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Some powerful persons are obstructing Nigeria’s progress, says Olu Falae (2)

*Only mega party can uproot them, he declares
*Reveals how AD governors sold out to Obasanjo
*Laments discord in Yoruba land

In this second and concluding part of the Olu Falae’s interview, the presidential candidate of an alliance of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, and the All Peoples Party, APP, reflects on the 1999 Presidential election and concludes that he won.  He said he had very good grounds to challenge Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Partyy, PDP.

Hear him: The Electoral Law says that no candidate should advertise for votes on election day and on election day, General Obasanjo advertised for votes in one major national newspaper. I took my telephone and called the then national chairman of INEC, late Justice Akpata, that on a certain page in a certain newspaper, there is an advert by General Obasanjo.

He said I should give him time to check on what I’d just told him, call me back. I called him back in about 15 minutes time he said yes, he had seen it and he told me that that was a legitimate ground for election petition. But when we got to the tribunal, the judges said there was no evidence that it was Obasanjo who placed the advert it must have been his agents; but whatever law binds you binds your agents too.

I was denied the ballot boxes which would have put the case beyond doubt because if the boxes were brought they would have been cancelled because there was no voting in Bayelsa, and when a ground on which his entire elections would have been cancelled was ignored by the tribunal, it meant that they had made up their minds on Obasanjo.

And so, when they gave their judgment, I decided that I would not go to the Supreme Court for two reasons.  Those reasons? Read this interview, including his suggestion that some powerful people have held Nigeria hostage.  But he was quick to explain that Mega Party being packaged is the answer. Excerpts:

By Jider Ajani DeputyEditor

AT some point it just happened  that the Alliance for Democracy, AD/All Peoples Party, APP, alliance chose not to pursue its petition against the allegedly fraudulent election of Olusegun Obasanjo. This is 10 years after, can we know what happened?
At the tribunal, my lawyers asked for certain documents and information. For example, the ballot boxes used in Bayelsa State because there was no election in Bayelsa State and yet they went ahead to give Obasanjo three million votes and we were told it would cost 800 million to go and bring those ballot boxes

800 million what?
N800 million, that’s what I mean, to bring the ballot boxes from Bayelsa State and some other states where I requested the production of the ballot boxes and that was a way of denying me the proof with which I would have made my case. So, we were denied those ballot boxes. Two, the Electoral Law says that no candidate should advertise for votes on election day and on election day, General Obasanjo advertised for votes in one major national newspaper.

I took my telephone and called the then national chairman of INEC, late Justice Akpata, that on a certain page in a certain newspaper, there is an advert by General Obasanjo. He said I should give him time to check on what I’d just told him, call me back. I called him back in about 15 minutes time he said yes, he had seen it and he told me that that was a legitimate ground for election petition.

Akpata agreed with you
Yes he did. But when we got to the tribunal, the judges said there was no evidence that it was Obasanjo who placed the advert it must have been his agents; but whatever law binds you binds your agents too. I was denied the ballot boxes which would have put the case beyond doubt because if the boxes were brought they would have been canceled because there was no voting in Bayelsa, and when a ground on which his entire elections would have been cancelled was ignored by the tribunal, it meant that they had made up their minds on Obasanjo.

And so, when they gave their judgment, I decided that I would not go to the Supreme Court for two reasons. One, you can’t begin to adduce new arguments at the Supreme Court and I’d been denied physical and documentary proof for my case so, what would I go and do at the Supreme Court.  Two, there was a very frenetic campaign going on that the military would refuse to go if we kept dragging the case in court and in fact the pressure got so bad that I had to leave Nigeria with my family and we had to stay in London.

In London, it got so bad that I was receiving half a dozen phone calls in 30 minutes and I was again forced to leave the flat which I rented; I had to go and stay with a friend outside London and we did not even allow our families to know where we were because if they knew, those trying to put pressure on us would still call them and my children would have told them where we were and for that reason we didn’t tell them.

Chief Olu Falae
Chief Olu Falae

So I decided that if the military was going to stay on, I should not be used as the excuse for the elongation of military rule because Nigerians would say that it was Olu Falae who caused it and they would also say that at least they are from the same Yoruba land why can’t he just forget it. They would say it was because of my ambition but that is not me.

I ran for the presidency because I wanted to help. So, because I did not want to go down in history as the man who prolonged military rule and along with other reasons, I decided not to pursue the case.

