“There’s no greater challenge and there is no greater honour than to be in public service.”
– Condoleezza Rice
If medicine, like politics, is about service to humanity, realistically speaking, Dr. Hadiza Balarabe, the Deputy Governor of Kaduna State, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be accused of having “abandoned” medical practice. Rather, by throwing her hat into the world of politics considered by many as dirty, she has enriched politics with the very high ethical standards of medicine.
For instance, while it is compulsory that every medical practitioner must swear to either the Hippocratic or Osteopathic oath, which captures the obligations and expected professional behaviour of the doctor with any patient, of which failure to adhere to attracts stiff disciplinary actions, including but not limited to the loss of practicing license, politics lacks such a binding oath.
All over the world, politicians are increasingly being held in contempt by a vast majority of their people largely due to betrayal and failure to keep their electoral promises. Unfortunately, the poor perception of politicians, rather than improving, has continued to decline, with grave consequences for the polity, because it has continued to adversely affect the capacity of elected representatives to resolve fundamental issues, to get the buy-in of its citizens, like the failure of the British political class to resolve the Brexit matter. The other evidence of the lack of trust is the abysmal low turnout of voters.
Trust is a gift from the people, who expect it to be used for their general wellbeing and security. While a politician can “afford” to squander the trust of the people, a doctor would be committing suicide if that trust is not cultivated, is not polite, honest considerate and with proven integrity. These and many more qualities are what Governor Nasir el-Rufai saw in Dr. Hadiza Balarabe, the first elected female deputy governor of Kaduna State, that made her choice as his running mate in the 2019 governorship elections compelling. Nigerians are increasingly demanding trust, greater accountability and transparency in governance, which she also brings to the table, including her freshness.
El-Rufai, from the very outset, was determined to retire the entrenched “political merchants” that had held Kaduna State hostage since the last 20 years, equivalent to the South African “State Capture” in which resources of state were farmed out to so-called “stakeholders,” to the detriment of the vast majority of the people. The implication was that Kaduna State stagnated in virtually every sector, especially in education, health and infrastructural facilities. This explains why, as a deliberate policy, el-Rufai consciously attracted a new generation of the very best and brightest to public service, including women who hitherto were subjected to second-class treatment, to help him deliver on his vision of the new Kaduna State.
El-Rufai has fundamentally affected governance, with his measured reforms that have freed resources and refocused the mandate of ministries for efficient service delivery; but the uncharted area where he has undoubtedly made the most profound statements is his wholehearted commitment to the empowerment of women. And it must be stated that it is without prejudice to the 2005 National Gender Policy, which stipulates 35 per cent appointive positions for women but which el-Rufai surpassed several times over, both in his first and second terms. For el-Rufai the appointments were not tokenism, so he did not patronise them with the “traditional” portfolios like Ministry of Women Affairs, rather, he saddled them with the ministries of works, environment, justice, actions that demonstrate his trust in their capacity to contribute to national development.
It must be stated that el-Rufai delivered on this article of faith and many more without sloganeering on being “committed to building a nation devoid of gender discrimination, guaranteeing equal access to political, social and economic wealth creation opportunities for women,” he simply acted and showed direction to others that promoting full participation of women in governance is the way forward.
He has boldly made the point by empowering women and removing whatever limitations and restrictions that held them down, and in the process opened wide open several opportunities for them and at the same time ensuring that the girl child has the likes of Hadiza as role models to look up to. And very encouraging is that empowerment for el-Rufai includes raising the status of women through education, raising awareness, literacy, and training, which would enable them earn income.
El-Rufai, who was already a subject of criticism for empowering women from those who in spite of the strides by women still hold on to the centuries-old belief that women should not be saddled with any responsibility beyond housekeeping, was to further scandalise Nigerians when he chose Hadiza Balarabe as his running mate for the 2019 governorship election, following the decision of the then incumbent Arc. Barnabas Bala to run for Senate.
Samuel Aruwan, his then spokesman, in announcing the choice of Hadiza Balarabe as running mate, said, “The choice continues Malam Nasir el-Rufai’s deliberate policy of promoting women. There are (were) five female commissioners in his 14-person cabinet, a feat not attained even by governors that had much larger cabinets. This is the first time in the history of Kaduna State that a major political party will select a woman as running mate.”
But beyond promoting inclusion is the fact that Hadiza Balarabe, in her tour of duty as the executive secretary of the Kaduna State Primary Health Care Development Agency, had overseen the Kaduna State government’s primary health care revitalisation programme, which is at the core of the health delivery policy of the state. Under her focused watch, the ambitious renovation and equipping of 255 primary health centres (PHCs) located in each of the 23 local government areas was delivered. Today, the PHCs are equipped with the tools to assist in better antenatal services and safer delivery, thus reducing infant and maternal death. What further endeared Hadiza Balarabe to el-Rufai was the role the agency played in expanding vaccine coverage to children across the state, a project dear to el-Rufai. Her intelligence, wit, and good memory are other attributes that she brought to the table. Like her boss, she has sufficient mastery of issues to carry on conversations on any topic, and she hardly reads from prepared speeches, an indication of the depth of her knowledge.
Whatever doubt was expressed about the capacity of Hadiza Balarabe has been eclipsed by her more-than-sterling performance, from overseeing the ministry of health to presiding over the State Executive Council. It is to her credit that, very early in the day, she had further re-established her reputation as a stickler for time, a focused and serious-minded person, especially because not being a politician she was not known to people beyond those that had encountered her as a doctor. Hadiza Balarabe has gratifyingly been discharging the huge responsibility on her shoulders, knowing she is a torch-bearer for millions of women, and very conscious that any failure on her part would be a tragedy of monumental proportions. She has also by her civility and comportment denied those opposed to the rise of women the ammunition to justify stereotyping that women lack the competency and intelligence to lead.
Hadiza Balarabe, who came into government simply to help ensure that the PHCs function as the first port of call for those in need of attention, answerable to many “ogas,” is today the effective Number Two, as powerful as el-Rufai himself who willingly shares his powers with his deputy and whose unflinching support for her to succeed is not in doubt. El-Rufai has equally been gracious to her like he was to Bantex, the only difference being that, while he could dance “ol’ skool” with Bantex, he can’t for obvious reasons dance with her. Elsewhere, deputy governors might be treated as spare tires, appointed to fulfill constitutional provisions, certainly not in Kaduna. She deputises for her partner even when he is around, which is a mark of confidence. Last week, she hosted the 19 northern governors and led the Kaduna team to felicitate with the President on his victory at the election tribunal.
There is no doubt that, in Hadiza Balarabe, el-Rufai has found a worthy partner in his putting people first agenda, anchored on making lives better.
El-Rufai deserves commendation for giving life to the much-talked-about empowerment of women by “allowing people (women) who were outside of the decision-making process into it.” In his first term, Hadiza Bala Usman, the managing director of the Nigerain Ports Authority, was his Chief of Staff; of the 14 commissioners, five were women, which the previous Peoples Democratic Party administrations that had much larger cabinets did not come anywhere near. State agencies like KADIPA, the State Primary Health Care Development Agency, the Drugs Supply Agency, KASUPDA and KADSTRA were headed by women. He also made education free for girls through secondary school. It is also a fact that el-Rufai had vigorously pushed for a woman chairman for the All Progressives Congress (APC), Kaduna State chapter, until he was overruled, as part of the process of deepening the participation of women in political structures and formal decision-making.
Postscript: The romance between El-Rufai and Kaduna State women does not look like a fling, it is a marriage. What next would he be doing for them?