On September 28, Governor Nasir El-Rufai had a live media chat on major radio stations in Kaduna. He spoke on diverse issues including investments in the state and the controversial response of northern governors to a demand for power shift by their southern counterparts.
Read excerpts of the interview below.
Question: You have had a busy September. So much has gone on this month, from the local government elections to KADInvest and the commissioning of projects. Just yesterday, you hosted another meeting of the northern governors and traditional rulers. How are you feeling right now? Exhausted or excited or both?
El-Rufai: I am excited that a lot of our initiatives are showing results. I am grateful to God for blessing our efforts. I thank all the people who said kind words about our elections and our investment efforts. Many of our investors spoke about what brought them to Kaduna and what keeps them here, despite our challenges.
The hard work can be exhausting because we are humans, but that is why we were elected and that is what we will continue to do till we complete our tenure.
I want to commend the people of Kaduna State for the peaceful conduct of the local government elections in most places.
Question: Media reports claim that the northern governors at yesterday’s meeting said no to power shift. Is this true?
El-Rufai: Some of us have been very public about our support for power shift. I first made my views clear on this matter late in 2019. We did that because we believe that it will help advance and promote national unity. What is not proper is for our colleagues in the south to be couching their demands with words like ‘must’ in a process that requires discussions, negotiations and consensus-building. What the northern governors did was to condemn that statement for saying there must be power shift. We did not condemn or oppose power shift.
What we saw and read in some newspapers was not the reason why we met, and it wasn’t what we said. We were surprised by what we saw from some media outlets.
Of course, during our meeting, we talked about what we heard from the southern governors that the presidency must be zoned to the south whether we like it or not. These are the words they used and the way they said it is what annoyed us. That whether the north wants it or not, the presidency must be zoned to the south. What brought the issue of ‘must’ in democracy? Democracy involves sitting down and negotiating. Northerners have supported Southerners. We supported General Olusegun Obasanjo as president. We supported Jonathan and he is also from the South.
Northerners have that spirit of cooperation, but what brought the issue of compulsion into it? There is not anywhere in the Nigerian Constitution where zoning is explicitly stated. But some parties developed the idea of zoning to promote national unity.
Every party has its own rules, but we in APC don’t have anything like zoning. Even PDP that has these rules, it didn’t work during Jonathan. It is unconstitutional to deny any Nigerian to contest for president just because he is from a certain part of Nigeria. This is not part of the Nigerian Constitution. If that is the case, what brought the issue of compulsion or saying must when you don’t have any backing for it.
Many of the northern governors like me have expressed my opinion that after the tenure of President Buhari, the presidency should be zoned to the south. And we said that because of the relationship we have with the south, not because there is no qualified candidate from the north that wants to be president. Even when I said that many people were not happy and even challenged me that why should I even say that. I am not the only person that said such, there are other governors who also expressed the same thing.
Why would the southern governors issue that kind of statement? Is it good for us as northern governors to come out and issue a statement that we do not agree that any person from the south should contest for president? This is exactly what they did to us. We are also governors like them, why would they not invite us for a meeting and discuss it? This is how it is done. We are practicing democracy. That is the reason we are not happy with the way they made the statement. And that is the reason we came out to condemn it because it is not part of the Constitution of Nigeria and that of our parties.
And we also reminded them that in Nigeria, there is no way one can become the president until he has 25 per cent of votes cast from the 24 states, including Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. We have said these things to show that we are practicing the Constitution. It is a process where people sit to reconcile and agree on issues.
What annoyed us is where the southern governors said power must shift to the south. What brought ‘must’ in this? Meaning that it is under must, whether we like it or not, power must shift to the south.
We did not reject power shift to the south, but they should come and sit down with the political leaders of the north and seek our support.
Question: Kaduna State is the first subnational in Africa to use the Electronic Voting Machine to conduct its local government election. It was first used in 2018 and it was used again on September 4, 2021. It is expensive to acquire the electronic voting machines. These electronic voting machines also take away the ability to write the results. What inspired you to chart this course, despite the costs and the risks?
El-Rufai: We are building a democracy. Elections are the basis of democracy. It is the platform that allows citizens to vote for their choice of leader or representative. We believe that the people are truly the masters and the choosers, and it is the duty of government to ensure that the people’s vote counts. We introduced electronic voting in order to promote and safeguard election integrity. We think it is desirable to use electronic voting for all elections in Nigeria and we chose to set an example in the state that God has given us the privilege to lead.
Of course, the initial cost of acquiring the electronic voting machines is high. But that also helps you to avoid the cost of printing ballot papers and buying ballot boxes. You can also upgrade the software in a cost-effective manner.
Apart from the cost, the biggest challenge in adopting electronic voting is the negative consequence of the poor political culture that has been allowed to develop in Nigeria. Many people want to win political contests by all means, whether or not they have the support of the voters. Such political forces fear the outcomes of a free and fair vote. But we must overcome such forces and enthrone free and fair elections as the norm.
Question: Electronic voting has brought national acclaim to you. Many Nigerians have given you credit for this innovation. Has the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) approached the Kaduna State Government to share the experience of your state’s election management body in using these Electronic Voting Machines, for adoption in national elections?
El-Rufai: Thank you for your kind words. As I said earlier, there is no reason why electronic voting cannot be adopted nationally. INEC is always welcome to engage with our SIECOM on the matter. We can all learn from each other.
Question: What is your overall verdict on electronic voting having used it twice in Kaduna State? Any lessons?
El-Rufai: So far, so good. I am delighted that we have twice proven the effectiveness and efficacy of electronic voting. We have shown that it is doable. The elections have also reminded politicians that the people matter, that their votes count and that the election results must reflect the actual votes cast.
