Kaduna: Residents, stakeholders differ over government’s religious bill, labour policies
Since he assumed office as the governor of Kaduna State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mallam Nasir El-Rufai has come up with a number of policies aimed at developing the State and catering for the welfare of the people.
These policies include the feeding of school children in public schools, demolition of houses built by individuals and groups on government lands, initiation of religious bill to handle the problems of extremism among Christians and Muslims and the biometric verification of civil servants to know whether they will belong to labour unions or not.
These policies have generated and are still generating mixed reactions among the various interest groups, stakeholders and individuals within and outside the State.
We will not be surprised to hear about teething problems, but we expect these problems to be swiftly addressed within a governing ethos of continuous improvement. As pragmatic people, we understand that in executing policy we must not let the perfect be a restraint on the doable.
Before Governor El-Rufai’s government commenced the free feeding of all pupils in the public primary and post-primary institutions in the State, the government had engaged in the demolition of several residential buildings erected on government lands, particularly public schools and hospitals.
Already, the School Feeding Programme which had gulped billions of Naira monthly has attracted public outcry, protests and even legal suit against the State government on the need for such programme in the midst of poverty, unemployment, decay in public infrastructure and non-payment of workers’ salaries.
However, the government on its part has justified its action in engaging the school feeding project as a way of ensuring that the dwindling education in the State is improved upon among pupils, while parents and guardians are supported to send their wards to school.
El-Rufai argued at the launch of the feeding scheme in Kaduna, “today is a special day in the unfolding of the change agenda the All Progressive Congress (APC) was elected to implement”, saying, “I am moved by the responsibility to implement the school feeding programme for primary school pupils.”
“It marks the beginning of a different phase of the Kaduna State Government’s project to expand access to education. We launched the programme today as a direct intervention in the health of our children, situating our schools as places to promote education and nutrition.”
The Governor said: “Every school day from today, the Kaduna State Government will be providing a meal for 1.5m pupils. It is an unprecedented undertaking in this State, but one that we solemnly pledged to do when we were campaigning. It is a challenge in terms of its scale, cost and the logistics required to deliver the meals everyday.
“But our children deserve this, and more. We are conscious that it would save parents break-time money, empower the women within the community who have been selected as the catering vendors and expand the market for farm products. In fact, the school feeding programme is directly creating 17,000 jobs for catering vendors, each of whom will need to employ workers to help them deliver.
“Thus there is something for everyone in the School Feeding Programme. In seeking to take care of our children, we are creating jobs, boosting demand and exposing our people to new skills and hygiene standards and providing extra income. I urge everyone involved in the programme to discharge their responsibilities with the utmost sense of commitment, transparency and accountability.”
On the implementation of the programme, El-Rufai said that the monitoring mechanism must be rigorous, and we invite the school-based management committees and Parent-Teacher Associations to review and provide us their observations on the implementation of the programme at the school level.
“We will not be surprised to hear about teething problems, but we expect these problems to be swiftly addressed within a governing ethos of continuous improvement. As pragmatic people, we understand that in executing policy we must not let the perfect be a restraint on the doable. It is in the process of actually feeding our school children that we can refine and perfect the programme”.
Also El-Rufai shed light on what his administration was doing to improve other aspects of the educational sector, saying that “we began our education programme with the recruitment of teachers for core subject areas, conducted a needs assessment to identify how we can strengthen the capacity of current teachers and then announced the removal of all bureaucratic impediments to the career advancement and sense of fulfillment of professional teachers in the public school system.”
According to him: “We made it clear that a professional teacher can rise to Grade Level 17, without having to stop being a teacher”, while adding, “having taken steps to raise the morale and capacity of teachers as the frontline workers in delivering quality education, the government began addressing the question of the physical condition of the theatre in which they work, the schools.”
“We inherited a baleful legacy of dilapidated schools, inadequate classrooms and no furniture for 50 percent of the pupils. The schools also often lacked water and toilet facilities. The APC government of Kaduna State responded by launching a school rehabilitation programme.
