Nasir El Rufai: Audacious Leadership at 60, By Issa Aremu

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I join friends and compatriots in congratulating by brother Excellency and friend, the 9th democratically elected Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Ahmed Nasir El Rufai on the occasion of his  60th birthday. I can hardly add more to the widely published facts based birthday tribute entitled  “Lessons from Nasir El-Rufai, a True Change Agent, at 60 by Senator Uba Sani, whose relationship with the Governor is more than partial. Very few associates “so close” who “share a lot in common” could dispassionately express deep love for a worthy friend with documented life time achievements in governance as Uba ably and commendably did. Certainly not in this age of sacrificial friendship and disposable relationship.  Secondly in a country in which life expectancy has sadly fallen below 55 years, it’s time we celebrated lives that have also impacted on others. Thirdly and much more important: El-Rufai at 60 is of academic interest in a country in which hope and constructive discourse had given way to addictive despair, dramatized violence and cynicism. In his seminal work in 1983, the late  Chinua Achebe wrote that  “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership”. I certainly agree with Achebe that leadership crisis persists in Nigeria and indeed on our planet increasingly characterized by acrimonies of varying frightening dimensions. However the bane of leadership discourse (Achebe’s inclusive!) is that it is characterized by unhelpful idealized search for some leadership types!. Certainly leadership is the issue in Nigeria but to appreciate leadership strengths and weaknesses, we must  contextualize leadership discourse. Nigeria had (and still has) a number of leaders that also include the late literature giant himself: Chinua Achebe, (essayist, best African story teller and a PRP progressive politician, so much-in-one!). 

I have constructively engaged over the years with Mallam  Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai on policy issues  that entailed some contestation and significant cooperation. This dates  back to his days as the privatization czar at the Bureau for Public Enterprises and  as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to his current tenure as the 5th democratically elected governor of Kaduna State in this democratic dispensation. The emerging leadership trait of Mallam is his audacity to push for what he stands for. Indeed at 60 we can talk of Audacious leadership (or Leadership by Audacity!) as much as we can talk of Servant leadership of the late President Musa Yar’Adua and Balarabe Musa’s Leadership by Principles. 

I recall that On Wednesday, 29 July 2015 Mallam Nasir El-Rufa’i, as the new Governor of Kaduna State rightly laid bare his vision for reinventing Kaduna. The vision audaciously promises activist governance in the area of revival of urban renewal, public transport, local government reforms, building of international conference centres and hotels befitting of an investment destination that Kaduna was once reputable for. Mallam Nasir and his Deputy, Mr Barnabas Bala Bantex spiritedly walked the promises. The two were the first elected office holders to audaciously lead by example sacrificing 50 percent of their salaries and allowances until the fiscal situation of the State improves. The crisis of compensation in Nigeria is made worse by the unacceptable gap between the prohibitive tax-free pay of legislators, Governors and political office holders on one hand and miserable pay of public civil servants. The Kaduna gesture was sensitive, original and had since been emulated by other public office holders. Mallam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai is also the first elected governor to audaciously make an industrial tour of the moribund textile mills with commendable policy announcements, such as patronage of garment (from revived Arewa Mills) to training of workers (in Chellco blanket company in Kaduna). He also audaciously moved to reclaim some  public schools by demolishing illegal private structures in the school premises. Indeed the Kaduna State government acted to its announcement and commenced the demolition of some private houses built within the premises of public institutions in an effort to recover all government’s lands that were illegally taken over by individuals. The importance of reclaiming public space cannot be overemphasized. The hitherto criminal allocation of public school lands as well as lands meant for public hospitals to private individuals in government once again dramatized the total abandonment of public education which in turn explains the miserable education statistics in the North. Chinua Achebe observed that, the “…the  Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership”. In September last year Mr El-Rufai commendably enrolled his son, Abubakar Al-Siddique El-Rufai, at the Capital School Malali, Kaduna State, again in fulfilment of what the governor promised in 2017. Some cynics said it was “all politics”, but I insist it is smart progressive politics Nigeria needs for genuine development renaissance. There was a Nigeria with functioning public schools that produced the current Nigeria leaders in public and private schools. I have had cause to engage in “star words” war with Mallam on a number of controversial issues he audaciously nonetheless canvassed enlisting audacious responses. But on the whole, Mallam as a Governor is audaciously focused, never on the fence. He is the first governor to commence the payment of the new minimum wage, audaciously mass sack and mass recruit teachers. He also demonstrated sensitivity in paying a total sum of N29.1 million as compensation to the families of workers killed in a bomb blast in Zaria, during workers verification. Governor El-Rufai has also audaciously and commendably redefined citizenship to be residency plus taxation. He had since abolished the use of state of origin at the time most states criminalize residency. The audacious massive Urban Renewal in Kaduna state is the best birthday gift Governor El-Rufai can give to the people of the centre of learning. Happy (Audacious) birthday Mallam! 

Issa Aremu, mni