BY Dayo Johnson
A former presidential candidate of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD), and Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Olu Falae, has been in the news in the last few months.
From his abduction by some Hausa-Fulani herdsmen in his farm in Ilado, Akure North area of Ondo State, to his alleged receiving of N100m from the $2.1 billion arms money from the immediate past National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki, the former Finance Minister and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) speaks, in this interview, on the issues.
What’s your involvement in the $2.1 billion arms money from Dasuki
I want to say with all emphasis that I never took even one naira from Dasuki. Beyond that, I want to assert that I never had any relationship with Dasuki. I knew Dasuki way back in 1986-87,when he was ADC to General Babagida and I was Secretary to the Federal Government. Since he left that government around 1987, I had no contact or dealing with him; absolutely none.
The N100 million they are bandying about in the media, the one that I know about, it happened as follows: Chief Tony Anenih, a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, phoned me late January last year and said he would like to see me; he would like to come from Abuja to see me in Akure. And he came. He came with someone, and I, too, invited somebody to be with me. The four of us were together in the meeting; and Chief Anenih said they were observing that my party, SDP, had no presidential candidate and, therefore, they would want us to ask our supporters to vote for his own party’s candidate, President Goodluck Jonathan.
I told him that, in principle, there was nothing wrong with the two parties collaborating, but that the collaboration must be a principled collaboration: it must be based on principles. I told him that there were certain things we desired the government to do but they had not done for the people, and that if we were going to support their candidate, they must commit themselves to make changes in those areas. He asked for the areas? I said number one, their party must be prepared to restructure Nigeria from the colossal unity system, and the best way of doing that was to fully implement the report of the National Conference 2014.
Number two, that the party must commit itself to a policy of zero tolerance for corruption because I saw that corruption was monumental in what they were doing. Number three, I said the party in government must destroy Boko Haram and give stability to Nigeria. Number four, there was mass unemployment and youths were getting frustrated, that they must articulate programmes to create jobs for the unemployed. Number five, that I observed that the party in government was spending virtually our entire revenue on recurrent expenditure, that they must reduce recurrent expenditure so as to generate surpluses to finance capital development like roads, schools, hospitals, etc.
Item number six, that if we accepted this tide and accepted them, then if the party won the election, we will expect reasonable participation in that government. And he said they were totally happy with all these strict conditions, that the conditions were acceptable to them; in fact, he said they were already implementing some of them. So, on that note, he returned to Abuja. But after he left, I decided to write to him in order to document this relationship. The letter I wrote to him, again I listed the six conditions which I had mentioned in our oral discussion. And three days later, he wrote back to me saying that he had consulted all the stakeholders of his party including the President and they were all happy to accept those conditions to work with the SDP in the election’s that were forthcoming. So, having accepted our conditions, I proceeded to Abuja to summon the meeting of my party executive and decision making organs and made the presentation to them. There was a very robust debate and, at the end of the debate, the executive committee of my party endorsed their request that we should work with Jonathan in the elections.
I want to emphasize that the most critical factor that turned the debate in favour of Jonathan was because he had said he would restructure Nigeria and that he summoned the National Conference as a great step in that direction. And to most of us in the SDP and in Afenifere, restructuring Nigeria is the most important, single political objective that we pursue in Nigeria today; and whoever commits himself to that objective, we will support him. I want to remind you that, in 2007, when the then General Muhammadu Buhari was running for the President on the platform of ANPP, six parties, including my party; we were then called DPA, went for similar collaboration. In fact, they turned round to make me the Chairman of the Buhari Campaign Committee in the South-West, although I was not a member of their party. And in that collaborative effort, I and some other friends of Buhari contributed money to run the campaign. We held a mammoth rally at Mokola, Ibadan. So, what I am saying is that, collaboration between two parties is normal in democracy; and the collaborating parties, it is normal for them to contribute money to ensure that their joint project is implemented. That is exactly what happened on this occasion.
Now, after we had endorsed the candidacy of President Jonathan, I think a week or two, Chief Anenih phoned me and said that he knew that SDP didn’t have fund to campaign effectively for our candidates. Therefore, they will be sending us some money to enable us campaign effectively and Jonathan was now our joint candidate. That was the note on which he sent the N100 million they are talking about.
And on receiving the N100 million, I promptly paid it into the account of the SDP at the First Bank in Abuja. And from there, I set up a committee of the party to work out the modalities for distributing the money among the various state branches of the party and campaign organisations. Taking to account the number of candidates for House of Assembly, Senate, House of Representatives, governorship, weight was attached to it and they did it rationally and fairly.
