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Too many advisers can mess – Abubakar Gimba

Well, not the typical fashion that you are happy but you are glad that you have been called upon to serve. For anybody who knows…

Well, not the typical fashion that you are happy but you are glad that you have been called upon to serve. For anybody who knows the burden of being called upon to serve a country like ours and its complexities you know it’s not something you celebrate but something that sends you thinking. I was glad I was called upon to make a contribution; at least, one’s contributions are appreciated by your own country. But then again it’s with trepidations because you know you are not the only one in the country. A combination of factors helped you to be seen and even selected. So you thank God on such recognition and then you think how am I going to do this? And so it’s a mixture of being happy and fear lest you fail and people blame you that you failed. Nobody wants to take a load and be a failure and if you want to help somebody carry a load, then you want to help that person carry the load you don’t want also that at the end of the day, you are part of the person’s liability. That’s the way I look at it.

 

When you were first contacted, what sort of role did you think you were going to play considering there are other advisory bodies like the Council of Ministers, the Economic Committee etc?

 

I wouldn’t say I know my role but I know my role and the role of PAC would be defined by the terms of reference because a person who says come and help me carry a load has a specific load, he won’t say go and carry the mountain because he himself doesn’t have the mountain to carry and even if he says that he knows you alone can’t carry the mountain. That’s why you have other committees doing other jobs. So I know I will be part of people carrying things but I know at least, I will make the most effective contribution in the area of my training and exposure and experience and largely that is, I’m an economist by profession and I have worked in government, particularly in planning, in those areas at least, I have something to contribute.

 

So in essence, you think the role that has been outlined for you, is something that is achievable?

 

Anything in life is achievable to some extent and I believe the problem facing us largely is the problem of the economy with all its other attendant off shoots; power, infrastructure and what have you. Even insecurity is part of it; it’s an economic problem in as much as it’s a social problem, at the end of the day, it affects the economy. But you have to be very good to see how to tackle that to have a smooth economy but for me as an economists, every other thing should be given assuming there is security, if there is security, how do you move the economy be it in terms of bringing in investments. So for me, the focus is the area of my training, that is the economy and I think the prime thing now in this country is the economy.

 

Considering that there are so many advisers, presidential advisers, special advisers and others, do you think the leadership of this country has been putting them to good use?

 

Each leader tries to use the advisers it has chosen, not everything. From the outcome, one would come to the conclusion [that] not all advices given have been utilised but also, you see, people in power have lots of problems of choosing between categories of advices, you know. Somebody will come with a very rational view about something; another person will come with something even more rational. The two advisers, each one is convinced about the rational of his argument but then you have left the person you are advising with the trouble of selecting which one is the best advice, you know. So, in that period you have a situation where perhaps in the process of the leader thinking which of the two or three or even four advice from each person am I to take, time goes and in the political setting, time is very, very important. So a decision may not be taken because there are too many people advising and as the proverb goes, too many cooks spoil the broth. In this case, too many advisers can really mess a leader up.

 

Are you suggesting that the number of advisers be cut down?

 

Well, it depends on the leader. Not really cut down but in each area, you shouldn’t have so many advisers on the same thing. You can subdivide areas and get people of particular knowledge and experience to advice there and [they should be] people you really know are very good because definitely, if you don’t have those kind of people, some people may pass comments on those advisers and you begin to wonder, what advice do I really take; the views of my advisers or the views of other people outside the circle of your advisers and those views sound credible as well because the advisers so appointed officially aren’t necessarily the best, in fact, they are not. They are not the only people that have opinions on matters in this country, so unless you are going to put cotton in the ears of the leader so he doesn’t hear anything else, whatever I advise you, you are free to change it because if I tell you don’t go to the market on Wednesday somebody now will tell you go to the market on Wednesday because on that day, yams are sold cheaper but somebody might tell you, don’t go because on that day, they don’t sell anything but goats. But sometimes I feel our leaders are overwhelmed with issues that they find it difficult to wade through some of the information provided by advisers and really assess them and time is not there.

 

So, in your capacity as Special Adviser to the Senate President on Economic matters, what impact do you think you made?

 

Well, you see, sometimes, it’s not easy to see the impact of anybody’s advice and particularly where the expectation of the people is from a particular arm of government. You may not be able to know the impact on legislation for instance, what somebody is advising a senator or member of house of Reps., you don’t see the impact immediately because the process of lawmaking is long and winding. So I really cannot tell you

what impact I have made because it will be self serving for me to say I have created this impact. So it’s up to the people to judge.

 

Now looking at the future, in your new role as a member of PAC, what impact are you likely to make in the next one year?

 

Insha Allah, we will make an impact because the committee is made up of people of integrity, people that are really committed to this country. The committee members have resolved to do the best for this country. The only thing I will say is that people should not have too much expectation. This country’s problem is so complex and the solution can’t come in a day or even in a year because even if we can put something in place for attracting investment and things like that, the impact will not be seen immediately, it will take time. So if people are expecting a magic wand from PAC, I think they should put that in a bin. But at least given time, and unfortunately there is no time, but in the short time there is, I believe and hope and pray something good will come out.

 

Considering that you retired from the banking job quite early, there may be fears that you have lost touch with reality, what have you been doing with your time since you retired?

