Kaduna State government recently took yet another controversial decision by stripping 4,766 district and village heads of their positions. The road to their dethronement was paved when it set up a committee, chaired by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government, Ibrahim Sabo.

The committee’s terms of reference indicated that government was going to reduce the number of traditional rulers in the state. During the period the panel sat, salaries and allowances of the district and village heads were put on hold, a clear red light for them.

The committee recommended that 194 district heads, 2,927 village heads and 643 council members and staff of traditional institutions across the state should be sacked. The state government accepted the recommendation that traditional institutions in the state should revert to their pre-2001 structure. Up until that year, Kaduna State had 77 districts and 1,429 village units but Governor Ahmed Makarfi’s administration created 313 more districts and brought the number of district heads to 390. This was done in order “to give recognition to hundreds of ethnic groups that hitherto felt disenchanted and enslaved.” It was also meant to address the protracted inter-communal crises in Kaduna State at the time.

Makarfi told Daily Trust two months ago that “A number of them were distinct and separate institutions. So if you want to go back, they were entities that you know were there as far back as you can remember… And the people never gave up; they still wanted to go back to where they were before the colonial masters took away their independence and put them under some kind of contraption. What we did was to try to undo what the colonial masters did, basically; and it was a recommendation which was widely received. As far as we were concerned, it achieved the intended objective at the time that we did it. I believe it’s still relevant; but of course, it’s up to those in authority to do what they think is right.”

Kaduna State government said the latest reorganization was meant to reduce the cost of maintaining them. Commissioner for Local Government Affairs Jafaru Ibrahim Sani said even though the state government comfortably discharges its obligations to the 32 emirs and chiefs, the local government councils were unable to do same to the district heads. He said, “Zazzau Emirate alone has 86 districts. But Kano State, with a much larger population, has only 44 districts. What accounts for this proliferation in the number of district heads appears to be nothing other than political expediency. Government has not seen any objective criteria or a strategic consideration that concluded that the proliferation of districts was either sustainable or crucial to delivering public goods or promoting harmony at the grassroots.”

In truth, most of the district and village heads only received peanuts as salaries, in contrast to mouth-watering packages for dozens of political appointees. The role of district and village heads in conflict resolutions such as land, communal and religious disputes cannot be overemphasised because conventional security agencies are mostly lacking   in villages and hamlets. Without them, the police and courts will be flooded with cases. At a time when Kaduna State is contending with crises especially in southern parts of the state, this mass removal is quite untimely.

Not surprisingly, the action received condemnation from many quarters including from Secretary General of Civil Rights Congress Nasir Abbas and National President of Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) Barrister Solomon Musa, who said the re-structuring exercise was misplaced because unlike Kano State which is ethnically homogenous, Kaduna State has a multiplicity of native ethnic groups.

We entirely agree that this matter should not be reduced to one of naira and kobo. The anguish and disruption caused all over the state by this action could cost it much more in terms of stability and security than the monies allegedly saved.