Let’s pick the issues one by one.  The AD held so much hope not just for the Yoruba people but for the progressives too.  What was the lure for somebody like you to be in the AD? Was it the preponderance of the Yoruba in the party? Or was there any greater ideal?
Really, the AD did not exist and I tried to join the party. We formed the AD. In the Afenifere and the other groups, along with Ambassador Jolly Tanko Yusuf, we came together to form AD. But before that happened, the consultations to which we belonged moved in the direction of APP and I was abroad for medical check up because of my detention. By the time I came back, I learnt we had dumped APP and formed AD and when I asked why, I was told that some Abacha politicians came to join that group and that the Afenifere component of the party moved away to form AD because we fought Abacha. Of course being who we were and who we are, we felt that the AD had a progressive agenda and the West had always been the base of progressive ideas in Nigeria but unfortunately, before we broke from APP, a lot of our natural allies had taken positions in APP so they were not available to join us in AD.  For example, Bala Takaya, my friend, who was also in my campaign team, phoned my wife and asked where I belonged, my wife told him I was in the group that joined APP, so he went and joined APP and when our people were moving to form AD, nobody contacted him, so he said he would stay where he was.

When I came back he came to see me and explained that he was already leading the APP in his state of Adamawa and that it would be difficult for him to jump ship and it happened all over the country like that and that partially explains why the AD did not have that spread.

It actually started with G-34 which became PDP, we left that to form APP and again we left APP to form AD – those changes meant that a lot of people were left behind. But I also gathered that some people felt that if we stayed in PDP I might become too strong so the best thing to do was to make us move. At my book launch at the MUSON Centre in 2004, Chief Solomon Lar told the audience that I was the one what became the PDP wanted as its candidate because there was a consensus that I had widespread support and I had my integrity but that some of our leaders from the West came to tell them that I was no longer interested in running for the presidency.

olufalae5

Was this with or without your consent?
I was abroad. I did not tell that to anybody

Beyond the general, what plunged you into detention?
Because I was myself and if I believed in something, I pursue it. The NADECO group used to meet in Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu’s house but at some stage, the Federal Government threatened the livelihood of Admiral Kanu and so he announced that he might not be able to continue to host us and I immediately offered my house as the new venue.

But each time we were meeting in my house you could see the security boys parading my gate and I would invite them to come in. I was seen as one of those who openly and boldly provided leadership for NADECO and because I was then resident in Ondo State and Papa Ajasin who lived in Owo, just some minutes drive from my house, it was perceived that I was the one giving the old man support for his leadership of the group and all the papers he was supposed to have been putting out to the United Nations and the press.

Of course, they were not totally wrong because Papa would ask me to do one or two things and I believed in those things and Papa was my leader. So they felt by locking me up, they would weaken Papa. But I thank God I did not die in detention because if you recall, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was locked up at about the same time and they killed him but I thank God that they did not kill me because if they had killed me nothing would have happened.  I was detained from January 9, 1997, to June 25, 1998, after Abacha died.

The AD is dead. What would you say are the factors to point at as being responsible for the sorry pass?
I am reluctant to answer that question or any pertaining to it because it would mean re-opening old wounds and we are now trying to build consensus and it would be counter productive for me to re-open those wounds but I can say in general terms that the resentment of those who won elections on the platform of AD, to recognize or accept any supervisory roles for Afenifere in the South West led to the fall of the party because the Afenifere had a committee headed by Professor Bolaji Akinyemi to assess the performance of each state in relation to the manifesto of the party, to assess who was performing well and who was not.  There was resentment from the governors and they wondered why it should happen in the South West when there was no where else in Nigeria where such was happening – why should Afenifere come and mark our papers, they wondered. I think that was the genesis.

But what Afenifere wanted was to sustain that name and culture of performance because it was the Afenifere people voted for because you can not translate AD into Yoruba language and Afenifere wanted to be seen as delivering on promises made to the people so that in future we could continue to use that legacy.  But those in power did not see it like that.

Other things came to compound the problem
And then, that started a process of separating those in power from those in the leadership of the party and by the time the election of 2003 was going to take place, the governors barely consulted the party and they went and made a deal with General Obasanjo although they said they consulted the leadership of the party.

Working directly
I was never consulted, I never heard of it and I would like to think that I am one of the leaders of Afenifere and AD and a leader in Nigeria. Nobody told me anything. I never heard about any deal. If I had heard, I would have begged them not to do such a deal that the Obasanjo they wanted to enter into a deal with had not been known to honour any deal because I had worked with him for four years: When he was a military head of state, I was a permanent secretary, in the economic department of the cabinet office, working directly, daily. I would have begged them not to do it. But because I was more or less the target of the deal, I was kept in the dark.

