Buhari can’t be a corrupt petroleum minister – Kaoje
Bala Bawa Kaoje is a former Minister of Sports and a former National Treasurer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The former Deputy Chairman of the Privatization Committee of the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2003, in this interview, speaks on the anti-corruption drive of President Muhammadu Buhari among other critical issues.
Recently, the president gave an order that some agencies should be audited. Some people believe this is perhaps necessary ahead of the plan to try the treasury looters. What is your take on this?
To be honest with you, that is one of the statements that has made a very large percentage happy. We cannot be seen fighting corruption without taking serious action that will make people to be afraid of continuing in the line of corruption. The only way to make people afraid is for the government to show the seriousness to investigate the looters, get the amount looted and then try them at tribunal. I believe most of them will be sentenced and our money will be retrieved from them. That will be a deterrent to other people who think that the easiest way to make money is to loot the Nigerian nation. There are many Nigerians who have made a lot of money through looting because they feel that nothing can be done. They feel one can steal any amount of money they want to because it is the order of the day. What will happen is that they will be taken to court. Then, they will do plea bargain by paying some amount of money and then go back home to enjoy the greater part of the loot with their family. Buhari is saying no to this. He wants to try all the looters. We will be very happy when this starts. If special courts or tribunals are set up to try these people, you will see how far that will go in fighting corruption in Nigeria.
But do you think Mr President will be able to clear his name if there is any act of corruption in the oil and gas industry, having expressed his wish to act as the petroleum minister?
The president will not be involved in corruption. I can assure you. From his antecedents, especially from the time he was a minister to the time he became Head of State to date, Buhari has never shown any sign of somebody who can be corrupted. For anybody to doubt Buhari in that regard, that person is making a mistake. For me, it is the best thing President Buhari can do at this point in time. This is so because the rate of looting or rather corruption that took place in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) during the last administration is something that has never taken place in the history of Nigeria. So, it is more than what an ordinary man can think. The only thing President Buhari can do in his fight against corruption is to make sure that he puts his eyes very close to what happens in that particular industry. To put any other person and move far away from what is going on will not bring solution as quickly as we want in terms of ridding that place of corruption. But with Buhari checking and cross-checking what is going on and having a minister of state who reports to him on what is happening, we will be able to put an end to the problems of corruption within the NNPC. I support the president’s stand to be the minister of petroleum for Nigeria at this point in time.
Why are you worried about the road maintenance strategy in Nigeria?
First of all, on the issue of road maintenance, I can say the effort is not good enough. It is not encouraging. Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) was brought up by an Act of National Assembly. From the time it was established to date, one can conclude that the work of maintaining our federal roads is beyond FERMA. So, we must have a rethink about the way forward. In my view, we must revert to our normal way of maintaining our roads. What do I mean by that? I mean that the Federal Ministry of Work should reestablish a department of road maintenance that will have a budget on yearly basis to maintain our roads. Already, the Federal Ministry of Work has branches in all the states of the federation. So, this department should have their subsidiaries in other states of the federation by maintaining the federal roads in states. Budgetary allocations should be made on yearly basis. The way we are moving now, it appears there won’t be an end to potholes on our roads in Nigeria forever unless we change this system. If we want to work toward zero potholes, then we must go back to that system we are used to and take it seriously by providing a budget for that purpose on yearly basis. We also have to make sure that the right people are used to man these areas so that our roads will continuously be maintained when they require maintenance. If not, it will be extremely difficult for us to have good roads in this country. This proposal I’m making should be replicated in all the states. One other aspect is the return of toll gate. Government cannot provide all the monies for all the services it has to provide for its people. The only way perhaps the government can do it is by internally generated revenue. The toll gate can provide, to a reasonable percentage, the amount of money that will be required to maintain our roads. We must revert to toll gate in Nigeria. Developed countries still collect tolls on their roads. It is that money that is being used to maintain those roads. We cannot say that we are so rich here in Nigeria that everybody should use the roads and spoil them without contributing to the maintenance of the roads. Everything is left for government to handle. I don’t think the government is being fair to itself. We must revert to toll gate. These toll gates must be automated since the president is fighting corruption. Nigerians are backing the president on his war against corruption. So, whatever we are doing today, we must apply technology to do it so that we reduce the incidence of corruption in the system. If these toll gates are re-established, there should be a way to concession them out to responsible companies that will construct the gates. The companies will also automate the gates and collect these revenues on behalf of government and enjoy certain benefits over a certain period of time. By this way, we will be able to have zero potholes along our Trunk A or Federal roads within the country.
Do you think the Central Bank Nigeria (CBN) has done well to protect Nigeria?
My concern here is on the issue of consumer protection regarding the exchange rate of naira to other currencies in the country. This is an area that is very worrisome. It is worrisome in the sense that the papers keep telling us that the CBN sells, for example, the dollar at N197 to a dollar to the Bureau de Change. The papers also tell us that the Bureau de Change sells the dollars to Nigerians who want buy in exchange to naira at N223. If you sit down and look at price differentials, you find out that the gap between the CBN and the Bureau de Change is very huge. There is a need for that to be looked into by the CBN in order to see how to get the right value for the exchange rate of naira to a dollar and protect Nigerians who must use the dollars, pound sterling or euro or any other foreign currencies. If the CBN looks closely into this, I believe the exchange rate might be a little bit fairer than it is today.
Why are you concerned about the establishment of companies in Africa by Dangote Group of Companies?
On the efforts being made by Dangote Group of Companies as it opens up many cement factories in Africa. It is a very commendable move by Dangote Group of Companies. I join million of other Nigerians to commend Alhaji Aliko Dangote for having this foresight. However, it is important that Nigerians get to know the efforts of the company in giving a fair share of the workforce to Nigerians in such factories in the African countries where Dangote is establishing its companies. If you look at China or Chinese investors coming to Nigeria, whichever projects they are financing, you find a large number of Chinese workers on different levels of the establishment; senior, middle and lower cadre of workers. All of them are brought from China to Nigeria in order to work. That is a good thing because the Chinese are being provided employment whether their companies invested in Africa or elsewhere. That is helping the Chinese government to reduce unemployment in China. So, Dangote should equally do the same thing when they are negotiating with the government of Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia, Cameroon, Senegal, South Africa and a host of other countries where they are investing. They need to get a reasonable percentage of Nigerians who will be posted to those countries in order to work together with the indigenes of those countries. By so doing, Dangote Group of Companies will further help the Nigerian government to reduce the level of unemployment in the country. They are trying their best within the country. They should do the same thing outside the country, where they are also investing like other nationals are doing.
Bala Bawa Kaoje