INTERVIEW: El-Rufai has shown that govt can work – Martins Akumazi

Mr. Martins Akumazi, is the Special Adviser to Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai on Project Implementation and Result Delivery. He was also Special Assistant to El-Rufai as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Mr. Akumazi, is a certified member of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in the United Kingdom. In this interview earlier aired on Let’s talk, a radio Programme in Kaduna, he speaks of his more than 40 years relationship with Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State, dating back to his undergraduate days, in the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, working with him as professional colleagues in El-Rufai and Partners; as minister and now as governor of Kaduna State. He shares his views about the urban renewal projects and other accomplishments of El-Rufai. 

Let’s talk about the next visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to Kaduna state, which I understand the president has agreed to, when the Deputy Governor led a delegation to thank him for the 4-day state visit in January this year. But there is no way we won’t, in passing, talk about the last visit of Mr. President to Kaduna State, which everyone agrees was a huge success. 

 It’s only natural that Mr. President will be coming back soon to commission additional projects in Kaduna state, considering that since the last visit, many more projects have been completed. The most significant ones under the urban transformational projects are the Kabala Costain – Aliyu Makama Road, Barnawa, complemented with a major bridge across the Kaduna River, which will considerably reduce the traffic on the over-stressed Stadium Roundabout to Station Roundabout. There is also the Rabah Road Reconstruction and Extension road, that connects to the Western By-Pass and then feeds onto the Rigasa Train Station to Mando Link Road. There is also the Isa Kaita Road Reconstruction and Dualization project, and many others within the metropolises of Kaduna, Zaria and Kafanchan, all of which have direct bearing on the lives of the people. You can be rest assured that when the President comes back, it will be another big success story. Governor Nasir El-Rufai has, under seven years, without doubt, implemented many impressive and impactful infrastructural projects. You will recall that Mr. President couldn’t conceal his excitement and appreciation to the Governor over his achievements during his previous visits. I must say that I feel proud to be associated with this success story. 