Plus our own money, which was much more than the N100 million, the money was distributed to the state organs for executing the campaign and the elections. In summary, we had no contact whatsoever with Dasuki. We took nothing, not a kobo from Dasuki. The money that came to us was from the PDP through Chief Anenih to me as the Chairman of SDP, which I then passed on to my party. My party held a press conference on Monday, January 11, 2016, where they declared that I gave them the money in full, promptly and they used it for the elections. So, those who said the money was given to Falae are lying, the money was only sent through me to my party and my party has acknowledged receipt in full. The money did not come from Dasuki but from the PDP.
By the way, I have read in the media where Chief Anenih said that the money he sent to me and some other people was his own personal money and given on behalf of his party, not from Dasuki and later he got reimbursement from Dasuki. All that has nothing to do with us: we knew nothing about it, we did not approve of anything, not our duty either, legal or moral, to find out where PDP was getting the money to pursue its campaign. So, in summary, we took no money from Dasuki, the money given was for the party and not for me, it was delivered to the party, the party has acknowledged receipt in full.
But some state chapters of the party have openly distanced themselves from receiving any money from the national secretariat of the SDP as you claimed.
A: It is only Ogun, we have active branches in about 33 states. I was surprised to read that Ogun said they were not aware. The truth is that the allocating committee in Abuja was supposed to send N8 million to Ogun but I know the amount is something from the campaign fund.
This is not the only money we were using for the campaigns, that was just a small part of what we spent on the elections. Our own contribution was much more than the N100 million, so, the committee said they were going to send N8 million to them. But Chief Osoba said the money available for the party was too small, N8 million could do nothing in the state; so he would take care of the needs of the party in Ogun; we should leave what we were going to give to the state to states that were in need. Ogun knew about it, something was allocated to them but they declined to take it because they said they could take care of their needs. So, it is not true that they were not aware.
From your explanation so far, would it be right to say this is a smear campaign?
Of course, that is the point. From what I have told you, there is nothing legally or morally wrong. It is a two-party cooperation, normal; when there is such a collaboration, the participating parties contribute money to actualize the objective.
We did it in 2007 when we adopted General Buhari: ANPP, DPA and other parties, there was nothing absolutely wrong with this. We did not go to Dasuki for money, it was PDP that sent us the money; for the PDP to decide where to get their money was not our business. The PDP sent us the money, I sent the money to the party; the party said they got it in full and it was used for the purpose it was meant, which was the elections. So anybody that is raising issues is merely trying to start a smear-campaign, but I am totally at peace with myself because my conscience is absolutely clear. Indeed, I am proud of my track record and my performance even in this state.
Have you been queried or invited by the anti-graft agency ( EFCC) on the need to refund the N100m?
Up to this moment, EFCC has not got in touch with me about this matter because they know the truth, that I did not take money from Dasuki; it was PDP that sent money to SDP through me and the money was delivered to SDP. Legitimate, normal and non-controversial. That tells you that there is a smear campaign going on. Some newspapers are saying I will have to refund the money when nobody has been in touch with me about the money. Those reports showed bias, malice and campaign of smear. I have been a public officer all my life. I became a Permanent Secretary at the age of 39. I did not abuse my office. I became the Managing Director of a bank at 42. I did not abuse my office.
The signature of an MD of a bank is money, yet I did not take one kobo illegally and, at that time, my bank was one of the fastest growing banks in the country. I did not receive one single query from the Central Bank. Then I became the Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria and substantial amount of security vote was under my control. I did not touch one kobo illegitimately. Then I became Minister of Finance of Nigeria, both naira and dollar were under my control at the Central Bank, I did not abuse the office. So people should look at my type of person and say, can this person do this? When as a young man that I needed money for many things I didn’t take anything, now that I am old, what will I be doing with it? When you grow old, the less you enjoy money. So that is the truth of the matter. I feel ashamed that some people can be repeating these lies. It is absolutely false and there is no basis for it.
You submitted that you are a target of a smear campaign. Is it not meant to cause problems among the Yoruba?
Well, anybody can have a conjecture or hypothesis to explain a phenomenon but it is a possible hypothesis. Maybe some people in Yorubaland or outside who don’t want us to be united have been worried about what has been happening . You remember when I came out of kidnapping, Yoruba leaders met in Ibadan, for the first time in many years; Yoruba leadership was united over my issue and they said if Nigeria could not protect the Yoruba race, Yoruba will protect themselves. That may have given them some impression in certain quarters that I have the potential to galvanize Yoruba and those who don’t want Yoruba unity can now see whether they can smear me, linking me with Dansuki fairly or unfairly and Yoruba people are very critical; once they hear you are linked with a dirty person, they will be the first to condemn you . This is what is going on. So it is a possible hypothesis, one has no fact, but it does make sense that anyone who doesn’t want Yoruba to come together may be doing this to discourage the Yoruba from seeing me as a possible rally ground .
