How Nigeria can get things right again

…Says partisan politics dead in Nigeria

…It’s uncivilized for govt to unleash violence on peaceful protesters

The former Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Chief Olu Falae has been having uninvited guests in his farms in the last three years.

In one of the visits, he was kidnapped on his birthday. In this interview, he spoke on his frustration as herdsmen continue to destroy and set his farms ablaze and other national issues in the country.

Excerpts:

The situation in Nigeria today is frightening, how did we get here?

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 major 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 were from the north, that’s the truth of the matter.

And they would post a Colonel, a subordinate to the head of state, to the state who cannot 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 the 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 organised by the military. Those of us from the south west went to discuss Yoruba agenda and 80 per cent of what we wanted passed through that conference. That was the only time we had a non-military tele-guided constitutional conference which most Nigerians 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 get it right again?

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. It was 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 was 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 necks, to discuss, brainstorm and we 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 Bishop Kutigi put big ballot boxes 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 constitution 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, that was very wicked, cowardly and unfair to us. I recall at the beginning of the conference, we had a disagreement as to what percentage must a resolution 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 per cent 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. 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 feels very strongly and unhappy about the decision. They added by saying that if it’s going to be consensus we must also add that if there is 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 the report.

The spate of insecurity across the country is troubling. What’s the way out?

Begin to generate economic growth and employment. Launch the urban transformation plan and get 10 million young people off the street to start working as artisans. If ten million people who are not working should start working within 18 months, there will be fewer hoodlums to be recruited into Boko Haram, there will be fewer people to be recruited for kidnapping. I am not saying economic development alone will end crime because there are people who are pathological criminals but they are minority, the overwhelming majority are people recruited to crime for survival. In other words, we are forcing them to become criminals, it comes through the government, through government failure to provide for their needs and forcing them to become criminals.

Kidnapping is also on the rise. You were once a victim, what do you think is responsible for this menace?

I spent a lot of my time in civil service in the planning ministry and at a time I became a Director for Economic Planning for Nigeria and in that capacity I saw the economic potentials of every part of Nigeria. Under the military, Gowon and Obasanjo, every state would bring their development projects to me in Lagos to discuss and from there I saw that the northern states in those days had very ambitious programmes for setting up grazing reserves and watering holes for cattle and their herdsmen.

In addition, a place like Lake Chad had about a million farmers and herdsmen grazing around it and farming around it, but the Sahara desert had never stopped moving into Nigeria and what we tried to do in the past was to slow down the rate of ingress by planting shelter beds. Northern government had the programme of shelter beds planting, it’s special plants that grow in the desert and being planted across the north to slow down the rate at which the Sahara was coming. But I think in the last 25 years or so such programme had virtually stopped.

Development planning had been stopped, we now hear about the rolling plan. There is no plan you can do in one year, unless you want to deceive yourself, even private companies have five years to ten years strategic plans which will show where they want to be in five or ten years time. Many projects last three to five years, but if you’re only looking at one year you’re just deceiving yourself you cannot grow.

We have abandoned planning and this is another tragedy. So, they don’t plan and the Sahara had been moving faster. Places that accommodated farmers and herdsmen about thirty years ago are today completely taken over by sand and desert. Those who were there before what have they done? Lake Chad started drying off and today what is left of Lake Chad, the surface area is less than a quarter of what it used to be. It means if one million people were surviving around it before, that means a quarter of that population had moved further into the country to look for grassland. So, those are some of the pressures that have been pushing these herdsmen towards us but my argument is that it is the duty of the state government where they come from to take care of the people.

And if they can no longer provide for these people it is for you to take part of the money you’re receiving from Abuja on their behalf every month to create grazing reserves and water for your people. But you’re now conniving with them coming down to other people’s domain, causing problems for other people and I also suspect that there are some political manipulations going on. When I was a child, herdsmen were our friends, they would bring their cows here and we would be singing with them after selling their cows, they were not threatening anybody.

