Olu Falae

It’s unfair, provocative for power to remain in North 

For national unity, peace, it’s turn of South-East but…

Why South-West has no moral obligation to back South-East

Interim government almost inevitable

We need main surgery on Constitution not minor amendments

National Assembly not qualified to give Nigerians a constitution 

Restructuring Nigeria is solution not zoning 

We are at war now not mere security challenge

Cost of APC, PDP nomination forms disgusting, immoral, barbaric

By Dayo Johnson, Regional Editor, South West

Chief Olu Falae, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, and former Finance Minister, in this interview bares his mind on a number of burning national issues, 2023 polls, the state of the nation and the way forward among others.

Why have you been silent on issues concerning Nigeria in recent time?

Yoruba have a saying which translates literally as ‘if you see the tiger every day, it begins to look like a leopard.’  In standard translation, it states that, too frequent interaction devalues the object of interaction. In other words, if I keep making statement upon statement so frequently, the intervention loses its potency, and in any case, it is natural to human being to be little frustrated when you have been doing something for a very long time sincerely, passionately, continuously, and no one seems to be bothered, and things continue as if there is no intervention. 

So, for some time, I have decided to maintain my peace and focus on the things that are now my priorities, that is – my family, children, grandchildren, religion, farm and traditional duties at Ilu-Abo in Ondo State.

Some presidential aspirants visited you to seek your support ahead of the 2023 election. What was your advice to them?

First of all, I told each and every one of those who came to see me that, I retired from partisan politics in February 2019 and that there is no way I’m going to go back into partisan involvement. 

I drew their attention to the crises of Nigeria and I asked them – were you to become president, where will you start from? How will you address this existential threat to the cooperate existence of Nigeria? We call it security challenge. That is the most unacceptable euphemism I have ever heard. It is not security challenge, we are at war. It is war when you start buying COBRA helicopters that were invented by Americans for war purposes. So we are at war, we have been using euphemism to deceive ourselves. 

We didn’t call terrorists, terrorists, we call them bandits, as if that will take the edge off the evil they are doing. So, we are in a state of an undeclared civil war ravaging the northern part of Nigeria. So where do you want to start? 

A train was going to Kaduna, for the first time in our history, the train was burnt, passengers were killed, no fewer than 100 others were kidnapped, and taken to the forest. 

What shocked me was that Kaduna Governor said ‘we know where the terrorists are, we know who they are.’ If those two statements are true, then the inevitable question is – why are they still there? 

Why are they not all dead, if we have a government in Nigeria which is supposed to guarantee the security, the life, the wellbeing of citizens? 

If we have such a government, if they know where the terrorists are and who they are, why have they not gone to wipe them out? They started negotiating with terrorists and those ones are asking for the release of their leaders so that they can go back and do more havoc. 

This is nauseating. It’s obscene. I don’t want to get worked up because I’m now of advance age. I don’t want to ruin my health but these are the things that have made me to be on the quiet side because what needs to be done is clear. 

From what we read and hear, the government seems to have the wherewithal for doing what needs to be done. They have Tucano Aircraft, they have Cobra helicopters, and all sorts of other military equipments. Why are they not using them to wage this war and end it?

 When this government came seven years ago, I think one of the reasons why people voted for Buhari was because he was a former General, that as a former military person, he will deal with Boko Haram and give Nigeria peace in no time at all, and immediately he took over, he made some noises like moving the headquarter of Anti-terrorist team to Maiduguri-to the Theatre and we said that was a military approach. 

For seven years on, matters have gone from bad to worse. If this trend continues, when is it going to end? And without security, without rest of mind and peace, nothing else can happen. Your physical survival can’t continue if you are not safe, and can’t do your business. If you are a trader you can’t procure whatever you sell from one part of Nigeria that is now at war. Your existence is under threat even in your home. So without security, nothing else is possible.

