I am not party to Buhari’s endorsement by SDP – Falae

Politics
  • says restructuring ‘absolute necessity’ to move Nigeria forward

By Banji Ayoola

Elder statesman and former National Chairman of Social Democratic Party, SDP, Chief Olu Falae on Friday said that he was not party to his party’s endorsement of the All Progressives Congress, APC, candidate in the coming election, President Muhammadu Buhari.

He spoke in an interview in Akure on Friday, describing restructuring of Nigeria as “an absolute necessity” to meaningfully resolve the lingering problems confronting the country and move the nation forward from the prevailing unjust and imbalanced federal set up.

Also, he formally announced his retirement from active partisan politics, even as he expressed concern at the worrisome security situation of the country, hoping that the forthcoming elections would be free, fair and peaceful.

He said that he had quietly disengaged from his party’s chairmanship since September 21 last year when he turned 80, and had handed over to the Deputy Chairman 1, Prof Tunde Adeniran, who according to him is now the party’s de facto National Chairman.

Declaring that he did not take part in the decision to endorse Buhari, he said that when Adeniran informed him about the overtures being made by other parties for collaboration, he advised the party chairman to take restructuring of Nigeria as kernel of the terms for discussion.

His words: “As I always do, my role is advisory. I advised him that in today’s Nigeria, a party should only collaborate with those who are prepared to restructure Nigeria; that restructuring is an absolute necessity, and as far as I am aware, the APC has not committed itself to restructuring.

“He (Adeniran) responded by saying that he was aware of that and he, like many of us, is committed to restructuring and that they would be guided by that idea; and also other issues; for example the threat which the Fulani herdsmen pose to security and the unity of Nigeria.

“I raised all those issues. He said he was aware of those and he would be taking up those issues with those who are seeking collaboration. 

“I told him that restructuring is the absolute minimum that we would expect from any group with which the party is going to collaborate; and that as far as I was concerned, I was aware that the APC has not committed itself categorically to restructuring.

“He told me that like many of us, he too was committed to restructuring, that he believes that restructuring is a sinequa non for Nigeria to move forward. So I gave him advice which he accepted; and I expected that my role had been done. So thereafter, I heard that they have now endorsed the candidate of the APC. So he told me; and I advised him, and he said he understood and accepted the advice.

On the coming elections, he said: “I hope that the election would be free, fair and peaceful. I hope that whoever wins would run an inclusive government; inclusive in terms of including all the interests of all segments of the society in his programme as a matter of concern.

“I hope that he would run a government that would enable Nigerians to have peace; for example the problems pose by Boko Haram continues to create concern and anxiety.

“It is threatening the economy of the North East. The problem pose by the Fulani cattlemen to rural population, even in the South West gives us a great concern. It is a nightmare.

“So one hopes that whoever wins the election would deal with those problems and make Nigeria a peaceful country.”

Following is the full text of the interview:

“We understand that your party, the Social Democratic Party, SDP, has endorsed the APC presidential candidate in the February 16 election, President Muhammadu Buhari. What informed this?

I too have learnt of that development. If you watched the news on television, you would have observed that I was not at the meeting where that announcement was made.

That was because for the past few months, I have been handing over the chairmanship of the party to the statutory successor, who is the Deputy National Chairman 1 from the same zone as myself, Prof Tunde Adeniran, as required by the party’s constitution.

This arose because I decided last year to retire on attaining the age of 80, from partisan politics. But it is yet to be announced for a number of reasons. So the public does not know this. Number one, my 80th birthday was on the 21st of September last year, which was only 13 days to the National Convention of the party.

If  I were to announce my retirement 13 days to our National Convention, it could have caused a lot of disruption. It would have sent wrong signals to the public. So we deferred the announcement until after the convention.

As soon as the convention ended, one of the presidential aspirants went to court, sued his opponent, sued the party, sued myself as co defendants in an election petition. And that lasted three months.

While that litigation was going on, it would be impolitic, it would be inappropriate for me a co defendant to announce that I have now left partisan politics. So, again, the announcement had to be deferred. And the judgement on that case was only given about 12 days ago, and the election is a week ahead.

So you can see why although I decided to retire, and I have retired, that fact has not been announced for the reasons I have just given. That is why I have been transferring my functions to the statutory successor Prof Adeniran, who in fact has been the de facto chairman of the party since then. Of course he briefs me, we talk regularly.

But I don’t think I carry more than 20 percent of the functions of the office because I decided that I was not going to ruin my health after 80 with the hectic schedule of a national chairman. But since it was not expedient to announce the retirement, it has not been announced until now.

That was why for example the discussions that led to the party’s decision to endorse the President, I was not involved at all because I have decided that my successor should now run the party. And he has been doing so; and he keeps me posted from time to time. So I no longer attend most of the meetings of the party. Prof Adeniran does, and he is doing a good job.

You said Prof Adeniran usually keeps you posted on things going on in the party. Did he inform you about this reported endorsement?

Yes. He told me when our presidential candidate, His Excellency Donald Duke, became incommunicado, and was unable to get his campaign off the ground, that the party had been approached by a number of other groups including APC, for collaboration.

As I always do, my role is advisory. I advised him that in today’s Nigeria, a party should only collaborate with those who are prepared to restructure Nigeria; that restructuring is an absolute necessity, and as far as I am aware, the APC has not committed itself to restructuring.

