the public are the school feeding that has stopped, the drainage issue and the sale of government houses. Explain what happened . . .
Let me start from the sale of government houses. The argument of government is that we have little below 30,000 workers in the civil service and the total number of houses are about 1,900 below 2,000; meaning that if you divide 2000 by 30,000 you would realise that very negligible number of civil servants are even occupying government quarters. Secondly, these quarters are themselves liabilities to the government. They are un-kept, dilapidated, nobody cares about them. Thirdly, there is no country in this world where government workers are quartered, it is a Nigeria phenomenon. So in all, ownership of houses by government constitutes a burden. What workers all over the world are using is the provision of affordable mortgage scheme that will make them acquire their own houses. What the government has decided to do is to sell these houses on a competitive commercial price and the revenue generated there from will be deployed to construct low income houses. There is a mortgage law that is being processed by the House of Assembly. It is supposed to serve as a cushion and provide avenue for workers and even citizens towards owning their houses. Not just this 1900 houses that are being sold. So what you see from the organised labour is nothing new, it’s what every governments in this country is used to.
On the average Kaduna gets about N2.5 billion from the Federation Account. Your wage bill is about N2.2 billion; leaving just above N200 million for development. Is that the true picture?
Something like that! So, it doesn't make any sense to continue to expend what is meant for 8 million people on less than 40,000 civil servants. So the sale of houses in my view, and the view of government, is the right thing to do at this material time. This is an example of one of the changes that people will always resist, but at the end of the day they will be better for it. The feeding programme in primary schools you’re talking about was an APC agenda. What Mallam el-Rufai and Kaduna State Government simply did was to serve as the lead in the implementation of that particular programme. We did it for a period of time . . . It was supposed to be funded by the Federal Government, but the money wasn’t forth-coming from the Federal Government. So, lots of states felt they were not prepared to do it. The reason why government suspended it was not because of inability or because the Federal Government hasn't been able to reimburse the amount of money Kaduna expended. You see, we run a government that cares about finding out what is the situation on ground about lots of issues, about life generally. One of the studies conducted is the relevance of feeding, expectations of parents as far as primary education is concerned in Nigeria; and it appears that school-feeding doesn’t even feature as the third most important priority on the part of parents. We found out that it’s not really an issue, which means parents prefer that the schools should be rehabilitated, equipped, books and other things should be provided, quality teachers employed. So, it is on this basis that government realised that it’s not a priority and decided to suspend it, put it on hold and moved on to what is more critical. In the case of the culverts, it’s a beautiful thing Kaduna is one of those cities in Nigeria that is often ravaged by flooding during the raining season, especially in the last five, six, and seven years. This is the background. There were problems, and government is working on it. I want to assure you that the governor means well.
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