Kaduna guber debate and the juvenile populists 

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“You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose”.- Mario Cuomo

Discussions around the political disposition and policy direction of the Governor Nasir el-Rufai administration in Kaduna state continue to divide the electorate along the lines of approval and opposition. This has been aggravated by the unflinching commitment of the All Progressives Congress, APC, governorship candidate, Malam Uba Sani, to sustain and consolidate on the gains of these policies and programmes that have been subject of public contestations especially as elections draw near. 

Situations like this, especially during election seasons, become suitable breeding grounds for the emergence of populists whose sole political campaign strategy only seeks to restrictively target the section of the population that are most aggrieved by the ruling party’s policies. These campaigns are mostly characterised by unrealistic promises and goals that are inconsistent with current realities, baselines and socio-economic projections for the coming years. 

In instances where such populists succeed in elections, fulfilling their unfeasible and rather delusory promises usually become the bane of their administrations; one that often leads to their ousting by the same people that were initially deluded by their deception. The United Kingdom with Boris Johnson on issues around Brexit is quite a befitting testimonial; so also the case of the failure of Donald Trump’s populism in the United States. These populists often create or leverage crises they think they can manage but ultimately become victims of such crises. 

Unfortunately, Kaduna state seems to be witnessing the emergence of her own set of populists who continue to espouse rhetorics over logic, and deception over statements of facts and reality by deceptively appealing to the discontented sensibilities of the aggrieved section of the electorate. And while other mature populists feed on real facts and data to embolden their populist agenda the ones we have in Kaduna blatantly peddle falsehoods even at the risk of being fact-checked and proven wrong all in the name of “identifying with the people”. Theirs is what I call Juvenile Populism! 

Such politically injurious tendencies of these populists constitute the highlight of the recent debate for gubernatorial candidates in Kaduna state that was organised by BBC Hausa Service. What ought to be a fact and issue-based engagement turned into theatrics and histrionics in no big time. Isa Ashiru Kudan who is the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, guber candidate positioned himself as the lead populist while Hunkuyi, the candidate of the NNPP assumed the position of a back-up barrel. 

At the core of these populist’s policy propositions are the reversal of the retrenchment of incompetent and redundant staff of the state civil service and instant settlement of the benefits of those that cannot be recalled to the service. They also promised to review the tuition fees of state-owned higher institutions downwards and reverse the market reforms that culminated in the restructuring and development of modern markets across the state, and many others. While dishing out such promises, these populists kept quoting distorted facts and statistics regarding the outcomes of the present administration’s policies. 

Interestingly, there was no indication that suggested the understanding and appreciation of the state’s current baselines and economic and fiscal realities by these ‘juvenile populists’, not to talk of the country’s general fiscal and economic outlook. Financial and budgetary constraints as factors limiting governmental activities and interventions were nonexistent in the consideration and conceptualisation process of their propositions. They portrayed the idea of a limitless government with limitless resources and budgetary latitude to execute their ‘reversal’ policies. 

Uba Sani was hence caught in the middle of countering their doctored assertions, providing befitting rebuttals grilled in verifiable facts, figures and appreciation of the state’s economic realities while discussing his plans for the future all within same timeframe. But Uba Sani is not the target of their populist agenda and would most certainly not end up as a victim of their incompetence peradventure they succeed. Rather, the electorate are the target and would ultimately be the victims. 

This, hence, exposes the imperative of engaging them beyond the surface and the rhetorics. Beyond proposing to reinstate redundant and incompetent staff, the questions ought to be asked by the electorate are;

Were the people retrenched based on the grounds of incompetence (mostly teachers) really incompetent? If yes, why are they proposing to reinstate incompetent teachers to continue teaching the children of the poor? If no, how did they come about the facts that suggest otherwise and how would they justify the failure of a teacher to pass a digitally administered and marked basic literacy, numeracy and current affairs examinations, questions of which were sourced from topics below or at par with curriculums of the classes they teach? Do they really mean well for the people of Kaduna state? 

Similarly, why are they proposing to reinstate staff of the civil service that were adjudged to be redundant and retrenched in line with the provisions of the Kaduna State Public Service Law and the Labour Act? Do they know that this retrenchment was on the basis of the fact that as at 2021 when the mass retrenchment happened, it was established that 84.97-96.63% of the monthly Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) transfers and more than 48% of the total monthly government revenues were being used for the settlement of personnel costs?

This means the civil servants which constitute less than 1% of the 8.9 million estimated population of the state were gulping more than 48% of the state’s revenues leaving other government expenses, liabilities (like the overheads, standing orders, security, etc.) and the essential social investments and services for the remaining 99% of the population with just the remainder of 51.1% of the total monthly revenue. How then are they able to justify reinstating the redundant staff that were retrenched to free up resources for you and I and other 8.8 million people in the state? How realistic is it? Which revenue base will be able to withstand such a huge injection of expense? 

Additionally, these populists talk about the retirement benefits of the retrenched staff as though they are saints themselves in this regard. The government committed to working with Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) to expedite payments of any contributory pension benefits due to those that are entitled. But has the populist from the PDP forgotten that their administration left a backlog of pensions and retirement benefits that had piled up since 2010 to the tune of about N15 billion which Malam Uba Sani rightly reminded him? Does he also know that the el-Rufai administration has cleared this backlog and has so far spent about N67.9 billion in pension payments? 

Yet, this same populist whose party’s government was clearly found wanting regarding payment of retirement benefits and pensions for almost five years was asking Uba Sani (and the APC government that cleared the backlog they left and injected an amount more than triple the backlog for pensions payment in just seven years) whether or not there are still people that have not been paid their pensions and benefits. Does he even have the moral grounds to talk about pensions? Such audacity! Yet, he was cheered by people who hardly know his and his party’s antecedents in the state on this particular matter. 

