•Says soon it may be difficult for the rich to leave their houses
•Seeks return to the parliamentary system to cut cost, save Nigeria

Chief Olu Falae, an economist, elder statesman, former secretary to the government of the Federation, SGF, minister of Finance, and presidential candidate, in this interview, speaks on the state of the nation and offered solutions to the country’s recurring problems. He also disclosed why he stopped pursuing his presumed presidential victory against former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the Supreme Court in 1999.

By Bashir Adefaka

Olu Falae

On his perceived retirement from politics

Yes, retired from partisan politics because Nigerian politics is continuous until you die. For me to say this is a particular political party that I will support or take decisions with, no. Having said this, I will say until I die, I remain in politics but retired from partisan politics.

His worries about the state of the nation

I am more worried today for many reasons. One, poverty has increased. The number of unemployed people has increased. People, who would in the past vote for principle now vote for money. Materialism has now become the only concentration, some value it to the extent that they now lose their souls and sense of judgement. They just go to vote for money.

Money is an important thing in any situation but it must not be the only thing. Today, it is beginning to look like the only thing that determines the political outcome in Nigeria. That makes me very sad because of the opportunities we lost. Projects that Nigeria could afford 10 years ago, the country can’t afford them now because costs have escalated and, of course, our earnings are not growing at the same rate as the costs are growing.

So, between costs and our incomes, a gap is developing and it is getting wider and wider and so, our ability to do many things is going down.

The population is growing. We are not planning to manage this population. It is a time bomb. My fear is that unless something radical and positive happens….

Something radical and positive like?

Like the law intervening and putting new determination and love in the hearts of our leaders to make the welfare of the people the priority of their governance. Unless that starts to happen and they start to push their personal interests to the background, even in 10 years time, as early as that, it may be difficult for you to leave your house and take a stroll along the street. This is because there is a lot of hungry people over there who will make your life impossible for you. They won’t wait until nightfall before they attack you. I pray that does not happen. These are my fears.

You can project from where you were 10 years ago, a project at that rate 10 years forward. If you don’t do something about a population, education, training, unemployment, creating an environment that would enable Nigerians to be creative, to be self-employed, provide the infrastructural requirements for the citizens to be self-employed, God forbid, we will come under fears in Nigeria.

Where did we go wrong?

Well, it is leadership. First of all, military intervention in our politics created a new culture. Before 1966, leadership was competitive and people underwent some growing. I was a parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, understudying the Minister of Agriculture for two years before being promoted to the Minister of Finance. Dynamic! We were recognized in that and so many others. You don’t wake up one day from anywhere and say I want to be governor of this state. No!

So, when the military intervened, all things became burgeoned overnight. A pauper became a millionaire during the Civil War. People got into contracts, money got into wrong hands and became intoxicants making some to say, “if I have the money I can become a governor or President.”

A young man came to this house some 10 years ago, a citizen of Ondo State living in America. He came here (my house in Akure) and didn’t meet me. He left a note to say, “I came here to let you know that I want to become your governor. Here you can call me.”

That was a student telling me, a former Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that he wants to be my governor that I should call him! That says it all! A joker who has never done anything in his life wants to be my governor and I should call him.

So, if he became governor, what is he going to do? He would want to steal the money and mess around. He won’t sit down to write a programme and he will be disconnected from the people because he is inexperienced. He doesn’t know what is happening to the people.

I just used that to illustrate a point that there is no preparation for office any more.

In the days of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, you couldn’t just wake up one day and say you want to be Premier. And the laws of the Parliamentary System enhance critical thinking than this presidential system.

The presidential system means the one-man rule. It has done great damage to our country. We are a highly heterogeneous society. At the last count, there are over 448 ethnic nationalities in Nigeria with distinct languages and culture. Such a society requires continuous consultation, consensus-building, so that final decision can approximate to the wishes of the people. Don’t give it to one man to just wake up, take all the decisions and expect that people of 448 ethnic groups would accept that.

We practised the parliamentary system in the past. What difference will it make in Nigeria?

The Parliamentary System will compel the Leader to consult on a daily basis. The Premier or the Prime Minister along with his ministers were members of the legislature, first of all, elected as legislators. Then, if you are the Leader of your party in that House and your party has the majority, you become Premier. You don’t have to contest the position of Premier. ou only contested your constituency in your town. That’s all. And from there, you become Prime Minister or Premier. You don’t have to go and steal N10 billion to become Prime Minister. That is one.

