• ‘APC, PDP are opportunistic gangs, not political parties’
•Tells Ango Abdullahi: Abuse your northern governors whose inaction breeds killer herdsmen, not Benue farmers and southerners
By Dayo Johnson, Regional Editor, South-West
Chief Olu Falae, a former presidential candidate of the defunct Alliance Democracy/All Nigerian Peoples Party and current National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), in this interview, says the ‘third force’ has come to upstage the two major parties in the country, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He also speaks on the alleged lopsidedness in appointments under the Buhari administration, the performance of the APC-led government, herdsmen/farmers clashes and the 2019 general elections amongst other issues.
What’s all the talk about the SDP being a third force? ls it true that more bigwigs from the PDP and APC are planning to join the SDP?
What started happening last week is a fulfilment of a dream and of a promise which l think the Lord himself made when SDP was re-registered in 2013. When you look at the first poster we sent out, we said ‘The SDP is back’, the third force has arrived. By the grace of God, it is beginning and in a process of emerging as a third force. What is happening is normal in politics, especially in Nigeria where the political domain is always in a state of flux. In Nigeria, politicians are always moving from one political party to other. If you look at the current situation, many leaders, who were in the PDP when Dr Goodluck Jonathan was in power, are today in APC criticizing Jonathan and the former PDP government. However, what is happening, I believe, is a logical outcome of people running platforms and not parties. When I presented my book, ‘The Way Forward for Nigeria’, in 2005 in Lagos, I did say that what we had were no parties, that they were just opportunistic gangs struggling for power. What do I mean? People who have money get together and ask, ‘what can we do to get power in this state?’ ‘What do we do to capture the treasury in the state?’ They make a budget and there is so much poverty around. So they throw money around and people rush to them. They try to outspend one another and on election day, people give them votes and put them in government. Then crisis comes. Because you are not a party, you have no blueprint which you are going to implement to elevate the people from poverty, they start creating what I call adult toys to play around with but end up increasing the pains of the suffering masses. Some of them set up road map for two years out of four-year tenure and, at the end of the day, there is nothing profound or of value for the country. Some just use projects as a smokescreen for stealing public funds and so there is general disenchantment with politicians and politics particularly with the two major parties that have been ruling us and unfortunately ruining us as well. And that is why the APC, which is ruling party at the federal level, has been unable to do something about killer herdsmen and there is complete devastation of the country. Now I think it is beginning to dawn on them that there is a third force, there is an alternative to these so-called two political parties where the only programme is how to spend money but I think money is beginning to fail. A young man seeking the ticket of one of the parties for governor told me how he paid N500million to his party Chairman and he still did not get the ticket. How can anybody take that huge amount from someone and then manipulate him out of the contest? This is why more people will come to the SDP. I suspect people want something better, they want a leadership they can trust, a leadership that has idea of how to govern the country and move it forward, a leadership that has integrity, honesty and fairness.
Some analysts say that with the influx of politicians you say are discredited into your party, the SDP may soon also be polluted. What is your perspective?
No. We shall adopt the onion principle. You know the onion has many layers but there is the core layer inside. Once the leadership of the SDP is that core, we can accept layers upon layers of people coming to join us. Fortunately, we are not new in Nigeria; we know most of the politicians in Nigeria and they also know us. Some of them we went to school together, some of them we served in the civil service together; when I was in the banking industry, some of them were there and I have been in politics now since 1990, we have been playing politics together and we know each other very well. So, once we have the knowledge, the rest is easy.
It is speculated that former VP Atiku and some former governors may be heading to your party. What is the situation?
I expect every Nigerian politician to join the SDP. Even President Buhari himself, we welcome him. But we will do things according to the philosophy and principles and discipline of the SDP. What has been missing is discipline. You have many overbearing politicians, no party Chairman can discipline them because they are the ones who handpicked the Chairman and pay him. So who is the bloody Chairman to tell them what they don’t want to hear? But in the SDP, by the grace of God, we have a leadership that controls the party; a leadership that upholds the principles of the party regardless of who is involved. I think when everybody knows that, we begin to have a cleaner political environment.
