On Thursday, April 8, 2021, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, took questions in a live media chat conducted in Hausa.

Below is a translated excerpts from the interview

Q: At its meeting before the Easter holidays, the State Task Force on Covid-19 reported that Kaduna state Coronavirus infection rate has been declining. Is the state government considering relaxing the restrictions imposed on citizens to check the spread of the virus any time soon?

El-Rufai: The Kaduna State Government imposed strict restriction in March 2020 to help contain Covid-19. But we significantly relaxed the restrictions in June 2020. We did that in the interest of allowing our citizens to safely resume the pursuit of their livelihoods while practising personal responsibility in observing preventive protocols. We launched the FORWARD campaign to encourage citizens to wear facemasks, wash their hands regularly and avoid crowded places and large gatherings. We are considering further relaxations to allow restaurants, event centres, gyms and other public places to reopen fully and legitimately, with continued compliance to provisions to wear facemasks and observe social distancing. Our vaccination take-up rate will determine the timing of further relaxations.

Q: On 28th March 2020, Kaduna state recorded its index case of Covid-19. One year after, how has the pandemic affected the health sector and what has been the citizens’ response to the virus generally?

El-Rufai: On behalf of everyone who has been infected by Covid, I wish to express our gratitude to the health workers in Kaduna State for their efforts. In the one year since the first Covid-19 case was reported, Kaduna State, has strengthened the capacity of its health system to help prevent, detect and manage diseases. In addition to running a major public health campaign to encourage safe and preventive behaviour, the state has invested in its health infrastructure.

The state now has five Covid-19 testing labs in public health facilities, from zero in March 2020. Treatment and isolation centres have increased from one to six across the state (Kaduna -2, Zaria 2, Kafanchan – 1, Birnin Gwari – 1). The newly built 136-bed treatment facility in Mando is the centrepiece of this enhanced resilience. We are also building 10-20 bed infectious diseases wards in all our general hospitals to provide more facilities to manage the next pandemic.

Q: Kaduna state received 180,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from the federal government last month. So far, how many people have been vaccinated and what has been the attitude of the citizens towards vaccination?

El-Rufai: Kaduna State received about 180,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and launched its vaccination campaign on 10th March 2021, starting with strategic leaders and frontline health workers. The state has vaccinated about 70,000 persons. The response from the frontline health workers who are the main target group for Phase 1 has been impressive.

We have expressed interest in securing our own vaccine supplies. But the situation with vaccine supplies all over the world has made it difficult for Kaduna state as a sub-national to directly buy its own stock of vaccines. But we are still on it. This concern about the certainty of more vaccine supplies by May has led the federal health authorities to advise state health authorities to set aside enough vaccines for the second jabs of people that have taken the first dose. Our state Ministry of Health has taken the advice and will suspend vaccinations once we reach 90,000 persons.

Q: Is it true that Kaduna State Government has directed that any civil servant that is not vaccinated will not receive salary?

El-Rufai: The only group of workers for whom we have made vaccination mandatory are our frontline health workers, who are the main targets of the first phase of vaccinations. We have a duty to protect all the health workers who are continuously exposed to danger as they work to contain the virus, including testing, tracing and treating patients. Of course, we also mandated all members of our State Executive Council to take the vaccine as part of the duty of leaders to set an example and show the public that the vaccine is safe.

Q: Last week the Minister of State for Transportation paid you a working visit, and you disclosed that your government is considering building a light rail system in Kaduna metropolis. Is this capital-intensive project feasible within the two years that are remaining in your tenure?

El-Rufai: A visionary government cannot think solely in terms of a four or eight-year electoral mandate. As a government, we are conditioned by our project mindset to complete as many projects as we can during our tenure. But we know that there are projects and programmes that our successors will inherit and hopefully complete. We inherited Zaria Water and we completed Phase One. We started and completed Phase 2.

