Reminiscences with Olu Falae
One thing Chief Oluyemi Falae will never forget in his lifetime is how he was not declared the winner of the 1999 presidential election. The renowned economist contested on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) against Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of
How would you describe your childhood?
I was born on September 21, 1938. I was able to know my date of birth because my father attended school for a couple of years, so he could read and write, especially in Yoruba language. He wrote down my birthday and the birthdays of his first set of children, including my older sisters and others.
I started school on January 1944 when I was five years and three months old. That was very strange and unusual because in those days, children didn’t start school until their right hands could go over the tops of their heads and touch their left ears, and that’s between six and seven years of age.
When my father took me to school, the teachers were not prepared to accept me because I failed my first test. That is to say that my right hand was unable to go over the top of my head and touch my left ear. So, my father was advised to take me home and bring me back the following year. But he refused, insisting that I should be admitted because he didn’t want his son to suffer the same fate with him. He argued that his classmates who proceeded to Saint Andrew College, Oyo avoided him because he dropped out of school. He felt he was being intimated; hence he wanted his child to start school as early as possible. He argued with the teachers for four days, after which the headmaster, Mr. Odesanmi, who later became a Reverend in the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) but was teaching in St. Stephens Anglican Primary School in Akure, took us to the vicarage to see the school manager, Reverend Otenaike, the Anglican clergyman in charge of Saint David Church, Akure. The headmaster and my father went into the school manager’s office while I stayed in the passageway watching. My father produced all the receipts of his church fees since 1923 and argued that his child was entitled to be in that school. He added that his paternal uncle was the first Baba-Ijo of the school and he was one of those who bought the organ and harmonium, which they carried from Oshogbo to Akure. To him, therefore, there was no reason the school should refuse to admit me.
The headmaster explained that it was not a question of pedigree, but I was not old enough to start school. My father refused, saying although I looked small, he had confidence that I would cope. To get rid of the pressure from my father, Reverend Otenaike appealed to the headmaster to find a place for me. So, contrary to their normal practice, they admitted me into Primary One in 1944. I was admitted into infant 1B. The class teacher was one Mr. Shukulubi, who later changed his name to Mr. Longe and joined the police force. He played football for the Nigerian Police Force. That was how I started school.
Before I proceeded to secondary school, I lost my mother in October 1946. And I was just eight years old. It was traumatic for me. In fact, I thought I was going to die, I didn’t know I could survive because I cried all the time. People would shout at me and admonish me to stop crying. I would keep quiet during the day and pray for the night to come so that I could hide in darkness and weep my soul out. Fortunately for me, I didn’t die, and contrary to expectations, I was doing well in school. The demise of my mother did not weigh me down eventually. My teacher was the late Mr. Alfred Shiyanbola Ajewunmi Ashebiomo from Igbara-odo. He loved me and took it upon himself to coach me and nine other classmates of mine in 1954 for the entrance examination into secondary school. He did it entirely on his volition, free of charge. When the entrance examinations came, for me, they were a walkover. I remember that the day I took the entrance exam to Igbobi College, the principal, The Reverend Arabi Parka, a white man, came from Lagos to supervise us in my school, St. David School in Akure. That was the first time a white man moved very close to me, and I was nervous.
When people were being called into the examination hall, I was the last to be called because my application form got to Igbobi late as a result of poor postal services we had. By the time my application got to Igbobi, they had exhausted their numbers, but I was given 440A. There was one boy from Idanre who had number 440. He got his own form before me, so they just tagged my own 440A. When they gave us the examination papers, the questions looked like mental storms. I thought it would be a disgrace if I didn’t answer all the questions, so I disobeyed the instructions. I was too excited that I answered all the questions and turned my paper upside down and put my head on the desk, trying to sleep.
At Igbobi College, life was normal for five years. I left Igbobi with Grade One. At Igbobi, The Rev. Parka would say that anyone good enough to be admitted into Igbobi College was good enough to make Grade Two. He said the real challenge was not examination but how to grow up as a good Christian. That gave us a lot of self-confidence.
