Former Finance Minister and joint presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Peoples Party (APP) in 1998 Chief Olu Falae, 72, says he is no longer interested in elective office. Going round the country to consult widely on a mega platform that could raise the flag of strong opposition to the dominance of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spoke with ALIFA DANIEL in Abuja on the Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP) recently formed by some opposition political parties. Excerpts:
WHAT is your reaction to the announcement by the recent removal of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof Maurice Iwu?
My immediate reaction was to say "Thank God.' The ordeal is over as far as Iwu is concerned. I am not personally against him but his tenure in INEC has caused a lot of political crises. He should be happy because he has been relieved of that job. He made a mess of his assignment and brought embarrassment to the entire nation. We thank God that he is no longer there and we pray that his successor would do a better job in the interest of the nation.
Many people have expressed the sentiment that Iwu is not the problem and that there are structural problems, which must be confronted and until they are dealt with, it will be difficult getting anyone to do a proper job in INEC.
That is partially correct. Iwu alone was not the problem. But in an organisation, the buck stops with the head. There are other problems. There is attitudinal problem. In this society in particular, which is leadership driven, you needed performance and character to shape the performance of the institution. I have a hypothesis for job performance, which states that regardless of the objective valuation of a job, the level at which it is performed is the level of the incumbent. If the incumbent is higher than the job, he pulls it up to his level and does the job, if he is lower than the job, he drags it down to his level. So, we can apply that to INEC. The total performance at INEC is determined by the structural status of the nation and also by the quality and character of the leader. So, Iwu was an important part of the problem but not the whole of it.
What do you think the electoral body can do about a situation where the President of the country wants to contest an election in a do-or- die atmosphere?
The INEC head should stand his ground or resign the job. That is what I will do; I will stand my ground, let the heavens fall. I will do what is right but if you physically enforce me to do it, I will tell the nation and I will resign. We have faced challenges in the past. I was brought down in detention for a year and a half for saying that the vote of the peoples should count. When I was in detention, there were emissaries sent to me that I should denounce my membership of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and I would go back free. My categorical answer was an irrevocable No! So, people should learn to stand firm. By that time, they took me to court and charged me with treason. Treason is an offence punishable only by death. So in other words, potentially, I was a candidate for the gallows. That was done often and I was offered an easy way out, which was for me to denounce membership of what I believe in and then go home free. The choice was not difficult to make. The answer was clear that I could not betray the idea I believe in. I could not repudiate myself. I stood firm; I told them that I would stay in detention until the Good Lord released me. So, if the head of INEC is being pressurised by an over ambitious President, he has the option to either defy him or resign the job if impossible.
What would you therefore say to the Acting President with all the talk about his interest in the 2011 presidential race?
We are urging him to carry out genuine electoral reforms and ensure that a credible election is conducted. If he is aspiring to be a candidate for that election his moral authority and ability to enforce genuine electoral reform will be diminished, it will be compromised. In his interest, if he wants to achieve success in that area, he should consider not to be a candidate, as it will compromise his ability to perform. It will be difficult for people to believe that he will not take advantage of his position. In public life, substance is important but accepting it quite often is equally important. If I were in his shoes, I will not contest under any circumstance.
Comment on the rumbles within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
We thank God that finally it is happening. We expected it to happen long ago because I have never accepted the PDP as a political party. A party is made up of its philosophy and quality of its leadership. What is the philosophy of the PDP? I was talking to a top PDP member recently and he said most of them have not seen any policy document owned by the PDP. Now, the electoral reform is the major debate going on in the country, I don't know of anyone who has heard of the PDP presenting any paper or making any contribution. The PDP has no philosophy that is identifiable in the interest of the people. When we talk of the leadership we cannot see it. We have leaders that will abuse their office; some of them have been tried as governors, even the National Chairman. Therefore, there is zero leadership, zero philosophy in the PDP. That is not a political party. People say, how can you say that the PDP is not a political party when it controls the central government, 28 states out of 36? Of course, we know how they got to that position. But even if they won those elections, rulership of states alone does not make the PDP a party. When the military cease power, they control all the levels of government and does that make the military a party? You can use brigandage and money and rigging and mayhem to get power without being a party. That is what the PDP is doing. I am not surprised that the PDP is imploding today. They are bound to implode because there is nothing that endures that holds them together. It is philosophy and common commitment to values that keep people together in times of crises. If money is the only nexus, they are bound to break. My view is, even if the PDP were doing well, after 12 years in the power, they have to go and take a rest, rejuvenate and refurbish their philosophy, and let the next group take over and serve the nation better. It is competitiveness and it is done in the interest of the nation. In the United Kingdom today, the Labour Party (LP) has been in power for 13 years but in the opinion poll, the Conservative party is leading. The British people want a change. Why don't we