“It is a massive commitment to fix the more than 4,000 public primary schools in the state and transform them into conducive places for the delivery of quality education. We will strive to complete the rehabilitation within our term of office,” the governor said.
But despite the initiatives of the government, there are some stakeholders who believed that the School Feeding Programme is a smokescreen for the government to mismanage the resources of the state. They have, therefore, decided to engage the Governor in a legal suit to expose his government.
As a result of this contention, a Kaduna-based legal practitioner, Mr. Maxwell Kyon, has dragged El-Rufai before a Kaduna Magistrate Court 4, challenging the free School Feeding Programme.
Kyon, who is the plaintiff in the suit, argued that there was no need for the governor to feed school children in the state, stressing that the initiative is unconstitutional. The outcome of this legal tussle will determine if the feeding project will continue in the state or not.
Religious Preaching Bill Heating Up The State
Another policy of the government that is also generating mixed reactions among the residents of the state is the demolition of several houses allegedly built on government lands. Recent victims of the demolition are residents of the Gbagyi Villa, by the Expressway. They were accused of taking over Kaduna Polytechnic land.
As residents battled with demolition order and trauma, the state government in a bid to bring religious sanity in the state had recently sent a bill to the State House of Assembly.
The Governor said he was actually disturbed by past religious upheavals in Kaduna State, hence the government decided to introduce relevant laws
regulating religious preaching and gathering in public places by Christian and Islamic clerics.
Already, the Governor has sent a copy of the bill, cited as “Religious Preaching Law” to the State House of Assembly and it is awaiting the approval of the legislators before it gets the final endorsement of the Governor.
According to the bill, “the two major religions in the state shall be regulated” by “a Committee of Jama’atu Nasir Islam (JNI) with equal representation of Izala and Darika religious groups in the case of Muslims”, while “a committee will be set up by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the case of Christians.”
There is nothing in the Bill that suggests any effort to abolish, stop or derogate on 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, public safety, and to protect the rights and freedom of other persons.
Also, an Interfaith Ministerial Committee is expected to be appointed by the governor.
The bill, however, stipulated that the Interfaith Ministerial Committee shall inter-face between JNI and CAN committees and exercise supervisory control over them”, stressing that “the committee shall comprise a chairman to be appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of the Secretary of the State Government and the Special Adviser to the Governor on Internal Security.”
Other officials to be represented in the committee include “the most senior officials of the government advising the Governor on Interfaith matters, members of JNI, CAN, a representative of Ministry of Justice; and one representative each from the Nigerian Police, the Department of State Security and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.”
The bill which is expected to be enacted into law will ensure that “the religious bodies established under section 4 (a) and (b) of this Law shall issue licences approved by the Ministerial Committee, the licence shall be issued for a period not exceeding one year and a sponsored external preacher shall be issued a permit for the period of the event.”
Besides, apart from the Ministerial Committee supervising all activities of religious bodies at the local government levels in the state, “the Kaduna chapter of JNI and CAN shall have and keep records of the churches and mosques including the data of all its preachers in the state.”
According to the bill sponsored by the Governor, it will be expected that “ all cassettes, CDs, flash drives or any other communication gadgets containing religious recordings from accredited preachers may be played inside the following places only — inside one’s house, inside entrance porch (Zaure), inside the church, inside the mosque and any other designated place of worship.”
“Any cassette containing religious recording in which abusive language is used against any person or religious organisation or religious leaders (past or present) is hereby prohibited in the state.”
Offences that carry punishment under the bill include, preaching without valid licence. Also are included, “playing religious cassette or using a loud speaker for religious purposes after 8.00pm in a public place’ using a loudspeaker for religious purposes other than inside a mosque or church and the surrounding areas outside the stipulated prayer times; using a loudspeaker in vehicles plying the streets with religious recording, abuses, religious books, inciting disturbance of the public peace; and carrying weapons of any description whether concealed or not in places of worship or to any other place with a view to causing religious disturbances.”
