Former Minister of Finance, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu has urged proponents of regional government to jettison the idea, as it is unrealistic. According to him, going back to the regions, as was in the First Republic is tardy. In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the elder statesman advised the Igbo on what to do if they want their quest to produce the president in 2023 come to fruition.
How do you view the current state of the nation?
We thought that by this time we should be facing this COVID-19 squarely because we have control of our communities; we have control of our transport system by road, by rail and by air. It was clearly expected that by now our internal security agencies would have been able to find a way not only to deal with those that are already within the country, but also to restrain to zero any incursion from outside our boundaries from forces that are not supposed to be coming in illegally into this country.
For some of us, it becomes such a big disappointment that we are still hearing about Boko Haram, banditry, AK-47 wielding so-called herdsmen, because this is purely illegal. We expect that by now, it will be real anomalies for this thing to be part of daily news as it used to be where herdsmen are carrying arms, where people are killed everywhere, where people are kidnapped on major roads, where stories are told about people camping out in the forests all over the country, not in the Southeast, Southwest, Middle Belt, but all parts of the North. This is supposed to be a major nation in terms of population, in terms of manpower that should be mobilized to defend the citizens. Defending the citizenry is such a primary function of the government; it takes precedence over everything else. We cannot say that at last Nigeria is back to being a peaceful country where all these aberrations: kidnapping, killings, raping, violations of human rights, people’s property being seized without recourse and people are being killed anyhow. That should be behind us by now and that distracts us from every other thing. Nigeria has always been a very peaceful country, aside the issues that led to the Nigeria-Biafra war, and some of the other issues. Number two; we have so many questions that continue to linger in terms of the use of resources, the deployment of resources to bring basic things that we should have had. Twenty years or more we should have had clean water piped to homes all over the country, education should be almost totally free by now given the resources that we have and given our capacity to leverage on the resources that we have; leverage means, if you have a task to do and you had 80 and you need to mobilise to 100, you will be able to mobilise because you are a growing concern as a country; the requisite funds you need to implement your projects should not be a barrier because with what you have, you can mobilise from private sector, from international agencies, grants, aids, loans to supplement your own so that you get the resources that you need to mobilise to achieve that aim and then you have quality infrastructure – water, roads, communications, power, etc and then all the services that you should provide for the citizens , adequate housing, etc.
That is number two disappointment and of course that leads to the third one, which is the sluggishness, the unnecessary rancor, the discord that has come up with the idea of looking at our constitution to make sure that our constitution is working for us. Not just our constitution, but the disposition of our fiscal responsibility as part of our federal system, and of course, the efficiency with which we would have utilized all the advantages that we have with gas, and particularly oil with so many minerals. There are too many stories about minerals that Nigerians are wondering, ‘did we have all these minerals being mined illegally here and there, on top of the traditional minerals we had have’. That means that we had resources that should have enabled us to achieve a much higher and sustainable standard of living than we have been able to do.
The issue of political restructuring is number four; they are all linked up. Surely, there is no reason why we should be having so many conferences, we should bring to bare clean slate, what do we need? I have suggested and a lot of people pooh-poohed the idea because they don’t stand from my own premise. My own premise is that, so many countries can restructure and break apart. Unashamedly, my preference is for this country to overcome its mistakes, build and use our heterogeneity as strength. As an individual, unashamedly, I will say, despite our history, we really should give this country our all, only if the constituent elements agree that, yes, we are better off staying the way we are, complementing each other with our heterogeneous resources, with our different outlooks, with our different ways of approach of solving problems and so on.
To do that, let’s sit and do something about the multiplicity of our local governments; non-viable local governments. Let us reduce this number and have viable local governments. Pick a certain population size – 600,000; 700,000; 750, 000, etc and carve out the country into local governments. Those are figures that will enable us achieve most development projects other than the very heavy ones. You can cut the number of local governments from 774 to perhaps about 350, for an example. We are all from local governments, if we can do this, where these local governments are big enough to provide development for every originating indigene from the local government. Of course, people can be free to live wherever they want and that is why we should have a constitution that allows you to do that. But in terms of development, carve out this place to about 350 local governments that are viable to a certain extent that they can meet the needs for all these – health, education, etc; small scale, medium scale certain levels of infrastructure. The heavy ones will now go to the level of states. Once we have local governments of this nature, if we want to carve out 25, 30, or 35 states out of these 350 local governments, plus a federal centre, we can do that. Once you have that local government where everybody belongs, you have citizenship rights to vote and be voted for, they can mobilise and invest, they can pay their taxes, they can derive their revenue, and they can live as full citizens. If we do that, there will be no question of indigeneship.
