I had known Chief Olu Falae, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Minister of Finance, only by reputation. When, on Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, he contested the Presidential election and almost won, I started following him closely. Since then I made sure I read virtually all his interventions on economic and political issues in newspapers and magazines.
From his interventions, I saw in them a man with great intellect, a man who thinks lucidly and clearly on fundamental economic and political matters that affect us in Nigeria. In those interventions, I saw also credibility and integrity as underpinnings to his intelligence and brilliance.
It wasn’t until 2011 after I left office as Commissioner for Information and Orientation in Ogun State and became more active in Afenifere that I discovered that all that I knew about Falae from afar was no more than a glimpse of the real thing. It was when I started sitting close to him at the Afenifere meetings that I became overwhelmed by his razor sharp intellect and brilliance both of which were grossly under-projected by his interviews and reports of him in the media. Such is the brilliance and depth of thoughts of Falae that once he speaks at a gathering, the direction and resolutions of the meeting become immediately clear. As a good listener, Falae follows intently the contributions of all else, signifies to speak almost always last, itemises his points, defines his concepts like a professor in a theory class, operationalises his terms, summarises contributions prior to his, and then makes his submission. At no time did it happen that the eventual communique of the meeting would, in any significant way, be far off Falae’s submission.
Now, I must say that as an academic and journalist, I’ve had cause to interact and work with many brilliant people. Among them, however, Falae stands out in the manner his mind organises facts and figures, reconciles disparate, oftentimes contradictory, logics, and expresses them all in clear and succinct manner comprehensible to even less than an averagely intelligent person. This much was testified to by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on April 17, 2018 when Chief Falae took me along with him on a consultation visit to the former President of Nigeria. I’ll say a word later on in this tribute on that visit.
For the unregenerated individual, knowledge and brilliance puff up. Not so with Chief Falae. In the presence of our leaders in Afenifere, the oldest (the late Sir Olaniwun Ajayi) of whom was older than him by 13 years, Falae makes his submission with all deference and seeming diffidence that characterise an Omoluabi Yoruba. Before the leaders, he postrates full length to greet them and pays due obeisance to all dignitaries. Yet, Falae tactically turns down the same obeisance from those of us far junior to him than he is to those he generously pays it to. Such is the humility of Chief Falae.
Currently, Falae is the National Chairman of Social Democratic Party (SDP). After conceiving the idea of forming the party in October 2011, Afenifere gave Falae the assignment of changing extant Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP) to SDP. Because of my modest contributions to the conceptualisation of the new party and its funding, Falae at every point in the registration processes with INEC called on phone to update me. Thereafter he was at my Ibadan home twice for the same purpose. He is such an accountable person.
As such, when the phoney allegation by APC propaganda machine went to work that Falae collected N100 million from PDP before the 2015 elections, I told everyone that raised the issue with me that Falae as a habitually accountable person wouldn’t soil his hands with any such deal. What actually happened was that the PDP Establishment contacted SDP for support in the Presidential election since SDP itself wasn’t fielding a candidate at that level. The request for support was based on the Restructuring agitation which SDP, as an offshoot of Afenifere, naturally stood for. An understanding was formally reached by the leaderships of both parties as represented by Chief Tony Anenih for PDP and Chief Falae for SDP. The N100 million given to Falae was stated in a letter formalising the understanding.
The legitimate transactions between two legal entities became politically criminalised when it was alleged that the money given to SDP came from the office of the then National Security Adviser. How would Falae have known that, especially given that PDP itself publicly raised funds for the 2015 elections in excess of N20 billion? I’ve had to explain this simple fact to quite a number of people particularly in my recent campaign meetings in both United Kingdom and United States of America. It is painful how APC propaganda machine was used to taint the reputation of such a honest and great leader as Falae.
Till this very time we’re celebrating the 80th birthday of Chief Falae, he goes early to work on his vast farm spanning hundreds of hectares in the outskirts of Akure in Ondo State. Falae with his wife and their very small household live modestly on proceeds from the farm and the schools run by his wife. On different occasions, he offered to quit the leadership of SDP but many of us who wanted him to continue to use his credibility, competence and vast administrative experience prevailed on him to stay on till the end of his current tenure as National Chairman of the party.
Back to the visit to President Obasanjo in Abeokuta. It would be recalled that Falae was the main opponent to Obasanjo in the 1999 Presidential election. 19 years after that monumental contest, I saw the two leaders in such convivial and felicitous interaction that it was difficult to believe that they once contested against each other in that momentous political duel. After their private meeting, Obasanjo conducted Falae round the vast Presidential Library in which he himself lives. Tagging along with Falae all the way, Obasanjo took us right into his bedroom despite the protestations by OBJ’s security details. Obasanjo told his security details how wonderful and trustworthy Falae was and that there was absolutely nothing he would hide from him.
Sitting down for lunch later (it was the fabled OBJ’s pounded yam and bushmeat), Baba recounted how Falae worked closely with him as Permanent Secretary right in his office as military Head of State between 1976 and 1979. So much was he impressed by Falae’s competence and dedication to duty that when his protégés took over the reins of government in 1985 and he was asked to recommend someone to serve as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, he thought of no one else but Falae. The very successful technocrat was later drafted from being the SGF to oversee the country’s economic policies and finances as Minister of Finance.
At 80, Falae has seen it all. He has lived through moments of joy and great attainments. He also has lived through grief and losses. About 6 years ago, he lost his illustrious first son to an air crash. Three years ago, he was kidnapped from his farm for ransom by criminal herdsmen. Since his miraculous release from the captivity of those who nearly killed him, the same criminal elements have repeatedly gone back to his farm to burn it up as recompense for their collaborators apprehended and eventually jailed through the processes of law. Each time the criminals maliciously visited Falae’s farm, he lost agricultural produces worth several millions of Naira.
In good and bad times, in moments of joy and sorrow, Falae kept his dignity and never for once lost hope in the Nigerian project where fairness, justice and prosperity will prevail and our people live well and rejoice. Falae doesn’t live for himself but for his compatriots, he lives right in the midst of the people rather than remotely from them, and he no longer has any personal ambition than to continue to show the right way and means to those of us who willingly chose him as our leader and mentor. Beyond going to his farm at dawn and returning at dusk, Falae commits his life to serving his God and working for the attainment of a just and equitable Nigeria.
So, here’s wishing this inspiring leader and patriot, Chief Oluyemisi Falae a happy 80th birthday. Wishing you, sir, very many more years of service to our fatherland in good health.
• Kawonise is former commissioner for information, Ogun State