Former Finance Minister, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu has said that Nigeria is already a disintegrated country but still being held together by a false sense of unity. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, the World Bank trained economist, called for the postponement of 2023 elections to give way to address the myriads of problems facing the nation.
Recently, the World Bank said that Nigeria was dying slowly because she abandoned agriculture for oil, which is now a varnishing asset, what is your position on this?
When we hear such pronouncements from organisations like the World Bank, no matter how exaggerated they may be, we need to listen, not because I used to be staff there (I worked on Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan Hong Kong), but they come with international perspective; they come with time series perspective, that is, as professionals they are aware of stages of development. You might even say that these were people who probably, like many of course in retrospect, exaggerated the significance of abundance of resources. I think the economists worldwide put so much emphasis hitherto on resources – oil, gas, cocoa, palm oil, ground nut, etc, but more and more we realised that first, human capital in all its variety, management expertise, supervision, discipline is probably more important than the materials themselves.
In the early forties and fifties, with the little technology that we had, farmers were responding to prices, it was not highfalutin economics; they were responding to prices and we were growing. We can look back to see what we achieved between 1940 and 1970 before oil became so important. I was just finishing high school when we got into oil, and the professionals would come and tell us that, you people are very lucky, look at all the things you can get from oil and gas.
You can see we are dying slowly because we didn’t build on all of these; from agriculture, we could have gone into processing, packaging. America is still on agriculture by and large. Agriculture is very important; it is not just the basis of producing food and eating it, as said in economics, there are limited needs of food, then it is non food that now begins to grow and propel growth, creating more employments, factories for refining, processing and packaging beyond just the production of the food. You look back, what did we do with all these variety all over the country? Every corner of the country has something it must specialise as far as agriculture is concerned, not just food but also non-food agriculture. What did we do with it?
We have had the oil boom, we were supposed to use the additional resources to grow these secondary subsectors in agriculture, where are they? Where are the by-products of oil and gas? The teacher who told us we were lucky was showing us on the blackboard in the Kings College. We didn’t even get there.
Then the issue of human institutions, we have talked about capital and materials and then basic institutions. Basic institutions are so important in development. Now we have to begin to worry about our parliament, our politics, our judiciary, our educational structures, our traditional structures that held the society together from ancient days, they are all collapsing under the impact of spinoff from secondary urban sectors, which are affecting the whole of traditional discipline, traditional morality and traditional orderliness.
Look at Japan, see how far they have grown and yet they are still maintaining these traditional structures, religious structures; they mange to keep them side by side in developing very modern institutions, but we haven’t done that, and that is why the World Bank made such statement. That means that they must have reports, not just on cocoa, palm oil, ground nut, oil and gas etc, they are looking at how polices are made and implemented, how budgets are made and implemented, how accounting is professionally done, how accountability is written, how system of laws, sanctions, orderliness, how security above all else work. When security begins to breakdown, the things that hold the society are breaking down.
If the World Bank made that statement, we need to sit down and take a very serious look; honest self appraisal, not the one you take as an opportunity of talking about how you are the largest country, how they are afraid of your catching up with them, and other silly things. Instead of organising properly, you are talking about catching up.
As it is now, compared to sixty years ago, we seem to be farther away. It is not the trapping of by products produced from there and installing them and lighting up and giving the semblance of modernity, but in terms of part of us growing from the operations of our polity – from the rural to the urban, from the state to the federal, these structures appear very fragile despite the appearance of modernity that we have.
How then do we arrest the dangerous slide?
We have to first see these things with more objectivity than we do; we get too sentimental, too ethnic, and too sectional. We have to appreciate our circumstances. If you fall into a ditch and you don’t know you are in a ditch, it is too bad. It is when you are in a ditch and you know you are in a ditch, then you begin to think of how to climb out of the ditch; you begin to ask of the platform to do that.
It is that platform that tells you that it is not just the federal government, it is not just the state government, and you have to start from almost communities if not families. Communities have to sit together and raise this question: What happened to our education, what happened to our basic agriculture. From where I come from in Ohafia, and I think it applies to all parts of the country, kids are supposed to know the context of their surrounding, they should know the trees, they should know the flowers, they should know the animals; they should know the mastery of their environment. These days when they wear their uniform and go into classroom, they are systematically removed from their environment. You have to change your environment for you to have real change.
You have to organise the platform to seriously assess where you are. Few years ago, at Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), that is what we intended to do, set up structures with which to go back and begin to tackle these things with those who have retired in government, those who are at home, those who are abroad, not only in Ala Igbo, but also outside Ala Igbo. I had written a paper to that effect. I suggested that as all the ethnic groups in Nigeria are all complaining, they too need to take that stocktaking as to what is happening to the youths, what is happening to the institutions we are presenting the youth, and the whole socialisation structure to build these young men who can sustain the society.
