El-Rufai victim of his own standards — Gerald Ilukwe, Kaduna Chief Information Officer

Mr. Gerald Ilukwe, is the Special Adviser to Governor Nasir Ahmad El- Rufai on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Kaduna State. He was the Pioneer – Managing Director of Galaxy Backbone Ltd, the ICT company of the Federal Government of Nigeria. In this interview, he speaks about the nature of his assignment in kaduna state, how Governor Nasir El-Rufai literally hijacked him, his working experience as a southerner working in a northern state and the governor.

Quite frankly, I would have laughed him or her off. But again knowing that anywhere Mallam (Nasir El-Rufai) is, that great things happen there; with a lot of energy that could be possible but I would never have imagined that I’ll be a part of it in the way I am today.

So what influenced you?

Accepting to work for Nasir El-Rufai, wasn’t difficult. Because I know that anywhere Mallam is, there’ll be great things happening, and with a lot of energy. I would never have imagined that I would be a part of it in the way I am today. When someone reached out to me that Kaduna State was doing a lot in ICT, that there are so many things seriously going on, and that they needed somebody to help them put it together….if I was interested? Quite  honestly, because it was Mallam, whom I’ve always had the highest respect for, I just said ok without hesitation. They needed somebody to help them put up an organization and I completely assumed they’ll be looking for a Kaduna State indigene or at least a northerner, neither of which I am of course.

Basically, what went through my mind was, the possibility of a consultancy …meaning I will spend six months, put the organization in place, help them look for the lead ICT person, mentor the individual and then I’m gone. The availability of a rail service meant I could come in and out of Kaduna two/three times a week, do the work and get out. So I said “Ok, I’m interested.” 

A few days later the gentleman came back, he said “this is like the same thing you did at the Federal level.” He is actually from Microsoft, so he knew me and knew my antecedents. He was like “all they want is for you to replicate the same thing”. In all honesty, I continued to see it as a part-time consultancy. Until,one of Mallam’s very senior advisers and confidant called me. 

I was on holidays. He was very direct …and insisted on nothing less than two years, then I knew this six months would not fly. I initially said one year….he said no no no no no, we want two years. At that point I knew I couldn’t have it my way. 

But eventually I came to Kaduna. Again, I didn’t know anything about Kaduna. So I took the Wednesday train which only runs twice. I finished under two hours, but  I had to wait till 6pm to catch the train back to Abuja. 

So that’s how I ended up here, working for Kaduna State Government. And it’s been interesting , because I found out that they are in a hurry, they’re still in a hurry…. I’ll rather work with someone who is in a hurry, than work with somebody who takes his  time and who’s not be in a hurry, no sense of urgency, you know. There’s a sense of urgency here which we are all driving, so that’s how I ended up as Chief  Information Officer and Special Adviser ICT,to Nasir El-Rufai. 

In a sense you’ve always known El-Rufai?

Yes, I have always known him. I’ve actually enjoyed a favor from him in 2001 or 2002 when he was a Director General of BPE (The Bureau of Public Enterprises). First, he moved the BPE from Lotus Notes, which was the dominant e-mail platform before Microsoft Exchange. He also graced our product lunch. He has always been a strong advocate of technology. So I’ve known him for  about 20 years professionally speaking.

So that made it easy for you to say yes?

Yes, because I’ve always known him. ….he is serious minded, committed, keeps his promises, and believes in the transformation power of technology. El- Rufai , has a vision beyond what most people understand. In the public sector space in Nigeria as far as ICT goes, it’s difficult to find a leader who understands technology, and has the political capital to drive through the programmes like he does. When they have political capital, they don’t understand technology; it’s a distraction, it’s an annoyance, it’s an irritation. When they understand technology, they don’t have the political capital, so they cannot push things, and sometimes they don’t have either. They have no political capital and they don’t understand technology, but unfortunately they have the responsibilities to oversee technology. 

