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Kaduna State Paralyzed by Debt Crisis: Gov. Uba Sani – TRUTH NIGERIA REPORT

By Ehis Agbon

(Kaduna) Governor Uba Sani, who heads Nigeria’s third-largest state of Kaduna, is on a truth tour of his state to let lawmakers know he has barely enough in the state bank account to make the monthly payroll.  True, during his gubernatorial campaign Sani had rebuffed critics of the state’s debt portfolio, but runaway inflation during the last 7 months has focused the governor’s mind wonderfully.  Sani also is pointing his finger at excessive borrowing during the last four years under former Gov. Nasir el Rufai.

Uba Sani was an accountability champion when he convened a town-hall meeting on March 30 to speak on the dire financial condition of the state.

According to his disclosures, the state government will be unable to meet the monthly wage bill of the state’s public service due to the overbearing foreign debts of USD 586 million, local debt of 85 billion Naira (USD 73.8 million), and a total of 115 procurement liabilities. Worse, Sani hinted that only about 30 per cent of allocations from Nigeria’s federal government reaches the coffers of the state.

ALSO READ : The 1970 Adebo Interim Award and Workers Struggles for higher Wages.

Amid the urgent demand for a new national minimum wage for workers, the State government can only boast of a sure revenue of N3 billion (USD 2.6 million), an amount inadequate to offset the monthly salaries of N5.2 billion (USD 4.5 million) for state workers. Ouch!

The Governor’s disclosure of this fiscal reality triggered pushback from supporters of his predecessor, long-term friend, and ally, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, under whose regime most of these loans were secured and spent. His accusers include a women’s wing leader in the All-People’s Congress party and el Rufai’s son, both of whom have derided Governor Sani for spending too many weeks in the capital of Abuja but neglecting the day-to-day challenges of governance.

Kaduna State’s Rickety Financial Past

Gov. Nasir el-Rufai giving his farewell address as he left office on May 29, 2023. Credit el-Rufai’s personal Facebook.Gov. Nasir el-Rufai giving his farewell address as he left office on May 29, 2023. Credit el-Rufai’s personal Facebook.

El Rufai’ himself struggled to stay within budget when he was governor. An approval for a loan request from Kaduna State was thrown out of Nigeria’s senate between 2016 to 2018 when el-Rufai’s request was strongly opposed by all three senators representing Kaduna State. Among them, Senator Shehu Sani, then a party man, who served as chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign and Local Debt, had rejected his fellow party member’s request to secure a USD 350 million loan, because the purpose and terms of the loans could cripple governance and future development plans of Kaduna State.

This act cost two senators including Shehu Sani, who were replaced the next election year by the wailing governor today in a no-holds barred challenge to that loan which gained approval despite the warning signs.

Shehu and his colleagues, who were bloodied by crude political onslaught at their home base, may now enjoy some relief while they bear the scars of their opposition to inevitable financial disaster.  El-Rufai, once nicknamed Mai Rusal, “The Demolisher,” spent foreign- and domestic loans, grants from Nigeria’s government as well as overseas banks to bring shiny new overpasses and highways to the old capital of the now defunct Northern region.

But critics say the rampant development loans raised the misery index for 8.4 million multi-dimensionally poor people in the nation’s most cosmopolitan state.

The state’s current debt obligations are worsened by a staggering N 171.6 billion ($149 million) foreign-exchange loss, aside a total foreign debt stock recorded in December 2023 as N454.89 billion ($395 million) owing to the fall of the Naira against the US dollar, according to public records seen by TruthNigeria.

Kaduna’s Unpaid Sacked Employees

Among those taken prisoner by El Rufai’s Administration are the 60,000 workers who were unceremoniously sacked between 2016 to 2021 under el-Rufai and who are still owed unemployment benefits.

From December 2023, N94.2 billion ($81.8 million) is owed by Kaduna State as employee benefits, aside from the N140.5 billion ($122 million) budgeted for the public wage- and running costs of government for 2024, according to public records consulted by TruthNigeria. In the categorization of these benefits only severance packages for political office holders have enjoyed some urgent attention between December 2022 and December 2023 with about 85.2 per cent of the liability cleared. The diligent retirees from the civil service did not enjoy as much with only 21.3 per cent of owed gratuity cleared and only 30.46 per cent of owed pensioners paid.

Isaiah Malaki who got fired while serving as a director in the state’s economic planning department in January 2018, told TruthNigeria that his sack letter was backdated to December 2017. Despite the reasons given, Madaki remembers the mass sacking under El-Rufai’s regime as a sectional assault on Christians from Southern Kaduna and other indigenous groups in the state. At the age of 48, Madaki was 12 years shy of the compulsory retirement age of the state’s civil service.

“Since 2017, my visits to the pensions office have provided only a consistent feedback that my former employer [the Kaduna state government] has yet to pay the contributions for my gratuity and benefit,” according to Madaki. “There is no telling the level of lack and destitution the so-called reforms have caused families of sacked workers.” Madaki added.

Yusuf Goje, an activist, public financial expert in Kaduna State forewarned candidates running for office  prior to the 2023 elections to be wary of the facts and that, “whoever will emerge in 2023 should be prepared, so that when signing a social contract with the people, you should know that you are putting your leg into fire and know what to do”.

In a swift response to the peoples outcry over the alarm raised by the Kaduna State Governor, the state’s legislature has on Tuesday, (April 16) during a plenary, set up a special committee to look into the financial transactions, loans, grants and projects executed during the 8 years of the el-Rufai period. The committee is expected to invite for questioning serving- and past officials of the state government as well as the principal officers of the congress who granted the approvals and undertook oversight when the projects were implemented.

Kaduna State under el-Rufai enjoyed the praises of international and multilateral organizations for “bold reforms” which had earned the state prizes including non-discretionary grants for fiscal, transparency, accountability and sustainability; and participatory governance. The praises however have been to the chagrin of accountability actors in the state who have decried the lawlessness of public institutions towards public procurement and project delivery under el-Rufai and have consistently queried the government on value for money amid the reign of terror citizens have endured at the hands of myriad terrorist-bandit gangs, kidnappers, sex-traffickers and land-grabbers.

—Ehis Agbon is a Kaduna-based radio broadcaster and a conflict reporter for TruthNigeria.

Culled from Truth Nigeria
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