Chief Samuel Oluyemisi Falae is one of the bright minds in Nigeria in the area of policy formulation and economic planning. A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Falae spoke with The Podium’s Deji Ajisafe on the state of the nation after 59 years of independence. He also spoke about the various failed policies, faulty vision, abandoned and poorly-implemented programmes since 1960.
Here are excerpts: –
Nigeria @ 59. Have we moved forward, backward or we are static?
We are doing all of the above. There are areas where we are static. There are areas where some progress is being made. There are areas where we are going backward. It is a very confusing overall picture. I think basically, Nigeria’s problem is that we have not got the politics right. We agreed with a constitution with the British before they left. Less than two years later we pounced on one section of the country where the leader of the opposition came from and declared an emergency and there was a non-democratic government. Democracy was abolished for a while in Nigeria.
That is how it started. It destabilized the polity. There’s political intolerance. So, you find out that up till today, to elect our leaders, it is an occasion for war. Violence, bribery, and corruption, manipulation etcetera.
Politics, and power have been the problem. On that front, we’ve had elections before independence, they are more credible than what we are having these days. I don’t recollect that anybody was giving anybody one kobo before voting. Even up to 1979 when Baba Ajasin ran for governor here, he told me that he didn’t spend up 30 or 300 pounds, I can’t recollect. Even when I ran for president in 1979, I did not approve one naira for any voter. We spent money on publicity, on logistics, traveling to address people but not giving money to induce a voter to vote for you. It never occurred in our campaign.
It was after that date that the virus of vote-buying affected Nigeria and until we find an antivirus cure, it may end the life of Nigeria. I pray that does not happen. Unless we get the politics right, we can’t make any move, because politics affects everything. If a hundred people are hunted today, an overwhelming majority will come from one section of the country and very few will come from the other parts of the country.
So, how can people from that part be happy, be supportive of the government? These are the things we expect our people to do but when you are being unfair on the basis of politics and you expect the person who you are treating shabbily to be positive. It is not going to happen. I think the key is to get the politics right.
I don’t think that it requires rocket science to do right by Nigerians. We all know the population of each area, you can use that as an index in distributing jobs, opportunities, investments, and projects so that we will create a sense of justice. There can be no stability without justice. Injustice is being caused by politics in Nigeria.
So, I don’t think Nigeria is doing well, particularly in the last one or two years. It has been worse than the past when violence and massive bloodletting became a feature of our country. One group will come from one area and butcher the people and move into their land. As I was treated, people I’ve never met before came into my farm, grabbed me, took me into the bush, macheted me and demanded for money. It happened that all the people involved in that kidnap are from the same part of Nigeria. There’s no single person who is from another part.
The impression is created that it is inter-ethnic warfare. Of course, this constant denial is the way they want us not to criminalize ethnicity, but if what we see creates the impression that it is one side that is fighting at the other side. Integrity requires that you say what you see.
Pointedly, where exactly did we get it wrong as a nation?
Well, I think it is only in Nigeria and in Africa generally that politics and the price for the reward of office is regarded as the most important thing that overwrites every other thing. Justice, fairness, religion anything. Look at South Sudan, they are killing each other almost every day. These are people that are being oppressed by the Arabs in the north who finally got their independence. Since then, they have been at war.
We are yet to honestly agree that the only reason you want to be in office is to deliver your people. I believe our earlier leaders, the Obafemi Awolowos, the Zik of this world, the Ahmadu Bello, they saw the effect of illiteracy and poverty.
They have gone abroad to study and felt ashamed that their own people were at that level and they came back determined to lift them out of illiteracy, out of poverty. They were passionate. Awolowo was passionate about education. That has disappeared. It is me and myself and no more
Sometimes ago, when our present President was accused of being partial in his appointment, he said he appointed those he knew. If Awolowo had given free education to only those he knew in Ikenne, there would have been no free education in Western Nigeria. That was what has changed. They no longer sincerely feel for their people.
As a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, you are a key player in the formation of some failed visions, poorly implemented programmes and abandoned visions since 1960. Such programmes as the National Development Plan and the National Rolling Plan.
If you ask me to suggest one single thing that needs to happen today for Nigeria to start the process of regeneration for growth and development. I will say without hesitation that we should return to the development planning because everybody plans. A housewife plans, couple, they plan.
When you get married and you want to have a home of your own, you plan that over the next five years you want to have your own house. And you and your wife agree okay, let see what we can do. In two years, you buy land. The following year you start erecting blocks and you complete it in five years. If you never plan, you will never have a home. That is at the individual Ievel.
At the corporate level, no major company can survive without a plan. If you are producing this product today, you project your market that in the next five years, people’s taste will change. So, this product must be improved upon or redesigned or repackage and you project other features.
