OPINION: El-Rufai’s 365 days of making Kaduna great

OPINION: El-Rufai’s 365 days of making Kaduna great

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//Midat Joseph//

#MIDAT is a Kaduna based Journalist and can be contacted via donmidat2009@gmail.com#

It all started like every other thing on September 16, 2014 when the former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) minister, Mallam el-Rufai, declared interest to run for the governorship of his native Kaduna State, on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

He made his formal declaration on November 3, 2014. “I am motivated to run for this office for the fact that our hospitals and clinics lack essential resources to mitigate the challenges of healthcare and our civil servants are not being sufficiently motivated. Poverty has become worse; unemployment has become more pervasive; agricultural productivity has declined; internally generated revenues are too low to even pay salaries. Our road networks have fallen into disrepair; our schools have no basic teaching and learning tools; our teachers are not motivated.

“Kaduna State, which used to be known for its industries, now barely has flourishing or profitable factories. Even basic sanitation is absent because Kaduna and most of our local government area headquarters are being overtaken by garbage.

“We shall rebuild and expand water supply, rural electrification, and roads infrastructure. Our government will invest in our people by improving capacity and delivery in health, education and social welfare. We shall energetically promote agriculture and food security, while implementing Land Reform as a basis for wealth creation and capital formation,” el Rufai declared.

Now on the saddle, the last one year has rather been a year of harsh decision for the Kaduna State government. The state  was left prostrate by successive administrations with the state government and its local governments existing only to pay salaries, and borrowed monthly to keep existing.

Statistics shows that civil servants and  political appointees were consuming over 100 per cent of the resources that was for everybody in the state, leaving nothing for the development of physical and social infrastructure in the state.

The state also became highly indebted. It was indebted to the tune of N74.297 billion, comprising N28.840bn in domestic debt and N45.44bn in foreign debt as at May 31, 2015. The state government alone, according to available data had unsettled liabilities to contractors, consultants and suppliers to the tune of about N25billion and shortfalls in pension contributions to the tune of N8.371bn.

On taking over power, the el-Rufai administration found that only about N228 million was available in the bank as money that the government can actually spend.

To redeem the state from final collapse, the el- Rufai government had to take harsh decision such as reducing the size of government, biometric verification of civil servants, tax reforms, local government reforms, and land recovery.

All these were to enable the new administration deliver on its campaign promises of job creation, do school feeding programme, straigthen the health sector, administer security, address infrastructure problems, and to pay salaries of civil servants.

To begin with, the governor merged and restructured ministries, reducing them from 19 to 13. Where the previous government had 24 commissioners, he appointed only 13, attaching their portfolios to the nomination papers he forwarded to the legislature. He moved on to tackling the issues of fraud and waste, cutting overheads in the Executive Branch to 40% and initiating the biometric verification of civil servants and pensioners. The verification exercise has helped to reduce the monthly wage bill to N2.2bn from the N2.7bn it was in May 2015. By October 2015, 2,484 ghost pensioners were removed from the payroll, and that is saving the state N1.3bn every year. With N14.3bn in inherited pension arrears, the case for verifying pensioners makes itself. The wisdom in insisting on verification, despite the hitches the process has encountered, was borne out when the state’s federal allocation fell to N2.4bn in April 2016, barely N200m above the wage bill. That is not to mention overheads to run the government and capital expenditure to deliver education, health care and infrastructure.

Tackling fraud and stopping waste are crucial to any ability to secure enough resources to provide for the needs of the 8m-10m residents of Kaduna State.

Rigorous attention to monitoring state finances led to the swift implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) which required the closure of all state government accounts in commercial banks and the transfer of the balances in those accounts to the Central Bank of Nigeria. TSA showed that the state government operated more than 450 accounts, and in closing them the government consolidated all its revenues in one place. In one swoop, about N30bn in state government revenues were consolidated in one CBN account. Ministries, departments and agencies were later granted permission to open one operational account each, into which they could not receive any deposits except transfers from the government for their operations.

On education, the government of el-Rufai has expended more than N6bn on the rehabilitation of schools, providing more classrooms, water and toilets. This is a continuous exercise intended to fix the more than 4000 public primary schools most which the government found in dismal states. The schools are also being equipped with furniture. The situation the government met is one where more than 50% of school pupils have no seats or desks. Every school day, the government feeds 1.5m primary school pupils at a cost of N300m per week. About 85,000 women, are involved in school feeding.

The Governor prohibited the collection of any sort of levies at the basic education, effectively making education free and saving parents N3bn every year. He also stopped the sale of forms to students seeking admission to public schools, insisting that forms should be provided free of charge. The government is also providing free uniforms for secondary school students.

