Chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former governorship aspirant in Kaduna State, Alhaji Shuaibu Idris, opens up to JOHN SILAS on the economic recession, arrest of some judges over alleged corruption, among other national issues
Based on the economic situation of the country, do you think the president is well equipped to steer the country out of the challenging condition and position it well for economic growth?
The time General Muhammadu Buhari left his position as General Officer Commanding (GOC), Third Armored Division of the Nigerian Army in Jos, he became the Head of State then in the early 80s. To-date, how many courses has he attended? When you don’t educate yourself in a rapidly changing environment that we find ourselves in the world today, wherever you are, you can’t run away from this change. If you don’t go to school, you won’t learn and if you don’t learn, you become archaic. I don’t know of any course this gentle man has gone to study since he left the army.
We the elites of this country are the problem of this country. There is no two ways about this. We know the truth but we fail to say it. We talk about religion when critical issues that will affect all of us are on the roundtable for discussion. It is not compulsory I follow Buhari because he is a Hausa man. If I must follow him, I should have a reason and if I’m not following him I must has a reason.
Recently in Lagos, people were hailing Orji-Uzor Kalu, who is facing trial. Even if it is a mere accusation and you have not yet been confirmed guilty, you should have some remorse. We have situation where serving military officers who were accused of owning properties here and there; questions are not raised. Even if questions were raised, nobody knows whether or not they were arrested appropriately. We have a serving minister accused of attempting to induce Judges, nothing is happening. We can’t run a system like that.
In other words, are you saying that this present government cannot take the country to the next level?
It is a near impossibility. And even they themselves know they were never ready to take us to the next level. Based on what they met, the very best they can do is to attempt to do some clean up and lay the foundation. In four years, you can’t take a nation to any level. It’s like the axiom of building a house; after you have laid the foundation, you need to put the blocks. They are just laying the foundation and putting the blocks, but taking this country to the next level, I don’t think so. Because you see, they have a four years circle of election and in these four years, they will govern for like two and a half years or three, and the last year is for campaign for another term.
So, when you look at the spectrum, you govern for just about two years… unless otherwise you are reelected. If you are coming new, it will take a minimum of six months to understand the system and the gravity of the challenges. Then, you now analyze what you have seen together with what you planned when you were outside and then synchronize what you need to synchronize. Before you do all these, six months would have gone, you govern for another one and a half or two years, and then campaign for either for re-election or other form of election takes place. So, literally, you govern for just about two years out of the four years. How can you make any significant impact?
Recently, the All Progressives Congress (APC) government took responsibility of the nation’s economic recession - a departure from the blame-game on the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). But following the recession critically as an economist, what would be your advice for the President Buhari and his cabinet?
I am one of those who have consistently advocated that President Buhari and his cabinet members should come out of the shackle and stop the blame game. I said he (Buhari) must sit in the saddle, face the governance and change the system.
No Nigerian will tell you that he or she was happy with the PDP government. And therefore, the reason why Nigerians felt that there was need for the change in the government was because they didn’t like PDP and what the PDP did, and they voted for change. Why would anybody in government who has won election come and sit down and continue to say the reason for recession was caused by the past administration? PDP did same thing. When Boko Haram was ravaging the North East, PDP was saying, “Oh! It is the opposition politicians that are doing it.” Now, we have APC saying it is the renegade politicians causing trouble in Niger Delta. As far as I am concerned, it is absolute nonsense from anybody. You can’t sit down and continue to pass blame of your failure on anybody. You are in charge. We elected you to address the issues facing us, not to start passing blame on anybody and you must address the issues.
As regards the recession, capitalism as a mechanism of economics posits that there will always be time of boom and burst. There will naturally be time when the economy will be active and there will be growth and development; and also, there will be a time when there might be stagnation, recession or even depression.
Now, various economics theories from the monetary economics theory to the supply side economics theory, states mechanisms of tackling recession. In the recent past, when President Obama of United State of America (USA) won election in 2007/2008 and he met recession, one of the things the then Federal Reserve Chairman of the Central Bank of USA, Dr. John Bernanke did to address the recession was to tackle the banking sector.
For the first time in history the US government went into the financial sector and bought over shares of banks and rescued banks - JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citi Bank and others were rescued and government started pumping money into what was popularly called Quantitative Business (QB). The government came back into the market to buy bonds or securities that ordinarily was not meant for the government to buy.
So, money was pumped in to the extent that the system was awash with liquidity; interest became near zero.
