Chief Olu Falae was Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, before serving as Finance Minister under the military regime.
Later he joined the presidential race first under the Babangida regime transition and later under the Abdulsalami Abubakar program to return Nigeria to civil rule. In this interview, Falae reacts to some claims made by a former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, in his recently launched autobiography titled, ‘My Participations’. He also speaks on issues in the polity including insecurity and the downturn in the economy. Excerpts:
Let us start with your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s seven years in the saddle and your expectations for 2022?
All Nigerians know all that it has been living under the Buhari’s regime. I don’t need to tell you. It has been a very difficult time. Security has never been as bad as this in our entire history.
Nigerians have never been this divided. In fact, we should look for another term to describe the near-war situation we are going through. When people were voting for him, the expectation from him as a General was that of an uncompromising man of discipline, that, within months, he will finish off Boko Haram and we will all live in peace but the opposite has been the case.
And everything else depends on security. You have to be alive and well to know that there is something called education; that before you can even eat and wear clothes, you have to be alive and well, and that depends on security.
Security has been in complete shambles. If a saint becomes President tomorrow, how and where is he going to start from? Is it with Boko Haram, with bandits or herdsmen? Where is he going to start from? I saw on social media that before Fulani herdsmen left the Ekiti area, some boys had understudied them and they have now become graduate kidnappers. So, this is the legacy of this administration.
It has been a complete crisis. People of my age and status cannot live in their homes in any part of the North. Most of them now are hiding in Abuja, including traditional rulers. It is terrible. I know Buhari would want it to be otherwise but it is not otherwise, it is the way it is. I want to take this opportunity to thank our own governor in Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, in the area of security, he has been fantastic; he is a true son of the land. Soon after he became governor, we had a meeting and we discussed the issue of security. I used my kidnap to illustrate the very serious situation. I didn’t know it was going to get much worse.
I pleaded with him to talk to his colleagues in the South-West to do something about the security situation, that security is fundamental to any other thing. I’m not claiming that it is because of that advice that he did what he did. But it is a historical fact that we had that meeting and I made that plea. It is also a historical fact that he played a leading role in the creation of Amotekun. There was a time some of the governors appeared to be wavering and hesitant but Akeredolu was firm all the way.
And because of my appreciation of what he was doing, when the House of Assembly was having a hearing on the Amotekun law, I went there to give them political and moral support and to strengthen their backbone by saying to them that they do not need to go to Abuja to seek permission before they could give Amotekun police powers because it is inherent in anything called government elected by the people, whether at the local level, state-level or national level or regional level; any organization elected by the people and called government has an inherent power invested by the votes of the people to make laws that will be valid and to implement them.
In the colonial period and the post-independence period, the regional government has forestry laws that enabled forestry officers to arrest anybody felling logs illegally and also enable them to prosecute those people either directly by themselves or by sending them to the Ministry of Justice.
In other words, in that law was evidence that the regional government, the state government has always had the power of arrest through the forestry officers and prosecution through the state Ministry of Justice. So, it is the same state government. Whether you want to use that power now for Amotekun, just create it and pass it. It is already being used from the colonial period. I told them this and I believed that helped to clarify the situation.
Akeredolu was also the first to commission the first batch of Amotekun trainees. Again, to show my support for his effort I was present at the passing out parade. And then again, when they were going to pass the Anti-Open Grazing Law, they sent the draft to me, they passed it. Although Miyetti Allah and herdsmen boasted that they will not obey the law, that they are Nigerians and Ondo State is part of Nigeria, that they have every right to do what they like. Since the law was passed, I have not seen a single cattle or Fulani from here to my farm.
They have disappeared. Let them come back and break the law and enforcement agents will arrest them, take them to court, and send them to prison. So, I think Governor Akeredolu has done very good work. And the security he is enforcing in the state capital right now encourages people to relax during this New Year period.
Political gladiators are rolling up their sleeves ahead of the 2023 general elections. What’s your advice to these players?
My advice is that no election should be conducted until and unless some fundamental amendments are made. I’m not saying that they should do the full restructuring that I have been advocating but a few fundamental amendments, particularly in the area of security and how elections are conducted and result transmitted.
