El-Rufa’i Saved N1.2 Billion in Two Months—Uba Sani
Gov. El-Rufa’i Saved N1.2 Billion in Two Months—Uba Sani
Dr Uba Sani was the spokesman to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and currently the Special Adviser to Kaduna Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai on Political Matters . In this interview with a group of journalists at his office, he reacted to the misconceptions about El-Rufai’s development policies, ongoing land recovery exercise, ban of hawking and begging as well as the plan to transform the education sector in the state. ALEX UANGBAOJE was there and captured the session. Excerpt:
Sir, recently Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s policies, particularly his resolve to demolish and recover government properties that have been occupied by some individuals is creating a lot of tension in Kaduna state. As a Political Adviser to the governor, what is the true situation now?
I think the issue of recovering some lands that belong to schools and hospitals in the state is a very straight forward one. You will recall that during the campaign Mallam Nasiru El-Rufa’i promised he was going to make six things his priority, namely education, health, agriculture, infrastructure, security, youth and women empowerment. These sectors are the most important issues for this government.
That is the reason why when he assumed office we believed education, which is the bed rock of any society, should be given full attention. So, he decided to first of all create an enabling environment for our secondary school students in the state. To get a full picture of the situation, we went round all the secondary schools and even some primary schools too. You see, government’s effort was to ensure that our children have the best education this time around. We realized that the first thing we needed to do was to give them a very conducive environment.
Though the government has started making positive impact in many other areas, nobody is talking about them. People were busy making a lot of noise on the demolition. I expected people to commend the government on some of the things we have started doing, that are positive when it comes to educational development in the state.
What are some of these things you are talking about?
As I speak to you now, nobody is talking about the move by the government of Nasiru El-Rufai to provide all the junior and senior secondary school children in the state with free and customized Tablets (computers). The Tablets will have all schools’ syllabus, WAEC past questions and answers, text books ranging from English, Mathematics, and Sciences to Social studies and so on. Again, nobody is also talking about free uniforms. They are not talking about the free education that this government has introduced from primary to Junior Secondary School. They are not talking about the free feeding for primary school that we are about to start. We realized that the state also needs quality teachers; so after providing them with these things, they need to have quality teachers and in doing that, the government has decided to send the teachers for training and increase their salaries, which will be one of the best in the country.
Besides that, when we visited some of the primary schools in the state we discovered that in most schools’ pupils sat on bare floor, during school hours. No chairs, no tables. But as I talk to you now, we are working hard to see that all the primary schools in the state have chairs and tables when they resume in September. Most importantly we have recorded tremendous success in the area of security in the State. Before we came on board, Cattle Rustling was rampant.
There were mysterious politically-motivated killing in many parts of this state. Now crime rate is going down seriously. Insecurity has been reduced to the barest minimum because you now have leader who is more sensitive to the problems of his people. You now have a leader with viable solutions to the challenges of insecurity in Kaduna state.
Many of our so-called critics do not want to comment on insecurity because they would have no concrete criticism to make.
What specific challenges did you discover while going round Secondary schools in Kaduna?
If you visit most secondary schools in Kaduna state today you will see private houses almost attached to school dormitories and some people also built their houses right inside school premises. In our days, we excelled because we had a conducive learning environment.
Are these problems in both private and public schools?
No. All these anomalies happen only in the public schools. You cannot find it in private schools, and we are therefore determined to clear this mess. Taking all these things into consideration, the governor promised that he was going to provide all these facilities and create a conducive environment in our public schools to give the children of the poor a sense of belonging. The Governor’s idea is to provide equal opportunity for the children of poor to excel in life by having qualitative education in Kaduna state.The governor promised that he will make sure the children of the poor have the same facilities in their public schools as obtainable in the best private schools in the country. That has always been his dream and his manifesto during the campaign and he is set to achieve that.So, he decided to take this tough decision.
It was surprising when people were complaining about the demolition at the school in Zaria. The truth of the matter is that we have been to the school and if you go there you will discover that some people just went into the school premises and erected buildings of all types; without minding the negative effect that their action would have on those learning in that school. Obviously, the danger is that you cannot restrict the influx of visitors to the school premises at odd hours, because of the people living in the premises. This kind of thing does not happen at the private schools because they regulate entrance into the school premises and that gives the children enough time to concentrate on their studies. Now, we are saying enough is enough.
