…everyone knows that investment in the education of these children is the best gamble this country could ever take, as our future will be bleak for as long as that ugly culture persists. To take 800,000 children off the streets in Kaduna State, they probably need a new task force that can absorb as many as 5,000 workers, constantly on the streets to ensure compliance.
The roforofo fight between Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State and leaders of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has come and gone. Let us assume that was the phase 1, because both parties had to sheathe their swords only 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 NLC president, Ayuba Wabba was labelled a fugitive from law and bandit. Over and above, what we saw in Kaduna was a clash of ideologies, and that made 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 a faction of APC middle-aged men 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 call Isomorphic Mimicry – like when a country tries to act like what she is not, because leaders believe they have arrived.
I had written, begging the governor to change tact, in another forum. But El-Rufai still surprised me, that he could so simply seek to foist policies on his people, and that he would take such an unfeeling stand, ignoring that it is people’s lives he is kidding with. Everyone knows how the man’s policies played out in Abuja some years back. Some people still carry their scars till date, but El-Rufai has not changed. If anything, the gentleman may have become worse in his deliberate dalliance with a self-advertised lack of emotional intelligence. Yes, El-Rufai is a smart guy. He may even be considered a very sharp 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, Kaduna State is paying too much to workers and, as such, the civil service needs to shed some weight. Somewhere in the rhetoric, one also gets the feeling that Governor Nasir does not think highly of the civil servants. He believes they are lazy, and that 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 an earlier article to the governor, I also do not believe that people should be employed just to fill 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 – so many services unmanned – 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. In past interviews, El-Rufai said 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 that if he had his way, all those in our villages will be displaced by large, rich, mechanised farmers, to become farmhands or sharecroppers, or they would have to find their levels in the cities, where they might as well perish trying to survive. He says the civil service should be ‘rightsized’, utilising a much-discredited terminological relic of the Washington consensus era by which African nations were laid prostrated from the 1980s. Even the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have repented of some of the egregious policies they encouraged us to embark upon in the past. 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 a fuel price of between N385 and N410 per litre, barraging listeners with all the market terminologies in the world. I realised then that this is an ideological war, and Kaduna just happens to be the epicentre 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 them all in one fell swoop. Again, those who are not cooperative amongst them and who do not want to work should be let go. That advice stays. However, we can see that there is a manner in 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 with 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 others in the State. Imagine if he let the people see how their contributions can help, and how their taxes are also needed (that was how Fashola made strides in Lagos). Imagine if he focused on public goods – security, the environment, social services, agriculture, health services – many of which are in short or no 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.
The environmental sector could employ two million people in Nigeria immediately. Nigeria is the world’s biggest open-defecation country. Yeah, D.J. Trump was right about that ‘shithole’ reference… Come to our glistening city, Abuja, where all the road medians and gutters are perfect spots for people to take the dump in broad daylight.
The gaps are there to fill. Why the governor is not showing his people visions of a brighter tomorrow is anyone’s guess. Hear one M. Kure, who responded to one of my tweets:
“Less than Two weeks ago I lost my daughter in Kaduna State University Teaching Hospital simply because for 3 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 was lost because the required investment in staffing and performance management had 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 painted a picture of abundance. Public goods are presently unmanned in Kaduna and that’s where the attention should be. El-Rufai’s dominant ideology is one of the things that have damaged the minds of many youths who now have an apocalyptic, I-am-on-my-own, no-work-in-government mentality. It must be repeated 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?
Many Nigerians are still in doubt about what we can do with the public sector. Most Nigerians have given up on themselves and believe that the government need not provide services that they enjoy abroad. When we travel to countries that work, do we think the serenity, cleanliness, order, aesthetic beauty that we see were born with those countries? No! They worked for them. It is a daily grind. And their leaders have long-term visions. This is also what gives those nations the edge in everything else over the rest of us. In fact, many Nigerians constitute a significant part of the labour force that makes those things happen. I also realised that in those countries, they would rather take much time in fixing their public spaces than in acquiring private mansions. People there sometimes live in hovels, but the local parks look pristine and peaceful. Here, the inverse is the case. Nigerians – especially our leaders – are chasing large mansions, but once you step out of those mansions, you step into filth, disorder, chaos, ugliness. This is where the work is.
Imagine Kaduna. If there are 10 million children roaming about in Nigeria, there could be say 800,000 of these national assets in Kaduna. What we have had so far are halfhearted, fleeting attempts to get them off the streets and into schools. Yet, everyone knows that investment in the education of these children is the best gamble this country could ever take, as our future will be bleak for as long as that ugly culture persists. To take 800,000 children off the streets in Kaduna State, they probably need a new task force that can absorb as many as 5,000 workers, constantly on the streets to ensure compliance. They will also need at least 4,000 teachers, if one teacher is to handle 200 kids. It will cost untold billions, but it would pay off soon. Why did El-Rufai choose to ignore this possibility and would rather shrink his workforce? It can only be that like every other government in Nigeria, El-Rufai’s is not ready to make the needed investment. What is the option? The option is to find ways of pushing the people into despair, in the hope that they will disappear or die off. Our current leaders are certainly not interested in helping our people find a better life.
