… For Failing Nigerians
Half way into the President Buhari’s tenure, elder statesman and former governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa assessed and scored the Buhari-led administration low in providing effective leadership and dividends of democracy to Nigerians. In this interview with Henry Okonkwo, the National Chairman of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) further faulted the president’s statement during his New Year speech on the lingering debate on restructuring the country.
He also warned on the growing belief and calls to allow the private sector play a more prominient role in managing and steering the direction of key sectors of Nigeria’s economy.
Take a brief review of 2017, and tell us some of the situations or things that happened in the country that made you feel sad?
One of them is the inability of this government to perform. Because everybody expected this government to make a difference but they have not. In some areas they are even making things worse.
But they have always said that the rot they met on ground was so much and that it has hampered them from settling fully into governance and delivering dividends to the Nigerians
Didn’t they know the situation before they came in? They, at a time, were all in government including the president. Didn’t they have in mind what to expect on ground when the take over? What plans did they make to correct what they knew they would find. Nothing!
Okay. So what else disappointed you most in the country last year?
Increase in the level of unemployment, poverty and the virtual commercialisation of education. In all parts of Nigeria, a level 12 officer cannot educate his child up to the secondary level. There are so many things. These are just the few I have mentioned. So there is every reason for the loss of public confidence in governance.
And the worse part of it, before and during the Second Republic, in the election, you can easily observe with reason that such a person is capable of correcting the rot in the country. That was that time. But today, 2018, when negative situation in the country is even worse, you still cannot say who can do better than the present administration that has not performed well. Can you say so with honesty? So, we have a tragedy whereby the present government has not done well, and you don’t know who can come onboard to salvage the situation. It is a national tragedy and we have to face it. And this tragedy happened simply because of the deciding role money and power play in politics and elections. The person who is patriotic and capable cannot emerge, because only thieves emerge. So what else can we ask? We have no choice; there are no alternatives we have to fall on the least risk. That is a national tragedy.
The president in his speech has a firm view that Nigeria’s problem has more to do with process than structure. Do you share in that belief?
Of course I don’t. It is just like the people saying that the problem is with the leadership and for the fact that the system itself is responsible in creating the leadership.
First of all, it is very important to realize that what we require is restructuring. Restructuring means rebuilding and strengthening your work towards national unity, democracy and progress. Now we have survived for more than 100 years and it is self deceit to say that we don’t need to restructure the country to achieve more and prevent the lapses we experienced before. It is 100 years of nationhood, and anybody who thinks that throughout this 100 year we don’t need to review is deceiving himself. We see quite clearly the need for restructuring. Restructuring means fundamental change. That is what it means. There are fundamental changes that we have recognized that are necessary. To have lived for 100 years you need to review everything. You need to have a fundamental look at everything. 100 years is a long time. Many things have happened and we have identified lapses, we need to correct them. Particularly the last 20 years of those 100 years. We have seen the need for national unity. Up till now, we have not settled on whether we have one united country or not. We have secessionist tendencies everywhere throughout the country. We have secessionist tendency in the North, East, and West, everywhere. The secessionist tendency has been there even before Nigeria’s independence in 1960. And we have not solved the problem. So we have to take a fundamental look at our project of national unity. That’s one.
Secondly, we have to look at how much we have done to ensure democracy in the country. There is a lot of need, for instance; our electoral process is not free, fair and transparent leading to a legitimate government. We have seen how election has been bastardized. Now if you don’t have a viable electoral system you cannot have democracy. And you must have democracy before you can move forward. It is social progress. We have to have democracy in this country. We have to have a situation in which there is free, fair and transparent election leading to a legitimate government. We have to have a situation where the voter decides the fate of a political party and an election candidate.
