He sees himself as an “Accidental Public Servant.” But Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai’s idea about governance stands him out. He looks more like a purposeful public servant, desirous of changing the face of public service and governance in Nigeria, with a view to leaving behind an indelible mark of leadership.

However, in an attempt to change the people’s ways of doing things, el-Rufa’i, has in the process, since becoming governor two years ago, stoked several controversies- from asking his political enemies to jump from Kufena hill and die, demolishing of the home of his party leader, to clamping down on youths from Southern Kaduna at the slightest provocation, the governor appears to be at home with stirring controversies.

The latest, Saturday Sun learnt, being his alleged plan to sack over 3, 000 traditional rulers at a stretch, on the excuse that to fund them had become “major constraints to infrastructural development at the grassroots level.”

Although el-Rufa’i may have survived all the other controversies, the threat to sack the traditional rulers, if carried out, Saturday Sun further gathered, may end up becoming a “bitter pill to swallow for the governor,” as according to the Secretary of the Jama’tu Nasril Islam (JNI), Kaduna State, Ibrahim Kefena, the action would have serious implications on peaceful co-existence in the state.

The beginning

Before 1994, Saturday Sun’s investigations revealed that there was a long drawn agitation by the people of Southern Kaduna who are predominantly Christians to have their own chiefdoms, distinct from that of the Zazzau emirate. They argued that they share nothing in common with the Zazzau emirate; as such it was absurd for them to be under an emir, in Zaria, whose influence and area of jurisdiction extended to Zangon Kataf, the heart of Southern Kaduna.

For 10 years, Saturday Sun further gathered, the people of Zonkwa, in Southern Kaduna, refused to recognise the headship of the emir of Zazzau, as the head of the area, insisting that there was no way someone who does not look like them, who does not pray like them, who does not appear like them and who does dress like them, would now be their traditional ruler.

In response to the agitations for self determination and the strong need to stabilize the system, it was learnt, Brigadier-General Lawal Jafaru Isa (rtd), as Kaduna state military administrator, around 1996, created two chiefdoms out of Zagon-Kataf. They were Atyap and Bajju chiefdoms. Instructively, the new chiefdoms berthed after the bloody Zango-Kataf riot of 1992.

Interestingly, Saturday Sun gathered that at the time, Senator Ahmed Mohammad Makarfi, who later became governor in 1999, was his Commissioner Finance, just as Mukhtar Sirajo, who later became Director-General, Media and Publicity, in the Makarfi’s administration, was Isa’s Chief Press Secretary. 

Therefore, following the bloody Sharia riot of 2000, the issue of domination of some parts of Southern Kaduna, again became an issue. And in order to settle the matter once and for all, the Makarfi administration in 2001, created 22 chiefdoms and several districts, to douse tension and stabilize the system.

This much was confirmed by President, Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU), Dr. Solomon Musa. He told Saturday Sun that “this institution of chieftaincy, the people yearn, look, fought and asked for this institution and new chiefdoms were created particularly in Southern Kaduna. So, there was a purpose for it.

“These are distinct chiefdoms and people asked for their freedom; they have their culture and are different in all sense. It took time for the administration of Senator Ahmed Makarfi to graciously listen to the cry and yearning of the people and decided to create these chiefdoms to make people have sense of belonging. This has contributed immensely to relative peace in the state. He created them on first class, second class and third class chief basis and everybody was happy about that.”

But since el-Rufa’i came on board, there has never been any bloody ethno-religious riot. Yet, the governor appears desirous in restructuring the traditional institution in the state. And by January this year, the seven-member committee, led by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry for Local Government in the state, Ibrahim Sabo, turned in its report to the governor.

Among other things, the committee’s terms of reference include: to find out the number of districts in the emirates/chiefdoms of the state before creation of additional districts in 2001; to identify the current number of districts and justify the need for restructuring the existing ones bearing in mind the history, landmass, and population of the districts as well as the financial position of the respective local governments and; to come up with a modest and uniform structure for the district and village administration.

The committee was also asked to come up with a modest structure of the emirates and chiefdoms bearing in mind the history, size and status of the emirates/chiefdoms; and to make any other recommendation(s) that would guide government to take informed decision(s) on districts and village administration; and to submit report within one week from the date of first sitting.

And pronto the committee recommended the sacking of over 3000 traditional rulers, because according to it “the average total monthly income of local governments is grossly inadequate to cater for the average monthly expenditure of the councils,” adding that “the ever-increasing cost of maintaining the districts and village administration has been the major constraints to infrastructural development at the grassroots level.” The committee further noted that before 2001, there were only 76 districts and 1,407 village heads. It further submitted that the creation of most of the additional districts in the year 2001 and those created after 2001 “were not based on a standard criteria, i.e historical antecedents, population and landmass but rather informed by political considerations.”

Government officials evasive

Efforts to speak with government officials, including the state’s Commissioner for Local Government, Jafaru Sani, proved abortive. But an official of the government who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Saturday Sun that government was yet to take a stand on the recommendations, insisting that it’s some members of the committee that leaked that part of recommendations to the public.  The official, who declined to speak further on the issue, also hinted that the sacking of the over 3,000 traditional rulers was just one of several recommendations submitted to the state government.