Can you then tell us those who have signified their intention to join the party?
I can’t give you a list because you know how politics is played in Nigeria. The people l saw in Abuja on February 12 when we had our first meeting and last Thursday (March 1) were all jubilating, but don’t be surprised if some of them say they have not left their parties. If they still have some meetings with their parties, they won’t want the world to know that they have left. I don’t want to spark any controversy but the newspapers are publishing some names. Meanwhile, I signed the MoU on behalf of the SDP and Prof. Jerry Gana signed on behalf of the group he belongs to. It is not just PDP, there were people from other parties and, I can tell you, in another fortnight, I will be going to some northern states to receive a large crowd of people defecting from the so-called big parties to the SDP including former governors, former senators. When you say something is bad, it is bad. They are all sure that in the SDP they will be well treated.
The National Assembly reordered the 2019 general elections’ timetable set by INEC, a move just vetoed by President Buhari. What is your take?
We should do what is right, what is fair and what will deepen democracy in Nigeria. What will deepen democracy is that sequence of elections that will encourage parties to contest and win elections. If you start with presidential election, you know Nigeria mentality: Once someone wins the presidency, the bandwagon effect will follow; so small and new parties seeking to win the National and state House of Assembly elections will not have any chance. By so doing, you are creating a one-party state; if that is what you want, you can go ahead and do it. But if that is not what you want, let’s do what is sensible, reasonable and what we have done before, which is to start with the House of Assembly election. It is the most widespread, where everybody can play, run and fight; maybe 10 or 12 parties, we will have some victories here and there. If they say any party that does not win anything in the elections, in a democracy, is free to remain a party, but you are not going to contest elections because you are merely causing administrative confusion. You will be justified to say so because they have been given fair chance to try and win something. But when you start with the President, how many parties can contest the elections? And, by definition, you have ruled out 95% of the parties and that is undemocratic. That is why it should be House of Assembly election first, after that the House of Representatives, after that Senate, then governorship and lastly presidential. I think we have done that before and what INEC has done is an attempt to manipulate the elections and fraudulently upstage smaller parties.
In order words, you are in support of the reordering of the elections by the National Assembly?
Absolutely. I was in an INEC meeting in Abuja to which party Chairmen were invited to meet National Electoral Commissioners and I told them that ‘you want to be fair and deepen our democracy? Assert your independence of government and if you want to prove that you are not being manipulated, then do the following: House of Assembly first, followed by House of Representatives, then Senate, then governorship and then presidential. That is the fairest and most sensible thing to do.
In your own assessment of the performance of President Buhari, do you think he deserves second term?
It is the absolute prerogative of President Buhari and his party to decide whether he should go for second term or not. Constitutionally, he is entitled to second term. It is his right and, if he chooses to go, it does not bother me. If he goes, it means we will meet him on the field on election day and we will defeat him. If he does not go, he will spare me that pain of having to defeat my good friend in the election. If his party brings somebody else, by the grace of God, we will defeat that person.
Let’s look at this from the perspective of his performance in office. Are you satisfied?
l think all of us agree that his performance has fallen below expectation because I know him as a military man. He was Commissioner for Petroleum under General Obasanjo regime and I was a Permanent Secretary in that government working in the Economic Department. So, based on my observation at the time, l have good reason to be disappointed now because his performance is low. Maybe his illness is part of the explanation, maybe being a military man not used to political manoeuvre and manipulations is the reason. Every chief executive, whether in government or in business, your first responsibility is to learn to manage your board. In government, the people that voted for you, the National Assembly are your board. If you are not able to manage your board successfully, you can’t succeed. Buhari has not been able to manage his board properly and that is why his performance has not been as good as we had expected.
