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Book: Putting the people first: The El-Rufai years-Review by Eugenia Abu




Writing a book about someone is not an easy task, their thoughts, their actions, reasons for their actions, their ideologies and their angst as well as their achievements and personal idiosyncrasies is tough enough but writing a book about Nasir El Rufai is a herculean task. This is because if your subject matter is highly cerebral, focus-driven, obsessed with legacy, propelled by vision and excellence and almost always in a controversy, then that is an uphill task. For someone to choose the path of consistent interest in such a man or woman means that the writer is by any standards a dogged man, a man interested in excellence himself. And so it is that for purposes of posterity, for knowledge and to get some clarity on the policies of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the author Emmanuel Ado chose to bless us with this fetching book with a cover that immediately endears you to the book. Most people do not know the man behind the job and why he does what he does. So to have a cover with a smiling Governor El rufai first makes us all want to find out more and the cover colors of cream and black and a touch of navy blue keeps the book in a visual space that never fails to draw us in. It’s neat and uncluttered, certainly the design artist understood the assignment.
This book could easily have been titled The Essential El- Rufai but it contains much more than the Governor of Kaduna states ideas, it is a book about one man who has surrounded himself with a team of achievers trusted to deliver the goods and the story of the personae who are part of a dream team, working tirelessly to change lives, to improve the standard of living of Kaduna state citizens and to do it in a manner that the impact is there for all to see. The sheer creativity and hard work of everyone involved in governance under Governor El-Rufai’s belt and the leadership he brings to the table is an admirable quality that runs through the book.

As an aside, a couple of days ago, I anchored the induction of re-elected and Governors and Governors elect organized by the Nigeria Governors forum and was privileged to listen to Nasir El-Rufai’s submission on how to assemble a team. As the lead paper, he was enjoined to speak to Vetting , ethics, and confirmation criteria and he regaled the audience with ensuring diversity to include women and the young, seeking for competence, ensuring you have a small team of persons to vet CV’s and other such related issues. Those themes clearly run through Emmanuel Ado’s book. That paper along with this book should become a reference point for how to recruit brilliant minds into your team no matter what Executive position you are holding and how to get your team to deliver on promise as this book clearly shows.

Emmanuel Ado, the author, a graduate of Ahmadu Bello University has been a multi-media Journalist for decades and has contributed to several newspapers and magazines and has been and continues to be a public commentator of note on Radio and TV shows over the years. He is not a frivolous person and comes most qualified for this book. He has done what most Journalists don’t do, gather their work and put it under one umbrella. This book “Putting the people first: The El-Rufai years” is a compendium of his writings and interviews on the Governor of Kaduna state whom he has followed keenly and whose media team he has worked with over the last six years. I believe his foray into Media consultancy has nudged him into this book writing direction. We are the better for it. When I review a book, I take an interest in every section and would mark some of the highlights. The list of persons in the acknowledgement section are not limited only to the media team but to some formidable persons in the El-Rufai team, and adds his wife Mary Ado whom he describes as his chief critic and whom he calls NADECO.

This book divided into five chapters, each one with a unique thrust and has a Foreword written by The Deputy President of the Senate, His Excellency Obarisi Ovie-Omo-Agege. In the worthy Foreword, Agege is convinced that this book could not have come at a better time and adds that “This work will be quite invaluable for the present generation, as well as posterity in terms of the likely lessons, as we strive at the task of nation building. In this respect, this work augments in a critical sense, the continuing contestations that occur and play out in the public sphere of our national life.”

My first take away from the book which makes it all the more exciting is that it is replete with quotations from leaders of countries and organizations, thinkers, thought leaders and ordinary persons whose words resonate with whatever area the author is highlighting for his readers. This style of writing immediately validates his treatise and galvanizes the reader into a thought process that makes reading the book a great joy while adding more knowledge beyond the immediate subject matter of the book. It also tells the reader something about the author…that he is a reader. And if the author is a reader, then he is also an excellent researcher. This research quality now largely missing in the field of journalism in the face of surface journalism, frivolous writing and fickle and fake news on social media, is what drives this book and makes it a worthy read. The backgrounders, the stories to ground the articles, the story behind the stories, the purpose for an action, the surrounds of that action which also gives a sneak peek into the character profile of the man in the center of the collection, Governor Nasir El-Rufai and members of his team.