If you don’t do so you will go out of business. Thomas Cook, I’m sure you know it, the oldest tourist company in the world, 180 years old. They own aircraft, hotels. They operate in more than 120 countries in the world, bigger than many countries in the world collapsed a few days ago. Their planning did not catch up with the changing world environment. They were left behind, and they failed
Similarly, any country that stops planning is in trouble. Let me illustrate, because we may still be budgeting for education, agriculture, road. We are doing so in a sporadic, uncoordinated and inconsistent manner.
In 1975, the third national development plan was going to be launched and I had the honour to be the chief planning officer. When the document got to the ruling council, General Gowon was the Chairman. I was allowed to address the council on the proposal of the Ministry of Defence to build so many barracks during the planning period.
The argument was that the Nigerian Army had grown very rapidly during the civil war with the result that most of the soldiers were living in thatched houses all over Nigeria. That we should not allow those who have fought for the unity of Nigeria to leave in such a wretched environment, therefore, the ministry was going to import three million tonnes of cement to build barracks in the five years.
I said I agree completely that barracks should be built for the soldiers but that our projection shows that the 18 barges at Apapa Port will not be able to handle the three million tonnes of cement the ministry was planning to import because cement would not be the only thing we would be importing during the planning period.
We would be importing machines for industries, spare parts, raw materials, petrol, wheat for bread etcetera. That is on that side of import. At the same time through the same port, we would be exporting cocoa, rubber, timber etcetera.
Our calculation showed that with the 18 barges, the total quantity that could be handled per annum for both import and export for the five years was just a little higher than the three million tonnes and therefore, there’s no way even one million tonnes could come in addition to normal import and export.
The wise men of the day said we are theoreticians. They said we needed to build barracks that they are going to build barracks for their soldiers. That they are not going to leave them in thatched houses. And we were overruled.
The order was placed for the three million tonnes of cement. You know what happened? When the cement started to arrive in ships from abroad, they found out that there were ships at Apapa port busy discharging rice, machines, exporting rubber.
In the shipping business, it is first come, first served. You can’t say because you are carrying cement, the ship discharging petrol should leave the place. So, they queued up and overtime over four hundred ships queued up in our waters.
After six months, they decided to kick. And those who shipped the cement to Nigeria took us to International Court of Commerce and got judgment against Nigeria that we were the ones who failed to provide offloading facilities, they had carried out their contracts to supply cement and they got judgment against us.
Nigeria was asked to pay them billions of dollars and they were allowed to seize our reserves in foreign banks. I want to say that I had the honour or the misfortune of being one of the three people invited by successive governments to handle this mess.
Against it, we warned before the action was taken. We had to go and negotiate with those people not to embarrass Nigeria. We were able to get many of them to agree to withdraw their cases on the basis that as soon as the ports are cleared, Nigeria will give them contracts to supply cement and other materials.
I have told this story to illustrate the calamity that arises from a mindset in government who does not respect the logic of planning. What happened then is happening now in a different form.
Lagos is suffering from paralysis. You can’t get to Apapa now, can you? Those handling the quantum of goods coming in and going out from Apapa are separate from those building the road and maintaining the road.
Yes, they are spending money, but in an uncoordinated manner and so, physical paralysis is taking place.
The same thing is happening elsewhere in the economy maybe not with the same dramatic force of the Apapa crisis. The point I am making is that unless and until we return to planning, we will continue to stumble and go from crisis to crisis.
Planning creates the consciousness that they can never have enough money because human needs are insatiable. So, you don’t get the impression you now have, once you have no planning, no commitment to project, that anything you have is a surplus.
So, that creates in you the need to be careful with money. It imposes on the system the consistency required to avoid crisis. Those two crises should continue to educate us to embark on planning.
The rolling plan is in our budgetary system. For many years, I was a member of a committee of the federal government where we call the ministries and parastatals and asked for their proposal for the following year.
Usually, we found out that there was no organic link between what one ministry is doing and what the other one is doing. Even if you succeed in building your hospital, if the doctors are no trained, it will not deliver service to the people.
Let us talk about Vision 2020 and the MDGs 2015. How have they fared? Have they achieved the purpose for which they were introduced?
I am sorry. I read those documents when they were produced. I didn’t quite see what they were trying to do. I’m sorry. I think it will be better if you ask the authors of those documents. Those are slogans. If they had worked, the bottlenecks that are holding us down should not be there.
Try to drive from here to Abuja today. If vision 2020, SEEDS, if those things are happening, the national capital should be a beneficiary. If because of insecurity, people cannot come from Kaduna to Abuja it means the security part is not working. You cannot drive from here to Abuja without going through horrific roads that are bad.
Lokoja is always flooded every year. So, if those things are working unemployment should not be rising. Nigeria should not be designated as the poverty capital of the world.
My own assessment is that if those things had worked, they have worked far less effective than the authors intended.
What about other programmes such as the Seven-Point Agenda, Transformation Agenda, the Economic Recovery Growth Plan ERGP.