My take is that whatever election is conducted, the way things are if they are allowed to continue till 2023, cannot be credible, may not even be possible physically. You remember when they were going to conduct the Anambra governorship election, how many troops and policemen were posted there? Can you send that level of policemen and soldiers to all the 36 states, voting on the same date? The answer is no.
In any case, an election is held under such a military situation, is that credible? Is that free? Is that democratic? In my view, no credible election or transparent election can be held the way things are in Nigeria as of today. If you go to Zamfara, people are being kidnapped every day. 120 people were slaughtered in Sokoto State.
People coming from Abuja to Kaduna are not safe. Someone told me that no credible election can be conducted in at least 23 states as of today. If the present trend continues, it may be in 30 states. I’m hoping that elections will be peaceful in the South-West which has always been the most peaceful part of Nigeria.
All types of historic, cultural, and spiritual reasons are for that, but that is the fact. If there is a problem in the North, they come here, problem in the East, they come here. So, if elections are not possible in 30 states out of 36, what are they gladiators after?
With about 17 months to the exit of the Buhari administration, do you think the President is capable of changing the fortune of the country?
With God, all things are possible. If God decides to take over President Buhari and his administration and use him and others to revive and revamp Nigeria, God can still do so. Nothing is impossible.
Are you then saying that Nigerians shouldn’t be concerned about power shift come 2023?
We should be concerned about where power should go as an objective person, whether it should be through the election in an unstructured Nigeria. But that is my own perception. It may well happen; God is in charge of the whole universe. I believe that all the changes and restructuring people have been advocating these many years, I have always believed that it will not happen until and unless and except there is a crisis when the question will be where do we go from here? A crisis can come in the next 12 to 15 months if two things happen.
One of them is sure to happen; the second one is what we don’t know. But if the second one happens, then we will have a crisis that will force us to rethink Nigeria. What are the two things? First, if and when the tenure of the current President comes to an end, we know that it will come to an end, we know the date. It is not a prayer or wish. May 29, 2023, that, by God’s grace, will happen. That is the first condition.
The second condition is that if the first situation does not permit the election of a replacement President, then the old President is gone, a new one cannot be elected, a first-class crisis, solution to the Nigerian problem. At that point, every section of Nigeria will be free to say there is no more Federal Government. That is my view. What is the probability of that happening? One of the two conditions will happen.
I have not heard that Buhari wants a third term. I hope there is no attempt to impose a third term on us. So, the first condition will happen, it is more likely to happen. The second one is not unlikely, it will happen. Then if the two happen together, that is when restructuring is automatic. If there is no government in Abuja and there is a government in Ondo State, Kano State, and other states, that is the government.
Let’s talk about the many agitations across the country especially in the South-West and South-East. Do they portend danger for the 2023 general elections?
Self-determination is a movement that force cannot stop. In my book, I addressed it and I gave copies to the Federal Government but they won’t read it. I said in that book that since the collapse of international communism, the collapse of the Berlin wall, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a new thing has become a dominant force in international relations and that is ethnic self-determination.
Exemplify for example in Europe by the Bosnia/Herzegovina war in the very heart of Europe. That area of Europe is called the Balkans. That was the center point of the Roman Empire. But in the course of history, they broke into smaller pieces.
The 19th century was the period that brought smaller entities to create larger entities in Europe because of the competition for colonialism and access to raw materials in the colonies. That was how Germany evolved under Bismarck. It was Bismarck and others who brought various German principalities together in Germany. It was the age of aggregation.
Smaller entities were coming together to be able to compete for colonies and raw materials because the industrial revolution was taking place in Europe. But since then, with the collapse of communism, those smaller entities have been agitating for self-identity especially in the Balkans.
When Marshal Tito under communism was the President of Yugoslavia, because of the superiority of statesmanship and love for the people, he was able to keep the various entities together. But the moment he died and lesser men took over in Yugoslavia, agitations started again. Bosnia/Herzegovina, Montenegro people started asking for self-determination, and then the war started in Bosnia/Herzegovina.
After 10 years of war and the deaths of thousands of people, Yugoslavia broke into pieces. Seven or eight countries have come out of Yugoslavia alone because the leaders of Yugoslavia didn’t have the sense to see that they could not stop self-determination. I call that resisted change model.
