As the government enters its fourth year, with an election looming, all indices show that the El-Rufai government has pressed the reset button and is rebooting Kaduna State for greater things.

Growing up, I was a frequent visitor at Kakuri, Kaduna’s industrial layout and home to companies hiring thousands of people from across the State.

On his school-run days, my father would pick us up and make the journey back to his place of work, a cable company that serviced the large Peugeot automobile assembly plant next door within the industrial layout. My siblings and I would frequently hold our noses to avoid the pungent smell coming out of the textile industries – co-located factories that were then the pride of the State as the highest employers of labour. I remember the competition from the back seat on who could name all the businesses on the school route all the way to Kakuri – we would almost always find a new one.

Although we had no idea about the concept of Foreign Direct Investment, we were all aware when new foreign businesses were set up, as when new families moved into the neighbourhoods and schools, and set up restaurants catering for their tastes – Indian, Chinese and German. Nigerians from across the divide were proud to call Kaduna home.

By 2014 however, most of the industries had closed shop, the quality of public infrastructure had decayed, and the social fabric of society had fractured, with the city divided sharply into two. A state of nine million people was now referred to as a ‘civil service state’, a sad allusion to the fact that only the 80,000 poorly-paid public sector employees were responsible for most economic activity and had cornered a significant proportion of public spending, leaving eight million people as a dependent population, skirting around the edges of life.

Significant differences in income and quality of life had also fuelled an insurgency that was detonating explosives in markets and places of worship. The 40-minute journey to Zaria city was now taking two hours as largely ineffective roadblocks mounted by a myriad of security agencies harassed road users.

We were therefore all elated when, in 2015, the people of Kaduna State elected a new government led by Nasir el-Rufai, a popular reformer who had made a name for himself delivering quality public infrastructure, while challenging entrenched political elites in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja.

It has now been three years since that historic election, and while there is still much to do, there is a recognition that Kaduna is emerging with a solid foundation for progress.

As I drove through Kaduna this morning, I couldn’t help but notice the rising level of economic activity. This is no longer the Kaduna of bombs and Boko Haram, it is a Kaduna of investment and jobs. Coming in from Abuja, one can’t help but notice the large Olam poultry and feed mill, a $350 million investment – the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa, located in Chikun Local Government.
Olam’s neighbourhood has also just been announced as the home of the new Dangote Peugeot plant. Exciting times!

Going through Kakuri, you are confronted by the new $200 million Mahindra tractor assembly plant with a capacity of 3,000 tractors per year. Across the street from Mahindra is Blue Camel energy, a renewable energy production plant and training academy.

Even more exciting is the number of young entrepreneurs emerging in the State. KADSTEP, a state-sponsored entrepreneurship programme run by Kaduna Business School, has graduated over 3,000 young businessmen and women hungry for opportunity. The State is partnering with the World Bank to launch, ‘Click-On Kaduna’ – a digital jobs platform with ambitions of creating Nigeria’s Silicon Valley away from Lagos.

The State’s eager adoption of technology includes deployments of closed circuit television and drones to support statutory security agencies, including a newly created vigilance service.

But Kaduna still faces challenges in delivering basic education and healthcare. Just a few months ago, after a competency test, 22,000 teachers were relieved of their jobs and 25,000 new ones are currently being hired – tough decisions that are unusual in an environment so used to side-stepping problems and delaying solutions. With over 500 schools built or renovated over the last three years, this marks the most notable transformation of the education sector in decades.

In healthcare, the State contributes 40 percent of funding for primary healthcare, even though, constitutionally, local governments are fully responsible. Under its Primary Healthcare Under One Roof legislation, the State has built or renovated over 100 healthcare centres, with 160 more expected before the end of 2018. This, in addition to hundreds of kilometres of road being constructed across the State. Indeed, each of the State’s 23 local governments has more than a billion naira (approximately $3 million) worth of infrastructure projects being delivered. Many have five times that. This is being done at a time of significant dip in oil revenues in Nigeria.

Financial constraints have pushed the government to be more creative and resourceful, resulting in a doubling of internal revenues and unprecedent delivery of public works projects. A treasury single account, innovative budgeting and some financial re-engineering has freed up resources for capital investments with all local governments now able to pay their own salaries for the first time in over a decade.

What is striking about Kaduna’s ongoing development is that reform is pursued within a climate of unprecedented transparency, openness and citizen engagement. The State’s five-year development strategy launched in 2016, generated ideas through a crowd-sourcing competition. All annual budgets and audited accounts are available online and budgets have been subjected to town-hall meetings, where significant revisions have included citizens’ input.

Kaduna has become accustomed to leading change locally and internationally – in 2017 the State was the first subnational government in the world to publish a detailed SDGs monitoring report, which was launched at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Kaduna is one of only 20 state governments worldwide accepted into the Open Government Partnership. A recently launched State Infrastructure Masterplan estimates the infrastructure deficits in schools, hospitals, roads and bridges and provides a clear 32-year roadmap to plugging them, including costs.

Over three years, this quantum of change has produced challenges, including the loss of political allies uncomfortable with the pace and nature of reform. But a recent election at the local level that rewarded the APC government with victory in more than two-thirds of the state confirmed that there is broad support and trust in this fresh approach.

As the government enters its fourth year, with an election looming, all indices show that the El-Rufai government has pressed the reset button and is rebooting Kaduna State for greater things.

Muhammad Sani Dattijo, the commissioner for planning and budget in Kaduna State, can be reached through