Those are slogans. Where is the concrete manifestation of those slogans? When we are planning, we would you tell you that look, we are going to Tin Can Island, the barges in Apapa are grossly inadequate we are going to put 18 new barges in Tin Can Island over the next 18 months, you can go there and count. We are going to build 17 airports where jets and aircraft can land. they are going to build seven or eight universities in the following locations. That is what I’m talking about.
And in the plan document, you’ll find the health programme saying that we will set a target of one hospital bed per maybe five thousand population and therefore, in a particular area, there will be three thousand hospital beds over the planned period and those beds will be in so many hospitals.
You go to education and you say well, to sustain those new hospitals and the beds to be provided we need to provide so many additional doctors. The enrolment in medical faculties today this is it, we need to increase intake. That was the kind of concrete consistent thing that we were doing. That was planning. But these slogans, I really don’t know what they are talking about. I’m sorry.
lf you insist they are slogans then what is the way out?
Those who are driving government at all levels federal, state even local must be persuaded that planning is a sine qua non for our survival. Many of them don’t like it because it constrains them. When there is a plan, what you are to do for the next five years has been agreed in a document that these are the roads you are going to build for the next five years, these are the hospitals you are going to build.
You can’t just wake up one morning and one contractor says that look there’s one big hospital, if we build it here, $500 million will be yours. There is no room for that. The plan has agreed on what you have for the next five years. They will say we are too rigid.
They want a loose situation where you can wake up and do what you like because before anything gets into the plan, there must be justification Why should this thing come into the plan? What should be the benefit? And for whom?
I was once made to produce a brochure, a handbook for measuring returns on investment in the social area like education. You can quantify return on educational investment by government or investing in a doctor by training a doctor, you can compute to return on that investment.
So, unless your investment passes that criteria, you can’t put them into a plan. But when there is no plan, the governor or the minister or the president wakes up and put what he likes in the budget. Halfway, they can abandon it and put another one inside.
This total lack of discipline, free for all is what they prefer. Planning is the very opposite. Planning is in favour of the people. That is what they used to tell us that this is too rigid. But there is provision for plan amendment in the document, that if in the process of implementing a project, issues arise, you document them.
If you now want to change either the size, the scope or location of the project, you argue the case at the planning commission where the president is the Chairman. So, you can’t just bring frivolous things to amend because some contractors saw you in London and want to do a deal with you.
Those are some of the things you cannot do when there’s planning. That is why there is resistance. That is why we have a mighty problem in our hands.
The present leadership across the country, most of them are not likely to want to return to planning because it will enable them to do the things they want to do as easily as they want to do it.
Many Nigerians opine that one of the nation’s major problems is bad leadership. Do you agree?
That is what I am saying. I say planning is in favour of the people but those who are leading the people don’t think it is in their favour. That is bad leadership. I won’t say bad leadership, I’ll say leadership that no longer identifies with the people.
I started by saying that the earlier leaders were passionate about their desire to uplift the people from poverty and ignorance. They went abroad to study; they saw how human beings should live. They passionately launched education and other programmes to uplift the people. That has petered down.
I had the privilege of reviewing Baba Ajasin’s autobiography after I came out of detention and I read there, baba said that he was asked to make provision for security in his budget because he never made any provision for security.
Other governors took their security votes to bribe politicians and all that and that’s why many of them were arrested and put in prison. In Ondo State, not one person was found guilty of anything because baba didn’t have a security budget that could even incriminate anybody.
Baba said he was asked to have a security vote and he told them that the vote is meant for his protection, if those that voted for him want to kill him, they are free to do so that he is old enough to die.
He said look I haven’t got enough money to pay my teachers for our free education programme. He said it will be questionable for me to be making provisions for security. That is what I am talking about.
And the day baba Ajasin left office, he had no car that’s roadworthy that could take him back to Owo. I’m saying this on authority. He said in the book that he came to State House here with two cars of his own.
When his party, UPN had no car he gave them one. About two years later, the old one he was using in Owo broke down and the mechanic said it could no longer be repaired and he left it in the backyard.
So, the day he was overthrown, he had no means of going back to Owo. It was late Sunday Faboyegun, I am mentioning his name that went to the place to drive him to Owo. That is the leadership we are talking about.
Can you make somebody governor today, for two hours and he will have no car that will take him home immediately he’s overthrown. That is the difference between the kind of leadership that is for the people and the leadership that is for itself.
What you are saying now is that for Nigerians to move forward we should do away with all these visions and programmes such as NEEDS, SEEDS and get back to proper planning?
Yes, serious planning and they must be committed to it. Let me tell you one thing. If you have a well-articulated plan, it is a means of the head of government controlling his government. The document is in the hands of the president or the governor, no commissioner or minister can smuggle anything into it.
So, it gives you a control over what is going on. Anything that is not in the plan cannot go into the budget at all. So, maybe if they hear this, it will persuade them to return to planning.
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