However, the Deputy Governor of the state, Mr. Barnabas Yusuf Bala has cleared the air on the reasons government decided to sponsor the bill. He told a delegation of the Kaduna State Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) who visited him, that the bill is not aimed at clamping down on any religion, but to ensure that religious violence no longer threatens the state.
He said: “There is nothing in the Bill that suggests any effort to abolish, stop or derogate on 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, public safety, and to protect the rights and freedom of other persons.”
The Deputy Governor pointed out that while the Constitution recognises the freedom of religion and thought as fundamental rights, it also obliges the government to ensure the safe exercise of these rights by legislating in the interest of public safety and order.
Bala argued: “This is the first time that the legislation is passing through a democratic process, with all the transparency that the public hearing and other legislative processes of the House of Assembly entails. Proposing this amendment is a deliberate decision by the government to subject the law to a democratic process, rather than
just enforce the provisions of the edict as passed since 1984.”
Meanwhile, Kaduna State CAN chairman, Bishop George Dodo, expressed appreciation for the meeting and assured the government that CAN is preparing its position for submission to the House of Assembly and the state executive.
Dodo pointed out that “it’s a bill that is being studied so the study continues, discussion continues, and when we are called for public hearings some memos may have been submitted to the State House of Assembly and the public hearing will give opportunity for everybody to express their mind.”
“I don’t think government has the power to enact laws that will supersede the constitution; the constitution guarantees every human being the right to practice their religion. I don’t think there’s a government that will enact a law in that regard,” he added.
Meanwhile, some Christian clerics under the umbrella of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) have kicked against the controversial Religious Preaching Bill before the Kaduna State House of Assembly, saying that it is an obnoxious law targeted at Christians.
The Christian clerics said that there were enough laws in the country and within the state legal system to handle any attempt to break law and order by any Christian or Moslem in the state, urging the Governor to rely on the existing laws in prosecuting offenders.
“Taking away our rights to preach and evangelise is telling us not to practice our religion as we are commanded by the Lord Jesus,” the PFN’s Chairman in the State, Prof. Femi Ehimidu,said at a press conference held at the Household of Love Church, Sabo-Tasha in the state.
Ehimidu, while highlighting the danger such bill could pose to the society, said: “The bill must be killed before being passed into law because it has the latent explosives to set the state on fire.
According to him, the bill was unacceptable to the Pentecostal Christians in the state, adding that the religious body, PFN, would do everything possible to resist the bill being passed into law.
“The executive bill that the Government of Kaduna State has sent to the State House of Assembly is heating up the polity. It has the potential of breaking the fragile peace in Kaduna. We do not see any reason restricting and regulating religious activities should be the priority of the government when the issue prevailing in the state currently for every family is how to put food on the table.
“It is unimaginable to see our erudite Governor exhuming a military era edit which came into existence when the Constitution was suspended. It smacks of mischief.”
Ehimidu argued the PFN had resolved to oppose the bill in its entirety because if passed into law, it has the potential of taking the state backward.The cleric also noted that the bill was not only obnoxious but directly offend the Christian faith.
He stressed on the possibility of Christians in the state protesting in the streets of Kaduna should the legislature attempt to pass the bill into law, pointing out that the bill is completely against the rights of Christians to practice religion, the country’s Constitution and therefore must be jettisoned.”
The cleric warned that with the bill, Governor El-Rufai has opened another vista of hostilities between Christians and Muslims in the State.
TUC, NLC Vow To Resist Anti-Labour Policies
Another policy initiative of the state government to curb the membership of trade unions among government workers has also received serious bashings from the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC).
Governor El-Rufai had ordered another verification exercise to be carried out on the State workforce, while distributing verification forms to workers to indicate if they would prefer to continue as members of trade unions.
President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba and other trade union leaders who were in the state, resolved to declare a four-day national strike meant to compel the government to retrace its steps.
They said that Kaduna State would be the starting point to curtail the excesses of State Governors who don’t have regard for the rights of workers in Nigeria.
Wabba, the TUC President, Bala Maigama and other national leaders of Trade Union organisations, who were in Kaduna, were resolute on ensuring that the state Governor is stopped from polarising the ranks of workers in the state.
