By Uche Chris
Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna state is a man of many parts and represents different things and tendencies to different people. He is a man many Christians would love to hate because of his supposedly religious fanaticism and anti-Christian disposition, such as running a Muslim-Muslim ticket in a state with a large Christian population, and championing some anti Christian laws like open preaching and church registration etc.
To some Muslims he is too liberal to be counted among the fold and faithful given his intellectual orientation and close association with Christians. To the political establishment, he is regarded as too radical and non-conformist to be trusted, which is unfolding in the APC in the run-up to 2023. But one thing is certain about him since he emerged on the national scene, as Director General of BPE, and later FCT minister: He is a man of his own mind and understands the challenges of leadership and the responsibility of leaders.
His current decision on ransoms for kidnapped victims and staff rationalization in the state – an issue that no other leader in the country can broach – is reflective of his personality, capacity and vision of leadership. Kidnapping has become an industry in the country especially in the northwest and virtually all the governors in the region have been involved in ransom paying, because they do not understand the responsibility of leadership nor do they see its moral contradiction.
We may argue that it is inhuman and inhumane to abandon kidnapped victims to their fate with the bandits, but this is war and in war or war situation, people die. After our soldiers, who are sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, and husbands and wives are being killed every day, and nobody mourns their deaths. It doesn’t make sense for government to pay criminals who use the money paid to them to procure more dangerous weapons to continue terorising society. This is leadership, which is not about doing what is popular but what is right.
To sack 4000 out of 100,000 workers is not only symbolic, but fundamental to the future of the country. It is symbolic because a mere four percent out of a hundred is really insignificant to the entirety of the problem. However, it is fundamental because it is the only strategic option for saving the nation, and reengineering its economic development trajectory.
In the past six months, the state had spent between 90 -93 percent of its revenue on salaries or recurrent expenditure. This is a death sentence. It is not that government revenue is down in view of the economic downturn, but that the overall philosophy is wicked and wrong-headed. It is a product of the socialist or welfare state, which has proved to be unsustainable. It is sharing your cake before it is baked and it would never produce positive outcome.
It is now axiomatic that leadership is the fundamental problem that has hindered Nigeria’s aspirations to greatness. Leadership in Nigeria has been reduced to come and chop rather adding value to society and changing positively the direction of social development. There is no great society that has not produced great leaders; no! And unless we pay attention to leadership, Nigeria may never become a great nation.
A great society is a product of great leadership and the misfortune of Nigeria is that the concept of leadership has been utterly devalued, debased and distorted that expectations of a great society has become a mere mirage. Pastor Taribo West, formerly of Super Eagles, once said allegorically that if you employ a baboon as coach, then you will produce monkeys as players. This captures the dynamic between leadership and performance which invariably determines success and development.
Leadership is a responsibility to society, not just to those in government. A leader who does not see himself beyond taking care of those few people in government is a failure, because he was not put there by them alone. In fact, by ratio, those in government are less than one percent of the total population of the state or country, and to use their satisfaction as the index of government performance is dereliction of duty and abdication of true leadership.
Paying salaries is a government responsibility but it is not the basic purpose of governance. Government is put in place to advance society, and paying salaries is only part of the purpose in pursuit and actualization of the goal of development. So when payment of salaries becomes the sole purpose og governance and a disincentive and obstacle to the purpose of government, then it is the responsibility of leadership to redress that. Without doing this society will pay a greater price in crimes, violence, instability, and general economic underdevelopment, as we currently face in the country.
What is going on the country today in terms of insecurity and economic hardship, such as underemployment and inflation, are fruits of the bad seeds sown by successive government over the years, who preferred to pay salaries and take care of only those in government at the expense of the larger society. During a visit to Adamawa state in 2001, then governor, Mr. Boni Haruna, lamented to us the challenge of governance, where he was compelled to use 68 percent of state revenue to pay salaries.
This was 20 years ago; today the situation is even worse. According to El Rufai, 90 percent of Kaduna state revenue goes into recurrent expenditure, which comprises mainly salaries and allowances of public servants, who are just 100,000 in a state of over six million people. What is the justice of this economic foolishness? Working in government has become a status symbol and inheritance that once you enter, it must end in pension and gratuity irrespective of the effect on society; that cannot continue in a society that is crying for development.
As leadership is instrumental to greatness, so also leadership is central for failure. Ultimately, former president Obasanjo is responsible for the present recurrent expenditure problem that is drowning the country. In 2004 probably because of the negotiations for debt relief, his government introduced the monetization policy which was supposed to streamline and rationalize public sector work force through computerization/digitilisation of the bureaucracy. This was expected to reduce the work force by 48 percent.
Well, monetization was done but no worker was relieved. For instance, pool cars were scrapped but the drivers were retained without cars to drive. Directors collected money for cars and drivers and still used official drivers. See how foolish we could be as a people and nation? This was the case simply, because the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC rejected rationalization and Obasanjo balked as he had his eye on third term, which he never got and the policy he also failed to implement.
Today the federal government spends 82 percent on recurrent expenditure; so how would there be any development in the country to change the lives of the people, which is the primary responsibility of government. Without building good infrastructure, such as roads, rail, ports, schools and hospitals etc, people’s lives would never improve, even if the minimum wage is N100,000 per month. This is the reason behind the unbridled borrowings by government to achieve a semblance of governance. But debt also has a consequence which we must face in due time.
All the state governors in the country, including Lagos, must follow and adopt the El Rufai governance doctrine to survive or have their fate in the rubbish heap of history. Many states are in arrears of several months of salaries, pensions and gratuities, yet they are comfortable sitting there and doing nothing about it. As former U.S. president, FDR once said, history does not remember the critics, nor those who for fear of criticism do nothing; but only those who against all criticisms and odds, challenge themselves to do something.
Although 2023 is still far, and we can’t predict for sure what his future political ambition may be; but all considered, El Rufai is the future of this country in term of leadership in whatever capacity. A leader who cannot take tough decisions for the good and interest of society does not worth its name. Nigeria must as a matter of survival strategy reduce its recurrent expenditure, of which salaries and allowances constitute over 70 percent. As long as we delay and defer this, so long will development be postponed. It is simply a no brainer.