Secretary, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kaduna, Reverend Sunday Ibrahim, noted that “should government in its wisdom decide that it wants to scrap about 3,000 of them, that is fine. But the government should also use her discretion and study the situation because man, even animals need freedom. I don’t think the communities have complained to the government that they are tired of them. These are traditional rulers and they have their role to play because they are closer to the people than government.

“I think government should give the communities an option. If government doesn’t have the money to pay them, let the communities take over the payment of traditional rulers. To me, that would have been okay because we are not just looking at the immediate implication but that of the future. And I want to suggest that government should discuss with communities and find out if their leaders will be ready to take care of the traditional rulers’ expenses.

“But again, while not even ask the federal government too hands off and allow this institution to run as it used to be because that is why it is called traditional – for the people,” he stressed. On his part however, Secretary, Jama’tu Nasril Islam (JNI), Kaduna, Ibrahim Kefena, said if the threat was carried out, it would have serious implications on peaceful coexistence of the people, because according to him, the people that would be affected would become jobless and ostensibly become willing tools in the hands of trouble makers.

“In the first instance, I have not seen the report officially and I have also not been shown any document though it is all over the place. People are saying the governor said the review was due to backlog of salaries and arrears that he will be going back to pre-1999 districts and Chiefdoms.

“According to the information we received, he is not planning to touch the chiefs but district heads and ward heads. I don’t know how far that is true. I also heard that some of the traditional rulers said they could function without salaries, but that the governor said no. This too, I don’t know how far it is true.

“But I think there should be a way out because already the labour market is saturated with job seekers and we are thinking of adding to that at secondary level. For somebody who has been a district head for 10 to 15 years, and you want to render him jobless just like that, knowing he has a lot of people to cater for?

“So, I will want the governor and the traditional leaders to sit and sort it out so that the issue doesn’t bring crisis into the state. They have remained a tool in mobilising people and encouraging them to live in peace and harmony. So if this finally happens, they will cross their fingers and watch things fall apart. Certainly, it will have implication for peaceful co-existence of the state,” the JNI scribe, warned.

President, Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU), Dr. Solomon Musa, described the move as “unfortunate and suspicious.”

According to him, his position was based on the fact that the state government failed to consult widely before even setting up the committee in the first instance.

‘‘Yes I am aware. I have read about it and it has been widely publicized. We as a union are yet to issue a formal statement and that we will do at the appropriate time. But for now, I think it is actually a move that we definitely view with a lot of suspicions.

“Let me start by saying government is a continuum. And that means the policy of a particular government ought to guide the next government. Now, this institution of chieftaincy, the people yearn, look, fought and asked for this institution and new chiefdoms were created particularly in Southern Kaduna. So, there was a purpose for it.

“These are distinct chiefdoms and people asked for their freedom; they have their culture and are different in all sense. It took time for the administration of Senator Ahmed Makarfi to graciously listen to the cry and yearning of the people and decided to create these chiefdoms to make people have sense of belonging. This has contributed immensely to relative peace in the state. He created them on first class, second class and third class chief basis and everybody was happy about that.

“Then other administrations like that of Namadi Sambo’s, Patrick Yakowa’s, Ramalan Yero’s came and they never tampered with it. Let me say that the appointment of district head normally follows a pattern. The chief will forward the names of the people that are supposed to be appointed as district head to government before it will receive final approval from government of Kaduna state.

“So, government has over the years been responsible for creation of districts and any attempt to change that now will make it look as if the government is a summersault. It means government is no longer a continuum. It means the new government is saying that its wisdom is greater than those of his predecessors and collective yearning of the people.

“In southern Kaduna, I know we have what we call community development associations or tribal associations of the 53 ethnic nationalities that registered with SOKAPU and I am in a position to tell you that none of the president and executive council members of various community associations were consulted.

“Government should not be top-bottom approach. It should be bottom-top approach. There should be discussions; the feelings of the people should be felt and taking into account. We are in a democracy and not in a dictatorship. We are not in autocracy, we are not in partition.

“But when you fail to discuss with people, it means you are ruling by fiat that means we have gone back to the military era. I believe that the person that advised the government has not advised the government correctly.

“But let me say this, if it is the issue of payment, I have discussed with the national leaders of the various community associations, various tribes and they are saying if it is the issue of payment, the people will be ready to support this institution, to support the district heads and the village heads. If they had been consulted, they would have possibly told the government that. This development is in bad faith and unfortunate,” he declared.

The SOKAPU leader further said traditional leaders are“father figure and are closer to the people. Each time there is an issue, normally they are consulted and they are like shock absorbers without which it will be extremely difficult for car to move well. Because of the respect people have for their traditional leaders, they become stabilizing factors.

“So, if you take them away, you are taking away father figure and stabilizing factors in times of unrest. We are aware that the governor has vowed never to invite or talk with SOKAPU as a union and we are not bothered about that. But can they call the people; the chiefs, the district heads, community development associations, the press and what have you and hear from them? If they do that, then it will be good for them because these people have roles to play in the society, without which a great vacuum will be created.”