Again, just in the passing, some opposition elements had alleged that Mr. President was booed and stoned in Zaria, during his last visit. They tried to pass off the video of an incident that happened in Borno State, as having happened in Zaria. I am sure they will try some more propaganda, when the president comes again, considering that we are in an election year. …
Well, that is politics for you, negative politics though, by opponents who resorted to lies because they had nothing concrete to attack the Governor on.There were huge crowds at every commissioning location, cheering and chanting praises of Mr. President and Mallam (El-Rufai). I guess that visit made his political opponents very uncomfortable and they felt they had to create the negative and false impression of dislike of these two great leaders. So, they simply went on the social media with old videos of incidents that happened elsewhere to falsely project unpopularity of our leaders. It is a shame that, for political reasons, they would encourage the destruction of valuable public assets…it’s totally unjustifiable, and very sad. 
We will talk about the other ongoing projects. Mr. Akumazi, you’re not new to Kaduna State, having spent your formative years here, from primary school up to your university education at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Let’s talk about the old and new Kaduna State. What has changed, especially in the social and economic development of the State? 
Yes. I grew up here in Kaduna State; attended my primary and secondary schools in Kaduna and Zaria, and my university education at Ahmadu Bello University,Zaria. Absolutely nothing significant in terms of the physical, economic or social infrastructural development. What I can recall is the effort by the defunct PTF in the late 1990’s, specifically the improvement on Independence Way and the Trade Fair Complex. Previous administrations ought to have done more, because infrastructural development is key  for economic development. Infrastructural facilities, in addition to the ease of doing business, is key in attracting private investments. The infrastructural and economic development of the state by the Nasir El- Rufai’s administration is monumental and unarguably incomparable to the past years. Is it the total transformation of the road networks; new modern buildings, markets, malls, recreational centers, etc. As an actively practicing quantity surveyor, I have not seen engineering infrastructure being delivered at such a considerable scope and speed; an entire state turned into a construction site. It is simply amazing and audacious. Mallam is truly audacious. …you can’t deny that. 
By the way, you have spent 50 years in Kaduna State, even though you have been in and out.  In every sense, you are a Kaduna boy, like Olumuyiwa Adekeye, the Special Adviser Media and Communications, is a Zaria boy. Congratulations to you… 
Yes, I am very much aware that I have spent 50 years in Kaduna State. Thank you very much for pointing this out, and congratulating me. To God be the glory. Every time I drive by my former school – LEA Primary School, Independence Way, opposite the Catholic Social Centre, I have this nostalgic feeling, remembering that it all started from there. My exact classroom block of 50 years ago, is still standing, though the school has been converted to a secondary school. I`m grateful to Mallam’s Administration for that. I am indeed a Kaduna Boy….by God’s Grace.
What do you think attracted you to El- Rufai – is it your intelligence? 
With all modesty, I want to believe, I was one of Mallam’s (El-Rufai) good student at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Though I was a very quiet student, I did exceptionally well in the courses he taught us. I believe my academic performance was the first and major attraction. Like you know, I am Igbo by tribe, from Delta state, and a Christian. So, certainly, those weren’t the connection. But being the great man that he is, it never ever got in the way, or stopped him from building a great relationship with me.  
So you met at the university? 
No! It`s a long story. I have known Mallam (El-Rufai) for more than 40 years now. I first met Mallam in 1983, as a student of quantity surveying at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. No one introduced me to him. I had  heard about him, his exploits as a student in the department, and the wave he was making in professional quantity surveying practice. I needed to do my mandatory internship (industrial attachment) in a professional quantity surveying practice. So, I came down to Kaduna from Zaria. I visited several quantity surveying firms to solicit for placement. Initially, it seemed I wasn’t lucky, but God had his long-term plans. Mallam’s office wasn’t part of my plans, because I had never met him, and I had no prior appointment with him. I reluctantly decided to gamble it. I asked for and luckily got his office address from one of the other Quantity Surveying firms. 
My first pleasant surprise was that he agreed to see the student from ABU. I introduced myself and my mission and solicited his assistance to work in his firm, which was then a consortium of architects, engineers and quantity surveyors – the highly reputable Environment 7. Mallam only asked me a few questions about myself and quantity surveying courses. Satisfied with my response, my request was expressly granted. My classmates couldn’t believe the story of my successful encounter with Mallam. I worked as trainee for a few weeks until school resumed….this was in 1983. In April, 1984, as part of my second internship programme, I was privileged to once again work under Mallam’s direct supervision, and for a longer period. I returned to school in September, 1984 and, as providence would have it, Mallam became a lecturer in the Department of Surveying, Ahmadu Bello University, and he became my teacher in two core courses, Professional Practice and Procedure (PPP) and Construction Management. 
Mallam, from day one, made an immediate impact on me, and my admiration of him increased tremendously when he started teaching me. Naturally, I took extra interest in my quantity surveying degree course. Mallam is a born teacher, who delivered the “stuff” in his very simple style of teaching. 
After my National Youth Service primary assignment with the Lagos State Government in 1986, I secured employment with El-Rufai & Partners, a firm of chartered quantity surveyors and project managers. I was posted to the Lagos Office. I worked with the firm until 2003, when Mallam became the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and appointed me as his Special Assistant Project Implementation and Monitoring. Again, this is where El-Rufai is remarkably different. His appointments have nothing to do with tribe or religion…it’s about competency. It’s an office that is highly lobbied for by many construction professionals because of the highly rich exposure to the conception, planning, design and implementation of a broad range of first-class engineering infrastructure projects, and the other benefits.
In 2015 when Mallam was elected Governor of Kaduna State, he once again appointed me as his Special Adviser on Project Implementation and Monitoring and Result Delivery. I remain eternally grateful to Mallam because he could have appointed an indigene of the state, someone of his tribe and religion. That he settled for me shows his de-tribalized nature and nationalistic disposition. Mallam is a good man with a good heart; I know this for a fact because I am a living evidence of his good nature. And this is not all about me, because there are many more like me around him. I speak authoritatively because I have been with him for over 40 years. Look at the Kaduna State Executive Council, his appointees are from more than 10 states of the country; north and south. 
By the way, some people have called El-Rufai names…they have alleged clearly without any evidence, that he is a bigot, a tribalist… In all your years of relating with him, officially and unofficially, have you seen any evidence that he is a tribalist? 
Mallam (El-Rufai), a bigot, tribalist? That`s far from the truth; damn lie. Those who call him these ugly names obviously do not know him, and must be believing the tales of those adversely affected by his policies or who, for political reasons, demonize him. There is no way Mallam would have masked his bigotry or tribalism for more than 40 years that I have known him…absolutely no way. I sincerely sympathize with him when I hear people who have never met him describe  him in such terms, probably based on what they read or heard  from people with vested interests. Mallam is definitely not a bigot, but that is the price he is paying for insisting on, and doing what is right. 
I have over the years observed many people who initially called Mallam names without ever meeting him, but when they eventually did, their perception of him drastically changed. I am being very sincere about this. I speak based on events that I have personally witnessed. In the almost 40 years that I`ve known Mallam closely, I have also related with many people around him – his family, friends, associates, employees, his employers or clients, etc. His closest friends and associates cut across tribes and religious faith. I know and interact with most of them. I would have noticed these falsehoods all these years, if there was any truth in it. The allegations are completely unfair to him, if you ask me. On the contrary, Mallam is tolerant, considerate and kind. His attraction to people or friendship is never based on religion or tribe. I can call out his closest friends and associates by name; and very many of them are Christians from the south. This amazes me because Mallam was born in the north, went to schools up to his second degree in the north, before going to schools in other parts of the world. He worked more years in the north and fewer years in the southern part of the country. In spite of his brilliance and intelligence, he has an incredible patience to relate with everyone whether brilliant like him, wise or dull, old or youth, as well as children and I must give it to him, he accords each person their due respect and dignity. 
Eventually you graduated as a Quantity Surveyor. You took up employment with El- Rufai and Partners….was it El- Rufai that offered you the job or you applied? 
Long before my graduation, Mallam, while teaching my class of quantity surveyors, promised me a place in his professional practice and he kept his word. I literally became his mentee as a student and I have remained a member of his work team to date. I have learnt a lot relating with him. Mallam makes profound impact on everyone that encounters him. He is widely read, well-informed and engaging. If he does not know, he will ask questions and make efforts to know and master any subject. He has a lot of insight and foresight and is highly innovative. For instance, look at the 4-day working week he introduced in the State; since Kaduna State introduced it, several countries are adopting it. 
Eventually you became a partner in the firm….was it to tie you down, or that he felt you merited it? 
There was no reason to tie me down. Again, it was based on merit, even though I had become Mallam’s favourite. I felt very much at home in the partnership, moreover Mallam cared for me and generally treated his personnel well. I was made an associate in less than three years of joining, and a partner in less than six years. I couldn’t have asked for more. 
What qualities of El- Rufai attracted him to you. And having been close to him for many years, what other qualities about him have you come to appreciate the more? 
I believe it was his brilliance first, which from the very outset was obvious. Other attractions are his profound humility, compassion, patience, understanding and tolerance. Another endearing quality of Mallam is his exceptional gift in problem solving and decision making. I have never seen him surrender to any problem or unable to make timely decision on any matter…..he has a tremendous capacity to reason through a problem; he has a highly intuitive and rational mind. Mallam has a very sharp and retentive memory; and then, there is also his penchant and respect for rules and ethics. I believe his leadership is a gift from God – those who have worked closely with him will more easily understand and attest to what I am talking about. He has an amazing skill and capacity to hold people together, assign roles and responsibilities, settle misunderstandings amongst personnel to the satisfaction of everyone, a win-win for all, always. I don`t know how he does it, but he does this consistently. Finally, he is a very good and committed family man. These are some of of Mallam’s qualities that I practically know very well. 

