Twice Chief Samuel Olu Falae sought to rule Nigeria and twice he failed. He has since retired from seeking public office preferring to preside over the affairs of his native Ilu Abo, near Akure.
Not only is he a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, he had also served as Secretary to the Federal Government and Minister of Finance.
But he says he will remain a major player in building an enduring progressive platform for true economic growth and political developmentin Nigeria. He spoke to Bashir Adefaka in Akure.
You are a national figure yet, you are the traditional ruler of Ilu Abo. What is the difference between Akure, where you were born, and Ilu Abo where you are village head?
Ilu Abo used to be called Ago Abo. It was founded by my father and others around 1923. The Akure citizens who left here to farm when cocoa was introduced, they went to virgin forest and started growing cocoa in that place. Since it was a long distance from town, they founded farmstead so that they could be going in the morning and coming back in the evening and they would stay up till Saturday and then they returned home. That’s what it was and that’s what it still is now.
So, Ilu Abo is 100 per cent Akure. They are Akure people who are farming in that place. The place has become a home and it has grown and has extended and you know Yoruba culture: wherever there is a community there will be head. So my father was made the Baale by the then Deji of Akure and when he died, I became the Olu in 1985.
We are Akure people 100 per cent. In fact, I’m the vice chairman of the Osupa Ruling House of the Deji stool of Akure and that tells you beyond what you are talking about.
You are so tall in achievement that I probably would find it difficult to know where to pick from. What magic made you this great?
There is no magic at all. There was one thing and there is still one thing: the grace of God. God has been extremely kind to me and I have been extremely kind to me and I have been extremely fortunate in terms of my parenthood and in terms of the opportunities I’ve had in life.
Whatever you have, you have been given. Whatever the gift is, it is something, which has been given to you. If you are the fastest runner in the universe, it is because you have two legs that are healthy, that are strong enough and long enough to carry you very quickly. If you are born a cripple, you won’t be a fast runner. So there is nothing that you have, be it physical or mental, that is not a gift from God.
So I think God has been very kind to me in all that He has accomplished in me. Positions I have held have come through the grace of God. And it was His grace that sustained me in those positions that I did not stumble. So, there is no magic at all.
What is the strength of your character?
Well, it’s for other people, who relate to me who can say what the strength of my character is. But if you ask me what I think about myself, what kind of person I think I am, I think I was brought up to be a straight forward person; to see the truth; to tell the truth and not to compromise the truth.
And how did that apply in your behaviour as a little boy?
When I was a little boy, if I did anything wrong, my father would ask me whether I recognised that what I did was wrong or not. If I admitted, he would not punish me. That really encouraged me to have moral courage, to own up to whatever I might have done.
What is your feeling about such a father that so brought you up?
I was fortunate to have such a father who brought me up that way. Whatever I know to be the truth I stand up for it.
Sometime it is costly to stand up for the truth especially at the level you operate. Or what do you think?
It is not a one way straight. At times it brings you recognition, at times it brings you adversity. You would recall that because I joined others to stand up for the June 12 election under the auspices of NADECO, I was detained for one and a half years. I was sleeping on the floor in an ordinary cell for one and a half years for committing no crime at all. And I was taken to court and charged with treason in a Magistrate Court.
Treason is the most heinous offence on the statute book punishable by death without an option of fine or imprisonment. I was charged with that for no reason at all except that, with others, I stood up for what was right and what was true.
So sticking to the truth can bring you adversity and can also bring you recognition and praise. Like everything in life you must be ready to accept the consequences of your actions, of your decisions. So once I know that something is the truth, I stand up for it and it will be extremely difficult for you to persuade me to abandon that position and then for you to put to me that the position is no longer valid and that it’s no longer a true position.
I think because of my background, I often take the path of the underdog.
I don’t like to see people being oppressed or being cheated. I don’t like to see strong bullying the weak. By nature, by instinct, I always take the side of the underdog. It is my inbuilt character. I don’t know why it is so. In fact, that was what led me into politics. I thought the poor people of Nigeria were being shortchanged.
When I was in the civil service, each time I came to Akure for the weekend, this compound would be full of people, who needed one thing or the other. Not just money; at times, advice and I would attend to people from morning till evening. At times I would carry some of them in my car on my way back to Lagos and whenever we finished our discussion, they would come out of my car, enter their own car and return to Akure.
