For years, Chief David Oluwafemi Abdulateef Fani-Kayode held sway as a member of the Peoples Democratic Party. He was spokesman to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo while he was Preisdent and as a Minister, he ran the affairs of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and later that of the Ministry of Aviation. On the 28th of May, 2013, the Ile Ife born master historian officially announced his exit from the PDP, which he described as a “sinking ship”.
He gave reasons for the statement as well as the things that made him leave the party in a recent TV interview. Fani-Kayode also spoke on his grouse against the leadership of the PDP.
While answering a question on his conclusion that PDP is a sinking ship, the former Minister said “I think it is self evident. If you look at what has been happening in the last four years, compare it with the previous four years, that is between 1999 and 2007, look at the record of the government that we have today, look at their so called achievements, the structures within the party in terms of internal democracy, look at the acrimony. Look at the way in which the government that we have today at the Federal level is conducting itself and look at the way in which the founding fathers of the party, that built it up into the formidable machine that it was have more or less been treated in a very uncomplimentary manner, relegated, treated with contempt and so on and so forth. I am talking of people that were there, some of them are no longer there, some are not being taken seriously. And I think you need the input of people like former President Obasanjo and so many others to keep the party on line as far as I am concerned.”
Speaking further, the former Minister pointed out that “I feel that people like him (Obasanjo) and others have not been able to steer the party like it should be steered because those that are in control do not want it to be steered in the right way and each time anybody criticizes them or tries to set things straight or tries to make an input, one is subjected to all sorts of rancour and insults and persecution. So I think this is the time for some of us to take the bold step and say listen, if you want to criticise, if you want to fight the government of PDP, you cannot do it from within. For the past 4 years, I have been fighting from within. Probably I have been more critical of this government than any other person. Since Yar’Adua came in, if you look at all my articles, my write ups have been very consistent. All along, despite the fact that I was in the PDP, I kept saying we need good governance, we need to do better.
I feel that it is the time to take the next logical step and really begin to take them on and find find some of my soul mates who left long ago and are very happy where they are. People like Nuhu Ribadu and so many others.”
When Fani-Kayode was asked whether he put the government’s achievements in the areas of infrastructure, power and agriculture as presented in the President’s mid-term report into consideration before criticising, his response was “it is all very well for a government to set its own exam and declare that they have passed with a disctinction. It’s a very easy thing to do. You know the night before Rome started burning, Nero was celebrating in his palace, playing the fiddle and as it was burning, he was playing the fiddle and he was congratulating himself saying all was well and that the empire was flourishing. Meanwhile, it was burning down. This sort of thing happens all the time. The same thing happened before the Russian Revolution. The night before, the Tsar was celebrating that all was well in the Russian Empire until of course a series events took place and they were all swept aside.” To further express his view of the mid-term report, he stressed that “it is nothing new when a government scores itself a hundred and ten percent out of a hundred midway or mid-term through its tenure. But we know what the facts are and the facts are very depressing.” Running through some of the facts, he pointed out that “when Obasanjo came to power in 1999, we had $ 1.1 billion in our foreign reserves. By the time we left power, he had built it up from $ 1.1 billion to $ 67 billion. He now took $ 20 billion out of that and paid towards the debt and left $ 47 billion when we left power. 5 years later, the figure that we have in our foreign reserves is $ 45 billion. In the last 5 years, despite crude oil sales and all the money that has accrued to the Federal Government and so on and so forth, we have less today in our foreign reserve than we had in 2007 when we left power.
Number two, look at the ;look at the issue of international debt, when Obasanjo came to power in 1999, the foreign debt was $ 30 billion. By the time he left, it was zero. He paid it off and we were the first country in sub Saharan Africa to be completely debt free. It’s a record and it attracted a lot of goodwill from the international community because nobody felt any African country could do that. So 2007, zero, we weren’t owing anything. Five years later, we are back in foreign debts again to the tune of about $ 9 billion and we are still borrowing everyday.