You were the target? How?
First, the deal was that they should give all the western votes to Obasanjo and he would allow them to come back for a second term. Now, they would not have been able to give all the votes to Obasanjo if I were a candidate for the same presidency, so, for me not to even dream of it, I must be kept in the dark, I must be kept in the cold, I must not know about it.  Unfortunately for them, the deal went awry and bitterness came into it. I don’t want to go into the details but this is the genesis. But what happened is not new, each time some people are in power, they tend to forget and they start feeling that they are bigger than the party and they resent certain things. Look at the crisis of the Western Region, Akintola was in power, Awolowo was leader of opposition at the centre, so for Awolowo to supervise him on what to do right but it is not new. When you’re not in power you respect the leadership of the party but once you get to power, you feel you can do without him.

If you were a state governor between 1999 and 2003, would you have allowed one Afenifere to supervise your tenure.  Please I want a sincere response?
Of course I would have invited them. I am a party man and I am a disciplined person. I would have invited them to come and see what I have done; I would have been faithful. Why should I resent it.

Obasanjo as president of Nigeria, how would you assess him?
I would rather not talk about Obasanjo. While he was there for eight years, I kept talking about his policies, the government and issues like that I never talked about his person.

But how would you detach his person from his style or governance? Some say the eight years were wasted while some insist that Obasanjo laid a solid foundation? Which areas would you consider needed better management than he did?
Let’s talk about time, which is a very scarce resource, you can not borrow time but you can borrow money.  Do you know how many times Obasanjo went abroad chasing shadows? Gani documented over 400 and something trips. You wasted time on international frivolities. I’ll give you an example.

At a time when a strike action was imminent, he flew to Davos, in Switzerland to attend the Davos symposium. Now, in 1978, more than 20 years before Obasanjo became a civilian president, I went to Davos to represent Nigeria. He was then head of state, he asked his number two, Shehu Yar’Adua to go and Yar’Adua said he had no time that I should go with Tahir, the then managing director of Tate and Lyle – we were in Davos together at the height of winter, February 1978, the same economic forum. Now, more than 20 years later, Obasanjo as president felt that that forum was so important that he had to leave a nation in the throes of a general strike to go and attend that meeting in Switzerland.

That’s why I said he wasted a lot of time chasing shadows, a symposium I could attend on behalf of Nigeria 20 years ago. Why couldn’t a minister or vice president go. Why? He was just wasting time and money travelling all over the world, he didn’t have time to sit down and govern Nigeria.

*Falae
*Falae

He wasted resources. I’ll give an illustration. We had toll gates before he took over. He came back and said he wanted to change the management of the toll gates, he didn’t win in court and he attempted to frustrate the whole thing by destroying the toll gates. These things cost hundreds of millions naira to build. Who authorized him to destroy them, the National Assembly? Who? He didn’t own them. Then he spent millions to destroy them, double loss. The cost of the toll gates he destroyed and the money he used in destroying the toll gates would have provided jobs for 20,000 Nigerians. He just wasted national resources. He spent a lot of his time, manouvring and wasting opportunities. He called the three political parties for a constitutional review.

What became of it, nothing. Later,    during his second term, he set up the national constitutional forum; what became of it, nothing. Huge sums of money just went down the drain on those two futile exercises which he knew would produce nothing.

During his regime, the roads in the South West were virtually impassable, similar to what obtained in many parts of Nigeria. On the eve of his departure, he was awarding contracts to link Abuja with Okenne and Lokoja, to build a railway line; he was there for eight years he didn’t do anything. So, all in all, his administration was a complete failure.

This is very sad because here was a man who had been head of state before; he had had the experience before. He had the exposure. The fact remains that he never promised Nigerians anything and so he could not be held down by anything. He and I were invited to the studio to debate; he didn’t show up at the studio for the debate. He avoided making any commitment to anybody.