The Almajirai children example is just one. There are others. The environmental sector could employ two million people in Nigeria immediately. Nigeria is the world’s biggest open-defecation country. Yeah, D.J. Trump was right about that ‘shithole’ reference. Daily Trust newspapers carried a report two weeks ago about how all the roundabouts in Bauchi metropolis have turned into public toilets. Bauchi is far. Come to our glistening city, Abuja, where all the road medians and gutters are perfect spots for people to take the dump in broad daylight. I see why this country has no respect from foreigners. I also don’t understand what government thinks its role is – negotiating loans abroad, perhaps, while leaving the real issues at home. What a crying shame. Open defecation, meanwhile, is only one aspect of environmental issues, but an aspect wherein India has created so many jobs in the last 10 years and caused the world’s biggest behavioural and culture change in recent times. There is desertification, erosion, waste management, beautification and other works that our states can create but have refused to.
Yet El-Rufai is not ignorant of the truth. He is just being egotistic… He was a chief backer of the same labour unions he attacks today. They demonstrated together. But today, he sees workers as irritants and has populated his government with the shallow, over-educated, disconnected-from-reality, consultant types who only end up emptying any state’s treasury.
What about security? El-Rufai is more concerned with laying off workers, in a State under siege from kidnappers and all sorts; in a State that is still a flashpoint of communal clashes. Listening to the villagers in some of those places ravaged by bandits and kidnappers, the simple message that jumps out for me is that the same villagers should be employed as security operatives by government, to guard their domains, not left to their own devices and made to suffer in the hands of marauders. If El-Rufai wanted to beef up security in that State, he could employ up to 10,000 young men to guard their areas and villages. Inclusion works wonders. These young boys will be so happy to contribute. The civil service of a State can never be too large when the State is under the jackboot of terrorists. This is where the investment is needed. I refuse to give up on the potentials of our people. Our governors should be reminded that they are here to supervene on the issues of the PEOPLE. The people are their key charge, not machines, or books of accounts. That job is not all about looking good for the cameras. The people may be dirty and stinking and unwashed. The people may be untrained and uneducated and uncouth. Still, the role of leaders is to take the people to where the people need to be – sometimes kicking and screaming. You do not abandon the people to their fates and seek validation abroad. This is the problem Nigeria now has.
Unfortunately, young Nigerians have been infected by the same disease. They believe there is no space for the improvement of lives through governance. They have been miseducated to go and all become entrepreneurs, pushing wares in people’s faces, trying to make a buck that does not improve the quality of their lives. We need to slow down and realise that there is great value in service to humanity. Most of our idle, angry youths should be in the security services, serving as teachers, working on the environment, functioning as social workers. The U.S.A has 680,000 social workers in employment. Those are the types we need to take care of the millions of traumatised children all over Nigeria. The big fallacy being pushed that the private sector creates employment is what I come against. The IMF/World Bank-types sowed this terrible seed in us and our policymakers and politicians have carried it forward. How so wrong! This is also how they propagate their ideologies through falsehood. What a shame. But we too are meant to be educated, aren’t we? The internet is there for anyone to research the truth. For in truth, in ALL the most developed nations of the world, the government is the largest employer – the NHS in the UK and the Department of Defense in the U.S. are the largest single employers, with 21 per cent and 17 per cent the workforce in the public sector in those countries respectively. I have laboured to open the minds of Nigerians to this truth but too many have been brainwashed. The El-Rufai types are in the vanguard of that brainwashing.
Yet El-Rufai is not ignorant of the truth. He is just being egotistic. When he was on the other side, he gave the leaders hell. On May 16, 2010, he tweeted that teachers should be paid like bankers to attract the best by cutting unnecessary luxuries. He advocated for education. He was a chief backer of the same labour unions he attacks today. They demonstrated together. But today, he sees workers as irritants and has populated his government with the shallow, over-educated, disconnected-from-reality, consultant types who only end up emptying any state’s treasury. I recall that Aregbesola had them in Osun way back. They devastated the State and the debt overhand is still there today.
I close by quoting the serving British High Commissioner, Catriona Laing, who said just last week:
“I do have some sympathy for Nigeria because if we as the UK have one of these problems your country is having today, we will be struggling. Here, you deal with everything, from insurgency to kidnapping, to piracy off the Gulf of Guinea and you don’t have such a large army and police force for a country of this size. The only way you turn this thing around is that government has to build the trust of its people, to have the people working with the government to deal with criminality. That’s how successful anti-criminal operations work.”
Since they only listen to white people, maybe this will sink. You have a security challenge, and a small police force and army which you have privatised. Then, how best to get the trust of the people, than to put some cash in their pockets? Let us not forget: PUBLIC GOODS is our next bus stop. We must create all the things that make life worth living and it is our people that will do it. This country can work.
The adopted strategy is dead on arrival. Without security, no youth entrepreneur can thrive. And by the time you sack the few who have jobs, plummeting purchasing power in society, tell me who will buy anything from anyone?
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