Thirdly, we have to look at the government structure. Even the current structure is not efficient. We have seen the rot that has been brought about by the military in state creation. We have 36 states, and most of them are not viable. We have almost 30 of them unable to pay the basic pay to workers. In about 30 states the state government can’t pay workers. How can you say this is progress? To have a viable state we must go back to the regional arrangement where have regions that where viable. We never heard reports of any of the regions in the North, East, West and Mid-western being unable to pay workers’ salaries. We never heard such. We started seeing that only when states where created, particularly during the Second Republic when we had for the first time in Nigeria’s history a state government that cannot pay salaries of teachers. That was Benue.
That was the first shocker in our politics in the 1980s. Some states with effective leadership took action to make sure that that didn’t happen in their state. In our own state- Kaduna State, we went to the extent of calling all the local governments and asking them if they can pay teachers’ salary. Those of them who admitted that they had difficulty and might not be able to pay; we struck an agreement with them that the state government would take over teaching and the cost of teaching in the local governments. And that was what we did to avoid the situation of owing workers.
Now it is not the local governments but an entire state unable to pay workers salaries; not only teachers but workers.
Some states in Nigeria are unable to pay workers for months. How can we not talk about it? Did we hear such thing when we had regions? Why can’t we remember that we had a good time and return to that good time? Why can’t we abandon this system, and go back to the regional arrangement, where we can have like eight viable regions. Each region can create as many state and local government as it can cope with whatever allocation it gets from the centre. Of course, we have to reduce the allocation that goes to the centre. So we need political restructuring.
We also need social restructuring. For instance, that we are bogged down by calls for secession is simply because we have not reconciled ourselves. Gowon after the civil war introduced this system of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation- the three Rs. Now if those three Rs had worked, we wouldn’t have to keep with the situation whereby some sections of the country doubt whether we need to be in one united Nigeria or we should have our way.
Then we must have reconstruction of the economy. At the moment now the state does not play the leading role in the economy. Every government, right from Babangida’s government up to the present government is talking about a leading role for the private sector in the economy. How can the private sector in the neo-colonial set up play the leading role in the economy. How can they; a private sector of which was not based on hard work, thrift and foresight; private sector that was built on stealing of public funds. How can you give the responsibility of the welfare of the people to that private sector? We must have the state play a leading role in the economy of the country to ensure peace, equality, and justice, dignity of the human person, progress and even development of the country.
Still on the speech, a lot of Nigerians applauded some of infrastructural projects the president said they would execute. Are you impressed at this?
Of course, I am not impressed in any way. How can I be when the ordinary people in a country that produce petrol, cannot buy it at a reasonable price? As I am talking to you now in most parts of Nigeria, a litre of fuel sells for N200. Our economy, in the name of privatisation has deteriorated so much. Why has the situation become so bad? It is because of the foreign manipulations that want to hand the leading role of the economy to the private sector. Our economy was stable and progressive when we had the leading role of the state in the economy. Back then one dollar was sold at one naira. Presently, there is nothing to enable the government to control prices, corruption and unemployment. How can you expect the private sector to solve this problem? Whether we like it or not the role of the public sector must be strengthened. So that everybody must make public interest first and the enlightened self interest second. There is no other way round.
Calls for restructuring have been shot down severally…
(Call in) Those people that are talking against restructuring are the ones who are stealing public funds using the institutions we have today particularly the leading role of private sector. Look at the scandals in the oil industry, pension fund in everywhere. This stealing has been facilitated by the attempt to privatize everything and bring about minimal government input. That is the situation in which government can only just oversee key economic sectors.
But many have support the private sector involvement because they believe that government does not have any business running businesses, and that they should be left for investors from the private sector.
When do we have a private sector like we had in Britain, France and other places, where private sector thrived on the basis of forced slavery, and secondly on the basis of capitalism? Can we enslave any country to enrich ourselves? No. The private sector is anti-progressive.
Yes, we know certainly that there are areas where the private sector can operate for the health of the economy. But it can be done only if the private sector is controlled, and does not allow abuses. Saying that government has no business in running businesses is nonsense. All the progressive governments in the continent, even in America, in spite of their capitalism system brought about planning and subsidy. All these are interfering with the so-called public privatisation.