Kaduna Former Chief of Staff: Demoted or Promoted?

Governor el-Rufai, Muhammed Sani Abdullahi and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi

By AbdulHakeem AbdulKareem

It has been on the rampage, since the Kaduna State Government reshuffled its cabinet, that Governor El-Rufai “demoted” his Chief of Staff” to a Commissioner because he (the COS) referred to the Governor’s friend, His Highness, Sanusi Muhammad II as “Former Emir of Kano”. This was supported by a doctored video that captured only what the perpetrators of the farce wanted the audience to see. Initially, I had decided not to make any comment on such myopic and uninformed comments, largely because not interested in occupying myself in such fruitless debate and, also because it wasn’t in my purview to rebrand any of the affected persons.

However, I am surprised by the pocket of people, particularly some of my friends, that have followed the bandwagon and allowed their sense of critical judgement to be overruled by the frenzy of emotions. Also, I have learnt, in the past few months, that decisions and events usually connote a multitude of interpretations and it is the responsibility of policymakers to communicate effectively to the populace.
While I am aware that this piece will not serve the intentional sadists who started this campaign, it will redirect the minds of my friends and other people that have followed the crowd due to limited information.

First, let me shed some light on the key people and terms:
Sanusi Muhammad II
An accomplished banker, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the 14th Emir of Kano and current Khalifah of Tijaniyyah movement in Nigeria and its environs, among others. He is the Vice-Chairman of the Board of Kaduna Investment Promotions Agency (KADIPA), the bosom friend of Governor El-Rufai (a friendship that has lasted over 40 years). He was suspended as CBN governor, did not protest, or try to protect his position. He was removed as Emir in 2020 on the claim of insubordination. Never protested the weak claim nor struggled to hold on to power.

Nasir El-Rufai

Governor of Kaduna State, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, and former Director-General of Bureau of Public Enterprise. An accomplished Quantity Surveyor who became a millionaire in his early 20s. a First-Class graduate of Ahmadu Bello University. Always puts merit ahead of anything. Has the most diverse cabinet in Nigeria. Turned Kaduna into a working economy that has attracted over $2.1billion worth of investments in 6 years. Started a lot of infrastructural development through his Urban Renewal projects in Kaduna City, Zaria and Kafanchan. Currently burdened by the need to complete all infrastructural projects he started.

Muhammed Sani Abdullahi (Dattijo)
An accomplished Development Economist, Chevening Scholar, worked at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in New York. Worked closely with the former United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon and the current Deputy Secretary-General, Aisha Mohammed. Part of the team that designed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Former Commissioner of Kaduna State Planning and Budget Commission (PBC). Spearheaded the development of the Kaduna State Development Plan (2016-2020). Overturned budgetary process in Kaduna, making it effective, efficient, and timely (Kaduna usually present its budget before the beginning of the year). More of a Policy expert with limited affluence in politics. Chief of Staff to Governor El-Rufai, a political position that enables him to coordinate affairs of the governor. Presented the Kaduna State Development Plan (2021-2025) during the 2021 Kaduna Investment Summit (KADINVEST 6.0). Currently reposted to the Planning and Budget Commission as commissioner.

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Thomas Gyang
A successful Quantity Surveyor. Graduate of Quantity Surveying in 1979 from Ahmadu Bello University; a skilful builder who made his wealth from several infrastructural projects in Nigeria and beyond. Founder, Astle Nigeria Limited. Former Director-General of Kaduna Public Procurement Authority. Was commissioner of Planning and Budget Commission since 2019 before being recalled to Kaduna Ministry of Public Works and Infrastructure.

An annual investment summit organized by KADIPA to showcase the several opportunities in Kaduna State and attract investors. Also, an avenue to present the plans of government and current accomplishments. During KADINVEST 1.0 in April 2016, Muhammad Sani Abdullahi, as commissioner of Planning and Budget Commission, presented the Kaduna State Development Plan (SDP) (2016-2020). During the KADINVEST 6.0 in September 2021, as Chief of Staff to the Governor, he, again, presented the Kaduna State Development Plan (2021-2025). It is also important to state that due to COVID-19, very limited people were physically present for the KADINVEST 6.0. As a Fellow of the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship, I wasn’t only present but seated in a position that allowed me to see and hear everything that transpired clearly.

Beyond the Video: What Happened?
It was during the presentation of the State Development Plan that the Chief of Staff, in a very unlikely version, referred to His Highness Sanusi II as “former Emir”. As the launcher, while making his launching speech, His Highness, rather jokingly referred to the COS as “former chief of staff”. This is because His Highness was commending the work done by the Chief of Staff and referring to a statement he made. It was also relevant to make that joke, not only to correct the error but to educate many of us that could fall into a similar pit, maybe not with him, but with anyone else. Therefore, he educated the audience that once a person is a king, he is a king for life. It is not a periodic position like the governor. It is a permanent rank that remains even after death.

