Tinubu should appoint substantive Minister of Petroleum resources –Idika Kalu

Former Minister of Finance, National Planning and Transport, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu in this interview speaks on President Bola Tinubu’s cabinet and his expectations from the new administration.

What do you make of the 45-member cabinet recently inaugurated by President Bola Tinubu and what are your expectations from the ministers?

First of all, I may not agree with those who believe that the number is too large, but I assume that everybody, including the President, knows that we don’t have the resources to spend the way we have been doing. So, they have to look at the cost of governance. I will say that the number of people in the cabinet is good because it signifies that there are a lot of things that are wrong with the economy. Every sector and sub-sector need urgent attention. So, it is on that basis that I will say that number is not too large.

Given the way the various sub-sectors have been further broken down, if you have competent people like the President has chosen, they should be able to focus on detailed areas that if you are to lump them together because we don’t have funds, we will not be doing ourselves any good. So, it is good to have number; it is also good for competent people to look at things the way they have been broken down. It can further be broken down, but I think we will not want to go beyond 48 for now.

Some people have been talking about less than 20, but the most important thing is that in whatever you do, whether it is in education, higher education, tertiary education and all the levels of technical education, we need to set new policies in order to groom competent professionals. This should be the time to look at all the cut-off points and quota systems and administer education as one sector at the various levels.

If you look at the power sector; it is the same thing. Privatization was supposed to allocate power sector to those who know what to do; it was not to allocate the sector to friends and comrades. It was meant to open up the entire sector to the whole world for people to bring in expertise and resources to complement what we have, so that by now, Nigeria would have 10 times what we have because the economy will need it to grow at the level it is supposed to grow. We are talking about six or seven per cent or even higher.

The same thing applies to all the other sectors – health, economy, digital economy, agriculture, works, safety nets and others – in order to create a revenue base that is commensurate with the resource base that we have because we are one of the lowest in terms of revenue and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio. So, the number is not too large, but we must make sure that people are duly compensated and not lavishly like we used to do or taking a cue from the United States or Britain, which are larger economies per capita basis.

The ministers should be compensated and made to work; it is not for them to be earning lavish salaries, it is for them to show their patriotism and help the President achieve his objectives. There is no single area that we can be proud to say that we have achieved much, be it capacity development, manpower development, power sector, agriculture sector, manufacturing sector, health sector or education sector.

That’s why I believe that the restructuring that is going on should have been spread across a budget year or more, but the government has decided to do an instantaneous thing, so it imposes a lot of burden on the cost of industry or enterprise. The instant removal of the piled-up subsidies could have been spread out to give operators and consumers increased costs and prices that are more absorbable within distinct time frames. So, any effort that can be made to ameliorate it by walking a little bit to the back like they have done in Kenya should be done, so that high cost of goods and services can be easily absorbed.

You talked about competence; do you believe that the new ministers have what it takes to turn things around within the shortest possible time?

It is not just about the competence of the individuals; it is also about competence of oversight and management of people, among others. Well, the President showed a bit of skill although some people are still arguing about that, when he was the governor of Lagos State. So, I think he has the competence to manage the ministers and ensure efficient oversight.

While I have no reason to doubt his competence, I don’t want to go into the debate on his allocation of slots to the various geopolitical zones. Those are things we should not be raising so much dust over. So, I am not addressing those issues; I am just looking at the individuals and I believe they will deliver.

Some people have raised issues over what they described as putting some round pegs in square holes, especially deployment of Mr. Dele Alake, a seasoned journalist to the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development. What is your take on that?

I am not going to second-guess anybody. What I know is that if somebody is intelligent, straightforward and can call a spade a spade, the person should be able to mobilize the structure in any ministry he or she has been assigned to oversee. Alake is not supposed to be the one digging up the solid minerals; he should be able to oversee the professionals in the ministry as what is required from him is more of supervision.

Yes, I have listened to discussions on the issue; I don’t know whether the person who should oversee the Ministry of Solid Minerals is someone who is a mining engineer, but at times, you don’t get somebody who is a mining engineer with the requisite experience in administration and governance. So, if somebody has the requisite education and skill, it won’t be a difficult task supervising a sector like the solid minerals.

You can see what is going on in Zamfara State with the mining of gold in the state as well as in the Niger Delta, where oil exploring companies are polluting the environment without having the capacity to clean it up. So, if you get somebody, who can pinpoint these things and enforce government’s policies without fear or Favour, that may be what we need rather than another mining engineer.

