el-Rufai: Reformist In The Saddle



Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State can safely be declared a reformist, going by Macmillan dictionary definition of a reformist as one “wanting to change and improve society or an institution”. Nothing has been the same since he became governor, every sector- from the Public Service to the Agricultural Sector – has received the el-Rufai “shock therapy”. Kaduna State, the Centre of Learning, lagged behind in about every area and was in dare need of a reformist in the mould of el- Rufai, to wake it up from years of stagnation. In one word Kaduna State was creaky. It is fair to conclude that rocking the boat, “shaking up” things and striving to make them better is the essential el -Rufai, Malam to his fanatical supporters. The operating motto of el-Rufai seem to be the eternal words of Abraham Lincoln that “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

el-Rufai’s zero tolerance comes from his very nature, that is questioning, that rebels, that challenges status quo, from a DNA that didn’t come with a “play safe” mode. He is not courageous, but is conviction personified. For el- Rufai, leaders are elected to make difficult decisions and take risks. Some of his aides insist he wants to be convinced by facts and not by sentiments, or history (convention).”For el –Rufai, the fact that previous governments shared grains during the Ramadan, doesn’t justify it as the right line of action or appropriate,” said Professor Kabir Mato, Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry. Government is for common good of all and not a tiny minority, that already “over” benefit from the State resources. Kaduna State, on a monthly basis, gets 2.4 billion from the Federation Account. With a wage bill of N2.2 billion, leaving virtually nothing for development of the State, this should be repulsive, not just to the governor, but also to anyone with conscience.

There was never any doubt about el – Rufai’s capacity to “shake up” Kaduna State, which had fallen into expected state of decay, with the likes of Namadi Sambo and his protégé, Ramallan Yero, as governors. They lacked vision and conviction, thus they couldn’t “shake up” Kaduna State. Sambo and Yero are “twin towers” of governance defined more by looks – starched babanriga and designer sunshades- than by substance. Their times remain dark chapters in the history of Kaduna State. Sambo, whose motto from day one was “promises kept”, kept none of his unwieldy 11-point agenda. His legacy remains the N20 billion office complex that is an architectural nightmare in terms of functionality, which compared to the brand new Government House Complex built by Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State for less than N10 billion is a rip-off.

Governor el- Rufai inherited a dysfunctional Public Service, that was largely unproductive, an aging workforce that lacked capacity to deliver, but very “focused on taking care of itself”(recurrent budget is always implemented, as opposed to capital expenditure that is hardly funded). el – Rufai has rightly argued that “No Nation develops beyond the capacity of its Public Service”. If el -Rufai holds the public service in disdain, it is for their perceived role in the underdevelopment of Nigeria. The Kaduna State Public Service Revitalization and Renewal Programme, aimed at improving the efficacy and capacity of the service to deliver service effectively to the people of the State, was long overdue. The reform aims to resolve issues impeding public service efficiency, address low productivity rates, redundancy, duplication of roles, high proportion of aged workers, and unskilled staff” Said Bashir Mohammed, the Director General of the Bureau for Public Service.

The reforms are targeted at capacity renewal through the injection of a new generation of skilled and motivated young people to become successors to an aging work force, guarantee sustainable service, efficiency and increased productivity, restructuring the service wage bill and making it sustainable in the long run (the less than 100,000 civil servants presently consume the entire budget, and addressing the challenges of salaries, which is already becoming a problem), review of archaic laws and procedures ,revitalization and renewal of the service to meet the challenges of a modern service. It’s a scandal that in 2017, Kaduna State, former regional capital of then Northern Region still has in its service – typists and stenographers. When next Bill Gates comes visiting, the governor will do well to unleash them on Bill Gates to take notes.

The reforms address the negative impact of the reform. Efforts in making the reform a win-win for the workers and the state, through the replacement policy, re-training of workers to fit in and retirement programmes for those that have no place in the new order, indicates a well thought out programme. The World Bank funded Kaduna State Public Sector Governance Reform and Development Project will further address other structural challenges like cost efficiency, quality and trainable staff.

The other critical reform project is the Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL), a five-year Public Sector Accountability and Governance programme, funded by the UK’s Department For International Development (DFID). PERL is to reform how Kaduna State government organizes its core business of making laws, implementing, tracking and accounting for policies, plans and budgets used in delivering public goods (economic stability and an enabling environment for private enterprise so as to promote growth and reduce poverty) and service delivery to the citizenry, and how citizens themselves engage with these processes. PERL has three coordinated ‘pillars’ – Pillar 1. Accountable, Responsive & Capable Government (ARC); Pillar 2.Engaged Citizens; and Pillar (ECP) 3. Learning, Evidencing and Advocacy Partnership (LEAP). These reforms are works in progress, but results are becoming manifest.

