Democracy has failed Nigerians – Ex-Finance Minister, Abu Gidado

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An elder statesman, Alhaji Abu Gidado was Minister of State for Finance and Chairman of the monthly meeting of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) during the regime of late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha. Having started his career with Shell Petroleum Development Company, Gidado later served at various times as Commissioner for Finance in both the old Kaduna State and Katsina State.

In this interview, Gidado reviews current political and socio-economic developments in the country and concluded that democracy has failed Nigeria and Nigerians, adding that several years after the return of democratic rule, committed leaders are yet to emerge at all levels of governance in Nigeria. He spoke with AGAJU MADUGBA in Katsina.

What is your assessment of Nigeria’s development since the return to democratic governance?

Nigerians have not benefited anything from return of democratic rule. I say, nothing. There are so many unemployed people in this country and we have so many natural resources in abundance, which are not exploited. Successive administrations have actually failed the people. Look at the money they say is going to be used to renovate the National Assembly complex.  It just doesn’t make sense especially under a government that came with a so-called programme to change the situation of things for the betterment of the nation. The situation has actually degenerated instead of improving. We must have patriotic leaders who are ready to implement the right polices in order to address the prevailing difficulties and hardship including lack of security and basic infrastructure. A patriotic leader should use whatever we have to improve the society and well being of the people. Can anyone sincerely say that we have dividends of democratic rule in Nigeria with the collapse of our industries? If you compare the performance of military rule with what we have as civilian democratic governance, that of democracy is zero, you can use your fingertips to count so many things built by the military that have since collapsed. There is no justification whatsoever in the argument that the military ruled the country for so many years. There is virtually nothing new in the country in terms of development of infrastructure in the country other than what our past leaders built. When you budget so much money to repaint the National Assembly complex, what do you expect? For how long now have we had uninterrupted civilian rule? What is wrong in providing certain basic amenities like water for the people? The democracy we have in Nigeria, as it is today, has failed us completely.

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There are certain government policies that ought to be in place in order to support economic development of the country. For example, electricity power and with our enormous resources, government should provide the enabling environment and some other privileges for organisations including foreign ones to come in and exploit the abundant natural resources that we have. This will further create employment for various categories of our people. Look at the steel rolling mills. They were about three prominent ones. They all died with the coming of democratic rule. People who do not really have the interest of the nation at heart just decided to sell them for their selfish interest.

I was at the Arewa Textiles as General Manager and we employed at least 4,000 workers. The UNTL had 7,000 workers and there were so many industries. There was the Aba textiles. Our founding fathers, started from building the education sector while they were also busy establishing these industries that have collapsed today. The textile industry sector alone in those days employed so many people across the chain. Today, we churn out university graduates in alarming numbers without jobs.

What could be responsible for the decay as you describe it?

We do not practise true presidential democratic rule in Nigeria. In a truly democratic setting, you find effective checks and balances of the three arms of government. The Presidency, the Judiciary and the Legislature. Each one ought to have defined roles to play in a democratic setting. But looking at what we have now, there is hardly any difference in the management of the country.

Let me give you an example. I served in the revenue allocation commission. The commission determines and fixes salaries of all political office holders and some public officers. But right now, that commission no longer plays the role it should play, that of determining the salaries and wages of all public officers. In the American constitution, which we claim to copy, there is nothing like constituency allowances, for example. If you have constituency allowances for members of the Legislature, how can you check the excesses of the President? The Legislature is expected to enact laws concerning all expenses of government, among other functions. If you are given a certain amount of money as a legislator, for constituency allowance, do you give account of that money? When the Legislature is deeply involved in handling affairs meant for the Presidency, then they cannot do anything. They crave for constituency allowances and they are given freely. That is why they do not have the moral capacity to question the Presidency’s expenditure.

There should be respect for the functions of the three arms of government. There appears to be undue influence on the revenue commission to the extent that it has lost its regulatory function. During the time of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, he dipped his hands into the treasury without approval and removed N16 billion, saying he wanted to use it too fix the power sector. The revenue commission took Obasanjo to court in our days because that money did not belong to the Federal Government alone. It comprised of money for the federal, states and local governments. He had no right to take money from the Federation Account without due approval. Some Nigerians are not patriotic. They do not believe in this country and some of them are still in key positions right now. That is why we are in this situation. The problem is that we lack committed leadership. Our founding fathers did not have the resources we enjoy now. They used the little they had to even explore the oil and they built schools and industries. Today, all the textile industries are dead, all of them.

Already, there are discussions on the 2023 general elections. Do you think it would give Nigerians another opportunity to elect the right people you envisage?

It’s amazing that people are already busy talking about  2023 when at the moment there is nothing visible to show for the entire period we have had democratic rule. There is nothing tangible to show for the period. We are not making any progress. With the present setup, it is very difficult to get good people to handle the affairs of the country because even the electoral process is not reliable.

But let us take Kaduna as a case study. I know Governor El-Rufai struggled to get loans for certain projects he has started executing now. Due to the way we practise our own brand of democracy, he was blocked. But when the impediments were removed, you can go to Kaduna today and verify for yourself that things are actually happening there in Kaduna State. Since the demise of Sarduana of Sokoto, nothing tangible has ever taken place in Kaduna and it is like that in all parts of the north.

The media should also try to be patriotic because they give a guide regarding what ought to happen. The press can take a census of the functional industries we had before the advent of democratic rule and compare with what is currently obtainable. There is unemployment. We have dilapidated infrastructure. Government should focus on the nation’s problems. Take security, take education, take health. If our youths were engaged why would they go into armed banditry and cattle rustling? If these bandits were employed, why would they risk their lives going into the bush and forests because there is  no security in whatever they.

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Two things were top on the agenda of President Buhari when he came into power: to fight corruption and to develop agriculture. Sometime in the recent past, some people cooked up some documents to justify the importation of maize into this country, from Brazil at a time when farmers here cannot even purchase fertiliser for their farms. That is not patriotism and these are some of the areas that the media can harp on, to see if things will change for the better. Why did we have to import maize from another country when we can grow it here in surplus?

What do you say about the closure of the nation’s land borders?

It is already late, when a lot of damage had been done. If we don’t take the right steps and the right decisions to change for the better in this country, then God help us.

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