Chief Olu Falae, elder statesman, former minister of finance and secretary to the government of the federation, SGF, was the joint presidential candidate of the All Peoples Party, APP, and Alliance for Democracy, AD in the 1999 election. In this exclusive interview with Vanguard, he insists that Nigerians should jettison the zoning arrangement and focus on restructuring the country before the 2023 general elections. He also decried the level of insecurity in the country, saying he felt secured while growing up as a child than he is now.
How do you see the arrest and probe of the suspended EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, and what is your assessment of the war against corruption?
No one is above the law and therefore, anybody suspected of fraud should be investigated by law enforcement agencies objectively. If he is found to have committed no offense, he should be released and his respect and other privileges should be restored.
But if he is found to have broken the law of this country he should be prosecuted. Again, there should be no discrimination against any person, the law should take its normal cause.
Let us remember one thing, what stands between us, Nigerians, and anarchy is the law. That is why we respect the law. If there is no law, Nigeria will be an anarchic nation.
So, the rule of law is the fundamental foundation of every nation. I remember before independence, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was always saying the rule of law must be entrenched as a fundamental principle for the Nigerian nation and fundamental human rights must be entrenched in the Nigerian nation. So, those are the things that stand between the Nigerian citizens and arbitrariness.
The rule of law is absolutely important.
So are you agree that the probe of the anti-graft boss is in order?
I don’t particular. Anyone holding any position should be probed thoroughly, fairly, and with due process. If the person is not guilty, his honor should be restored but if he is guilty, the law should take its cause. I am saying that is the way it should be at all times and in all situations.
Don’t you think that this may affect the country’s image in the international community?
No. In fact, what will affect the country’s image is for people who hold high office in the country to commit crime or fraud and the law enforcement agencies do nothing about it. That is what soils our image. That the law deals with officeholders is not what spoils the image of the nation. It is the other way round.
There has been this agitation for the zoning of the presidency in 2023. While some leaders are saying it should return to the South and micro zoned to the South-East, others argue that the North should retain it. Where should it go?
There are two things. What we need to do if we must have a nation is to restructure Nigeria so that opportunities and resources are fairly distributed around the nation. To me, that is the fundamental thing.
Let us restructure Nigeria, it has been spelled out several times. It was spelled out at the 2014 conference where we produced a draft constitution based on a restructured Nigeria. That is what is going to solve the problem of zoning. To me, zoning is not the solution to our problems, the solution to our problem is to zone opportunities, power, and resources. That is what should be fairly shared on a regular and permanent basis in Nigeria. That is what we need to do. The zoning we are talking about is an ad hoc thing to satisfy temporary agitation.
My position has always been that unless we fundamentally restructure Nigeria and return to the kind of arrangement we had at independence, whatever we are doing is a gimmick.
If you pick the president from Ondo State and you keep picking him from Ondo State, that will not solve the problem of Nigeria because we have a constitution that compels that president to do things in a particular way.
That he is from Ondo State does not mean he will disobey the constitution. If he did then, he is an outlaw. So the real solution to those agitating for zoning is that we go back to what we used to have. We should go back to a situation where every region will have its own regional government where priorities will vary from region to region.
The form of government we have chosen is fairly designed for a heterogeneous society that wants to operate as a country. You can be sure that at the regional level, you can maintain all that you want to maintain. It is not zoning of the presidency to the East or North, that is not the solution.
Leaders like Tanko Yakassai have argued against restructuring…
There is nothing I can do about his ability to understand plain issues but we can tell him that what we are talking about is the process of returning to where we were in 1966, that is the journey which we describe as restructuring. It is a return journey from the wilderness we are now to the agreed journey we had in 1966, which most of us accepted, are happy with, which led to development all over Nigeria. I hope he will now understand the meaning of restructuring.
A section of the country believes that if Nigeria is restructured, it may lose its hold on power. And such people think that the rest of Nigeria will agree that they hold on to power while others will not have a chance to power.
That is why we say every region should have its own regional government. Some of them may not know and some know but they pretend.
Do you know that at independence, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was the chairman and leader of the Northern People’s Congress, NPC, which provided the Prime Minister that headed the Federal Government, did not contest for the federal parliament
He was in the northern regional house of assembly in Kaduna. He was premier of a region while his second in command was the Prime Minister of Nigeria. What does that tell you? It tells you that the regional arrangement gives him all the opportunities he requires to minister to the needs of his people. That format was ideal for him, he did not have to go to the center; it is now that everybody wants to go to Abuja before they can do anything. That arrangement was fine.
Some people blamed Chief Awolowo for leaving Ibadan, he should have stayed in Ibadan and continue to develop the South-West and leave the center for those who wanted to go to the center.
The point I am making is that is a genuine arrangement, any other thing is make-believe, it is a shadow and not the real substance.
Don’t forget, before we got that arrangement, our leaders went to London to attend constitutional conferences three to five times over a period of five years. The issues were thoroughly discussed, there were occasions when some groups walked out but finally, there was consensus among the three main regions as to the structure of the constitution to have at independence.
So, my position is, that which we have tried, which was satisfactory, which persuaded a leader like the Sarduana of Sokoto, the leader of a political party, to stay in a region and develop his region, is what we need and not this make-believe that we are toying with.
