By Bashir Adefaka
CHIEF Olu Falae, an economist worked closely as Permanent Secretary, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Finance Minister during the military regimes of Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd).
The Akure-born leader of the newly formed Social Democratic Mega Party, SDMP and 1999 Alliance for Democracy and All Peoples Party, AD/APP joint presidential candidate spoke to Vanguard on his regret for not being allowed to assume office as President of Nigeria after the election he claims to have won. He also bared his mind on other burning national issues. Excerpts:
You were the major beneficiary of the AD/APP presidential alliance for the 1999 elections. What are your regrets and consolations over the event that trailed your chances at that time?
First of all, the alliance was hurriedly put together. You would recall that the entire electoral process was rushed. The transitional programme of General Abdulsalaam Abubakar (rtd) was seven months or eight months.
Party formation here and there; the whole thing was rushed and we didn’t have enough time to really have proper discussion and understanding on which alliance was best.
There were elements in both AD and APP that didn’t want the alliance for different reasons. There were those who wanted to be president in APP, who thought the alliance prevented them from achieving their objectives.
There were elements in AD who supported the alliance at the beginning hoping they would benefit and when that didn’t work out, they subsequently worked against the survival of the alliance.
So there were enemies to the alliance on both parties. I regret that mostly because, if that alliance had survived, today we would have had a two-party system in Nigeria. But because it did not survive, that encouraged the PDP government to start the politics of vulcanization. They descended on the APP; they brought a non-party man to become its national chairman and started the crisis in the party. Thereafter, they jumped into the AD and split it into two. They started registering so many political parties to create so much confusion and anarchy.
So that’s my regret; that we might have been able to avoid the nonsense, which we now have with 63 parties. It is really antithetical to democracy because democracy is about real choice; choice can be so many that it is no longer choice.
You see, you have so many things to choose from; but you don’t know what to choose. In fact, it becomes a one-party situation; one major party and 62 smaller ones. So you see, choice is pursued to the point where it becomes no longer choice at all. That’s where we are now. That’s one major regret.
Look, I regret also that I was not allowed to assume office as President. I regret that very much because, I don’t think anybody who has not prepared for the Presidency is targeted to succeed in the office no matter how good the person may be.
How do you mean?
Because the problems of Nigeria are so many, so complex, almost intractable. You must have prepared yourself thoroughly in terms of analyzing the problems of the nation, examining policy options, programme solutions to problems, finding out the views of other people and how the things have been done in other countries of the world over the years.
And if you just jump into the job, you are sworn-in and then you start mapping out committees to think for you, you have failed! You have only four years, you spend the first one and a half years setting up committees, thinking and planning; you have no time to think!
Look, don’t forget that I was the Secretary to the Government for four years and I know the job. I was not President but I was close enough to the President to know. I was close enough to Obasanjo as military Head of State; I was a Permanent Secretary for four years. I was with Babangida for four years as Secretary to the Government. I know that day-by-day is a crisis. There is no time to stop and think.
If you come into the job without an idea of your blueprint and what you are going to do, you have failed!
Because you walk from one bush fire to another; today is a riot somewhere in the South-East, tomorrow there is an outbreak of cholera somewhere or there is yellow fever in some other place to rush application to WHO (World Health Organisation) to bring in vaccines and as you are finishing, Ghana comes in to say there is flood and wants help from Nigeria.
So, in that kind of situation, there is no time to sit down and start thinking what do I do about roads and education, what should be our foreign policy. There is no time for that once you are in office. That’s why there must be thorough preparation before you become President.
Could you let us into the detail of the preparations you made before contesting for President?
I had spent years preparing to be President. I had prepared the document which I titled ‘New directions for the Third Republic’, 321 pages long, containing summary of what I intended to do in every sector of the economy.
I’m not saying it was a perfect programme but I’m saying I had the proposition on every sector. I knew where to start from, it’s just that I would improve on matters as I go on than to go in there without any idea at all.
It doesn’t matter who it is! You are either ready for the job or you are not. It’s not a joke at all.
You can’t put anybody you like in that job. If he’s not thoroughly prepared, he will achieve much less than people expect him to achieve no matter how much money he has.
You have been quiet in the progressive camp. Why?
Well I have spent almost two years now along with others trying to bring the progressives together under the Mega Summit Movement. I was chairman of the steering committee.
At some stage, General Buhari, Alhaji Atiku, Bafarawa, Enahoro, Utomi and others; we were all in the Mega Movement and on two occasions, General Buhari and I, went to the National Assembly to represent the Mega Movement, to make presentations on electoral reforms and constitutional amendment. But half way through the discussions, because of individual ambitions, people withdrew and went their different ways. Atiku went back to PDP, Buhari, of course, has formed his own CPC and Bafarawa went to ACN.
What then happened to the rest of you?
The rest of us remained in the Mega Movement. We have formed the Social Democratic Mega Party, SDMP and Pat Utomi is the interim Chairman, I’m the leader of that party and 15 political parties came together to form it. 15 out of 63 is a small number but this is the first time that registered political parties will on their own, deliberately and consciously, come together to form another party to which they are going to submit.
Because they know that as individual parties they cannot achieve anything; in unity there is strength. So we are hoping that they will regard the SDMP as the nucleus of the progressives and will come round and use it as a nucleus around which the progressives can organise and take power.
