National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party(SDP), Chief Olu Falae believes that it is important for Nigerians to remove President Muhammadu Buhari at the 2019 general elections. For him, neither the All Progressives Congress (APC) nor the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) can address the challenges facing the country. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he spoke on various issues.
The orgy of violence and wanton killings in the country has continued unabated. It does not seem that the Federal Government has any answer to the festering sore in the country. With your level of experience, what do you think is the cause of the problem?
As somebody who has personally suffered physical attack from the hands of these herdsmen, I feel some anger and despair in the sense that such a barbaric thing should be going on in Nigeria and the government and the security agencies are not able to do something about it. I must tell you that it is unbelievable.
Many insist that the violence and killings in the country are not unconnected with the 2019 general elections. Do you think it is just about the election?
I do not know. I do not know that killing villagers in their homes has anything to do with an election. I think it has everything to do with a group of people who want to occupy other people’s land by force, killing them and intimidating others. Let me tell you a story; when I was kidnapped by these people, on the first day, two of the kidnappers asked me a question. They said ‘Baba, if we release you tomorrow, will you return to that your farm again?’ Before then, they had sufficiently intimidated me and I said ‘yes if you release me today, tomorrow, I would be back on my farm.’ That was a revelation and it shows that what they really want is the land. Rather than negotiate with those who own the land, they want to use brute force to acquire it. By the grace of God, when we, the SDP take over the government of Nigeria, we will stop the killings.
This is because without peace, there can be no development. We must stop violence and insecurity in the country first. That would be our priority. Restructuring the country and the revival of the economy would follow it.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) which you are the National Chairman is gearing up to make an impact in the 2019 general elections; how well are you doing to position the party for the poll?
All we are doing is that we are reaching out to many groups in Nigeria and those that are frustrated with the so-called two ruling parties that have disappointed the nation. I am talking about the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). Apart from the ruling party being unwilling and unable to stop the killings in the country, they are unable to revive the economy, create jobs and keep hope alive for the citizens of Nigeria. People are sick and tired of the impunity, which characterizes the internal operations of this party particularly for nominating people for positions. Most times, they just push aside a lot of aspirants and handpick people of their choice which is totally undemocratic. People would soon see that the SDP is not only the truly democratic party in Nigeria but becoming the third force and the party that best offers the concerns and interests of Nigerians. Nigerians should be ready to make up their minds and make a choice. They would see which party is democratic and which party cares for the rights of the individual and which party would offer a better government to Nigerians.
As optimistic as you sound about your party, many feel that the SDP cannot go alone and that it can only make impact if it goes into alliance with other parties like how the APC emerged in the build up to the 2015 general elections?
The way the APC did their own was faulty and that is why they have torn to pieces now. We are not going to follow the example of the APC. Yes, it is true that no one party can do it alone. We know that and we are going to reach out to other parties who believe what we believe. It will not be the indiscriminate bringing together of a group of parties which would lead to a disaster. We want to put together people who have the same commitment to democracy and the development of Nigeria. We are not going to bring together all manner of parties. We would ask for those who believe in what we believe. It is the common belief that would keep us together with one focus and that would make us different from the others. Yes, definitely, we would reach out to others.
You have always been at the forefront of the call for restructuring of the country and before now, you were among those who demanded that it must be done before the 2019 poll. Have you changed your mind or are you frustrated with the call for restructuring the country?
We said so and we wish and pray it happens and we would be glad if it happens. But I have a feeling that this present government is most unlikely to do restructuring. The ideal is what we are pushing for but if that ideal does not happen, we would make restructuring our main campaign issue and when we win the election, restructuring would be the number one programme that we are going to implement along with reviving the economy and stopping the killings in Nigeria. Those are the three things that would be our priority.
All your life, you have always had the inclination towards progressive politics but there is a surprising rapport between the SDP and former President Olusegun Obasanjo who obviously belongs to the conservative political class. Is politics no more about ideology but doing everything to win election first?
No, people should not misunderstand matters. First of all, you would not know but I will tell you now that I once served in President Obasanjo’s government as his permanent secretary. I worked directly with him for three years as his permanent secretary. He was the person who appointed me permanent secretary in 1977; so I have a long history with him. He is the former president of Nigeria. Of course, you know that we contested the presidency on different political platforms in 1999.
So, why did I go to him? I went to him because we have a common objective which is to change this government, establish a progressive government that would stop the killings, restructure Nigeria for stability and progress, and revive the economy for prosperity and employment creation. That is our objective. For that objective to be achieved, this government has to first of all be defeated. I found Obasanjo on the same side of those who want this government to go. That was what took me recently to Abeokuta. I did not go there to adopt his own political philosophy or for me to change my own progressive politics. I went there because we share the same objective of removing this government to usher in a progressive government. That was why I went to Abeokuta. In Abeokuta, I did not try to make him a progressive, neither did he try to make me a conservative.
What kind of candidate will fly the flag of the SDP in 2019? There is a story out there that the former governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso is likely to be your choice. How true is that?
I want to say to you truthfully and honestly as a Christian that at this stage, I do not have any candidate. I am aware of very few aspirants and my take is that people are watching to see the party grow and consolidate itself. Prospective aspirants are around to see what happens in the next three months before showing interest and contesting on our platform. I believe the majority of aspirants would emerge in the next two or three months. Therefore, we are not in a position at this stage to even begin to guess who might be our candidate.
You are a leader in Nigeria and particularly the Southwest region, do you agree with the class of people who believe that for political convenience, it will still be better for the Yoruba to flow with the APC as they are fully represented in the present government?
Anybody who is thinking and talking like that does not know the politics of the South West. If they do, they would remember that in 1999, although President Obasanjo was a former Head of State and a Yoruba man, the Yoruba did not vote for him. I got about 80 per cent of the Yoruba votes. They knew that Obasanjo was a Yoruba man and stayed in that high office before but to them, he did not reflect their thoughts and beliefs. For the Yoruba, it is not a matter of ethnicity but ideology.
That shows you that if in 1999, the two of us were from other ethnic groups, the ethnic groups would divide the votes between John and Jack. But in 1999, the Yoruba did not do that. They looked at the two of us and said, which of us reflected their interests and beliefs and they believed I was the one and they gave me 80 per cent of their votes. That is very instructive and rubbishes the kind of naïve position that some people are talking about that because we have a Yoruba man as the Vice President, therefore the Yoruba should go and vote for a government that has failed woefully to meet their expectations. It will never happen.
Ahead of next year’s general elections, what level of confidence do you have in the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC)? I ask this question because some do not see the present leadership of INEC as one that would discharge its duties without some kind of bias.
I have no reason to have a high expectation of the INEC. This is because of what similar institutions have done in this country and to this country. But if they perform creditably well, I will be pleased and I would congratulate them.
From the positions you have occupied in this country, you should know the likely gains of President Buhari’s recent meeting with President Donald Trump in the United States. What is your take on that visit?
My view is that President Buhari’s trip to the US was not a very successful one. This is because the main issue seems to be the purchase of those military equipment from America for a very huge amount of almost $500 million. I am not a military man and I do not know what contributions those equipment would make to our security. This government had already said they had defeated Boko Haram. So, what contribution will those aircrafts make to our well-being and happiness. It is a trip that at the end of the day, we are giving money to America and they are giving us equipment of dubious relevance and effectiveness.