Any government that wants to qualify as a government must be able to at least maintain the security of its citizens and their property. If it’s not able to do so, then it ceases to be a government. 

Once upon a time, I had the privilege of being the secretary to the government of Nigeria for four years and I know exactly what is involved in governance. If you don’t know what you are going to do before you become president in Nigeria, even in normal times, you have failed.  

You have failed because from the moment you get into office, it is going to be one challenge, one crisis after the other; there will be no room for you to sit down and think in a fundamental way as to what you want to do in Nigeria. 

You must have thought about it, discussed it and analysed it, bounce it on people, discuss it in focus groups, and articulate a consistent programme of engagement with Nigeria if you become the President. If you have not done that and you are going for office, you have failed. I’m talking about normal time not in crisis time. In war time, for you to get into office without any idea of what you are going to do is a double tragedy for you and for the country.

You seem to be expressing fear about the future of this country. What exactly is your fear?

My fear is already here. My fear is that we may descend into anarchy. Anarchy is a situation where law and order breaks down, anywhere, everywhere, and every time. 

In the language of Thomas Hobbes, the political science thinker, that is what he will call a state of nature where man is wolf to man, ‘Homo Homini Lupus Est’. In other words, every man to himself and God for us all. If you are stronger than your neighbour, you grab his property, his wife, whatever you want from him, kill him, do whatever you like with him and move on. That is anarchy which we don’t pray to have in Nigeria. 

But we are seeing the beginnings of such possibility in what has been going on here for the past seven, eight, nine, ten years. That’s my fear, that we should not descend into anarchy where life becomes a state of nature.

With the raging insecurity in Nigeria, do you think 2023 is feasible?

I have very serious doubt, great doubt about 2023 becoming a reality. Why? Apart from the general state of war and violence, INEC made it known about two weeks ago that hundreds of their workers have been killed, some of their offices and equipments and vehicle have been destroyed and burnt.

 If a year before the election such is already happening to INEC, its organization and personnel, what is going to happen between now and Election Day?

I have great doubt that any sensible election can take place in 2023 because as I said earlier, the state of violence has been progressing to the final stage of anarchy, and if that threat continues, I’m afraid elections will not be feasible in 2023.

If that were to happen, you cannot hold elections, and the terms of office of the present legislators and executive members both at the federal and state levels, expire and we are not able to elect their replacements because of anarchy and confusion and chaos, then Nigeria is in limbo. 

If we are not able to elect a government to replace the one that is going now, then we arrive at a national political vacuum.

Will you then support the suggestion adduced by an eminent Nigeria, Chief Afe Babalola that there should be an interim government and poll suspension?

For me, it is almost inevitable. Anybody who wants to be realistic should see that as almost inevitable. If we are to avoid anarchy we have to address the most fundamental problem of Nigeria, which is the constitution, which is fundamentally flawed through restructuring or rewriting of the constitution. 

This present government cannot give Nigeria a new constitution. No government elected through this process, even if there were no violence can give us that kind of constitution. I know the National Assembly members have been coming up with all kinds of so-called amendments. It is laughable. 

What we need is main surgery to the constitution not minor operation, bandage or plaster. It’s open surgery. 

As I argued in my book, “the way forward for Nigeria,” what we need to do is to give to Nigerians once again the type of constitution that their leaders chose after several negotiations and compromises before independence; the constitution we had at independence which had an underlined covenant or political consensus but which was thrown away by the military during the coup of 1966.

 They threw away the constitution plus the underlined political covenant with its consensus. Until and unless we restore that consensus, there can’t be stability no matter how often we try it.

The National Assembly, as I have argued, is ab-initio unqualified to give Nigeria a constitution because they didn’t elect them as constituent assembly delegates. 

They were elected as ordinary lawmakers to amend the existing laws and pass new ones — not the constitution and they cannot smuggle into their electoral mandate that which they did not see and which we did not give at the time of the election. It will be fraudulent.