What’s your assessment of the anti- corruption crusade by the Buhari administration.
It is going out of hand. They know that there is no charge they can bring against me. That’s why smear campaign is used as a substitute so that, over time, people will say I am a bad man . I read some articles in the paper that say the anti-graft war is increasingly becoming controversial. It is truly becoming controversial because it is no longer reasonable, it is beginning to look selective. How could you link me with Dasuki? The person I have not seen for more than 20 years. The man I had no dealing with whatsoever.
It is important to clean Nigeria up. When we were launching our party, SDP, in Abuja, in 2014, the title of my speech was; Nigeria must kill corruption so that corruption does not kill Nigeria. I have been an anti-corruption campaigner all my life; so I support anti-corruption campaign but it should be conducted within the confines of the law and should be fair.
How best can the administration fight corruption?
A: Let me tell you a story. In 1985 when Buhari was the Head of State, I had retired from the civil service and had joined the banking industry. This kind of thing was going on. But, you know, once a public officer is always a public officer. So, I went and met with the then Head of the Civil Service, Mr Gray Longe, and I told him to advise the government that they could not be going on sacking people, probing people. There are two models to clean up a society: The Sampling Model and Total Revolution, like the French Revolution.
The one that might be suitable for our own situation is for the government to take cases that are very unambiguous to court and make such people as examples, take the money from them and send them to jail. Then put that behind you and go ahead with the development of the society. But, if you take all the time looking for every criminal to send to jail, that will be an endless journey. At the beginning, the people will hail you because they like to see big men fall, but, as more and more people are destroyed, more and more members of the public will be affected. For some, their brothers or fathers or friends would have lost their jobs and, at the end of the day, the tide will turn and people will turn against that government. To avoid that, my recommendation is that government should make some people who are found to be corrupt scape goats.
Similarly, my advice will be that, those people who are the criminals in this system, whose crimes are unambiguous and documented, take them, apply the law, confiscate the loot they have taken, try them, let them go to prison. Do that for a couple of months and leave the rest for the police to do their jobs in a normal way. This omnibus anti-graft campaign phase would have been over, but the police would continue to monitor the system and catch thieves and criminals and the government would now focus on the development of the society .
There are many issues calling for attention right now . For example, the drop in oil revenue is worrisome because, for 40 years, when I was in the planning ministry, we recommended that we should use the oil money to diversify the economy so that we have other sources of income. For instance, they should develop solid minerals. Solid minerals have more potential for revenue than oil . If they had implemented the recommendation that time, we will not be where we are today. Secondly, we said government should generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity by 1980,
it is in the national plan; if that was done in 1980, today, we shall be talking of 100,000 megawatts; so we will not be where we are. If we had diversified the economy by developing small industries and agro-businesses, we will not be where we are today . So, these are the problems crying for attention. If the government now tries to implement these recommendations, it takes time before the projects begin to yield revenue. In the meantime, how are we going to cope because Iran has now entered the oil market? Iran is going to pump more oil and send the prices of crude oil further down. I think we have a real economic crisis for now and I believe all hands must be on deck so that the system survives .
Let’s talk about the report of the 2014 National Conference. Any hope that it will see the light of day under this present administration?
They are not interested in the report. Even when we were in the National Conference, the APC opposed it and this is one of the reasons we did not support the candidate of the APC because what is most important to Afenifere is the restructuring of Nigeria so that each area can develop at its own pace in accordance with its own priority. If we don’t do that, the crisis will continue. So restructuring, to me, is number one priority and we believe in it and those who oppose it naturally oppose what I stand for and I will not be surprised if such people work against my interest.
Is there going to be any backlash if the report is consigned to the dustbin?
Then Nigeria will be as it is till eternity; governments come and go, a day will come when one government will see the need to implement this report because, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, over 450 people, from various sections of the society, sat down for about six months and, in a very cantankerous society like Nigeria and by some divine grace, we passed over 600 resolutions by consensus.
To me, that was a miracle. I believe God has a hand in that confab and, therefore, I believe that document is going to save Nigeria if it is implemented. That is the panacea to our myriads of problems as a nation.