Falae’s stewardship and vision for Nigeria

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

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.

The person of Chief Falae
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 towns people, 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.

The atmosphere was liberal and not many speeches were made. Only the Chairman of the occasion, Hon. Justice E.A. Ojuolape made brief remarks after which His Imperial Majesty, the Deji of Akure Kingdom, seized the opportunity to congratulate and shower encomiums on Falae. His Imperial Majesty addressed the gathering and danced to rejoice with the celebrant and his spouse. Falae and his spouse patiently waited till the large reception hall was virtually emptied before they gracefully danced their way to their vehicle.

Further details about Falae’s personal life can be gleaned from his biography, Keeping Faith: A Biography of Olu Falae. His biographer, Dayo Awude, said what he wrote in the 211-page book about the celebrant was not exhaustive as he only weaved together enough data to enable him understand Falae and what he stood for. He said Falae authorised the biography because “the eye does not see itself except through a reflection.”

Chief Falae’s colloquium
The colloquium, which took place at Amazing Grace Event Centre, Oda Road, Akure, on September 21, 2018, was moderated by Chief Seinde Arogbofa. Members of the panel included Chief John Nnia Nwodo, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Prof. Kole Omotoso and I. We were to speak in that order, but the sequence was slightly altered because of the late arrival of Chief Nwodo, who spoke last. The panellists were given 10 to 15 minutes each to make their contributions after which the audience also contributed.

The colloquium was graced by many dignitaries. Among them were the Deputy Governor of Ondo State, Agboola Ajayi; the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal; the former Governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko; the Deji of Akure Kingdom, His Imperial Majesty Oba Aladetoyinbo Ogunlade Aledelusi Odundun II; and Hon. Ifedayo Abegunde, Secretary to the State Government, Ondo State. Others were the Elemo of Akure Kingdom, Chief Olusegun Adedipe; veteran politician and elder statesman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; Chief Supo Sonibare, SDP party leader; Professor Jerry Gana, a presidential aspirant; John Dara, another presidential aspirant, and Social Democratic Party (SDP) executive members. Although the arrival of the politicians, marked by showy displays by their supporters and entourage, interrupted the colloquium’s proceedings, it enlivened the occasion.

A common thread in the discussion of the colloquium theme was general lamentation over the low level of progress made by Nigeria, in relation to its peers, since independence. As a way forward, emphasis was placed on the urgency and necessity of “restructuring” the polity. In his vote of thanks to wrap up the colloquium’s proceedings, Chief Falae responded to the views expressed at the colloquium and resolved to rededicate himself to his convictions for as long as his feet and faculties could carry him.

Chief Falae’s dream for Nigeria
Restructuring the country is a pet idea of 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 Falae and published in 2004, and Dayo Awude’s Keeping Faith: A Biography of Olu Falae, published in 2008, provide details of what 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. They were also sold at the colloquium at a giveaway price of N1000 per copy. I read them with interest after the event.

In those books, Falae called for the formation of a group of social democrats who would be committed to the pursuance of “liberal and welfare” programmes with the aim of making immediate, sustainable and maximum impact for the benefit of the people (Falae: 127-133).

The vehicle for the attainment of Falae’s dream for Nigeria remains a Sovereign National Conference comprising all the 275ethnic nationalities (Awude:53) fairly and directly represented as delegates and whose outcome should return the country to the “spirit” if not the “letter” of the Independence Constitution of 1960. He said that was the authentic federal system negotiated by the nationalists but was unfortunately set aside by the military intervention of 1966.
Usman, former Permanent Secretary in the Presidency, Abuja.

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 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.

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. Falae occupied a prominent place in that brief assessment. The Cabinet Office/the Presidency would forever remember 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.
To be continued tomorrow.
Usman, former Permanent Secretary in the Presidency, Abuja.

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Olu Falae
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