However, no place is perfect, you go to Thailand, Indonesia, China, they are complaining of youths. Look at where they are and they are still complaining, but how much more should we complain judging from where we are. So, it is not a question of our size, we are less than India. India now, you can see the effort they are making in space, we are not talking of whether it is a priority for them or not, but that shows a society that has emerged from the sixties, when they were struggling to feed but now they are trying to land in the moon, competing with America, Russia etc.
So, we have to honestly agree on the platform, but anybody listening to me would say these centrifugal forms – Niger Delta militants, IPOB, OPC, etc will tell you that we had better sat down to think, and that is why we have to restructure. Restructuring doesn’t mean turning the society upside down.
If we are where we are then something is wrong, the structure fundamentally is wrong, it should not be a matter of debate. For those who are under the impact of this structure are saying, we should take another look at this structure means that the foundation has problems. That we are arguing about the structure already tells you that we have fundamental problems.
If members of the constituents’ population cannot agree; if a significant proportion of the constituency say this is not working for us, let’s look at it. Why should there be a debate about that. The fact that we are debating that some people have preconceived notions of what the restructuring should end up at is bad. This should not be and it should form part of what to be discussed at the table. It sounds simple and straightforward enough, but look at the bitterness and the rancour when such issues are raised.
There is no magic bullet sold anywhere to address the mess we are into, but we have to painstakingly dissect the components of the problem; we have to set up the platform by which the people can openly discuss these problems, that is the only way out; there is no other way out, there is no magic or time specific solutions you can just put in, but you have to go back and thoroughly look at all these issues. If we can do that, we should not be worried about how far we are away from development, at least we stop the slide. To be setting horizons when those fundamentals are wrong, then you are just wasting your time.
Are you worried that the mutual suspicion among various ethnic groups and the problem of insecurity are capable of breaking up the country, if care is not taken?
We have already disintegrated; it is just that it is not so easy. We have this false sense of something holding us together. We have already disintegrated, by the time you are afraid to move around a city, you are afraid because there is lawlessness out there, you are also afraid because if something happens to you, you are on your own. It is not zero, but it’s not very far from zero.
What I’m emphasising is that the enforcement of the law; if you are robbed, injured, if you are dispossessed and you know that there is somebody there whose duty is to bring remedy in some form, you will take the risk. What happens when you begin to suspect that if something happens to you, you don’t have a cover? At that point what is the difference between talking of disintegration; you are already disintegrated.
It takes a lot to kill a country; you can never tell how long it took God to form all these things. Of course, He has the supreme power, he formed them in no time at all, but look at the earth, look at the trees, the rivers, the mountains, the structures, etc, it is not so easy to tear them apart, but because it is not so easy to tear them to pieces, you also get a false sense that maybe something is still holding us together. We are already in piece and pieces; we are already cut into different communities to a large extent. The point is, because of the gravity of the situation, no country should allow itself to get down, quite down well as we have gotten. Also look at Africa, with a few exceptions. Look at what is happening in South Africa.
As a minister, I was in Angola and we had so much respect because of what we did, Nigeria was always counted among the frontline states, even though we were miles away from South Africa. In the fifties, we were sending lawyers to defend the Mao Mao leaders in East Africa, thereafter, we had lawyers, judges in high demands all over Africa and beyond in the international system. Highly respected Nigerians were there; we still do to some extent. By and large, we have lost about 80 per cent of what we had at the dawn of independence.
Igbo have been clamouring to produce Nigeria’s president, what should they do to achieve this in 2023?
Taking all what I have just said, 2023 is just around the corner. If around the corner we have all these problems, the issue of presidency, I’m not just talking for the Igbo, but for any other group, it is better for us to push 2023 election forward and resolve our problems, even if we have to delay by one year or two years.
Some will argue that we have had so many elections and we clap for ourselves. So many elections, but look at how the country is and we are still in courts, and at a level where it is believed that it is being negotiated not by judicial process, but by extra judicial processes, politics, and financial muscles, ethnic, and religious considerations. Addressing these problems is far more important issue than 2023.
For Ndigbo, there should be a sense in which we feel that we are together. That togetherness, I say that with in regards to merit. I don’t believe that in 21st century, we should be talking about being together as if that is the issue.
Being together means that we have institutions that work, we have development policies, we have trade policies; we have industrial policies, and not necessarily ethnic jingoistic Ndigbo presidency, this group presidency, that group presidency. Any modern nation should not be talking in that direction anymore, and I know we are not a modern nation. Any modern nation should be talking about what the society needs, and how to produce somebody or a combination of leaders who can tackle their problems. That is how it should be. It is exemplified to the fact that if you are not talking of Nigeria, but talking about Alaigbo, if you want to solve Igbo problem, even within that subset, it is the same principle, you have to get the people, the professionals who have the background to solve the problems. The same thing should happen at the national level.
