How we can make Nigeria work again — Chief Olu Falae – Vanguard
•Let’s emulate Czechoslovakia, not Yugoslavia
•What younger generation should know about Nigeria
By Dayo Johnson & Dapo Akinrefon
You can manage change that could result from self-determination but you cannot stop it: The former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF and former Finance Minister, Chief Olu Falae speaks on Nigeria at 61. Excerpts:
What’s your take on the state of the nation, is this actually the Nigeria of your dream?
Certainly not, in fact it was not possible for me to think of a country that will be like this, talk less of Nigeria. When I was young and in secondary school for example, I saw Nigeria as a very pleasant place where one was free to move around and with prosperity around, even among the farming population, among the traders, business people.
For instance, I started secondary school in Lagos in January 1953 at Igbobi College, my father took me from Akure to Lagos to hand me over to an uncle, Papa J.D Adedipe, who was the headmaster of Baptist Academy as my guardian and returned to Akure. I went to school and at the end of the first term, I alone found my way from Lagos to Akure at a time when I was about 13 years old, and at the end of the holiday I found my way back to Lagos and I was shuttling between Akure and Lagos by myself, no kidnapper, no Boko Haram, no desperado and no anxiety at all. So you can imagine what it was like at that time.
Unfortunately, as Independence approached things began to change. Although there were few leaders who dared to warn us that Independence might usher in a terrible time. One of such persons was a lady, Adunni Oluwole, who was originally from Ibadan but grew up in Lagos.
She was very outspoken and her theme was that a black man as he saw us was not his brother’s keeper and that if Independence were to be granted prematurely, we would enslave one another and to demonstrate that, she tied a chain around her waist and got someone to drag her around and she said that was the way we would treat one another after independence. She came to Akure here, she found a lot of followers here, she contested election here in Akure.
Though she was not from here, she got very few votes but the point was that I saw her physically and I remember her being dragged around at her own request to dramatize to us what would happen after Independence. Looking back, she was called names by the nationalists, they called her a traitor, a reactionary but if you look back now and what is happening and what has happened, I think honesty will compel us to accept that Adunni Oluwole was right. We have done to one another far worse than what she said we would. We did not just tie chain on the waist of other people, we have killed other people with Boko Haram, kidnapping, banditry and others. So, there were few prophets who saw the future correctly but they were very unpopular and because of that, tragedy came on us before we recognized what was happening.
This is very sad, that a country with a lot of promise, a lot of potentials has remained crippled with poverty, unemployment, insecurity and others. I don’t think a country can wish to be potentially richer than Nigeria. Our own is not just in terms of material things like oil and gas and forestry product like palm oil and kolanut, but the people. There’s a minimum size of population that will enable a country to be a major player in the world, if you’re a country of one million people, how much can you do but population of about 200 million, it’s quite substantial to provide the massive market that can enable our economy to grow and develop, even depending on internal market.
Apart from the size of our population, there is the quality of our people. Nigerians are some of the most self assured people I have ever met. It’s not every race that can exhibit that kind of self assurance and without that self assurance there is little that can be achieved because development includes struggling.
There will be self doubt in the course of trying to lead your people out of poverty but your self assurance and confidence in what you are doing will stand in good stead. So, we have everything, the population, the intelligence of the people, self assurance. There are those who have given up, who are permanently depressed, they don’t believe the future can be better, so there’s no point investing in such population. But we thank God we are not like that, our potential is second to none and yet we are hungry, we are poor and our youth are sinking into permanent depression and also in terms of crime and all kind of bestial life in an attempt to survive. It’s part of survival strategy to indulge in crime and all kinds of anti social behavior. So, all in all, I think there has been a crisis of leadership, leadership that can see the future clearly and have courage to stand up for the people, that will not sacrifice the interest of the people for personal interests, that is what we need. Awolowo was a star but the reactionary forces in Nigeria felt he should be taken out of the way and they were able to find people in his own backyard to betray him and put spanner in his works. Before they did that he had already achieved a lot of firsts which we are still proud of today. I was in Government College Ibadan in 1958/59 when Awolowo brought Television to Western Nigeria, which was the first in the country and even in Africa. At that time many countries in Europe did not have Television, countries like Portugal, Romania, they had no Television and yet a region in a country called Nigeria had Television. The kind of leader who dared to do that, who felt that his people were entitled to nothing less than that is the kind of leader that we needed to transform us from potentially great country to a world power. Not just Television, he introduced free education, which the rest of Nigeria said was impossible, the other regions said it was not possible, the federal government said it wasn’t possible but he did it. I used to mention something that Awolowo was not a Muslim but he recognized that there were Christians and Muslims and traditional worshipers among the Yoruba people and so when he learnt that Muslim pilgrims from Nigeria were suffering a lot in Saudi Arabia, though not a Muslim, he set up the Muslim Welfare Board which made arrangements for Yoruba Muslims to go to Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage to ensure there would be little or no discomfort or deprivation in the Holy land. He did that ahead of the Sardauna of Sokoto who was the premier of northern Nigeria who was also a Muslim. Awolowo being a leader who loved his people, that says it all. So what I am saying is that the potentials that Nigeria has, required a man like Awolowo with the vision and commitment of Awolowo to convert that potential to real wealth and prosperity but unfortunately we have not been privileged to have another Awolowo. Talking about Awolowo, we are not hero worshiping, as I as a person will not worship any human being, I have always wanted to be myself but that does not prevent me from seeing sterling qualities in others whom I admire and I appreciate.
