The News (Lagos)

22 February 1999

Nigeria: Olu Falae: A Profile

Lagos — On a certain night in January, 1986, Chief Samuel Oluyemi Falae, then Managing Director, Nigeria Merchant Bank knelt down to pray with Olatunbosun, his wife. That was not unusual.

They regularly said devotion together, and usually with a variant shopping list for themselves, family and friends. But, this occasion was different and the list had a recurring item among the usual good health, happiness, growth in the spirit. The Falaes asked of the Almighty: "God, if through this (appointment) something good and positive will happen to Nigeria, let it be. But, if it is going to be frustrated and bring problems to this nation, and ourselves, please God, stop it at this stage". God did not throw hurdles on Falaes path. So, he took the job Babangida offered him--secretary to the Federal Military Government.

In that and later in his enhanced capacity as head of service, he was strongly influential in the Babangida adoption of the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP as what would lead Nigeria out of the economic woods. Four months after God approved of his appointment, dozens of Nigerians were mowed down on the streets for protesting SAP.

The nation was paralysed for days over what became known as the SAP riots. Falae soldiered on, convincing General Babangida to put in place a palliative mirage called SAP relief measures.

It did nothing to stop the opposition. Interestingly then, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Falae's opponent today, had led a telling assault charge at SAP, in November, 1987. Obasanjo had described the Babangida-Falae baby, SAP, as lacking "human face, human heart and milk of human kindness.

President Babangida's aides returned tackles for faints. Falae was not one of those who fell over themselves- Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), Commodore Mike Akhigbe, Air Marshal Ibrahim Alfa and Chief Duro Onabule among others, struggled to land vicious blows. Nobody remembered the tristearin apostle himself, chief Olu Falae, in the heat of recriminations. But then, Falae is not known to throw himself in the eye of the storm.

When Babangida, the ultimate strategist set Nigeria agog with the IMF debate shortly before his appointment, Falae refused to be drawn into public comment. Rather, he did the head of state a lengthy memo that defined a position- rejection of neo-colonial economic underpinings. Through a staggering removal of subsidy on petroleum products, Babangida and Falae inexplicably believed would give the private sectors, a shot in the arm.

When Obasanjo took Babangida's economic programme to the cleaners, he know the target was not only the head of state. It included his key advisers. And Falae was critical to the formulation of policies for both IBB and Obasanjo! Indeed, between 1963 and 1991 when he first tried his hands on politics, Falae contributed to all major social and economic policies of government. If as Nigerians say, these policies have largely been faulted by reality and history, is chief Falae any more qualified than the next failed civil Servant, politician or military officer to rule Nigeria? Yes, he answers.

He told an interviewer that in 1986, that he and his colleagues did their work as economic policy formulators as diligently and as patriotically as they possibly could, but, "good things advocated in the past did not catch on, because many people did not share the perception" The problem with Nigeria, he surmised, was not a lack of bright ideas as the ones he always proposed, it was in their implementation. So, by 1992, Falae was a thoroughly frustrated man.

He had watched Tafawa Balewa, Aguiyi Ironsi, Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida take his policies and turned them on their heads. He perhaps, alone, saw Cannan and was determined to lead his beloved people there.

When he thought he saw the celestial green light, Chief Olu Falae cast his lot with the Social Democratic Party, one of the two registered political parties.

Babangida saw differently and showed him, along with 22 others, the red card. Falae shares in the group chastisement for rigging and was banned from participating in Babangida's political transition programme.

But not until he had been roundly trounced in the party primaries right in his own backyard, by the Shehu Musa Yar'Adua (now late), who broke through all demographic and primordial boundaries with perplexing ease. Yar'Adua taught Falae an unforgettable political lesson.

Immediately following his ban, another set of politicians were thrown up to jostle for Babangida seat. One of them was chief M.K.O. Abiola, a man for whom Falae had immense respect and administration. It was to Bashorun Abiola that Falae passed his lesson, along with his political structures.

Backed by large financial resources and tremendous goodwill, Abiola was able to build a resilient political machinery in such a short time. He eventually won the presidential election held 12 June, 1993.

And, had the election not been cancelled by the military regime, Falae would perhaps have once again, found himself in the familiar turf of emasculated economic policies formulator. The glaring disappointment of Babangida not withstanding, God may actually have heard the prayers of Mr. and Mrs.

Falae said that night, 13 years ago. For it was that appointment that thrust him unto the platform of political visibility from which he is currently taking his best political shot ever.

Ironically, Babangida whom he stood by, against Obasanjo in 1987, is today running against him by proxy, having thrown his enormous military and financial clout behind Obasanjo. How much drubbing he will give to or take from the Obasanjo camp would depend on the level of support this son of a village farmer would get not only from the people he professes undying love for, but from God.

He is quick to tell anyone who cares to listen that God walked with him through the valley of death. That is how he regards the time spent in detention, charged for trying, along with Professor Wole Soyinka and Dr.

Frederick Fasehun, among others for alleged bomb-throwing by Sani Abacha. His defeat of Chief Bola Ige (SAN), may not have been caused so much by the fact that he Alliance for Democracy, AD ticket was all but given to Ige, but that someone, a toned-down radical like Falae, who many swear, would have found more comfortable abode in the peoples Democratic Party, could rout a dyed-in-the-wool Awoist on his own turf.

Born 61 years ago, Chief Olu Falae was educated at St. David's Primary School, Akure, Ondo State. The widely acclaimed brilliant economist of today, however, did not show much brightness in his first year at school, in 1944. He ended up not moving on to the next class with most of his mates.=

But, he quickly rallied back, attended Igbobi College, Lagos and then Government College, Ibadan. In 1963, he took a Bachelor of science degree in economics from the University College Ibadan.

He later headed for the United States where he picked a master in economics from Yale University, in 1872. A whirlwind of a career saw him between 1963 and 1986 gusting through some of the most important offices in the public service, from Principal Assistant Secretary, National Manpower Board, through Directorship of the Central Planning Office of the federation to secretary to the Federal Military Government. Nobody, Falae thinks, could have better credentials to pull Nigeria out of the woods to socio-economic and political eldorado.

Even Babangida recommends him.

Publication Date: March 1, 1999

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