So that’s a disaster and we’ve seen a few of them come and go. So it was very easy to accept to work with Mallam because he has both.

Down the line, from six months, you have spent two years… and from the look of things the whole 4 years. So how has it been?

Let me start from the non-technology bit. 

The last two years has been back to school…school of governance, learning capable leadership, with colleagues and listening and debating, and learning…. beyond what is your own core and reinforcing some impressions that you have, especially of the leader.

Of course it has it’s challenges, sometimes we take on a bit too much and we have to drop a few things, reprioritize… the economy as we know is going through very challenging times, so we can’t do as much as we want to …some things have been slowed down, because of cash flow. There hasn’t been a dull moment, anyway. It’s sometimes stressful, it’s sometimes exhilarating….on the whole…I’m happy I’m here.

There is this perception and narratives about Nasir El-Rufai by some interests. Your friends know you are here….so what’s their reaction….what do they say to you, considering their perception about Nasir El-Rufai, the man you work for?

All sorts of reactions ….like what are you doing with that man, he is a bigot, he is very cruel”, in all honesty also, quite a number appreciate him….they describe him as a strong man and do ask me to extend their greetings to him.

There are some people, who wish that in their own part of the country, they have leaders like El-Rufai. I guess figuratively, the good and the bad are the cross he has to carry. I have been here for two years and I know he is not a bigot. 

He is a man of very strong opinions, you can’t hold that against him, but I think he is also, like they say in America, he follows the science so he’s an evidence based man. So he takes decisions based on evidence. He is human, he is not always right, and I think I’ve seen him yield to superior arguments or superior evidence… but he’s not a bigot. He is a victim of his own standards, he is a victim of his antecedents, so people hold him to higher levels of expectation than they hold other people, but the only problem is that most times they do it maliciously.

You talked about El-Rufai being a victim of his own standards, a victim of service and all that. …but there is no way you will make an omelet without breaking eggs…the difference is his willingness to break eggs. Nigerians want development but they don’t want the eggs broken, isn’t that a problem? Don’t you find this funny?

We are Nigerians, so at this stage in my life I’ve come to understand, accept that fact…am proud being a Nigerian irrespective of all that you know. 

Yes, I find it funny, because,as far as El-Rufai is concerned…I’ll be hard pressed to see any decision he’s taken in governance, in his public life; I’m not stressing in politics, I’m not a politician,from when he came to BPE or even PIMCO (Policy Implementation and Monitoring Committee), to today, that you can say, was not well thought through or was not in the public interest.

I’ll give an example. I was talking to somebody two weeks ago and she said that people are suffering, and that in the previous government, “we dey see something”, ….I’m not making this up. 

My reply was , so what do you want? This is a woman with children. I went on. Do you want good hospitals and good schools for your children, or do you want to dey see something once in a while? She said, “walahi , the man is trying but he’s too harsh”. She said, again am quoting her, “If you put all the past governor’s together, they haven’t achieved, what this man has achieved, all of them put together .”

Like you said, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, and again… people don’t recognise that resources are very finite, and that you have to choose what you can do with available resources…so sometimes you prioritise.

You’ve related officially, now you’re working for him, what perceptions about El-Rufai have changed, and which ones have been reinforced in the last two years?

So let’s start with the ones that have been reinforced; his understanding of governance is unmatched, it’s unparalleled because governance is multi-dimensional, it’s not about just awarding populist contracts. Yes, roads are very important, it’s infrastructure but there’s still a huge element of populism, because people can see roads easily but we are talking about Justice Reforms, Public Service Reforms, Human Capital Development, both within the public service, and the populace in general. I knew he knew it, but I didn’t know how well he knew it. 

So, these things I find very stimulating and like I said, even though I am an IT person and I’m supposed to be concerned with IT….but I can’t close my eyes to what I am seeing .