Ndigbo feels a lot of disenfranchisement, I read something where the security for the Southeast was published, and somehow, not one member of the team is from Southeast. Random statistical abstraction, probability, I guess it is possible, of course, no one believes that is a random thing, that where you have security meeting for the Southeast and no Southeast person is there. If that is true, it could be a measure of how distant Southeast or Ndigbo are from aspiring for the presidency; if a top level meeting on security cannot involve anybody from there.
We have a range, there are those who feel that Ndigbo have contributed so much to this polity, as long as we have our constitution, we should stay here and get the country going, but also there is Igbo subset, if you raise this type of view, they will tell you that they are no longer there. It is not only one group, but also many groups. Why you have this disparity within the Igbo becomes a relevant question on how we become president in 2023, but that will also indicate that we have a lot of homework to do. Like it’s said, I was there when the war started, I was doing my research for my PhD when Biafra was declared and war started, you could see the pros and cons then, but in my view we are very far from there. Despite this anomie in the society and enormity of problems, I don’t think we are quite there where we are compelled to take such actions.
Obviously, it is a sad for a country where such issues are debated outside of the requirements to deal with the problems in the society. Where you are taking of presidency outside the problems that have to be solved then there is problem. But when you know the problems have to be solved then you have to look for the person who can solve the problems.
What you are saying in effect is that for Igbo to get the presidency in 2023, they should work very hard and unite?
They certainly should do both simultaneously. You can’t be posturing that you are no longer part of the polity and you are questioning how soon you would become the head of the same polity. The strategy, the whole image, PR posturing has to be symmetrical, meaningful. You can’t be doing two at the same time.
It is an aberration where there are decisions somewhere where they say those people cannot be here and cannot be there. Such mistrusts are not warranted by history.
Our people have been involved in every delicate thing from the 1920s up to the time of independence; there are no people who can arrogate to themselves the power to exclude people from this part because they did this or that. The jury at the least is still out as to what led to the crises and the war. It was not Igbo ganging together and plotting a coup and killing others. When you take this, then you know people are not ready to face the fact yet.
So, when you talk about things working out, those issues above have to be broken down so that when somebody from Southeast, Southwest or wherever is selected as president, he has the support of other constituencies who feel that, yes, not only the person, but also the political framework he is presenting can solve their problems.
The problem that led to Boko Harman, the problem that led to the forming of violent OPC until things started to change, the problem that led to IPOB, MASSOB, the problems that led to the senseless and unjustified killings all over the place, the problem that led to the separation of individuals into small groups and the arrogance of some to feel that they should be in charge of a particular thing and others are not, even though we are still nationals of the same country. These are symptoms of a problem that need more direct issue than the question of who is going to be the president. I’m not belittling the fact that it is an important position; it is an important position because the power that is conferred on the presidency can be used for so much good to address these issues and vice versa.
Some Northern leaders are still having the view that the North should retain the presidency in 2023, what is your view?
That type of talk is meaningless and I can’t address it. Where is it in the constitution? I don’t think we should take it seriously. These are things that should emerge from the constitution, and as far as it is not in the constitution, it is not worth discussing. Ndigbo say it is their turn, this other group says it must retain it, the other group says, no, it is its turn. One position is as violently subversive of the democratic process as the other. So, it should not even come up.
But some argue that we should be guided by equity because we are multi ethnic and religious groups?
Equity or not, like I said, it should be grounded in the constitution. The constitution doesn’t say you are going to rotate presidency; it is common sense. The constitution doesn’t say you are going to rotate the presidency, the constitution doesn’t say you have to rotate any federal structure, whether it is the Chief Justice of Nigeria, etc. No such thing, and we will be a laughing stock to the entire civilised world if we have such things. Those things when they are said point to the fact that the whole place is full of aberrations of meaningless talks and quite apolitical approaches to solving our social problems. No matter how virulently stated, it is abuse of power, it is abuse of privilege, abuse of position to come and start making such assertions.
Against the background that in a multi ethnic nation like Nigeria, some groups are bigger than the others, if only the bigger ones retain power, would there be peace?
Of course there should not be peace because when you say, ‘retain’ that already distorts the constitution. The constitution already laid down how leadership emerges.
There is nothing in our nature; there is nothing in the quality of personnel from the smallest ethnic groups to the largest that says that the person from the smallest ethnic group of say, 250,000 cannot produce the president or the senate president or the leader of the opposition or the vice chancellor. There is nothing that says that.
The history all over the world shows that where there is equity; people are able to look beyond to see who can better serve a particular position and who cannot, and there is nothing in the law of probability that says it will always fall on the largest group. Of course, it will impact on their favour if they are going to be voting on the basis of ethnic concerns, but if they are voting for a solution to the problem they are scratching their heads for – you want to create jobs, you want to have peace, you want improved social welfare, etc, you look for the people who can do those things, they may not necessarily be from the large ethnic groups, Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo.
But we are yet to get to that stage, elections are still won based on ethnic and religious considerations
That is where we should be going to, we should not be acting as if our heads are turned backwards.