Remember, it is not just about the governor but his determination to support less-privileged children in order to have access to good education.
But as the governor tries to achieve this, very few but vocal people have embarked on campaign of calumny, trying to discredit the governor by misinforming the general public about the good intention of the governor.They deliberately refused to mention the reasons behind their actions. Take for example, the issue of Alhudahuda College in Zaria. Even before the governor took the decision to demolish those houses, some of the ex-students of that school led by people like Hakeem Baba Ahmed had once gone to the media and complained about the massive encroachment of the school premises. The same thing happened with Rimi College, Government College etc. The people of Kaduna have complained severally in the past but none of the past governors had the political will to do the right thing, to save the children o in those schools. It was so because none of them took education as their priority.
The public is somehow confused that those opposing your government policies are members of your party, the All Progressive Party (APC). What would you say is responsible for this?
I think anybody whether in APC or any other party who decides to attack the government’s intention in implementing this programme that is purely aimed at helping the children of the less-privileged to have good education, may be basically because his children are not even schooling in this country talk-less of being in the public schools. All these people making noise, I can bet that their children are not in public schools. Their children are in private schools; some are even abroad, so they don’t care about what happens to the children of the poor. They are only talking because they want to score cheap political points but I am sure that the general public has understood their agenda and nobody will believe their stories because they have nothing to lose; but we have, we are in government and we have responsibility to help the poor and the less-privileged and we know what our people want and the government of Nasir El-Rufai is ready to provide those services to the people.
A prominent member of the APC in the state once accused Governor El-Rufai of implementing programmes that are anti-masses in the state;that the governor stopped Ramadan feeding, sharing of essential commodities during festivities; cancelled government sponsorship of Muslims’ and Christians’ pilgrims to holy lands in Mecca and Jerusalem respectively. What is your take on this?
Whoever is saying that is just being mischievous. Let me tell you something. Yes, we were voted in by the masses of this state, precisely the beggars, hawkers, the physically-challenged and the general public but it is not the intention of Nasir El-Rufai to leave them in the situation we met them. These comments are nothing but mischievous. What they are saying is that we should allow the beggars to continue begging till the end of their lives, but if you ask them whether they would want their children to go begging, they will tell you no. I challenge anybody who is saying we should allow these people to continue begging, to tell me whether their own children are begging. If their children do not beg on the streets, why should they ask us to allow the children of Kaduna state to continue to do so?
I heard some of them saying that the government has not made any arrangement for these beggars, which is not true.We are making adequate arrangements to cater for these people, we are constantly in touch with them. They have leadership, I mean all those that are concerned, be it the hawkers, beggars and the physically-challenged; we are discussing with their leadership and we are making arrangements for them. About 90 per cent of those affected are the physically challenged people but we discovered that most of them are talented in different crafts. The government is ready to support them so as to improve their lives. The fact that they are citizens of this state makes it the responsibility of the government to support them.
The governor swore to an oath, to be fair and that is why he wants to take them out of the streets and provide them with their important needs, for them to live meaningful lives. The problem is that those making noise cannot know this because their minds are already polluted.
The idea of taking them off the streets is for their safety too. If you remember, all the bomb blasts here in Kaduna and even in Abuja, the hawkers and beggars have always been the major victims, we want to avoid that by taking them off the streets. I can authoritatively inform you that one of the physically-challenged persons has been appointed as Special Assistant to the governor. This is also to get them close to the government.
What about the cancellation of Ramadan feeding?
Well, the issue of the Ramadan Fasting is clear, the governor and I are Muslims, but we did nothing wrong. We have reached out to all the Islamic scholars and the Muslim Umma in the state and they are happy with our decisions; and so, we did not just take this decision on our own. We had a town hall meeting, which was organised by my office. In that meeting we sat with all the stakeholders and the governor told them that in every festivity, the government spent over N400m distributing food items to very few people in the state and those people are the wealthy people in the society, going by the records. That was what has been happening in the past administration.