On the issue of foreign trips, his supporters say he burnished Nigeria’s image and that the debt overhang was taken care off?
When I was in office as minister of finance, from January to August 1990, I was able to initiate debt buy-back with the French finance minister, I went on a foreign trip with Babangida and we met with French officials in the ministry of finance and we told them that we wanted to buy back our debt, that we had written documents denominated in the millions of dollars and we wanted to buy those papers back but they told us that it was not the policy of France to allow debt buy back. We told them that since theirs was a free enterprise, every commodity has a price. They agreed and we asked what is the value? An example is if we say we’ll pay $1 million in five years’ time but if we want to pay today can we pay $800,000, we’ll pay cash and after a lot of discussion they agreed that we could buy back 10 per cent of Nigeria’s debt owed to France, so that French business men who have businesses in Nigeria would pay $800,000 for a $1 million debt, get the papers, come to Nigeria and go to the Central Bank and say, ‘here, I have paid $800,000 for $1 million, give me back the money in naira and let me invest it in your country. That was one thing I did, the debt buy back to finance investment in Nigeria. I got back 10 per cent of the debt. All that Obasanjo did was to extend it across the board.

During the campaigns, I promised that I would extinguish Nigeria’s external debts in six months people never believed. They said I was a magician. I said I would buy back the debt from our creditors. If the debt was to the tune of $30 billion, we’ll pay you 75 per cent.

People wondered where we would get the about $22 billion cash to pay. I said it was easy, that in 1988, when I was secretary to the government of Nigeria, Nigeria sold 10 per cent of her equity in Shell BP for $1.2 billion. At that time Nigeria owned 50 per cent of the equity of Shell BP. Now, 20 years later, 10 per cent of the equity of any of the oil companies would be worth maybe $2 billion or $3 billion and that if you do that in about six to eight oil companies, we’ll raise the cash.

I said the oil companies don’t normally have the host countries as their partners we forced them to do so. If you say you want to sell the shares back to them, they’ll be more than happy and in any case each time they say they want to make cash calls of new joint ventures, we always delay and we were a nuisance to their operations, so they’ll be very glad to see us divest to them and the market for the shares we needed to sell is already there, waiting in the oil companies.  I can do all that in three months.

When Obasanjo came, things had become better, oil prices had gone up so he didn’t need to sell equities at all. I was going to do the same thing under very tough conditions without our losing control of the oil companies, so what he did, as far as I was concerned was nothing really big, because I had blazed the trail. I was going to do it even without the huge resources he got later. All these are in my book, The Way Forward. I’m not belittling the effort; good he did it but I would have done it even without all the money he got. So, don’t let his apologists sway you like that. He had a lot of money, he just dipped his hands into our foreign reserves and paid them and that is what I call the difference between an ‘A’ and a ‘B+’

With these lofty ideas of yours, how come people like you don’t end up getting to the position where you can then influence things properly, as the man in charge?  Is it that the people don’t relate to your ideas?
Well, that is the tragedy of the Nigerian nation. Again and again, those who are better placed to influence things have been frustrated because certain people feel that their personal interests will be threatened.

Who are these people? They do not constitute the majority?
Okay let me go back a little. In 1991, when the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation was being launched, Chief M K O Abiola who was the chief launcher said he would like to apologise to the followers and friends of Awolowo because he, Abiola, did a lot to prevent Chief Awolwo from becoming president of Nigeria. I learnt he also said in 1979 Awolowo won the presidential elections by a small margin of about 20,000, but that those who felt threatened that Awolowo would probe them did not want him, despite the fact that he was determined to change the lives of Nigerians. In 1999, I believe I won the elections but of course, there were those who felt more comfortable working with a military general than with a civilian.

But you had worked with the military?
That is the point. One of them once said that a sergeant was better than a graduate and that is how they think. The reason they gave it to Obasanjo was because they felt safer with him.  Don’t forget that I was in public life all my life and my life is an open book and they know that I will never call white black or black white. They know I was not going to allow fraud and stealing and that may not be too good for their interest.

One of the stories I read about you when you were in Dodan Barracks was that you once felt scandalized and, therefore, barred a visitor from coming into the place because of the model of Mercedes Benz car he brought….
(Cuts in) I can’t recollect that particular instance but I had issues then and one was that in the midst of the poverty and pain, people should conduct themselves with some decorum because out there people were suffering.  The point had to be made and I was well known to the establishment and they knew and they know that whatever I do is not based on sentiments but fairness.  They know that I have zero tolerance for fraud.

There are those who see the undeserved privileges they have are their right and to do justice would mean taking away those rights and they do not want that to happen. That’s why people like me may not get there. They felt more comfortable with Obasanjo because they thought they would be able to manipulate him but, of course, they did not succeed

There was this retired army general who told some people that he supported Olu Falae and they asked him why. He said it was because he could come to me and engage me in a debate about what is right and wrong but that he could never do that with an Obasanjo; I can’t tell Obasanjo that what he is doing is not right he will not listen. But for Falae, I can walk to him and engage him and if I can convince him, he would change his mind.