The APC government has beyond doubt proven their commitment to settling retirement benefits and the retrenched staff, the APC candidate has assured, would not be an exception to this commitment of the government. He has also given assurances of his continued commitment towards giving special treatment to those affected by the rightsizing that are willing to take advantage of the various agricultural and entrepreneurship development schemes like the Kaduna Start-Up and Entrepreneurship Programme (KADSTEP), the Kaduna State Women Empowered Programme (KADSWEP), AGRA, Kaduna State Agro-Processing, Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support (APPEALS). 

Equally, the juvenile populists have vowed to review the tuition fees of state-owned tertiary institutions downward. In as much as we all opposed the upward review of the tuition fees in 2021, we still acknowledged the fact that Kaduna State University (KASU), for example, was expected to gulp about N9.6 billion in total expenditure for that year but was only expected to accrue an estimated revenue of N823 million representing just 9% of its total expenditure budget. While we advocated the establishment of a State Education Trust Fund and other realistic measures to cushion the the effects of the tuition fee hike which are currently being considered by the state, the populists are promising to reverse the policy without recourse to the trend of tuition fee increments in both state and federal tertiary institutions across the country and the reasons and realities that define such trend.

The electorate, hence, ought to probe the feasibility of such populist promises as reducing the tuition fees of state-owned higher institutions, reinstating retrenched staff to the alleged tune of a 100,000, reviving fertilizer subsidies, reducing costs of shop acquisitions in modern markets, reinstating thousands of disengaged district and village heads, and many others. They should be able to first define the current financial status of the state and projections for the coming years, they should also be able to define the cost implications of all their promises and correlate them with the state’s financial status and projection to ascertain viability before promising us anything. Only then would we be able to understand how infeasible and unrealistic there promises are. 

Interestingly, the populists, particularly the PDP candidate, was a legislator for 16 years without a single motion or bill to his name. Many of his claims including that of facilitating the establishment of a Police College in Kudan Local Government (where training is currently ongoing as alleged by him) and a number of police stations across 5 local communities have been fact-checked to be inaccurate as some of the police stations are nonexistent while others have not reached more than 60% in completion status since his time as a legislator. The Police College seems to be completely nonexistent in the context of establishment and operations as well, as  there’s no official information confirming it’s establishment in Kudan. The only information trail about a police training institution in Kudan was found in a speech delivered by IGP Ibrahim Idris during the National Security Summit on Farmers-pastoralists Clashes, Kidnapping, Bank Security and other forms of violent crimes in Nigeria in 2017 where he stated that “….we are planning to establish Police training institutions in the following specialised areas and units of the Force: Border Patrol Units, Close Protection Units, Marine Police Units. The Force is therefore in advance stage of establishing a Border Patrol Training School in Kudan in Kaduna State….”. 

To further confirm the lack of knowledge of the state’s baseline status, the populists, Ashiru Kudan and Sulaiman Hunkuyi were caught during the debate referencing what the state government is doing or has already done in terms of policy decisions, projects or programs as their future plans for the state. Example is when Kudan said “We will create a strategic partnership with global tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Cisco etc for 21st Century Skills such as Digital and employability life skills through Coding, Programming, Robotics & Artificial Intelligence”.

Anyone that is conversant with the state’s development trend knows that this is already being done especially with the establishment of Kaduna Tech City — a dedicated city for tech and innovation that will be a replica of US’s Silicon Valley — in Barnawa accommodating firms like CoLab, Greysoft and others outside the tech city like KadaHive, KAD ICT Hub etc. that have already started churning out young, vibrant and competent tech manpower, including booming tech start ups like Sudo Africa that recently raised $3.7 million in pre-seed funding. 

Similarly, Hunkuyi talked about clustering as one of his agricultural policy propositions, not knowing that the state government has already taken economic clustering to a whole new height in terms of Agriculture and other sectors of the Economy. The state has created a number of economic hubs or clusters — enabling environments where distinct industrial and economic endeavors(including human capital development in those fields) can thrive. Examples include the Tech City, the proposed Film Village, the Green Economic Zone(GEZ), the Green Agro-Allied Industrial Zone(GAAIZ), the Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zone(SAPZ) and many more. The state has also facilitated the the establishment of companies like Tomato Jos, Olam and many others and encouraged clustering of thousands of smallholder farmers who supply these companies with tomato, corn, soybean etc at premium prices. 

Therefore, Uba Sani is right to commit to sustaining and consolidating on the gains of the el-Rufai administration. At least he has proven his capacity during his time in  service in the presidency and the state government. But more importantly and recently, during his brief but impactful legislative sojourn which has produced 32 bills, 7 of which have been passed by both the Senate and House of Reps with 2 already assented to by the President of Nigeria. He has also facilitated a number of visible projects and interventions including the N4 billion worth faculty of engineering for KASU which if completed will be the best state university engineering faculty in Nigeria. This positions him as one of the most productive legislators of the 9th assembly.

And while the populists continue in their quest towards deceptively appealing to the sensibilities of the aggrieved section of the population with promises that are largely infeasible and unrealistic, the electorate should understand that development is a process. Kaduna is at a crossroads and we’re almost there. It is left to the electorate to choose who between a person who has proven his capacity beyond doubt in just four years and populists who have misled and misrepresented them for 16 years, to lead them to the dream destination. Beware of populists!

Ringim a public affairs analyst, writes from Zaria, Kaduna state via [email protected]

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