Since being elected into office two years ago, Mallam Nasir El Rufai has left no one in doubt that his mission at the Kaduna government House is to make the state one of the reference points in terms of service delivery in governance, and to reverse the narrative that Kaduna state is the hotbed of ethnic and religious violence in the country. Though the incessant attacks by alleged herdsmen on the farming community in the southern part of the state has remained a sore point in the almost two year administration of the state, many indigens here attest to efforts to re-position the state.
In the eighties, Kaduna state was known in the West African sub region as the hub of textile industry. The location of many textile industries in the industrial areas of Kakuri provided gainful employment to more than thirty thousand people from all over the country. But through a combination of poor management, insecurity and aggressive competition from other countries in terms of textile production, the sprawling textile industries in the southern part of the state have remained relics of a once glorious era. But determined to change this narrative to that of an investment destination of choice, at least in the northern part of the country, Governor Nasir El Rufai upon assumption of office organised an investment summit, tagged Kaduna Economic and Investment summit (KADINVEST) in April 2016 to sensitive investors on the opportunities available in the state and the efforts being made by the state government to make the state investment friendly. Buoyed by the successes recorded by the first summit, the Kaduna state government followed up with a second one in April this year with the theme “Making Kaduna the Investment Destination of Choice”. Local and International investors as well as Major investors in Kaduna like the Olams Groups which is into Poultry and feeds production in the state, the Dangote Groups, Vicampro and Representatives of other businesses established in Kaduna were in attendance at the summit . But beyond the participation of real and potential investors, the KADINVEST summit provided an avenue for critical stakeholders and other Nigerians to brainstorm and proffer solution to the dwindling economic fortunes and how states can navigate these treacherous economic times to provide the so called dividends of democracy to the people who elected them into office. Former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who delivered a keynote address titled “Promoting Business in the Midst of Economic Challenges” pointedly stated that the economic model adopted by the country where by 66% of government revenue is being spent on interest on debts, leaving out 34% of revenue for capital, recurrent and other developmental expenditure was not only unsustainable but would not guarantee real development in any sector. As a way out, Emir Sanusi recommended that Government should encourage private investors to build infrastructure such as roads, rails, power, etc that are profitable. He said Nigerian investors like Aliko Dangote should be encouraged to invest in Nigeria, while calling on Northern state governments to conserve their resources for those areas where governments have failed in the last few decades, namely, education, healthcare and rural infrastructure.
The KADINVEST summit provided an opportunity for Governor El Rufai to thumb his chest in self praise for the modest achievements his state has recorded at a time that most of his colleague governors are battling with basic services like payment of salaries. To underscore his seriousness in making Kaduna an investment destination not only in the north but also in the country, El Rufai told participants at the summit that his state government is ready to walk the talk. According to him, one of the measures taken by his state government is the launching of the Ease of Doing Business Charter which outlines Kaduna state commitment to easing business licensing, permit, approvals and processing across all MDAs. “It binds Kaduna state legally to keep its commitment and assures investors of expected outcome.” Other highlights of what the state government is doing to make the state an investment destination, according to El Rufai, were the launching of Kaduna Infrastructural Master plan which he said detailed ‘the physical and social infrastructure needs of the state from 2017-2050, presents a comprehensive development plan through infrastructure, guide the public policy and decision on budget for capital projects, land use, zoning and sub divisions. The plan, the governor added identified about 300 projects and is ‘born out of the need to link the state’s Development plans with actual needs of the people. Major objective of the master plan is to create conducive environment for public/private participation in infrastructure project development’. In an era where states and even the federal government are notoriously short on clear cut policies on how to attract investors to boost their economy, Governor El Rufai appeared to have a clear agenda and persuasive approach to attract investors and other partners. At the end of the summit which lasted two days, the Kaduna state government was able to sign a three year memorandum of Understanding with the United State Agency for International Development that outlines the shared and individual commitments to help drive economic development collaboration between USAID/Nigeria and the Kaduna State Government. According to the terms of the MOU, the USAID will help in ‘strengthening the agriculture sector through increased agricultural productivity of selected value chains, expanded market participation, increased access to finance and an improved business enabling environment, Developing the capability of Kaduna State Government to manage water and sanitation resource and Increasing access to and availability of power in Kaduna State’. Governor El Rufai also used the opportunity of the summit to unveil a platform that is designed to encourage citizens’ participation in governance called the “Eyes and Ears Platform”. Explaining the policy, he said it is a ‘phone based application that is available on apple store which provides online real-time data on projects locations and progresses as well as how contractors are faring on handling projects. Information sent through the application goes directly to a dashboard in the office of the governor, deputy governor, the speaker state House of Assembly and the Ministry of Budget and Planning”.
Although Kaduna state is still faced with the challenge of insecurity especially in the southern part of the state where the activities of herdsmen have caused outrage nationwide, governor El Rufai appears determined not to be held back by this challenge. While confronting this challenge through measures he recently introduced, like the launching of operation Harbin Kunama, the state government has put in measures that will leap frog the state to a higher height. Already the Dangote group has agreed to invest $10million in Tomatoes Production Plant in Kaduna; the Olams Group has also made a commitment to invest $150million in Olam Animal, Poultry and Hatchery Factory, located in Chikun Local Government Area; while $120million Vicampro Potatoes Farm and processing facility in Manchok will soon come on board. For a state that has been associated more with ethno religious crisis than other positives in recent times, if the bold initiative of the El Rufai government materialises, Kaduna state may soon take over the mantle of leadership from Kano as the industrial and commercial hub of the north. How well the governor and his team provide a conducing environment for investors will go a long way in determining the success or other wise of this tall ambition.