BEN AGANDE, KADUNA
Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, Kaduna state has a governor like no other one in the last nineteen years. Governor Nasir Ahmed El Rufai, the man who, against all odds, emerged as the candidate of the All Progressive Congress, routing well established politicians in the state, in the last three years, has taken bold decisions that have pitched him against various forces, including members of his political party, the APC.
Though some of the decisions are seen as necessary to move the state forward, especially in the areas of education, he has attracted many enemies, or opposition, depending on whose narrative one is reading. Some feel some of his actions are capable of truncating his chances of being reelected in 2019.
Nasir El Rufai, through his actions (or inactions as some claim) has raised a coalition of the aggrieved who are determined to see his end in the office through the ballot box. But how far can his opponents, the unwitting members of the coalition of the aggrieved go in getting him out of office? Can the members of this coalition succeed?
Even before he was sworn into office, Nasir el Rufai sign-posted a radical departure from what observers of Kaduna politics had known. He constituted a transition committee that was long in people he thought shared his vision of how to run the state, and short of political patronage.
Though eyebrows were raised on the novel approach being introduced by the then governor elect, people watched with bated breath, with the expectation that he will change once he assumed office officially. But when he finally assumed office, El Rufai demonstrated that the buck stopped on his table, so he was ready to take responsibility for any success or failure of his government by bringing in people who could help him drive the change agenda of his party, an agenda that for him became a personal creed.
Though he extended a semblance of invitation to his political associates who helped propel him to victory to nominate capable persons into his cabinet, most of the nominees fell short of the high standard that he had set for those who could work for and with him. He simply sidelined those who were not willing to bring in more competent persons into government and brought in people that he thought shared in his vision for the state. And these included people who are not originally indigenes of Kaduna state as it is understood in political lexicon.
And that was the beginning of the problem between El Rufai and the motley crowd of politicians, especially those in the APC. This would eventually become the defining relationship between him and his colleagues in the party.
In style and substance, Mallam Nasir El Rufai represents something new, an avant-garde in Kaduna political firmament. As soon as he assumed office, he stopped political patronage of so called stakeholders; an under the table arrangement that allowed some people to take home as much as N10 Million from the state coffers monthly for no other reason than that they are from Kaduna state or reside in the state.
In a deeply conservative religious state like Kaduna, Mallam El Rufai stopped the age long practice of sponsoring thousands of people for pilgrimage to either Mecca or Jerusalem for a purely personal religious obligation. It was a decision that jolted the state, with many predicting that the governor could not afford to embark on a battle with the religious block in the state. Three years after, the decision still remains firmly in place.
With the passage of time and becoming more firmly rooted in governance, governor El Rufai became more sustained in taking decisions or pursuing policies that many thought were impossible in the state. He banned the ubiquitous practice of begging on Kaduna streets, introduced a Bill to regulate preaching by both Christians and Muslim clerics in the state and dealt a heavy hand with any little infringement of the law. He banned members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, the umbrella body of all Shiite Islamic sect, after a judicial panel of enquiry set up to investigate the clash between members of the sect and the Army in Zaria found the IMN culpable in fomenting trouble.
His supporters hailed him as firm and decisive while his critics see him as draconian and autocratic. He saw himself as a reformer bent on changing the narrative of the state.
But rather than pandering to the populist expectations of the people, Mallam El Rufai became more emboldened in his single minded conviction that he is out to make Kaduna state better than he met it. In order to improve on the quality of education in the state, the governor embarked on massive renovation and in some cases, reconstruction of dilapidated structures in the state schools. But structures do not guarantee the quality of education.
Nasir El Rufai subjected primary school teachers in the state to what his government called a simple competency test. Questions meant for primary 4 pupils were administered on primary school teachers in an exercise that the government insisted was done with the collaboration of the umbrella body of teachers in the state, the Nigerian Union of Teachers. The result was simply gob-smacking. Over 30,000 teachers who were supposed to teach primary school pupils failed the test and in an unprecedented show of grit and political will, the state government laid off all those who failed the test and has gone ahead for their replacements.
Even in the traditional institution, El Rufai’s Tsunami of reform was unsparing. He ordered the sack of 4,766 district and village heads but would now recognize only the 77 districts and 1,429 villages that existed prior to 2001. His action was based on a recommendation of a committee that he had earlier set up. Though members of the traditional institutions were included in the committee, critics of the government point out that they traditional rulers were basically coerced to endorse what was already accomplished.
While the governor was consolidating his hold on governance, he was also doing same in the political arena. He planted his allies in key positions in the executive council of the party in the state. He effectively was in control of government and the party.
Realizing the danger the El Rufai reforms posed to their ambition, politicians in the state began to resist the nibbling away of their political influence and relevance. Senator Shehu Sani, the poster boy of the opposition against El Rufai’s policies and politics in Kaduna began to question El Rufai’s increasingly debilitating actions on the party. He put on a facade of fighting for the people of his state and the constituency. It was also a battle to remain politically relevant and useful. He mobilized people of like minds, including Senator Othman Hunkuyi to confront what is obviously an existential threat to their political survival.
The reaction from the state government was swift and severe. Senator Sani was suspended from the party along with his supporters while Hunkuyi who had the misfortune of availing his personal house as a factional office of the APC in the state had the one storey building pulled down on the nebulous excuse that he failed to pay tenement rate tax on it.
In all these, Governor El Rufai had never hidden his intention to make his political opponent irrelevant. And he has taken actions in pursuit of this, leading to the imminent departure of almost all those who are opposed to El Rufai from APC.
From the sacked teachers, to members of the Shiites Islamic Sect, to the dismissed traditional rulers to aggrieved members of the All Progressive Congress, Mallam Nasir Ahmed El Rufai has created a coalition of the aggrieved who are determined to come together as a group to unseat him in 2019. For members of this group, the many infractions of the governor were enough campaign materials for them to unseat him. The driving force is on the fact that they are all aggrieved for one reason or the other. It is this perceived angst against the government that people who are aggrieved with El Rufai plan to exploit to unseat him.
But for Mallam El Rufai, the coalition against him is nothing to worry about.
For now, though the opposition against Mallam Nasir El Rufai is on several fronts, including from some members of his political parties, it remains to be seen how they would be able to coalesce their opposition into a potent political force that will unseat a candidate favoured by President Muhammadu Buhari, who despite some misgivings from Nigerians, still commands substantial support from Kaduna state.