Kaduna State political theatrics, by Salihu Moh. Lukman

At a Town Hall Meeting in Kaduna, on Saturday, March 30, 2024, Mallam Uba Sani, Governor of Kaduna State raised the alarm that he inherited huge debt of $587 million, N85 billion, and 115 contractual liabilities from the administration of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. Because of this huge burden, out of N10 billion due to the State from Federal Allocation, N7 billion was deducted, which leaves only N3 billion. With such a reality, the State is finding it difficult to honour its monthly salary obligation of N5.2 billion to its workers.

Acknowledging that this is certainly a very challenging reality, it is important that this issue is not reduced to the politics of blame game and loud noise-making with praise singers on both sides defending their benefactors. In the first place, the issue of the huge debt burden of Kaduna State is a public secret. It is a matter that is very well known to His Excellency Uba Sani. Although there could be new insight that he must have encountered after taking over as Governor, I want to believe that he came well prepared and ready to deal with the challenges and move Kaduna State forward from where Mallam Nasir left it. Part of the objective of the Town Hall could as well be to mobilise the people of Kaduna State to support the initiatives of the Kaduna State government under the leadership of Mallam Uba Sani.

Unfortunately, as it is, the report seems to be sensationalised, suggesting the reality of strong disagreement and breakdown of the relationship between Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and Mallam Uba Sani, which could as well be the case. I make this point cautiously having practically lost contact with both Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and Mallam Uba Sani since my resignation as National Vice Chairman (North-West) in July 2023. I was only privileged to meet Mallam Uba once and thereafter couldn’t speak with him in any form. I only encountered Mallam Nasir once during the birthday reception of Chief Bisi Akande at the Presidential Villa and we only greeted and moved on.

This notwithstanding, I can’t claim ignorance about some of the dynamics playing out in Kaduna State. I am aware of the growing animosity between Mallam Nasir and Mallam Uba, or at least I hear some of it from sources close to both of them. However, given the reality that I am not close to both Mallam Nasir and Mallam Uba, I opted to keep my distance and not meddle in a dispute between two very close friends. My expectation was that they would resolve the matter. Sadly, this doesn’t appear to be the case. I think people close to Mallam Nasir and Mallam Uba are also not helping matters.

Perhaps, in making this intervention, I need to clarify that even before my resignation from the leadership of APC, my relationship with both Mallam Nasir and Mallam Uba was that of mutual respect, which did not translate into a strong political relationship back in Kaduna State. Having expressed my disagreement with Mallam Nasir back in 2014 to the extent of aspiring against his ambition to contest for Governor, I was never recognised as a stakeholder in the APC in Kaduna State. Perhaps, the only exception was when I became the National Vice Chairman (North-West). The dynamics that made that possible had to do with my role in many of the campaigns to reform the APC at the National level, which pitted me against some party leaders and Governors, and my subsequent resignation as the Director General of Progressive Governors Forum (PGF). During those campaigns, I will say I am lucky to be on the same side as Mallam Nasir.

It is to the credit of Mallam Nasir that he was able to see beyond our differences and in March 2022 nominated me to contest for the position of National Vice Chairman (North-West). I make this clarification largely in response to many of the views held by many party leaders that Mallam Nasir is my sponsor. While it is true that especially with reference to reforming the party at the national level, we seem to agree, when it comes to issues back in Kaduna State, we have a strong disagreement. In fact, if the truth is to be told, most of the problems of the party at the National level are also committed by the party in Kaduna, if not worse, under the leadership of Mallam Nasir. The hard truth also is that Mallam Uba was one of his strongest collaborators in Kaduna State.

The reality was that everything Mallam Nasir did during his eight (8) year tenure was endorsed and supported by Mallam Uba. Certainly, the decision of Mallam Nasir to anoint Mallam Uba as his successor must have been informed by the consideration of their strong personal relationship. That shortly after taking over, the two friends are falling apart is most unfortunate and only reminds one about what played out between Alh. Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi and Arc. Namadi Sambo between 2007 and 2010. These were very close friends and business partners, on account of which Alh. Makarfi anoints Arc. Sambo emerged as his successor in 2007. Till today, the relationship between the two is still very bad.

Across the country, a similar reality is replicated virtually across all the states in the country. All the challenges that create worsened relationships between predecessors and successors highlight either the complete absence or very weak party structures in the determination of successors. Across all parties in Nigeria, serving Governors exercise monopoly in producing their successors. This is one area that highlights the complete failure of APC as an envisioned progressive party. As it is, beyond Kaduna State, there are similar dynamics playing out in many APC States, and at best, the party leadership at the National level is simply behaving as a distant observer. Check what is going on in Benue, Ebonyi and Cross River. This shouldn’t be the case.