I have mentioned four issues and their implications for development and sustainability of peace and orderly development. These are things people like me are not so happy about; that we are still so far as a nation. Look at all the rancor; we are still talking about who will be the president, who will be this and that. Let us restructure to viable local governments, and then administrative states and zones, maybe, six, seven zones, and a federal centre with very limited powers and issues of foreign affairs, security, military and so, left to it. Then to the states or local governments, you have local policing.
You highlighted some of the problems Nigeria is facing, even though you have stated your position, many are still calling for restructuring, devolution of power and going back to the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, where we had regional governments that were the federating units
We are in 2020, it will be unrealistic for one to say, go back to 1960, go back to 1963. Nigeria is a bigger country in terms of population. Whatever you may say, we have a larger economy now; in fact the largest in Africa. It is unrealistic and some people are not happy with the notion: Go back to Ibadan, go back to Enugu, go back to Kaduna. If we want to decentralize, and to devolve power, which is for development, let’s create a more decentralized system. I’m looking at the question from another angle. Some people may say, these people will not accept it, and the other people may not accept it. The first question we have to answer before we go into restructuring is, do we still want one country or not. It’s as if some people don’t want one country anymore and this is not a question of Igbo, where some people agitating for Biafra; some people clamouring for Middle Belt, some clamouring for Oduduwa Republic, some people talking of Arewa, but people have forgotten that the North was the first to clamour for break up in 1966. They started that. We should be talking about a country that is third in population by 2050, we are supposed to be number three in population. This is projection, and are supposed to be number nine among the top economy. We may get there in terms of population, that is after India, China, and behold Nigeria. We may be up to 450 million or 500 million at the rate things are going. That is what we should be looking towards; there is no use to be looking back to 1960 and 1963. People who are in various centres of development should be encouraged in their areas so that they will not be looking for going back to Enugu, Ibadan or Kaduna, etc.
We should forget about going back and get the cartographers carve out this territory into 360 or thereabouts local governments; we can draw the map to put in the states, taking into account the heterogeneity of indigenous people and so on. What we should be emphasising is development, taking power for raising funds for implementing projects. That is what the ordinary Nigerian wants wherever he lives. People who are migrating from the North to the East; from the East to the West and from the West to the North, etc, what they are looking for is where they will carry on their businesses, and not looking for ethnic homogeneity, they are getting away from it. So, we have to answer that question, do we want Nigeria to stand by 2050 as a major nation? Most Nigerians would probably say, yes. Let’s discipline ourselves to think in terms of the future; create local governments that are viable, let’s get comparable number of states that is not unwearied; let’s create zones if we want.
If this COVID-19 means anything, it should be forcing us to look at the stark reality of what is essential. What is essential is not Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa Fulani, Ijaw, Tiv, Ibibio, etc, every nation has these things. When you are talking of China, Europe, India, that is what we are talking about; nations that are now going to space, mars and we are here talking about Hausa presidency, Igbo presidency, Yoruba presidency, etc. It just shows that we have our heads screwed backwards instead of screwed up, looking to the future. It is absurd. We should shed off this primordial backward thinking concept and let’s talk about building viable units that can take the citizens of Nigeria forward so that we can now begin to have a stronger nation that can extend protections to Africans wherever they are. Look at how our people are being treated all over the world, look at what is happening in Latin America; Black lives matter. All these are symptomatic that there is a failure somewhere. You can’t count too many polities without bringing Nigeria. If Nigeria has had its acts together for the past 60 years of independence, they won’t be treating our people like that wherever they are. These are the targets we should be looking at; infrastructure, technology, education, learning, social political organisation that others can be proud of, that is when we begin to count. As long as we are still running around, no one counts us. Kwame Nkrumah and others were talking about Pan Africanism, where is it today, what sector can you say Africa has taken hold of. Some Ghanaians interviewed on CNN said Nigeria ought to have provided leadership in the oil sector. Now Nigerian oil companies should be the one exploring oil all over with African counterparts – oil engineers and so on, but look at where we are.
2023 is dominating political discourse. Some say that presidency remains in the North; while some insist that it rotates to South, arguing that there must be rotation for a balanced federation, while others posit that the Igbo should have it. Where do you stand on this?
