In your remarks at the public hearing of the Senate Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution last Wednesday, the summary of the 10 areas that you want to be amended is a virtual call for restructuring. Why have you been consistent in your advocacy for restructuring and devolution of powers?
Whether you call it ‘restructuring’ or ‘devolution of powers’ or ‘true federalism’, the whole idea is to find a solution to our current constitutional structure which is unbalanced, which vests too many responsibilities on the federal government and is not working well.
As I have stated repeatedly, we need to put the substance of federalism into our country, beyond bearing the name of a federation. To attain true federalism is to empower the sub-nationals. I had the privilege of chairing the APC Committee on True Federalism. We proposed significant devolution of powers between the national government and the 36 States in our recommendations, including the transfer of ten items from the Exclusive to the Concurrent Lists, so that they fall under the control of the states and the federal government.
In a way, your submission also supports resource control when you advocated that states should be allowed to control mineral resources, including oil and gas but should pay royalties and taxes to federal government. Is this a correct interpretation of what you said?
Well, let’s look at the matter in a practical manner. The federal government issues mining licenses, but state governments control the land by virtue of the Land Use Act which is incorporated in the constitution. So, there is a disconnect here and this is responsible for the fact that mining has not really taken off in the country.
In any case, oil is becoming obsolete as a source of energy or fuel. Most countries are planning for a green economy in which oil will not be used at all; electric cars will be the norm. Industries will convert to solar and renewals. So, we must begin to move away from oil. Oil is neither answer nor the question that will solve our problems. The real solution to our problems is better and efficient taxation of goods and services.
You have been advocating for state police but some people argued that it is better to strengthen the present federal police with proper financing and modern equipment. What is your view on this suggestion?
Nigeria is the only federation that I know of which operates a unitary policing system. This is one of the anomalies of our federal system. The reality of our security situation today requires that Nigeria must strengthen its military and security agencies. This includes decentralizing the police to enable the states to exercise effective control in securing their residents and communities. We need to have federal, state and community police, with each granted sufficient powers to make them effective in securing the areas assigned to them and cooperating closely with each other.
Those expressing concerns about the ability of the states to bear the cost of policing should realize that apart from the payment of salaries by the federal government, most of the operational and capital costs of the Nigeria Police are borne by state and local governments. The fear of abuse of state police by sub-national governments is misplaced because a constitutional or statutory framework can be enacted to ensure federal intervention in cases of such abuses.
I also want the constitution to be altered to remove the Police Service Commission because it is an unnecessary hinderance to effective policing in Nigeria. The power to hire and fire police officers should revert fully and totally to the Inspector General of Police, under the supervision of the National Police Council, as envisaged by the Constitution.
In your suggestion, you also want the decentralization of the National Judicial Council, by creating State Judicial Councils. In what way will this suggestion enhance the dispensation of Justice?
Let me limit myself to Kaduna state. The heavy caseload on High Court Judges in Kaduna state hinders the administration of justice. On average, a High Court judge in Kaduna state handles about 250 cases. Kaduna State Government has been requesting the National Judicial Council (NJC) to double the number of High Court judges in Kaduna State, which will reduce the case load to about 100 per judge which is still too high. It is an anomaly to have a unitary judiciary in a federation. I am one of the major advocates of the decentralization of our unitarist judiciary to a federal one.
We are pushing for the creation of State Judicial Councils that will handle the appointment of High Court judges in the states, because that is the only way that we will be able to take our fates in our hands. I believe that we have enough lawyers in the public and private sectors in Kaduna state, to get 20 judges tomorrow, if the State Judicial Council screens them and makes their recommendations. But we are constitutionally constrained. Decentralizing the judiciary will be in the interest of administration of justice, it will give more opportunities for qualified lawyers in the private and public sectors and the academia, to be part of the judiciary. Bringing in outsiders always brings innovations and new ideas to improve the system. I do not believe that the only path to being a High Court Judge is to be a magistrate or state counsel. There are many other paths as other countries have shown and have produced excellent judges at all levels.
You mentioned at the public hearing that the APC Committee on True Federalism which you headed, had drafted bills to the National Assembly that will enable a truly balanced, equitable and fair federal structure. Not much has been heard about them. Are the bills gathering dust somewhere in the archives of the federal legislature?
At this point, let me commend two National Assembly members from Kaduna state for spearheading efforts to enact into law, the recommendations of the All Progressives Congress (APC) True Federalism Committee which canvassed for devolution of powers. The National Assembly is the critical institution for the vital task of restructuring Nigeria, by passing laws devolving powers to its federating units. Senator Uba Sani and Rep Garba Datti have proposed bills to enact into laws aspects of devolution like state police, state judicial councils and the minimum wage. I only hope that many more federal legislators will take up and sponsor the bills necessary to actualise restructuring as a nation-building opportunity. The four bills sponsored by Senator Uba Sani to ensure the decentralisation of policing in Nigeria is a significant moment in removing the anomaly of a unitary police force in a federal republic. The bill proposed by Hon. Garba Datti seeking to move labour matters into the concurrent list is another concrete step towards devolution of power in the country.