There is another model in Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was also created during that period of aggregation but, in this period, Czechs and Slovaks wanted to go their different ways. The leaders had the sense to sit around the table and negotiate and they broke into two friendly countries till today. We now have Slovakia and the Czech Republic. That is the managed change model. They managed the change. Yugoslavia was resisted the change model. Yet, a third model is a British model. In the 16th, 17th centuries, England and Scotland were rivals. But Queen Mary who was the daughter of King Henry the Eighth was married to the Scottish king.
So, she had both British and Scottish royal blood and they united the two crowns. Eventually, the Act of 1707 gave way to Permanent Union between England and Scotland. Of course, Wales has always been a close neighbor of England. So, eventually, we have the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland.
But by the time of Harold Wilson as Prime Minister in England, agitations began, especially in Wales and Scotland, for self-determination. Harold Wilson organized a referendum in Wales which was passed by half of one percent, 50.5 to 49.5 percent in favor of home rule.
Today, if you listen to Sky News when they are talking about what Britain is doing about COVID-19, they say the four nations of England, Wales, Scotland, and North Ireland. Those were the people who colonized us and we saw them as one monolithic country, the United Kingdom under the British crown.
The most unitary of all unitary governments is the monarchy because the government finds expression in one single person, the king or queen. So, therefore, it is the most unitary of unitary governments. Today, it is a de facto federation of four nations in Britain; self-determination has led to the emergence of four nations.
So, in Yugoslavia, in Czechoslovakia, in Britain, we can see recent examples of what self-determination has achieved. And it continues in other places including in Nigeria. So, it is for us to make a choice now. Do we choose the system of resisted change which is what we have been doing, where we have been saying it is Igboho, it is Kanu; we won’t change? Let us see where that is going to lead us. We must learn from history, otherwise, we will make the mistake of history.
Do we take the resisted change model or do we go to Czechoslovakia and take the managed change model or the managed change model of Britain? Managed change has A and B. A is Czechoslovakia that resulted in two different countries or B, Britain, they are still together but emerging as different nations. It is up to us. I don’t want to be too academic. But these are the facts, contemporary facts. You cannot stop it. If you want true self-determination from Britain why do you think you can prevent 448 ethnic nationalities from rearranging this country?
Some weeks back, a former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, in his autobiography, titled, ‘My Participations’, accused you and other Yoruba leaders of attending the 2014 Confab because of the allowances promised by former President Goodluck Jonathan…
Honestly, l have decided not to say a word about the nonsense that Akande wrote. Akande himself will be surprised that I am commenting on what he wrote. I don’t think it is not worth my comment. In the first place, my career is an open book. I served Nigeria well with total commitment and integrity. So, I cannot because of an allowance do what I will not otherwise do. For five years, I was Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria and Minister of Finance under the regime of President Ibrahim Babangida and I chose not to earn N1 salary from the government.
Rather, before I agreed to leave my banking job to come and be Secretary to the Government, I told the government to negotiate with my bank to agree to a secondment, that I should be seconded from the bank to government as Secretary to the Government while I would remain Managing Director of the bank and be paid by the bank for my services to the Federal Government.
And at the return of my tenure with the government, I would return to the bank. That was the agreement we reached and that was the agreement we implemented for five years.
The letter confirming this is in my possession and was signed by Alhaji Umaru Mutallab who was the Managing Director of UBA at the time. He signed the letter because he was Vice Chairman of the Board of Nigerian Merchant Bank where I was Managing Director. He signed for, and on behalf of the Board.
He wrote that the bank was happy and privileged to be asked by the Federal Government to second their Managing Director, that is, I Olu Falae, to come and be Secretary to the Government.
And that I would remain their Managing Director throughout my tenure with the government, the bank would continue to pay my salary and other entitlements, and, at the end of my tenure, I would be free to return to the bank. I have the letter. I will publish it in my memoirs.
That was the situation. About one year after I got into government, someone from the Establishment Section came and said they were aware of the arrangement of not paying my salary but I was entitled to what they called Responsibility Allowance, that the job I was holding as Secretary to Government was more complicated, higher and more important than MD of a small Merchant Bank, and that, therefore, I was entitled to what we know in the service as Responsibility Allowance.