Wabba said El-Rufai and other Governors who may want to adopt anti-workers policy in the country should be taught a lesson, saying that NLC and all the Trade Union leaders were in Kaduna to express solidarity to their cause.
“We have met and taken decisions that will bring sanity to the State and the country as a whole,” he stressed.
The Labour leaders spoke against the Kaduna State Government’s decision to make membership of trade unions optional for workers.
Wabba said: “All the leaders of our unions have agreed that we shall convoke a meeting of the central working committee. One day will be set aside for a national action in every state of the federation and in all local councils in the
country in solidarity with workers of Kaduna State.”
According to him, “there will be a national solidarity strike for four days. All Nigerian workers, both private and public, both federal and states will also converge in Kaduna and walk through the Government House and the streets of Kaduna. This decision was taken so that we can assert our independence as a trade union body.
“As trade unions we are not an appendage of government. We are defending the interest of workers as prescribed by our constitution and the Charter of the United Nations (UN). Let me make it clear that the rights of the workers to belong to trade unions are not negotiable. This right we must assert.”
He, however, advised the workers that in order to avoid being blackmailed by the government, they should “fill all the verification forms, make photocopies and give them to your respective union
leaders,” pointing out that “we are conscious of the blackmail that the verification exercise could be used against workers.”
Wabba argued: “From the information we have received and confirmed that verification has been going on for the last nine months and the government has been making propaganda that workers and the union are against the verification in Kaduna.
“We are aware that what has been happening is to use the verification exercise to delay workers’ salaries. We say enough is enough to this process; we demand that all workers that have not been paid for the last nine months under the guise of verification be paid immediately. I am also aware that in Soba, during the verification exercise, 29 workers lost their lives as a result of bomb blast. It is very sad and disheartening that up till date their families have not been compensated.
“NLC is going to follow up the full compensation of the families of the victims. I am also aware that in the process of the verification a lot of our workers lost their lives in road accidents. I was informed that not less than 40 workers died in the process of this verification. I think it is very sad. How can we as a government use the propaganda and say workers are against verification. Workers have supported and participated in the exercise, but unfortunately it is a verification that does not have an end. This process must have an end.”
TUC President, Maigama in his speech, said that “from all indication, Kaduna State Government is trying to outlaw unionism”, saying that with the measures taken by the Union leaders, “we should shut down all activities in Kaduna until we are assured of our rights.”
I don’t think government has the power to enact laws that will supersede the constitution; the constitution guarantees every human being the right to practice their religion… The bill must be killed before being passed into law because it has the latent explosives to set the state on fire.
“It is sad that my colleagues and I have summoned ourselves to Kaduna today again to tackle these anti-unionism of El-Rufai. In this country, Nigerian workers are fed up with anti-union posture of some people and it is time we teach those in authority some lessons that we create wealth.”
Reacting to the allegation by the labour leaders, the Kaduna State Government said that it was targeting April 2016 to conclude its payroll verification exercise, insisting that workers in the state have rights to state if they want to belong to
any union as members or not.
A statement by the media aide to the Governor, Mallam Samuel Aruwan pointed out: “Regarding union membership, the government respects the right of workers to freedom of association. The government considered that it is democratic that those who wish to exercise this right or not should indicate in writing.’
According to him: “The leadership of the Kaduna State NLC recently had a meeting with the Governor at which they expressed their objection to making union membership voluntary and its implications for check-off dues. Although the law obliges employers to collect dues on behalf of unions, it is not at all clear if the law makes union membership compulsory.
“This situation arose after some local councils had their accounts garnished by banks because of loans they guaranteed for some labour unions. The Kaduna State Government made it clear that it would make it possible for each of its workers to indicate if they wanted to be union members. The NLC expressed the view that union membership is automatic under our federal labour laws and appeared to doubt whether the numbers opting to remain will be significant if given the option to opt out. It was agreed that the NLC would submit a position paper on the two issues. Both sides also agreed to review the union membership issue, once the forms are returned by the workers, and the data compiled.”
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