I believe that for any constitution to be generally acceptable and guarantee future security and safety in Nigeria, it must involve the participation of most ethnic nationalities in Nigeria because making a constitution is perhaps the most important political activity any group of people can ever be involved in, and such an activity, no group would like to be excluded.

 We have 448 distinct ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. Even take the lower figure of 300. I did an exercise before which is published as an annex to the revised version of my book, where I established that not up to 30 ethnic nationalities are represented in the National Assembly. How come? Very well, take the ethnic groups one at a time, the Hausa- Fulani, they are responsible for about 30 percent of the members in the House of Representatives; Yoruba, maybe similar percentage, the Igbo, so among the three major ethnic groups, they have produced about 85 percent and there are other members in the House of Reps, meaning that three take 85 percent, leave 15 percent of 300 to the remaining 297 ethnic nationalities. 

And if we go into some of the states, like I took Plateau, Adamawa, Kaduna, Taraba, in some of those states, we have 20, 30 ethnic groups and in a single federal constituency, we have about five or six ethic groups and only one person will represent those six people and that person will inevitably come from only one ethnic group leaving five unrepresented. 

That is the pattern.

So you can see the analysis of what I said, that majority of ethnic nationalities in Nigeria are not represented in the House of Representatives, which existence is acceptable only as a legislative chamber that can amend laws and pass new law but not to make, to create a fundamental constitutional law that governs all of us.

They are unqualified, in terms of nature of their mandate, in terms of the ethnic composition. So, they cannot give us any constitution. 

So, what I’m saying is that if we are to solve most of these problems and finally give ourselves a consensus document we can all live with, it will not meet the expectation of everybody to the same degree but it will broadly be satisfying to all. 

So, that government can only be either a government of national unity or interim government. We pray against non-democratic governance in Nigeria. There should be a government of national unity set up by agreement for the sole purpose of giving us a new constitution based on consensus. 

I keep talking about consensus because there are too many groups in Nigeria. The 2014 constitutional conference produced a report based on consensus. We passed about 620 resolutions and all of them without exception were passed by consensus, there was no voting on any single one.

So, to get that sort of constitution, we need a special arrangement and it can be a government of National Unity or interim government. There is nothing beyond our ability to do what is necessary, so it can be done. 

There is a serious argument now that power should shift to the South but some northerners are insisting that it should be retained in the North

That is absolute nonsense. I mean if they care about Nigeria, that’s absolute nonsense. Nobody will even accept that, it’s very unfair and provocative.

Are you an advocate of zoning?

Zoning in terms of where we are now is mandatory. It is the only way you can guarantee a sense of acceptance because most people in office operate as if only people from their villages exist.

When President Muhammadu Buhari took over power, the first set of appointments he made was predominantly not just from Katsina but also from Daura. When you see that, you will want to say a man from Akure must be president before i can have a fair deal. It should not be so.  

Many countries of the world, it doesn’t matter where anybody comes from. In the UK, the present Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is English. Gordon Brown who took over from Tony Blair was Scottish while James Callaghan who took over from Harold Wilson is Swish.  So, it never mattered where the prime minister comes from because they have a system that guarantees a particular pattern of behavior while in office. Whether you are Irish or Scottish, you have to behave in a particular way and ensure that everybody gets a fair deal. 

Once that is clear, it will not matter in future where anybody comes from. If you are going to give me my fair share of everything, it doesn’t bother me where you come from. 

Let me say quickly say that zoning does not mean that justice will be done. If it is zoned to your area and the person who is self-centered becomes the President or governor, he or she will take all the money and put it in his pocket and those of you shouting for zoning will regret supporting the move. So, what matters is the character and performance of that person. After all, the president must come from a family. 

I have always said that if Nigeria were to be running a rational and fair system it should not matter where the president comes from. In a system where the president does what is right regardless of where he comes from, it will not matter just as it doesn’t matter in developed countries where the heads of their governments come from.