Transparency International was quoted as saying that the Corruption Perception Index under Buhari government is low. What do you think?
Once your management is ineffective, corruption will thrive. He has not been able to manage the government and everything suffers. The federal bureaucracy is enormous. I believe the total number of the staff cannot be less than five million, soldiers, civil defense, police, immigration, regular civil servants, to manage that enormous workforce, the administrator has to work hard to know what is going on. When I became the Secretary to the Federal Government, I was horrified to see hundreds of files for me to attend to. But my experience in the bank for five years helped me. I had seven Permanent Secretaries working with me. I told them it will not be administration as usual ‘and any matter that comes to your table and you are capable of treating without embarrassing government you go ahead, and those you think you can’t attend to because you have no authority to deal with, bring it and you and I will read and we take a decision and you will take your file and go’. No file will sleep in my office and that was how we were able to do it for four years. So my table was clean and my head was clear and was free to think and it helped the President to tackle the difficult problems of the nation. Management is a difficult matter, and you need highly skilled people to manage a vast and complex system like Nigeria. I think it is beyond those who have tried to rule us in recent time.
Some students were kidnapped in Yobe State by Boko Haram and government keeps boasting that the terror group has been technically defeated. What is your perspective?
In a country where that had happened before, one will expect that we would have learned some lessons from Chibok. Apparently, we have not. In the areas where Book Haram is terrorising the people, a boarding school for girls is a soft target and can be attacked any day. So to discourage attacks, you need to put in place adequate security. Clearly, Boko Haram has not been defeated, but the frequency of attacks has reduced and that is some achievement. Globally, terrorist organizations don’t die easily and if they cannot longer fight battles, they break into smaller groups like guerrillas and continue fighting. All these boys fighting in the bush are deprived children who are hungry and uneducated, they do not see any hope for themselves and somebody comes around to preach a place in heaven to them and puts food in their stomachs and tells them ‘follow me to kill these oppressors’ and they will follow you. We should allow military campaign to go hand in hand with economic rehabilitation so that there will be no incentives for these boys to remain in terrorism or those that are not there to be recruited into terrorism.
Are you bothered by the alleged lopsidedness in the appointments made under the Buhari government?
It did not start with the present government. Three years ago, we held a meeting of the Yoruba Unity Forum led by Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi in Ibadan. We had done some research into the pattern of employment into the federal civil service. We pointed out that many departments were dominated by people who were not from the South-West and there were departments which had not been headed by any Yoruba person and we concluded that this could have been a deliberate thing. It is not a new thing and the new government just continued the practice. The idea of federal character is a serious matter. It means if you want to share 360 things and you have 36 states, that is approximately 10 per state. But to some government, like the one we have today, 50 will probably go to the state of the President, and then two or three to other states. This is not acceptable. Some people say that there must be affirmative action in the award of scholarship, in terms of admissions based on concessions but not in terms of bastardizing the system as in appointments. That kind of bastardization has caused anger in the country. Nigeria belongs to all of us and my position is that federal character has so far failed to address lopsidedness and imbalance in several cadres in the public service because those who are operating the system, from the beginning, have focused entirely on the top level of the civil service. They bring people from northern civil service and promote them to level 15 and they will be there for four or five years and they move to the top. For the sake of fairness, at the point of entry, make it equal, maybe 10 per state; and every one of the 10 has basic qualifications and moves in the best possible way; that would be the most comprehensive federal character we would ever have. But when they bring somebody to level 15 who never went to university, his performance is substandard, although he may give himself any title.
As a leader of Afenifere, are you not concerned about the alleged marginalisation of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in the ruling APC after he had helped the party to capture power at the federal level?
We had in the past made our position clear through our leader, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, that Yoruba leaders believe that part of why he is treated that way is because of where he comes from; we might be wrong, but that is what we believe. He is a smart guy and a politician who knows what to do to favour him at every time and every stage in his life. He is not a baby, he has not said he needs my advice or tutoring or mentoring, so it is unnecessary to ask for an unsolicited advice on his behalf.