Lets look at the Excess Crude Account; when Obasanjo came to power in 1999, there was no Excess Crude Oil Account. He created it to save money for the rainy day. 8 years later, we had $ 24 billion in the Excess Crude Account. He kept it there, nobody touched it. Yar’Adua came and virtually spent it all; he left $ 1 billion by the time he passed on. This government too came in a couple of years later and what do we have there today? We have approximately $ 7 billion left in the excess crude account as we speak today, which means we have $ 17 billion less in the excess crude account than we did in 2007.
Again if you look at the indices in terms of unemployment; graduate unemployment in our country is 80%. Eight out of ten graduates don’t have jobs. That is out of every 1,000 graduates, 800 of them have no jobs. That is an atrocious record. You look at inflation; you look at the indices in terms of the economy, virtually every one, where can any of these people say they have done well unless they are wallowing in self-delusion.”
Reacting to a comment that the county’s GDP is growing, Chief Fani-Kayode pointed out that “first of all, foreign investment in this country is down. We are owing almost $ 50 billion in terms of foreign debt in this country, industries are folding up, jobs are not available for people. Quite apart from that is unemployment. According to the UNDP, 70% of Nigerians are hungry when they go to bed. These are not good indices. I am prepared to concede that there may be one or two areas where they can clap for themselves and congratulate themselves, fair enough. But I am saying three years into a tenre, and its three, not two, he has been in power for three years, I am not very impressed with their record. I am talking about the party itself, democracy itself, how it has managed to unfold in this country.”
The presenter was however quick to point out that though Obasanjo cleared foreign debts, he did not pay local debt and as such, it would not be right to claim that the present government amassed a local debt of $ 50 billion.
Responding, he said “I didn’t say Obasanjo paid local debt. It had been paid before then. We had local debt, but when you look at it, we were servicing the local debt we had then. This is not about Obasanjo administration, that is gone, its gone forever. I am talking about the situation we have in the country today”
In his characteristically thorough manner, Femi Fani-Kayode, who described the records of the Obasanjo administration as “second to none” fielded questions on his time as Minister of Aviation. On whether the Aviation industry is better today than it was when he was Minister, especially in terms of physical turnaround, he fired back, “what do you think? What are the physical turnarounds in the airports? You look at the airports today, cosmetic stuff. You go there, you can see all the contracts that are being awarded in order to beautify the place, that’s all well and good. But you look at the issue of how many planes do we have? How many airlines do we have? They have reduced dramatically. How many planes do we have flying in the skies? They are far less than before. How much efficiency do we have? Far less than before. When I was the Minister for Aviation, there was not one plane crash. I thank God for that, it is the work of God. We have had a series of plane crashes since the that time, in the last four or five years. If we are going to look at it sector by sector, that’s a different ball game entirely. What I am trying to tell you is this, we are talking about PDP, the PDP Federal Government.
I am saying that in terms of what a political party ought to be, the PDP has not done as well as it should do and as far as I am concerned, I feel it is wrong for me to stay within the ranks of the PDP and continue to criticise them. We have tried to reform it from within, we set up a Reform Committee and we used to have meetings with the committee chaired by Chief Raymond Dokpesi, with people like Professor Nwosu, the former Minister, Chief Sekibo, the former Minister, Nasir el-Rufai, Akin Osuntokun and so many others like that. We tried our very best, we did the honourable, but it didn’t work. So its time for us to move on to join forces with progressives. Nigeria needs change and I believe the APC can bring the change that is desperately needed.”
Of course there have been comments and statements that Fani-Kayode has taken up the toga of a critic because he is on the other side and was left out. When the statement was put to him, he said. “I have been in politics for 22 years. We fought the military government. When June 12 came, I stood, I was in NADECO. I went into exile for some time and I came back. We worked for this democracy. There are so many people in this democracy today that fought for it. They didn’t just come on board when it was very unpopular to say no to military government. I fought for it, so my record is very simple and clear. I came into the Obasanjo administration based on the fact that I felt he could do a reasonably good job and he proved me right. I was critical of him before that time, but the record of Obasanjo speaks for itself”
In terms of being left out, he said “left out of what? We opposed the selection of Umar Yar’Adua in 2007, we had no business being part of that government. I never wanted to be part of it. We opposed Yar’Adua’s selection by President Obasanjo and we were vocal about it right from the beginning. Throughout that period, we were vocal and we fought them from within. Some of us left.
