With barely ten months for President Muhammadu Buhari to leave office, the former Minister of Finance, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, has advised the president on what to do to salvage the image of his government.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the four-time minister, also spoke on a number of issues pertaining to the polity.
The party primaries are over and presidential candidates have emerged. What are your expectations for 2023 elections?
It was tough enough to hazard meaningful guesses on what could happen in the 2023 elections before the accurate startling revelations about what is actually in the new Electoral Law. With the revelations, if we can hold the politicians to their unintended new ‘restrictions’ on agile movements within the political party system, all kinds of outcomes are now plausible. From my vantage distance, it’s presumptuous to be rigid about one’s gut feeling. It is clear that most lessons learned would be handy only for the ‘next time.’ This hyper, near explosive political activism needs to come much earlier in the process for all interested stakeholders. Sloganeering, literally, on the eve of electoral contestation is most counterproductive. Example is the way the APC mega party emerged that clearly blinded potential opponents despite timely warnings of its importance for democratic governance. The subsequent heaving back and forth could have been avoided. With the potential for such movement strategically curtailed, it’s probably to speculate on the probable outline of the 2023 elections. If the lessons have been learned and the letter of the new electoral guidelines adhered to, it’s an unexpected beauty that all of a sudden the odds are not so clear. Neither the APC nor the PDP could have imagined this unlikely scenario before the primaries.
The primaries of the two major parties, APC and PDP were alleged to have been highly monetised. What are the implications for our electoral system and democracy?
You have to add the state of the nation to the equation centred on the level of monetisation. Monetisation becomes a deeper problem where there are no tractable and enforceable limits on election spending. The parlous state of the economy ensures that public interest is totally immaterial in the evolution of electoral choice, even where such choice is discernible. Cash and carry goes to the most astute financier, regardless of their agenda in seeking public office. The educational level and implicit capacity to focus on individual or party manifesto is perhaps at its lowest level. Anyone can mouth this without being required to spell out how policies and programmes can be put together and pushed through to a successful implementation to deliver on the ‘sweet’ promises in front of a long- famished and deprived populace. In sum, monetisation is anathema to the development of a truly democratic culture.
What are the challenges the next government is going to face?
It may seem too optimistic to even venture into the question of the challenges a new government will face if 2023 happens as planned. ‘Enormous’ is a huge understatement. Where does a new administration start to gather all the pieces to even determine the ordering of plausible solutions? Are you talking about the security, the administration, particularly, the various arms of public administration, the entire economy, its basic interrelated components, including entire network of the financial system?
It’s easy to disaggregate and re-aggregate to these three broad areas, but it’s with the breakdown of these broad problem areas that the sheer enormity of our accumulation of unsolved problems loom large, seemingly intractable and devoid of sustenance solutions. There can be no exhaustive listing. Every subject area requires a fresh start and bringing a fresh out- of-the- box thinking and imagination, qualitative and quantitative, systems, manpower, financing, and a sense of irreversible sustainability. The government has to pick a team that not only knows its stuff, politically and professionally in the relevant areas, but also a team that can carry along the huge expectations of the masses and reference stakeholders, workers, teachers, professionals (lawyers, engineers, doctors, etc)
From 2023, the government at all the three levels and their parastatals must focus on getting it right away from focus on how to entrench new vested interests. Yes, easier to say than keeping to the line as delineated. The entire security apparatchik needs to be adroitly reengineered for across the board efficiency and fair representation with the accent on an objectively determined merit basis. The overriding objective should be improvement in security for Nigerians and all who reside within our borders, in line with international law and norms.
The administration – federal, state and local will need to be reinvented, along with their affiliated and sprawling parastatals with new ground rules, inviolate code of conduct based on the tested standards from the past as required by present circumstances. It’s fairly agreed that just about all of what existed is in shambles.
The economy and related financial systems, monetary, exchange, and credit management and fiduciary issues require a desparate professional restructuring for growth and market-propelled management. This is a sore and critical sector that cannot be allowed to fester from day one of the new administration. A lot more detail will be required to reach the minutest micro level issues enumerated in a broad outline here.
How can such challenges be tackled?
These challenges can be best tackled by a clear early signal of the policy objectives to all segments of the polity in writing and through essential stakeholder leaders in public sessions to disseminate the intent of government. An open system is a sine qua non to the expected buy-in of the people. It’s in those fora that cooperation of the leaders and the people, the government and the citizens at large can reaffirm the identity of commonality in interests of all sides.
A sense of equal access, equality before the rule of law, certainty of protection and sanctions alike become basic entitlements as they ought to be. All these engender confidence and make policies easier to grasp and their implementation more readily practicable. The unfettered flow of information has to be restored as a right that is basic to the relationship between government and the citizen, regardless of origin, faith, tongue or party affiliation.
