By Maryam Abubakar |
Leadership is often said to be a burden and leaders are consistently faced with the difficult task of making tough decisions. In a society such as ours, these difficult decisions are almost always more pronounced as they often have a tangible and lasting impact on the most vulnerable. However difficult, these decisions must be taken by good leaders who – in the interest of overall prosperity in the longer term – must remain steadfast on what they believe needs to be done to achieve lasting solutions to problems bedevilling the larger community. Focus must remain on the greater good.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai is not a stranger to making difficult decisions. From his antecedents in public service, it is clear to even the most casual observer that he is a man of conviction who is not averse to making the necessary changes required to achieve set objectives – in this case, putting the people of Kaduna State first. Considering the ongoing realignment exercise in the state civil & public service designed to ensure the State conforms with the new reality of dwindling resources, the “Putting People First” slogan may sound counterintuitive.
However, in the interest of future generations, the El-Rufai-led administration will continue to ensure sacrifices are made today to give rise to economic stability and development tomorrow. On April 18, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the N30,000 minimum wage bill into law.
In September of the same year, the Kaduna State Government commenced full implementation of the new structure making it the first State to pay the new minimum wage and the accompanying adjustments. In a letter dated January 6, 2020, the Kaduna State chapter of Nigerian Labour Congress(NLC) praised El-Rufai for the pioneering effort, asking other states to follow suit. In addition, NLC also commended ElRufai’s “vibrant administration for the regular and sustained prompt payment of salaries, pension and union dues’’.
As a show of commitment to the longterm welfare of workers, the State Government followed up by increasing the minimum pension of persons on the defined benefits scheme to N30,000 monthly, barely six months after commencement of paying minimum wage. However, as is well known, the onset of 2020 came with the biggest public health challenge in recent history, with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing the world and its economies to a full standstill. Revenue from crude oil sales plunged as the demand for crude oil rapidly declined.
Lockdowns were imposed to check the spread of the virus, limiting productivity and capacity utilisation. Regardless, Kaduna State Government continued to pay the minimum wage and pension without fail. However, despite the increase in internally generated revenue (IGR) in the State from c. N13bn in 2015 to c. N50bn in 2020 because of the El-Rufai-led administration’s sound economic policies, providing infrastructure and public services for the citizens during the year was affected by reduced overall revenues.
The State found itself back in the pre-2015 era, where Government revenues were almost exclusively used to pay salaries. A stark illustration of the grim reality was demonstrated in November 2020 where Kaduna State got N4.83bn from the federation account but spent 97% of it on salaries at N4.66bn, leaving it with the balance of N162.9m to execute the massive infrastructural and social upgrades visible all over the State to even the most skeptical of observers. Furthermore, in March 2021, Kaduna State received N4.82 bn in statutory allocations but had only N321m remaining after settling personnel costs. In plain terms, this means 93% of the funds available was used to pay workers who constitute a small percentage of the c. 10 million citizens of Kaduna State, at the expense of developmental projects for the benefit of all.
Clearly, this approach is unsustainable, and goes against the spirit of the Putting People First agenda of the El-Rufai administration. This is where we are as a State and Mallam Nasir El-Rufai in his nature, will not sugarcoat the truth – difficult times call for difficult sacrifices. In response, the government has decided to optimize its work force to reflect current financial realities.
In a press statement issued last Monday by the Special Adviser on Media and Communication, Mr. Muyiwa Adekeye, the government presented cogent arguments in favour of the exercise. According to Adekeye, ‘’in these tough times, government cannot encourage the illusion that the public service can be immune from the measures required to cope with the reality of low revenues.’’
In this regard, civil servants and political appointees whose roles have been made redundant will be disengaged. In addition, the Government will continue with its verification exercise to ensure the integrity of its payroll is maintained by weeding out ghost workers and unqualified staff. The process is already ongoing in the local government areas and will continue at the State level, including all branches of government.
As we begin to see light at the end of the tunnel with regards to the pandemic, the global economy is adjusting to the impact of the structural shock caused by COVID-19. Governments all over the world are either increasing spending or reducing it, depending on the size of their incomes or savings. Outspending the pandemic is sadly not an option for Kaduna State as the resources simply are not there. Governments are also not immune to revenue shortages and must therefore make necessary adjustments to cope, as is no doubt required from individuals, small firms and large corporations who have all taken steps to ensure survival and eventual growth.
In conclusion, Malam Nasir El-Rufai is determined to do what is right for Kaduna State at this critical phase of its existence. The need to urgently close the infrastructure deficit in the State is glaring. The monthly wage bill vis-à-vis dwindling revenue is equally unsustainable. Optimising the civil and public service is critical to achieving a leaner and more efficient service primed to deliver value to taxpayers and provide a much needed boost in funding for critical infrastructure projects which will translate into jobs and general long term economic prosperity. This administration will remain steadfast delivering on its mandate in the most transparent and inclusive manner regardless of the whispers of naysayers and professional critics, believing that posterity will be the ultimate judge.
Maryam is a Senior Special Assistant on Public Communication