With all sense of responsibility…. I must ask you, because you know him, you are in a position to frontally address the issue …. is Nasir El-Rufai brash, is he wicked? It seems the restoration of the Abuja and Kaduna Masterplan, that entailed demolition of properties, have made people tag him a wicked person. He appears a victim of doing the right thing, someone who, once convinced that this is the proper thing to do, will go ahead to administer the necessary medicine even if it`s painful? 
Mallam can’t, by any yardstick, be described as brash. I vehemently disagree with those who say he is . I understand that politicians want to paint their opponents black, but most times they do cross the line. I would prefer they paint their opponents black in terms of policy, but not to demonize their opponents. Mallam is not in any way brash; he is calculating and confident – maybe that is what people misconstrue as arrogance and brashness. He speaks his mind; he is brave and outspoken and perhaps, this is what people perceive as brashness. You asked if he is wicked? Not at all! He is just a respecter of rules and ethics. What is the essence of laws if they are not enforced? That is Mallam for you. He will always insist on doing what is right. Naturally, he will constantly clash with those of our people who see themselves as above the law. In the case of Abuja, the master plan is of world-class. Recall that Abuja was conceived to correct the crisis of Lagos, the former federal capital. So it has development rules to prevent haphazard and disorganized development. When Mallam took charge, Abuja was almost a lawless city, development-wise. Developers lacked regard or respect for development regulations and control; nothing was off limit. They built on service lines [water, power, sewer, drainage, etc]. Abuja was subjected to all manner of abuse. Characteristically, Mallam refused to close his eyes to the rot, no matter whose ox was gored. Mallam’s rare personality and qualities came to bear here – courage, respect for rules, outspokenness, frankness, serious mindedness, bravery; it was obvious that his quarrels and fights were and still are mostly with those who believe they were or are above the law. What many may not know is that these characteristics of him were not developed while in public office. I have known him for more than 40 years, and I can attest to that fact. El- Rufai, to you, but Mallam to us, has remained consistent all the way. 

