The Ram Meat Republic, By Garba Shehu

Wise men say that if you call a spade a spade in politics, you will end up eating a crow. This notwithstanding, I must say of the Kano State House of Assembly directly and not circuitously that they are short on direction and vision. I have doubts if they appreciate the much work that is before them.

The storm caused last week by their attempt to amend the law on free ram gifts to civil servants on Sallah occasions, leading to attacks and a walkout by some members, is nothing but indicative of drift and vacillating leadership.

The crisis started with an attempt to amend a previously passed law. That law made it mandatory upon the government of the state to give a ram to each civil servant to feast during Sallah. The amendment seeks to make any such gifts from the government discretionary by substituting the word “must” with “discretion”.

All hell was let loose that day by the opposition (ANPP) members whose governor, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, was the author of the original bill. The ANPP makes about a third of the membership of the state’s legislature. The majority of the PDP members who proposed this amendment are working in league with the Governor, the PDP’s Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, who promised to comply with the law but failed to do so last year. His inability led to so much ill-feeling and belly-aching by the state’s branch of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. The NLC actually issued a strike threat over this last year. With yet another Sallah festival in view, it is not unexpected that tension has again risen over this matter.

Knowing the sincerity of purpose of the former Governor Shekarau who signed this law, I will not accept that he instituted it out of a wicked intention. The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions! But there is nothing to show that this policy has any constitutional validity. There is also nothing in the ethos and conditions of service in the public sector to warrant the law. It is perhaps more appropriate for the private sector where bonuses accompany profits especially where expectations of earning are met or surpassed.

But even in situations of profit in the private sector, where investors first claim is profit making, not all of that which is declared as profit is cleared and pocketed. In all cases, the board and shareholders must meet to approve that which the investor can take as dividend. That is the law. Now, is there anything to suggest that productivity, the yardstick by which the public service is measured, stands to gain an increase with the gift of rams on Sallah occasions?

Is there an index to show that the public servants in Kano State are all Muslims, and that they want a ram each. If the government would give rams on Sallah, on which of the two yearly Sallah occasions will they be doing this? Will the government provide rams as well for Christians at Christmas?

Without a basis for this law in the public service, it is equally contentious, in my view, if there is a basis for it in Islamic religion. Rather it is simply a reflection of the imperial nature of the power of governors, who initiate laws and execute policies in line with their wishes and caprices. This goes beyond Kano because it is the symbol of licentiousness that is the hallmark of our young democracy.

Corrupt politicians all over Nigeria make corruption contagious so that you lose your right to ask them questions.

It is therefore no surprise that a technical issue like this one has become a big, big political issue in Kano State. But why is no other state in the federation doing this but Kano? Why make Kano the exception with all of the implications that go with that?

The Kwankwaso government is itself not handling the issue in the best way anybody can. They should have sought to question the law, not just to amend it. Now, they have fallen into a trap. They have been drawn into the debate of whether to pay, and if yes, when, to whom and how much?

The public service has a general principle which is that you must avoid setting bad precedents. If you do one, another governor will come and whimsically raise the bar by bringing another law to suit his or her own tenure. From ram, who knows if another governor who wants to popularize himself might not decree free Hajj Seats for each government employee? Or funding for one more wife to each civil servant to clear out the long line of widows and divorcees assembled by the Hisbah.

One of the charges against former Governor Danjuma Goje of Gombe State by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC) is that he paid 10million U.S. Dollars to secure accommodation for Gombe State pilgrims covering ten years in Saudi Arabia. This was despite the fact that his tenure was limited to eight years. His gesture may be politically expedient but economically insensible.

In their rash zeal to achieve populist objectives, governors embark on courses of action that border on the irrational – something unsustainable. Kwankwaso is now dealing with the burden of his predecessor’s decision, whatever may be the benign objectives of ram gifts to civil servants. In fact, former Governor Mamuda Shinkafi of Zamfara State lost the 2011 election on the account of his reluctance to continue with Ahmad Yarima’s legacy of largesse sharing policy even to praise singers providing no useful service to the people. After all, a gift is a privilege, not a right. And for that reason, its implementation should not be sacrosanct.

With Boko Haram and all of the things going on in Kano, you wonder whether our politicians are not acting the man who is haggling over the price of hosepipe while the house is on fire.


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