The BusinessDay Governance and Competitiveness Award for ease of doing business, conferred on Kaduna State Government, is a recognition of the tremendous work (reforms) that the governor and his team have and are continuing to put in. BusinessDay used verifiable criteria, in this instance, the World Bank criteria. The World Bank uses the ease of registering a new business, obtaining business licencing, favourable tax regime, ease of obtaining land and title documents, in concluding how friendly a state or country is doing business with them. The award wasn’t whimsical. The Business Licensing Reform (BLR) team had worked with Kaduna State Government to instigate changes in business registration procedures in Kaduna State. The reforms, means that Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) will drastically shorten business registration durations and some MDA’s like the Ministry of Commerce; Kaduna Geographic Information Services (KADGIS); Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Agency (KASUPDA); Kaduna State Traffic and Environmental Law Enforcement Agency (KASTELEA); The Ministry of Justice, and the Kaduna Environmental Protection Agency (KEPA), will commence E-registration procedures. The Business Licensing Reform Project is funded by the EU and implemented by DFID through GEMS3.

Mrs Kemi Adeosun, the Minister of Finance, in 2015 signed the Fiscal Sustainability Plan (FSP)-Framework for Sustainability of Sub- National Governments of Nigeria – with the 36 States, the Federal Capital Territory and 774 Local Governments of Nigeria. The FSP aims to address the issue of Fiscal Responsibility. It has 5 Key strategic objectives, with a recommended 22 point Action Plan- Improve Accountability and Transparency, Increase Public Revenue, Rationalize Public Expenditure etc. States were to publish Audited Financial Statements, publish Budget Implementation Performance Report, Implement TSA, Review Revenue Laws, Biometric Capture of Civil Servants etc. For instance, by increasing public revenue through increasing independently generated revenues, States can “stand -alone” as strong functional entities. They were also expected to make every kobo count, by a rationalized Public Expenditure, through efficiency, reduced costs and plugging of leakages. Improve Public Financial Management by embarking on a series of reforms – revision of archaic laws, civil service rules etc. Finally a Sustainable Debt Management, such that States debts are sustainable and at a healthy level. In a sense the FSP is to save the states, most of whom are permanently on blood transfusion (FAAC) from themselves, like drug addicts must be saved from themselves.

The Kaduna State Government didn’t need the Minister of Finance to prod it into embarking on reforms, but for her FSP became an added impetus and the State has significantly met most of the 22 Action Plans. Working with Ifueko Omoigui, one time Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, a drastic and radical restructuring of the Kaduna State Revenue Board was effected. And a Service that is capable of effectively raising the much needed finances, for the myriads of projects the governor has on his table, was born. From a paltry N600 million a month in IGR, the Kaduna State Internal Revenue Service now generates N1.6 billion.

Key to the success recorded in increasing the IGR, are the reforms that have been put in place. The Kaduna State Tax Law attacked leakages by making cash collection a crime. The Kaduna State Internal Revenue Service is the sole collecting and accounting authority, though all taxes and fees are still assessed by the relevant ministries and agencies. The harmonization of demand notice – a situation where a person liable to two or more taxes, is served with just a single demand notice that indicates amount due on each, the introduction of the presumptive tax, that targets the informal sector has further widened the net of taxpayers and improved collection. The centralization of collection and ease of payment, through the deployment of PoS and other electronic payment system, has also helped in voluntary compliance. The issue of multiple levies has also been tackled. The ugly experience of road blocks by all manner of agencies is also prohibited by the law. (I hope the thugs on Edo State roads, masquerading as revenue officers ,will be soon be kicked out).The bold service that has emerged, didn’t think twice dragging the famous Ahmadu Bello University(ABU),to court for backlog of taxes, amounting to over 12 billion naira.

The Kaduna State Government is currently working with SPARC to develop and implement a Governance Reform Programme in three areas; Public Financial Management (PFM); Public Service Management (PSM); and Policy & Strategy (Incorporating Monitoring and Evaluation (P&S/M&E). So far there is Improved accounting, mandates of ministries have become clearer, strengthened partnerships; and improved strategies. The State might not be there yet, but the vision is clear and like the Chinese will say, the journey of a thousand miles, starts with the very first mile. Kaduna State has left Egypt, it might spend 40 years to get to the desired Promised Land, but the fact remains that it has left the train station. Great thing about the journey is that it wasn’t imposed. The various reforms are products of self-assessment – the government identifying strengths and weaknesses of its public service, its policy and strategy, and taking steps to address them.

Governor el- Rufai is unambiguous in affirming the role of the private sector in driving the economy of the state. “Investments by the private sector will play a crucial role in achieving the objectives of our programme. Government can directly employ only a few persons. Job creation, the reduction of poverty and the boosting of human dignity and living standards are all goals that require the government to be smart in making choices, one of which is to recognise that it must partner the private sector.” he said.

The business community in genuine appreciation of the efforts of the government has embraced el – Rufai with open arms. Without an investment drive to China, he has attracted several multi-billion industries to the state. The latest being the Ladduga Farm Project, for the farming of Pulses (high nutritious beans) targeted at the Asian market. He “stole” right under the nose of Plateau State a multi- billion naira potatoes factory, now situated in Manchok, Kaduna State. These two projects combined will provide employment for more than 70,000 youths. While Niger State Government was still “fashioning” its response to the planned closure of the Abuja Airport, el-Rufai had concluded the transactions and moved on. The reforms (business friendly policies), have made these possible.
Ado, a public affairs commentator, wrote this piece from Kaduna

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