Chief Olu Falae is the National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Finance Minister and Presidential candidate. He spoke with The Hope’s Acting Editor, Akindele Adubuola, General Editor, Sina Ogunjobi and Senior Reporter, Adekola Afolabi on sundry issues of interest.
We want to congratulate you on your 80th birthday. Now that you have joined the octogenarian club, how do you feel sir?
Thank you very much for congratulating me for attaining the age of 80 in good health. Well truthfully, I don’t feel much different from how I felt a year or five ago, today. God has given me very good health and I try not to abuse it because every good gift is from God and all in all I should be grateful, I must thank Him for this priviledge. I am now over 80 and I feel as well strong, all grace to God.
God has been very kind to you sir, you have been SGF, Finance Minister, Presidential candidate and Managing Director. How fulfilled are you?
Absolutely fulfilled. God has enabled me to achieve many things. I have good health, good education, got married, have children and be useful to my generation, to know God and for God to know me.
In the recent time, you seems too hard on President Muhammadu Buhari, is it a pay back time looking at the frosty relationship?
I hardly speak these days. What I said when Atiku Abubakar came here was that he has failed.
For example, the exchange rate which was far better when the government came, is far worse now. Then the unemployment rate is far worse, the GDP has gone down. Nigeria is now regarded as one of the capitals of poverty in the world. Of course as an Economist, that pains me, especially with the background of fantastic resources and potentials that Nigeria has. I don’t have personal grudge and Buhari used to be a friend of mine and I supported him for president once upon a time when he promised Afenifere that he would restructure Nigeria.
So, I have no personal quarrel with him at all. I was not hard on him, but I just stated the truth, the fact that his government has failed to achieve many of the things he promised. And that the government has failed badly especially in the area of security; I once told some people that when I was 14, I was at Gbobi College then in Lagos. I would travel to Akure and come back at the end of the term alone. Today, can your 14-year-old child move out alone to go to Ikere and you would not be bothered thinking that kidnappers might pick him up before getting to the motor park?
So, those are the things people like me are saying, the country must be free and safe. Nigeria has taken a huge step backwards in the area of security, and the number one responsibility of any government is to ensure the security of the citizens; it is when you are secured and safe that you begin to talk about education or employment and all that. People must survive first, but now we are scared in our homes and we are scared on our farms.
I’m sure you remember two years back when I was kidnapped on my own farm where I have been farming for thirty years and I was dragged to the bush by hoodlums, all Fulani herdsmen. Somebody asked me how did I know that they were Fulanis? who doesn’t know what a Fulani looks like in Nigeria. And in any case when they were arrested later they themselves said they were Fulanis. They dragged me into the bush and they macheted me and left in my body a permanent reminder that security has deteriorated in Nigeria. Of course, you read what is happening in Nassarawa, Benue and Plateau states, Southern Kaduna and even part of Ondo state; people were being kidnapped the way an eagle comes to pick a chicken when it is hungry. Look at all that, an honest man would say things are far worse than they had expected today.
Afenifere seems to be friendly with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, why is it so?
No, the political party of Afenifere is Social Democratic Party. We are not unanimous as to the choice of presidential candidate. But there are strong elements in Afenifere who believe that former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is more likely to restructure Nigeria than Buhari. I agree with them. That is why large chunk of Afenifere is supporting Atiku and advocating that all of us should support him. But you see Atiku is not an independent candidate. In Nigeria, it is the parties that participate in elections, but merely represented by candidates parties chose to represent them. The real participants by law are political parties. For example, look at Rivers State and the case of former Governor, Rotimi Amaechi. Amaechi and Omehia were vying for the nomination of the PDP gubernatorial ticket and eventually Omehia was preferred by the leadership of the party. He contested and won the election but Amaechi went to court after the election and won without contesting an election and Amaechi became governor. It is the party that contests an election, so it is not Atiku but PDP.
Those who are supporting Atiku are doing so because they feel Atiku is more likely to restructure Nigeria than Buhari. But if his party doesn’t want restructuring, he cannot restructure against his party’s will. Atiku is a friend and I have known him for a very long time and I believe he is more likely to restructure Nigeria than Buhari. As the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, that is, the party of restructuring, we are the ones who articulated restructuring and explained it for others to understand. I have written a book in which restructuring is a major chapter, so I believe that our party is most likely to restructure if we win. But as you are aware, our party had problem with nomination in the recent times and we were not sure of what was going to happen.