He responded by saying that he was aware of that and he, like many of us, is committed to restructuring and that they would be guided by that idea; and also other issues; for example the threat which the Fulani herdsmen pose to security and the unity of Nigeria.

I raised all those issues. He said he was aware of those and he would be taking up those issues with those who are seeking collaboration. 

I told him that restructuring is the absolute minimum that we would expect from any group with which the party is going to collaborate; and that as far as I was concerned, I was aware that the APC has not committed itself categorically to restructuring.

He told me that like many of us, he too was committed to restructuring, that he believes that restructuring is a sinequa non for Nigeria to move forward. So I gave him advice which he accepted; and I expected that my role had been done. So thereafter, I heard that they have now endorsed the candidate of the APC. So he told me; and I advised him, and he said he understood and accepted the advice.

And now that the party has endorsed a party that is not committed to restructuring, is the SDP not sacrificing its original stance on restructuring?

I think you need to speak with Prof Adeniran.

As I have told you: for the past three months, I am no longer involved in much of the business of the party. It is he who would be able to explain since we are on the same page as far as restructuring is concerned.

It is he who would be able to tell you what they discussed with those who came to see them, what those ones said, what they agreed or what they didn’t agree. Those are the details that frankly, I don’t know because I was not party at all to the discussions for the reasons that I have given that it was part of my disengagement from partisan politics.

What would be the implications of this endorsement on the Nigerian polity as a whole?

I don’t know. But you know: Nigeria is a very complex country; and when I spoke again to Prof Adeniran yesterday, he was saying to me that in the agreement which they had that there was something there that enables people in the various zones to handle this matter in a manner consistent with the realities in their respective zones.

I don’t know what that actually meant. I would advise that as a second part to this introductory interview, that you have an interview with Prof Adeniran.

Categorically, could you advise Nigerians on who to vote for between President Muhammadu Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in the coming election, and why?

I am sorry I would not answer that question. In a democracy, you don’t have to reveal to people who you are going to vote for. When I am going to vote at all, it is my prerogative who I would vote for. In any case, I may not have made up my mind at this point.

You have retired from partisan politics. What informed the decision; and could you share some of your experiences?

With all modesty I want to say that I have had about three careers in one. I was a civil servant for 21 years. At the age of 38 plus, by the grace of God I became a Permanent Secretary, which I did for five years before I went to be the Managing Director of Nigerian Merchant Bank for five years. Very hectic years.

And then President Babangida pulled me out of the banking industry and made me Secretary to the Federal Government, later Minister of Finance.

Later I retired, I went into politics. I aspired to win the nomination of SDP for President for about three years. After that, I was arrested and detained for fighting for NADECO and Abiola. Later still when I came out, I was detained for two years.

I came out of detention. I contested Presidential election with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

By the side I was preparing for my final retirement by farming. I started farming since 1986. And in 1985 I became the Olu of Ilu Abo.

You can see the many roles that I have had to play at the highest level. It is by the grace of God that I remain healthy at this age despite all these hectic careers. So I was mindful of the grace of God; and I didn’t want to abuse it.

Today I enjoy excellent health. But I thought after 80, it would be unwise to continue to carry the heavy burden of being the National Chairman of the party; and be meeting from 10am till 2 o clock in the morning without food. Surely that is unwise for a man at 80.

I took that decision with my family, and prayerfully that after 80, no more. Of course, my party men would want me to be there until 100. No more is no more. I didn’t announce it for good reasons. But for this, I would not be telling you. That is how it is.

Fortunately, our party has a very good system. The successor is automatic. It is somebody known. In this case, somebody I have known for 40 years. He is a professor, former ambassador, former minister, a really level headed and humble and brilliant person. So it was convenient for me therefore to hand over to him as per our constitution.

Are there any further comments, like your advice to Nigerians on the coming election?

I hope that the election would be free, fair and peaceful. I hope that whoever wins would run an inclusive government; inclusive in terms of including all the interests of all segments of the society in his programme as a matter of concern; that he would run a government that would enable Nigerians to have peace; for example the problems pose by Boko Haram continues to create concern and anxiety.

It is threatening the economy of the North East. The problem pose by the Fulani cattlemen to rural population, even in the South West gives us a great concern. It is a nightmare. So one hopes that whoever wins the election would deal with those problems and make Nigeria a peaceful country.”

The SDP had at a meeting of its National Executive Council in Abuja on Thursday endorsed President Buhari for the February 16 presidential election. Falae was absent at the meeting.

In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting and read by the National Vice Chairman, Dr Abdul Ishaq, the party’s NEC announced the endorsement.

It said the SDP had resolved to adopt Buhari and Vice-presidential candidate, Prof Yemi Osibanjo, of the All Progressives Congress as candidates of the party for the 2019 presidential election.

It said: “Consequently, all members of the party are hereby enjoined to vote for President Buhari of the APC at the presidential election coming up on Saturday, February 16, 2019.”

The NEC regretted that since the end of the party’s national convention on October 6, 2018 and Duke’s emergence as the presidential candidate, the party had been enmeshed in court cases which had significantly sapped the party’s energy, time and resources.

It said with less than 10 days to the presidential election, the party was caught in a web.

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