The restoration of Abuja Masterplan…which led to the demolition of houses. Let’s talk about that period. What triggered the exercise, because El- Rufai, definitely made powerful enemies from that exercise?

The Restoration of the Abuja Masterplan was one of the key terms of reference that the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, gave to Mallam on his appointment as FCT Minister. President Obasanjo deserves commendation for backing Mallam in carrying out the retrieval of the Abuja master plan. I hope you are aware that as Military Head of State, Obasanjo completed the process of moving the capital from Lagos to Abuja. He wanted a well-planned city. The master plan and urban development laws were intended to guide the development in the Federal Capital Territory. There had been very serious infractions and contraventions of the plan and the laws, such as developments on services corridors – power, water, sewer and drainage lines. There were developments even on flood plains, green areas, etc; and other infractions that included the emergence of many slums, land use changes such as residential areas converted to commercial uses, private houses built on school and hospital land, etc. His assignment was to restore the territory to the master plan and this necessitated the removal of the contravening developments..a tough task, especially because many of the developments were owned by powerful people. Such an assignment required a lot of courage and Mallam gave it his all. He never minded whose ox was gored. Of course, you are right, that he made many powerful enemies, including amongst the common people. Nigerians are generally lawless. 

Let’s talk about what everyone agrees is an eventful tenure as the Governor of Kaduna State. Has El- Rufai, given a good account of himself? Has El- Rufai delivered on his campaign promises? 
My answer is simple … res ipsa loquitur, meaning the facts speak for themselves. The evidence of his achievements are very visible. Mallam has performed far beyond his campaign promises. Unlike many other governors, he completed many inherited projects. He did not abandon them; just as he started and completed many new projects that have impact on the lives of the people. He has many projects that are ongoing. While concerted efforts are being made to complete them, certainly some, especially major water and power projects, will spill into the next administration. There are many other projects that are captured in the state development plan 2021-25; some of them have been planned and designed or being designed, but have been deferred for implementation by the next administration. We pray the next administration will complete them, because they are good development projects that will complement those already on ground, and further pave way for a sustained economic prosperity of the state. When Mallam came, there were no functioning industries in Kaduna State. ,But with determination, he changed the industrial landscape of the State. So far, he has attracted private sector investments worth over 3billion dollars. 

Because you have known him for over 40 years, why do you think El-Rufai accepted the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) and ministerial appointments? And eventually took the plunge to contest the Kaduna governorship election… and why is it, in everywhere that he has served, he gives his all? 
Mallam’s motivation for accepting and giving his all in every public office he has held, is because to him, it’s service to humanity. This also informs his giving his all to every assignment. It’s in his nurture …a life driven by the spirit of excellence. I believe that his public service is his way of giving back to society. Mallam doesn’t feel comfortable hearing elites engage in the usual complaints, without any effort to change the situation. You must agree with me that Mallam has shown that government can work. So, making a difference in governance is critical for Mallam. He has always given “his all” to every task, endeavour or assignment he has handled. He gave “his all” to his academics. Similarly, as a practicing quantity surveyor, he was unarguably the best in the industry. This is not hearsay. I worked with him, so I know what I am saying. His clientele size grew extremely fast based on his reputation for hard-work and best interests of clients. There is no client we worked for that didn’t hold Mallam in very high esteem because of his exceptional professionalism and integrity. Mallam excelled in professional practice. Our practice was the first to migrate from manual to use of computers; that was in the 1980s. 

Did you ever imagine that one day you will be part of the team running Kaduna State? How has the home-coming to serve the people been? 
I grew up and schooled here in Kaduna and Zaria. It was a very peaceful and loving environment to grow up in. I have witnessed many governments from the time of Abba Kyari, when Kaduna State used to be “North-Central State”. I sincerely cannot recall any striking or memorable development by previous governments. Over the last 100 years, Kaduna State remained like it was from the colonial era; the infrastructure such as road networks remained exactly the same over the years. It is highly disappointing that Muhammadu Buhari Way [formerly WAFF Road] and Yakubu Gowon Way, were only dualized under Mallam’s administration in 2019. it is a shame there was no major road construction or improvement work on these and many other roads in the State before the current administration. Mallam has changed and is still changing the narrative, not only in the Kaduna Metropolis but also Zaria and Kafanchan. He is bold and daring and this is being manifested in the urban renewal projects. Again, I remain grateful to God that I am part of all this transformation. 
You are the Special Adviser to Governor Nasir El-Rufai on Project Implementation and Result Delivery . …what exactly do you do? 
I work with a team of construction professionals, comprising architects, engineers and quantity surveyors. We provide independent monitoring, evaluation and feedback to government on project implementation and delivery. Our major assignment is to ensure value for money for the state government, quality and timely delivery of projects. My team works with and provides technical support to the ministries, departments, agencies and the Infrastructure Development Council which is chaired by Her Excellency, the Deputy Governor. The council oversees and coordinates all infrastructural projects. Mallam’s administration has devoted and deployed enormous resources to infrastructural development and ensuring that the state gets commensurate value for money is highly imperative. Kaduna State has benefited in more ways than one having a prudent professional like Mallam run the state.