And I turned it down. He insisted that I was entitled to it, and I said yes, but if I were to take the Responsibility Allowance, it will be described as another salary in the future.
And so it was. After I left government, I went into politics and somebody wrote a petition to the ‘Egbe Ilosiwaju Yoruba’, headed by the late General Adebayo, that Olu Falae whom they were supporting for President was a thief, that when I was Secretary to Government I was earning two salaries.
Thank God for His guidance. If I had taken the allowance, that fellow would have said that was the evidence. But all he saw were the documents prepared by the bank for paying me a monthly salary. I’m sure he had access to those documents, so he was sure the bank was paying me when I was Secretary to Government. So, he assumed wrongly that I was being paid also by the government whereas I chose not to earn one extra Naira.
If I could turn down the Responsibility Allowance to which I was entitled, to avoid being misunderstood as a second salary, how can I, therefore, go to a conference because they are going to pay me an allowance?
We went to the conference because it was a patriotic thing to do. We have been asking for Sovereign National Conference. I wrote a book ‘The Way Forward for Nigeria’. I don’t think Akande has read the book which I launched in Lagos in 2005 and I advocate the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference as a means of resolving the Nigerian crises.
So, when a conference was convoked by former President Jonathan, similar to what I have been advocating, should I refuse to go there because they will pay me an allowance? I went because I have been a passionate advocate of the Sovereign Conference to resolve the Nigerian crises. When an opportunity came, it was my duty and responsibility to go there and contribute my quota to the remaking of Nigeria, that is why I went there and not because of any allowance. I went to the Confab as a nominee of the Federal Government in the category of national elder statesmen.
The delegates of Afenifere were chosen by Afenifere at the Yoruba level. I did not go to the conference as a nominee of Afenifere. I was an Afenifere leader but I was nominated under the category of elder statesmen. Now, elder statesmen are by definition old people. So, no young person under 50 would qualify for that position. So, the position which I occupied was not available for anybody who was not an old man.
So, by going, I did not deny any position to any young person. In any case, the likes of Akande refused to go to the conference; they are now throwing stones at the conference. If he cares to look at all the delegates from the South-West from whichever category, you will find that there were lots of young people, trade unionists, teachers who were at the conference. Not just Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Lanihun Ajayi, Olu Falae, and Sehinde Arogbofa.
There were over 90 delegates from the South-West. The others were from various age categories. In any case, Akande should know that some of us, by the grace of God, didn’t need that allowance. Without stealing public funds, God has given some of us contentment and taken care of us. Talking for myself, I have never begged for food, I have never felt the need to take money that did not belong to me.
I said it when I was campaigning for President and I want to say it now that I have never taken a bribe from anybody at any stage of my career, either when I was in the Civil Service as Permanent Secretary or Secretary to Government or in the bank as Managing Director or as Minister of Finance.
Offers were made but the answer was definitely no because my total upbringing is against that. Let me tell you a little story. When I was in primary school, Saint Stephen’s, Ijomu, Akure, in the late 40s, one day I was returning home after school and I found a small eraser along Ijomu Street.
As a child, I was happy and I picked it. When I got home I told my paternal grandmother who I was living with because my mother was dead. I said “mama, I was lucky today, I found this eraser on the ground” and she said, “who asked to pick it?” I said no one and she immediately called me a thief.
I said “no mama” and she said, “you stole it because the owner did not give it to you, although, the owner was not there, so nobody transferred the ownership to you. For taking it without the consent of the owner, you stole it”.
Mama took a whip and followed me back to the very spot where I picked the eraser. I dropped it there and mama took me back home. I can never forget that day. If a pastor today finds $1m along the road, he won’t think it is theft. He will go and pay tithe and thank God for it.
But by my grandmother’s standard, ethical standard, that is theft. So, the likes of Akande can never understand where we are coming from. So, my background, my Christian commitment, and the contentment God has given me have enabled me to negotiate my career without taking N1 that does not belong to me. I will not do anything for money if I’m not persuaded of the right thing to do.