Two, you appoint your ministers from members of the House, who are elected along with you. They are your colleagues elected in the same election. That is why they call the Prime Minister Primus Inter pares. That is you are first among equals. You are equal members of the House but, like their Leader, you are first among equals. Therefore, you have much respect for them even before you appoint them. And then, if you have any disagreement with any of them, he remains elected member of the House. You didn’t bring him into the House, he was elected the same day with you. So, you cannot just kick him out of the cabinet. He will stay in the House and give you hell and ally with other members to fight you.

So, it is the only system that can work.

The Presidential system works in the United States of America where we borrowed it from. Why not in Nigeria?

America is completely a different kettle of fish. White men who founded America were homogenous as to race, religion and so on and so forth. Those were the commonalities on which they based their administrative system.

The English men, who founded the American colony, were running away from totalitarianism and religious intolerance at home. The only form of government they knew in England was a monarchy. So, when they got to the colony they wanted to create something different that would not be oppressive. They created what I call an elected monarchy. Trump is a monarch, a king! He is more powerful than any king in Europe because the Americans who created the system, all they knew was a monarchy.

They call him democratically elected but the powers they vested him with monarchical powers. That was all they knew and therefore, it was acceptable to them and they are all of the same race, the same religion, language and culture. But here, are we of the same race, religion, language and culture? No. It is totally inapplicable.

So, to scale through all of these ambiguities in Nigeria, we need a parliamentary system?

Absolutely! In addition, it will cut down the cost of governance, the cost of election which is the very basis of corruption. I want to be governor, I need N0 billion over the next four years that one wants to steal. But if I can become governor or Premier by merely winning one of the two seats in Akure town with my influence and I don’t need N10 million to win that Akure seat and, if I am the Leader of my party in the House, I will become the Premier, do I need the N10 million? No.

So, the form of government, in fact, dictates the corruption.

See how poverty now makes money the only way of making people accept to vote for you. The parliamentary system of government will considerably reduce the pressure on people to stealing, will force people to carry other people along on a daily basis. You must consult them and carry them along in your cabinet. And then the Premier or Prime Minister himself is a member of the legislature, he sits down with them every day, he debates with them every day, there is no gap that “I want to see the President and for three weeks I cannot see him.”

But the problem of members of the legislature sabotaging governance would be there?

Whatever is of grievance can be talked over in the parliament. Regular consultation will reduce the tendency for impeachment and so on. You talk every day and you meet every night. So, it promotes harmony, reduces costs, and promotes consultation.

In those days, members of the legislature were paid sitting allowances. Papa Adekunle Ajasin, at that time, went to Lagos as a Member of the House of Representatives and attended sittings of the House during days of debates. If he stayed there for 10 days, he would get his allowances for 10 days before returning to Image College (the school where he was principal in Owo Town, Ondo State). That was what he got. There was no money in it for anybody who wanted to get rich. It was like a sacrifice.

By the way, the first draft of constitution we wrote under General Ibrahim Babangida was for parliamentary system and it made membership of the National Assembly part-time. At some point, it was changed to full time. That was where the error was made. If it is part-time, 80 per cent of those who are there would not be there. If it is just allowance, maybe one sitting is N50,000 or N60,000, what does he want to do with that? They won’t go there. They will leave it to committed people, who want to make contributions. That is part of our problems and that is why our senators earn more than American senators.

Going forward, Chief, three things: economy, security and anti-corruption, if you had won the 1999 presidential election…

I know that I won the 1999 presidential election.

Why didn’t you challenge the declaration of Obasanjo as the winner at the Supreme Court?

Let me explain the uniqueness of my position. Don’t forget that I contested when the military was about to go. And one of the most important reasons I did not go to the Supreme Court was because I was made to believe that if I did, elements in the military, who didn’t want the handing over to take place would sabotage the (civilian) takeover and that the military would continue and Olu Falae would be blamed for being the person, whose inordinate ambition kept the military in power.

So, it was in the interest of democracy that you did not become Nigeria’s President?

I was not that kind of person who was so ambitious to make the military stay on. And you have heard since then that names of people have been mentioned by young people who worked on it. I was not going to be used as an excuse. Whatever I do I have to do it consciously and accept responsibility.