I am not going to get involved in zoning but we must restructure Nigeria. For example, under the 1914 draft constitution, there was nothing like zoning, there was no need for it.
The younger people don’t know that each region had its own constitution, if you mention it today, they will say you want to break up Nigeria, it is ignorance.
As an undergraduate at the university in 1960, in my political science class, which I took along with my economics degree, I studied four constitutional documents. The constitution of Nigeria, the constitution of Western Nigeria, the constitution of Eastern Nigeria, and the constitution of Northern Nigeria. When in 1963, the Mid-West was created out of the Western region, a new constitution was produced. All of these documents were coherent and without any conflict.
That was the situation which is not known to most who are in politics today. Every region had its own constitution.
So, as far as the regional premiere was concerned, he was not subordinate to the Prime Minister at the center because he had his own constitution and every officer was supreme within the provision of the constitution applicable in his own region.
Of course, in order of precedence, the Prime Minister goes before the premier but the Prime Minister had no authority to summon the premier and give him instruction, it is not possible because the premier was the head of a regional government.
By the way, every region had its own constitution, coat of arms, and bearings. Every region had its own high commissioner in London, every region was recognized in London as a government. That was how autonomous the regions were and there was no room for friction. Until and unless we do that, this federation will not know peace and optimum cooperation.
We need to go back to the arrangement which we had, from which we have departed and have ended up in the wilderness.
So, the blueprint to equilibrium, stability, healthy competition is what we call restructuring.
Do you think the present government is disposed to restructuring?
This is not about the present government, it will be good if any government believes in it and starts working on it. It is unfortunate but it does not matter whether any government believes and accepts it or not.
I have no doubt in my mind that by the grace of God, in my lifetime, Nigeria will be restructured because that is the best thing to happen. Eventually, we will get there.
People know what is right. Nothing is working. The roads are not working, there is insecurity.
As I used to tell people, when I was 14 years old, I started going from Akure to Lagos to attend secondary school in Igbobi college.
At the end of the term, I, alone, returned from Lagos to Akure in 1953, and thereafter, after the holiday, I would go back to Lagos from Akure. I did that for three years and then, there were no kidnappers.
But at the age of 77, a grandfather several times over. I have been Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Minister of Finance, Director for Economic Planning for Nigeria, and Managing Director of a bank. After holding all those positions, I was Kidnapped on my farm, I was no longer safe. As a child, I was safe. It was when I turned 77 that I was no longer safe and the government decided that to avoid any security crisis in Nigeria, I would not be allowed to leave the presence of the police for the rest of my life because when I was kidnapped, there was a major challenge to the security of Nigeria and they did not want that to happen.
We can all see that things are not working, there is no security, no employment, there is no freedom of relating to one another now. We are training children who would come out of school unemployed. Clearly, this system has not worked for 60 years.
I have no doubt that matters will go on and some matters will come to a crisis point where people will say enough is enough. That is the basis of my optimism. There must be a push before this chance can occur, those who are suffering will not accept it indefinitely.
The Emir of Daura recently said that the insecurity in the country is worst than the civil war. What is your assessment of his statement?
I support his assessment of the level of insecurity. During the civil war of 1967 to 1970, I never felt insecure then, then I am feeling now.
The emir was right that what is happening now in terms of insecurity is worse than the civil war particularly, with somebody like me who has been kidnapped and taken into the bush for four days without food. I never went through that during the civil war. So, it is worse. If you ask that emir whether he likes the present situation, he will say no.
Back then, northerners were living at peace with us, they did not constitute a threat and we had a peaceful relationship with them.
If that is what we resort to, the sooner the better. It is a matter of presentation. But the suffering itself is the best experience.
In the past when we talked about restructuring in the South-West, some people said those Awolowo boys but now, if you ask, 99 percent will support restructuring if it will guarantee our security as a people. That was why Amotekun was supported by everybody that I know.
Some said that we wanted Amotekun because we wanted to secede. Who wants to secede if they are safe in the country?
As I used to tell people, we, the Yoruba, cannot secede because this is our home.
Secession means you leave your place and go elsewhere but we have nowhere else to go. We are on the Atlantic coast, we cannot go anywhere and it means secession does not make sense. This is our home.
Also, we have invested, perhaps, more than most groups in Nigeria. To prove my point, if there is a crisis in the East today, where do people rush to? The South-West. If there is a crisis in the North, where will they run to? The South-West.
This is the refugee camp in Nigeria. This is where everybody is welcome, accepted, and looked after.
That is the investment of peace we have been making from time immemorial. Yoruba land has been the glue that holds Nigeria. If the South-West says it wants to secede, the Middle-Belt will fight us because they see the Yoruba as the cement that holds Nigeria.
During the civil war, when the Igbo went home, Governor Mobolaji Johnson looked after their property for them, rents were in the banks and when they returned, their money was given to them to start life all over again. That is a fact but properties they left in Portharcourt were taken over by their neighbors and it took several years before some of them were returned to the owners.
So, we have demonstrated that we are the most accommodating, we are the cementing culture in Nigeria.
So, there is no way we can secede. This is our home.
What I am saying is that education will teach some people that this arrangement is not the way to go.