 

Well, I don’t know what people mean by being out of touch with reality. Is it because people do banking on laptops and there are e-banking and e-payment and all these? But there are certain fundamental things. I really don’t see myself as a banker; I see myself as an economist because that is what is important to me. So I think I am still in touch with the fundamental training I got from Zaria and I think most of us trained in Zaria have the kind of training that makes you fit into any era with just a little retouching and having left the bank doesn’t make you a senseless person. There is a saying in some languages that no one knows how to swim and forgets it. The strength of the current may be different but you will always know how to swim. Then people should also distinguish between being professionally up to date and experienced. I think what we are losing in this country is that people are shunning older people of experience; they think they are outdated, but no society will ever make progress if you keep on ignoring people of experience. If you think you want only dashing, brief case carrying, laptop professionals all over the place, believe me you are going to have a crash, no matter their brilliance if you ignore your old people and their experience. Life is really made meaningful through wisdom not professionalism only. You can tell me there are certain things we want to computerize but it doesn’t make sense in our economy because we have a lot of people that are unemployed and we have the resources and it helps you to empower younger people, let them do these things first manually, at least by working, they have some experience and then they can buy the latest computers. You may be a little inefficient but you have employed a lot of people.

 

You have been fortunate to be appointed into such positions before. What has been the secret that has endeared you to various governments?

 

I don’t know what they see. All I know is that I have worked before and perhaps that experience and the track record might have helped but I really can’t say why they have chosen me. People develop trust and confidence in you. There may be 10 people who believe I can do it but there may be 20 people who think government has wasted its time by putting some of us there, there may be better people out there but whatever God has planned, nobody can change it. And also as you get older, God gives you wisdom that you have done nothing to earn and there is no university for wisdom except life. Some of the people in this committee are people of experience but that doesn’t mean it should be an exclusive club of people of experience. You need people that are current with the situation but you must employ wisdom.

You are reputed to be a ‘straight Nigerian’ as they say. How did you manage to earn this reputation?

 

I try in my own small ways to follow the values taught me by my religion and I believe in my Islam and I believe that is the best place where you can get all your values.

 

But considering that Nigeria is a religious country in quotes with many irreligious people, where you have so many churches and mosques and yet you have so many atrocities being committed, how is it that you managed to keep to your faith and resist all these things?

 

In every society, even in the time of Moses and Abraham (alaihimassalam) you have people who though may profess religion, they do something else. Nobody is perfect really, we all make mistake but the only thing is that people go to extremities, otherwise why do we say God is forgiving? God is forgiving because we are not perfect. We all have desires and we sometimes succumb to these and sometimes, there is what is over-succumbing to these base values that are not good for us. I wish I am straighter than I am now because if I were, I wouldn’t sit in a room with this kind of paint. If people believe in these values, we wouldn’t be cheating ourselves; we wouldn’t be stealing public funds as if it’s our own. It’s a trust that belongs to other people. This is all the thing about fighting corruption. We should not be fighting corruption but corrupt people. What is corruption? That one is just a symptom but till you find the real people, until you fight corrupt people rather than fighting corruption.

 

So, how do we differentiate between corruption and corrupt people?

 

Corruption, you are just describing a phenomenon but when you are fighting corrupt people, then you know you really have a target. So if you are targeting individuals, in what ways are they corrupt? Is it that they love money too much? Some people it’s not the money they love, there are people that are just sick, they have a hundred million they want more just for nothing. There are others who want a hundred million because they love to fly out, they love junketing all over, there are some who want money because they have a chain of desires they want to satisfy. So, which of the values are you going to fight in them that they have? But if you say corruption, which are you tackling? Some of these things may look a bit semantic but to me, this thing is important. If you are fighting corruption, you prevent people from stealing money; you are not killing that desire in them. We should do like the Chinese do, they are fighting corrupt people not just corruption

 

So how do we fight corrupt people?

 

By dealing with them severely.

 

In what ways?

 

Dealing with them severely. As severely as you think is allowed in your law books. In China, of course, if you are a public servant and you steal their money, they kill you.

 

So are you suggesting capital punishment for corrupt people?

 

No, I wouldn’t suggest that. My religion does not suggest that so I wouldn’t go to that extreme. But there are ways you can discourage people and deal with them so they don’t repeat it again, make it very unprofitable for them. So if you think you are corrupt, we will try and get you, you and everything you have acquired.

 

Does this mean the present approach of fighting corruption is not right?

 

It’s not sufficient, not that it’s not right. There is no particular right way but it’s not sufficient that’s why it’s not terribly giving us some effective results because for now, we are targeting people that are visibly very rich but it’s not everybody that is visibly rich that is corrupt. There are people who are very poor and they are really very corrupt, they want to steal money. If you give them a chance they will steal money. In fact, the little guys in the offices, they are very corrupt; corrupt in the sense that it’s their own colleagues they cheat. When you retire as a pensioner they won’t give you your money. They keep asking you to do this and that, cause you inconveniences and all that. It’s corruption. So, how do you deal with that one? That one has not stolen money but he is frustrating the next person. So, you have to deal with such things.

 

So at what point did you consciously decide to resist corruption?

 

I never made a decision like that. Since I came to an age of discernment, you know you are growing within a particular value system and that value system begins to tell you don’t do this, don’t do that from home. For most of us, it starts from home. Sometimes, your grandmother jokingly tells you if you eat an egg, you become a thief so you shun eggs. So to be called a thief in the village is not a good thing so you avoid being a thief in anything. You don’t steal a goat or chicken. So it’s the value orientation. It’s not being caught here that is important but being caught there [in the hereafter] where there may be no reprieve. But people believe they can steal and go and ask God to forgive them as if that God is their grandfather and it doesn’t work that way. People are thinking they can buy God’s favour by sending others to pilgrimage on corrupt money but there is no logic. If God is that easy to corrupt because, virtually, we are bribing God, and it is only Nigerians that think of God as themselves; someone with whom they can bribe their way through.

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