Chief Olu Falae, a former minister of finance, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, was the joint presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy , AD and the All Peoples Party, APP in the 1999 presidential election. He is currently the national chairman of the Social Democratic Party SDP. He spoke extensively on contemporary issues in an interview in Akure at the weekend.
By Dayo Johnson-Akure
Hate speeches are flying across the country, where did we get it wrong?
The recent noises we are hearing are symptoms that the basic problems of Nigeria are rearing again. Nigerians like to pretend that things are okay while they are not. The fundamental problem is an unjust, distorted federation, which had been manipulated to favour one section against the other. There is no way such an unjust arrangement can endure or generate peace and stability. It’s not possible. In 2014, after a lot deferring and hesitation, President Goodluck Jonathan convened the 2014 national conference. There were dire predictions that it would achieve nothing or that it would break up in confusion and that there would be riot or that there would be fighting, but none of the above happened. It was as if God himself started to have a hand in the affairs of Nigeria. I was made the leader of the Yoruba delegation, and in that capacity, I can say with all humility I was at the very core of what happened at the conference. Maybe that was the first time Nigerians recognized that changing the Constitution was the most effective strategy in returning peace and stability in Nigeria. All the delegates at the conference cooperated in getting all the resolutions passed without a single division.
At the beginning, there were arguments as to how majority decisions would be taken at the conference the guidelines given to us said it should be by 75%.
There were noises made, lobbying, debates but finally on the floor everything and I mean everything without exception was decided by consensus without a vote or any division. I am stressing this because in our history we had never, never succeeded in coming to so many conclusions that constitute a package on the basis of consensus. What that means to me is that Nigeria recognised that if we wanted to live together as a country, there must be give and take and that nobody can say that l must take everything and the other takes nothing. That was how we agreed and over 600 resolutions were taken.
Not only did we pass those resolutions, all of us signed the report, and nobody was forced to sign, so no part of Nigeria has any moral right to start quivering. At the conference everybody was there both young and old, retired, serving, farmer, women, children every component of Nigeria was there. It was the most glorious meeting and decision Nigeria has ever had by my account.
Let’s thank God that we managed to stay at the conference to tolerate one another for four months and to succeed in putting that package together.
I said it at the time that whether anybody likes it or not that, that report will prove to be the future of Nigeria. That when Nigeria gets to breaking point, somebody will remember that there is a consensus document signed by all of us that can save this country. You don’t have to go and start re-debating issues that took us several weeks to debate. With all humility, I don’t think we can have a group that is better educated, more intelligent, more experienced, more committed, more patriotic than the group we had at the conference. In my view, the answer to all that is going on now is the immediate implementation of the report of the national conference. It’s a major report in our history. The main thrust is that we have gone astray, we have wondered away from the straight path we have abandoned the political covenant which we negotiated and obtained from the British before independence. Our leaders went to London not once not twice to hammer out a constitution which they all felt comfortable with and that constitution gave the regions considerable autonomy so that you can be yourself in Yoruba land or Igbo land without inconveniencing anyone in the north or anywhere while remaining a Nigerian.
ln that constitution the regional government has an Ambassador in London in addition to the Nigerian Ambassador that was how loose the thing was. How free we were. But when Abacha came, they threw all these away, and the military invented their own contraption which threw away all the balances in the original constitution. We have what’s going on now because Abacha and co gave us a constitution that was patently biased. They created local governments in a most unfair way. Every fair-minded person knows that Lagos population is bigger than any other state in Nigeria but today Lagos has only 20 local governments but Kano has 44. They created Jigawa out of Kano, and it has 27 making 67, yet Lagos still has 20, and when they are sharing revenue they first share it equally, Lagos gets 20 while old Kano gets 67. Is that fair?
There can be no happiness, stability if somebody used his position to put in place a constitution that would be permanently unfair to the rest of Nigerians. You cannot agree to be a slave in your country. The other day they were appointing people into a federal agency, they took 40- something from the whole of the Southwest and 50- something from Katsina alone. Is that a country or is that the way my country should treat me? So this cannot stand.
But the answer is not for Arewa to expel the Igbo or the Igbo to say they are walking away. The answer is let’s implement this rescue document that is the answer.
The answer is let’s implement this rescue document. That’s the answer. Take the Fulani herdsmen problem; it’s addressed in the report. All the major problems of Nigeria. If we agree to implement that report 80-90percent of our problems would be resolved, but to ignore the report or anybody who thinks that Nigeria can stay the way it is, is either a fool or an enemy of Nigeria.
It’s a balanced report. A good report, every part of the country should be happy about the report all lopsidedness across were taken care of in the report. The package is fair to everybody. We must go back to that covenant we negotiated with and obtained from the British at independence.
Why do you think it is difficult for the present administration to implement it?
It’s the government that can answer that. But let’s be charitable to say that the ruling government is conservative, and a conservative government doesn’t want change.
You can say that this government is conservative; they don’t want change because if there are changes, they are not too sure what will happen to their interests.
What happened on May 29? Some dictators gave us May 29?. I don’t know what happened on May 29. What’s the historical significance of May 29? I know what happened on June 12. That was the day Abiola won his election. June 12 is a legitimate day for democracy. I don’t know about May 29. June 12 is the authentic and legitimate Democracy Day.
Abiola should be recognized as a hero of democracy, he did the democratic forces proud by standing firm, and that’s why he should be regarded and treated as a hero of democracy. To immortalize or give him any posthumous gesture or whatever may be an empty gesture ?that would not achieve anything.
