A new storm is brewing in Kaduna. Public outrage trails the recent sacking of 4000 workers across the 23 Local Government Areas of Kaduna State. The workers across the 23 local governments had on 6 April 2021 received their disengagement letters. The development followed speculations that the Nasir el-Rufai administration was planning to downsize its workforce. The letter explained that the sack was in line with the ongoing restructuring of the LGs for efficiency.
In Jema Local Government Area, Kaduna State, not more than 80 staff were retrenched. As one of the affected staff queried, “Why is the State Government doing this to us now? Don’t they know the difficult times we are in as a country?”
Nigerians have equally taken to social media to lampoon the Kaduna State government for what they considered as very inconsiderate and rash.
Comrade Ayuba Wabbai, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) described the decision as “arbitrary and cruel”, while calling on the Kaduna State Government to reverse the decision. According to him, the decision to effect the compulsory retirement of officers that are 50 years old and above; compulsory retirement of officers on Grade Level 14 and above, even when they are less than 50 years violate the fundamental human and trade union rights of Kaduna State workers.
The Kaduna State Chapter of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) also berated the mass retirement of workers. The party’s state publicity secretary, Abraham Catoh, described the action as unlawful and insensitive to the plight of the people, especially in a period of economic downturn occasioned by the pandemic.
Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, however came out to explain why his government had to take the difficult decision. He said that the public finances of the Kaduna State Government had been stretched by the higher wage bills in a period where revenues from the Federation Account Allocation have not increased. The governor noted that the money the state had been receiving from FAAC since the middle of 2020, like most other sub-nationals, can barely pay salaries and overheads.
In a statement signed by Muyiwa Adekeye, the State Government Special Adviser on Media and Communications, it stated that “in November 2020, Kaduna State Government had only N162.9m left after paying salaries. That month, Kaduna State got N4.83bn from FAAC and N4.66bn as wages.”
The statement cleared that “in the last six months, personnel costs have accounted for 84.97% and 96.63% of FAAC transfers received by the Kaduna State Government. In March 2021, Kaduna State had only N321m left after settling personnel costs. That month, the state got N4.819bn from FAAC and paid out N4.498bn, representing 93% of the money received.”
The statement also pointed out that standing orders for overheads, funding security operations, running costs of schools and hospitals, and other overhead costs were not included.
Adekeye added that the government was elected to develop the state, not just to pay the salaries of public servants. His words:
“The government is an institution organised to deliver public goods, not to minister solely to the interests of the persons employed to help deliver mandate. Therefore, the state government has no choice but to shed some weight and reduce the size of the public service. It is a painful but necessary step to take, for the sake of the majority of the people of this state.
“The public service of the state with less than 100,000 employees (and their families) cannot be consuming more than 90% of government resources, with little left to positively impact the lives of the more than 9 million that are not political appointees or civil servants. It is gross injustice for such a micro-minority to consume the majority of the resources of the State.”
Analysts have said some of the points raised by the Kaduna State government are valid and reasonable. They, however, blame state governors for always relying on Federal Allocation to finance the needs of the states as opposed to looking within and seeking ways to generate revenue internally, which will only complement the allocation from the Federal Government.
There are equally fears that the mass retirement would add to the unemployment ratio: a gap which the Federal Government had been making persistent efforts to bridge. Bloomberg had reported that Nigeria, home to the world’s largest number of extremely poor people, looks set to break another record with highest jobless rate in the world. It noted that a third of Nigeria’s labour force already is either under-employed or without employment or working only a few hours a week. Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics had also said that the jobless rate rose to 33.3% in the three months through December 2020.
This is why pundits query whether adequate provisions were made for the over 4000 workers in view of their compulsory retirement from office. This is in the face of varying shades of crime that is fast gaining ground on Nigeria’s geopolitical turf. The crimes ranging from banditry, kidnapping, and insurgency are said to be results of unemployment.
Hence, did the Kaduna State government make any financial arrangement to sort out the sacked workers, considering the fact that they now have no jobs? In the words of a public commentator, “The first response should not have been to sack workers. It should have been how to generate revenue internally to make up for the shortfall.”
The Kaduna State Government has nonetheless outlined plans to give the retrenched workers loans and grants.
On the one hand, some opine that it is in the best interest of the state and germane in the area of cutting cost of governance. As Adekeye hinted, the rationalisation will extend to political appointees so as “to save funds and ensure that a strong and efficient public service exists to use those resources to implement progressive programmes and projects for the people, and thereby develop the state.”
But why did the state government start with the public workers? Should they have been the first point of cutting down costs of governance? This is why it is reasoned that the state government should have started with political appointees or added them to the mass retrenchment in a spirit of fairness to erase any misgiving.
Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic had exposed the fact that efficiency in an organisation is not determined by numbers. As Adekeye relayed, the measures which government took to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic “have shown clearly that the public service requires much fewer persons than it currently employs. The public service is an important institution and it should therefore maintain only an optimum size.”
This is why a few commended the mass retirement in view of the fact that the Nigerian civil service is fast losing its relevance as an efficient and productive public workforce given all manners of lackadaisical attitudes and office malfeasance identified with it.
On the other hand, while the decision may have some advantages, this, many feel, is not the best time to carry it out, particularly in the face of the country’s economic, security and political crisis. Observers have warned that the decision may back fire and could push more people into the world of crime, which has in fact become more lucrative with some state governments negotiating with bandits and paying huge sums as ransom.
The omen is even more odious for a state like Kaduna where schoolchildren and teachers are still in the camp of armed bandits. On a second thought, El-Rufai might be using the mass sack to make a statement on bandits whom he has told, would not be given a kobo. As observers posit, it might just be another way of telling the bandits that the state government has no money to even fend for itself, let alone use the little remaining to pay them.
In addition, analysts have interpreted that the mass retrenchment could be direct shot at labour who have queried state governments for their refusal to meet up with the N30000 minimum wage. It is noteworthy that some states had said they could not pay the amount approved by the Federal Government.
The Kaduna State Government in the press release tied the mass retrenchment to the same issue. It said Kaduna was the first government in the country to pay the new minimum wage and consequential adjustments. It noted that the state government followed it up by increasing the minimum pension of persons on the defined benefits scheme to N30,000 monthly. However, “this first step to advance the welfare of workers significantly increased the wage burden of the state government and immediately sapped up the funds of many local governments.”
Hence, “while the Kaduna State Government believes that public sector wages overall are still relatively low, their current levels are obviously limited by resources available to the government.”
Even so, calls for the reversal of the mass retrenchment have continued, which is another tough decision the El-Rufai administration has taken in recent times.