But when this administration came, we said if we have N400m we can use it in providing chairs in some of our primary schools, those schools where our children sat on the floors. That money can go a long way in providing these needed facilities for the children. That was why we stopped the Ramadan feeding.
When the present government gathered donations from good Samaritans like Aliko Dangote and others we invite women groups from Islamic foundations and told them that we have got Trailers of food items and we charged them with the responsibilities of cooking the food and feeding the Muslims across the 23 local governments of the state. So, we fed those that really needed it and we were able to feed between 20-30,000 people every day throughout the 29 days that the Ramadan lasted. We did not make noise about it because we believe that we gave the people that really needed it. So, those who want us to use government money, I mean those who call themselves social critics, are just being economical with the truth. They are the real enemies of the masses because they don’t want us to achieve anything.
And what about the Hajj seats?
Talking about Hajj operations, we sat down and x-rayed the activities and we discovered that a greater percentage of the pilgrims are being sponsored by the government. We discovered that over N300m was being drained every year in that exercise. We also looked at those who go to Jeruslem and found out the same thing, although the figure is not as much as that of the Hajj. But even at that, only five per cent of Jeruslem Pilgrims pay from their private pockets, the rest were being sponsored by Kaduna state government. When we looked at all these things we concluded that it would be of immense benefit to stop government sponsoring people to both Hajj and Jerusalem because those who benefit are capable of sponsoring themselves. I think people should commend the governor for taking this bold step to save the state.
Our so-called critics are not talking about the money we will use in building roads, putting chairs in our classrooms or equipping our hospitals, no. They are asking why we are not spending money on people. Some of them are even proud to say they are going to buy some camels, cows or whatever and distribute them to the people. That is not the kind of government we wish for Kaduna people. If they have such money why can’t they give scholarships to our children to go to school? If you think you want to support the people, the noble thing for you do is to at least send five people to school and sponsor them up to university level; because that is the genuine way to empower the poor not to buy camels, rams, cows and share to people and you start making noise that you have supported the people. That is hypocrisy.
That concept is deceptive, it is not a solution to their problems; you need to empower the poor by educating them. And when they are educated they have the power to contribute in nation building. Our desire is not to feed them today and they become hungry tomorrow. We intend to build the state and in doing so you must be fair to everybody. That is our focus.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai was also accused by some members of the APC in Kaduna, of running the government all alone without the input of the party stakeholders and that his high-handedness is responsible for the in-fighting and apathy being witnessed in the party presently. What is your view on this?
This is also not true. I say this without fear of contradiction, no governor in the present dispensation has our kind of open-door policy in the entire federation today, I stand to be corrected on this. Coming to our Town Hall Meeting that I mentioned earlier, it came to be because the Governor told me that he wants to operate a totally open door policy and so he charged me as his Political Adviser to make it possible to meet anybody that wants to meet him. I told him that it was not possible for him to meet with all the people that wanted to see him.This is because on daily basis, we receive 20-30 letters of people who are seeking to see the governor. Some of them have genuine things they wanted to discuss others want clarification on certain issues concerning the government policies and programmes. In the end, taking all these into consideration, I sat with the governor and agreed that everybody that would want to see the governor must see him. So, I suggested to him that the only way people can see you was to organize a Town Hall meeting on monthly basis in all the three geo-political zones. This innovation has never happened in the history of Kaduna state.
It is in these Town Hall meetings that the people openly speak to the governor and ask him whatever questions they have in mind. Those who want to criticize the government’s policies usually have the opportunity to do so and the governor will reply them right away. If you think you have a superior argument, you come and we debate it there. In the Town Hall meetings that we had in the two senatorial zones so far, we have had valuable contributions from people. No governor can organize such a meeting without having a problem at the venue, but people are happy with this government and this has shown in the two Town Hall meetings so far. If anybody comes out to misinform the public that the governor is unpopular, then it means that the person is mischievous. In consideration of the success we have recorded so far, he has asked me to continue to arrange for this Town Hall meeting every month. So if you are not happy with what we are doing, you have a forum to express yourself, we cannot teleguide people on what they want to say. You have the right to make an input just as you equally have the right to criticize what we are doing.
