Senator Gbenga Kaka, who represented Ogun East Senatorial District in the 7th National Assembly, is also a former deputy governor of Ogun State between 1999 and 2003.
In this interview, Kaka who is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) speaks on the executive/legislature relationship, Nigeria’s rising debt profile, diversification, among other issues. Excerpts:
There is a general apprehension that the economy may slide back into recession, if care is not taken. With the delay in the appointment of ministers by President Muhammadu Buhari, don’t you also think that the 2015 experience may still happen with the way things are going?
With due respect, those who are having that impression got it wrong. The economy did not go into recession because of the delay in the appointment of ministers. Recession didn’t happen overnight. It crept in like a thief in the dead of the night because we were unsuspicious and unproductive. We went into recession because of our taste for foreign goods, as well as the unlimited looting that took place under the previous administration. You know the quantum of money recently seized from Madam First Lady-Patience Jonathan, and the former Minister of Petroleum resources – Deziani Allison Maduekwe. In fact, we cannot quantify the amount of money squandered in those 16 years of the administration. When we continue to consume foreign goods and we are not producing anything, how do we expect the GDP to grow? How do we expect our naira to appreciate? Unfortunately, we remain dependent on mono product, which is the petroleum resource. And price of that petroleum we relied upon fell to as low as $28 per barrel, whereas there was a time it got to $140 per barrel under the PDP administration. So, if not for the resilience of the Buhari administration, probably the story would have been different today when we went into recession. Till today, the price of crude oil is still oscillating not satisfactorily to our expectation. If we have enough internally generated revenue and we use revenue from oil judiciously, we may manage to stay off the impending recession. The antidote is for us to be disciplined in our attitude to governance and to learn to eat what we produce. We pray we don’t fall into recession again.
Nigeria is currently said to be spending about N2.5 trillion to serve debts. Yet, some people believe that there are windows of opportunity to borrow more. What is your take on this?
I am not an economist, but as an Ijebu man, I am an economist by birth. Yes, if we have a favourable economic situation, especially under inflation, nothing stops us from borrowing money for developmental purposes. But a situation where we borrow money to be expended on non-developmental projects, then the danger is that we are mortgaging the future of the generation yet unborn. Government is a growing concern. You don’t anticipate an end to governance. The administrators, the politicians will come and go, but the country remains. So, I don’t see any reason for being in a hurry to accomplish everything in four or eight years. Do your bit within the available resources and allow others to do their bit. Don’t spend what is meant for future development now for your own personal aggrandizement. We have been on Ajeokuta Steel Company for close to 30 years; we have not been able to complete it. If we are procuring loans to complete Ajaokuta, and other mining ventures, we can procure loan to hasten delivery. We know that we are going to repay in the nearest future. But you don’t procure loan to pay salaries and allowances. It is very absurd and highly disturbing. We have a lot of leakages in our system. There is danger in taking loans indiscriminately and banding useless statistics. The danger will not be for those who are procuring the loan because most of them are already at the departure lunge of this world. The generation coming behind is what they are turning to wasted generation. And that most not be allowed.
Since the inception of the Buhari administration, there has always been this talk about diversification of the economy from dependency on oil to other sectors. But surprisingly, the same government is also busy dissipating energies on prospecting for oil in Chad and Gombe Basins. How would you reconcile these two desires, especially bearing in mind that the future of the world economy is more on the alternative source of energy?
It is a must we diversify. We have no alternative to diversification. They have been mouthing it since our independence. Unfortunately, rather than growing the economy by focusing on diversification, we keep on regressing. We discovered oil in very small quantity before independence. As we were getting out of the civil war, oil prospecting became heightened. Money was coming in. It got to a stage that Yakubu Gowon, the military Head of State then, said his problem was not lack of money, but how to spend it. That was the time diversification would have been put in place. But we allowed IMF, World Bank to dictate to us. They told us that we could diversify by going peasant farming, whereas those advanced countries were going for plantation farming. Little per cent of their population engaged in mechanized agriculture with the advantage of economy of scale. We have more 10 million Nigerian children outside the school system. When they grow up, can those ones adopt any technology? We are still not getting our priorities right. And we need to get it right. It is then that our diversification can become meaningful. You heard what is going on in Zamfara where gold and other minerals are being crudely explored without any money accruing to the Federal Government. Can we say that one is diversification? We have greed elite who institute those activities. So, if we must do diversification, it must be a meaningful one with proper environmental assessment taking into consideration. As far as diversification is concerned, we still have a long way to go and education remains the bedrock. We need to reorder our priorities. The time for crude oil is up and the alternative the whole world is looking for cannot be sought without education. But we are complacent. I am a livestock man. I will love it, if all our money is poured on livestock. Within the livestock we have other animals other than cattle. We should pay attention to all of them because they are alternative source of revenue and animal protein. Priority should be given to agriculture and livestock as alternative revenue source for government. Many countries manufacturing vehicles are moving away from organic fuel with all its disadvantages. They are going for cleaner energies; they are going for electric cars. Customer obsolescence is imminent for our crude oil as our mono product. Without adequate diversification before that obsolescence, then we will be in for a serious recession. That is what will facilitate the recession they are talking about, not the delay in the appointment of ministers.
Politics of 2023 is already in the air though the new administration is just settling down. Does it appear to you that the government appreciates the enormity of the challenge of governance?
That one has got nothing to do with the government of the day. It has everything to do with we politicians. And it is not only limited to Nigeria. The day a new government is installed, the race for next election starts. The only thing is for government not to be distracted. In our clime, we have those who call themselves professional politicians. Since they don’t have anything to do, immediately an election is lost, they start another race.
The Southeast is agitated for what they consider as deliberate maginalisation of the Igbo in the appointment into the key positions of the National Assembly. Don’t you think they have genuine reasons to be agitated?
They have reasons to be agitated. But in politics, you have to be calculative in taking certain decisions. If for any reason, you decided to cast your ballot in a particular direction, and you made it, you will beat your chest that you took a worthwhile risk. When Goodluck Jonathan was there, they were lucky. Jonathan was the president, they were the ones ruling. And nobody grumbled about it. But for the sake of federal character, whatever that is due to them should be given to them. If they want to be president, there is constitutional guarantee for anybody to aspire from any part of the country.