So, those have been reinforced and the ones that have been refreshing that I have found is the humaneness of the person, the quality of leadership, off course you cannot be a leader if you are not humane, you can’t lead people if you don’t care for the people.

I think both as a leader of a government and a team of people, and as a leader of a state, I would like to say that I find that he genuinely cares for people. And sometimes it has to be tough love, but it is there and he understands his constituency. Again, that’s one of the things that people tend to say against him, but it’s the other way around. I wish other leaders would be like that and identify and love their people.

The impression of some people is that he is brash and here you are saying he is a humanist, that he loves his people….

As a human being, I have seen him lose his temper a few times, but he’s not brash, and when he is wrong he has reversed himself, so he can’t be brash, but he is definitely not arrogant. He is confident, he’s intelligent and he also doesn’t have false humility, either. A lot of people will say I am talking nonsense,but this is what I see and I think I’ve been close enough and observant enough to be sure of what I am saying.

In the Kaduna State Executive Council that you are a member …you have  colleagues from Delta State, Kogi State, Bauchi, Adamawa State, Kwara State, Ogun State …and your good self from Anambra State, clearly the most diverse council in Nigeria other than the Federal Executive Council. Do you wonder why even this doesn’t change those perceptions about him?

Because Nigerians are cynical, we are a cynical people. We lack trust, we don’t believe whatever our leaders say; maybe it’s from experience. Now they probably look at me and conclude….his appointment is a tokenism…they want to use him ….maybe he wants to run for presidency. ….so Nigerians are very cynical. Like he El-Rufai himself says, “Only God knows what is in the heart of every one of us.” For some people, my appointment changed their view, for others ….but that’s the nature of man….even if you line up every single thing El- Rufai has done…they will still look for something because, it is what it is…

Exactly what do you do for the Kaduna State Government; the larger picture, the goals of the ICT Policy of the state. He has done well attracting you, a key player in the industry?

Technology is a tool, an enabler, it’s not an end unto itself. We are charged with the effective and efficient deployment and application of technology first of all, in all spheres of governance and public service delivery, as an instrument to enhance governance and public service delivery, and also in the socio-economic development of the state.

For instance, social media has become a very strong instrument of governance. Social media moves along … without the CIO interfering, but where the CIO comes in for example is that we are supposed to be able to deliver government services online and then use social media to let people know….do you know you can do ABC online? So we support in different areas, we’re working on digital identity for the state, very closely with the Identity Management Commission through the Kaduna State Residents Registration Agency (KADSRRA),because kaduna state government wants to plan based on more accurate information. Sometimes I wish we had started this about two yes ago before I came here.

We are enhancing information flow and decision making in government through automation, service delivery, institutional membrane, revenue, security, education, health, agriculture, even the basic capacity of human beings.

We train people, we are trying to ramp up a lot on human capital development both within the government and beyond the government.

Last year, a study was conducted and I think only about 28/32% of the kaduna citizens have smart phones. So that means that as you and I know…..the benefit of having online apps that you can deploy is not there for those without smart phones.

Now we are also trying to drive connectivity in the underserved and unserved areas of Kaduna State so that people can begin to partake in government services.

Look at COVID, people will say that COVID is the best thing that happened to ICT, because it was no longer some far-fetched, not for us kind of concept of the new way …the new normal… It is the new normal and we have to accept that. One of the things for example that we have done, is that across all the tertiary institutions we have a PPP (Public Private Partnership) now that is delivering technology infrastructure and services from KASU (Kaduna State University) to College of Midwifery in Kafanchan, Shehu Idris Polytechnic and all of them, you know, the five of them.  And we’re driving down to the Secondary Schools, there are 547 in Kaduna and I think about 15 or 16 model schools here. 

We have started School Management Systems to be able to enable even the management of the education system from the Ministry (Ministry of Education) to SUBEB (State Universal Basic Education Board) to the School Quality Assurance Authority to be able to get a handle of what’s going on in the schools; tracking the teachers, tracking the students. Now if you think about that and take the identity element in it…you are able to know who is where and plan accordingly.

