Love letter to Nasir El-Rufa’i BY Tope Fasua
I had made up my mind to write to you openly before I saw the viral video by Dr Shadi Sabeh in which he appealed to you passionately to temper your actions with a "human face" with regard to the proposed sacking of 20,000 staff of the Kaduna State Government.
I do not quite agree with Dr Sabeh that people should be kept in service just to pay them as a social service. Nigeria cannot afford that for now. Our economy is not a 10th as developed as the US economy was in the 1930s when it went through the Great Depression. However, Dr Sabeh is right to the extent that Keynesianism is back world over and a government must necessarily think about the impact of its policies on the people it serves.
We know that in Nigeria, governments, unfortunately, do not believe they are here to serve the people, but it is our duty to work together to change that unfortunate misunderstanding and disconnection.
There are other issues coming up in Kaduna State presently. Indeed, the state under your governance has again been mentioned as one of the best governed and we hear of your achievements in infrastructural development. The dangers of travelling to Kaduna has hampered many of us from coming to see those achievements, but most people know that El-Rufai is a man of achievement and a stickler for standards.
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) cannot forget you in a hurry. Many people rue your absence as minister. A lot more remember you in dread. Unfortunately, many of the villages you cleared and many of the shanties you demolished are back – this time with a vengeance. Why? The governments over time have made no plans for these poor folks, and human beings – like water – must find their levels. If you are flying into Abuja at any point in time, look down from the window of your aeroplane and you will see just how badly shanties have metastasized since you've been gone. Any minister who will try and correct this anomaly will have millions of refugees on his hands. In your time, it was 500,000 refugees we had. As at 2006, Nigeria had the second-highest number of displaced people in the world – after Iraq – due to your actions. I recall writing to you then through my Daily Trust column, and appealing for the same thing that Dr Sabeh is now calling for; human face. I quoted timeless Chinese wisdom by reminding you "If your vision is one year, cultivate flowers. If it is 10, cultivate trees. But if it is eternity, cultivate humans."
The idea then was that you should go easy on you; hard rhetoric that anyone earning less than N50,000 should return to their village because Abuja is not for the poor. You said this on national TV and it was most unfortunate and unfeeling. It was perhaps the most bourgeoisie thing ever said by someone in office. If anybody was to lay claim to Abuja as their inheritance, it should have been those Gwaris displaced from their ancestral land, many times without compensation. At what point did Abuja become a playground/inheritance for the nouveau riche? While we watched on TV in 2006, whole families displaced in the thick of the rainy season, with their mattresses on their heads and their little toddlers in their hands, we heard of stories of people who committed suicide because both their homes and their businesses were demolished same day. I learnt from one lady, who acted as secretary to some of your meetings back then, how much you took delight in displacing those poor folks and that in one instance, the appeals from Drs Oby Ezekwesili and Okonjo-Iweala could not dissuade you and you were jokingly called a sadist even as you departed the meeting to go and have another demolition.
It sounded much like those folks in the south of the USA who used to take delight in 'hanging themselves another negro'.
Kaduna not only has a bloated civil service (as is), but also a problem with indiscriminate building of all sorts of structures where they shouldn't be – like everywhere else in Nigeria. Abuja claims to have a 'master plan' which no one is supposed to see, thus making it a political plan, not a geographical one. Kaduna is NOT Abuja, and the people there may not have the mettle to withstand Hurricane Nasir, as we did here in Abuja up till 2007 under your iron grip.
You know you can easily get crazy once turned on. You confess to this yourself. You don't care whose ox is gored and this can be a good attribute to turn around a country such as ours, but it could also be deadly to a great many poor folks, especially in a Kaduna which is basically an agrarian and civil service state. Is there any compensation for example, for those whose houses and shops you will demolish? Is anyone listening to their stories of how they came about the land or spaces or have they been told to go to hell and back? Is it true that we should strive to achieve a glistening city in order to achieve accolades from far and near, not minding the human costs? Should governance be calibrated solely to appeal to the whims and fancies of the monied class?