On the $29.9 billion presented by the federal government to be borrowed - do you see it as a positive step for the country?
It is difficult to answer a straight yes or no. There is absolutely nothing wrong in borrowing money. But when we borrow money to spend it lavishly, this is where the challenge comes. When you borrow money to enjoy and engage in frivolities that is where the issues are. If you borrow money to establish factories, build infrastructures that will further boost the economy of the country; I don’t see anything wrong with it.
Secondly, what is your capacity… as a country, what is the quantum of debt we have? There are internationally accepted statistics that relates the country’s debt to GDP ratio, debt to national income ratio, just like we do in corporate settings - debt to equity ratio, what is the maximum amount of money a company should borrow in relation to its shareholder’s fund?
So, in Nigeria today if we look at our debt to equity ratio, we will see that there is still room for the country to borrow. However, where I have issues is… I personally do not think we need to borrow today, because there are other avenues we can actually use to raise money without borrowing per se. We are an oil producing country with a stream of cash flow.
The good aspect of the proposal sent by Mr. President to the National Assembly for the borrowing - he was specific to say that this $29.9 billion will be borrowed over a period of two years - between now and 2018. So we are not collecting the $29billion today; it is phased withdrawals.
Secondly, the money according to him is going to be used to fund infrastructure- the Lagos-Calabar rail that generated enormous amount of controversy and is long overdue. Maybe the Port Harcourt-Calabar, Yola-Maduguri rail line will also get a kind of attention using the same money; the power situation that we spent close to about a $100billion on might also get some attention and hopefully, we do not have a situation where we divert the recourses.
Don’t forget that this country borrowed enormous amount of money from China to address the Aviation sector. What do we have? Till now, quite a number of the airports are not completed and the money has been spent.
But the present government is fighting corruption; do you think that the anti-corruption war will change Nigerians and what do you think is responsible for all these?
You know better than I do because you are a Nigerian and I am a Nigerian and we are all suffering from this. There are two or three issues that are causing this.
Like I said, in terms of per capital numbers of Churches and Mosques we have, Nigerians will get a gold medal but yet, we are ungodly- we don’t fear God and we don’t appear to care that there is going to be life after death. We are all compromised - the pastors, the imams, the leaders of thought. Whether the Emirs, the Obas, the Obis, almost everybody is guilty of looking the other way round when we see theft and corruption going on.
I am guilty, you are guilty, and every one of us is guilty of this. As long as we don’t stand up… if you sit here and there is a shit beside you, you will perceive it and you will either have to cover your nose or you change position and the best action to do is pack it out. But the situation we find ourselves in this country is that people sit down with the feces as if they are enjoying the smell. That is the issue.
Sometimes, we tend to expect so much from those in authority, when we are supposed to do the little we can, which will help those in authority not to do what they are doing.
What is your take on the arrest and suspension of the alleged corrupt Judges?
The moment an aspersion is cast on you, you don’t need to be told to step down. If you are honorable and have integrity, you should know the right thing to do. What I expected them to do immediately actually was to step aside and allow investigation to commence on them without waiting to be suspended or told to step down, and if they are proved innocent, they therefore resume their positions and claim damages.
The internal crisis rocking your political party, the People’s Democratic Party is deepening by the day. Following the recent happenings in Edo State before the election and the Ondo State gubernatorial saga, what do you think the leadership of your party should do to avert the crisis?
We must be fair and reasonable. When you look at what is happening to APC as at today, there is no difference between what is happening in the PDP. May be the difference is that there is no actual faction in the APC for now but the tension between the national chairman of APC and the acclaimed national leader of the party is open. Again, there was speculation that our father and an elder statesman, Chief Bisi Akande and few guys from the South West met with President Buhari to see if they can mend fences with Tinubu and Buhari.
So, obviously, there are challenges, crisis and issues in most of the political parties. These are normal situations in a normal political dispensation. Look at what happened in the Republican Party in United States, where Newt Gingrich and the other senior party officials distanced themselves from Donald Trump while others supported him. What is news about internal party wrangling?
Once you put two, three to 10 people under one umbrella, there will definitely be crisis. When you look at what is happening between the Markafi-led faction and that of Alimodu Sherrif and analyze it, can you even say there is a faction in PDP?
As at today, the 36 States’ chairmen of the PDP are all under the Markafi-led faction. You are a General and you don’t have troop, are you a general? You have no battalion, not even a unit. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t mean to be rude to Alimodu Sherrif, but I believe it is a ranting of an ant.