have a change here especially when the ruling party messes up this country and brings disgrace and poverty to the country? There is massive unemployment of graduates and yet the ruling party has no answer to that or other failures of the system. Nigerians are embarrassed and disgraced abroad, yet no response. Now is the time for change and that is why we presented the Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP), which came out of the Mega Summit Movement (MSM), a movement set up to get as many groups and parties and persons in Nigeria to come together and offer a credible alternative. People tell me that things are failing, and that past efforts have failed. My answer is that maybe one, two, three of past efforts failed. In terms of probability, we should expect that the fourth effort would succeed. But more importantly, we have the PDP to thank for the monumental mess it has created in the country and that mess is now concentrating in our minds. Many people who are not politicians are asking how they can get involved. The failure of the PDP is galvanising political groups. There are about 22 political parties sponsoring the SDMP and there are thousands of individuals from the parties - PDP, Action Congress (AC) - and there were two or three leading members of the AC in our last meeting. The moment this party is registered, I am convinced that there will be a major political movement. People are waiting for a credible alternative, but they are afraid if it will work or if they will be let down again. By the grace of God we are gradually convincing the people that we will succeed, for the sake of Nigeria. At my age, I should not be running around to contest any election. I am not going to accept any appointment as a minister. I am running around because I want the few people who have credibility, who have compassion for this country to come together create a credible political group that can save this country. If a political party cannot make the wealth of the people its main business, that party can only run the country to the ground, you cannot be stealing the money of the people for whom you are working because any naira stolen is a naira denied to development. You take peoples money to buy properties while the people are dying. There is no potable water; there are no roads to travel on etc. We have to give Nigerians a new lease of life. We challenge the youth to get involved in what we are doing because we are talking about their future, more their future than my future. At 72, I don't know how many more years I have to live. If I am lucky, I will live to 85, 90, more 13 years, 15 years but the youths can look forward to another 60 years. So, it is more of their future than mine that is involved here. It is for their future that we are running around to create a political party everyone can believe in so that the future can be better. We have the potential only that the leadership has been found wanting to covert the potential into wealth, opportunities and jobs.
What is the difference between you and the PDP, because some people will argue that your party is starting out with strange bedfellows just as the PDP? There was the case of Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who with many people left as a result of personal ambition.
We are different from the PDP. First, we have a philosophy document. That is what we believe in. We are social democrats. Social democrats the world over are focused on the welfare of the people. A look at that document will show our plan for Nigeria. We have a philosophy, we have a programme, and we are focused on the nation. The PDP is not focused. If you want to form a party, an all-inclusive party, all kinds of party will move in, but in the due course, those people who are not comfortable with the ideology will move out. There will be inflow and outflow. That is infiltration process. At the end of the process, only the credible ones will remain. Atiku was in the PDP. He had problems with his boss and he moved out, now he is back. Buhari is still in this movement. Yes, he formed his own party, the CPC but there are 22 parties or more in this process. Another party joining them is not a problem. For years, Buhari had no party; he operated under the Buhari Campaign Organisation (BCO). When you find yourself in the midst of 22 parties, you will feel the need to convert your organisation into a party, to be at the same level and at par with others. There is a provision in our constitution that all parties that converged to form the mega party will have their members on the Board of Trustee (BoT). If yours is not a political party, you will not have a member in the BoT. So, there are reasons Buhari found it necessary to have his own party. These parties are not the ones joining the mega party, it is individuals who are joining the party. When the SDMP is registered, we decided, that we would resign from our parties and join the new party as individuals, leaving the parties in existence as legal entities while the human beings in the parties have moved to the mega party. That will solve two problems. One, the reluctance of the Nigerian to dissolve his party or to deregister his party and hand over the certificate to INEC will be avoided. Secondly, we know that the ruling party does not want us to succeed because if we succeed, they are out. They will be looking for what they can do to stop us and if we want to dissolve and merge, we will have to go the process. The process is a national convention of the party, we notify and invite INEC to observe the convention and after the convention, the changes will go to the INEC to get a new certificate. If we try to go through that process, the PDP will lay ambush for us somewhere. They will give money to some renegades in the parties to get an injunction that a party cannot merge with another party. They will tie us down with injunctions so that we will not be able to get ready for the next election. That is why we say that the parties will be there but the human beings in that party will move to another party. In my party, there may be some people who might not want to join me in this arrangement. They are free to continue with the party. It is an innovative thing. We are all in this movement, he has his own party and I have my own party. We are all in our parties but we are in this movement. Without this movement, we will not be able to confront and beat the PDP in the next election.
With nine months to the 2011 election there are no talks of any presidential candidate for the SDMP...
I am sure that people know that we are rich in presidential candidates, richer than any other political party.