Faceoff in Kaduna over sack of 4, 766 district and village chiefs

Sarkin Zazzau, His Royal Highness Alhaji (Dr.) Shehu Idris


• We Did Restructuring To Cut Cost— Jafaru Sani
• There Is Enough Money To Pay Them— Shehu Sani
• Kaduna Government Is Dictatorial— Sacked Chiefs

The recent sacking of 4, 766 district and village heads by Kaduna State government is stirring controversy. In justifying its action, the government said it had become necessary to lay off this group of people, who were draining the state’s purse for no meaningful purpose. So, the move was to sanitise the state’s traditional institutional structures, more so, since those sacked were appointed by previous administration for political reasons and patronage.

Precisely, the current Kaduna government said it had realised that the 23 local government councils in the state could no longer meet their primary obligations to the people, due to the heavy burden resulting from payment of salaries to the sacked district and village heads. Hence, the El-Rufai administration was forced to take an urgent step to address the deplorable situation.

However, not wanting to take unilateral decision, the government explained that it set up a committee to look into the issue and make recommendations on the way forward, sometime this year.Upon the submission of its findings, the government presented the committee’s report to Kaduna State Council of Chiefs for consideration, as well as enable it make inputs.

So, it was after the committee’s report had been considered and approved by the Council of Chiefs that government swung into action and sacked all the politically appointed districts and village heads

Shedding more light on the matter, a very senior government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Palace Watch: “None of our paramount rulers or chiefs was affected in the exercise. Before the big stick was wielded, we had 390 district heads, but now, we are returning to 77 districts heads. This was what existed before 2001. It all started, when political office holders in the state began to break all the known rules and traditions of appointing district and village heads and started rewarding politicians at the grassroots with such positions.

“Before now, most government officials probably thought appointing more district and village heads would somehow help them to solve problems arising from the grassroots in the state. But rather than achieve this, we have come to discover that the appointments compounded the problems at the grassroots.

“The appointments were also made because those in government then erroneously felt it would help bring government closer to people in rural areas. Unfortunately, however, we have been witnessing more strife and disagreements at this level. That move never stopped bloodletting in the state. So, it got to a point, when we had to ask why the situation was so.

“As a result of the heavy financial burden it has posed, the 23 Local Government Councils in the state are highly indebted presently. As we speak, they can hardly stand on their own, even after getting their subventions. It is a common occurrence to see a local government council spending N165m monthly to pay salaries and allowances of the people just sacked. Interestingly, that same local government council has to spend a huge sum of about N65m monthly on teachers’ salaries, and another N50m to pay health workers.

“From the picture I have painted, you can see that the local government alongside the state government are no longer finding these unnecessary expenditures funny. Before 2001, we only had 77 district heads and 1, 429 village units or heads. But with the appointment of additional 313 districts heads, we now have 390 districts and 5, 882 village heads. There is no state in the country, no matter how rich that can accommodate such huge financial burden. And if the situation were allowed to continue, how do we expect local governments in the state to perform effectively?”

However, some paramount rulers and chiefs in Kaduna State, who pleaded anonymity because of what they described as tyrannical nature of some persons in government, said contrary to the impression the state government would want to portray to the Nigerian public over the sack of the district and village heads, the governor acted unilaterally. They explained that Governor El-Rufai only gathered the paramount rulers and chiefs in the state together just to give his action a semblance of consultation; and that before the meeting, he had already made up his mind on what to do.

“You see, very many of us are not ready to talk about this matter because of the way and manner our governor went about it,” a paramount ruler told Palace Watch. “I am not a politician, but a traditional ruler and as a Muslim, I am not cut out to tell lies privately or publicly. After the said report had been submitted to Governor El-Rufai, he unilaterally decided on what to do. But to prevent a possible backlash, in case Kaduna people get to know that he did not consult the State Council of Paramount Rulers and Chiefs on the matter, he cleverly decided to call a meeting, where he briefed us about his plans to disband the district heads.

“Part of the excuses he gave for his planned action then, was the current recession in the country, and the difficulties the state government was having paying salaries of the district and village heads. Interestingly, for a very long time, the district and village heads were never paid salaries before they were sacked. Twenty months after ex-governor Makarfi appointed them, the district heads were not paid a kobo. And Governor El-Rufai made it very clear that he was not ready to pay the backlog of these debts. It is the fear of paying this huge debt to these people that drove him into taking this action.

“At that meeting, Chairman of Kaduna State Council of paramount rulers and chiefs, the Emir of Zaira, His Royal Highness Alhaji Shehu Idris, advised Governor El-Rufai not to sack the people in question. The Emir advised him to just suspend action on the matter, as the district heads can still remain in their positions until the economy of the country and the state improves, when state government will be able to either pay their salaries or the governor will then decide on what to pay them.

“The Sarki Zauzau spoke at length on the importance and assistance the district and village heads are rendering to the paramount rulers and chiefs in their various kingdoms or domains in the maintenance of law and order in the state. But all the points the Emir made were ignored, as the governor was hell bent on sacking the district and village heads. Governor El-Rufai’s initial targets were the Second and Third Class Chiefs in the state, but for the fear of the consequences of his action, he had to go for the district and village heads.

“If you must know, we are not running a military regime in Kaduna State. Sixteen years ago, before former Governor Ahmed Makarfi’s administration decided to create these chiefdoms, a law was passed by the then Kaduna State House of Assembly, which gave legitimacy to these chiefdoms. That law is still in place, it has not been repelled. I must tell you, most members of the Kaduna House Assembly were not consulted by Governor El-Rufai before he took this action in the guise that the state government has not enough money to pay the district and village heads.”

