On Sunday, October 29, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna fielded questions on his monthly media chat.
The governor spoke on diverse issues, from early budget preparation, to unqualified teachers and the planned $350 million loan.
Here are excerpts from the interview.
Q: Your government has set a pattern for presenting budgets early and getting the budget signed before the year ends. This is new in the history of the state. How do you do it?
El-Rufai: Thank you for this question. It is important to impose a sense of order in the budgeting process. That enables the government to make proper choices in spending decisions, and to have a proper window for implementing our pro-people programmes. So, we decided that our budget year must run from January to December, just like the Gregorian calendar.
By God’s grace, we have been able to prepare, present and sign each of our budgets before the new year begins. This is made possible by several factors. One is the hard work of the members of the Kaduna State House of Assembly who have been very diligent in examining, discussing and passing the budget. When they were considering the 2017 Budget in 2016, they even slashed it by N1 billion. Another factor that helps is the regular budget retreats that our state executive council holds every quarter. That way we know how the budget is performing and we are able to make adjustments. Then our Planning and Budget Commission issues the call circular early and our MDAs respond promptly. It is all team work.
Q: Why is the 2018 budget described as the Budget of Consolidation?
El-Rufai: No state government has published as many tenders for capital projects like Kaduna State. That is because we are committed to open, competitive bidding. We have started so many projects in sectors like Education, Health, Roads, Water Resources, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development. We have not had the resources to push some of them as strongly as we would wish. But we have had the courage and the vision to start them.
Therefore, we have decided that priority will be given to completing these multiple projects, to consolidate on the practical things we are doing to make change real for our people. There are schools renovated, hospitals being rehabilitated, built and equipped, roads being constructed, mining communities being given infrastructure, water works being rehabilitated or retrofitted.
Q: In your 2018 budget speech, you said your administration will be prioritizing the completion of projects. What are these projects?
El-Rufai: As I said in response to your previous question, we have to complete the equipping of 255 Primary Health Centres and 23 secondary health facilities. Across the state, we are renovating our secondary schools. Some, like Queen Amina and Government College, Kaduna, have been completed. Many more and ongoing across the state. For instance, as at mid-2017, there were 443km of township roads and 16 intercity roads with a distance of 414.8km at various stages of completion. In addition, 17 rural feeder roads with distance of 172 km are being constructed. There are many schools being rebuilt, hospitals being upgraded and equipped, water works being refitted, rehabilitation centres being fixed. We are very proud to have initiated these projects in the interest of our people. And we have been clearheaded enough to take on inherited projects that we consider feasible and viable!
Q: KADRA seems to have replaced KAPWA. What is KADRA’s job?
El-Rufai: KADRA is the Kaduna State Roads Agency. As their name implies, KADRA has responsibility for our roads. We are confident that it will do well. The agency has an energetic leader, and we have high expectations that KADRA will help to deliver and maintain decent roads across the state. As you can see, they have started filling potholes and grading roads. They would and must do a lot in this dry season.
Q: When will payment for the previous drainage works start? Will there be fresh drainage works?
El-Rufai: As I said at the budget town hall meetings, payments will be made on certified drainage works. And KADRA will initiate new drainage works when and where necessary.
Q: The World Bank loan issue has been generating so much controversy. But Senator Kabir Gaya has now assured that the Senate will approve it. Is the matter now settled?
El-Rufai: Thank you for this question. On 20 June 2017, the World Bank announced that it has decided to provide a budget support facility of $350m to Kaduna State. The Bank did not just wake up to this. Let me tell you how it started. During the general election campaign in 2014 and early 2015, my colleagues and I campaigned about the poor state of our schools. We said many schools did not have roofs, doors, windows, water and toilets, and we promised to fix it.
Once we won the elections, the things we had complained about became our responsibility to correct. But as prepared as we were with our Transition Committee report, we still got a few shocks when we took office. In our first week, we took briefings from all MDAs in the state. That is when the then chairman of SUBEB told us that at least 50% of our school children sit on floors because there was no school furniture.