The book has a unique organizational style and every chapter has a number of articles and columns in them to help the reader along.

Chapter one is titled “Agenda Setting and Mapping out the Mandate of the People” This chapter dwells mostly on Nasir El-Rufai’s reformist policy and what the author terms El Rufai’s “shock therapy” to get Kaduna state back on its feet and running. In keeping with the book’s tradition of quotes, the Author quotes Abraham Lincoln here on the art of governance while alluding to the reformist work under Nasir El- Rufai that may have been painful in parts but had to be done if the state was to function at optimum. “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” He adds in opening this chapter that “El-Rufai’s zero tolerance for ineptitude and lack of performance, comes from his questioning nature…that challenges the status quo…”

The book explicates El-Rufai’s belief that leaders are elected to make difficult decisions and to take risks. El-Rufai he posits is a man of conviction, interested only in facts, not sentiments or convention.

Chapter one contains twelve articles all revolving around public service reforms, ease of doing business in Kaduna state, increasing internally generated revenue, fiscal responsibility, efficient tax collection and eliminating leakages. This chapter lists out the various agencies set up by the Kaduna state government to actualize the reforms, some of which were funded by the World Bank and DFID. The public service reforms according to Bashir Mohammed, the Director General of the bureau for Public service was “to resolve issues impeding public service efficiency, address low productivity rates, redundancy, duplication of roles, high proportion of aged workers, and unskilled staff.” Majorly targeted at capacity renewal through the injection of skilled and motivated young people to succeed an aging workforce and guarantee sustainable service, efficiency and increased productivity while restructuring the service wage bill to make it sustainable.

As part of the reform process, the Kaduna state tax law attacked leakages simply by making cash collection a crime while making the Kaduna state internal revenue service the sole collecting and accounting authority, though all taxes and fees were still assessed by the relevant ministries and agencies. To achieve this, Nasir-El Rufai hires a dedicated and knowledgeable tax man, Zaid Abubakar, a whole article is dedicated to this man whom the Governor trusted with this responsibility. Working with the one time FIRS Boss, the respected Ifueko Omuigi to change the IGR narrative for the state, results were not far-fetched…IGR went from 600 million naira a month to 1.6 billion naira collecting a whopping 45 billion naira in 2019and climbing. In addition Kaduna state won several awards for accountability to include The Businessday Governance and competitiveness award for ease of doing business which used a world bank criteria for determination Other areas of reform showcased in this chapter are infrastructural development, agricultural development, improved transport infrastructure, rural electrification, budget efficiency and Biometric and Pensions.

This chapter also devotes an article each to local government reforms and peacebuilding initiatives. The author gives an overview of what the local governments were like before El-Rufai put a searchlight on the local governments which according to the author “were scandalously overstaffed” He quotes world bank reports and Robert Flack in the description of local governments as the “foundation of democracy” and the government closest to the people. With the reforms, the over bloated payroll has been cut by half and local councils can now invest in development projects that are useful to the people. The author adds that El-Rufai has not usurped the role of the local government leadership but has assisted in removing the obstacles for effective service for sustainable development. Chapter one also touches on the peace initiatives.

The author does not shy away from the frosty relationship between the Governor and Southern Kaduna. In preparing for the 2019 elections, Emmanuel Ado explains that the Governors peace efforts in Southern Kaduna “has nothing to do with the 2019 elections, but everything to do with leadership and conscience.” He refers to a BBC interview where the Governor told the station that God himself will ask him what he did about the Southern Kaduna killings. The author in the article concerned urged Southern Kaduna people to hold the Governor to his comment while adding that the Southern Kaduna issue was inherited by the Governor and both parties must work out a way to address the challenges. He gives the reader a Kaleidoscope of peace initiatives and commends the people of Southern Kaduna for keeping the peace despite their justifiable anger.

