A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and National Chairman of Social Democratic Party, Mr Olu Falae, speaks with PETER DADA about the state of the nation and the forthcoming general elections
What is the motive behind your recent meetings with some elder statesmen across the country?
The purpose of my recent visits to a number of prominent Nigerians was to hold consultations with them on how to begin to tackle the problems facing our nation, especially the unusual and unprecedented mass killings that are going on. This has never happened in our history. It is something new and frightening. So, the correct thing to do is to talk to those who, like me, had held very high public offices in Nigeria and those who were once in charge of the security of Nigeria. That is my principal motive for the visits.
What have been their responses?
The views of the leaders I have met like (a former military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim) Babangida was very explicit in his comment that he totally supports the SDP as an alternative since the two other parties have let us down and that he was glad that people like us are leading the party — people that had worked with him before; people who he knows to be good Nigerians; honest people with integrity and who love the nation. He also said he wished that he was younger, that he would have loved to join the youth vanguard of the SDP in order to work for it and ensure its victory.
Former President (Olusegun) Obasanjo had made his position known even before I went to see him. Indeed, it was because of the position he made known that made me to consult him. We have in the country at the moment a government that has done poorly; a government that is watching Nigerians being killed every day and is doing nothing about it. We have a government that is watching hundreds of thousands of Nigerians graduating from higher institutions every day without jobs. Unfortunately, the same government is preparing to come back. That is frightening.
For me, I don’t think Nigerians will accept to continue to live under these conditions for another four, five years and that was what took me to former President Obasanjo, who had publicly asked the present President to step aside and join the league of retired leaders. That is the common view we have that when a government is not performing, he (the President) should do himself and Nigerians a favour by removing himself from the seat and allow a new leadership to emerge for the benefit of everybody.
But we learnt that your meeting with Obasanjo did not yield positive results in terms of adopting the SDP for the general elections.
You assess an event on the basis of its objective. What did I go there to achieve? I went there to confirm that both he and me share the same view about the APC (All Progressives Congress) being assisted to leave office. It was a success in the sense that there was a confirmation by both of us that that needs to happen in the interest of the nation and that no single party can do it. Virtually all Nigerians must come together to make that happen because as you must know, it is a very difficult thing to defeat a sitting president in Africa because African leaders, by their nature, never give up. They use everything at their disposal to remain in power, whether fair or foul.
I went there to confirm that we share the same view. It is not something a single party can do; as many parties as possible must come together, build a consensus around a common candidate when the time comes, and democratically effect a change of government when the time comes. That is what I went there for and I got what I went there for.
You said your meeting with Obasanjo was successful but I learnt that he rejected your proposal seeking his coalition’s endorsement to adopt SDP?
I didn’t go there to discuss which party and all of that. Most of what was reported in the media never took place at all. So, the visit was a huge success because it achieved its objectives.
What are the objectives?
We have both agreed that there should be a formidable coalition that will take over power from the APC government.
Some people were insinuating that you perhaps had an interest in running for president and that was why you are holding consultations with top Nigerians. Is this correct?
(Laughs) I think that is the answer to the speculation. You can see that is spontaneous and genuine laughter. No, I have decided that I would not run for any office in Nigeria again.
Do you have anybody in mind for the position?
Not at this stage because, after all, we are just building the party now. It is only in the last two months that people started rushing in and the process is still on. Every day, they are coming in. We must absorb them, make them feel comfortable and consolidate the party. It is then that aspirants begin to show interest. Right now, very few people are showing interest (in the presidential ticket).
Who are those national figures that are already showing interest in joining the party?
How many will I mention to you? Thousands and thousands of people are coming. I know you want me to mention some big names. People, who are senators, who are members of House of Representatives and other Nigerians, who are not holding any political position, many of them have never, in fact, been in politics (because they consider politics as a filthy, bad thing), have continued to join our party.
Recently, I was in Ijebu Igbo (Ogun State) to attend the 10th memorial service of the late Papa (Abraham) Adesanya, and there, a young man was introduced to me by our legal adviser in Lagos, who said he came to politics for the first time because of my name and the chairman of the party in Lagos State told me that there were thousands of them coming into politics for the first time through the SDP. That is what is going on. It is not a question of how many governors or senators are coming. Now that the APC has had its debacle, the next few weeks will be very fruitful for the SDP, just wait and see.