So if tomorrow Asiwaju Tinubu decides to come to the SDP, he will be welcomed.
Of course yes; we were both members of the SDP before, so it will be ‘welcome home Bola Tinubu’.
Prof. Ango Abdullahi in a recent interview said herdsmen are fighting injustice hence the killings and maiming.
He is a man I know during the old SDP days when I was seeking the presidential nomination and he was backing General Shehu Yar’Adua. I have a lot of respect for him because he was a Vice Chancellor at a time but some of the things attributed to him, recently, surprised me. I cannot make sense in his claim that killer herdsmen are fighting injustice; you can say they are fighting because of a situation they cannot help, that will be nearer the truth. It is a fact that Lake Chad, which used to sustain hundreds of thousands of herds and farmers, has dried to less than 1/5 of its original size. Those that depend on the lake have to survive but you cannot rationalise the killings to say they do it because of injustice. Who brought the injustice? Is it the nature that dried up the lake? It is not injustice, he used the wrong word. He may say they are struggling with a very difficult situation and who should he blame?: state governments in the North who have responsibility for looking after their people. If Chad is drying up and desertification is advancing in the far North, there should be measures in place. So (Ango Abdullahi) should abuse governors of those states and not the hapless farmers of Benue or Ondo or Nasarawa or the South being attacked by herdsmen; they are not the ones doing any injustice to herdsmen, it is due to nature and failure of the state governments to provide good governance.
He went further to say that your kidnap by some herdsmen was nothing special.
He has every right to feel so but when I was kidnapped, the nation trembled. You will recall that soon after I came out, Yoruba leaders met in Ibadan and passed a resolution that if government failed to protect our people, the Yoruba will find a way out of the country. Nothing has ever pushed the Yoruba to that point; if despite that Ango Abdullahi feels that there is nothing special about the kidnap, good luck to him. I want to thank President Buhari because he sent the Inspector General of Police to Ondo State himself to go and look for me.
What is the way out of herdsmen crisis?
We are not dealing with something people have not done before. Almost every nation on earth eats cows as we do. But you don’t go to California and run into cattle on the tarmac. You don’t even go to Ghana and find cattle in the city square. We found the solution at the National Conference in 2014 that free grazing of cattle is out of date, disappeared over 200 years ago in most countries and that we cannot continue to live in the past. Ranching is the answer, not by walking your cattle from Kano to Akure and, by the time they get here, they are all bones, and that’s why they desperately needed my maize and cassava to become fresh again so that the cows could be sold at good prices.
. The nation’s debt incurred by PDP in 16 years was put at about N6 trillion but reports say it has jumped up to about N11trillion in three years of the Buhari administration.
I have not read the story and I will like to see. I am not like most Nigerians, not only because I am an economist. I was once the Finance Minister and l have knowledge of the internal workings of government. If there is a marching creation of assets, the debt is nothing to shout about. If I go to the bank and I borrow N500million and I build a factory that is producing and making profit and the debt is still there, is that a debt? But if I borrowed N500million and I have nothing to show for it, then there is a problem. It depends on what government did with the money they borrowed. If they used it to create assets, not necessarily commercial assets that can create income, but if they created assets that brought relief to the economy, for example, good roads, potable supply and electricity and people can run their businesses, there is nothing bad about it. But if the money is borrowed and you can’t identify the assets created with it, then there is a problem because you have to pay back the debt. First you have to service the debt, pay interest before it matures. And if people say they met empty an treasury, that is an empty statement. The treasury can never be empty because everyday revenue flows in and expenditure flows out. In public finance, those who say it are semi-illiterate. Everyday customs duties are being paid at the wharf and that money goes to the federal government. And you talk about Value Added Tax (VAT) every day as people buy things and the revenue goes into government coffers.