Ideally, party leaders at both the state and national levels should have the capacity to intervene to resolve the challenge. At the minimum, they should be able to intervene to strengthen the capacity of State governments to manage challenges of governance, which is the main highlight of Mallam Uba’s presentation at the Town Hall meeting. Certainly, Mallam Uba’s submission would have come with some indications of how the state government intends to resolve the challenge of a huge debt burden. Somehow, the media reports have not emphasised that. Consequently, and predictably, supporters of Mallam Nasir have started responding and if care is not taken the matter will be reduced to a public debate between supporters of Mallam Nasir and supporters of Mallam Uba, and in the circumstance, the whole issue of what needs to be done to address the problem of Kaduna State huge debt will be left unattended to.

Without any excuse, all of us in APC in Kaduna must take responsibility for the bad situation facing the State. In taking responsibility, we must appeal to Mallam Uba Sani to take every necessary step to undertake an inventory of the debt of the state and how it was utilised. Part of what is needed now very urgently is to assess whether there are cases of diversion, which if established should be recovered.

More substantively, there is a need to come up with new initiatives towards mobilising new resources for the state. Resolving the challenge of today’s huge debt burden requires new initiatives beyond what is currently being undertaken. Mallam Uba needs to set up a committee to review current challenges and recommend what needs to be done in the short, medium, and long term. This is more about producing a blueprint that will guide initiatives of government across all sectors to address the challenge. For instance, being a largely agrarian state that is riddled with insecurity, boosting agricultural production is contingent on securing the farms. Already, one of the steps taken by the young administration of Mallam Uba is to recruit an additional 7,000 personnel into the Kaduna State Vigilance Service (KADVIS). This certainly would have increased the salary bill of the State Government. Shouldn’t it be possible to explore a partnership between the State Government and Farmers and deplore the services of KADVIS personnel towards protecting farmlands in the state?

The details of the partnership between the state government and farmers could be negotiated, which should include what needs to be done to mobilise funding for the scheme. Integral to initiatives to protect farmlands are issues of extension services provided by Kaduna State Ministry of Agriculture to farmers. It has been on the decline over the years. Related to this is the whole question of reviewing some of the loans taken to boost agriculture production in the state. Without going into details, there are clearly some of the loans running into hundreds of millions of Dollars. The state government must take steps to evaluate these loans and deal with all factors that must have worked against achieving the objectives earmarked for the loans.

The point is, that we need to move away from noise-making to substantive issues of strengthening governance. Without prejudice to all the initiatives being taken by the government of Mallam Uba, the debate about the huge debt profile of Kaduna state must be about strengthening the capacity of the government to resolve the challenge. It is not simply about Mallam Nasir Vs Mallam Uba. Already, I have seen young people jumping into the debate in a very disrespectful manner. We must caution that as much as everyone is welcome to make a contribution, such a contribution must be about what needs to be done to resolve the challenge, which is a function of knowledge. After all, we pride ourselves in Kaduna State as a Centre of Learning. Being a Centre of Learning requires that our politics should be about the application of knowledge.

My final appeal to Mallam Uba and all our leaders both in Kaduna State and at the National level is that we must summon the courage to admit our failure as a political party. Whatever could have been the shortcomings of Mallam Nasir as a Governor of Kaduna State between 2015 and 2023 would have been strengthened by the absence of a strong functional party structure, which could have checked or at least moderated the excesses of Mallam Nasir. Those realities are still there today and if allowed to continue could lead Mallam Uba also in the wrong direction, whose implication may only become another subject of contestation between him and his successor.

The truth is democracy is as bad as any dictatorship so long as political parties continue to behave as shadow participants or observers of the business of governance. Like Mallam Nasir once thought he was incontrovertible, if care is not taken, all the current issues about Kaduna State’s huge debt profile may end up only making Mallam Uba to also assume a similar incontrovertible outlook. Praise singers must not be allowed to take over a critical debate which is about the future of the state. Such a debate must not be reduced to the political theatrics of determining the future of the state in terms of only who is right or wrong between a predecessor and successor. Such an approach only stagnated the state in the past. In fact, it only holds actors at a standstill. Just check where Alh. Makarfi and Arc. Sambo today are politically!

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