The importance of that is that in the next challenge we should be looking for those qualities that have endeared Awolowo to us young people then and this is what we have been looking for, not his height or amount of money he has but his vision, his commitment to the welfare of the people. These are the things to look for in a good leader like Awolowo and when I look around me I hope we are going to find such leader who will lead us out of the political jail where we are now.
At what point did we get it wrong and how?
It is like what some people say about becoming a child of God. There are people who will become born-again through dramatic event in their life, like Paul on his way to Damascus, the Damascus experience. But don’t assume that everybody has that experience or must have that experience. God has different ways of recruiting different people. Similarly, it is not easy to say at what particular time Nigeria started going wrong. It is a gradual and continuing process of degradation when leadership is not right. It started a long time ago, it started with Lord Lugard, not because he amalgamated Nigeria, that is not the issue.
The issue is that, he himself recognized and stated that the main justification for amalgamating north and south was to enable him apply the budget surplus of the south to finance the deficit of the north. To me, that was the origin of our problem. The intention was to make one side subsidize the other. God cannot bless an unfair marriage. So that is the foundation.
For many years since 1945, international communism dominated international relations. You will recall the crisis in Cuba, the fight in Mozambique, struggle against apartheid in South Africa. There were accusations that South Africa and Zimbabwe leaders fighting for independence were communists. International communism was the major issue until the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Berlin war. Those are dramatic events that signalled end of the dominance of international communism in international affairs. Nature placed a vacuum. Communism seemed to be the main issue. What took its place? Nationalism or ethnic nationalism or the quest of ethnic groups for self determination identity.
You only need to look at Europe to see what I’m talking about. Soon, after the collapse of the Berlin wall, the crisis in Bosnia started and the Bosnia war broke out in the heart of Europe. Bosnia was part of former Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia were the people that the media called the Balkans, from which you got balkanization. But Marshal Tito was able to keep Yugoslavia together through statesmanship and recognizing means of the various ethnic groups in Yugoslavia. But when he died, lesser men, less competent people took over and when there were demands for greater identity, self determination by the various nationalities, the leaders of Yugoslavia after Tito didn’t have the sense and the sagacity to manage the tension, so it erupted into a civil war which lasted ten years in the heart of Europe, leading to ethnic cleansing and hundreds of thousands of people were killed. At the end of the bloody war, Yugoslavia broke up into seven different countries; Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia. It broke into pieces after the war.
By contrast, in Czechoslovakia, the next door neighbour to Yugoslavia, the leaders sat around the table and said alright, the Czechs want to have their identity and their own country, so have your country, the Slovakia people, have your own country. They didn’t fire a shot, and they split into two countries.
So, there are two models. There is what I called the managed-change model of Czechoslovakia where the Czechs and the Slovakians agreed to manage their desire for self determination and broke into two countries. The other model, the resisted-change model in Yugoslavia. The result was tragedy, war, killings and total disintegration into seven countries after that war. Those are two models for managing self determination. And if you go to Britain which colonized Nigeria, United Kingdom of Britain and Scotland, it was in 1707 that the act which was called permanent union was passed by the British parliament making Scotland and England one country forever. The Welsh are the closest to the English. They said we are not English people, we are Welsh, we have our own identity and language completely different from English. It was like a joke, gradually they pressed for a referendum and they voted 50.5% for home rule, 49.5% said no, let’s remain, and they implemented the result. They are democrats, they agreed to implement the decision, to give Wales home rule. Today, there is Welsh Assembly in Cardiff. When COVID-19 came, Wales pursued a programme different from that of England. Soon thereafter, Scotland followed. They too had a referendum and they also have home rule. There is Scottish parliament in Edinburgh today. There’s parliament in Northern Ireland, and of course, Westminster in London.