What are some of the outstanding projects that might not be completed. Some people have expressed fears that some projects might not be completed. What assurance do you want to give the people of Kaduna State? 
Certainly, Mallam’s administration cannot complete all its ongoing projects by end of May, 2023, even though that was the target. But I want to assure the people of Kaduna State that the goal is to complete as many projects as possible, and where it is not possible, take them to substantial stage of completion. But even at that, some ongoing projects, as we said earlier, must certainly spill over into the next administration. 
Our prayer that a member of the team takes over from Mallam has been answered with the emergence of Senator Uba Sani as the flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress. He is a member of the team, so he has a good understanding of the goals of the Nasir El-Rufai administration. This will guarantee the completion of these projects and ensure the much-needed continuity. The distinguished senator has done extremely well at the senate. I have no doubt he will do well as governor. 

The Kaduna State Executive Council is as diverse as the Federal Executive Council. There is no other State Executive Council that compares to Kaduna State Executive Council. You have colleagues from Anambra, Kwara, Ogun, Bauchi, Adamawa, Kogi, Plateau and your good self from Delta State… Why don’t people use this peculiar case of inclusiveness to judge El- Rufai? 
Your question is the perfect answer to those who call Mallam all kinds of name. Again, I want to repeat that it is because they do not know him. He is a highly reasonable person; loyal to his friends to a fault. Those who tag Mallam a bigot don’t know him at all. If they do, they wouldn’t dare use those words on him, spread by vested interests adversely affected by his policies. 
When former President Obasanjo came to Kaduna on a courtesy visit to the Governor, he joined the State Executive Council meeting. And I want to quote him in his own words… “Nasir, your Cabinet is obviously a mini-Nigeria; I didn’t know that until this visit and the opportunity to sit in it with you….” Many other key figures including renowned religious leaders have visited and observed the same. Can you imagine, that I have colleagues in the cabinet that are Igbo like me? The cabinet took that shape from the start of Mallam’s administration in 2015 and has remained so to date. I wish this could be replicated in the other 35 states; that is the kind of Nigeria we all long for. Mallam has demonstrated in practical terms his belief in a Nigeria where you can contribute your quota in any state without being held back by the non-indigene/indigene dichotomy. I feel terribly bad and sympathize with Mallam when people resort to mischief to settle political issues. But he is a strong man; he keeps moving, remaining focused on his beliefs and goals. Of course, if you are doing better than others in the same endeavors many are bound to be jealous or envious of you and your accomplishments. There are people who oppose Mallam’s policies simply because such policies will portray Mallam as more serious minded and better in the eyes of the public than them. 

With the ongoing developments in the State, where do you see the State in the next five years? 
Many of the developmental projects on Malalm’s priority list have already been completed and commissioned. Many more are due for completion and commissioning even now and in the next couple of months, and others will still be completed before the end of this administration. So much more will be achieved in the next one year; and these include road networks – township roads in the three senatorial zones, water and power supply expansion and improvement projects, district engineering infrastructure to expand residential, commercial and industrial developments; new construction or renovation of schools including many model schools; hospitals including primary health care [PHC] facilities; secondary and tertiary health facilities, including the 300-bed hospital in the Millennium City complemented with a Cancer Centre; markets and malls especially in the three major cities; Kaduna, Kafachan and Zaria [KKZ], particularly the Galaxy “Shoprite” Mall at the Murtala Square, the Special Agro-Industrial Processing (SAPZ)) including its major component, the Green Agro-Allied Industrial Zone, GAAIZ, with a tax free zone status; the Damau Milk Farm or Ranch to help ameliorate the crisis of herder-farmer clashes, etc. There are many other projects on Mallam’s priority list which have been planned and designed for implementation by the next administration.