We also have KADGIS (Kaduna Geographic Information System), it’s been around for a while, we’re seeking to improve it to make it easier and more convenient for people to access their services. Now you don’t have to queue up at the bank, you can pay online, you’re able to submit your receipts and process your things. So we’re looking for a stage where ultimately in the case of KADGIS, you can actually start and finish your land application without showing up at their office, because you have logistics service providers. Today, they tell you CofO (Certificate of Occupancy) is ready…, even the process of getting that CofO has been sped up because the Governor has the equipment that enables him to process that, because he is the ultimate person.

There are incremental improvements….quantum improvements but things are happening across. Of course we’re constrained by the financial situation …but in some areas we are working with PPPs, we’re doing vehicle registration. A lot of what you’ve seen …it’s not an accident that Kaduna state is fifth or sixth in IGR (Internally Generated Revenue) …it’s due to technology, and we’ll continue to invest in KADIRS (Kaduna State Internal Revenue Service) which has a very dynamic young Chairman.

So there’s a lot that’s happening in different places. We’re working on KASUPDA (Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Agency) on street names and house numbering. We’re working on that and we plan to make them available on digital maps. We’re driving digital economy initiatives to encourage people to do a lot of things online, this again is post-COVID where services are delivered online…internet, basic e-commerce; you want to order food, you want to order anything , you should be able to do that. We’ve signed an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Airtel, we’ve signed a MoU with IHS Towers for urban and statewide broadband deployment.

So my assignment as Special Adviser and CIO goes round, some of which I’m directly responsible for, some of which I hold an advisory role, you know, consultative and guiding other people …this is what you should be doing. We have signed what we call framework agreements, to be able to acquire these tools cost effectively. …anyone who knows the public sector…knows that technology used to be the biggest racket…government buying equipment for three or four times more than what it is worth. It’s a work in progress but we’ve significantly scaled back on that, eliminating duplication of projects.

Ok, you talked about impediments , finance, infrastructure and manpower…..so where do we stand?

Well, I leave that to the finance people but we have tried to make impact with what we have. What I know the government is trying to avoid …is starting something we can’t finish. So instead of eating 3 good meals or eating 3 poor meals we eat two good meals a day that are nutritious? So we have had to now prioritize within the priorities, you don’t start anything because it’s a flight of fancy so anything we do is a priority. T

Well, the Governors themselves know they have to learn from each other, the PEAR group review mechanism. But what do other states have to learn from Kaduna State in terms of what you are doing in ICT?

We all have to learn from each other, so yeah I’m sure we have a few things that we can share with people but I’ll be honest with you, because I also call a few counterparts in other states and I say, hey how are you doing this. …you see, when you learn, you learn how to avoid mistakes.

To avoid mistakes that Kaduna has made, you don’t want them to?

Having been at the Federal level for eight years,I know the mistakes that we made and so even among my colleagues, I try very hard not to come across as knowing it all or being arrogant. Benefits from the experience I have, means I must do things differently. I interact with people in Lagos,in Ogun, in Kebbi, somewhat a bit of interaction with people in Anambara.

You’ve talked about your experiences, the gains of Covid, so we’ve seen the benefits of the tools of technology. Kaduna state during the Covid didn’t shut down

No we did not shut down at all… I mean I was in Lagos for four and half months at home and I actively participated in meetings. There were people who were reluctant initially, in fact my self and my colleagues, we had a laugh …because some people felt there was a deliberate effort to marginalize them out of governance …due to the migration to online. But there were also people who, because human nature is competitive, who now started competing among themselves to be the first people online whenever we had meetings, with the Covid taskforce and for other meetings, we had exco meetings online, Kaduna didn’t shut down at all and decisions were taken and executed. Mallam was sick, but joined us now and again. When he had Covid, Deputy Governor held sway, everybody was onboard, SSG, Chief of Staff, Commissioners, everybody was onboard. 

