El-Rufa’i an authentic leader, team player – Deputy gov

In this interview, Dr. Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe, the deputy governor of Kaduna state, is the first female elected deputy governor in the North-west. In this interview, tells select journalists about her partnership with Malam Nasir El-Rufa’i, the governor, the achievements, and the challenges ahead as the administration marches towards 2023 and the misunderstanding of the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). CHAMBA SIMEH brings excerpts.

It’s important for us to state that for seven months, we’ve been trying to have this interview, but we couldn’t until now, because the deputy governor is incredibly busy. Thank you for finally finding the time out of your busy schedule for this conversation.

Thank you very much for your understanding. I really appreciate your sincere understanding. There is no way I would have refused to grant you an interview; like you know, this administration places high premium on consistent communication with the public. So, I won’t refuse any opportunity to further conversations with the good people of Kaduna state; we owe them explanations for our actions.

What has changed since that fateful day, November 2, 2018, when your partner, Governor El-Rufa’i, settled for you as his running mate. Definitely that is a date that you will never forget?

Thank you very much, you rightly captured it; certainly it’s a date I won’t ever forget. But I think the governor had probably made up his mind long before November 2, 2018. We only filled and endorsed the nomination forms on that day and submitted to our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), about a day to the closing date. I think what has changed from then is my perception of life. In all honesty, I never for dreamed about this, nothing prepared me for it. The possibility of me being the deputy to Malam El-Rufa’i was not ever what I have imagined, not even in my dreams. 

However, I am grateful to God for the opportunity. And this has strengthened my belief in the saying that what will be will be because what God has destined for you will surely come to pass. I am forever grateful to Allah for the opportunity to serve my dear people of Kaduna state. It’s an appointment that I will never take for granted. I have learned more than ever that there is reward for hard work and integrity. I am now more determined and more committed to put in my best in the service of the people of Kaduna state. I remain eternally grateful to Malam El-Rufa’i for considering me worthy.

Are you saying that nothing prepared you, that he didn’t hint you?

Absolutely nothing! As usual, I was just busy doing my work as a public health physician, which by the way I was enjoying. My plan, after my tenure at the Primary Health Agency, was to set up or work with an NGO (non-governmental organisation) or any other organisation, but God had his own plan.

I won’t pretend not to have an idea of how Governor El-Rufa’i functions. Usually, he calls people to offer them positions or jobs. Did that kind of conversation take place? Did he call you to make the offer something like, I am thinking of running with you for the second term?

Malam El- Rufa’i had on several occasions narrated the events of how I became his running mate. He sent for me, which wasn’t new, considering the renovation and rehabilitation of the primary health centers that the agency was overseeing. Truly, I thought that the discussion would only be on our assignment, but along the line he asked me why I wasn’t taking any interest in politics. Of course, I had no answer. He advised that I take an interest, because it will be good for me in the future. And that was it. On my part, I just continued my work at the agency. That’s the closest discussion about my likelihood of joining him that we had.

A former governor of Anambra state, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, described deputy governors as spare tyres, meaning you function at the discretion of your boss. The 1999 Constitution hasn’t really been fair in allocating responsibilities to deputy governors. But we know you’ve acted several times as governor of Kaduna state, with full powers and that El-Rufa’i has never shied away from tasking you with assignments. For instance, some days ago you were in Abuja to represent Kaduna state at the APC governors meeting. How do your colleagues from other states relate with you? We know the stories of deputy governors in other states; do they envy you considering the partnership, the relationship with your principal?

When we meet, we just generally talk about the issue at hand. We don’t delve into what’s happening to anyone. His Excellency, Malam Nasir El-Rufa’i, has said on one or two occasions that in Kaduna state we are partners, we are a team, and we will always function as a team. I remain eternally grateful to Malam El-Rufa’i for being such a fantastic human being. I remember vividly the sentiments he expressed in the two books that he gave me when I first assumed duty, which he also graciously autographed. One of the books was the Accidental Public Servant and he wrote, ‘My sister, deputy and partner, Dr. Hadiza Balarabe, with sincerest regards, best wishes and gratitude for your service, support and sacrifice for Kaduna.” When he gave me the book Becoming’ by Michelle Obama he wrote, ‘For my esteemed partner and deputy with affection and gratitude for your hard work, dedication and loyalty. Hope Michelle’s experience will help.” So, it’s not that I think he sees me as a partner, but that in reality he demonstrates that fact. In Kaduna state, under El-Rufa’i, no deputy governor has been treated as a spare tyre.

 I cherish those words which will forever be dear to my heart. Those words mean a lot to me… I have continued to put in my best to ensure that I am not found wanting in any way. He has high regards for me as a person and the office.

Those words are touching. It’s not surprising, considering that he is a poet.

He is everything rolled into one….an astute administrator, a chartered surveyor, a lawyer, a team leader, a wonderful father, a motivator. I can go on and on.