From what I have already said, this shows how primitive we are. What we need is a leader. A leader has to emerge from the political process. You have to realize that you want to provide leadership by working within the political process. I encourage a lot of our people and they will confirm it; you cannot come up with one party, whatever that party is, but you should go out and contest for power within all the bases for contestation involving the national leadership. That is the way to do it, and we are not going to do it on the eve of the election, and start the absurdity of, as I said the Igbo presidency, Yoruba presidency, Hausa presidency, and Fulani presidency. That is where the name of the game should be. Are you in the parties that could bring out the leaders, if you are not in those parties what kind of magic do you employ to bring out somebody and say, yes, because power has been here and there, it has to be that person. There is enough time for our people to read the situation the way it should be read.
It is counter productive and absurd; it is not really the kind of efficiency argument to just say, it should rotate there or here. The people have to be involved in the political process. You can’t be spending half of the time tying your loin and during elections , you say no, no, those people have been ruling, we should come and rule in Abuja. We have to really get involved. There is no reason why we shouldn’t get involved, we have always been involved: we have always been a major player. So, if we are not now, we should find out why, and we have to force the situation through the political process. You can’t shy away from a party that is clearly in a better position to bring out those who may win and you expect to lord it over them and install yourself there. It is unrealistic. It is good that the question is being raised now; we have two years to go and plenty of time to restructure. There are institutions that some of us were instrumental in setting up to enable our people to organise to rebuild the East. Being in a position, I wrote that paper and I said, I’m not writing this for the East, it is also what the West should be doing, it is also what the North should be doing because by the time you rebuild, not quarreling over politics and spoils of office, and sharing national cake, but building up the real sectors, the infrastructures, the communications, etc. By the time you build it up on four different bases the country comes up stronger.
Come 2050, when the whole world expects third largest country to provide leadership and we are still talking centrifugal forces, ethnicity and all kinds of things. It will be a big shame and we will bear the brunt of letting our own race down when we should be up there taking the table side by side with India, China, Russia, America, etc. This is the time to start planning for it; if you are planning that, you should know that people have to go back massively into education, science and technology, space exploration and they have to be able to feed themselves and supply the rest of the world with their food surpluses because we have the land, everything. These are the issues, not all these Igbo presidency, Yoruba presidency, and Hausa presidency.
Those things sound very absurd, but rather there are political processes; there are procedures to make sure that it could be the natural flow of things not a special consideration, special award, special pity to say let’s consider the Igbo person as president. That is an insult as if the Igbo president is anywhere less than any other president.
What we need is a leader that can take Nigeria into that comity of nations wherever that person comes from, and there is no reason, as I have always emphasized when I was running for that office, I said, beside the matter as an Igbo person, we are looking for somebody who will be a modern leader, and there is no person who will tell me that the West or the North is better able to do that than the East. You don’t have to label the person Igbo president because he comes from the East. I’m looking for a modern leader who takes the country as his own constituency; we better begin to talk in those terms. We are 30 years away from 2050; it may even happen faster than that.
So it is any person from anywhere that will take the country to Eldorado?
Yes, and there is no reason such person cannot come from the East. When it comes from the East, does it make it as concession to the Igbo?
Igbo are still shouting of marginalisation and accusing the present government of not being fair to them; they cited the recent 640-kilometer Ajaokuta, Kaduna, Kano gas pipeline in which the Southeast was excluded. Do you share in their sentiments?
That is so absurd. I don’t have to discuss it as a single project. You see all things flow from the quality of leadership. This sharing, sharing, sharing is the hallmark of primitive governance. If you have properly constituted governance, these are all major projects and planned as projects in a programme. If they are planned as projects in a programme, that programme is supposed to cover the entire country.
You cannot use such major things as political punishment for any segment. Maybe, we don’t have the facts. If you have a programme, it can be implemented in phases, but if the complaints arise from the fact that you are waiting for phase one, and it comes and goes; phase two will come, you still don’t get involved, phase three will come and you are not yet involved, something is wrong. This descriptive way of looking at projects and investments shows that something is wrong with governance. It is still primitive way, if you do this, we do this, at times doesn’t work that way. There are things that may work in favour of the East because the other parts may not have raw material for that sort of thing – oil and gas industries. You still try to site them from a project stand point and from benefit stand point, it pays you to spread them instead of one area, even for security reasons, you spread them to all parts of the country.