Political pundits have predicted the emergence of a Third Force. Do you think such a group can unsettle the two strong parties?
We are already with the hindsight of accurate events, a witness to the power of a third force. A force that delineates a common class interest that lies above and beyond the two major gladiators. A third force of common grievances that spans the existing political party divides. Hunger, homelessness, lack of education, lack of gainful employment, and poor health and below poverty living conditions are a common denominator below or above political party ideologues.
These tendencies have stuttered through our political space for a long time, even in pre- independent Nigeria and the post civil war period. It’s very much alive today and probably, stronger today, in relative terms by comparison with the strength of either the government or its major opposition. It may be facing a decisive test today going forward to the next general elections. Its strength may lie as much as in its basic message as in the ability to have a deliberately representative leadership across all the major political regions than the leadership of its major political party opponents.
President Buhari has less than a year to leave office. What are some of his short comings, and how can he remedy them before leaving office?
Memories are short in politics. You would think that if the present leadership can turn around its image within a year or two of leaving office? The current occupant of Aso Rock would find it so hard to achieve such a feat. And it’s a very tough act to carry through to any significant certifiable success. The level of bloodletting and as an adjunct of the high level of insecurity has been unquestionably without parallel in peacetime or even war, within the opposing lines of conflict. It will take a startling turnaround to Excellerate PMB government’s rating in security. Perhaps the genuine data is incomplete and there not be a significant dose of rumour and inadequate information. But this is not likely to change the sense of shock and utter dismay between hopes and expectations compared with the substantive history of PMB’s record on security.
That we are in a violence-ridden polity with barely discernible patches of uneasy peace cannot be ambiguously credited to the Federal Government determined intention to keep insecurity prevention at the top of its agenda as constitutionally required. In essence, the Nigerian people have resisted the frequent calls to undertake their own defence with disastrous consequences. The toll remains at a high level on the eve of a new administration. If, indeed, we can still achieve a peaceful transition, he could beef up security in clear non-ethnic, but improved efficiency manner. He could agree to a serious but time-limited constitutional review and implementation agenda, by showing political will and leadership, possibly slow three to six months window to complete and implement within the next four to seven months and even be open to a slight delay to the 2023 elections as some have canvassed as being justified by the critical reservations in the existing constitutional arrangements. Any demonstrated political will to change the structure for equity and improved governance can radically salvage the poor image of PMB’s stewardship that has come under assault from both the south and the north. But, it’s not likely that these things can happen. It’s probably just best to hope that the electoral process can be adequately managed to be free and fair.
The South-East clamoured to have the presidency in 2023, but it has eluded them in the APC and PDP. What can the zone do?
At this stage, the South-East should stay on the moral high ground and plan for the future. The political leadership should eschew rancour and the embrace cooperation over the rest of this transition. It’s just possible that PO from the zone can garner enough mass support to upend the major opposition parties. The SE should identify with the progressive third force from the other five zones and maintain a positive Nigerian voice for change that all Nigerians are clearly clamouring for.
It was bad enough to have waltzed without political sensitivity into an intolerably unwise confliction between demand for a separation of sorts in one breadth and a so-called presidency of Igbo extraction. Ndigbo have worked to sustain this nation and should not appear to be begging for a special favour. Mistakes were made in joining in at the merger and the manner in which the government and the leaders managed the justified nationwide youth agitation in the South-East. The ensuing confliction should have been avoided. There is a whole future to rebuild by engaging all segments of the South-East and by humbling, you sustain a political reach out to all sections on the basis of communality of progressive values.
You were or are a member of APC, but you have been lying low. Have you left the party?
Finally, on the question of party affiliation, I flinch on being really identified with a political party affiliation. As a development economist that saw the emergence of the Asian Tigers – from Taiwan, China, South Korea (in particular) to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, I have always seen my involvement from the exclusive perspective of proffering economic development programmes and policies. I don’t recommend my easygoing political party affiliation to anyone who seeks political power for its own sake. I was involved with the set up of the PDP, the Justice Party (as a co-founder), founding member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), passed through the NDP and the NNPP, on which platform I was a presidential candidate in the 2003 presidential elections (I have had to insist on correcting the impression loosely fostered in our media that I was a mere aspirant.) The records are there.
With the formation of the All Peoples Congress (APC), I joined up and sought to ensure our people joined in what I foresaw along with my friends was going to emerge as a major party. It was a tough sell, but I managed to convince quite a few key players from the SE zone to join and ensure our stake in this major merger. By my reckoning, I have maintained my links through my political party journey. What’s best for the country’s development and economic modernisation remains my instinctive platform in politics.