Last week’s second town hall meeting by Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai in Zaria was a roller coaster of a sort compared to the maiden one that took place at Arewa House, Kaduna in the preceding month. The latter had more friendly and polite audience while the former was a mixture of effrontery and politeness. But, both had happy endings.
The host of this fame and interesting gathering was rather special, the Governor’s alma mater, Barewa College Zaria. Mallam el-Rufai, being from Zaria himself, made the event even more spectacular.
To the confession of many, it was the first time any governor would submit himself to such public scrutiny. The elation on people’s faces was evident. As many noted, it brought government closer to the people and also gave the government the chance to interact and deliberate on its policies. The result was tremendous. The gathering was a metaphor of Abraham Lincoln’s definition of democracy- it was of the people, by the people and for the people.
The Special Adviser to the Governor on Political matters declared the event open; afterwards Mallam said his opening remarks, which set the tone for the day. A minute silence was observed in memory of the victims who lost their lives in the Sabon Gari Local Government Secretariat bomb blast that occurred last month.
At the core of Mallam’s remark thereafter, was the justification behind his administration’s decision to ban street hawking, begging and his decision to cut back on Ramadan gifts. So was the ban on sponsorship of pilgrims to Mecca and Jerusalem. Last year alone, the government spent N1.5 billion on this misplaced priority. Those that encroached into public schools and hospitals with impunity got their fair share too. He was simply blunt and clear. He assured that lost and stolen public compounds will be recovered and restored.
The Governor was not unconscious of the burden of campaign promises he is expected to fulfill. He reviewed the progress recorded on security, health, agriculture and youth unemployment and also took time to explain his plans for the future.
On health, the government has concluded plans to build at least one standard and well-equipped Primary Health Centre (PHC) in each of the 255 wards across the 23 local government areas in the state. The crowd was in applause.
On agriculture, some swift decisions were taken to boost agricultural activities and encourage local farmers. The process of allocating fertilizer to politicians, traditional rulers and other influential people has been stopped; instead local selling points were introduced across all the local government areas in the state to sell the products directly to local farmers at subsidized rates.
He explained efforts at encouraging rice farming. Central Bank of Nigeria has made N2 billion available as soft loan for rice farmers; and it comes with very minimal interest rate, which the government would take care of. This will ensure that prospective farmers only repay the actual loan sum.
Measures have been taken to tackle youth unemployment too. Every year, ten people would be recruited from each of the 255 wards in the state to work as vehicle inspection officers, traffic warders, and environmental inspectors. The first set of people will be initiated before the end of this year.
Textile factories will be resuscitated soon after being moribund for a very long time. Jobs will be created. Cotton farmers will be able to make significant earnings from their trade in no distant time. The Governor acknowledged that he has the personal commitment of the President to ensure that these aspirations come to fruition.
Local tailors will be given incentives to expand their businesses and employ more people. For encouragement and patronage, they will sew a considerable amount of public primary school pupils’ uniform.
The Security situation in the state was adverse prior to the 2015 elections. The unending dilemma of cattle rustling by criminals in the Birnin-Gwari area and the mysterious killing of people in southern Kaduna lends credence to how abysmal the security situation was. The Governor narrated the efforts made thus far.
The six states that either border around the notorious Kamuku forest or were directly affected by the challenge- Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara and Niger have since formed a Special Military Task Force in each of the states operating concurrently. Their surveillance is round-the-clock until the situation is contained. These efforts have already begun yielding results; two weeks ago some of these suspected rustlers were arrested and close to a thousand herds of cattle were recovered in the Birnin-Gwari area of Kaduna state.
In Southern Kaduna, a committee was set up under the chairmanship of the respected General Martin Luther Agwai (Rtd.) and tasked to look into the security issues in the area and recommend possible solutions within one month. This report has since been submitted.
The Kaduna Police Command has been in the news these days for very positive reasons; criminals are being apprehended. In supporting their efforts, the Governor announced that he has since ordered the purchase of 77 patrol trucks and 50 motorcycle bikes for them.
After security, the Governor spoke on education. He declared that the policy on free (9 years) education from primary 1 to JSS 3 will begin this September. After then, no child is going to pay a kobo in whatever guise. Education will be free in its truest meaning.
On the on-going staff verification, in the first phase, a lot of ghost workers were phased out. This saved the state 120 million naira. The second phase will take off this week.
Mallam Nasir was frank and genuine with his submissions and gave the audience time to react. Some were polite in their approach, others were not. Regardless, one could sense the spontaneity of their reactions.
Some people accused the governor of favoring people inside the Zaria city wall against those outside or yan wajen gari, as they are popularly called. According to them, the marginalization was too much of a burden to bear. Mallam was also accused of abandoning the politicians that contributed to the success of his campaign.
Conversely, he debunked their claims with superior points. He argued that those appointed were there to represent Kaduna state not any local government. And the appointments were based on their capacity, competence and track record. He added that, henceforth, anybody that leaves in Kaduna is from Kaduna, burying the indigene/settler dichotomy to permanent rest. The governor also reminded the audience that the most advanced societies in the world today are those that embraced multiculturalism and shied away from nepotism, ethnocentrism and myopic worldview.
On abandoning politicians, he contradicted their assertion by naming the politicians that have so far made his cabinet. He dared anyone with contrary proof to come forward, but no one could. It was another silent victory.
The more polite group was worried about the demolition notice given to some encroachers of public schools. Malam was straightforward in his response. Encroachers would not be spared, as public schools’ land must be recovered and restored to the schools. However, the government would be considerate to those with genuine cases. No structure would be unjustly leveled.
The Igbo community also reminded the governor of his promise to include them in his cabinet. His response was straight, they were asked to nominate someone that would represent them in the transition committee but failed to do so, same thing with submitting names and CVs of suitable candidates for cabinet appointment. All modest efforts by the governor to include them in the business of governance ended in vain. But Mallam assured them that his doors are still open.
Another question asked was on why the Petroleum Training Institute in Kaduna is still uncompleted. It was abandoned by the Goodluck Jonathan led government, but will be completed soon by this new and focused administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam retorted.
Questions kept flowing but time would not permit the interesting interaction to continue, but the Governor assured that there will be a town hall meeting every month- making it 46 more before the end of his tenure in 2019, if God wills.
As the national anthem echoed, marking the end of the event, the January 2007 edition of Harvard Business Review Editor’s note came to my mind. The editor explained how herculean it is to guide change efforts as a leader. He puts it more succinctly that: “Guiding change may be the ultimate test of a leader… no business survives over the long term if it cannot reinvent itself. But, human nature being what it is, fundamental change is often resisted mightily by the people it most affects… thus, leading change is both absolutely essential and incredibly difficult.”
In Kaduna, the story is comforting. Our Governor is absolutely focused and incredibly courageous in taking hard decision to make Kaduna state great again!
Bashir Ibrahim Dabo is the Special Assistant to the Governor of Kaduna State on New Media.