Adam Smith opined that there is no obligation for anyone to do good. Still, for society to survive, rules must be designed todeter individuals from harming each other. The Western world leaders have since adopted this notion, and it contributed to their accelerated growth. A very simple way of emulating such behaviour is to follow the rules when you know too much or even very little, regardless of one’s position in society.
It is worrisome when an elected official violates the law in our society because practising such behaviour is immoral, uncivil,and undemocratic. The scarier part is observing somemembers of the society defending such reprehensible actions,knowing fully that certain group are being harmed. History has shown that whenever members of society engage in a race to the bottom, they soon find there is no bottom and will keep racing down until they lose all moral bearings. Suchbehaviour could drift a society into a state of fascism and extremism.
Putting this into context, last week’s warning strike by theNigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Kaduna state lasted for three days. The state was brought to a standstill as the airport, banks, hospitals, train station, and many businesses were shut. It was tough for the residents. However, there was a sigh of relief when both parties were advised to return to the negotiating table.
We wouldn’t be discussing this topic if el-Rufai, the Kaduna state Governor, had not violated section 20 of the Labour Actby dismissing thousands of employees in April. El-Rufai has been retrenching workers for six years now, and the activity is becoming insatiable for him. Regardless of the justification of this action, the outcome is only harming the vulnerable group of the society – the poor.
Of course, one must try hard not to be offended by those defending el-Rufai’s position, as we live in a society where people applaud politicians for spending public money. Notably, credit should also be given to the Nigerian Governor’s Forum for not supporting el-Rufai’s act of immorality. In an ideal world, the State Assembly would be investigating this inexcusable behaviour.
Statistically speaking, evidence shows Kaduna residents are lagging in well-being despite the reported increase in internally generated revenue. In 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics reported that 40% of the Kaduna residents are unemployed. Its poverty rate is 44% – above the national level. It is also the state with the second most unequal incomes in the country, with a Gini coefficient of 35.2%. The picture will be grimmer if the underemployment figure mentioned here. The data reminds us of Adam Smith’s conception that no society can surely be thriving and happy ifa large part of its population is poor and miserable.
Primarily, state employees are dominated by the low-income group of the society, who commonly have many dependants. So, retrenching thousands of state employees should not be a policy to be considered if well-being is top of the government’s agenda. Because doing so will only increase the unemployment rate, which will increase the poverty rate. If the government had observed the effects on each major groupin the state, it would have found that dismissing workers will mainly impact families with lower incomes. That means the poverty rate and inequality gap will increase—these are some of the factors that contributed to the country’s uncontrollable insecurity challenges.
El-Rufai had persistently argued that dismissing the workers is due to inefficiency, productivity and sustainability. But, of course, that does not warrant violating the Labour Act. Nonetheless, evidence has shown that inequality in society is the factor that reduces efficiency and productivity (see Stiglitz, 2012). But, unfortunately, there is no foresight in el-Rufai’s argument and decision-making.
And those who support his aberration often ignore the government’s responsibilities to its citizens and the consequences of creating wider inequality in a society. Unlike a manager in the private sector whose social responsibility is to make a profit, a state governor’s focus should be on the social welfare of his citizens.
There are many states in the country with more public sector employees than Kaduna. But these states have not thought of sacking their employees due to unproductivity or inefficiency and are paying salaries on time. On the other hand, Kano, Zamfara, Bauchi, and many other states who could not pay the minimum wage and were equally limited in creativity decided to revert to the previous minimum wage. That is not plausible, but it is by miles a better option than creating more crisis in the country.
From a public sector economics perspective, choosing between efficiency and inequality in society has always been debated. Some economists suggest that helping the poor should be prioritised above efficiency. That can be done by redistributing income which will minimise inequality in society. Others argue that the best way to help the poor is by increasing the size of society’s resources so that everyone can have more. That means having both an efficient and productive economy, as well as increased equality.
In light of the above, a competent state Governor should becreative enough to design a method that will increase the productivity level of all sectors in the state. For example, the employees could be assigned to work on the servicescontracted out to the Governor’s cronies in a sleazy fashion.
One can only conclude that el-Rufai’s creative thinking abilities are very limited. His governance in Kaduna state is akin to running a private company that aims to generate profit for shareholders. That explains why he chose the easiest decision – relieving workers of their duties, regardless of the potential consequences.
In the grand scheme of things, the accidental public servant has learned very little about the protocols of the public sectorafter six years as an elected official. And he is yet to prove the Nigerian Senate wrong – who declared him unfit to run a public office in 2008.
Dr Nasir Aminu – Senior Lecturer in Economics at Cardiff Metropolitan University