Look at Banana Island and Turnbull Street in Ikoyi. The other day, the well-fed owners of properties there pushed a video wherein they filmed how their pristine space has been encroached by poor 'invaders'. They almost labelled the poor people as vermin. The problem is not the 'invaders' but a lack of integrated, inclusive planning. As educated as we claim to be, we choose not to learn the nuanced lessons from the places we visit abroad. How can anyone think that the model of Banana Island will work forever when there is no provision for how the servants, drivers, gardeners and other 'dregs of the earth' who serve these Lords of the Manor will get around; how they will eat their lunch, how they will survive and sleep close to where they are supposed to resume at 4am every day?
The planning of Nigerian cities has taken wholly from this hymn book. No difference. Once our leaders get into office, they only think about helping their friends run away from their poor backgrounds. By the way, why are we talking of urban renewal only? What about rural renewal such as to encourage our people to go back to the villages from the cities? What plans has any government in this country ever had for sustainable housing, water, electricity, education or anything in the villages since our independence? Don't we think that matters?
Your excellency, I have only one suggestion as regards those civil servants that you want to lay off with much glee. I read your interview wherein you stated that the government is not there to pay salaries. That is true but kadan kadan. The truth is that you are right to the extent that we don't need people sitting around in ministries and Dr Sabeh is also right that this is not the time to just terminate people and throw them into the streets. However, there is a midpoint; a way out. Can they not be repurposed? If not all of them, a sizeable number can be repurposed.
I am an advocate of providing public goods for our people as the next port of call for our economy. Public goods are very essential to the success of businesses and initiatives. You are providing some of that infrastructure with the roads you are building. But the almajirai children who came to school when you gave free food have since stopped coming. Driving through Kawo you see them all over; a permanent fixture. You need a strong social services ministry. Abroad, this is what they do. Those children must be taken off the streets and kept in schools. Rather than sack civil servants en masse, can you not use them as enforcers of this policy and counsellors to these children? If there are say 500,000 out-of-school children in Kaduna State, does that not mean you need even more teachers than the 25,000 you recently employed according to your spokesman Muyiwa Adekeye?
Is the environmental sector in Kaduna totally hunky-dory? Do you not have young people among those slated for sack or dismissal who can work as environmental officers? Are all the grasses and flowers planted since you came in well maintained and secured so that the beauty of that state may shine through? Are there other environmental issues like gully erosion, desertification and what not present in KD? Are there any civil servants that could work as extension officers for Kaduna farmers? The world seems not to be able to get enough of the ginger grown in southern Kaduna, or the sesame and soya planted in other parts of the state. This is foreign exchange. Can you repurpose some of these people to see how they can help your government drive some initiative that promotes efficiency in those sectors? I even think sometimes, it is as easy as sending government people into rural areas which have been left for dead. We used to have a MAMSER in the military days whose role was to go to these villages and explain government plans and get support, including driving patriotism. The Buhari government has performed woefully in communicating its positive plans to the people and rallying us behind them. The man came in feeling like Voltron who could single-handedly solve all of Nigeria's problems while holding the people in disdain, only to hit the ground like a wet towel. Are you no different sir? Please, we know how mean you can be. And how determined. All we are asking is that you look at the downsides of your policies in the past and tweak a few things. Kaduna is not Abuja.
On the school fee increase for Kaduna State University, we hear it is now N500,000 for non-indigenes, up from N20,000 per annum. Whereas university education is not supposed to be free, but this leap is too high, especially at a time when people are just climbing out of the financial devastation of coronavirus. Please take it easy on the people.
You may also take a suggestion of mine; the university students have the opportunity to earn and this will assist them help their parents to pay these fees. Students should be used for some social work and even in the building of small roads/ patching of roads or even rural electrification. There are all sorts of data entry jobs they can do, documenting so many things about Kaduna – history, language, culture etc – on the internet while earning a token from you. This is an investment.
You are a man thinking ahead of most, but in the end, there is no point in achieving a reputation as an emotionally unintelligent geek while not achieving your dreams. You can achieve more than you plan for if you tweak your strategy.
Lastly, the handling of the Greenfield University kidnapping problem leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Five young, blameless students have been slaughtered in cold blood and more students are with those kidnappers. Our intelligence services have failed but we must leave no stone unturned. The kind of emergency we need on that matter has not been declared at the federal level. However, Gov. El Rufai you must mind your statements that make you come off as unfeeling and callous. I know that governing is a hard job, but we must keep learning. Everything must be done to secure the lives of the remaining students.