One vital project that our successors will inherit is the Greater Kaduna Water Project. In 2020, we signed an MoU with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources on the project. The agreement is that the Federal Government will build Itisi Dam to provide the raw water while Kaduna State will provide the water treatment plant and the transmission and distribution pipeline to get water into homes and businesses.

So, regarding the Light Rail, which is being financed by the Indian Exim Bank, even if all we can do is to establish the viability of the system, finalise the design and secure the financing, it will be a step forward. But we are confident that, subject to satisfying the requirements of the federal authorities, construction of the light rail from Mararraban Jos to Refinery/ Mararraban Rido will commence with a construction period of 18 months.

Q: Some people have argued that instead of a light rail system, the government should just flood the state with mass transport buses and taxis, which will go a long way to ameliorate the commuting problems of citizens. What is your opinion on this?

El-Rufai: Modern transportation systems integrate rail, buses and taxis and waterways where they are available. We are still negotiating financing and management arrangements for a BRT system. The French Development Agency (AFD) is most likely to finance the BRT.

We intend to relaunch Kaduna Cabs as a business investment to be managed by the Kaduna Industrial and Finance Company. This will involve introducing 500 new cars as taxis in our major cities, to be paid for in regular instalments by their owners.

Q: Are you satisfied with the progress of the Urban Renewal Programme?

El-Rufai: We are proud of the unprecedented investments we have made to change the face of Kaduna metropolis and to improve our two other cities, Kafanchan and Zaria. The urban renewal project is a major upgrade of infrastructure to make our cities easier places in which to live, work and do business. It has many components, among which the road segment is by far the most visible and successful.

Everyone can see the roads and the streetlights we have done. The new Kawo flyover, expanded to a dual lane and including three rotaries, should be completed this year. We are connecting the western and eastern sectors of Kaduna City through Rabah Road to Rigasa road. We have completed and opened for use of the trailer park at Mararraban Jos. We have received expressions of gratitude from many citizens for clearing the trailers from the road and giving a proper and safer place to park. Construction is progressing towards completion at the Tafa trailer park. We will build another trailer park around the Olam factory. The Galaxy Mall on Waff Road and the new Murtala Square are also going well, and we are confident that they will be completed on schedule.

The Kaduna Markets Development and Management Company is delighting us with the energy they are applying to building and modernising markets, sometimes in partnership with private investors. The new market in Kasuwan Magani has been completed. Traders have also moved into new shops in the first phase of the Sabon-Gari market which is being rebuilt and expanded. Market projects are being done in Kasuwan Barci, Kawo, Unguwan Rimi, Amaru, and Kafanchan.

Q: You established KADGIS to create a better land administration system and digitise the land registry. Is this working? Are you recording better compliance with the payment of ground rent?

El-Rufai: KADGIS is steadily building a digital land registry of the state. But most people are not paying their ground rent. This is wrong. It is a violation of the terms on which they were issued their land titles. I want to appeal to all residents of Kaduna State to be serious about paying their ground rent in January of every year. Paying ground rent is an obligation to keep hold of your title. People who default in paying ground rent are putting their title at risk because their title can be revoked because of that violation.

Some people are still building without title from KADGIS or building permit from KASUPDA. Buildings can be demolished for any of these violations.

Q: Have KADGIS and KASUPDA finally stopped the emergence of illegal layouts? Have land touts been put out of business?

El-Rufai: KADGIS and KASUPDA are trying to sanitise land administration and the approval and enforcement of development plans. But there are people who are still buying land from people who are not authorised to sell land and building without approval. In some cases, some communities seem not to realise that when government acquires land, they are required to respect that. People should not say that they will not cooperate until they receive compensation. We even have many cases where people are refusing to cooperate even after receiving compensation. I want to appeal to everyone to respect the law and not slow down the delivery of public infrastructure works.

Q: Government gives an almost daily security update about the killings, abductions and various crimes in the state. Last month, the Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs presented the 2020 security report, detailing the killings that took place across senatorial districts of Kaduna state, from January to December last year. Why did government choose to make public such a confidential and sensitive report?