On the quality front, teachers were allowed to rise to permanent secretary grade (Level 17) without having to stop being teachers. The government recruited 2500 teachers for core subjects such as English, Mathematics and the Sciences. To preserve the learning environment and the ability for future expansion, the government recovered school lands that were encroached upon by individuals in  Alhudahuda College, Zaria, and Rimi College, Kaduna.

The governor has also made giants strides in the area of health, by first  convening a health summit to deliberate on securing better health outcomes for the people. The government was determined to reduce infant and maternal mortality, improve immunization coverage and expand access to decent primary healthcare. At that summit, an agreement was signed with GE to modernize and equip 255 primary health centres. The GE contract is delivering equipment that ensures that within a 5km radius, every pregnant woman can access a PHC that has facilities for ante-natal and obstetric screening such as V-scans and ECGs. Also included in the GE contract are warmers, masks and resuscitation equipment for babies, and equipment to give 23 secondary health care centres facilities for cardiovascular screening, anesthesia care and surgical care.

Steady investments and upgrades have earned the Barau Dikko Hospital accreditation as a teaching hospital, and the pre-clinical programme of the Kaduna State University is now accredited. The government is also positioning Kaduna as a destination for medical tourism by working to complete the 300-bed specialist hospital located in the Millennium City.

On Infrastructure development, the government liquidated the N3bn arrears owed the contractors handling the Zaria Water project. The 150 million litres per day water tank will be completed in December 2016. The pipeline network to supply the water is already being laid. The government has just completed desilting the sedimentation tanks of the Kaduna waterworks, 75% of which had been taken up by mud due to six years of non-maintenance. The desilting is reducing the turbid nature of the water supply in parts of the city.

Many streets in Kaduna metropolis are being lit by solar lights, while the Kawo-Lugard Hall road project, which was renegotiated downwards by N1.1bn, is continuing. Eleven township roads are in various stages of progress, with some being dualised.

On agriculture, the governor removed the racket around fertilizer. Without any subsidy, it has been able to negotiate fertilizer supplies to Kaduna farmer by private companies at affordable rates. It is promoting outgrower schemes that have been embraced by the Dangote Group, Stallion and Flour Mills of Nigeria. To standardise the meat sector and unleash its potentials locally and internationally, the government sponsored the leadership of the butchers’ association on visits to Turkey and Saudi Arabia to understudy modern meat handling practices. The tree planting campaign will plant 1m economic trees this year, involving women and communities in sustainable management of the trees.

Talking about investments and Job, it would be recalled that in April 2016, the state hosted the Kaduna Economic and Investment Summit (KADInvest) which signaled that Kaduna is open for business. Investors welcomed the laws and policies enacted to make the state attractive for business. It showcased the Kaduna Investment Promotion Agency, KADIPA, as a one-stop shop to support investors coming to the state. The Tax Codification and Consolidation Law is unique for specifying in one document all taxes and levies payable in the state and vesting all revenue collections in the Kaduna State Internal Revenue Service, KADIRS. This creates certainty, removes multiple taxation and reducing opportunities for fraud by prohibiting cash collection of revenues. The government also passed laws to create a Kaduna Geographic Information Service, KADGIS to computerize the land registry and the Kaduna Facility Management Agency, KADFAMA to take over the management of government assets. One of the investors, Olam has perform ground breaking of the largest poultry project in sub-Saharan Africa.

The social intervention programmes may lead to the creation of a further 300,000 jobs, including those already created by school feeding (85,000), waste-collection (6,700), school uniforms, teachers of core subjects (2500), KASTELEA marshals (2503) and the rehabilitation of schools.

Since the business of government is to provide peace and security, the El-Rufai government has undoubtedly invested in the promotion of harmony within and across the diverse communities of the state. One of its first major decisions was the removal of roadblocks, to restore a sense of normalcy in people’s minds. The government launched security operations against the criminal gangs and cattle rustlers that were menacing the Birnin-Gwari axis. In collaboration with neighbouring states, the government funded operations that used federal security assets to crush the armed hoodlums that had turned the forest ranges that border the Northwest states into their safe havens.

Those operations recovered 59,000 livestock, including cattle, sheep, goats and donkeys from rustlers who had savaged the rural economy in those areas. This is apart from the government effort promote and support initiatives to reduce the communal violence in Southern Kaduna.

Some of the material support provided to assist the security agencies do their job better includes 107 car, 51 motorcycles and bulletproof vests.  The government is considering the acquisition of forensic and other capacity to further support law enforcement.

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