We can still improve the technology by embedding the voter’s register for each polling unit into the electronic voting machine that will be deployed there.
But all that will await the final report from SIECOM and their review of what went well and what needs further improvement. We have a duty and a desire to strive to make better what we have started.
Question: What is the attitude of your government to the results of the local government elections?
El-Rufai: We commend the people of Kaduna State for peacefully exercising their democratic rights. We thank them most profoundly for reposing their trust in trust and voting for the APC. Our party is the big winner in this election. On all counts. We have reaffirmed our democratic credentials and commitment to election integrity. We have proven that you can win elections by relying on the people’s vote rather than resorting to writing results. We have won an overwhelming majority of the local government areas that have been declared. We did not win everywhere, but we remain the majority party. The evidence is clear that the APC remains the dominant party in Kaduna State. After six years in office, during which we have taken bold and difficult decisions, we still retain the confidence of the people of Kaduna State.
Question: Last week, you hosted the sixth edition of KADInvest. Vice President Osinbajo led other guests in praising you for your strides in governance and in attracting investments. Before we begin to discuss KADInvest, can you remind Kaduna people why you decided in 2015 to devote so much effort to attracting investors?
El-Rufai: We were elected to solve problems and create opportunities for ordinary people to achieve their potentials. Back in 2014, as we studied the prospects for Kaduna State, it was obvious to us that we needed to pay close attention to building the credentials to attract and retain businesses and investors. We knew that the public sector is limited in the number of people it can employ. Less than 100,000 persons work for the government of Kaduna State. Most residents of the state function within the private sector. We need to energise that sector, in order to bring jobs, technology and skills. That is our motivation. So far, we have been successful in this goal.
Question: Why do you think you have been so successful in attracting the investors and getting them to put $2.8 billion in Kaduna State? What makes them respond positively enough to choose Kaduna?
El-Rufai: Investors have many options as to where to take their money. Therefore, we must demonstrate to them that we want their money to come to Kaduna State. We did that by telling them that we are open for business and by showing them that we run a government that is efficient in its operations, and is dedicated to building human capital, providing infrastructure and upholding the rule of law.
I travelled to Singapore in 2015 to persuade Olam to invest in Kaduna. We got our agencies to sign up to the ease of doing business charter which we presented during the second edition of KADInvest. Our investors can testify that we are abiding by our obligations as outlined in the charter. We passed a new tax law, we built a digital land registry, we made business premises registration much easier and we automated applications for building approvals. It is continuous work.
Question: Vice President Osinbajo inspected the Galaxy Mall before going to commission the Kasuwan Magani Market. When will Galaxy Mall be ready?
El-Rufai: Let me quickly express our gratitude to His Excellency, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, for finding time to visit us in Kaduna. We were pleased to have him with us at KADInvest and we thank him for inspecting Galaxy Mall and for travelling to Kajuru LGA to commission the new market in Kasuwan Magani. Vice President Osinbajo did the groundbreaking for the Galaxy Mall in 2016. Our initial partners disappointed us. So, we changed the location for the project and got new partners in 2019. We are looking forward to having the Vice President back soon in Kaduna to commission the Galaxy Mall.
We have been assured that Galaxy Mall will be completed by November this year, along with many areas of the remodeled Murtala Square.
Question: How is the Covid situation in the state? Are things getting better, because we can see that public gatherings have resumed?
El-Rufai: Covid-19 is still here. There are 89 active cases being treated across the state as at today, 28th September 2021. There have been several waves of the disease in many countries. It remains deadly and we still do not have enough vaccines in the country to provide immunity for a critical mass of citizens. So far, only about 257,832 persons in the state have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine.
Kaduna State has successfully treated 9,459 Covid cases, which is about 98.3 per cent of the total cases. Sadly, we have lost 72 persons to Covid.
So, we all need to be careful. We have to continue to practice personal responsibility, while living our lives and pursuing our livelihoods. Lockdowns are extreme measures that we can avoid if we do not allow the disease to spread.
You recall the sacrifices and pains our people endured last year as we tried to contain the virus. Nobody wants to go through that again.
Let us continue to wear masks, wash our hands and avoid crowded places as much as possible.
El-Rufai: Kaduna State Government and a US-based company called Zipline, signed an MoU in February, to begin delivering medical supplies to health facilities by drones. When will this start? How does this technology work? What do the people of Kaduna State stand to gain from it?
Zipline is planning to start in October or November this year. They have almost completed construction of their first distribution centre in Pambegua. This will serve Kauru, Kubau and Lere local government areas. Their hi-tech equipment has been shipped from the United States. Final clearance from NAFDAC and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria will be obtained, along with approval from the security agencies for the drones before the operations start.
Question: Again, Kaduna is the first state in Nigeria to sign up for the Zipline drone service. Are there people within Kaduna state that are already trained to operate this technology, given that this will be the first time that drones will be used for medical supplies in Nigeria?
El-Rufai: Zipline has trained many of the staff that will run the centres. And they will get better and better as they do the job.
Question: Your administration has changed the face of Kaduna State because of its huge infrastructural and human capital development. Will you complete all the projects?
El-Rufai: We have made a tremendous success of our infrastructure programme in Kaduna State. We made the largest investments in upgrading infrastructure ever recorded in the history of the state. Even our opponents accept this. We have created a new foundation for future governments to build upon. The markets will be completed. Our roads will be completed.
Question: Will there be new projects in the 2022 budget?
El-Rufai: We will be concentrating on completing what we started.
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