The article also explains that the security challenges remain complicated due to rough terrain, spatial nature of the settlements, inadequate policing and the proliferation of small arms. The author concludes that article thus “Hopefully, the understanding of the nature of the crisis that Christians and Muslims are not at war, that terrorists are killing Nigerians irrespective of religious affiliations would go a long way in calming the situation.”

Chapter 2 is titled Engaging with Political Allies, Critics and Foes. This chapter looks at the many persons that the Governor has had issues with and many others he has borrowed a leaf from in governance.

The first article in this chapter is titled “Who is afraid of El-Rufai?” and has an interesting quote about how El-rufai sent officials from Kaduna to go and understudy Aregbesola’s system of Governance while he also spent time with him for tutorials. Hear him;
“I am not ashamed to copy when I see something that is good. In fact, I am shameless when it comes to learning.”

The author’s articles in this chapter include the disinvite of the Governor by the NBA in 2020 to speak at their annual conference, the National and the Kaduna state APC battle of wits and the many individuals who have bones to pick with the Governor. As is often the case, the author comes to the stout defense of the Governor and his team using history, previous occurrences and research to debunk criticisms and accusations adding that critics are necessary evils if they are constructive “But, clearly the refusal of some critics to respect the maxim that you don’t criticize what you don’t understand , as in the case of those who criticize every decision of the state government in the management of the pandemic, confirms them more as irritants than critics that should not be taken serious.”

The author admits that there are many naysayers of Governor El- Rufai names a couple in several articles but devotes more time to describing the actions the Governor took, all well intentioned, explaining them and comparing them to other personalities who have done same and were not criticized, concluding that most of the attacks are by uninformed commentators and those with an axe to grind who use fake posts. In the earlier chapter, the author gives a reading of El- Rufai’s personality as a man unafraid of a fight of conviction.

In Chapter three titled The Southern Kaduna Conundrum and the Misunderstood El-Rufai” which has fewer articles than the rest of the chapters, Ado returns to the vexed question of the Southern Kaduna Conundrum. He discusses the deep seated perceived hatred by both sides and puts upfront two big projects valued at 60 billion naira cited in Kaduna south by the Governor to the surprise of many. The integrated Vicampro farm project, a factory that can process 30,000 tons of potato and a solar energy plant which according to the author ought to revolutionize Kaduna south but which has stalled due to the accusation of land grabbing against the governor as a result of the difficult relationship between the two and which is costing the investors in bank loans.
This chapter also takes a look at the kidnapping saga and the continued closure of schools in the area seen by the SOKAPU as educational genocide. The government side is arguing that security issues will not allow them open the schools and SOKAPU is insisting that the schools be opened. Ado takes the path of dialogue by advising both parties to open lines of communication and “talk to each other”. In this chapter, Ado dedicates an article to Samuel Aruwan whom he describes as a Journalist turned Security guru and the first ever Kaduna state Commissioner for internal security and home affairs. Hardworking and a bridge builder, Ado believes that the choices he has made and his good qualities has stood him in good stead in his assignment.