The Yoruba were hard on the political leadership in the country, which unofficially conceded the Presidency to the Southwest but that the wrong person became president is not their fault. Most Nigerians voted for the candidate (but) 80 percent of the Yoruba voted for me I defeated Obasanjo in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
Abiola should be treated and recognised as a hero of democracy. June 12 should be declared as public holiday nationwide. That is what I support.
We learnt talks are on with some leaders of a faction of the PDP to merger with SDP in the event of an unfavourable Supreme Court verdict on its leadership tussle.
I cannot confirm it but we are always talking among ourselves. ?We have friends across the places they are welcome to the SDP. It’s the original party for all of us. At least there will be discipline. The problem in Nigeria is that there is no discipline. Everybody is a big man. I can’t be disciplined because I am the governor, so he puts the party in his pocket and substitutes his own personal interest for service to the state. If there is discipline there will be integrity and fairness. I think it will be good for the nation if they want to come we will welcome them but we won’t condone indiscipline.
What is your assessment of the Buhari administration?
Let’s see what happens in the next two years, but nothing has changed, it hasn’t been a good start. The budget was approved six months into the year.
The president has been sick most of the time so there has been no focus no thrust; it’s not clear what they are trying to do apart from talking about anti-corruption and Boko Haram. From where I stay here in Ondo State I don’t see what they’re doing.
Where do you stand on the dispute between the executive and the legislative arms of government over the alleged tinkering of the budget?
There are accepted practices in presidential politics. Like we have in USA, the senators and the representatives lobbied seriously for their people, but what they do is negotiations, if they just sit down and start adding things the President will just veto, so they negotiate and lobby on behalf of their constituency. That we want this project to be added or substituted while the executive will let them know the total money available and if you’re adding these ones there is no money to implement them or cancel some things. That is the kind of dialogue or negotiations that should take place, it is crude to say because we are the legislators we decided to put something else, if they put it the President will not sign it, so they must negotiate.
When I was in government, we decided that the budget must be sent to National Assembly by the end of August and they are given three months to work around it and negotiate and by end of November, the budget should be in final form to be signed by the President and to be launched on first day of the New Year and its implementation to start on 1st of January. When I was Secretary to the Federal Government, I remember that every year the government announced new custom duties, because a lot of goods might have arrived at the sea ports when the new duties have not been gazetted, though already announced in the budget but not gazetted. The gazette must be in the hands of custom officers in the Long Room in Apapa before they could start implementing the new tariff.
Do you support partial or total deregulation of the oil sector.
My position has always been this, that government should not be an oil dealer. Oil is not more important than food and the government does not sell food, they are not regulating the price of food, why then regulate price of oil? That’s the question I have been asking ever since I was in service.
What do you think is the way out of the troubles affecting the economy?
The inflation is for the most part imported inflation. It is not arising because we have employed everybody and they earn so much money like we had in the time of Udoji when people get areas and were buying things. That’s not what we are having, that type of inflation is called demand pull inflation, where everybody has money and goes to market demanding for fewer goods, but that’s not what we are having. It is cost push because it is cost of producing things that’s high. Not the cost, but the foreign exchange cost. The price and cost of production has gone up because we have been importing things and the dollar has gone up , so we are importing that inflation.
If you ask me one thing I would do to get the economy of Nigeria moving, it is to solve power problem. Power is common to anything and everything, in the house, office, factory, everybody needs power. In fact in economics literature, we take the amount of power consumed per head as a very reliable index of development. Any society that consumes a lot of power per head is a developed economy if you look at other parameters. As long as we cannot solve the power problem, we will wrestle and wrestle with problems.
The federal government and states government cannot pay workers salaries, yet the NLC wants increment.
Confusion. And yet the National Assembly want to increase the size of the budget. We will be forced to go back to the report of the 2014 National Conference; it’s going to be most earth shaking thing that happened to the country since independence. It is going to usher in a new era politically and economically.
To bell the cat is to implement the report where every state will pay what it can afford. That’s the way it was. When Awolowo paid minimum wage of five shillings in the Western Region, in the East they were paying three shillings and Six pence while they are paying three shillings in the North. But it is now that we are saying everybody must do the same thing, that is not federation.
The Present government has a penchant for refusing court orders.
If you are involved in a case and the government disobeyed the court, you go court and ask for what they call a writ of mandamus and a courageous Judge would give you the writ that will compel the public officer to carry out the court order. And the officer can be confined to prison. Our problem in this country is that nobody is ready to fight for his right.
The menace of Kidnapping by herdsmen is proving to be a hard nut to crack in the country.
Well yesterday, 15th of June, 2017, I invited the police to my farm because the herdsmen have been coming to the farm everyday for several weeks and they are longer hiding.
They come to the farm around 5 am till 9 am, destroyed the farm, so I went to the police for protection, and some policemen were sent to the farm yesterday (Thursday). They got to the farm and met three separate herds feeding fat on my farm when the police approached them, they fired at the police, so what do we do? As a law abiding citizen, I felt threatened and reported to the police and police went there, they fired at the policemen. The police were not carrying arms, but they went there to see if they can effect arrest for trespassing and destroying farm produce.
So because of the fear that Fulani cattle will eat up most farms, many people are not farming this year. Will you borrow money to plant maize and cassava for cattle to eat it up? Let me say here that the Ondo State commissioner of police has been wonderful and supportive. So if the herdsmen fired the police what would they do to me? We leave all these serious problems hanging and pretend as if nothing is wrong, but we have federal government that is deaf and dump, though we know the President is sick but the entire government is not sick, the security people are not sick, are they? Those who kidnapped me were herdsmen, young Fulani boys in their twenties. When government seems not to be declaring war on that sort of crime, the crime will continue and I pray that the government rise to this but I fear that at some point if people feel abandoned, they may be tempted to defend themselves and self-defence is another name for chaos, and I hope that does not happen.