So the train has left the analog station?

Oh yes! Definitely the train has left. …I like that analogy, the train has left, we are adding more coaches and getting more passengers on board, passengers in education, in health and agriculture you know, the will is there, the commitment is there, the Governor never fails at any point in time ….he’s not just talking, he means what he says and it also requires him to reprioritize resources. Recently as you know we did a right-sizing of the house, that  was also technology based and scientific,it wasn’t whimsical. There were bases and it’s one of the key deliverables of technology, it’s data to enable decision making, so he’s a very data driven person. It is a very data driven government. 

Briefly, for the common man…Frank Olisa’s common man ….what’s the ICT policy of Kaduna State ….so they can key in?

We have the ‘Digital Strategy For The Government and The People of Kaduna State’. What we did was to undertake an assessment of where things presently stand and which helped us to determine the building blocks that we needed to put in place , the different initiatives, sectoral initiatives that we have to have. So for example, the current assessment tells us that we don’t have total coverage of the networks in Kaduna State….that there are schools, big schools that do not have any form of ICT, that at the Primary Health Centers or  general Hospitals, there’s an unacceptable degree of absenteeism among the staff and then the building blocks will tell you what to do that you have to… so we move into the building blocks… what do we do to fix these things? In Kaduna State,like you know the people are at the center of everything you do, so the assessment tells us that we need to get skilled people…before we start spending money on computers. Based on the assessment, we can confidently tell you there’s no point putting a computer in a school that has no roof or that the lab is not secured.

So if the staff….academic and non academic, do not have the right level of computer literacy, digital literacy and awareness, how do you begin to drive education with such people? Same goes for other spheres of governance, so the question we keep asking is, how can we increase the number of women who have bank accounts and who are capable of digital banking? You know, the things you and I have taken for granted in the last 15 years, but you’ll be surprised that close to 70% of our women folk in this state do not have it. So how can you achieve financial inclusion today  if people are not digital? if you do not use digital channels…how can you improve traffic and security if you do not have cameras? Some of them would appear futuristic but we don’t want to do that, even within the government we’ve had arguments, people saying ….why are you doing what you’re doing…just go into the bush and chase the bandits. Yes the bandits are in the bush…unfortunately there is a threat, a real threat they’ll come in and apart from banditry there are issues of general law and order, bad driving and all that. You know, we have a vehicle registration system, we have tax clearance system, so the building blocks are the people, the infrastructure, the legal frameworks that need to be out in place, constitutional and legal frameworks and power of course. So there are certain areas where we have to look for solar, alternative power and work would decrease and all that, so those are the building blocks and then now you begin to identify, even the acquisition of machines where in the past somebody would buy one computer for N900,000 and somebody else would buy the very same computer for N450,000, we’ve put an end to all that by engaging with the original equipment manufacturers.

So things are more deliberate…well thought out, what we need now is the focus and the ‘will’ to execute the plans we’ve made …the action orientation, results oriented and all that. So that’s the strategy and that’s what it means for the common man you know, when you talk about schools, we have our children in schools,talk about health care, you want to be able to move around.

We want people to go out into the world irrespective of their economic backgrounds to be confident and to be able to participate in the global economy and we want people to be healthy and not just in basic consulting, I don’t know if you’re aware that we launched Zipline, the drone to deliver medicines. So you will never fault us for not trying, we will try and …

That’s working now?

Yes, that’s working, we’re at the pilot stage and then we’re also doing some other Tele-health initiative, we have two Tele-health initiatives ongoing which we hope to be able to roll out across board,when we’re done, because anything you’re doing should not be a PR stunt. It should be something that can scale economically, sustainably, again, back to human capital it’s absolutely necessary. 

Now, the Airtel limited and Kaduna State MoU on broadband connectivity, what exactly is that MoU all about?