It was as hectic as that and that was why I thought if I became a politician and I had access to power that it could be used to touch many more lives than I was able to touch. Believe me, that was the main reason I went into politics and you can begin to understand why I will never, never leave the progressive camp.
What is your view of true progressive politics?
The concern of the progressives is the welfare of an individual from cradle to the grave. They care very much about the unborn child, internal care, the antenatal care then they give every child a good starting by making health free so that the poverty of the parents would not prevent them from taking good care of their children
Then the economic status of the parents should not prevent an intelligent child from achieving something in education and so you ought to make education free. That’s how things develop and when they come out of school they should be employed to make contribution to the society and to take care of themselves; not to become beggars or burden to other people. So you ensure that employment is provided and then that incomes are fairly distributed. Again, that’s the instinct of taking the path of the underdog.
And then you have to ensure that there are facilities like housing, that the roads are good, that there is protection for the weak; that armed robbers don’t dominate and terrorise people. Then when people are of old age, old age care should be prepared to ensure that they take the right medicines and are exposed to the right care from the beginning of that stage to the very end.
The progressives care very much for the welfare of the individual and that’s what distinguishes the progressive from the other people, who call themselves progressives. That is what is called progressive politics. It must centre around the promotion of an individual from the beginning to the very end. Justice and fairness should surface. Justice not only among individuals but even among age groups that the old people are not just abandoned because they are no longer useful, that the children are not marginalised because they are not yet adult and you ought to ensure that the adult don’t carry too much burden caring for the old and the young.
So there must be intergroup justice, there must be interpersonal justice; these are the occupations of the progressives. This is what has made me a progressive politician. That’s what I am and that’s what I will forever do.
Let’s look at your marital background. How did you meet Mama, I mean your wife, and what was the attraction?
Well, she is my wife: Rachael Olatubosun Fashoranti, which she was. And that name rings a bell. Fashoranti is the current leader of Afenifere. My wife is his youngest sister; same father, same mother. So she came from political family.
We met in primary school, St. Stephen’s Anglican Primary School, Ijomu in Akure here. Of course, we were not in the same class but she was classmate to a cousin of mine who used to sit next to her in class and they quarreled all the time. So she would get home and tell me about one girl who was always coming first in her class and so they were always quarreling.
And also my first introduction to her was way back around 1946. Of course later in life we met in Ibadan when I was an undergraduate, and she was in Ibadan Grammar School. So we had known each other since childhood and it was natural for us to relate with each other and we developed to something serious and eventually we got married in 1967.
So, she is from Akure here like myself. To ensure that we have a stable home, there was an agreement and she decided to be a teacher after she graduated while I went to the civil service. And we were in Lagos together for almost 50 years and we retired and came back home some ten years ago. That again is my wife.
I am extremely lucky what I have a wife that I can rely upon absolutely without any second thought about and there are many husbands who cannot say that about their wives. And if there is any single person I can trust completely, it’s my wife. So, I’m extremely lucky because if you are busy with the struggle of life, with political struggle and you are looking over your shoulders at your home whether things are going on right there or not, you would have problems. But in my own instance, because of the nature of the wife that I have, her devotion, her commitment, reliability, I was able to concentrate on my career without bothering about what was happening at home. So it was a major plus for me and I’m grateful to God and to her.
How much of your own good character have you impacted in your children?
(Laughs) Every individual is unique. You do your best to inculcate into your offsprings the ideals and principles you believe in. You bring them up like that and you nurture them on those principles. Your prayer is that they will truly imbibe them and will remain truthful to those principles that they will not abandon them either because of peer pressure outside the home or challenges because. Because when you face challenges, a way to deal with them may be to abandon your positions so that you can move on.
Some of us know that you can either go through ordeal if that is what it takes. But you can never be sure that all your children will be of that mind. Don’t forget that their own generation is different from ours: what drives us is not what drives them and therefore you must make allowance for individuality.
But by and large, I thank God for my children because by the time they were in school, not only were they doing well academically, more importantly to me, they were always coming home with good comments on their characters. Many of them held leadership positions n school as head prefects. I mean that’s more important to me than saying this boy came first but his character is not up to scratch. As I said they did well on those courses and I’m extremely very grateful to God for that. Thank you.