Today, it is a different scenario. You are challenging the person who conducted the election. In my case, it was not the person who conducted the election that won. Today, it’s different. It is the person you are fighting who conducted the election. One of the things that happened recently; judges had to recuse themselves because they were connected with one of the parties. That should never happen. That does not ensure confidence in the process.

His take on the war against insecurity

Security, to me, is the most pressing today because without security there can be no development. If the government of a country falls for whatever reason and new people take over, the question the international community will ask is: Are they able to provide security? If it is yes, then 50 per cent of the reasons would be recognized. If they cannot provide security, then they cannot be recognized.

Today, it is a daily occurrence for people to be grabbed on the road and be dragged into the bush by bandits, who would take money from them and ransom from their relations. And these bandits are not from this part of Nigeria. Those who kidnapped me were all Fulani people. Physical examination showed that they were all Fulani. And Fulani has its unique physical attribute. So, what I’m saying is that there is no security any more.

In the past, they would go for rich people who were ostensibly rich. Now they hijack a commercial bus with all kinds of people.

To me, security is the number one priority. There must be security. People must feel secure in their homes, roads, in their farms, in their offices. That is priority number one. This is not being achieved. These bandits take up positions in the bush but that bush belongs to somebody.

At least in Yoruba land, every square inch of land belongs to a family. No ownerless property. So, the question is, the owners of the land, are they not aware that these hoodlums have taken over their properties and from there do harm to the rest of us? If they are aware, what are they doing about it? The owners can at least write to the community, they can mobilise and storm the place and flush out the hoodlums. I am not talking of police yet or Army or Federal Government. I am talking of owners of the properties. Have we lost the ability to protect ourselves within reason? Are we going to keep coming and these people keep coming?

A few weeks ago, Kaduna-Abuja road became impassable. If the road to the seat of government is inaccessible in a place like Kaduna State and all the states of the North, what do you say about that? Is the government still in control? Many political leaders from the Northern states are now residents in Abuja. They can’t live in their own states. When I was at the National Conference, many of the members were living in Abuja.

Is it only the commitment that is required?

Yes. It is the lack of commitment on the part of the community. Nobody wants to get hurt. And some say, “Well, it is because the government is on their side and so you cannot fight them.”

Do you believe the government is on their side?

I don’t have profound fact to support the claim by those who say that the government is on the side of the bandits. It is just supposition. But if government is treating them with kid gloves and they are not condemned the way we expect them to be condemned, no arrest is made and when people were killed massively in a state, the President did not go there as they would in America, and when he banded himself to Abuja, there was no adequate word of sympathy or support. So, what is the conclusion, particularly when the bandits wrote to the people that they were coming to kill them and they came to kill them? Do we still have a government that cares and can guarantee our security? I doubt it because people are still being killed every day and people are still being kidnapped here every day. So, is security improving? I don’t think so. The government needs to focus on this because the nation can unravel on this basis.

You remember when I was kidnapped and Yoruba leaders met in Ibadan and made what they called the Ibadan Declaration. I refused to go there because I would be the focus of all the journalists and everybody there, the wounds inflicted on me and so on. I didn’t want to become a central issue. I wanted the problem of insecurity to be the issue, not Olu Falae and that was why I absented myself so that the people could focus on what affected everybody. My not going was one of the sacrifices I have made for the good of this nation.

His take on corruption

On corruption, I believe that the most effective way of solving corruption is to decentralize government, authority, and resources through restructuring. If you put all the monies, all the resources in a nation, in a house and put a saint in charge, he becomes corrupt because the pressure that will be brought to bear on him will be so tremendous. So, decentralize it. Discourage people from being corrupt and let the leadership itself be transparent and be a shining example to the rest of the country.

Of course, if anybody steals or takes bribes, go and deal with him. In fact, more important to me is leadership by example.

And what antecedents would you provide to back up this in your own person?

I was Managing Director of Nigerian Merchant Bank for five years and I thank God that for those five years, there was not a single case of corruption against me. Not one. I left in January 1986. Within six months after, a sum of five million dollars had been stolen by fraud.

What I am saying is that what happened there (in Nigerian Merchant Bank under my administration) can happen in Nigeria. Nigerians are no fools. They know those they can trust. If a man is just preaching a sermon and is doing something different, they know that he is just deceiving people.