We declared a state of emergency in education and started to fix schools and buy furniture. After fixing almost 10% of our over 4200 primary schools, we realised we would need a lot of money to fix everything and to actually build new schools that can have enough classrooms, staff rooms and other facilities. So, we compiled the pictures of our schools into an album, and I took it to Abuja and showed it to the Minister of Finance to explain the level of investment we would require. Then I shared the photos with our development partners, including the World Bank. That is how the conversation that led to the loan started.
The World Bank has scrutinised Kaduna State and they are convinced we meet their standards. We have healthy Fitch ratings B” Credit Rating with Stable Outlook. (In November 2016, Fitch Ratings assigned Kaduna State a long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) of “B” and a National long-term rating of A+ (nga) with stable outlooks).
The World Bank checked our laws, our accounts and our performance, they are convinced we merit their support.
Our commissioners have appeared before the relevant committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and presented detailed explanations for the rationale and the purposes of the loan. Our delegates were commended for the quality of their presentations. Nobody in those committees of the National Assembly can honestly claim not to be aware of the justification and the purpose of the loan.
So, we are grateful for the assurance Senator Kabiru Gaya gave us that the Senate will approve the federal government’s borrowing plan so that we can begin to access this very low-interest loan. The World Bank facility is critical to achieving our governance objectives in the short to medium term.
Q: Your government has issued notices to recruit 25,000 teachers to replace the 22,000 teachers that failed the competency test. How is the administration going to avoid the mistake of the past in employing new teachers?
El-Rufai: Unqualified teachers entered the system because the recruitment of teachers was politicised. The local government council chairmen and other senior politicians and bureaucrats saw teaching as a dumping ground for their thugs, supporters and other unqualified persons.
Teachers were employed at local government level without adherence to standards. In many instances, no examinations or interviews were conducted to assess the quality of recruits. Political patronage, nepotism and corruption became the yardstick, thus giving unqualified persons a way in. Teaching jobs were given as patronage to those connected to politicians and bureaucrats.
The Kaduna State Executive Council has approved the recruitment of 25,000 primary school teachers. Recruitment notices have already been advertised by the Kaduna State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB). This time around, there would be standardised tests for the recruits and a further training programme before the new teachers take over the classrooms. No unqualified person will scale through. And we will vet certificates very closely and very often. The future of our children is so important that we will not take chances. We will be vigilant in ensuring that only good people teach in our public schools.
Q: Commentators across the country have praised your decision to sack and replace the 22,000 teachers that did not meet the grade. But some people in Kaduna said that you promised sometime in the past that government will not sack anyone but will train those that need training and place the ones that those not need training in other places? What can you say on this?
El-Rufai: Many people don’t realise that the June 2017 competency test was administered to measure the impact of several training and retraining efforts by ESSPIN and the Teacher Development Programme. Teacher training is about improving the capacity of a teacher to impart knowledge. What the competency test showed is that many of the teachers do not have the knowledge, so how can they impart what they do not have? Are they saying we should send primary school teachers back to Primary Four? If you have knowledge but are deficient in teaching skills, we can train you to acquire the skills of a teacher. But when there is no knowledge, what is there to teach?
In 2012, the previous government gave all primary school teachers a five-year grace to acquire NCE. That expired this year, but many teachers still don’t have it.
Q: The Nigerian Union of Teachers has threatened to strike over the matter of the failing teachers. How will your government respond?
El-Rufai: Everybody knows that we will not be deterred in doing what is right for the future of our children. This is not about politics, or people making a public show of opposing what they know to be right. Shouldn’t everybody be embarrassed by the test results. Where is the sense of shame? I hear some people say the pass mark for teachers in a Primary Four exam should be 60%; the same people say the state government has no right to test the competence of its employees. One evidence of the crisis in our society is that a union whose members failed a Primary 4 examination thinks it can create problems over the issue rather than be a part of the solution.
We are not people that bow to threats. We will respond appropriately. What will be point of the threatened strike? To force us to violate our oath of office and knowingly retain as teachers those that are not qualified? That will not happen!
We will recruit as many qualified teachers as we can find. We will not keep unqualified teachers on our payroll.
Q: There is a perception that the Kaduna State House of Assembly is dragging its feet on passing the laws to make the local government election possible. The local government election was even postponed after SIECOM had announced a date. Are the honourable members scared of elections?