Immediately, the Chief of Staff apologized, almost kneeling. Before he finished his speech, speech apologized again and, on that podium, Sanusi II said, “you have been forgiven and reinstated.” The Chief, Deputy Governor and other dignitaries joined him to launch the document. While on stage, they exchanged pleasantries. The Chief followed him to his sit, greeted him again and he reciprocated. On the second day of the Summit, the Emir and the chief came in together, indicating no bad blood.
Could the man who knew he would be suspended as CBN governor, yet kept pushing; who knew he would be trivially removed as emir, yet didn’t protest be so bitter that someone mistakenly called him a former emir?

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The Bigger Picture: Kaduna, busy beyond Frivolities
“The Centre of Learning”, which is the slogan of Kaduna state, underpins the philosophy of the government and it has intentionally programmed its development as a learning platform. Hence, the Governor has been very intentional at ensuring that people around him learn different skills, in preparation for leadership. Therefore, at some points, he rotates his cabinet to equip them with more knowledge. This philosophy is evident in his establishment of the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship where fellows not only learn leadership through seminars and workshops, but also work rotationally at different ministries, departments, and agencies. Therefore, when the current cabinet shakeup arouses, it was a normal existential occurrence.

I was in my office at the Planning and Budget Commission when a colleague posted that a cabinet shakeup is underway, and my commissioner will be moving to the Ministry of Works. When I told my colleague, she responded rather vaguely, “this is the third time this year, that they said they will change the commissioner, but nothing happened”. Of course, my information turned out to be genuine, but it came as no surprise to any of the players. This is because, from the beginning of the year, the governor has indicated his intention to reshuffle.

More importantly, governor El-Rufai understood the challenge ahead of him. He has started massive infrastructural projects that many are sceptical he would complete. He is very determined to complete his work. Therefore, he needed the right people in the right positions. Undoubtedly, Mr Thomas Gyang understands the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure better and Datijjo has set a standard that has not been matched at the PBC. In recent times, the Kaduna budget has been experiencing some limitations that were not experienced when Dattijo was commissioner. To finish strong, the governor understands he needs his best brains working at their best as the reshuffle reflects.

Before the news was announced, I was with Mr Gyang and I could see the joy on his face. He was going to where he would make maximum impact. Also, the Chief was coming back to carry on his tasks. Also, it is important to remember that despite being Chief of Staff, Dattijo was still influential at the PBC. Though the Commissioner of PBC was out of town during KADINVEST, why did the Chief make the presentation of the State Development Plan, not anybody else from the Commission?

Unfortunately, it is difficult for some people to understand the “madness” behind Kaduna that is making it work. Kaduna is a serious state. Everybody means business and is concerned about getting the job done. Kaduna has exceeded parochial and jingoist thinking, ethnic and religious chauvinism and frivolous personal reaction to matters of public policy. Kaduna is much focused on sustaining its growth and stabilizing development, hence, the 2022 budget, as presented to the State Assembly was tagged “Budget of Sustainable Growth.”

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Was the Chief of Staff actually “Sacked/ demoted?”
It is laughable that many claimed that the governor demoted or sacked his Chief of Staff. To appoint a Commissioner, the governor needs the acceptance of the state assembly, after screening. However, a chief of Staff resumes office upon appointment by the governor. Also, a COS is not a recognized member of the State Executive Council, he attends at the will of the governor. However, a commissioner is a recognized member of the council. More importantly, a Chief of Staff is only powerful as the governor permits.

Interestingly, it is not the first time Governor El-Rufai will be moving his Chief of Staff to a Commissioner. In 2019, the governor appoints his former Chief of Staff, Mohammed Bashir Saidu as Commissioner of Finance. Nobody saw the move as a political demotion or sack. However, it is so in this instance because the naysayers and harbinger of negative stories have seen a perfect scenario to pest on.

The Green Light
In an environment endemically laced by divisive tendencies, identity politics and selfish interest, Kaduna is setting the pace for Nigeria and providing a template that could solve our problems. Politics and public policy should be seen from a development context rather than the perennial vain politricks. The governor’s closest aides are not of his tribe or religion, not because he wanted it so, but because they are the best for the job. Kaduna recruits the brains it believes will contribute to the development of the state, it doesn’t matter where he is from.

Recently, Khalil Nur Khalil, a 28-year-old, was appointed the Executive Secretary of KADIPA, not because he is from Kaduna, but because he understands the job and has shown results for it. If he was from Bayelsa, I am certain he would be appointed. Also, he would not lose his job for calling the Governor or his friends by any name, but his inability to produce results.

Nigeria must learn from this shining light in Kaduna. We should get serious about the business of governance and treat it with all the sensitive seriousness it requires. Enough of shabby, watery, narrow, and insufficient arguments and discussions. These are what led us to where we are today, to move forward, we must raise the bar.

Abdulhakeem Ibraheem Abdulkareem (AiA)
AiA is a Kashim Ibrahim Fellow and Special Assistant to the Governor of Kaduna State. He is currently working at the Planning and Budget Commission.