At Igbobi, we were taught how to care for other people. Right from Form One, every boy was made to contribute a penny from his pocket-money every Friday for the upkeep of a little boy in Izuakoli, a lepers’ settlement in eastern Nigeria. The school was jointly founded by the Anglican and Methodist missions.
I also remember one of our senior boys who came from a very poor home. He had no shoes, except a pair of sandals. Some of us who had black and brown shoes would make a lot of noise when we entered the chapel. He was miserable, and because of him, The Rev Parka, said none of us should wear our shoes again; everybody must wear black sandals. We learnt very important life lessons at
Igbobi College. Some of the friendships that sprang up at Igbobi are still there. I met my best friend, Dr Kalejaye, who died 18 months ago, at Igbobi. He was my classmate.
I wanted to continue my education there, but they hadn’t started the Higher School Certificate (HSC). That was in 1957. Only few schools like Kings College in Lagos and Government College, Ibadan had started. We went to Kings College to have the examinations with no challenge at all. I was told that after school certificate, I would go to Kings College, but a week before we were to leave school at the end of our school certificate examination, a terrible news broke, that the entrance exams we took at Kings college had leaked and had been cancelled. One day, we got an invitation to report at Queens College. We were in two sets: those who wanted to read science and those for arts. There were two examinations, one for art students and the other for science and mathematics. Unfortunately, it was one paper for everybody, so we began to smell a rat.
Although I wanted to read Economics, I was given a paper with three quarters of Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. I did the best I could, but I knew it was not enough. That was the only examination I did not pass. I knew I would not pass the exam, so I left the hall miserable.
But I didn’t leave Lagos after the exam. I stayed with my uncle, Papa Adedipe at the Island. He was the headmaster of Baptist Academics Primary School. I stayed with him waiting for the outcome of the so-called exam. When the result came out few days later, my friend, Femi Olumide, who later joined the Navy, came knocking one fateful morning. He told me that he had just gotten the result from Queen’s College, and that out of the 10 boys from Igbobi College, only one was admitted, and that person was his cousin, Bayo Olumide, who was the head-boy. Bayo was the football captain by consensus among his classmates, and he was the best boy among us. We appointed him head-boy by ourselves. He was a very exceptional person. So, for the first time in my life, I was thrown into darkness. I was indeed troubled. But Mr Parka came to our house one day and said if I would go to Government College, Ibadan for the HSC. I said I would go and he said I should see him at Igbobi College for a note to the principal of the school, Mr. Longue. I couldn’t describe my feelings at that moment. It was from depression to ecstasy. That was how I got to Government College, Ibadan. I have been a very fortunate person all my life.
After my HSE, I was admitted to read Political Economics at the University College, Ibadan, as it was called then and I spent the normal four years.
Did you start working immediately after graduation?
Yes. I worked in the National Manpower Board as assistant secretary under Professor T.M Yesufu. The Board was established as a result of a report on higher education in Nigeria, which recommended that higher education should be developed in consonance with the national manpower needs of the nation. Our work was to conduct survey - labour force, ample survey, unemployment. It was part of the Ministry of Economic Development. After few years, I was transferred to the Central Economic Planning of the same ministry under Mr Allison Ayida.
In 1971, I won a Ford Foundation Fellowship and got admitted into both Harvard and Yale universities in the US for a postgraduate degree as an in-service training. The government wanted to upgrade members of staff by giving them the opportunity to go for Masters or PhD, especially in the area of economic planning where I was engaged. At that time, you were
The Rev Parka, said none of us should wear our shoes again; everybody must wear black sandals. We learnt very important life lessons at Igbobi College. Some of the friendships that sprang up at Igbobi are still there. I met my best friend, Dr Kalejaye, who died 18 months ago, at Igbobi. He was my classmate
free to apply for the university of your choice because Ford Foundation sent professors from America to interview the candidates nominated by the government, both the federal and states. We were all interviewed; and thank God I was awarded the Fellowship and was admitted to for masters in Harvard and Yale. As you know, these are the two topmost universities. Because my boss had gone to Yale, he encouraged me to go to there. I wanted to go to Harvard, but he said my wife and children would prefer Yale. So I took my wife and two children and moved to Yale. Then, I had worked for eight years in the civil service, representing Nigeria in the United Nations, so I was not just a young graduate going for his masters.