Are you not scared of those coming, based on their antecedents in their previous parties? Don’t you think they may come and destroy your party?
No, they can’t. I am sure you have travelled abroad before. Nigerians, while they are here at the bus stop, are very impatient. They will not queue. But the same Nigerians in London queue. Why? It is because of the environment and a functional system. You have to conform to the system you find yourself. For example, the type of the system we have adopted in selecting our candidate immediately rules out a lot of money politics.
We are expecting more than 60,000 people to vote. How many of them are you going to meet at home to bribe? But if this is a community of 200 people, you grab more than 120 of them, camp them in a hotel like prisoners, give them food and then take them to the polling centre to vote. The system itself regulates, controls and reduces the kind of malpractices we are talking about. That is one.
Secondly, this is a disciplined party. I believe that most of the people joining the party know that the leadership of the party is disciplined and that anybody, who comes to the party, must subject himself to the discipline, no matter how highly-placed. One of the unfortunate developments in Nigerian politics is that leaders have not been chairmen of their parties. (Chief Obafemi) Awolowo was the leader of the Action Group and chairman of the party. Zik (Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe) was the leader of the NCNC and chairman of the group. Sardauna (Sir Ahmadu Bello) was the leader of his own group and chairman.
They were not just leaders. Awolowo was the leader of the Yoruba; Zik was the leader of the Igbo, and Sardauna was the leader of the Hausa/Fulani and then, chairmen of their parties. So, they commanded authority and their people behaved themselves. But since 1999, we’ve been having surrogates, hand-picked by the leaders, to go and be chairmen. The chairmen became ‘boy-boy’ and the members of the party knew that those chairmen were not the ones who had the authority. They disrespected them; they didn’t pay attention to them; they knew they were easy to bribe, bully and disgrace. But in SDP, by the grace of God, the members accept me as their leader and their chairman. This makes a difference.
We are like the parties of old; we are unlike these other parties where surrogates are hand-picked to go and be chairmen of parties. This, plus the system we have adopted, will ensure that anybody who joins us will conform, and anybody who does not, we will shut him out of the party. Once the leadership cannot be bought, things will be alright in the party because that is the weapon Nigerians use –money. They all know that there is no amount of money that can buy me, no currency that can buy me or other leaders of the party like Prof. (Tunde) Adeniran and others. So, they know that that option is out. They would not even try it. They know that if they do primaries and they rig it, we will cancel it. We will be able to cancel it because we didn’t take money from you before the election. These are the reasons why people misbehave. The Nigerians, who staged a riot here, behave well in London.
How is your party preparing for the forthcoming Ekiti and Osun elections?
We are more than ready. We have a lot of credible people. We have had an electoral committee in Ekiti now for the past few days and they will be there until the election is over. We sent them from the national secretariat of our party. They were here (his house) this morning as part of the preparation for the election. Let me say this, by the grace of God, when SDP wins both Ekiti and Osun, the rest of Nigerians will know that a new situation has arisen and that SDP is ready to take over the country, not just Ekiti and Osun.
If the party is obviously preparing for the Ekiti, Osun and general elections, are you preparing against rigging and money for votes?
We are not preparing for rigging of elections. We are preparing to forestall, fight and expose it. As long as our political system is based on rigging and money, we will never have stability. The right people will never win; the right policies will never be possible; poverty and suffering will continue and instability will continue. SDP is bringing in a new system, a new dispensation where merit will be the determinant of success.
Many years ago, when I was seeking presidential nomination, I put out a little pamphlet to guide my agents throughout Nigeria. One critical statement in the booklet reads, ‘Please don’t rig for me. I don’t want to rule by fraud, but please, don’t let anybody rig me out’. I don’t know any other Nigerian politician who has ever said that. It is my genuine belief that anything based on fraud, God cannot sanction it. It will not last, it will not succeed. So, if I can say so for myself, definitely, I will say so for any other person. They should not rig for our candidates but our people must ensure that our candidates are not rigged out.
