By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, former Minister of Finance, ex-Minister of National Planning, experienced World bank economist; in this encounter speaks on Nigeria at 50, the on-going debate on zoning, the electioneering process in the country and says that because of zoning, the only way the incumbent President could get an exception is if there is development on ground to warrant such but as it is, there is none to warrant that exception. Excerpts.
It’s 50 years of Nigeria’s independence and so much has happened over the years.
How would you assess us as a nation?
I think in recognition of the size of this country and our heterogeneity, the fact that we are still together is worth celebrating. We should thank God who saw us through the evolution of Nigeria.
We thank God that we have remained together. We have a lot of advantages as a nation and even though we have had a lot of crises, we should be happy with the success we have made so far and the fact that we resolved these crises.
It is a fact that we are experiencing deterioration in terms educational and infra structural development over the years. There is also deterioration from the highest to the lowest level of government. We have too much rancour.
At the local government level, we have problems with implementing the little facility that is provided for villages and small towns and in the maintenance of simple health.
In terms of comparability to the resources that we have, I believe we ought to have done better.
One of the major challenges facing the country now is the problem of proper understanding when financing is used to address our myriad of problems. One of the biggest problems we have is between those who are in power and those who are outside power.
We should understand what other countries have been able to do despite not having the availability of the resources we have. They have been able to improve the way money is invested in new structures and maintaining existing structures. One of the debates we have had is the total misunderstanding of the role of financing,
misunderstanding of the fact that if people are good stewards, then the rules of the society will make them conform so that when they have these resources, they should deploy them judiciously in making sure that they provide the wherewithal that would increase productivity.
But we have not taken steps to show that we learnt a simple understanding of this concept. We cannot discipline ourselves and so, we have made our population to suffer by misusing the resources we have and by refusing to make amends so that we can make sure that resources don’t become a constraint in resolving the challenges of our people to lead a better life because they deserve it, given the resources, given the natural endowments of the people.
So, fifty years later, we need to have a real genuine dialogue as to how to move forward. The current discussions on amending our constitution are encouraging. We have too many dissonance voices.
The simple thing is that the people must pick their leaders, the electoral process must be open and honest. The records must be there and open to those who want to partake and those who want to observe to see exactly what the system is all about.
That is the basic thing. So, we must recognise the heterogeneity of the people of Nigeria, every group no matter how small must be recognised and must feel they are a part and parcel of the entire system. There must be a sense of belonging. There must be a true reflection of the federal structure which we have.
We must fine-tune our federal system to reflect the fact that the aim is not to empower politicians but to give a sense of belonging to all the constituents in the Nigerian federation.
Over the years, we have battled with leadership problems. Governments come and go but the country remains where it is. The 2011 elections are approaching and some leaders of the past want to return to political reckoning. Should the retired generals be given a chance to return to government judging from their past records?
Well, the country must move ahead. We are governed by laws, not by sentiments. If any of those who want to partake in the coming elections have been part of our history, we know that this time, the people have the chance to decide who they want to rule them. We have a law and we operate the law.
So, those people you talked about are not coming back by military fiat. This time, they must conform to the rules of the game. As long as there is a ballot system, we should make sure that our votes count and that as many people as possible are enfranchised, including those abroad, those in the hospitals and those in schools.
Everybody of age must be empowered to vote. Whoever they vote for that wins must take over, whether the person has been there before or not. It is the people who should decide. So, we should put our heads together in making our decisions, not journalists or magazines deciding for us.
Once we do a credible job of having a credible voters system, you and I have nothing to worry about. As long as we circumvent these things, and we want to use other means to select our leaders, then, we are also not playing according to the rules of the game.
There are some Nigerians who have not had opportunities in the past, maybe they are younger but now have what it takes to rule, like they have in United States, Russia, France where Presidents are in their 40s and 50s. Would you encourage Nigerians to go for the younger generation than for those who have been there in the past?
That is easier said than done. Ultimately, it is the people who are being governed, who will determine by their reaction, by their perception, by their desire, by their active involvement to evolve a system that approximates with that of Germany, United States, or Britain where younger elements govern.
The people have to rise up, to be educated in the political knowledge. Our level of political education is not adequate but we have to start from somewhere. We must have that standard.
It is not that everybody has to be a university graduate or high school graduate before they decide who are the best people to represent and rule them.