Two weeks after I got there, Harvard sent their admission officer, Miss Ganoski, a Polish to come and see me in Yale. I was surprised when they said one lady from Harvard wanted to see me in my house. I met her and she said she was sent by Harvard to bring me because they offered me admission. She said I should pack my things and go with her, adding that as an incentive, Harvard would increase my Ford grant. I called my wife and informed her of the challenge we were facing. But deep down in me, I had settled down here and I didn’t want to go anywhere else. At that time, I had just enrolled my two kids in nursery school. The lady fought very hard to get me going to Harvard. It was a very unusual thing for the two topmost universities in the world to give me admission at the same time. It was a complement to Nigeria’s educational system then.
So I spent my year in Harvard and came back with masters in Economic Growth/ Planning on August, 1973. Before my sojourn to the US, my progress in the civil service was not outstanding. I would say a little less than normal because, for the first four years, I had no promotion, whereas, there were others who came in at least a year after me who were at least given acting appointments. I had to petition to demonstrate that 18 people who were junior to me had superseded me in acting appointments before I was considered to act in the higher capacity. For the first time in my life, I was treated in a manner that made me unhappy. At what basics were those guys made to act in acting capacity and I was not? I wondered. I didn’t have a poor result, and my bosses gave outstanding reports about me. And with all humility, I know that from my own track record, I am not a mediocre. From primary school to the university, I was nearer the top, so the treatment meted to me was totally unacceptable.
When I came back from Harvard few months later, I got a promotion the following year. I got another promotion few years later and overtook those who had gone ahead of me. I became the permanent secretary at age 38 plus. Again, it was fairly unusual in the federal civil service in those days when permanent secretary appointments were always political.
Tafawa Balewa was the prime minister, and it was believed that all of us from the West had sympathy for Obafemi Awolowo; which we did. I had no apology for that, but as a civil servant, I did not make it a song. I kept my political sentiments to myself, and I felt I had every legal right to do that.
Those who came before us, like Allison Ayida, Phillips Asiodu, Ahmed Joda, Ime Ebong etc, got to the position of permanent secretary at the same time. There were lots of vacancies. People like Ayida got a rapid promotion, but in our time it was a bit unusual. I was promoted permanent secretary from the post of director of Economic Planning. In that position, I had the privilege to prepare and put together all the development plans of various governments at the federal and state levels. This gave me an opportunity to know the economy of this nation, may be better than most people.
Obasanjo was the military head of state when I was made permanent secretary. When he made me permanent secretary, actually he was going to sack me. I was to be sacked, then, I was elevated.
When Murtala Muhammed died, Obasanjo became the head of state while I was the director of economic planning. After about a year, he accused people of not being as committed to his government as they were to the government of Murtala Muhammed. He alleged that things were moving very fast under Muhammed, but since he took over, things slowed down. In his opinion, civil servants were not loyal to his administration.
The then Head of Service, Allison Ayida replied that we were career men who were ready to serve every government that came our way. He told the head of state to let us know his priorities so we would know where to apply our energy to serve. Secondly, when he and Murtala came, they decided to decimate the civil service, sacking thousands of people arbitrarily, both senior and junior, without going through the normal procedure.
At the end of the dialogue in the cabinet, a decision was taken to set up a committee to investigate the allegations. The head of service (my immediate boss) and the head of state had an argument over who was wrong or right. Due to no fault of mine, I was thrown into that situation. A committee was set up. We met and I told them that it could be my last assignment in the public service because there was no way I would survive that assignment. But we were determined to do the best we could so that it would be a
memorial for our children in the future. So we invited memoranda from across the civil service, we administered questionnaires to one per cent of civil servants, from cleaners to Supreme Court judges. We collected operational data of various organisations.