But in the last ten years or fifty years they became violent and they have become a different thing altogether and I suspect that because the President is a Fulani, the ordinary herdsman ignorantly believes that they own everything in Nigeria, both all of us in Nigeria and whatever we own. For example, a few years ago one of the herdsmen hanging around my farm, met one of my workers and asked my workers why I was disturbing them, that I should be planting my maize on one side and allow them to graze on the other side, even on my own farm. He was proposing that I should share my farm with him. Has such a person got any sense of property right? Did he think he has no right in that place?

He thought it’s our land, so this is a new development for herdsmen to think they own what you have and that you must share what you have with them. As I have said, there are natural factors responsible for pushing them down south but the state government of where they come from always have a responsibility to look after them. When they themselves saw that almajiri was not a good thing they decided to end it and decided to carry almajiri from one place to another.

So, I think we too should carry the herdsmen from here to where they come from. Herdsmen who want to sell their cattle can always come but let them rent a land and fence it and put their cattle in it, so that the cattle will not come and disturb me on my farm and I too will not come to disturb them, but to continue to graze cattle freely, no. All nations started like that, even in the Bible, Abraham and Lot were grazing their cattle all over the place but it was no longer so in Israel.

Americans did the same, British did the same. In the last 200 years civilized men have ended free grazing, we must do the same, there’s no alternative but the present grazer wants it to continue because they want to use us to subsidize their cattle business, as of now they don’t pay a dime to feed their cattle. The cattle come to your farm to consume your crop because they believe until cattle consume planted crop it will not have good food.

They believe it and they will deliberately drive them into you farms to consume your rice, cassava, maize, that’s what they believe. In the case of Ondo state and western Nigeria, I think a law should be put in place to regulate what we call Animal husbandry. It is a state responsibility and not a concurrent matter at all. Each state is totally competent to make a law and regulate how cattle would be driven and sold, this is what we need to do now. Until it is illegal for cattle to be moving around we will continue to be in trouble, there is no law that says they cannot move around, none. It is dangerous but there is no law that made it criminal

What do you think is responsible for the incessant attacks of your farm by herders? Was it meant to intimidate you or to run you out of business?

I don’t know what they have on their minds but my suspicion is that since there’s a dam in my farm, there’s water there all year round and there is grass on the other side of this particular farm, and these are the two things their cattle need, grass and water especially in the dry season. Both are there, so they see it and want it to be theirs. In recent time they are not confining their desires to just grass and water, they now concentrate on my crops, my maize, cassava, oranges, they would carry away what they could and would destroy the rest, which shows hatred for the owner.

I recall about four years ago they burnt 125 palm trees in my farm, they made individual bonfire around the base of every tree, this would have taken them hours and hours of hard work to get dry wood to put around each palm tree and set the 125 trees on fire, what has cattle got to do with palm tree, it’s not maize or cassava that they want to eat. So, they destroyed my crops, kidnapped me, and wanted to run me down. And you’re talking of unity, how can there be unity between the person who shows that he’s out to destroy your property and farms and the government said they wanted to set up RUGA on our territory. But that will never happen.

Can you do a rough estimate of what has been destroyed in your farms since 2015 that you’ve been having these uninvited guests visiting your farms?

How can I have the estimate? I said they burnt 125 palm trees, how do I estimate that? Or the destruction of three or four hectares of maize? I will just continue to give myself unnecessary stress, the loss has been enormous but I only thank God that I am alive.

The last #EndSARS protest in the country was a sad experience especially when it was hijacked and it turned violent

Let us not confuse issues, protest is a legitimate and healthy part of any democracy. When I was two weeks old as an undergraduate in Ibadan, in September 1960, I joined my colleagues in marching to Lagos to disrupt a meeting of the Federal House of Representatives because we learnt that our political leaders had signed a secret deal with the British government that if Britain were to go to war in future, even though Nigeria would have been independent, they would still send troop to go and fight for them.