The President failed to name a substantive Minister of Petroleum resources and the belief is that he is likely to assume the position like his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari did. Do you think he can cope with running of affairs of the ministry given the enormous responsibility he has to shoulder as president?

I will not subscribe to that because just as we are talking about the other areas, we need somebody who is versed in the oil business to head the Ministry of Petroleum Resources because it is a very intricate sector. Then, the point you made is a very important one. The President may be so busy supervising the cabinet along with his immediate advisers. So, he should not be saddled with a specific ministry.

The Ministry of Petroleum Resources should be overseen by somebody, who has versed experience in the oil business and that person would be supervised by the overall presidential authority and his immediate aides rather than a situation where the President has to grapple with all the task he has to do and all the decisions he has made on how to move the economy in such a high pace.

So, it probably would be better if somebody else oversees the Ministry of Petroleum Resources. And, if you ask me, I will vote against it, but who knows, he probably may have his own reasons.  Above all, we must all accept that this is an important juncture, where politics should be put aside and we emphasize on the means of growing the economy at the right rate; to create high level of production in all sectors, to create high labour components, job creation in all sectors – small, medium and large-scale industries – in agriculture, works, heath, education and other sectors.

We need to expand our export base. I used to say from the early days of economic reform that it is not true that we are a mono economy; what is true is that we have not developed the other sectors, but it looked like that a lot of people didn’t quite get it. Now, everybody is aware that just about everything we produce, we can sell as export, provided the price is right and that is why the issue of the exchange rate is key.

If your exchange rate is over-valued, the effect is that it discourages export and encourages import. That is Economics 101 and you may not expect everybody to understand it but that is what I’ve been talking about over the years. So, we are at the juncture, where every Nigerian should realize that it is the direction we should be going.

There is an argument that the cabinet is populated by the same politicians, who have been at the helm of affairs for over two decades with little or nothing to show for their long stay in office. How would you react to that?

Well, I agree with the emphasis on getting younger people and people who are less encumbered by politics but as I said, we have a large number. So, that should accommodate all kinds of people, who can deliver. We need people who can deliver, people who are strong, people who are imaginative, people who are impartial, people who will get the job done. But they have to be supervised.

But let’s put it aside. We would have thought that given the size of this country, we shouldn’t be having issues that make people think that some people are being recycled. We have enough people that we don’t have to be recycling some set of people. I think that after they have had two terms as governors, they should be given more supervisory roles to play, maybe, in government agencies and parastatals but not as ministers.

However, I think the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) needs a very strong person because we have deviated so much from the original plan of Abuja. It is now turning to another mega city, which is not supposed to be. Abuja is supposed to be the Federal Capital Territory, so we need someone, who can turn things around and supervise the restructuring of the city to what it is supposed to be – a city for all Nigerians, regardless of where they are from.

How would you react to the belief in some quarters that the South-East was marginalized in the allocation of ministerial slots as the zone got five slots according to its number of states, while other zones got additional slots?

That seems obvious enough, but the problem is that we cannot afford to be ethnic at our level or be political about it. I believe the constitution requires that every state should be represented in the Federal Executive Council. In fact, we can get to a situation that we are so advanced that the issue will not even be cited because a minister is just there to do a particular job for four years or more. So, it shouldn’t be a bone of contention.

What is more important is that we should get the population count right. Let’s get the structure of the constitution right, let’s get the structure of our local governments right, let’s focus more on development units, and I have advocated this for years. This issue of geopolitical zones has been rubbished over the years.

What really counts is that everybody comes from a local government. So, we should divide up the country into local governments that will be capable to take up any function. After that, whether it is state, or zone will be of less importance. So, my emphasis is: Restructure the constitution, restructure the local governments in such a way that they will be more or less equal, let’s say 50,000 or 60,000 people per local government across the entire states, and maybe we will get less half the number of local governments that we have now.

From there, we can organize them into states and zones. I know that is not your question, but we should be getting away from this issue of not giving us positions for now. Yes, it looks obvious that the South-East was marginalized but we have not even talked about the individuals from the zone. The question should be about whom have you appointed compared to their counterparts from the other zones and what were the ministries given to them?

That is far more important than the number. The number issue is a little bit superficial and childish. The important thing is the ministries assigned to them and the actual representation. If you look at the relative strength in terms of population that voted for the party, you cannot avoid that. So, you have to face the consequence of your decisions. If the number assigned to the South-East was less than the constitutional requirement, that would be another question.

But once the zone got five according to the number of states it has, the cry that the zone didn’t get more should be left for South-East APC members. That discussion should be among members of the ruling party in the South-East because it is purely all about politics.  

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