Today, I join family members as well as the teeming friends and associates to celebrate an extraordinary Nigerian, a leader of leaders, a patriot to the core and one of this best minds of our generation – the inimitable Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State who turns 58 years old today. Mallam El Rufai was born in Daudawa, in Faskari Local Government Area in the present day Katsina State on February 16, 1960. Given my deep knowledge of Governor El-Rufai and my very close, albeit regular, interactions with him, I can take the risk of making some predictions: beyond offering prayers and fervent supplications to Almighty God for keeping him alive and well, El-Rufai is not likely to be in a celebratory mood today. No, musicians and merrymakers are not going to besiege his home or anywhere else he would be found today to “celebrate” his birthday. Typically, this incredible man will all too certainly spend the better part of today behind his desk or at project sites, giving not just his best but his all to Kaduna State in particular and our dear nation as a whole. However, for me and his other close associates, the occasion of El-Rufai’s 58 birthday provides a rare opportunity to reminisce on what he champions and represents: transformational leadership.
I have said elsewhere before that my dear friend and leader, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai is an angry man. Not just a few persons misunderstood this assertion. Perhaps the occasion of his birthday offers me another opportunity to expatiate this point. The truth is that in spite of his phenomenal educational attainments, professional and governmental accomplishments, El-Rufai wakes up every day thinking and generally carrying on like he could have done much more. In the same vein the governor, who shares the same birth year with post-independence Nigeria, seldom masks the fact that he is vexed by the glaring failure of the nation to achieve much more, 58 years after independence. He believes that Nigeria has grossly underutilized its huge potentials both in human and natural resources.
El-Rufai is not the typical politician but he believes that his emergence, through a free and fair election, as the Governor of Kaduna State has offered him an opportunity, a vista of sorts, to help recalibrate Nigeria using Kaduna State as a starting point.
I have worked very closely with Mallam El-Rufai for more than 20 years – spanning his days at the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), the period he served as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and of course when President Olusegun Obasanjo graciously appointed me his Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, I benefitted immensely from wise counsels from El-Rufai, who was at the time a key and highly respected member of the Obasanjo administration. Even more memorable for me is the fact that I and a few others worked round the clock with him to achieve electoral successes in Kaduna State for our great party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) in all elections in 2015. I have remained a key aide and ally of the governor since he assumed office. From my vantage position, I have, in the last three years, seen him doggedly and sacrificially pilot the affairs of Kaduna State. I have learned a lot. Watching, listening and learning from him, I now have a deeper understanding of what it takes to be a transformational leader. El-Rufai has imparted in me and other members of his team the expediency and urgency of moving outside of the transactional leadership space and into a transformational leadership space that focuses on long-term solutions rather than short-term gains.
With the greatest sense of responsibility, I dare say that El Rufai’s vision and sheer doggedness is paying off handsomely in Kaduna State, three years down the line. Faced with the arduous task of speedily creating an economy for the state outside allocations from the Federal Government and also saddled with the task of revamping inherited decayed infrastructures in the state, Governor El Rufai, on assumption of office in May 2015, opted for, and continues to assiduously pursue series of homegrown options. In particular, the government began focusing on mining and agriculture to rev up the economy of the state. Effectively collaborating with key players in the private sector, the administration has practically made Kaduna State the agricultural hub of sub-Saharan Africa. Not too long ago, El-Rufai was joined by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, to perform the groundbreaking ceremony for the establishment of a potato farm and processing facility worth $120 million in Manchok, Kaura local government area of the state. The project, jointly initiated by the state government and VicamprosFarms Limited, is cultivating 10,000 hectares of land and is expected to generate 30,000 job opportunities for youths in the State and beyond.
El-Rufai has attracted to Kaduna State, the biggest poultry and hatchery farm in the whole of West Africa. The farm, which is worth about $150 million (about N30 billion), was constructed by the Olam group and was commissioned at a very colourful event by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari himself. The agricultural revolution in Kaduna State under has caught the attention of other top investors, including the highly successful Dangote Group, the Stallion Group and Indorama, one of Africa’s largest fertilizer companies.
Conscious of the fact that Kaduna State is the leading producer of ginger in Nigeria, Governor Nasir el Rufai has perfected plans to more than triple yields this year. On this score, the state government is collaborating with the Central Bank of Nigeria to enable ginger farmers in the state access an N5 Billion loan to boost ginger farming. Already many ginger farmers in Kaduna State are hitting gold as they are merrily exporting several tons of their produce to China, Chad, Sudan and Ghana while a considerable volume is being sold locally across the country.
Worth mentioning also is that under the transformational leadership of Mallam El-Rufai, Kaduna State became one of the first subnational governments in the world and the first in Nigeria, to conduct an in-depth analysis of local SDGs data and strategy development to implement all 17 Goals in the State. At the last United Nations General Assembly in New York, Kaduna State was the cynosure of all eyes as the State showcased to the world how it integrated the SDGs into its State Development Plan for 2016-20.
At 58, Mallam Nasir El Rufai remains a workhorse, a voracious reader, a highly introspective thinker, teacher, motivator and a chronic optimist. He believes that in spite of the lost times, Nigeria is mending and that the nation under President Muhammadu Buhari is shaking off the shackles that have for years held her down. He sees light at the end of the tunnel. Mallam El-Rufai is truly driven by this optimism, uncommon patriotism and his can-do spirit. This is to wish a very close friend and a great boss a happy birthday and many happy returns.
Sani is the Special Adviser on Inter-governmental Affairs and Political Matters to the Governor of Kaduna State