Also the Social Democratic Mega Party is the only political party in Nigeria which has a constitution that provides for other parties coming in being represented in the highest organ of the party, which is the Board of Trustees.
The party has a constitution, which says, “any party or political group that cooperates in forming this party is entitled to nomination of one into the Board of Trustees”. In other word we are not asking you to join us and disappear. No. You join us and then you will be represented in the highest organ of the party.
That is a fair way of doing it. Others will say come and join our party and that is the end of their invitation. Most people don’t want to disappear. They don’t want to lose their identity, they want to be joint owners, which is what the mega party is. Any group that joins us is a shareholder.
And such a group or person has a stake in it?
Exactly! You have a stake in it. But to say I should join your party and disappear and become your subordinate, that’s not how it’s going to work.
So, this is why I feel that it’s high time other progressives see the need to rally round the SDMP, which was set up for all the progressives. It’s not a selfish or sectional or tribal or religious party. It is a party for all progressives.
I want to say that it has a relationship with the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria. We had meetings with them. The Labour movement is a Social Democratic Movement, we are Social Democratic Mega Party. It’s the SDP of old; it’s just that we put ‘Mega’. First, INEC will not register us, they would say it’s a banned party.
Two, we want people to know that this party is different from all the other 62 political parties. It is a party of parties. Not just one party; it’s a party owned by other parties. It is a party that has provision for accommodating all the other parties on a fair and equitable basis. So that’s what the name ‘mega’ means in that light.
But there are some other progressives, who are already doing their own thing through other parties. How do you intend to reach out to them?
We hope that as we move forward, more and more parties and groups would see the need to rally around this party.
Fortunately those of us who are in the party are not self-centred people. For example, people now know that I have no intention of contesting any election. So you cannot say I’m organising it so I can have a platform. You cannot say we are doing it because Olu Falae wants to be a minister to anybody in Nigeria. That’s impossible. Or he wants to be an Ambassador. They know that’s not the case.
We are doing it because we love this country; because we think Nigeria deserves to be better. And so if you don’t organise and get the right people to take power, using the right policies, we will continue to lie prostrate. We will continue to lag behind countries that should be learning from us.
Do you think the present PDP-led government is sincere and prepared for the 2011 general elections?
The PDP has been an unmitigated disaster. It had wonderful opportunities, huge and enormous revenue since 1999 that should have enabled them to transform Nigeria. Instead, what do you have? Profligacy, waste, monumental corruption.
They themselves are even prosecuting one another and the thing is so rampant that they have to start arresting their own chairmen and putting them in prison. It’s as bad as that.
Of course they are not ready. They are not because if there is a free and fair election, they cannot win! Most members of the National Assembly didn’t win any election; they can’t win now! So what are they doing?
They are messing around with the electoral act amendment, the constitutional amendment, putting the whole thing in jeopardy, the constitutional platform for the electoral law is now in doubt. Administratively, the purchase of machines for registering voters is hanging far.
I read in the papers that one company had taken the company to supply the machines to court. You are fighting over patent, when will that case end? We don’t know. So, administratively we are not ready. Legally and constitutionally the foundation is in doubt. Politically the PDP is not ready.
You can see what is going on, the consensus candidate has emerged in some section of the country that will now face the other aspirants from other parts of the country. Only God knows what is going to happen but I doubt that this PDP government can conduct free and fair election next year.
What I suspect will happen is that, in desperation, when they can no longer register new voters, they will say okay, let’s use the old voters list.
And what does that mean to the electoral process?
If they do that, there are millions of people who became 18 after 2007, who will be disenfranchised and they will apparently rise to go to court to stop the election or challenge its validity. So wherever you turn, there is a crisis, there is a mess because they should have been preparing since three years ago. But no, they were busy fighting, stealing money.
So, in all, the PDP is not ready.
In a situation where the election is frustrated, it means the present administration will stay beyond May 29, 2011. What is your take on that?
I once advocated what I called the ‘Bangladesh Solution’ because it is clear to me that we are not likely to conduct free and fair election in 2011 and if that happens to be the case, we must not allow the PDP to have tenure elongation beyond May 29, 2011.
Then what happens if there is no election, we would not allow PDP to enjoy the fruit of their fraudulent manipulations. We do not want non-democratic forces to take over. So what do we do?
The only answer is for the National Assembly to amend the 1999 Constitution when they can still meet in peace because, very soon, when candidates emerge, it will be almost impossible for them (National Assembly) to meet. They should borrow a leaf from Bangladesh, which has a section in its Constitution that says, “At the end of the tenure of the government, the government will resign and go”.
There is also a provision for electing eminent citizens, who are not career politicians to constitute an Interim Government that will administer the country for a short period of time. That will be the government of the country that will now conduct elections and then handover to the new government, after which they leave.
Nobody is allowed to sit down in the Presidential palace and conduct elections for their own second term. To conduct an election in which they, themselves, are candidates? It has never worked in Bangladesh.
All the time they tried it, it ended in chaos, in confusion, in bloodshed, almost civil war. So, they learned from their own mistakes and inserted that provision.
I’m saying Nigeria should consider introducing such provision now as a safety valve so that next year we don’t go into crisis.