My problem with the Yoruba nation is that the elders are not accorded the respect they deserve again, especially the former civilian governors who have bonded on another platform.  This makes it difficult for the Yoruba nation to have a leader and work as one?
I would agree with you that today we do not have a consensus leadership and as you pointed out, it would have been nice if the former AD governors are working together with the Yoruba leadership as exemplified by the Ayo Adebanjos or Olanihun Ajayis but that is not there.

This is not because of lack of trying to bring all together. Since 2001, when the crisis started until when it finally blew up and you had two factions of AD, under Papa Adesanya, we started the peace moves in which I participated to no avail. Later, we brought in Justice Kayode Esho and Archbishop Ladigbolu, Professor Bolanle Awe. On two occasions, we were there 15 minutes before the scheduled time, the former governors never showed up.

We tried and tried it never worked. But we have not given up and recently, we involved Mama HID Awolowo and we tried direct means but we have not succeeded yet but we are still trying and we have been persistent and insistent so that we can have a united leadership because whenever there is no peace in Yoruba land the rest of Nigeria knows.

At the occasion of the 70th birthday of Chief Lam Adesina, Balarabe Musa, who was the chairman of the occasion made the remark that because we in the west were not together to provide leadership for the progressives of Nigeria, the nation  is in confusion, that we as the natural leaders of the progressives that even if not for our own sake but for the sake of the Nigerian nation, we should come together and provide leadership and direction. Chief Awolowo is still trying.

Your MSM group?
Recently, I led the Mega Summit Movement, MSM, to the constitution review exercise at the National Assembly to make a presentation on electoral reforms and General Buhari and our other leaders were there. We entered the hall and I saw Ayo Opadokun who was speaking for CODER (Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms), an organization formed by Bola Tinubu to more or less rival what we started doing at the MSM. And deep down within me was this urge that we should bond. When he finished and I wanted to make our presentation, the first sentence I uttered was that ‘Ayo Opadokun’s presentation on behalf of CODER, we in MSM support it and we endorse it because it is part and parcel of what we, too, were doing.

Well, after the presentations, they made contact with us and they were very happy that we openly endorsed their position and I have just said this so that you will appreciate how well we have been trying and working to ensure that we come together – we won’t lose anything but the other side has refused to reciprocate. But we would not give up.We have to come together to rescue this country not for our sake but for our children’s sake because for me, at 70, I have no plans to contest any election at all. I do not have to continue to be in partisan politics because it does not allow me to have time for my family, it has not given me time to write more books because I’m here today, tomorrow I’m in Abuja. At our meeting I have been mandated to go round the country to meet political leaders to forge one united entity and in other words, I would have to be practically on the road for the next one month.

Three months before CODER was launched, MSM decided to mark electoral reform on May 29.  We were in Abuja at the Hilton Hotel to launch our campaign for electoral reforms so why go and duplicate it?
Okay, since they demonstrated manifest disdain and resentment, must the MSM people or even the Yoruba leadership that is the one you belong to, must you carry these people along? In politics, the more the merrier, nobody has it all, money, oratory.

In the perception of the people of Nigeria, there is no unity in Yoruba land. Each time there is unity in the west, it goes round.  The moment we come together, we move together and get our dues. Ones you are in disarray, why should they bother about you.

Some people look at the MSM thing and just wave it aside as unworkable because of the peculiarities of the Nigerian polity?
Why?

That your likes and General Buhari should translate the integrity into political dividends that can win votes?
I thrashed Obasanjo in Ogun State, his local government and even in front of his house. Buhari defeated Yar’Adua and it has been established by the court, four to three ruling.

So, the two of us you have mentioned have political capital and we can win votes. The electorate is not a fool.  What you see is the violence and blatant falsification of results because some people will take your money and vote their conscience. Nigerians are no fools. If we can get just 10 per cent of the money of PDP to get our message across, the people will support us

What are the challenges you’re encountering now?
We’re already encountering the challenges because you can not build a thing like this mega party movement and not require money.  Again, it’s not easy to bring about 50 political parties together because some people would say I want to remain chairman of my small party and in that MSM I would have no position.  Others may feel the little grant from INEC would not come again.  We’re not hoping to get everybody but just a critical mass that is credible so that we can present them to Nigerians.
Everybody will not think the same way. People have asked how are we going to raise the money.


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