The El-Rufai I know is very dogged when it comes to doing what he considers to be right. Though he is mortal like anyone who could be wrong or right on a course of action he chooses to take or a trajectory he chooses to tread, his doggedness is what endears him to me. Yet I am not his fan. But I have always admired that dogged side of him and his ability to come up with novelties—new things—when it comes to governance. That alludes to his intelligence. Gov. El-Rufai is an intelligent administrator (take it or leave it).
Always in the news, unlike some of our political rulers (not leaders) who are completely bereft of ideas, El-Rufai is a unique exemption. Though a little man, and if you like, the littlest governor of our time; he is never absent when it comes to coming up with big ideas, novel policies that stir discussions.
El-Rufai’s policies are not only eccentric, they are also controversial. The latest one is the four-day workweek. If he succeeds in doing that, he will be setting a precedent; not only in Nigeria, but in the African Continent. But would the precedent worthy of emulation? Only time will tell—a secular way to say only God knows.
A four-day workweek after COVID-19 lockdown? One wonders the rationale behind this. Ordinarily, it should be a tentative six-day workweek due to COVID lockdown to recover working hours that were lost to COVID. But since El-Rufai likes to do things differently, his pronouncement has spawned a lot of mixed reactions which I personally considered as a storm in a tea cup. Islamization agenda was even impute to him. I will discuss these reactions one after the other.
Is a four-day workweek ill thought? Is it anti productive or retrogressive? One cannot really say but there is a possibility of it becoming a new normal. Some countries in the developed economies have experimented it with an impressing result—a promising outcome. Governments and businesses in countries such as Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, and Spain ran a pilot program of four-day workweek with amazing results. They wowed the global community with workers’ increased productivity of 25%-40% as reported in recent pilot studies.
What is more, it comes with many advantages such as improved work/life, more time to spend with family members (especially wives and children), less need for sick leaves, less money to spend on child care for nursing parents, and working schedule flexibility.
In Nigeria where earnings from a job are hardly enough to make ends meet, it will afford workers the opportunity to engage in other profitable activities like trading and farming. Though the current trend in Nigeria is that education is a scam, this arrangement gives ample time to few Nigerians who might want to further their studies to do so.
Viewing the policy from this strategic perspective, I do not think it should be welcomed with condemnation and criticism. Perhaps Kaduna State Government needs enlightenment campaign for wider acceptance before implementation. But one wonders why a policy which should be seen as pro-people is not embraced by all.
Reasons for criticisms are not far-fetched. One, there is trust deficit—Nigerians are conditioned not to trust government. Two, government works are not taking with the seriousness they deserve. Three, some consider it to have religious undertone. Thus, I will be cautious, despite being inclined to welcoming the policy, in lending it total espousal without reservations.
A random survey of people’s reactions reveals people are afraid that there could be salary cut if work hours were reduced and the government may justify such reduction. One should not ignore this concern. But in the countries I cited above, while there is reduction in hours of work per week, salaries remain intact. I hope El-Rufai will allay workers’ fear by not scaling down—pruning— their salaries. Salary reduction will be catastrophic in the face of this grinding hardship.
The concern that there is always backlog of unfinished works in most of our ministries despite five-day workweek due to insufficient workforce or negative attitudes of civil servants towards government work cannot be discarded as baseless. If that concern is genuine, reducing work hours will only compound the existing problem.
Yet, this concern can be addressed by increasing the workforce. If El-Rufai intends to create jobs by augmenting the workforce to spite his traducers on this new policy, that will be appreciated. But this is unlikely.
Lastly is the concern of Islamization. This, I considered the most stupid concern. I don’t know when Nigerians will be weaned of this infantile Christianisation and Islamization allegations in construing government’s policy. While it is glaring that there are attempts to implement the Sharia in some states in the North, the claim of Islamization due to this policy is bogus.
While it is also true that the wave of Pentecostal Republicanism is raging in Southern Nigeria, to nurse the fear of Christianisation in modern day Nigeria seems—to me—out of place.
People are being unnecessarily Islamophobic. To put it straight, there is a claim that reducing workweek to four days is primarily aimed at declaring Friday a work-free day to favour the Muslims. If that is El-Rufai’s intention, so what is wrong about that? How will that Islamize Kaduna State or Nigeria?
There is also this concern that other northern states will soon declare Friday a work-free day. So what? In any sane clime, and for anyone wise enough to understand the basic concept of democracy, that will be democracy in action. In fact in Nigerian context, declaring Friday a work-free day—nationwide—only gets our democracy embedded in justice.
Where is justice in making Sunday—which is the first day of the week—a weekend just because Christians go to church but Muslims cannot enjoy work-free day on Friday to go to mosque? I don’t know our problem in Nigeria. Some are saying: if at all there will be three work-free days, why Friday and not Monday? But our common sense should dictate to us that it has to be Friday.
Though religion should make us urbane, our situation is different in Nigeria. The more ‘religious’ we claim to be the more retrogressive our thinking becomes. I don’t know who did this to us. This is not peculiar to one religion—we are all vulnerable to this retrogressive thinking.
It is to be noted that those countries that experimented a four-day workweek did not do so without backlashes from those who thought it was wrong. The difference is that nobody expressed such criticism in religious term. Fridays are work free days without anyone insinuating Islamization.
Our problem in Nigeria is that we bury our common senses under the debris and view every government policy and action from the skewed lens of religion. What a country!
For those who do not know, there is no work-free day in Islam. Muslims are supposed to work and worship their Creator day and night—24/7—including Fridays (see Qur’an 62:9-11). The weekend concept does not even exist in Islam. If Friday is declared a work-free day, it is neither Islamic nor un-Islamic. So how is that an attempt at Islamization?
But because our own democracy has become a competitive one—not in progress but in religious and ethnic intolerance—we consider everything as religious and ethnical. If El-Rufai can assure us that there will be no cut in salaries and the new policy proves effective, he should go on and declare Friday a work-free day and let’s listen to the lame arguments of those who say it is undemocratic or unconstitutional. May Allah grant El-Rufai success and other leaders who wish to be successful.