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Falae’s stewardship and vision for Nigeria – Part 2


National Chairman of Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Oluyemisi Samuel Falae

In his view, the polity should at the end of it all return to Parliamentary democracy which was cheaper to operate than the Presidential system.

The new political structure should provide, among others, a rearrangement of Nigeria into six or eight regions; have in place regional governments to coordinate and harmonise programmes and policies of states within their territories; have separate constitutions and supreme courts for each region; and allow the states and local governments to maintain police forces to enforce their laws and ensure greater security for the people (Falae: 63-90).
This is a tall order, some critics may say.

However, to Chief Falae and his associates, given their resolve and assessment of Nigeria’s needs, the proposals are desirable and feasible.

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.

Chief Falae’s stewardship

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.

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.

Chief Falae also under took a comprehensive inventory of Federal Government assets all over the country.

The inventory thus compiled by the presidency was passed to the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing. That became the basis for the privatisation and disposal of government properties under the monetisation of fringe benefits programme.

For Chief Falae, the Cabinet Office/the Presidency should be the incubator of ideas. They were markedly so during his tenure there.

The Civil Service Reform of 1988 was one other notable policy which Chief Falae, as Secretary to the Government, vigorously implemented. That led to the abolishment of the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, the designation of the Permanent Secretary as Director General and stripping the post of responsibility as Accounting Officer.

A subsequent review by the Allison Ayida Panel under the General Sani Abacha administration led to the restoration of the post of the Head of Service and re-designation of the Directors General of ministries as Permanent Secretaries and the restoration of their responsibilities as Accounting Officers.

As Secretary to the Government, Chief Falae pushed very hard for wheat production in the country and the establishment of strategic silos for grains storage.

At his instance, I visited Kaduna and Kano States among other places in the effort to promote wheat growing and report on inherent problems.

Chief Falae’s negotiating skills and stratagem were fully tested during the crippling strikes over wages and the periodic increase in petrol price as well as the engagement with the international community over Nigeria’s quest for foreign debt relief.

Another notable achievement of his was the campaign he mounted to see to the better administration of the OAU intergovernmental organisation, the African Training and Research Centre in Administration for Development (CAFRAD).

His mission was to ensure that the organisation was positioned to perform in a manner that benefitted all member states. He reasonably succeeded and became the chairman of that organisation.

A word needs to be said about the circumstances of the establishment of the Peoples’ Bank.

Perhaps not many knew that the credit for the establishment should go to Chief Falae and Mrs Maria Sokenu, then a staff of Owena Bank. She sold the idea to Chief Falae who was the Secretary to the Federal Government.

As Chief Falae sat in his office, and we sat before him, Mrs Sokenu said the Grameen Bank that was flourishing in Bangladesh was worthy of introduction in Nigeria. Chief Falae without hesitation bought the idea.

Thereafter, things moved rapidly. President Babangida was quick to accept the novel idea.

What name the bank should bear was the next issue. The suggestion to call the bank “Bank for the Poor”, to reflect its conception, was rejected as rather insensitive. Government settled for the name, “Peoples’ Bank”.

Mrs Sokenu was immediately appointed the Managing Director and Tai Solarin was appointed the Chairman. Next was a quick preparation for its launching.

Ajegunle, the impoverished suburb of Lagos, was chosen for the establishment of its first branch which was to be opened by President Babangida.

I was directed to invite Joseph O. Sanusi, the Governor of the Central Bank, to attend the occasion.

When I phoned to invite him, he asked, “Who issued the licence for the establishment of the bank?” I told him that he would not hear that from my mouth; the licence could come later, I said. We laughed over it.

Normally, the Central Bank of Nigeria issues licence before the establishment of a bank.

The opening ceremony proceeded with speed, as planned, and the institution of Peoples’ Bank, now known as the Community/Microfinance Bank, came into existence and has since subsisted.

One lesson to take away from here is that in nation-building, choice of words and names matter when it comes to public policy formulation and pronouncement.

The inadvertent use of the word “colony”, for instance, was enough to throw the spanner in the works and hinder the current search for solutions to the age-old herdsmen/farmers crisis.

Chief Falae’s political motivations

Currently, Chief Falae is the Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Awude, his biographer, said that politics was ingrained in him since his secondary school days.

As someone who was acquainted with him when he was Secretary to the Government, I did not know about this until 1989 when discussion arose about his interest in partisan politics. I was in Malaysia as a member of the Nigerian delegation attending a Commonwealth Security Conference.

As we drove from Kuala Lumpur Airport to the town, a senior Nigerian official asked me, “Is your boss involved in partisan politics?” I said I did not know and I was honest about it.

Not long after we returned to Nigeria, Chief Falae declared his interest in running for president and became a presidential aspirant in 1992.

Before then, only his immediate predecessor in office, Shehu Ahmadu Musa, had expressed interest, as a former Secretary to the Federal Government, in running for president.

The book by Awude has thrown some light about the motivation for Chief Falae’s involvement in partisan politics. Chief Falae gave two main reasons.

Firstly, his visit to Israel in 1973 where, to his amazement, he saw how that country had turned a barren land into a land of milk and honey, in terms of agriculture.

Secondly, he said he was moved with sympathy when he saw a woman around his house at Ikoyi, Lagos, scavenging for food from the dustbin to feed her children. That was in 1989 during his tenure as Secretary to the Government (Awude: 131-132).

Since then, Chief Falae has committed himself to touching many lives. He said he had acquired formidable training and experience over his nearly 35years of public service to lead Nigeria.

It was with that confidence that he offered himself as a presidential aspirant in 1992 and, failing to get the nomination, readily placed his campaign structure and machinery at the disposal of Chief MKO Abiola of blessed memory. It was General Adeyinka Adebayo, he said, who physically handed MKO to him.

In 1999, Chief Falae was nominated as a presidential candidate. On a joint Alliance for Democracy/All People’s Party ticket, he ran against Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP.

My impressions

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. 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.

Aside from talking, our elites need to put their thoughts on paper. Although I enjoyed reading the celebrant’s biography, I maintain that it is also good to hear directly from him.

So, I urge that Chief Falae should write a full length autobiography as a legacy and source of reference on his long and pivotal roles in the social, economic and political affairs of this country. He is an embodiment of information.

His 146-page book, The Way Forward for Nigeria, though quite informative, it merely contains four lecture papers he delivered at different times to outline his long held views and projections on the economy, restructuring, education and the role of the progressives in the polity.

Dr. Usman was former Permanent Secretary in the Presidency, Abuja.

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