Now that the Court of Appeal has ruled that former governor, Donald Duke was duly nominated by the party, he is the legitimate candidate of SDP and that is my party’s candidate and that, is my candidate. I have more confidence in him that if he becomes president, he will do more than any other presidential candidates, most likely to restructure Nigeria because he belongs to a party that is the very source and origin of restructuring. Yes, Atiku is more likely to restructure but that is if the choice is between Atiku and Buhari, but since my own candidate is now running, I will choose my own candidate. He is the best candidate in terms of whatever criteria you set to evaluate any candidate, whether education or experience; he was governor of Akwa-Ibom for eight years and he left his mark in his own generation. He is the kind of person Nigeria needs now. He is a youth and 70 percent of the voters in Nigeria are youths.
He is not out of touch with the problems of Nigeria, especially unemployment and insecurity. All in all, my own candidate, Donald Duke is the best candidate.
Of course SDP has lost crucial time in campaigning because of the challenges its presidential candidate faced, is there still hope for your party to win the elections?
There is heavy hope that we will make our mark within the time available. By the way, in 1999, the effective time that former President Olusegun Obasanjo and I had to campaign was about a month. So, with the time available, we will be able to sell ourselves to many more people. With the time available, we will use current day technology and devise traditional method to reach voters, and this is going on already. I believe the people will make a rational choice by voting our candidate.
Election time in Nigerians always gives people apprehension that there may be crisis and possibly Nigeria may break up, why is it so?
Let me tell you, I am more scared than you. I’m more frightened than many of you because I am closer to power; I was in power before and today I’m closer to those in power and their attitude frightens me. To them, it is as if it is a matter of life and death. When I was running for office, I did it out of duty. I said that having been privileged to have the kind of education that I have, both within Nigeria and abroad, and to have had a career that I have. I was a Director in the Federal Civil Service and by the grace of God I became a Permanent Secretary and before 39, I began to hold top positions where a Yoruba person was not particularly favoured.
Thereafter, I became the Managing Director of the Nigeria Merchant Bank Plc, later, General Ibrahim Babangida brougth me back to the public service and as the Secretary to the Government. I was also Minister of Finance and later I became presidential aspirant, later candidate of the SDP. I had a document titled, “New Direction to …resolve the problem (to the Federal Republic). It was a 151 page where I indicated in outline, what I was going to do in every area of national endeavour. I was going into office and start setting up committees to think for me, the thinking preceded the election. So, I have thoroughly prepared, but unfortunately the military preferred another military person. The rest is story. If I had won, I want to tell you today something I had never told anyone, I was going to be president for only four years. Don’t forget that I have been in public life all my life. I started teaching in Oyemekun In 1960, when I was 22 years old. For 15 years I had held top-notch in office, I was Director of Economic Planning, then Permanent Secretary, then Managing Director, then Secretary to the Federal Government and later Minister of Finance. And I was going to be president for another four years and nothing more. I was not going to tell anybody because they would say no, you must go for second term because you have not finished what you have started. Look, nobody can finish the work of nation building, never; It is all deception. I made up my mind that I was going to serve for four years and within the four years, I would work tirelessly and do my very best. But that was not to be. As you have seen, people now want to go for second, third, fourth and fifth term today, why? I believe that by the time you have done eight years, you are likely to have exhausted most of the fresh innovative ideas that might have brought you to power. I have seen so many governments, military and civilian. So, I’m frightened with the signals am getting. Look, few months ago, security forces sealed off the Senate, such had never happened before. Then the residence of the Senate President was barricaded. Also, some people came and took away the Mace in the Senate, you remember that? Then, horrors of horrors. The security agents went to the homes of Judges in the middle of the night and rough handled them as if they were arresting armed robbers. They said they are corrupt Judges, as if there was no existing arrangement for dealing with judges. Some of those they rough handled that night were already being investigated by the NJC, some may have even been suspended. In my view, it was done to intimidate the judiciary so that they can do their bidding. Now, there is violence going on across the country. People are being killed in Nassarawa, Plateau, Yobe and Benue States; and to crown it all, for the first time in history, the president said he suspended the Chief Justice of Nigeria. This is political anathema. So, If you put all these together, it is frightening, and you will wonder whether it is a deliberate attempt to create confusion, uncertainty and fear. So, I’m worried, very worried.
But there are allegations of corruption against the CJN?
What corruption? It is not necessary to make too much noise about this matter. Is he the only public official that did not disclose his assets? Have you found out how many officials in this government who have not declared their own assets publicly?
But the man said he forgot, look at the operative words. I agree it is not expected, and I would probably not forget but If he said he forgot, he has committed no crime. Look, they asked our president some questions on television, he couldn’t even comprehend it, is that corruption? Didn’t you see him, he couldn’t even understand.
That he forgot doesn’t mean corruption, what did he steal. Remember that they didn’t want to appoint this man then even though he was the most senior, but because of outcry of Afenifere and all that. You see what happened, immediately they suspended him they brought in another person from their side. They did not even bother to send his name to Senate.