In chapter four titled “Issues-driven Politics and the Imperative of Power”, Ado looks at Governor El-Rufais strides in managing desertification the climate change challenge, plastic menace and the citizenship policy of the El-Rufai administration for which Ado originally from Delta state is a beneficiary. The book from chapters before and in this particular chapter looks at the nationalistic nature of El-Rufai and his appointment of competent hands from different states of Nigeria to help with the development of Kaduna state. A move commended by the author as a demonstration of his faith in Nigeria.
In this chapter lies an article celebrating the first female elected Deputy Governor of Kaduna state, Dr Hadiza Balarabe who the author describes in glowing terms, her more than sterling performance, a woman of comportment and civility, a focused and serious minded person, a torchbearer, and a brilliant woman who has “denied those opposed to the rise of women the ammunition to justify their continued stereotyping of women as lacking the competence and intelligence to lead.” The author commends the Governor for his gender inclusiveness in governance across board and in Hadiza Balarabe, he has found a worthy partner in his Putting people first agenda. In this chapter he has articles celebrating the Governor-elect, Senator Uba Sani and the dynamics of the farmer Herders clash.
I would like to take you back to the first chapter and take this quote;
“While El-Rufai works on his human and public relations…the perception that he is a difficult man has obviously not allowed for a mutually beneficial relationship. El-Rufai’s aides must facilitate a mechanism through which people from diverse political and socio-religious backgrounds appreciate his essence and the challenges he confronts in changing the states narrative for sustainable development”.

Nasir El-Rufai is far from being a saint but the thread throughout the book shows that he did his best for his people. History beckons as he leaves office.
Let’s go to the final chapter which is dedicated to interviews with technocrats and the men and women who work closely with Governor El-Rufai. In all there are nine interviews, each one gives a clear understanding of the government of Nasir El-Rufai and the processes of governance. They are interviews with the former Deputy Governor, Architect Yusuf Barnabas Bala,Alhaji Jaafaru Sani Ibrahim, Commissioner for Education, Comerade Sanusi Maikudi, MD Kaduna water corporation, Professor Kabiru Mato, Commissioner for Agriculture and forestry and another interview with him as Commissioner for local government. Others are Mr Dan Ndackson, Executive secretary in charge of Pensions, Dr Paul Manya Dogo, Commissioner for Health, Mr Gerald Ilukwe, Special adviser on ICT and Chief Information officer and Dr Hadiza Balarabe, the deputy Governor of Kaduna state.

These interviews are illuminators of the governmental thoughts, processes and actions in the various spheres of governance in Kaduna state. I am intentional about not discussing them. As an interviewer myself, this is one of my favorite chapters, I urge you to get a copy and travel with to speakers as you unravel the mind of their principal.
The book is wrapped with seven pages of Index for guidance.

Governor El-Rufai has led a stellar cast of top level intellectuals and technocrats to deliver on his promise, he has invested in the youth and provided diversity by being gender sensitive. More importantly, Kaduna is a modern state because of his technology driven style of governance and putting the people first.
Here are some things that could have further strengthened the book.
1) Note must be made that writing a book is significantly different from publishing a compilation of articles. Editing has to be more intentional.

2) Some of the articles could have been dated to contextualize an event or a process and also give the reader an indication of timelines.
3) For purpose of peace as a writer and because characters in a non-fiction book require a more cautious approach in discourse, the author ought to do more in avoiding name calling and must as a matter of necessity clean up any potentially actionable comments or statements.

4) Certain articles had paragraphs that were repeated in other articles in the book while some articles were fully repeated under different titles making some portions of the book repetitive. This is a function of editing and must be carefully managed in the future.
5) The book has no Table of contents which can guide the reader to find the page of a chapter of an article.
6) There were a couple of punctuation errors.

7) Writers and columnists spend too much time on the hard sides of their subject in the Governors case, work, controversy, reform, forgetting to humanize them. I would have loved to see his favorite food, how he unwinds and his anger management style. He is after all, a father, husband, friend, uncle, brother and a human being.
How the mantle fell on me to review this book:
Aside from the fact that El-Rufai and I were in school together at ABU Zaria, and debated against each other in competing secondary schools in Kaduna, he is my brother. I was born in Kaduna, had some of my primary school in Zaria, and lived in Zaria. This patch of earth called my name and despite my crazy schedule, I answered. One day soon, I might find a corner of this earth, where I was born, to call my own.
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I hope you do when you get your copy. It is easy to read and should be a companion for leaders and aspiring leaders. It is highly recommended.

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