The fundamental issue is, what are we trying to achieve with zoning? What we are trying to achieve is to get a government that will be fair to all and move Nigeria forward. Now, zoning doesn’t guarantee that because with the constitution, the way it is, regardless of which zone the president comes from, apart from the personal limitations, there is nothing he can do. 

After all, President Olusegun Obasanjo was president for eight years, was he able to solve many of the problems of the South-West? President Buhari is from the North-West. 

The zone today is one of the most troubled in terms of unemployment, violence, banditry, etc. So, that proves conclusively that zoning doesn’t necessarily solve the problems of people who come from the zone of the president. So, zoning is not a solution to the kind of problems we have in Nigeria. 

What matters is to restructure Nigeria; to rearrange and redistribute powers, opportunities and responsibilities, such that every area of Nigeria can operate to achieve its own objectives…

For equity, Nigerians are saying it is the turn of the South-East to produce the President, what is your take on this?

I expect that the South-East will have a fair chance to ask for the president of Nigeria because in recent times the president has not come from the South-East. I said in recent times.

For national unity and peace, yes, but the South-East is not the only zone that has not produced the president in recent times. There are six zones now and in recent past, the zones that have produced the president are the North-West, South-West and South-South. 

The North-Central, North-East and South-East have not produced president in the recent times, so there are three that have equal rights to ask for it, if we want to be fair.

 If we want to use North and South, then it’s two (North and South) I insist it must come from the South because the present president is from the North. 

However, if we are talking of zones within the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, then we cannot limit it we must look at all the zones that have not produced the president.

Attitude of South-West

The second point I want to make is in terms of the attitude of the South-West because some of our leaders are saying South-West aspirants should stop aspiring. All I want to say is that, without prejudice to their rights to ask for the presidency, I want to say that the South-West did not produce the President with assistance of the South-East.

In 1999, there were two presidential candidates, one PDP, then one from the AD-APP. By the grace of God I was the candidate of AD-APP alliance. The South-East didn’t concede the nomination to me in the AD-APP alliance.

The extended Excos of the AD had to vote for me when I received opposition from Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, he contested the nomination with me and I had to defeat him to become the candidate.

In the PDP, General Obasanjo had to defeat Dr Alex Ekwueme in the Jos convention. Neither Ekwueme nor Ezeife representing South-East conceded the nomination of the two parties to me or Obasanjo. The South-East did not concede it to us they fought us and we had to defeat them. What I am saying is that the South-West can support South-East in the name of equity but we have no moral obligation.

There is no vote turn that we are morally obliged to pay back. When we were contesting they did not support us. I’m not saying therefore oppose them. No, you can still support them, because we are very fair minded people. All I’m saying is that we are not morally obliged that when they are running we support them.

As fair minded civilized people, we can say fair is fair, let somebody from there be the president. 

What is your view on the cost of nomination forms of political parties?

It is obscene, disgusting, nauseating, immoral and barbaric. The person who wants to spend N100 million to buy a form, how did he make the money? If he’s a public officer, is it from his salary? Do they know that most Nigerians are starving? If a poor person who manages one meal in a day hears that, do you expect him to be a committed Nigerian where people are playing with billions?

So, they have turned politics to cash and carry. They have totally commercialized and privatized politics. It is no longer for you and me it is only for the super rich, who can play the big money game. 

No matter how competent you are, no matter how patriotic and committed to the welfare of Nigerians, you have no chance of ruling Nigeria unless you have billions of Naira. How do you get billions of Naira? It is either through theft or illegal bunkering, drug trafficking or doing something criminal. 

I don’t think those who earn their money legitimately can afford N100 million to purchase that form. I doubt it! Because there is no guarantee that you will be nominated in your party, there will be many people and only one of you will be picked. You just gamble with N100 million. Before you can do that, you will worth billions of Naira. And how much tax do you pay over the income you have generated? That is where we should start but nobody is thinking towards that direction.

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