So, Britain which was supposed to be the most united of all the countries in Europe now practices what I call a de facto federation. There are state governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the federal government in Westminster in London. They don’t call it a federation but that is what it is in essence. In other words, what is seemingly an homogeneous cohesive United Kingdom has broken into a de facto federation. So we should learn from all that, that self-determination is a universal movement which you cannot stop. If the Welsh are still fighting to become totally independent or the Scots, how can you stop ethnic groups that don’t speak the same language, don’t have the same culture, how can you stop them from agitating for self-determination? Those who rule us know all this world events going on and that they were part of the world. It is a trend, it is a movement, you cannot stop it. The important thing is to be intelligent enough to manage the change that is necessary, so that it will not be bloody, it will not be violent and it will be like what has happened in Czechoslovakia or what is happening in United Kingdom. It will not be like what happened in Yugoslavia.
How can you say the Yoruba and the Jukun who never knew each other before the British came should not have their own separate states, with greater autonomy characterising their existence? The British could not stop the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish, and in Yugoslavia, the Serbians could not stop the Montenegro people and the Macedonia people from self-determination, so it is a universal thing. In the run up to independence, Nigeria leaders went to London several times to negotiate with the British and to negotiate among themselves. At that time, the northern region and eastern region wanted a unitary constitution but Chief Obafemi Awolowo said fine, but we are different, that Yoruba is different from the North, the Hausa is different from the Igbo, Ijaw is different from the Kanuri. This is the reality of our society, so let’s find a way in which we can live together without friction and that way is to have a federal government that enables people of same geographical area, have their own governments at the regional levels. We will have a federal government at the centre that would do for us things that are better done centrally, like defense, currency, Central Bank but allow the regions to do their own thing without bothering the other. Awolowo approached the British and said we are ready for our internal self government and the British granted it, meaning that we were independent in Western Nigeria from 1957. The only area where we were not fully independent was foreign affairs but within Nigeria, we were independent from July 1957 while the rest of Nigeria remained a colony under Britain. This is a point that needs to be brought out more clearly. The younger generation doesn’t seem to know these things. We were a self governing independent region from 1957 until national independence in 1960. For three years, we were already self governing, Awolowo was presiding over our cabinet meetings in Ibadan. When the two other regions saw this, I believed it sent a signal to them that if we didn’t agree to this man’s proposed federation, he would take the next step. And the way he ran the western regional government, they were more than persuaded that we were ready for independence. They would have granted us full independence, western Nigeria would have become a separate independent country. To now treat us as if we are homogeneous, whatever they do in Sokoto, they must do in Ibadan, it cannot be so. This is the fundamental issue in Nigeria. I’m not talking about secession, the word is a very ugly word. If we go back to the independence constitution, the situation has changed but the principle had under pinned that constitution. Autonomy should be considered for ethnic nationalities in their regions or states. Then, allow the states to collect the revenues that accrue in their territory on behalf of the whole country and then sent to the centre. The principle of derivation was 50 percent. If any revenue accrued in your territory you got 50 percent, then 50 percent went to an account where it was shared to all Nigerians. That is how it was done. If we go back to those issues today tension will come down. Nigeria will be great again.
But I’m happy that the present insecurity is succeeding in concentrating the minds of Nigerian leaders both north and south, particularly. The governor of Kaduna State said recently that JAMB should stop the differential cut off point. If that is implemented, it goes a long way to reassure Nigerians that we are all equal citizens of Nigeria, we are not third class citizens.
To give my own personal example, when one of my daughters, Tinuke was in primary school in Lagos, she took the common entrance examination and performed very well. One boy in her class, I think his name is Aminu, an Hausa/Fulani boy who performed much worse than she did, was offered admission, and Tinuke was yet to be admitted. Do you know what? She refused to go to school anymore. She revolted that Aminu got thirty something and she got eighty something but she was not given admission. So, discriminatory policies are the things destroying Nigeria, destroying confidence among all Nigerians. If that proposal by the Governor of Kaduna state is implemented, it means there is still hope for Nigeria. And followed by the observation by the governor of Kano state who said that the Q’uran is against anybody who is driving his cattle into another person’s farm. The governor said a place should be set aside for a grazing reserve where cattle will be confined and be fed. They too are now saying what we have been saying for 25 years. So, this crisis is concentrating people’s minds and I think we are trying to converge on the truth. I hope that trend will continue because I’m an unrepentant believer in a reformed and reconstituted Nigerian state that will be fair to all and in which every Nigerian can actualise his or her potential, in which you can move freely without fear of terrorism or victimization or being kidnapped. And your dues being given to you without having to lobby or demean yourself or play the sycophant. I believe it can still be done because as I said, events are beginning to show.
But how did we find ourselves in this state as a nation?
