I maintain that Chief Falae has paid his dues in rendering distinguished service to Nigeria. As a civil servant, he was a first-class planning officer and economic wizard
When the 9th Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, marked his 80th birthday anniversary recently, friends and associates gathered at Akure, the Ondo State capital, to celebrate his life and accomplishments in and out of public service. So outstanding are his contributions to the country and his broodings over its affairs that a colloquium tagged “Nigeria: Work in Progress” was organised to kick off the celebration the first day. Two other events – a thanksgiving service held at St. David Anglican Cathedral, and a reception at the hall of the cathedral took place the following day. This article is based on my participation in these events.
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I would like to begin by making a few comments about the lifestyle and ethical orientation of the celebrant, Chief Falae. I served under him in the Cabinet Office/the Presidency. And, for many years, I have known him as someone who likes a modest lifestyle. Found in his sitting rooms in Lagos and Akure are common furniture. Nothing around him is flamboyant. Even the clothes he wore to the colloquium, thanksgiving and reception were simple and ordinary; his spouse, Mrs. Rachael O. Falae (née Fasoranti) was also modestly dressed. The nature of the reception, the climax of the birthday celebration, spoke volumes about the person of Chief Falae. The hall was filled by happy guests and his townspeople, both young and old. The event accorded the crowd the opportunity to rejoice with him. They trouped to the high table in droves, bowed, knelt and prostrated, in reverence to him. Many wanted to take photos with him. Being a man of the people, he obliged everyone.
Restructuring the country is a pet idea of the celebrant, Chief Falae, the Olu of Ilu Abo. He and his associates have, for a long time, been vigorously propagating it. Two books, The Way Forward for Nigeria: The Economy and Polity, written by Chief Falae and published in 2004, and Dayo Awude’s Keeping Faith: A Biography of Olu Falae, published in 2008, provide details of what Chief Falae and his associates think about “restructuring” as a panacea for Nigeria’s socio-economic and political problems. Both books were available about a decade ago, when the celebrant turned 70.
Admittedly, the nationalists did their best to bequeath to Nigeria a federal structure of three viable regions at independence. However, since then, Nigeria has changed too greatly to make a return to the status quo ante highly unlikely. I reserve further comments on this as my views on “restructuring” are already detailed in my forthcoming book, Restructuring Nigeria: An Overview.
I maintain that Chief Falae has paid his dues in rendering distinguished service to Nigeria. As a civil servant, he was a first-class planning officer and economic wizard who rose to the post of a Permanent Secretary in record time. He was a consistently high performer who, like Chief John Oyegun, earned the epithet “flyer”. He indeed flew out of the civil service to the post of a banking chief executive where he also distinguished himself creditably.
However, it was upon his return to the service in 1986, as Secretary to the Federal Government under President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, that he got deeply involved in the momentous decisions, policies and programmes of the time. Chief Falae was the 9th holder of the post of Secretary to the Federal Government since Nigeria’s independence. His predecessors in office were S.O Wey, H. A. Ejueyitchie, Abdullaziz Attah, C.O. Lawson, G.A.E Longe, Allison Ayida, A. Liman Ciroma, and Shehu Ahmadu Musa. His successors included Mustafa Zanna Umara, Aliyu Mohammed, Aminu Saleh, Gidado Idris, U.J. Ekaete, Baba Gana Kingibe, Anyim Pius Anyim, Babachir David Lawal and Boss Mustapha.
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Having joined the federal civil service in 1965 and worked in the Cabinet Office/the Presidency from 1972-1999, I had the honour and privilege of working under or with the office holders from S.O. Wey to Gidado Idris. This enabled me to discuss the attributes of some of them in my autobiography, Hatching Hopes. Chief Falae occupied a prominent place in that brief assessment. The Cabinet Office/the Presidency would forever remember Chief Falae for bringing private sector touch into government business. He gave a befitting facelift to that Office and introduced computer service to replace the archaic typewriters for good. It would not be out of place to claim that his innovation led to the demise of manual typewriters in government business.
Other far-reaching policy decisions and programmes took place during his tenure as Secretary to the Government and, later, as Minister of Finance. Notable among these were the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) which he vigorously espoused; the abolishment of the Commodity Marketing Boards, done to enable farmers get more money from their produce; the establishment of Peoples’ Bank to make it easier for the common people to access funds for petty trading; the establishment of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) following the clandestine and illegal deposit of toxic wastes at Koko Port; and the establishment of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to check the rampant carnage on our roads.
The theme, “Nigeria: Work in Progress”, is in essence a never-ending quest in nation-building and national development and it is the preoccupation of all nation-states. For Nigeria, the early nationalists having laid the foundation, it is left for succeeding generations to build upon that. Concerns by patriots, the elite and nationalists, like our revered celebrant, Chief Falae, often arise from dissatisfaction with pace, nature, quality and timing of government programmes, policies and projects. They would like government to bring immediate and impactful improvement to security and welfare of the people. The feeling of “I/we can perform better” in delivering the much needed goods and services to the people is largely also at the heart of all the squabbles and jostling for acquisition of power by individuals and groups, some of whom in the course of the agitation may line up their roles with selfish interests.
It should be emphasised that there are trying moments in the nation’s history when Nigerians, be they public servants or not, must stand to be counted on the side of national unity and national stability. The challenges of Aburi Accord of the pre-civil war years attest to this. Those who find themselves in positions of leadership and influence at all levels should exercise caution in their utterances and be sensitive to the feelings of others, more so in a highly diverse country like Nigeria.
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They should avoid offensive and alarmist pronouncements that are likely to cause disaffection and more problems for the country. Dialogue is important but we should not do it in a manner which threatens national unity and stability.
Dr Usman was former Permanent Secretary in the Presidency, Abuja