In the 1980s, going into the 90s, when the Bretton Woods institutions prescribed the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) to developing nations as cure for their economic maladies, Nigeria, under General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, swallowed the pills and stayed on them despite their devastating side effects. The government of the day ignored all cries and lamentations of Nigerians from the grueling side effects of these pills under the grossly pompous pretext that SAP had no alternative.

After years of SAP, its antagonists were proven right when the program exacerbated the economic crises of these nations. One of its proponents, Jeffrey Sachs, world renowned economist and author of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) later confessed in his book — The End of Poverty — that they were wrong, and that other alternatives (to SAP) should have been explored.

Something similar to the SAP debate is currently taking place in Kaduna State where the governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufa’i is adamant in refusing to look at alternatives to some of his policy solutions, which, to borrow from what General Olusegun Obasanjo said about SAP, lack “human face and the milk of kindness.” Some of these policies include the sack of 22,000 primary school teachers based on a controversial and sub-standard test. Commentators have given many arguments, for and against the sack solution and I do not intend to rehash them here.

Reports had it that Gov. el-Rufai’s benefactor, President Muhammadu Buhari supports the sack of these teachers, and people, particularly Buhari loyalists, were aghast and had expressed muted displeasure over the purported support. I personally interpret the president’s comment to only mean that he supports revamping the education sector and not the sacking of 22,000 (not 22, not 220, not 2,200, but 22,000!) teachers. The Governor must therefore be careful not to hurt his benefactor’s standing and politics.

There is no problem that has only one solution, so sacking the teachers cannot be the only solution to the crisis in the primary education sector in Kaduna State. It is a bold move certainly, but as the Americans would say, not a smart one. Any average leader can come up with this solution, but to those of us who have admired Governor el-Rufa’i to high heavens for his exceptional academic prowess, it (sack solution) doesn’t set him apart from the others. The governor should have used his celebrated brilliance to arrive at a solution that, to a great extent, satisfies all stakeholders: a win-win-win solution for the government, the teachers and the pupils. How he does it is entirely left to him, but none of the stakeholders should go home grumbling.

Like all beings, the governor is fallible. He demonstrated this in his first diagnosis of the problem of education in the state when he thought it was hunger and reportedly splashed about N10 billion in less than one year on his now-failed school feeding program. The sack solution is also not a winning one. Commentators are fixated on the future of the pupils and in the process, they forget that the 22,000 teachers are not mere numbers but people with stakes in the state like the pupils, their parents and the governor. They didn’t employ themselves, so the government that employed them, and represents their interests, must be seen to be fair and just to them.

El-Rufa’i should please learn to listen to people no matter how stupid they appear. There is collective wisdom (wisdom of the crowds) in what people say about his style of governance. Leadership, to a great extent, is about building consensus, addressing people’s fears, and making the lives of people better.

By Mustapha Shehu