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This Is Not The Nigeria Of Our Dream – Falae

Chief Samuel Oluyemisi Falae CFR, simply known as Olu Falae, is a Nigerian banker, administrator and politician from Akure, Ondo State. He was born on September 21, 1938. He was secretary to the military government of Ibrahim Babangida from January 1986 to December 1990, and was briefly the Finance Minister in 1990.
In the mid 1990s, following the cancellation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and the coming to power of a new military government, Falae became a prominent member of the National Democratic Coalition during the quest for the restoration of democracy in Nigeria.

He unsuccessfully contested the 1999 Nigerian presidential elections on the joint platform of the Alliance for Democracy and the All People’s Party against Olusegun Obasanjo, the presidential candidate for the People’s Democratic Party. Falae has lived in semi-retirement as a large scale farmer in Ago Abo, Akure, where he holds the chieftaincy title of the Olu of Ilu Abo. In this no hold barred interview with Bolu Olu Esho, on Nigeria’s 59th Independence anniversary, Falae spoke on nagging issues plaguing the polity.
Nigeria is celebrating 59th anniversary of Independence. Is this your dreamed Nigeria?
Certainly not. It would be dishonest to say this is the Nigeria we envisaged at independence.  At independence I was an undergraduate at University of Ibadan. We were very optimistic about the future of Nigeria. We were very excited that we were going to gain our independence from the British. We had all kinds of dreams about what we were going to have. But unfortunately, almost immediately after the independence, crisis started.
First of all, as we were approaching the independence, we the students of University of Ibadan, University College, as it was then known, had to go to Lagos, the seat of Parliament then, to demonstrate for the abrogation of the draft Anglo Defence Pact which we learnt had been made a condition for our independence by the British and to which our leaders were reportedly made to agree.
We thought that was not going to be an independence, if we have to sign a document that if Britain goes to war, we would have to join them. Then we were not going to be free. That was even before independence. We went into the Parliament; I was one of those who went there. We stormed into the House of Representatives. And the police had to come in and arrest us. Some of us were charged and all of that. That was our introduction to independence.
The struggle started even before independence. Our leaders did not deny that there was such understanding. They didn’t. So we were right to have challenged the initialing of the draft Anglo Defence Pact documents. That was the introduction of our independence.
And of course, within two years, the government at the center did not want to see any opposition. Intolerance started. Typical of Africans. They didn’t want any other party to control government. So, they moved against the Western Regional government. The party in power manufactured the crisis, given that politicians don’t want people to challenge their leaders and government.
The party in power declared an emergency and the leader of the House of Representatives, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was arrested and detained in Lekki. His administration was investigated and the treasonable felony trial.
That was how we started our independence in crisis borne out of intolerance and dictatorial tendency in African politics.
So, it’s not surprising that we are where we are now. Fifty-nine years on, Nigeria is far from where we expected her to be.
Today, let’s start with security. I went to secondary school in Lagos from here in Akure at age of 14. I used to go from here alone to Lagos by public transport to attend Igbobi College and come back at the end of the term alone.
The first time I came home on holiday by a lorry, I arrived at Akure at 1:00am. I was dropped at the motor park and walked to our house. There was no light in Akure as at that time. It was about a mile away to our home near First Bank market branch. I got home safely.
So, I was safe at 14 to travel from Akure to Lagos and back in those days. But today, the Federal Government has decided that I should not go to my farm by myself at 81. That I should let the police go with me. It’s no longer safe for me to go to my farm from here at 81, but it was safe for me to go to Lagos and come back at 14. That summarises, for me, the dramatic change in the security situation between then and now.
Take the economic situation. Yes in those days, not so many people were in the salaried employment. Federal, regional and local governments were the major employers in those days. We had private companies but not too many. But what do we have today, a lot of people, millions of people, who used to work in manufacturing industries that have lost their jobs for the past 20 years, many of them remained unemployed. We had only University College, Ibadan, total enrolment was about 200 or 300 in 1960, but today we have several universities producing over a million graduates annually. The question is how many of them find employment.
Huge unemployment was the characteristics of this economy which was unknown then. It’s the frustration that comes with unemployment. This frustration leads to anti-social crises such as crimes, drug abuse, prostitution, kidnapping and all sorts of terrible things. Even social life. In those days, we used to go to cinemas. Different dramatic groups were put up in Lagos and Ibadan to entertain people. People went there and came back at 11:00 pm. Will you dare to go to such places now? So, trying to look at all these show how life has changed substantially for the worse.