El-Rufai: We in the Executive branch have fully supported SIECOM with the resources it needs to organise local government elections using the electronic voting machines. That is why SIECOM was able to announce the dates for the elections. SIECOM then postponed the elections after the House of Assembly said the enabling laws had not been passed. We urge our legislators to pass these laws so that we can have local government elections promptly. We here are ready for elections.
Q: When you came in to office, you reduced ministries from 19 to 13 and you now have 14. You also reduced commissioners from 24 to 15. We learnt that you have extended this cost-cutting to local governments. What is the position?
El-Rufai: This government is committed to reducing waste, eliminating fraud and cutting costs wherever we can. We believe that most of the resources of government must be devoted to serving the needs of ordinary people, building schools, hospitals, roads and delivering other public goods.
You cannot do this except you reduce the cost of running government. We started from the Executive branch. We inherited 19 ministries, but now we have only 14. The previous government had 24 commissioners, but we have only 15. We have fewer special advisers and special assistants than the government before us.
Next, we verified state civil servants. We gave each ministry what its maximum establishment can be and signed an Executive Order to effect this. Surplus staff above the establishment of each Ministry have been posted to the office of the Head of Service pending subsequent steps in our public service reform and renewal programme.
We have now moved to the local government level. Remember that we reduced districts from 390 to 77, so that our local government councils will have fewer district heads and staff to pay and have more money for development.
Part of the reason why many local governments are broke is that they are overstaffed. The admin department of Zaria local government has 300 staff. For what? This overstaffing is why many of the local government councils cannot pay salaries without the support of the state government.
So, we have prescribed personnel figures for all the 23 local government councils in Kaduna state. Direct council staff will now be less than 7000 in total. This excludes teachers under SUBEB and primary health centre staff who have been moved to the State Primary Health Care Development Agency.
I have signed an Executive Order directing the Administrators of the 23 local government councils to comply with the prescribed personnel levels.
Q: The Kaduna State APC Caucus and Executive Committee met this week and backed all your decisions regarding teachers and the World Bank loan. How is the party maintaining its unity?
El-Rufai: The APC in Kaduna State is united around its manifesto. Its leadership does not view power as an excuse for a bazaar focused on sharing offices among politicians. The reason for being in politics is to influence policies and programmes, not to share appointments. 1.1 million persons voted for the APC in the governorship election. We must serve this people, and that is what we are doing.
Some people joined the APC late in 2014 and in 2015 because they knew we would win, and they thought that after winning it will be business as usual. They are unhappy and disappointed that it is not business as usual.
The APC in Kaduna State will stay together to deliver concrete change for our people.
Q: KADFAMA, KADGIS, KASUPDA, Water Corporation, SUBEB, Ministry of Works, Pension Bureau and KSMC are all recruiting new staff. Where are you getting the resources for fresh recruitments?
El-Rufai: These agencies need additional personnel to serve our people better. We must find the resources by reducing waste, raising more IGR and encouraging investments.
We are proud of our record as a job-creating government. We will create as many direct jobs as are necessary for our MDAs to work well, inject youth and be more efficient in achieving results. But all the direct jobs will be smaller than what the private sector can create.
That is why we are pursuing multiple initiatives to attract private sector investments. Apart from the successes already recorded in agriculture through Olam, Sunseed, Vicampro and others, we are bringing Mahindra to assemble tractors. Peugeot France is also coming to build a brand new factory in Kaduna to assemble cars. They have already cleared the site in Chikun Local Government Area. We are guided by the need to find jobs, jobs and more jobs for our teaming youth.
Q: How is the state doing with IGR this year? In the budget speech, you mentioned the N100 annual development levy payable by every adult. How would this be collected?
El-Rufai: In 2016, Kaduna State raised a record N23 billion as IGR. We hope to do better in 2017. I urge our people to pay their Land Use Charge and Ground Rent.
The law of this state requires every adult to pay an annual N100 development levy. This is a small sum that helps to grow a sense of civic responsibility. We believe that every adult resident can afford to pay N100 every year and insist on accountability.