OK, it’s an all encompassing MoU like I said, you put it in two blocks, one is to deliver services that will enhance governance and the second to deliver services that will enhance state wide development. So if you’re talking about governance, we’re going to provide connectivity. 

The best form of infrastructure is fibre …without doubt. Airtell, will make the investments in metro fibre, in the key areas and we will provide connectivity in Kaduna for about 95% of government offices…all government MDAs through fibre. In the first instance they’re will use radio because you can get radio up and running in a matter of days, two to three days and provide connectivity.

 Most of what we do now in terms of government resources, technology resources are cloud based, so you must have connectivity into the clouds which is what is happening in the whole world today. It’s all about remote location, code location and cloud location of your technology platforms. So we’re doing that across board as you probably know, we have what I call multi tenant locations, Government House is one, the Ministry of Public Works and Infrastructure campus is one, Investment house is another, State house is another one and the State Secretariat and the Ministry of Health across the road, so you will have all of them connected to each other and even the judiciary is going to be impacted, the legislature and all that. And so that’s one deliverable, we’re going to roll out fibre to the new galaxy mall coming, the Murtala Square shopping complex because as you know, in the modern day, both the automation of the shops requires technology for them to give you your invoices and all that and even shoppers these days, when you go to the developed world, you walk into a shop, every shop has a Wi-Fi, so Airtel will make their infrastructure available. Kaduna on it’s part will clear all the bottlenecks and give them incentives committing to Airtel is an incentive because it’s not free, they won’t be paying for the right of way in addition to other incentives and waivers. Now four/five years ago maybe more, the cost of right of way, the fees paid to government constituted 80% of the cost of roll out infrastructure. We were very shortsighted,we made them pay,but at the expense of development because you really cannot develop today without technology.

So with the Airtel MoU, by the end of next year we have a joint commitment to have 3G the minimum standard for data across the entire state. So Airtel will give us 3G connectivity across the entire state, so it’s not like when you go to some places and you say Oh I can’t send data or you want to send money, you cannot,because of connection…this obviously affects financial inclusion.  

It might interest you to know, Sanga area, the Banks are not there, they are using Lafia which is in Nassarawa State.

Our MoU will create the incentives for Airtel to be able to extend service to that for the people of Sanga.

The biggest challenge which is what has breed insecurity in Nigeria across the board is that government was cut off from the far reaches of different domains whether it is in Zamfara state or it is in Yobe, Niger, even parts of the South even though they have a smaller land mass but in the North it is more acute because the land mass is bigger, so a Governor cannot get up and say I want to do a quick dash to Sanga to know what’s going on there. It’s a five hour trip, you spend two hours then you turn around. So when you drive technology, you bring government closer to the people. It’s real, it’s not esoteric. it is real.

It’s important that you have addressed why Kaduna State is investing in the building of infrastructure…I understand you are going to build bases in about 40 locations …no doubt ,there is a correlation between what you doing now and the war against insecurity. There’s a business economic dimension to it. So the Kaduna State Government has been forced to do this, because the NCC, National Rural Telephonic Project is not working, so you have been forced to spend hard resources to support it.

And what other partnerships do you have …Microsoft?

Answer: You talked about the 40 based stations, that is the partnership with IHS.

 IHS is the biggest infrastructure for mobile network operators, they own 80% of all the towers in Nigeria, so we started from the security point of view, we identified the black spots that were cut off…areas with high incidents of banditry and all other crimes …..so we need to deploy connectivity because with connectivity, hopefully the security forces will be able to respond quickly. 

The goal is a rapid response,whenever there is a distress cry for help, there has to be a maximum time , it will take to get a response. So the Kaduna State Government,is doing what is within its control.

Then we’ll continue to work with and encourage the Federal Security Agencies to be able to respond to those cries because at the end of the day these people are citizens and the Governor is responsible for them. 

Where do you see Kaduna State ICT wise in the next five year?

You know, the beautiful thing

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