KALU: Why Nigerians Must Be Patient With Buhari
Former Minister of Finance, Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, in this chat with GBENGA SALAU, gave his opinion on the first 100 days of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Can you give a holistic review of Buhari’s 100 days in office?
I DO not think I have all the details, partly, because there had been inundation of issues.So, the first general statement I have to make is that I was very hopeful with the tone of the discussions and the campaign leading up to the election.
I was quite pleased with the outcome, because it showed a measure of political activism in the general public, without going into the details of the structure of the results, you could see what amounted to fundamental shift in the base of the former president to that of the new president.
Now, let’s get down to the specifics. The emphasis on discipline, accountability, zero tolerance for corruption, I have found that very salutary for the generality of our people.
It certainly impacted on the perception of the new administration within the international circle. It is easy to see how the international community has reacted very favourable on the issue of security, economy and concern for human rights and development, among other issues. All these have been very positive.
I know people have been saying the government is slow compared with what we are used to. I would urge Nigerians to be a little bit more patient.
We are made up of 36 states and the FCT, with six zones. We are multi-ethnic nationality. For that reason, it may be unduly hasty for some to feel they have been sidelined relatively to others whom they may considered to have been favoured. So far, we are dealing with a large country, and everything has to be put in context of the situation the administration has met.
This new context, whether in terms of gravity in the economy, political, social and legal areas, to the extent that there had been major problems in all these sectors, any leader who wants to make a real change should be excused for taking time in selecting those that will work with him.
We should be circumspect in coming to quick conclusion on the spread of the appointments, which is what is currently evident as expressed in people’s opinion.
But we should give it more time as I said, we are a multi-ethnic society, we are a federation of 36 states and the federal capital, so, we should give more time before we start totaling up.
Above all, it is only fair that we continue to judge the selecting process based on merit. As I said, I do not have the details. Somebody was appointed to continue the amnesty programme, from those who were directly involved, this appointment was hailed.
A decision was made about the cleanup of Ogoni land, those involved hailed that decision. And generally, apart from the spread of the selecting process, most of the decisions had been hailed by those who are directly aware, involved and the purpose for which those appointments had been made.
So again, I will say, so good, and hope that things will accelerate with the engagement of the cabinet, which means that lieutenants will be charged with direct responsibility to move their various portfolios forward; industries, manufacturing, culture, works, power, education, finance and so on.
But as I said, given what the new administration met, we should be more patient, calculative and less judgmental and take a deeper thought in coming to quick conclusions.
A lot of decisions had been taken; people have tended to fault the fact that it seems to us that it is emanating from a very narrow base. Obviously, there must be advisers and people were consulted, whether they were the usual people we know of, whether in terms of the National Assembly or the cabinet.
You talk about giving the president time, but some Nigerians have argued that, as somebody who has vied to be president for about four consecutive times, it should be natural to him to hit the ground running? That may sound fair, but when you are outside the system, you are outside.
That is one. Then, the political process leading up to his emergence could be very different to what happened in the previous process when he vied.
I am not holding brief for him, I am only pointing out things that you need to consider in order for him to be assessed fairly. So, it depends on the extent of the rot on ground.
For instance, I saw in a newspaper, sometime ago, that he had selected 36 people and only three met his own criteria, and therefore, it means that he has to go back to select 33 more.
However, you ask yourself, is it better he is satisfied or just hasty for the purpose of not appearing to be slow and hitting the ground running. Some of these phrases over simplify the processes of governance.
And if you really sit down and look at the many decisions taken, they may not be the usual platforms. A lot of decisions had been taken, but people have overlooked when they say he is not hitting the ground running, yet he is looking into all sorts of things.
The other day I saw him meeting with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), I do not know how many presidents have met with the NDDC. I now hear that licenses were issued for mini-refineries, I was surprised that such a decision had been taken.
Of course, we know that a lot of these decisions go through all kinds of processes. If you really sit down to itemise the areas he has touched, security, the customs, police, army, I will say quite a number of subject headings had been addressed.
During the campaign, fighting corruption to a standstill was one of his cardinal points, but many are surprised that the same man has failed to publicly declare his assets, even when CSOs demanded that.
Also, there was the allegation that he is ethno-centric with appointments, is he not proving people right? For the first, it is the lawyers who should really tell us.
For the general public, the impression is that the thing will be put in the press, but the government is giving a different interpretation. Those who are supposed to be custodians of these facts are expected not only to have it, but release it to a third party.
Now, what is the modality for releasing it to the public; that is why I said a lawyer should be able to speak on it in light of what the constitution requires.
And I will agree with you that the general public has every right to say that it seems something is foxy. On the second issue raised, we should not be hasty, and we do not have enough facts really when it comes to these things.
It is people’s perception; this is from the north, southwest and so one. Secondly, even if he had made 30 appointments, what is the ratio to the totality of the appointments that he is going to make, it will be less than 10 per cent.
Can you draw a conclusion based on 10 percent; statistically you can say it is not wise. So we have to be patient and give him time after he had appointed 50 per cent and 70 per cent of that to one region, then the analysis continues.
However, what Nigerians should be clamouring for are qualified persons. Apart from spread, the country will do better if people appointed, irrespective of where they come from, are adjudged to be people with proper training and experience and likely to deliver.
People are saying this federal character, we are sick of it, so we should bring that to bear and judge his appointments on merits. Does not having economic policy direction and cabinet to drive it, have negative implication on the economy? There are certain issues that are affecting our economy at this point.
First is the result of massive inefficiency, leakage, which means that some of the things that we are supposed to be getting, we are not and the resources that were allocated, evidently, were not allocated and the fruits are not coming forth.
Two, we know that oil price has dropped steadily from over $100 to around $40, so there is a drastic reduction in current receipt, which will impact on decisions that we can make to meet certain current expenditures and sustain existing investment in capital expenditure, that is another factor.
Change in the poor delivery of water, power, transport, health, education, security, all of these will also impact on the economy. But to what extent will having a cabinet ameliorate the situation? It is hard to say.
If he had appointed competent people into various offices, it could help matters. National Bureau of Statistics recently said the unemployment rate is on the increase, is this not linked to not having a cabinet and economic policy direction in place? As an economist, I am very skeptical about our unemployment statistics and this is not just here, even in the US and a few more advanced countries.
It will take a little fine-tuning to relate high unemployment to not having economic policy or cabinet. I do not think that would have made a difference in three months situation. I have indicated the factors that are basic to the workings of the economy, in terms of provision of basic services, security, transport and the associated cost.
And of course, the issue of what is happening to interest and exchange rate. The Ministry of Finance is still there and the governor of the Central Bank is still there, and they have been grappling with the issues.
Marginally, a new minister will have to come in to study, depending on his depth and experience and then hit the ground running in terms bringing new policies.
New policies in these areas can have an impact but I do not think the absence of those policies, or a minister could be construed to be having a short-term impact on unemployment situation.
All these other factors in terms of how quickly are all the expenditure we make on power coming on board, and other issues and infrastructure coming on board.
What is happening to the credit flow in the system and what has been happening to the medium and short time exchange rate, demand and supply of exchange rate? So, these are the issues; not so much about the polices. Yes, the policies would give a direction and some of them would have impact, but not in the short run.