That is not to say that there have not been improvements. Of course, there have been growths. Many more houses, more kilometers of roads have been built. Look at the statistics, the number of secondary schools and universities, but the quantitative growth has not been matched with qualitative growth. On the contrary, quality has declined. Quality of life has declined and insecurity has grown.
In those days when we were going to Lagos, there were no potholes. The roads were narrow, yes, winding. Yes, there were no trenches, gullies where vehicles could tumble into ditches. There was no fear at all. Life was generally satisfying and safe. Certainly, this is not the country of our dream.
A number of countries in Europe gave Nigerians free entry into their countries. Britain, as a Commonwealth country, West Germany. Nigerians were free to go to West Germany without visa. They were free to go there to live, work and study there. Same thing with Britain. Can you go there today?
The kind of respect Nigerians enjoyed in those days is gone. Today, if you want to go to any of those countries, you pay through your nose for their visa. That’s if they will give you. This is because most Nigerians are suspected to be criminals. Generally we are less well regarded abroad. We are worse off here at home. So, all in all, as someone who’s a public officer throughout his career, I feel sad that all our labours for the improvement of the country have not got the expected results.
In those days we had economic development plans. The government would set out what’s going to do on road for the next five years, how many ports it is going to build and where. How many schools, hospitals and ensured what was happening in one sector happened in other sectors.
For example, if we want to build 50 hospitals, we will go to the education sector and ensure we train enough doctors to work in the hospitals.  But today what happens, the Minister will go and use his position in the National Assembly to get his budget approved. The Minister of Health will go and build the hospitals. If the Minister of Health gets money for his budget and the Minister of Education does not, there would be no doctors, no nurses, no technicians to work in the hospitals. So, that is irrational development. But plan will force you to ensure that what is happening in all sectors agrees with one another.
For example, look at what’s happening in Lagos, which I will call paralysis. To go to Apapa is almost impossible because those in charge of the ports and of the traffic that flows around the ports are doing their own thing. And those in charge of roads are doing their own thing. Now the roads are too narrow and unmaintained to allow the volume of traffic necessary. So, the consistency has paralysed the system.
So, the sooner we return to development plan the better. So, there’s no major company which does not have a development plan for about five or 10 years to know where they are going. And to ensure what is going on in one area of activities agrees with what’s going one in other areas. Otherwise you can spend all the money and the kind of what has happened in Lagos will happen.
Yes, you have built your port, import has grown, export has grown but you cannot evacuate them. Thanks to lack of planning.
I was about going into that. In the past, there used to be economic plan that would span five years or more, but today that seems to be missing.
Yes, the new government came and maybe the World Bank or IMF group dissuaded the Nigerian government to stop planning. My suspicion is that maybe they feel that that is not consistent with free enterprise. That’s not true.
There is no major company in the world, General Motors and so on that does not plan. A planless person cannot achieve anything. Even every household plans. You and your wife as young couple, you want to build a house, you must plan. To give it up may be suicidal. It’s unreasonable.
If you’re asking me to recommend, one thing is that we must return to economic planning because of the consistency in the activity that imposes on the system and because once you have a plan, you can never have the idea that every naira you have is a surplus. This is because human needs are insatiable, they can never be met.
Once you start planning, ministry by ministry, no minister can solve all the problems. So, you will always have more requests than the money available. It brings financial discipline and reduces the tendency for corruption.
When you don’t have plan, any money that comes, you think it’s a surplus because there’s nothing to which it is committed, so maybe you can steal part of it. But if you are given N2 billion and your plan is N10 billion, you will know that you have shortage of funds and that would make you use the money with greater discipline and with greater effect.
So, planning brings discipline. It’s anti-corruption in my view, it brings consistency and enables you get the maximum out of your resources.
Some people still blame the nation’s economic woes on the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) introduced by the government in which you served and even see you as the one who midwived it. Do you share their views?
This is irrelevant and an absolute nonsense because when President Shehu Shagari came into government, his government started issuing import licences to people. And a lot of people who had no factories were being issued import licences to import raw materials.
So, they went and sold those licences to those who had factories. They were making cheap money. They became cheap millionaires overnight. Those factory owners looked for money after buying the licences to import raw materials. This increased the cost of the products.
That system of reckless issuance of import licence led to Nigeria, very quickly, importing more good than money we earned from oil per year. And when we import, we pay in dollars, not in naira. The dollar we were earning from oil, let’s say about $5 billion, but we were issuing licences worth $10 billion. So, in a year we import good worth $10 billion and we only make $5 billion. So, how can $5 billion pay for $10 billion? We could not pay, so Nigeria went into debt.