We thought that was a betrayal and thought what they gave us was not independence and we took it up with them. We marched to the place, protested, we disrupted a meeting of the House of Representatives but if it were to be now we would be shot We felt we were the conscience of the nation and that our leaders had betrayed us for signing such a document and that if there was war, we, the young ones were the ones who would be sent to go and die and we thought we had a right to go and protest.

So don’t tell me that protest is dangerous, peaceful protest is healthy, it’s part of democracy. When a peaceful protest is hijacked, the question is, by who? Surely, it’s not those who organize the peaceful protest, you don’t hijack your own peaceful protest, it’s other people who could have been put up by the government to give a dog a bad name and hang it. The way the EndSARS protest was organized, I was impressed, it was matured, peaceful and patriotic. The security people saw that it was developing a lot of interest by behaving responsibly and to destroy and give them a bad name, they organized people and shot at them, why did they shoot at them?

They were not dangerous, not attacking anybody, they were singing, why did they have to shoot them? That’s the question and it was the military that shot them, so, it was the government that disrupted the protest without any justification.

So, hijacking came later but who hijacked, I don’t know but what I know is that the #EndSARS protesters were not the people who hijacked the protest, you don’t hijack your own protest. Therefore, what is dangerous is government using violence on peaceful protesters, it’s uncivilized and it is to be condemned, particularly as it now gave opportunity to disruptive elements in the society to hijack protest and start making violence in the country, the government must accept its responsibility for the violence that followed the protest.

President Buhari was quoted as saying that he would not allow such a protest again, do you see such statement as being democratic?

It’s not clear what he meant by such a protest. If he meant he will never allow peaceful protest again, I will advise him to think again because before he became President, he and I went to the National Assembly to protest against the Electoral Act and we were proposing amendments, he followed me to the National Assembly before he became President.

So, peaceful protest is good, a society that does protest is dead but if he means violent protests, yes. If he said he will never allow violent protests again, it’s good but he should not allow security agents who he controls to go and shoot at peaceful protesters because that was what led to what followed the protest. If that’s what he’s saying, I support him that he will not allow his security people to fire on peaceful protesters and transform peaceful protest to violence. If that’s what he’s saying, that is wonderful.

Of recent a governor jumped ship, leaving a party under which he served as a governor for close to eight years. Is this good for our party politics?

I have retired from active politics. As far as I know there is no more politics that is properly so called in Nigeria, there’s nothing called party politics, no ideology. You only go to a group for your objective of winning an election, and if you don’t, you jump to the next one. You can somersault three or four times within a week just to get what you’re looking for. So, I will rather not talk about it, that’s one of the reasons I felt I should no longer associate myself with what they call partisan politics.

What does the 2023 general election portend for Nigeria?

I hope we find solutions to Nigeria’s problem before then and if not, I pray that year will be the year when a solution will be found.

The exchange rate has kept hitting the roof in the last few weeks, is this not a bad signal for the economy?

It pains me to talk about this issue, but it shows the reflection of the strength of the economy. If you have a weak economy and you’re artificially propping up the exchange rate, you’re deceiving yourself. This what I mean, if Nigeria is committing herself to spending $5b every month in foreign transactions and you’re only earning $2b, that’s huge deficit between what you’re earning and what you are committing. Inevitably, your currency will come crashing down and if you don’t want that to happen then find ways of increasing your exports, earning more foreign exchange, bridging that gap and your currency will appreciate, any other thing is artificial.

So, I put it in a very simple language that anybody can understand. I can go into the technicality but I don’t want to do that. So, the exchange rate is a reflection of the strength or weakness of your economy. For instance, if you’re borrowing other people’s money in billions and thereby committing future foreign exchange earning of Nigeria to debt servicing and retainment without doing anything to show that you will be able to earn more foreign exchange at that time, there’s nothing you’re going to do, your currency is going to crash.

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