El-Rufai: We are in a democracy. Transparency is an important attribute of democracy. We are in a very challenging period regarding security. Many of our citizens have lost family and friends or property to these criminals. Persons who have not been directly affected are scared and worried. In moments of fear, you have to provide accurate information or people with other agendas will spread their lies, poison the waters and make the bad situation worse. While we are working hard to secure people and their properties, we must provide the facts so that the public can understand the nature and severity of the security challenge and support the efforts and hard work required to address the situation.

We are the first government in Nigeria to do this, whether at the state or federal level because we are convinced that hiding required information will not make a difficult situation to disappear. Some non-state actors are unhappy that we release these reports, perhaps because it reduces their ability to push false and skewed narratives.

At the beginning of our second term in 2019, we established the Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs to coordinate our work in the security sector. This Ministry presented the 2020 Security Incidents Report on 10th March 2021. The security report for the first quarter of 2021 will soon be published.

Q: It is close to a month since the abduction of students at the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka. What is government doing to rescue them since it has ruled out the payment of ransom?

El-Rufai: The Kaduna State Government is deeply pained by any instance of violence or violation of the rights, life and liberty of any citizen by criminal elements. We condemn all criminal activities, and we sympathise with the victims of crime. We are working with the security agencies to secure the release of all abducted persons. And we believe that most people understand the importance of not providing incentives to criminals by rewarding those who have violated the laws of the land. Our duty of care towards all citizens includes making it clear that no one will get public resources in return for kidnapping or harming any citizen.

We are unhappy that these criminals have been allowed to establish their nefarious footprints in our forests. We appealed to the FG as far ago as 2017 to declare the bandits as insurgents and unleash on them the full might of the military. It appears that there is now a resolve to crush the criminals and we are fully supportive of the military and security agencies in this mission.

Q: It is being widely speculated that Kaduna State Government is planning to downsize its workforce. How correct is the speculation and what is the reason?

El-Rufai: In 2015, we announced that we will fight waste and ensure that government resources serve a majority of citizens rather than the few persons working for government, including political appointees and other public servants. You will recall that we began doing verification in 2015 to help ensure the integrity of our payroll and weed out ghost workers. We also decried a situation where most public funds went into paying the wages of less than 100,000 public servants in a state with close to 10m people. Those who work must be paid, but the people of the state must also be served by their government.

We have been clear that the progress and future of the state depend on competent public service, lean in size but super-efficient, savvy with modern technology and well connected to the public it serves. That is why we launched the public service reform and revitalisation programme in 2016. Verification and public service reform are continuous exercises.

As part of the 2016 public service reform process, we also reviewed salaries and were ready to announce new wages before the FG announced in 2018 that it was initiating a new national minimum wage process.

That early preparation enabled us to be the first government in the country to pay the new minimum wage and consequential adjustments in 2019. We followed this up by increasing the minimum pension of persons on the defined benefits scheme to N30,000 monthly. This increased the wage burden of the state government and immediately sapped up the funds of many local governments.

Due to the serious problems affecting our national economy, our state finances are stretched by salaries. What we receive from FAAC can barely pay salaries and overheads. In November 2020, we had only N162.9m left after paying salaries. That month, Kaduna State got N4.83bn from FAAC and paid N4.66bn as wages. In the last six months, personnel costs account for between 84.97% and 96.63% of our FAAC revenues. In March 2021, the state had only N321m left after settling personnel costs. We got N4.819bn from FAAC and paid out N4.498bn, representing 93% of the money we received.

We were elected to develop the state, not just to pay the salaries of public servants. We were elected to promote equality of opportunity, to build and run schools and hospitals, upgrade infrastructure and make the state attractive to the private sector for jobs and investments.

Therefore, we have to shed weight and reduce the size of the public service. It is a painful but necessary step to take, for the sake of the majority of the people of this state. Covid-19 has shown clearly that the public service requires much fewer persons than it currently employs. The public service is an important institution, and it should maintain only an optimum size. Faced with a difficult situation, we cannot refuse to act or resort to sentiment.

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