So, we owed foreigners a lot of money because we imported good recklessly through import licences. So, we were in debt and they said they would not import anything into Nigeria since we could not pay what we were owing them.  All the machineries, the medicine, wheat for bread, they said they would no longer ship them to us. What’s going to happen to us? We are in trouble, if we could not import wheat. Imagine what would happen if there’s no bread to buy in the streets. So, we were running to a halt. So, we had no choice than to pay back what we were owing.
When you’re owing your bank and you don’t pay, your salary that goes in there will not come out. Same thing our money that we earned was being paid into foreign account. Those who were buying from us are foreigners. They pay in dollars or pounds sterling into the account, then we used it pay for the importation.
So, the IMF said well since you could not pay those you’re owing, they went to IMF to give us money with which to pay them, but we must accept their conditionalities and for them to control our economy. And Nigerians say no, we are not going to become a colony again just because we have over spent our way.
So, the government of General Babangida on 18th of December 1985, one and a half months before I became the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) announced that he would do his own Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) at home without borrowing and taking the conditionalities and became a slave to IMF. That was why they adopted SAP.
SAP allowed us to export more things apart from oil. We removed the Marketing Board. Marketing Board was enjoying the monopoly and the only one buying the produce and paying the farmers whatever they like. And because they were paying the farmers far less than the market price, most farmers gave up tending their farms.
Take for example, in the Western Region, cocoa production reduced from 240 tons a year to about 180 tons a year because what the Marketing Board was giving them was not even enough to buy the chemicals they needed for their farms. The farmers were no fools. So, they left their farms and became labourers in town.
SAP came and cancelled the Marketing Board and asked farmers to sell their produce to whoever they like at whatever price. So, the price of cocoa went up and the farmers went back to the village. So, today you can’t find an empty village.
So, SAP has reversed the degeneration in the rural areas occasioned by the poor prices being paid to the farmers. What people complained about is the exchange rate. As I said earlier, what we were importing was twice what we were earning, so our naira was artificial.
When the adjustment came, the naira depreciated, but for the three and a half years that I was in government, the naira was only N5.5 to a dollar. The day I left office in August 1990, it was N5.5 to a dollar.
So it wasn’t SAP, it was mismanagement. When I left office, I don’t know what went wrong, but a lot of things went wrong. Suddenly, naira started going down. So the growing devaluation in naira was not due to SAP but mismanagement and corruption. If it was SAP, it would have happened in the first three years.
All in all, SAP was designed to make Nigeria productive. Nigerians started sewing shirts and other items and exporting them. Like revival of cash crops. But in everything, good and bad go together.
Since then, no government has reversed the things that government put in place. We cancelled the Marketing Board. Has any government brought it back since then? If any government tries that, the farmers would revolt.
What is your assessment of the democratic practice since  Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999?
Below average. It’s known that elections have been rigged. There were violence, there were killings during elections. President Umaru Yar’Adua said that the level of violence and corruption that took place during his election was unacceptable. That says it all.
Subsequent elections, particularly when a man is seeking a second term, he is the one organising his own reelection; he goes to town and rigs the election. So, it has been happening.  The last election is still in the court. We are all aware of what has been going on. The electoral body told the whole nation on the television that the results of elections from every ward would go straight to the server in Abuja to avoid manipulation at the local level. I later heard that they were saying either there was no server or there was nothing on the server. That casts doubts on the legitimacy of our elections.
The legitimacy of a government is unchallengeable. The process that brings government should be free, fair and transparent for the sake of the nation and all of us, so that we can respect, support and obey our government. But if we have doubt about the legitimacy of an organization, it would be unreasonable for it to expect the people to obey and respect its authority.
So all of us should ensure we have credible elections. I myself took part in elections in 1999 and I can tell you and say it again as a Christian and as an honest man of integrity that the election in which I participated was rigged. I went to court but the military had made up its mind that it would be succeeded by a fellow military person.
In many places, the number of vote cast for the military president exceeded the number of registered voters. I did not get zero, I got almost 15 million votes. So, how can one person earn more than the total? The black man only believes in democracy if it favours him. That’s my assessment. So, we wax eloquence talking about democracy provided it favours us.
Votes are publicly bought now. Even local elections, they are bought. When I was still in partisan politics, some of my people came and said votes are being publicly sold and bought. I asked them why they didn’t report to the police. They said they did and the police replied them that “you no know say na money dem dey take do politics? Go find your own money come.”
So that’s the democracy we are talking about. So it leaves so much to be desired. This is unacceptable. We need to prove we can have a more credible political system.

Source: IndependentNg

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