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Jonathan’s Government Still Groping For Direction - Falae
Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, speaks with Bayo Alade on some national issues. Excerpts.
What is your take on the state of security in the country, especially the Boko Haram threat?
Nobody can be happy about the Boko Haram terrorism. We used to hear of such violent acts in other countries, but it seems it is now happening on our own soil. When the thing started, we thought it was local hoodlums doing it. They would torch people’s houses, stand at the entrance and stab people to death. Now, it is a whole new ball game. They have become sophisticated with bombs. Surely, a completely new group has taken over.
They are now carrying out these terrorist activities, using as a facade, the Boko Haram. The question is, what is the cause of all these? The ostensible reason is religion. There are people on this planet who believe that western education is evil. I believe that rational people believe that western education is the way forward. When some people believe it is the opposite, you begin to wonder whether they belong to the human community. So, the fact cannot be denied, who are they, and what could be done about it?
It is a quasi political thing. I think some people are using it to raise the level of a debate to a violent level, hoping that what was done for MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) and the Niger Delta could be done for them too. I don’t know what their reasons are — whether they are religious, political or a mixture — but they need to be tackled seriously and this is beyond military or police response. It’s like the Niger Delta thing.
They are not just terrorists, there is an underlining political dissatisfaction. Chief Obafemi Awo articulated this in the 60s when he said there was the need for the minorities in the East to have their own states, what he called COR state, Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers states. There was an underlining political objective. Other things crept in later, including criminality and opportunism.
Also, I think the Boko Haram thing needs to be studied by committed and serious-minded people so that we can begin to understand where it is coming from. Even in Afghanistan where, after several years of military engagements by the United States and its western allies, they are beginning to talk to the Talibans. I am not saying we should talk to Boko Haram — we don’t even know who they are.
We must look at the emergence of Boko Haram and address the issue. It is unfortunate we can’t wish it away.
Is it possible that these people were frustrated with the kind of government we are running and concluded that nothing good could come out of a western style of governance and so rose up against anything western?
Well that’s a plausible hypothesis that will not go far as to say that is the real reason, but we don’t know. It is plausible, it might be so or not. It is strange that they have to come against anything western because those who are acknowledged to be their leaders have western education, so there is an illogicality there. If western education is such an evil, why did you accept as leaders, people who are beneficiaries of western education? That is why I say we should study the situation very well and do a proper diagnosis otherwise, any prescription can only be effective by accident.
How do you view the call by some elders of Borno State for the withdrawal of soldiers from Maiduguri?
Well, if I were the president of the country, I would not accede to that request because that is the teeth that government has, to maintain order in any part of the country. If the government does so and there is an eruption of carnage as those people (Boko Haram) are planning massive assassination of people, you would look bad in front of the people. So, I would keep the military there.
How would you assess President Goodluck Jonathan’s response to the Boko Haram threat?
President Jonathan is yet to persuade me that he has a vision, a blueprint for this country. We don’t know where he’s leading us in many areas. One thing that Chief Awolowo did was to always have a programme and a blueprint. He would articulate what he wanted to do in different sectors. We used to have a national development plan.
In 1970 or ’71, when the Third National Development Plan was to be launched, I was at the National Planning Ministry and Chief Awolowo had said that free and universal education was feasible, but in our document, we had argued that Nigeria could not afford it at that time. He had challenged General Yakubu Gowon and the government to prove to the public that free education was not feasible. It became my lot and my colleagues’ in the ministry to bring out the figures and after working day and night for 10 days and coming out with facts and figurers, General Gowon asked me and my colleagues to take the documents to Chief Awolowo. We got there at about 10.00 p.m. Chief Awolowo was waiting for us.
He went through the documents in the night and said he agreed with most of what we did and praised our commitment to service. He said that he didn’t know that civil servants could make trips in the night. The point was that Papa Awolowo always did his homework, had his own programme. You may disagree with him, he won’t abuse you, he would ask you to go and bring your own facts and figures. He had his own plans. Where is the plan of this government? Where is Jonathan leading us in agriculture, education, health and transportation. Where is he leading us?
Ministers are being appointed and given portfolios. If you are the minister of education, what is he asking you to do in the ministry of education? If he hasn’t given you a write-up on what you are supposed to do, on what basis is he going to assess your performance? How can he say whether you are doing well or not when he has not given you any assignment? The least that could be done by the president is to get the planning commission to put together a national development plan. Even if it is the outline, that will show where we have to be in agriculture, roads, housing and education in four years. No major country in the world operates without a plan.
You are from Ondo State. How would you rate the progress in the state so far?
Well, Governor Olusegun Mimiko is of the Awolowo school of thought. He is a humanist. He believes that the purpose of government is to bring relief, joy and comfort to the people. The purpose of governance is to make life better for the people; anything different from that detracts from governance.
Today, most people are asking for huge salaries. How does that advance the welfare of the people? When an official of the National Assembly takes a huge loan on behalf of his colleagues, how does that advance the welfare of the people? But when there is no vision and commitment, there is no sin. Every sector of the country must be told where we are going. We don’t have to get there in four years, but we know we are heading in that direction. Take housing for example, is there a housing programme? Is government going to provide houses for the people? What type of houses and for what categories of people? A thousand and one question must be answered in key sectors like housing and education.
They are just clowning around in the dark in the absence of a national development plan.