Nigerians are reading political meanings to the attack by Akande. Do you agree that he is playing politics?
Well, only Akande can answer that question. But I just found Akande is a very reckless person. He’ll just say anything without thinking about the consequences. That is how he speaks. That is why I said I was not going to comment about Akande. I don’t want to lower myself to his level.
Still, in Akande’s autobiography, he alleged that you were decorated by Military President Babangida into politics…?
l don’t know what “decorated” into politics means. It has no meaning in English, only Akande can tell you what it means, but I can only speculate.
It can mean one or two things. It could mean he was saying IBB sponsored me into politics. Now, let us look at that. I will not go into any details but I want to say here and now that the first set of people who invited me and said I should run for President was a group of three national leaders, namely the late Papa Adekunle Ajasin, Chief Solomon Lar and General T.Y Danjuma.
The three of them invited me to the flat of Dr Debola Ajasin, Papa Ajasin’s son who was my junior at Igbobi College. The three of them invited me one night to his flat at Lagos University. It was Papa Ajasin who asked me to come.
When I got there, I found the two other leaders with him. And they said to me “we are leaders of the Progressive Movement, we are trying to form a Progressive Party”. They said they had a problem because all of them had been banned from participating in politics and they were looking for a credible presidential candidate and that they would love to ask me if they formed the party, if it was registered and then invited me to come and be their presidential candidate, will I agree to run? I said, “well, I have not made up my mind”.
I said when I was leaving the bank, it was on second with the expectation that I would return to the bank at the end of my tenure. That was my plan. But, what they had said, I would think about it.
Two of the three men are dead but thank God General T.Y Danjuma is still alive. So, if there is any group that invited me to politics, it was that group, Papa Ajasin, S.D Lar, and General T.Y Danjuma, nothing to do with Babangida.
In any case, Akande must have lost his memory by not remembering that it was Babangida who disqualified me from the presidential race and banned me from further participation in primaries. Is that the act of a sponsor or supporter? Let Akande answer that question.
As a former Finance Minister, what’s your take on the nation’s economy?
All the wrong things are being done at the same time. I don’t know why. One of the causes of inflation is not just the devaluation of the Naira which is very serious but it is the pumping of money by the Central Bank into private people.
They are lending money to farmers, traders. That is not the Central Bank’s function. They have taken over commercial banking, pumping money which they can never recover because their staff members are not trained to lend to people and to recover and manage credit. You just don’t hand loan cash to people.
They bring a proposal, you look at it. Commercial banks are trained to look at it and see whether it is viable or not. We are trained, we have the experience, we have the dedication. And after lending money, there are things you do to manage it.
The Central Bank hasn’t got one person trained to do this and they are handing out billions of naira. It is a disaster. They were saying the money they give to farmers they can get the money back.
Why should they return the money when they know you don’t have the capacity to get it back? They will be daft to pay back.
Meanwhile, herdsmen say you must not farm again. The rice that you borrow money to plant, cows eat and destroy it, then how can the farmer pay back? So, these are the raw materials for the economic meltdown that we are trying to create. Then we have been borrowing and borrowing. Borrowing must be used to create an asset; borrowing to finance consumption is dangerous.
Can we say that the Buhari administration is doing enough to tackle banditry?
If the government is doing enough, banditry would have ended. When this government came, the major thing we were fighting was Boko Haram. The new platform in violence came into being in the last four, five years after the inception of this government. The banditry that is shooting down military jets, that is no banditry, that is insurrection. People who went into the military academy to kidnap military officers showed that they were not bandits, those were terrorists.
All this came into being to join Boko Haram in the last four, five years. That is what makes it frightening that rather than things get better, they are getting worse. And we can then begin to ask questions, why is that so? When people are unemployed and desperate and they can see no future for themselves, they take to crime. And because of the ineffective security arrangement in the country, they are tempted to go and grab people and kidnap them.
They are sure that nobody was going to get them. Ransoms are being paid. In other countries, people do not pay the ransom but here ransom is being paid. So, kidnapping has become a fairly lucrative business in Nigeria. Some people even kidnap themselves and ask for ransom. It shows how terrible things have become.