It seems there is a leadership crisis within Afenifere?
No, there is no leadership crisis. We agreed that Nigeria should be restructured, we agreed that Atiku is more likely than Buhari to restructure, that is, if the choice is only between Buhari and Atiku. What I am saying is that there are some of us who are in the SDP who are Afenifere and believe that our candidate would restructure than any other candidates.
But we have two groups, one led by Chief Reuben Fasoranti and another by Pa Ayo Fasanmi.
No, no, no. You know the truth of the matter yourself. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu brought Fasanmi about 10 years ago and declared him his own leader of Afenifere, they called it Afenifere Renewal Group, of course you know the story. You know the authentic Afenifere is the one being led by Baba Fasoranti. That is the one to whom Baba Abraham Adesanya handed over the leadership. The one being led by Fasanmi is something else and you know that. They feel that to campaign for APC they must have some Afenifere platforms, and Baba Fasanmi will tell you that Baba Fasoranti is the leader of Afenifere.
Are you surprised that the alliance of opposition to field a consensus presidential candidate failed?
I was a bit surprised but not much surprised because seven, eight years ago there was what we called Mega Movement. It was started by some people including Buhari, late Pa Anthony Enahoro, Atiku and others; some of them were meeting by proxy. Atiku was in Switzerland as at that time but his boys were coming to the meeting. Buhari was not coming until later. But Sule and Buba Galadima were representing him in the meeting. Then I was also invited and at the very first meeting I would attend they made me leader, I said no, but eventually not to sound very arrogant, I accepted. Then, I spent two years of my life time nurturing the movement. The idea was to create a major movement that cuts across all the divides in Nigeria. At first, there were about 22 political parties being represented. I remember sending the manifesto of the political party to Atiku in Switzerland for his comment. But eventually it disintegrated. One day I got an invitation that a group was meeting in Abuja, I got there. They called it Nigerian National Movement or something, preaching the same gospel as we have been preaching in Mega Movement. On the high table, 80 percent of the people were the people who met with me about two weeks ago on mega movement, and they were nurturing a new one. When I took the microphone, I asked what was the need for the new one but nobody could answer my question. I discovered that those who felt the leadership should come from their side were those nurturing the new one. So, that is why all these coming together always fail.
Taking a flash back, what do you think you would have done better if you had the opportunity to be president?
Hmmmm. May be I would not have even come into politics of Nigeria because I did not have money. My 1999 election was funded by Nigerians. We raised five hundred and eighty-five million naira at a fund-raising dinner we held in Lagos. My financial committee including all Nigerians were very happy. It was Nigerians that put all the money together, my own personal money there was about ten to fifteen million naira to show commitment. It was Nigerians that financed the election. I had no money to run for president, even now. But people thought that I am a presidential material that I could do it and they gave me financial support. I didn’t see if anybody has done such thing before. Unless you have N10b, N20b and N30b of your own, you don’t venture into it. But how many people have N10b legitimately? If you make such money in business, your wife and your children will tell you, daddy don’t go and squander your money on unreliable Nigerians. My own experience was unique, although there was a negative story to it. Some of those who donated cheques later cancelled their cheques when the result came and they discovered I didn’t win. In those days, all cheques would take seven days to clear and election was four days away when we had that dinner. The moment they heard that Olu Falae did not win, they wrote their banks to stop honouring the cheques. For the first time in my life, I ran into debt. I had been spending money on agents and all that, hoping the cheques will clear. But my bank manager called me and told me I was in red. So I had to sell one of my property in Lagos to pay up that debt. Those who donated the money, if I had won, they would have been the ones who would want the biggest contracts because they would be saying we are the ones who financed his election. But when I lost, they cancelled their cheques. For the first time in my adult life, I was owing bank. I don’t borrow money even till today, but they pushed me into that debt.
Do you still have any hope that the country will be better?
When I breathe, I hope, when there is life there is hope. We must never allow our hope to die. When hope dies, man dies. I think the idea of creating Nigeria was a perfect way of God, but it was on a wrong foundation. Lord Lugard did the right thing. Every year the Northern Protectorate had the budget deficit, while the Southern Protectorate always had a budget surplus. So, rather than go to London to ask British government to finance the deficit of the Northern Protectorate, it would make sense if the two were merged so that the surplus of one part would be used to finance the deficit of the other. It was a very convenient administrative arrangement. It was good if that was why it was created, but it makes one to serve the other in infinitum, not for 10 or 15 years. It was one-sided relationship deliberately designed the colonial masters. God does not bless a marriage that is one-sided or deliberately to be so. We serve a righteous God. That, perhaps explained some of the problems we have had. Until something is done to correct it, and I think restructuring is the answer.