We wrote our report, submitted it to the Head of Service and I forgot about it and continued to do my normal work. It took me about four weeks to do it, and there were about 10 people working with me, including the principal of Queens College, Mr. Cole of Railway Corporation, Gambo Gubio, who was the secretary of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), and others.
Few weeks later, I received a phone call from Obasanjo. He screamed, “You wrote that report criticising the government. You said we should not have sacked the useless, dead woods in the civil service!’’
I maintained my cool and tried to explain what we did, how methodical, objective and fair we were. He started shouting and I got angry, but our training was that as a senior civil officer, you don’t lose your temper, don’t be intimidated and be polite but firm.
I said, “Sir, I’m sorry you don’t like the report, but what is in the report does not represent my wish or opinion but the wish and opinion of members of the committee. It represents the fact as elicited from the received 133 memoranda. We interviewed people, from cleaners to Supreme Court judges. We administered questionnaires to one per cent of the public service, we collected operational data from about 20 public agencies. Our conclusion was based on these objective pieces of information.
“If you wish, you can set up another panel, if they are honest people, we will turn over all the data to them, and I am sure they will come to the same conclusion.” At this point, he banged the phone on me. And I knew that was the end. Those were the days when people were dismissed with immediate effect. For the head of state to lose his anger and bang his phone on you meant that something was wrong.
I got home and told my wife what happened. I said she should start packing our things because we were going back to Akure. That was in 1976. By then I had roofed my house, but there was no window, no door. I said we would quickly get some windows on one of the flats because I was certain that Obasanjo was going to sack me.
But one Saturday afternoon, I got a phone call from my friend, Dr. Ebun Kalejaye of blessed memory, who was a consultant in the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan. He said, “Yemi, congratulations.’’ And I asked, ‘For what?’ He said they had promoted me to the position of a permanent secretary. He said that when he first heard the news, he thought it was a sack, but when he listened to the next bulletin, it was promotion.
When I listened to the next news bulletin, I heard that four of us - Ebun Omoyele, Mr. Fatoye, Frank Odua and Olu Falae - were made permanent secretaries on the same day. That was in 1977, 40 years ago.
When I got to the office on Monday morning, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Lima Chiroma, called me and congratulated me. He said the head of state told him to bring me to Dodan Barracks. So we got into Mr. Chiroma’s car and drove to Obasanjo’s office.
On getting to the office, Mr. Chiroma said to Obasanjo: “I have brought Mr. Falae here.’’ Obasanjo replied, “Oh, that’s the man who wrote that terrible report. I am going to fire you now. He asked why I wrote that terrible report. At the end of the day, he said he agreed to promote me on the condition that I would work with him in his office.
I thanked him for the promotion and promised to give my very best for the government and the country. He said: “We shall see.” That was how I went through war with Obasanjo on a daily basis for three years.
In 1999, you contested the presidential election with Obasanjo. You claimed you won the election; why were you not declared winner?
That has always happened in Nigerian politics. Remember that during his trial, General Bamayi gave evidence that he was victimised because he backed a civilian for president. According to him, he told them that, “We have a competent civilian, Chief Falae. As the secretary to our government, we know him to be competent, why do we have to go and bring another military person? It wasn’t in the public domain.’’ That was what got him into trouble.
But you didn’t score enough votes from other parts of the country?
Who said so? Our lawyer, the late G.O.K Ajayi held a press conference, where he presented the results. He said I won by over 1million votes. What happened was that the military had made up their mind that another military man would succeed them, so no amount of voting would change their decision.
I have a lot of votes locked up here. For example, in Imo State I won by a wide margin. I got 8,000 and Obasanjo got 122. Sixteen out of 22 local governments were already declared before I went to bed.