Was your mother alive to see you become a big woman, with siren, State Security Services personnel, and all that? I understand she died a Christian, just like your step-mother was also a Christian ….confirm this please.

Even if she was still alive, you know you will always be a child when it comes to your parents. So, I would have remained that little girl to her. Unfortunately, she died in 2009, so she didn’t get the opportunity to witness my election as the deputy governor. But knowing her, she’ll be happy and filled with gratitude to Allah the Almighty that her dear daughter had risen to the number two position in the state. She will forever acknowledge the faithfulness of Almighty Allah. I pray always that she is in the bosom of the Lord. My step-mother…yes, she also died a Christian. The religious background of my mother, my two step-mothers and my father has helped to shape my world view. My father is very liberal; he never tried to convert his two Christian wives. He allowed them to practise their religion. He has a third wife, who is a Muslim. That’s my family, Muslim father, two Christian mothers, another Muslim wife and all Muslim children. This has made it possible for us to enjoy the best of both worlds…Sallah and Christmas every festivity.

In spite of your position, you have remained your witty self, down to earth. The only difference is that your confidence has continued to grow. Ma, deep down, what are the factors that continue to motivate you the most. Is it the fear of failure or the fear of disappointing women who see in you several possibilities; a trained medical practitioner who is also making her mark in political leadership? Or is it the fear of failing a man who took what some called a huge risk, picking you as his deputy. Or is it more about yourself – that you don’t want to fail yourself?

First, this position hasn’t, and I pray it won’t, change me, because it is transient. I equally believe that Allah in His mercies gives positions or wealth to test your faith, which once you misuse you are on your own. So, I try as much as possible to remain myself, while spending my time learning. I’m still learning and getting to understand how things work…. it’s very tough, but we will get there. When I got Malam El-Rufa’i’s email informing me of his decision to run with him, I was afraid. My first reaction was I hope this goes well …because I knew it was going to be a difficult sale … coming from a relatively obscure background – Sanga, a doctor who has never been involved in politics….I didn’t want Malam to fail because of me…I was a big risk, but that he was ready to take the risk, meant he believed in me, that there was something I could offer.

Secondly, I don’t want to fail the people of Kaduna state who believed in the capacity of the ticket to make a difference in their lives. Considering the position of women, there is just no way, I will give some people who have reservations about the capacity of women, the opportunity to celebrate. So, yes, I don’t want to fail women and girls, who see me as a role model. So, very early I knew I had to work very hard to justify the appointment so as to leave a record of service that they can always refer to. Malam El- Rufa’i has given us unprecedented opportunities to be part of the decision-making process; there is no way I am going to jeopardise that solid support.

My appointment has several dimensions. Like you know, I am from Gwantu, a very small town, but he has made a point that where you come from doesn’t matter. Nor should religion matter, that what matters is the commitment to serve, to be fair and just to all. And, lastly, there is no way I can afford to fail myself, because I dread failure. Failure haunts me. So, these are the motivations for me to keep putting in everything into the assignment.

So, you strive towards making a difference?

I try as much as possible to put in my very best in everything I do.

I now understand the mentality you have brought to the job. Your party, the All Progressives Congress, has made great inroad into zone 3. So much that the APC won five out of the eight local governments; you must be feeling good because you led the campaign team. So, what changed?

I think a lot has changed and not only in zone 3, but the whole of Kaduna state. The people can see developments in all spheres. And obviously they like what they see and hear. These realities helped quite a lot in making the people vote for the APC. We overwhelmed them with evidence. Before 2015 elections, it was campaign promises, but after that they wanted concrete evidence. So, we have demonstrated capacity; that we can be trusted to deliver, and we have delivered. We are happy that we conducted an election that even the opposition acknowledged was very fair. They won and lost fairly. We ensured a level-playing field and the Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission wasn’t scared of doing the right thing. We are happy that the world has come to acknowledge the democratic credentials of Malam El-Rufai, as opposed to the misinformation and untruths about him.

So, your record of service made the difference?

Yes, it did.

It has made a difference, but your winning might also create problems moving towards 2023. The APC ticket will be very attractive…are you prepared to manage that scenario; because many people will want to run… controlling five local governments out of eight, in the Southern part of the state, means you’re likely to have more than two, three candidates vying for Senate and for the House of Representatives. How will you manage that?

When we get to that bridge we will cross it, don’t worry.

But you do envisage that problem?

The challenge started with the local government elections. We had several aspirants, who wanted to fly our flag across the 23 local government areas. Thankfully, our leader Malam Nasir El- Rufa’i, ensured that it was well managed. He ensured a credible party primary and met one-on-one with all those who lost…so, we went into the election united. We are confident that we can also manage 2023, by the grace of God.

I wish you good luck and congratulations for leading the campaign to victory.

It was a fight well won.