The military incursion into politics had been substantially responsible for our crises. As I have said earlier, the political covenant that provided stability for Nigeria was the consensus embedded in independence constitution. For example, in that constitution, the Nigerian Police Council comprised the Prime Minister and the three Regional Premiers, the police was not an exclusive organ of the federal government, it was managed and run by the federal government and the three regions. In other words, if a man was going to be posted as a Commissioner of Police to a region , the Prime Minister and the three Premiers would sit down and look at the candidates and would pick whoever was the best and the Premier of the region would have the final say whether the candidate was acceptable or not. So in that arrangement it was not possible to post to your region a Commissioner of Police who would come there to undermine your authority or encourage criminals. So, the constitution made it compulsory for the four governments to share authority over the Nigerian police. But when the military came, they scrapped the constitution and gave police power exclusively to the federal government. It was imposed by the military and most of the military rulers are from the north, that’s the truth of the matter and they would post Colonel subordinate to states who could not argue with his Commander in Chief who sent him to the state to go and rule. It was not a process of negotiating but a total authority and they were doing things which people didn’t even want and our people who were in the military were not in a position to have an effective voice because you don’t argue with your commander in Chief. And the occasion we had the opportunity to have a free negotiation and discussion about our constitution was denied in 2014 which was not even military, that was the only one which was not organised by the military and I want to tell you that those of us from the south west went to discuss Yoruba agenda and 80 percent of what we wanted passed through that conference. That was the only time we had a non military tele-guided constitutional conference which most Nigerian were happy about. So to me it was the military rule and most of the time it was the northern military that ruled and that was what put us at a huge disadvantage over the years.
How can we make things work again in this country?
By insisting that consensus which was the essence of the independence should be the essence of our next constitution. What I mean is, the premiers of the three regions had to agree to the form of constitution and intergovernmental arrangements they would have after independence and they agreed it would be consensus but when the military took over, they threw away that constitution and the consensus that was its foundation and since then there had been no other consensual constitution, we have been having imposition by the military which is one sided, sectional
. It was only at the 2014 confab that once again, since the scrapping of the independence constitution we were able as civilians, without the military breathing down our heads, able to discuss, brainstorm and agreed on more than 600 resolutions by consensus, meaning that we did not have to vote on a single resolution.
The Chairman of the conference, late Justice Kutigi put a big ballot box in front of us, boldly written and told us that if you feel strongly about any resolution and you think or feel we should have a division, you just raise your hand and we will vote.
He made it very easy for us to have division and almost encouraging people to press for division but we passed about 622 resolutions and nobody, not one person raised his or her hand to ask for division.
Therefore, it is only fair to say that the entire report was agreed by consensus and that is the only way you can make a constitution owned by all Nigerians. This one we are operating was written by Abacha, I don’t know who he consulted but it is not a constitution that the Yoruba can own, we didn’t have any input in it, therefore, the minimum is that we should now take the report of the national conference and use it as basis for a new constitution. Some people are making untrue statement that the report was imposed and that was very wicked, cowardly and unfair to us. I recalled at the beginning of the conference, we had a disagreement as to what percentage a resolution must pass before it would be accepted. In the guiding speech which the President then, Goodluck Jonathan read to us, he suggested 70 percent majority but after he left we had a very robust debate, some said 70 percent was an odd percentage, that the conventional thing is two-third majority, even in United Nations and where did 70 percent come from, why not 90 percent.
The chairman adjourned the meeting and picked a hundred of us whom they called the one hundred wise men and women, to go and meet separately, deliberate on that matter and report back to the plenary. We withdrew and went elsewhere and we discussed for a long time and I proposed that important decisions like political decisions are best taken by consensus and not by any majority because the majority excludes some people who felt strongly not to support it but to vote them out, even 90 percent would not be good. I said we should achieve consensus which means all of us are comfortable with these proposals. And it does not mean all of us are happy with the proposal, it means none of us feels very strongly against it and I think that’s better than a 99 percent majority where one person feel very strongly and unhappy about the decision.
They added by saying that if it’s going to be consensus we must also add that any committee that cannot reach consensus we would lock them up in a room, give them food and drink and keep them there until they reach consensus. They all laughed but I meant it and I am happy to say that my major proposal, consensus, was recommended in the plenary. As it turned out, not once did we vote by any majority, we didn’t vote, we agreed by consensus. Therefore, the report is the only one I know, if anybody knows another one let him produce it, that has been agreed by all Nigerians by consensus. The only one that qualifies to be used as a basis which we all support and which Nigerians should support because we all subscribed to it is the report.
Continues next week when he speaks on the economy, President Buhari and Sunday Igboho. It’s exclusive and refreshingly different. Watch out