Do not be deceived, I make bold to say that no politician is as popular today as Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and I have my facts. Whoever thinks he can match his popularity should challenge him to a public debate on development issues, and let’s see how it goes; but I can tell you that he will floor the person hands down.
You have had two Town Hall Meetings in Zone One and Two, what would you say are the gains of these?
As stated earlier, this is the first of its kind in this state. We have achieved a lot because the exercise gives us the opportunity to consult with the people of Kaduna state before we embark on some of the activities that affect the people directly and this has really worked for the government. The beauty of the whole thing is that the governor takes out time to explain his plans to the people and he will ask them to say their minds but the people have always told him to continue with what he is doing. After the Zone One Town Hall meeting, the governor said there was need for us to critically look into the issues of encroachment of Rimi College, Government College and others in Kaduna.That was after the Alhudahuda demolition, the governor called those concerned in the demolition exercise to wait so as to attend to some of the complaints he received.
Some said they have Certificates of Occupancy issued to them by the same Kaduna state government about 15 years ago. The governor agreed to look into this case carefully and if the state government truly approved the plans and they have their C of O before they started development, then the government will compensate them. He said whether the previous government was wrong or right in approving it, the fact that they have their correct papers, we have no choice but to compensate them.
But where people built without documentation he was categorically clear that there will be no compensation.
All these happened due the complaints, and that means that Kaduna state has a listening governor. The essence of this demolition is because the governor is determined to move the state forward.
The anti-corruption war is taking the center stage at the national level, are we expecting a replica of that in the state soon?
Governor Nasir El-Rufai has not come to Kaduna to fight anybody or witch-hunt anybody. His primary goal of coming here is to move the state forward. Look, when we came in we discovered that Kaduna has been taken backwards many, many years back. I can tell you that this state has not witnessed any development over a decade now. Things are more or less stagnant in the state. This can be confirmed by comparing the newly-created states that have overtaken Kaduna in terms of development. You media men know very well that there are some states that were created recently but if you visit those areas you will see the level of their development cannot be compared to that of Kaduna. So far, what has occupied the governor’s mind since he assumed office is how he can move the state forward and he is so determined about doing it. He has said, times without number, that he met an almost empty treasury and a lot of debts that ran into billions of Naira but he cannot continue to lament on that for the rest of his tenure; rather he is looking for the solutions. So, the first step was to block all the leakages and cut cost of governance.
When we came in,to pay salaries and overhead costs we discovered from the records we met that there was always a deficit of N100Million every month. That is minus capital projects. That means if the state wants to initiate anything, she has to borrow money to do that, because there is no money.
Therefore, when we came in we discovered that a lot of money was being wasted unnecessarily. The governor swung into action to block all the unnecessary wastages and today, we have saved N1.2 Billion in two months.
The governor started from himself and the deputy governor by cutting their salaries to 50 per cent and that was extended to all other overhead costs around the governor and government agencies in the state. Today those wastages have been addressed, we don’t pay salaries with deficit in Kaduna state any more.
You were once the spokesman of President Olusegun Obasanjo and here you are now the Special Adviser on politics to Governor Nasir El-Rufai. What really happened, did you come down a little for the sake of El-Rufai as some people claimed or what?
You see I was among the few people of Kaduna state that persuaded Mallam Nasir El-Rufai to contest for the governorship of the state because I believe there is nobody, and I can say it here without any fear of contradiction, in Kaduna today that is more qualified and competent to move the state forward like El-Rufai. That was the reason why some of us begged him to come out.When he made up his mind to contest, we also felt it was a blessing to Kaduna state. Some of us knew what he did in Abuja as a Minister. If he can do as much as he did in Abuja, then Kaduna will be one of the best states in the country. I say this because I am one of those that knew him very closely. He is a selfless person who is determined and his present call is to make Kaduna great again.
In the present Kaduna state nobody has the pedigree of Nasir El-rufai and nobody is as competent as him, so for me, I can work in any capacity as long as we have a competent personality like him at the helm of affairs. The bottom-line is not about my position but my belief in his ability to deliver. Working with him is something that I believe in, and it is my fervent prayer that history and posterity will judge all of us kindly.