‘Our policies, programme are for best interest of state’
Mallam Uba Sani, Political Adviser to Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai, addresses the contentious religious Bill and other government policies that have generated controversy in the state in an interview with Saxone Akhaine, Northern Bureau Chief. He also spoke on the verification of workers and the altercation between Labour and Government; School feeding programme; demolition of illegal structures, among others. Excerpts:
The objective of the religious bill
This matter is clearly over-flogged and it is now being politicized. However, we are not going to get tired of explaining to our people that all the policies, programmes as well as legislations currently being implemented or about to be implemented by the El Rufai administration, will always be in the best interest of the State and for the greatest good of the people who overwhelmingly elected the Governor into office. You may accuse Governor Nasir El Rufai of anything but you don’t even have to know him too well to deduce that the Governor is not the type to be swayed by any form or shade of primordial religious sentiments.
Mallam El Rufai will never betray the people of Kaduna State. The Governor has a deep knowledge of this State and how easy it is for persons who do not mean well to orchestrate negative religious issues, given the seemingly sharp religious divide in the State. The Bill in question is not even a new law, as some persons are making it appear. This law has existed since 1984, with amendments in 1987 and 1996. My understanding is that previous administrations in Kaduna State that have either enacted or retained this law were responding to outbreaks of religious violence in the state over time. Recall that at some point, Kaduna State became notorious for religious riots and there was the compelling need to resort to all legal means possible to tackle this matter. Hence the amendment of this law, that is aimed at stemming religious extremism.
In further amending this law, the Government is only seeking to discourage the use of religion for violence and division. Kindly note however that this law does not in any way abridge, threaten or violate the freedom of worship as enshrined in the constitution of our great country. In fact, the law is in synch with the constitution, especially Section 45(1) of the 1999 Constitution. There is nothing in the law that suggests any effort to abolish, stop or derogate the freedom of religion and religious beliefs. It merely seeks to ensure that religious preaching and activities in the State are conducted in ways that do not threaten public order and safety while protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.
Criticism of religious leaders
It was informed by the fact that initially, enough information was not made available to them. The initial impression was that it was a new law and of course, for apparent political reasons, a few people were spreading falsehood about the bill. However after due explanations and with several of our religious leaders, availed with copies of the bill, they now have a better understanding. They are now aware that it is not a new law; that it does not in any way negate or infringe on the freedom of worship; they are now aware that this law is in synch with the provisions of the constitution of Nigeria. Our highly revered religious leaders are now well aware that this law is targeted at deepening peace, safety and security in our dear Kaduna State.
In the entire northern Nigeria, people have become crisis-weary. People are simply tired of conflicts and attritions. People are just seeking out ways and means of improving their respective economies and are aware that conflicts militate against sustainable development and income generation. Christians and Muslims are living in peace here in Kaduna State and Governor El Rufai and members of his team as well as the very profound members of the Kaduna State House of Assembly, are working assiduously to deepen this peace. We are urging public understanding and also appealing to persons who are seeking to score cheap political points to avoid politicizing religion in Kaduna State. It is, to say the least, very unfair.
Verification of workers and labour’s fears
This is also another misinformation that is being peddled by some few persons, who for political reasons, are poised to breed discord between the government and segments of the people. Everyone knows that at the Federal and State levels, the issue of ghost workers is endemic. Virtually all the State Governments expend almost 95 per cent of their monthly earnings on the payment of salaries and allowances leaving virtually nothing for developmental projects, basic needs or even the education of our children.
Last month, the allocation to Kaduna State was N2.75 Billion and our wage bill was N2.7 Billion. However, since we began the verification exercise, we have been able to save N500 Million monthly and by the time we are through by April, I know much more money would have been saved. And of course, these saved sums would help government to enhance the welfare and wellbeing of the citizenry. It is true that paying salaries to workers is the responsibility of the Governor but unfortunately, that is just one of his several responsibilities.
It is even more unconscionable when payments are purportedly made every month to thousand of persons who in reality do not exist; they are not physical human beings who go to work. It is just a huge scam that was over the years cleverly designed by some entrenched persons who want to keep feeding fat on the resources of the State Government. They simply injected several names and account numbers into the payroll of the civil service.
Government is trying to ascertain the true number of its workforce and the only way to do this is to adopt and implement a series of verification options. We are simply verifying our workforce so that we can plan and enhance their productivity. The government does not have any problem with its workers. We have already recognized the inconveniences the verification exercise has necessitated but it is in everyone’s interest that we travel this route. That however, does not mean that there is any form of labour unrest in Kaduna state. We have since explained to the workers, particularly their leaders, that the form they are talking about is just one of the tools to gather basic data to complete the verification programme.
Free education programme
If we were not going to sustain the school feeding programme, we would not have started it at all. The El Rufai administration believes in prioritizing its expenses and investments in basic education is one of the cardinal
agenda of the government. Remember also that the school-feeding programme is part of the promises of the APC central government and very soon it will start making contributions to our own state and all other states of the federation.
The programme is something we just started and there may be the usual teething problems that are associated with new projects but we will continue to review and improve the processes as we go.
The new tax code and reforms
It is true that the State Government is embarking on tax reforms. To this end, the Governor recently signed the new Tax Codification and Pension bills into law, bringing revenue collection in Kaduna State under one agency. The actual purpose of this law is that it simply takes off virtually the entire bottlenecks associated with efficient tax administration. Under the new law, investors, business owners and citizens are to stop paying taxes to all agencies of the State Government except, of course, the Kaduna State Internal Revenue Service (KADIRS).
The Kaduna State Tax (Codification and Consolidation) Law is an investor-friendly tax code that consolidates all taxes payable in the state in one law and in one document. It is in synch with the new Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of Government. The salient objectives of the new tax regime in Kaduna State include improving the revenue base of the state, making payments easy for the taxpayer and raising the efficiency of tax collection. The law is not imposing any new tax on anybody, institution or business. Rather, the new tax law will ensure that any investor in Kaduna State can see all state and local government taxes in one document, and be assured that all companies and individuals can pay with ease to only one revenue collector. This law is not punitive at all.
Reclamation of public lands and compensation
The ongoing removal of houses and business premises erected on lands belonging to public institutions in Kaduna and Zaria city is not the same as a demolition exercise.
Rather, what is going on is that the State Government is merely recovering government lands that were forcibly taken by persons or businesses.
The Land Use Act is very clear about who is qualified for compensation for land taken by government. That is not the case here. In fact, the reverse is the case. They were the ones that appropriated government land, albeit illegally. Government is simply taking its land back.