The people must take their destiny in their own hands and make sure that they register to vote and follow through the voting and the counting of votes and announcement of the results. So, it is in the hands of the people.
When you talk about age, it is really the opposite in some of the countries where they won’t elect somebody that is below 70, and that also reflects in investing in the human capital.
So, the people prefer experienced hands who can deal with people who are in their upper 60s and lower 70s and higher 70s as their leaders. And of course, these countries are also getting younger people into their parliaments at various levels.
But we have to start somewhere. Everything else affects this decision. It’s not just to borrow what is happening elsewhere. It must reflect the tenets of our people. We have to evolve our own system, not to borrow what we have seen in the United States or Australia or wherever.
What is common everywhere is that we must make sure that after 50 years, people who are elected know that they owe a duty to those who elected them and that monies that are collected in whatever form would be first and foremost be used to address the basic needs of the people: that is, in terms of clean water, healthy environment, housing, job creation, both within the public and the private sector.
All budgets should be geared towards bettering the lot of the people. We have enough resources here to ensure that the kind of things we see: Malaria, HIV, AIDS are eradicated and Basic Health Standards should be much higher in the country than what they are now.
And the result of what we have now is poor planning, poor leadership, inadequate resource allocation, poor qualifications, inadequate training, inadequate incentives, insecurity and that have kept our professional personnel from coming home to supplement those that are trained at home.
All these issues have to change. So, we have to take a very comprehensive stock of all these areas. We must have a way of forcing those who seek electoral office to focus on these things. We have had enough planned or non-existent manifestoes. We need specific targets.
There must be a way people can use to explore what is going on, not just going abroad on a holiday and coming back here to say it is done this way in Russia, it is done that way in United States.
We must know that the children we see in the traffic, selling wares, that these are things that we should extinct from the Nigerian society because we have a better system, where people stay in school, they learn, there is training in various trades for the young people in our society and that way, we remove our idle youths from the streets and create factories where they will be producing.
These are the issues and when we elect people who appreciate these issues, then we have started to change. People talk about Vision 20:20-20 but it is not related to simple projects that we can do. We should harness our resources, we should flare gas, we should harness the gas and put it in fertilizer and invest other bi-products into other technologies.
We must refine all our petroleum here. We must be exporting refined products abroad. We must revitalize our agriculture, package our agricultural products in such a way that we can export to other parts of the world in attractive manner. We must have proper leadership at all levels for us to achieve all these.
We must have proper leadership in the public sector, in the private sector, within the religious communities, within local government areas and other organisations. We must move on from here and we should do so systematically.
Elections are nearby, INEC has released the time-table for that but many are expressing doubt on whether a credible election will be achieved within the time-limit that we have or we should extend the date.
I think government has elected the head of that unit, that is INEC and has also appointed INEC Commissioners who can handle these issues and do the job. People can express their opinion about the fact that the time is tight but this idea of shifting dates does not go down well with me.
If INEC feels that it can conduct credible elections within the time-frame, we should support them, make sure that all those who are given jobs are given jobs in a proper way so that they can complete the jobs within the time limit and within the resources allocated to them and still come out with acceptable results.
I’m not saying the time-table is not tight but we should try and work with it if Jega and his colleagues feel it is possible. We shouldn’t be talking of a new time-table after we have selected people to do the various jobs. So, we should rally-round and support INEC.
We should rally round and make sure that the process, the security forces, electoral workers do their job so that we can show the world that we are capable of having a clean and credible election process. I think it is possible.
This credibility should also reflect in how political parties choose their candidates from the ward level, local government level and up to the national level. We must also consider that if we change the date, it will affect other things in the constitution, like new handover date and other things.
We also have to put that into consideration. If we have to change one date now, we will have to change a lot more dates. So, this is the time for everybody to use the time we have to work out a credible electoral system.
One of the arguments going on is the issue of zoning, whether the incumbent President should contest or not; or should he hand over o the North till 2015?
After 50 years, the idea of zoning should be re-examined. We should have sufficient melting down of our heterogenous distinction, throw electioneering open because the people are now enlightened. Zoning is intertwined.
Every tribe should have a feeling of belongingness so that their size will not pose a barrier to their belongingness. We should re-examine the system so that majority shouldn’t impose themselves on others because of their largeness.
Now, based on the vociferous clamouring for it, the incumbent can only be given an exception based on his performance and development but there is nothing on the ground to warrant that exception. If people are not moved by any current development, they will not be moved to give him an exception.