Friday, August 12, 2022

El-Rufai’s sacking of 4,000 Kaduna workers, unpopular but right decision, by Mustapha Ramalan

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The announcement that 4000 workers from Kaduna state’s civil service would be disengaged had drawn anger from Governor El-Rufai’s critics in the state and many more around the country. Even those who support the move are afraid to say so openly and those who know it is the right thing to do have become politically blind to our economic realities.

Dwindling crude oil revenue; high inflation; high unemployment; rising insecurity and lack of a social safety net, all make the impending retrenchment a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you ask; but it certainly is not a wrong decision from a commonsense point of view. We must consider two factual notions nevertheless. First, El-Rufai’s moves require real courage which he clearly has in abundance and, second, we need to get the best out of leaders like him, because Nigeria has shown how rare they are.

The words that described my understanding of ‘change’ back in 2015 were words like reform, different, change, productive, better, efficient, structured, sustainable, safer, organized, effective, better, faster, younger and so on. Whether you like him or not, these are the type of words you will associate El-Rufai’s style of governance with since he became governor. So for me, if the decision to sack Kaduna State workers is to reform the public service in line with world best practice, then I am 100% behind the state government.

We have had our own share of national issues such as insecurity, inflation & unemployment, decaying infrastructure & broken trust between leaders and the people. Despite all these, Kaduna has managed to find positives from our current chaos. It’s a great example of the dichotomy between a working administration and what we have all been used to prior to 2015. Results have been impressive, as captured in my last article.

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My response to those who think the leadership in Kaduna, all things considered, is callous for wanting to reduce its wage bill, is simple: the government’s responsibility to create jobs doesn’t lie in direct employment of its citizens. It is largely responsible for providing an enabling environment through policies and strategic investments in key sectors like ICT, hospitality, education, business, healthcare and infrastructure for the private sector to grow and employ people.

According to Governor El-rufai, Kaduna State has a workforce of 100,000 people drawing on more than 80% of the Federal Government Allocation to the state. It is therefore ridiculous for 1.43% of the people to take 80% of the Federal Allocation and even add some from the IGR for their overhead and other allowances, while the remaining 98.57% struggle to see the impact of the remaining 20% of the funds. Nobody will countenance this ratio in any area of their lives. This is wastage and we must all put sentiments aside and support the governor’s move to reduce wastage and if he feels reducing the wage bill will achieve this, then so be it.

I support the government reducing its recurrent expenditure as much as possible to allow it to invest in capital projects tha

t will employ people in good paying jobs that compete with leading and emerging economies. The private sector is where a million jobs can be created as long as the state is able to spend more on infrastructure and create the enabling environment for businesses to thrive. Economically, this is the smart thing to do.

But I believe that this process should include efforts aimed at cushioning the effects of the mass job losses. The mere shock effect this can have in homes on the micro-level can escalate very rapidly statewide if contingency plans haven’t been put in place. Retraining programmes could be put on the cards, or a plan for the sacked workers to be engaged by the Federal Government in one of its Social Investment programmes so these people can fall back to something even if it’s a little capital to start small businesses. Some of the major private sector partners the state has can be incentivized via tax breaks to hire some of these sacked workers i.e. if they are indeed employable as the labour unions say they are.

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The governor in a recent state broadcast said over 80% of non-essential houses were sold to civil servants via single-digit mortgages arranged by the state government. He said the teachers that were sacked in 2015 were offered land-for-farming and financing support to enable them to start small and medium businesses. The labor union should sit with the state government and hold it to these commitments to pacify the sacked workers instead of the needless strikes that have never really made working conditions better in this country.

It is also important to ensure that the entire right-sizing and reform process remains as transparent as possible to renew trust in the relationship between leaders and their employers – the people.

As a businessman, I understand how difficult it is to employ labour and even pay your employees at the end of the month. I have also worked with the government and I understand how many people got into government service based on patronage. I believe it is even worse now.

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From my experience, only about 20 to 30% of all civil servants do any kind of job. In the Civil Service, you must ‘know somebody’ before you can even get your job description. This means that 70% of the people in the civil service, especially at the sub-national and local levels don’t do anything. None of us will accept such illegality in our own personal businesses or even in our homes because it is just not sustainable.

The sack is an unpopular decision but, at the same time, is the right decision. We should encourage more states to reduce their bloated workforce and pool funds by cutting government waste.

I agree with Aliyu Suleiman in his article in Daily Trust with a title thus: “El-Rufa’i And His Romance With Controversy”. In this article, Mr Suleiman said that we need 35 more “coconut heads”. I will even dare to say let’s get 500 if we can get them around the country. Let’s show them where to sign up and get the job done. Nigeria needs more states to think of the longer-term sustainability of their economic policies and plans.

The Kaduna State Government just had announced the disengagement of first set of the governor’s political appointees in its rightsizing exercise. We hope that the Federal Government and other state governors will realize that they don’t need an unproductive civil service or the massive entourage of aides and political jobbers. Political leaders should cut back on the number of appointees they have, reduce public recurrent expenditure and show good faith to the majority of us that are not in government by freeing up resources for sustainable growth and development.

Mr Ramalan wrote from Kaduna State.

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