Refuting claim by the state government that they were happy and grateful for this action, the paramount ruler said:
“After Muhammad Ahmed Makarfi created chiefdoms in this state, he made it very clear that as at that time, there was the need for these chiefdoms to be extended to districts. Makarfi’s government’s decision was based on Kaduna people’s wish and it was submitted to government through the Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs. Therefore, there is a law binding each and all of these chiefdoms and districts.

“Go and ask Governor El-Rufai whether in the last two years that he has been in office he has paid these people up to a year salary. If he has not, why is he complaining? Since these people have not been paid all this while, why the hurry to sack them? The reasons why we had wanted the district heads to remain in their position is because they are the custodians of culture, traditional and security at the local government levels in the state. You see, part of the reasons why the state governor resolved to sack these people is that some of the crises that recently occurred in some parts of the state, and which are presently in courts, were attributed to the negligence of some of these district heads.

“But I am afraid, the numbers of district heads we are going to be having now in each of the 23 local government areas are not going to be enough to manage these crises, if and whenever such arise. Another point that must not be ignored is that the people of Kaduna State value the positions of district and village heads so much.

“Well, we will wait and see how far Governor El-Rufai can go on this matter. You see, even staunch members of the ruling APC, including former Governor Balarabe Musa, have all advised El-Rufai against this action, but he wouldn’t listen.”

But the government official, who spoke earlier, insisted that government representatives sat with 32 paramount rulers and chiefs in the state and asked them what should be done in the circumstance. “The paramount rulers and chiefs took the report with them and finally got back to government after three weeks. You know what? These chiefs and paramount rulers thanked the state government for its kind gestures, asking it to go ahead and implement content of the report. That was how we got to where we are now. The chiefs and paramount rulers were very happy with government’s action because they appointed none of those sacked. Then, the chiefs and paramount rulers felt very bad about these appointments in the first place, because it was their rights and privileges that were taken over by politicians. But now, the paramount rulers and chiefs are going to exercise their autonomy; they are going to have the liberty to appoint whosoever they want to occupy the old 77 district positions.

“So far, Governor El-Rufai’s government is blind to all form of criticism, because it wants to be focused, with no distraction. The most important thing for us now is to be courageous and keep our focus on the target and deliver development to people of Kaduna State. Whatever we do now, we leave to posterity to judge, when the times comes.”

The Guardian gathered that there were mixed feelings, following the order restraining Governor Nasir El-Rufai from sacking the 4, 766 village chiefs and district heads by a High Court of Justice sitting in Kafanchan, Kaduna State.

Aliyu Muhammed from Dan-manni in Igabi local government area of the state said he was satisfied with the interim injunction. In his view, the responsibilities of district and village chiefs cannot be underplayed in coordinating a community.

“Whenever chaos erupts in any community, the village chiefs are mostly consulted to douse tension before reporting to police. They are more aware of happenings in the communities than government.

“For instance, I can recall a case that happened in my street, where my neighbours and I had some misunderstanding. We took the case to court, but on getting there, the judge advised us to go to our community district head to settle the matter.

“If Governor El-Rufai’s administration wants to sack the district heads because he can’t afford their salary, he should leave them for the next administration, which might be able to pay their salaries in the long run.”

Similarly, Al-Amin Muhammad, a resident in the Kaduna metropolis, also emphasised the importance of village chiefs in the community. While praising the court ruling, he appealed to government not to sack any of the district heads.

Nura Musa from Angwan Dosa in Kaduna was, however, of the view that appointing too many village chiefs and district heads is of no use. He believed that government has the right to sack chiefs, if it can’t pay them, more so, since such appointment is not constitutionally mandatory.

“The major reason why I am supporting government is because it is responsible for their payment. Former governor Ahmed Makarfi appointed them, but if the current administration chooses to sack them, due to shortage of funds or recession, I think it has the right to do so,” he said.

While speaking with The Guardian, the state’s Commissioner for local government, Alhaji Jafaru Sani, said there was no sentiments attached to the sack of the district heads and village chiefs, as the need for the “restructuring” only arose, to reduce the over-bloated and unnecessary expenditure on the part of the local government.

He said: “Instead of channeling huge amount on payment of salary to 390 District heads and 4,766 village chiefs, such money can be diverted into repairs of primary schools with blown rooftops and maintenance of infrastructures in communities.

But is there any law backing this move?
He replied in the affirmative. “Yes, there was the Kaduna State Local government administration Law of 2012 and District and Villages Restructuring Order of 2017, which came into effect on June 1 2017, which we acted upon.”

He also restated that Kaduna State Council of Chiefs and Paramount Rulers were consulted before the action was taken.But the senator representing Kaduna central, Shehu Sani, has said he is fully opposed to the sack of the district heads and village chiefs.Speaking to journalists in Kaduna, he called on government to rescind the decision, saying there is enough money to pay the traditional rulers.

Sani condemned Governor El-Rufai’s decision to sack the traditional chiefs, which he said is “unethical and unconstitutional.” He said: “I am opposed to the sack of the district heads, for the very fact that they are a very strong instrument of peace and unity. I call on the governor to rescind that decision.

“In a situation, whereby we have a government in Kaduna state that is issuing out contracts to advisers, members of the State House of Assembly and others in the position of authority, which is contrary to ethics of civil service, is undesirable.

“In that sense, it is hypocrisy to insult the PDP, the Ramalan Yero,Makarfi and Yakowa administrations of corruption in Kaduna State, when public office holders are submitting slots for contracts. We should understand it is not about N3b. There are ethical issues involved. A civil servant is not allowed to be a contractor.”

In this article:
Nasir El-RufaiShehu Idris
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