The way to prevent rigging is for you to organise your party properly which we are doing now. Organise your party down to the unit level. Usually, you have excos of the party at the national level, state level, local government level as well as the ward level. But we have taken ours further by having excos of SDP around every polling unit. So, before polling day, we will know those who are voting in that area because our exco members live around that area. So, it will be very difficult to rig because it is where you are not well represented that you can be rigged out. If you have 30, 40 members of your party in a polling unit, how can they come and start messing around?
What new things are the SDP promising Nigerians?
This is the party that will stop the killings. This is the party that will restructure Nigeria so that states will be far richer to take care of the unemployed. Things shall go back to what we used to have in the days of Chief Awolowo, the Sardauna of Sokoto and others. We are going to get the campaign to that level. The other parties don’t talk about issues like that. Their way is ‘take money and vote for us’.
Elections require money. How are you going to get the funding?
We are going to get money for our mobilisation by God’s grace to a level where most Nigerians will be most unwilling to take money and vote. It has happened before. I could remember in 1979, the wife of the late MKO Abiola, Simbi, ran for senatorial position in Abeokuta and Bashorun Abiola did not distribute only money but vehicles to party leaders. The UPN (Unity Party of Nigeria) candidate won so massively. Simbi Abiola lost the election despite the huge amount of money spent on the election. That happened in Nigeria. If that could happen before, it can happen again. Why did that happen? It was because the UPN then was a very popular party. If you give people money, they will just take your money and vote for the candidate of their choice. So, what has happened before can happen again.
Youths in the country are saying that it is now their turn to rule. Is the SDP considering picking one of them as its presidential candidate in the forthcoming 2019 presidential election?
We shall pick among those who show interest in running for the office. Like I told you, we are just mobilising. Very few people have shown interest so far. I do expect the majority of the aspirants to show their faces a few months from now and when they emerge, we will see who is available and it is the ordinary members of the party who will choose the candidate democratically. Whether young, old, male or female, it is not I that we will choose for Nigerians. If the decision of Nigerians is that a young man should be the president, those Nigerians in our party will be given a chance and respect to show their preference and if they choose one of the youth, that will be our candidate. If their feeling is that the candidate should be a woman, she will be our candidate. It is not for me or any other leader to say it must be a young man, no. That is why we adopted the direct primary method; it is the most democratic.
Is the SDP picking its presidential candidate from the northern part of the country like some other parties?
Yes, we are picking our candidate from the North – it may be from the North-East, North-West or North-Central.
How will the SDP tackle the issue of corruption, bad economy and non-payment of workers’ salaries if it gets into power in 2019?
Our major problem is corruption and once it is tackled, other things will fall in line. The system we are going to run will discourage corruption. Any public officer, who is found to be corrupt, will be dealt with according to the law. I am sure you know that I spent my entire life in the public service. I have said it several times that I have never stolen one kobo that belonged to the government throughout my career and I cannot connive with anybody to steal government money because the money belongs to all of us.
What brings corruption? Firstly, it is over-concentration of resources in one place. When this is done, ministries that have no legitimate business in certain areas would have huge sums voted into it.
The current administration still has a year to go but the killings have not ceased in some parts of the country. What do you think should be done to stop these killings?
I think, first of all, Nigerians should one day move to the streets, demonstrate and say the killings must stop. I am sure the people who are killing others are not spirits, they are herdsmen. The ones that kidnapped me and inflicted cuts on my body are there in the bush. Government can deploy the army and the police to round them (killer herdsmen) up and treat them as terrorists. It can be done and it should be done. I think all the associations, groups and unions can organise a protest against killings.
Do you also agree that the President has not shown a serious concern about the matter?
He (Buhari) has not made any statement on the national television on the matter; he is not concerned. That is why we should take him out. This is why Nigerians should throw him out of office. We can’t continue to watch him and things go on like this. After all, he is the grand patron of the Miyetti Allah, the society of the herdsmen. He is conniving with them in what they are alleged to be doing. He has not made any order to arrest the killer herdsmen. That is why Nigerians should demonstrate, to bring it to his attention that they are unhappy with him.