When I woke up the following morning, he had won Imo State. And of course, his votes in Imo State were more than the total number of registered voters. That was how he won in many local government areas in many states. Obasanjo won more votes than the total number of registered voters. I didn’t score zero, so the election was carelessly, shamelessly rigged. They just changed the figures. Look, many of the results GOK tendered had the record of where Olu Falae scored 17,522 in words, but in figure they said 7,200. It happened like that in many states. Of course, that’s not acceptable.
In Bayelsa, there was no voting because riots were going on, but he said he got 3million votes. How many people are in Bayelsa State? So, if we disregard such votes, I won by a very wide margin.
Soon after the election, I was in Hilton Hotel in Abuja when the former US President Carter and General Powell, who were observers, came to my suite and said, “Chief, you have been cheated.’’ He said the result that was announced was not the true result. I said, ‘Thank you Mr President, but would you please tell Nigerians before leaving for America what you just told me?’ He said he would do so.
At the airport in Lagos, Carter announced that and all the papers carried it. He said the true result of the presidential election as observed by his team was different from the one the government announced. You can’t get a more authentic testimony than that of Carter.
Does that mean you may never befriend Obasanjo over what happened?
We were not friends before the election. He was my boss and he appreciated my performance. I became the Secretary to the Government of the Federation under General Babangida, but I was not close to him at all. I didn’t know why he said I must be the one. It took me up to two to three months before I agreed to work with him.
It was after I left office that the late Professor Aboyade said it was Obasanjo who told Babangida to get me because I worked with him and I was tough, but honest and hardworking. That confirmed that he appreciated what I did. So, there was a relationship between us.
Of course he stole my mandate, but I have since taken it as the will
That has always happened in Nigerian politics. Remember that during his trial, General Bamayi gave evidence that he was victimised because he backed a civilian for president
of God. He himself knows that he didn’t win that election. Look, in front of his house in Abeokuta, where he and his relatives voted, I beat him. I beat him in every polling booth in Yoruba land; I beat him everywhere, comprehensively.
The late Ambassador Dehinde Fanedez, who was one of those who tried to dissuade me from going to the electoral tribunal after the election, later told me in London, “I have seen the true results from the Americans and you won by a very wide margin. It was not close at all.
I know that someday, Nigeria will get the true election results.
Are you still interested in that seat?
Do you know how old am I now? When last did you see a 79-year-old man contesting for presidential election?
Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe still stands for election
Mugabe is a joke. He doesn’t know what he is doing. I have no intention of contesting for anything again. I have done enough to show that I mean well for this country. I was not contesting because I was ambitious. I wanted to set a standard in Nigeria, but the opportunity never came.
When you were the minister of finance, you strongly supported the structural adjustment programme, what were the objectives of that programme?
What brought about structural adjustment was mismanagement of the economy by the Shagari government. That government came in October 1979 during the days of import licence. The Ministry of Commerce was just issuing import licences to all and sundry. The minister in charge of import licence was leaving two houses away from mine in Victoria Island, Lagos. Every evening, there was always crowd in front of his house (import licence seekers).
In no time at all, he issued import licences that were more than the total foreign exchange we were going to have for the whole year. So, we authorised the people to use dollars. The consequence was that importers paid the naira equivalent to their banks, and their banks paid the naira to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to release dollars to those who shipped goods to Nigeria. The CBN didn’t have the dollars to pay. That was how the debt started accumulating (foreign exchange debt) against Nigeria.
You were kidnapped in 2016. A week before that incident you raised the alarm over some herdsmen invading your farm. What went wrong?
First of all, during that period, the Anglican Church of Nigeria, where I belong, was going to hold a national meeting in Akure. About 180 bishops and 800 elders all over Nigeria were expected at that meeting. I was made the chairman of the committee, handling all the arrangements, in terms of security, accommodation and others. It was a huge task, and somehow, the spirit ministered to me and I said to my committee that we had to set up a security committee. I told them that we must take extra care about security because bishops are prime targets for kidnappers. The committee agreed and we made those arrangements. We thank God that throughout the meeting, there was no mishap.
