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El-Rufai: Bull in a China shop?

As was predictable, the workers sack generated a social upheaval which grounded the entire state, with the active involvement of the full strength

Against the backdrop of the finer sensibilities as well as sensitivities that should conduce to and guide the process of good governance in a strategic state like Kaduna, some of the proclivities of Nasir Ahmed el Rufai as the governor must rank among the most reprehensible and debased. For the past one week, the state has been on the boil over an avoidable face-off with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), following his arbitrary sack of civil servants in the name of downsizing the state’s work force. For some time before then, the government had been contemplating sacking civil servants, on the basis of its insolvency to continue paying their salaries. In the light of the plan, there had been a deluge of appeals to the government to backtrack on the sack action. Not only did the government snub the appeals for a stoppage of the proposed mass sack, it also embarked on a propaganda run, with a hardly convincing argument of its insolvency to sustain the workers’ salary bill. On April 6 2021, it eventually issued sack letters to 4,000 local government workers, who are generally believed to be a first batch of the designated victims of mass sack.

As was predictable, the workers sack generated a social upheaval which grounded the entire state, with the active involvement of the full strength of the NLC leadership which had initiated a one week warning strike from last week Monday May 16th 2021. In response to the strike action, the government also launched a spate of belligerence in which it sought to penalize any civil servant who complied with the strike action. Taking personal charge of counter measures to the NLC strike, El Rufai demonised the NLC leaders as bandits and ordered for their arrests. He further ordered the sack of all nurses below Grade level 14, as well as lecturers in the Kaduna State University, ostensibly due to their support for the strike action.  As at the last count however, the NLC had heeded the intervention as well as entreaties of peaceniks and called off the strike in order to give room for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. This is even as the ultimate move by the Kaduna State government remains a matter of conjecture, especially if the persona of the governor is anything to go by.

The foregoing notwithstanding, the respite in hostilities between the government and labour – temporary or permanent as it may be, provides room for a dispassionate appraisal of the situation and charting of the way forward. And this is where the disposition of El Rufai requires significant dose of discretion, to save his stand from being seen further, as obdurate and unreasoned. Granted that his administration’s claim of the bloated size of the civil service work force is plausible, it is just one of the common debilitating handicaps militating against the country’s public bureaucracy in all the tiers of governance, and not peculiar to Kaduna State. The challenge of rightsizing of the public bureaucracy remains common to all states and even the federal government. Several studies of the public service across the years strongly converge on the conclusion that even a third of the extant numbers of workers will deliver a higher quality of service than is presently available to the Nigerian public. On that note therefore, the Kaduna State government remains justified to rightsize its work force. However, such a consideration is also not to insinuate that the government should cut its nose to spite its face, as is the case presently, with its headlong blunder into an avoidable confrontation with its own workers, the nation’s central labour movement and a wide cross-section of the Nigerian public, for whom the present state of affairs in Kaduna remains unacceptable.

In the present circumstances at least three tendencies place a question mark on the El Rufai’s mass sack action against the civil servants in his state. Firstly is the loud absence of the participation of the legislative arm being the Kaduna State House of Assembly in the sordid drama leading to the mass sack of the workers. It is significantly shameful that the members of the KDHA had remained docile spectators as their very constituents who voted them into office are tossed out into the barren labour market to swim or die, given the present state of affairs in the country. Another consideration that pitches El Rufai’s brainwave against common sense is the present state of insecurity across the country with Kaduna as one of the epicentres of the crises. It is just unthinkable that the Kaduna State Security Committee comprising all the components of the country’s security architecture would have advised the governor to embark on this ill-timed mass sack of civil servants just for whatever reason, given the status of that state in the socio-political space of Northern Nigeria. Little wonder that among the several interests that had been prevailing on El Rufai and the NLC for a respite are the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the All Progressives Congress (APC) Governors Forum and the Federal Government which had summoned both parties for jaw-jaw.

The third consideration is the apparent failure of the Kaduna State governor Malam Nasir Ahmed El Rufai to demonstrate any acquaintance with the history of governance in that strategic state, whereby he would have aligned his tenure with the brighter sides of his predecessors’ tenures. Had that been the case he would have demonstrated significant inspiration from the noble and enduring governance expedients and legacies of at least Sir Ahmadu Bello, who during his tenure as the first and only premier of the whole northern region, established a string of futuristic establishments that were mostly based in Kaduna and which are presently dilapidated as well as crying for attention by a successor-governor who is pro-development to cash in on. Having been elected the governor of the state in 2015 on trumped up considerations of coming to office with panache and verve, he has unfortunately proven systematically that he could have been overrated with respect to being the leader the state requires at this time, as all expectations from him to deliver good dividends of democracy, are proving untenable.

In the present circumstances, strident calls have been made to him to deescalate the crisis with the workers by reversing the sack action. Wise counsel dictates that he El Rufai complies with such advice, at least to debunk the fast spreading impression that his approach to governance is hardly beyond the  disruptive and destructive enterprise of a raging bull that finds itself in a shop filled with fine, delicate China ware.


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