Decentralisation of the judiciary, police and labour matters are among the items recommended by the APC True Federalism Committee. This entails moving the constitutional provisions on these matters wholly or partly from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List, so that powers and responsibility over them can be devolved. The APC True Federalism Committee noted in its January 2018 report that a major issue with the Nigerian federation is the enormous exclusive legislative powers of the federal government with resultant over-centralisation of power and authority. The committee further noted that a further decentralisation of some of these powers by devolving more powers, autonomy, and resources to the federating units will foster efficiency and sub-national responsiveness and local accountability.
The committee report also noted that there were calls that each state should freely legislate on its minimum wage according to the resources available to it but should avoid huge disparity between salaries and emoluments. In fact, the committee is of the view that all labour relational issues should be federalised and each state is free to determine its own labour laws. Such devolved powers on labour matters will include trade unions, industrial relations, conditions, safety and welfare of labour, industrial disputes, prescribing minimum wage and industrial arbitration.
Kaduna State Government was the first government to pay the new national minimum wage, a step that was followed by raising minimum monthly pension to N30,000 for retirees on the old defined benefits system.
You launched an ambitious Urban Renewal Programmme in 2019. How has the journey been so, two years after the first phase of the project has been flagged off?
We are proud of the unprecedented investments that we have made to change the face of Kaduna metropolis and to improve our two other cities, Kafanchan and Zaria.
The urban renewal project is a major upgrade of infrastructure to make our cities easier places in which to live, work and do business. It has many components, among which the road segment is by far the most visible and successful. Everyone can see the roads and the streetlights we have done. The new Kawo flyover, expanded to dual lane and including three rotaries, should be completed this year. We are connecting the western and eastern sectors of Kaduna City through the Rabah road to Rigasa road. We have completed and opened for use the trailer park at Mararraban Jos. We have received expressions of gratitude from many citizens for clearing the trailers from the road and giving a proper and safer place to park. Construction is progressing towards completion at the Tafa trailer park. We are building another trailer park around the Olam factory.
The Galaxy Mall on Waff road and the new Murtala Square are also going well, and we are confident that they will be completed on schedule. The Kaduna Markets Development and Management Company is delighting us with the energy they are applying to building and modernising markets, sometimes in partnership with private investors. The new market in Kasuwan Magani has been completed. Traders have also moved into new shops in the first phase of the Sabon-Gari market which is being rebuilt and expanded. Market projects are being done in Kasuwan Barci, Kawo, Unguwan Rimi, Amaru, and Kafanchan.
Last month, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) embarked on a one-week warning strike to force Kaduna State Government rescind its decision to right-size its work force. The strike action was called off after three days, following the intervention of Minister of Labour and Employment. Is there light at the end of the tunnel of labour dispute?
In 2015, we announced that we will fight waste and ensure that government resources serve a majority of citizens rather than the few persons working for government, including political appointees and other public servants. You will recall that we began doing verification in 2015 to help ensure the integrity of our pay roll and weed out ghost workers. We also decried a situation where most public funds went into paying the wages of less than 100,000 public servants in a state with close to 10 million people. Those who work must be paid, but the people of the state must also be served by their government. We have been clear that the progress and future of the state depend on a competent public service, lean in size but super-efficient, savvy with modern technology but well connected to the public it serves. That is why we launched the public service reform and revitalisation programme in 2016. Verification and public service reform are continuous exercises.
As part of the 2016 public service reform process, we also reviewed salaries and were ready to announce new wages before the federal government announced in 2018 that it was initiating a new national minimum wage process. That early preparation enabled us to be the first government in the country to pay the new minimum wage and consequential adjustments in 2019. We followed this up by increasing the minimum pension of persons on the defined benefits scheme to N30,000 monthly. This increased the wage burden of the state government and immediately sapped up the funds of many local governments.
Due to the serious problems affecting our national economy, our state finances are stretched by salaries. What we receive from FAAC can barely pay salaries and overheads. In November 2020, we had only N162.9m left after paying salaries. That month, Kaduna State got N4.83bn from FAAC and paid N4.66bn as wages. In the last six months, personnel costs account for between 84.97% and 96.63% of our FAAC revenues. In March 2021, the state had only N321m left after settling personnel costs. We got N4.819bn from FAAC and paid out N4.498bn, representing 93% of the money we received.
We were elected to develop the state, not just to pay the salaries of public servants. We were elected to promote equality of opportunity, to build and run schools and hospitals, upgrade infrastructure and make the state attractive to the private sector for jobs and investments. Therefore, we have to shed 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. Covid-19 has shown clearly that the public service requires much fewer persons than it currently employs. The public service is an important institution, and it should maintain only an optimum size. Faced with a difficult situation, we cannot refuse to act or resort to sentiment. Like I promised, the right-sizing will affect both civil servants and political appointees. Yesterday (Wednesday, May 26th), 19 political appointees were disengaged in the first phase of right-sizing the number of public servants.
Disclaimer: The Post Let’s Make Federalism Work In Nigeria – El-Rufai was first Published by Maryam Abubakar on leadership.ng.