However, I was kidnapped the afternoon the meeting was to start. Before then, I was shouting about kidnapping for about three months. The meeting was supposed to start by 4pm and I was kidnapped about 1pm.
I had gone to the farm to make some arrangements before the meeting. I was about to start eating when I heard something like cracking of thunder. Usually, I would take my first meal of the day along with me. In the morning, I would take snacks, but I would take my first meal about mid-day. I heard it the second time and opened the door and I saw people with covered faces and guns in their hands coming to us. I thought they were soldiers who used to come and hunt on the farm. From time to time, some soldiers would come to hunt in the farm.
About two members of my staff were being taken along. When I asked who they were, they said I should shut up. Before I knew what was happening, they started attacking me. They forced me to lie down, tore my dress and dragged me along. It was like a movie. I was bleeding. I asked them who they were, but they said I should shut up. They were six dragging me along, and of course my shoes were off me until they dragged me into the bush. After about an hour, they flagged some canopies and we all sat down there. When we were there, after more than an hour, one of them took a leaf, squeezed it and used it to cover my wounds. Of course, they had seized my phone.
They gave me a phone and told me to talk to my wife. It happened to be the number of my farm manager, which they seized from him when they entered the farm. I got the phone and called my wife, telling her that I had been kidnapped and I didn’t know where we were. They collected the phone from me and we started trekking all night. Remember, I hadn’t had my first meal of the day. We trekked and we eventually climbed on top of a rock, where we stayed till about 8pm. That was when they said I should talk to their boss from Minna, Niger State. He said, “Chief, you must give us N100million or I will kill you.” I told him that as a retired civil servant I didn’t have N100 million. He asked about my children and I said they were applicants.
He asked about my friends who had money and I said I had few friends who had money. He asked who they were and I mentioned Muhammadu Buhari. He said not that one. I said Ibrahim Babangida and he said no. I said Aliko Dangote and he said those were not the ones they were asking about. I told him that those were the ones I knew; the others were poor people like me. That was how I started my journey for the next four days. We were always on the move. At one point, they said my people were insulting their boss. They said they would give N2 million to Boko Haram.
On the third day, they called me and said the following day was Sallah and they would be going away, adding that the police who gave them guns were calling to collect them back. They threatened to shoot me before returning the guns. They said their leader instructed them to kill me at 3pm that day. The time was about 20 minutes to 12noon. And I had not eaten for the fourth day.
Finally, they brought bread, but I refused to eat. They asked if I would like to eat rice, and I said no. I said they should give me Coke. That was provided. So I would take a bottle of Coke in the morning. I probably took two or three bottles.
After two days, I was very weak, I could hardly stand up, but I refused to eat anything from them. That third day, they said they were going to kill me at 3 o’clock. I told them to let me talk to my wife. They got my wife for me and I told her that these people said they would kill me, please whatever they ask for, agree. I promised to sell some assets and pay whoever lent us the money. I think my life is worth more than what they were asking for.
I also told my daughter to raise some money because I didn’t want to die wretched. I promised to refund any amount they spent for my freedom. I told Yewande that her daddy was worth more than what they were asking for. That was all I could say and I slumped again. I was always on the floor. They had started sharpening their knives, cleaning their guns and preparing for 3 o’clock to shoot me. About a quarter to 3pm, one of them said, “The money is complete.’’
Actually, when things like this happened, the governor would move the anti-terror unit into the house. It was the police that were taking their calls. The car we were using was sold for N350, 000 as part of the money they raised. Eventually, they agreed to collect N5million. They said the money should be taken to Lokoja. Those negotiating were not the boys with me; they were in Minna and those who were to take the money were in Abuja or Lokoja. They were in three groups. They told me that if they sent the police with the money, they would kill me. I told my family not to play with anything. So, two people from Akure and my wife’s nephew took the money to them. That was how I was released.
Chief Olu Falae
Chief Olu Falae
Chief Olu Falae
Chief Olu Falae