By Tope Fasua

The “roforofo” fight between Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State and labour leaders have come and gone. Let us assume that is the phase I because both parties had to sheathe their swords upon the intervention of the federal government. While the standoff lasted, hateful words were hauled back and forth. El-Rufai became Hell Rufai and the Labour Leader was labelled a fugitive and a bandit.

Over and above, what we saw in Kaduna was a clash of ideologies… and that makes the issue very symbolic for the wellbeing of the soul of Nigeria, and indeed a sign of things to come, given that El-Rufai heads up a faction of APC middle-agers who believe they are smart and are angling for the presidency in 2023. Kayode Fayemi is his sidekick.

The arrogance with which Governor Nasir wanted to ‘waste’ civil servants in Kaduna was taken out of a neoliberal playbook. As elegant as the ideology looks on the surface, it has held Nigeria down and dragged her backwards since the days of General Babangida in the 1980s. One should have thought that with the vast exposure of Nigerians to education, we should have stepped away from practicing what Lant Pritchett and Matt Andrews at Harvard called Isomorphic Mimicry – like when a country tries to act like others, because leaders believe they have arrived.

I recall that my last two-part article on this page was a letter to Governor El-Rufai. I clearly anticipated and rightly predicted how the standoff will go. But El-Rufai still surprised me that he would so simply seek to foist policies on his people, and that he will take such an unfeeling stand, ignoring that it is people’s lives he is kidding with. Everyone knows how the man played out in Abuja some years back. Some people still carry that scar till today, but El-Rufai has not changed. If anything, the gentleman may have become worse in his deliberate dalliance with self-advertised lack of emotional intelligence. Yes, El-Rufai is a smart guy. He may even be considered sharper as a leader in some European nation, but he will clearly be a puritan right-winger harassing the poor and those not of pure blood, like those ones gaining grounds in Western Europe on the basis of anti-immigration policies.

The fight between the state government and labour is being put forward by El-Rufai and his people as an operational issue. They talk in terms of naira and kobo and put out figures to show that proportionally, the state is paying too much to workers and so the civil service needs to shed some weight.

Somewhere in the rhetoric, one also gets the idea that Governor Nasir does not think highly of the civil servants. He believes they are lazy and many are not doing anything anyway. He could be right. But has he not had enough time to institute a credible performance management system in the state, with his exposure and the smart people he works with?

As I stated in my earlier article to the governor, I also do not believe that people should be employed just to fill the space. I believe that unproductive people should be let go. But the process should be scientific, and I believe there is much work yet undone in our public service such that we should be growing the service for now, not shrinking it. I will provide evidence.

The fight is, therefore, an ideological one, not an operational or finance issue. From what I’ve seen and heard so far, and what I know about the Governor, he is trying to operationalise a neo-liberal agenda. The evidence is replete. El-Rufai in previous interviews says he does not believe in the concept of rural areas; that everyone should live in cities. As a town planner, that is a dire vision to have for your people. It means if he had his way all those in our villages will be displaced to find their levels in the cities, where they may as well perish trying to survive. He says the civil service should be ‘rightsized’, picking a much-discredited relic of the Washington consensus era by which African nations were laid prostrated from the 1980s. Even the World Bank and IMF has repented of some of the egregious policies they encouraged us to embark upon.

Also, on the day labour called off the strike, El-Rufai, speaking at the Governors’ Forum, unveiled the findings of the committee he chaired on the subject of oil subsidies. His committee recommended fuel price of between N385 and N410 a litre, barraging listeners with all the neo-liberal terminologies in the world. I realized then that this is an ideological war, Kaduna just happens to be the epicenter. He was also the one who asked anyone earning below N50,000 to leave Abuja and return to their villages in 2006.

If El-Rufai gets his way, other governors will do the same. And when they do, it will be blood on the streets as many families will gnash their teeth.

I had advised the governor to try and repurpose the staff and not sack all in one fell swoop. Again, those that are not cooperative amongst them and who don’t want to work should be let go. That advice stays. However, we can see that there is a style by which the governor has already muddied the waters.

Now, he may no longer get the cooperation of the workers. Since the governor approached the matter from an apocalyptic point of view, regaling the world about how much of a parasite the civil servants are, he has opened an ugly vista that will dog the rest of his tenure in the state. If he didn’t have such an agenda, and wasn’t ideologically driven, he could have seen that a bigger vision could emanate from the challenges besetting the state right now. Imagine if the governor inspired his people, and let them see his vision, and painted a picture of great things he wishes to achieve with the cooperation of the state. Imagine if he let the people see how their contributions can help, and how their taxes are also needed. Imagine if he focused on public goods – security, environment, social services, agriculture, health services – many of which are in short supply in Kaduna, just as all over Nigeria today? That way he could employ a lot more than he is sacking, and will have no problems today.

I close by quoting a citizen of Kaduna State who responded to my comments on Twitter over same matter: Hear one M. Kure:

“Less than two weeks ago I lost my daughter in Kaduna State University Teaching Hospital simply because for three days, only a nurse was in afternoon duty @SBCU & there was need for her to be wheeled for X-Ray. There was nobody to cater for the remaining patients.”

This is an example of where a life has been lost because the required investment in staffing and performance management has not been made by the same people who allege inefficiency.  At his own risk, and out of the abundance of his heart, driven by ideology, Governor El-Rufai chose the route of portraying scarcity where he could have done otherwise. Public goods are presently unmanned in Kaduna and that’s where the attention should be.

More next week, when we will properly look at how El-Rufai’s dominant ideology has damaged the minds of many youths who now have an apocalyptic, I-am-on-my-own, no-work-in-government mentality. As a snippet, it must be said that public sector workers are the largest in every functioning country in the world, including all the western nations we flock to. Imagine how many workers El-Rufai needs to take Almajirai children off the streets and keep them in schools?


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