On the N100 million arms fund given to his party, Social Democratic Party, SDP and his alleged indictment

First of all, there was no Federal Government involvement in SDP. Late Tony Anenih, who was in SDP with me and Abiola, phoned and said, “we want to come and see you”. I said, “how many of you?” He said, “we are two” and I said okay. So, I invited the SDP chairman to join me. So, the two of them came here and he came with Dr Doyin Okupe. They sat where we are now (in Falae’s Akure home) and Anenih said, “Chief, we observe that your party, SDP, doesn’t have Presidential Candidate and this election between our candidate, Jonathan, and Buhari is going to be very tough and very close. Every vote will count. Please, we want your party people to vote for us.”

I said, “Tony, we cannot vote for your people, who are corrupt. One, the President cannot deal with his ministers. Two, you are not creating employment for the youths. Three, you are not fighting Boko Haram the way you are supposed to fight them and free us from their tyranny. Four, you are spending every Naira, you are not making any reserve for the development of the economy.”I gave five, six reasons why we could not vote for PDP and Jonathan. And he said, “No. We would change and make a correction”.

After their (primary) election, I wrote to him on email and I gave him the conditions they had to accept before we can consider supporting their candidate. And he wrote back on letter headed paper of PDP as chairman Board of Trustees of PDP that they were very happy to receive my letter, that he had shared the letter with the President and all the leaders of the PDP and they all accepted those conditions and that, in fact, they were already taking steps to meet those conditions. I have the letter with me.

So, I took the letter with my own letter to the exco of my party in Abuja and presented the letters to them. There was a full dressed debate at the end of which they said “We would vote for their candidate on the basis of their declaration.

Someone said but what about the APC and I said we would not go and beg them and that it is the candidate who should approach us.

We waited. When nobody came, I set up a committee headed by Abdul Ishaq, who is the Deputy National Chairman (North) of SDP today. He headed the committee that held a press conference and revealed the two letters that they (PDP) came to us and our leaders gave them conditions. That most leaders if they were approached in their homes by chairman Board of Trustees of the ruling party, they would be talking of billions of naira for themselves and that “our Oga didn’t mention anything about money but conditions that will create employment for the youths, that will give us security by fighting Boko Haram.”

And so, he announced that all our supporters across Nigeria should vote on the basis of these conditions.

After that press conference, Tony Anenih called me and said, “Chief, thank you very much. I have seen it on the television the endorsement of our candidate by your party. I know you would need money to propagate this thing. We know what it takes and we will send some money through you to your party.”

I told my people that he has called me and this is what he has said. They said how much is it and I said I didn’t ask him and they said I should ask him so we know how to plan.

So, I phoned him and he said okay they would be able to get up to N100 million but that he knew that was nothing in a presidential project and I told him N700,000. That was months before the election.

Two weeks past, three weeks, four weeks, and I said any money brought a day before the election is wasted. all these people to bring money so that we can plan and send money to the states. He said okay they would know how to get it.

My people said, “Sir if you could raise some money when the money comes, we would refund you.” And I raised N100.5 million and I paid into SDP’s First Bank account in Abuja. I paid it in and I showed this to EFCC. I didn’t pay it in one day because I told some friends who paid in N20 million, N10 million and so on and so forth. Three days to the election N100 million was paid into my account.

And you paid back to those you raised it from?

No, because I knew the N100 million was nothing. I still remitted N78million in addition to the N100.5 million that I paid in earlier.

All these are in the bank account which I printed for the EFCC.

And this was still spent on the political campaign?

All within six weeks. That was what happened. The money came from PDP. In fact, Tony Anenih said that it was his personal money, not from government or Dasuki. Am I the kind of person who would touch government money? That was what happened.

How many parties keep the bank’s records? Everything is in the bank account of our party; how it came into my account, how I sent them to my party’s account and how the party sent it to all the states’ branches of the party. The party is still owing me over N70 million today.

They just wanted to mess up everybody. I was Minister of Finance I didn’t touch one kobo. As Secretary to the Government of the Federation, I maintained the security account of Nigeria, which is never audited and I didn’t touch any kobo.This is the house where I live. Does this house look like where thieves live? It is an insult to link my life with any Dasuki. I have not seen Dasuki for 35 years. Dasuki was PA to Babangida and I was Secretary to the Government around 1986/87. That was the last time I saw Dasuki.

 

 

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.