Then Goodluck Jonathan came in, initially, he had a lot of goodwill. We felt he was capable of doing a pretty good job. Again we discovered that he was not performing at the level we expected him to do. Do you expect me to sit there and say let me just keep quiet and be nice. You know if you want to get something from government, if you want them to remember you, if you don’t want to be left out, what you do in the characteristic Nigerian way is to go to them and say I’ll be a good boy, I wont say anything wrong. I can see you are doing a very wonderful job, like some people are doing today. Some of us are not into that. So when you talked about being left out, if I wanted to be part of it, I would have been part of it. It’s a question of taking a principled stand that listen, the performance in terms of what is happening today, if you keep on fighting for it, you keep speaking and they are not listening, you move away and try to change the government and bring change to Nigeria.”
The former Minister did not fail to speak on some security issues, according to him, “we had well over 5,000 people slaughtered by Boko Haram in this country in the last two years. I remember when I was saying what they have just done in the North East, the state of emergency; I remember when I was screaming that something has to be done about it. They said I was an alarmist, I shouldn’t be saying those things. I remember he initially declared Boko Haram as his siblings and so on that he could not move against. The next thing they did, he set up an amnesty committee to dialogue with people who wanted to destroy Nigeria and establish an Islamic fundamentalist state. It was only when it became so necessary and obvious that these people were taking over parts of Nigeria that he now saw fit to declare a state of emergency rightly in some parts of our country and that is a good thing to do, I commended him at that time, though it came late.”
But why is Fani-Kayode so critical of the Goodluck Jonathan administration? “I am criticising him for not doing as much as I believe he should be able to do”, he stated.
And to Fani-Kayode’s claims that he was leaving the PDP because of intimidation and that the administration was coming against those who were criticising it, he was reminded that Obasanjo’s government in which he served went after people like Governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State and Dipreye Alamieyesegha of Bayelsa State because they opposed what Chief Obasanjo believed in. He was also reminded that at that time, he, Femi Fani-Kayode defended Obasanjo. Never one to be boxed into a corner, Fani-Kayode responded that “on the issue of Orji Kalu, he is a good friend of mine and Alamieyesegha and so on, I am not aware that I ever commented on such matters. I commented on government policies in terms of the economy, performance of the government and I had my facts and figures and that was why I was so effective.
However, I will agree with you that during the Obasanjo regime, there were things that were done at that time that were not done correctly. I’ll be the first to concede that he’s not infallible. That government was not made up of angels. Many mistakes were made, the fact that we Umar Yar’Adua was selected to take over was a mistake, the handling of Anambra issue was a mistake, there is no question about that. I am not here to say lets compare models, lets juggle them. I am concerned about Nigeria moving forward. Whatever mistakes Obasanjo may have made, 5 years later, the present administration should not be making such mistakes. And as much as Obasanjo appeared to be reasonably hard on his enemies, I was in that administration, the number of internal fights we had within government, even at the cabinet level, you can ask people. Some of us disagreed on a number of occasions with government, with government policies, with Obasanjo on a number of issues and he allows us to voice out our opinions. We were never told that listen, you’ll be thrown out of the party or you’ll be thrown out of the government if you voice an opinion that is against the leadership. We were never told that.
As long as they thought there was goodwill and you were saying it for the right reasons, there was every right, every reason and every opportunity to voice your opinion or opposition to any government policy. Today, what do we have in the PDP? We have the Chairman, and I have tremendous respect for Chief Tony Anenih. I am not here to oppose or insult anybody, I am commenting on policies. The Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees has now said that the likelihood is that there might not be presidential primaries and gubernatorial primaries. That has only happened in three places in the world. It has happened in Communist China and it has happened in Stalinist Russia, and of course it also happened under Hitler. That was how the Nazi party operated. How can you talk about internal democracy when you are not going to have even primaries for people to try to oppose the president, the Governor or whoever it is? This is wrong and this is one of the reasons.
You also have the party Chairman who is like a father to me, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur. He was a great friend of my father’s. I grew up knowing him as a dear uncle of mine. I have nothing but respect for him. But I disagree with some of his positions. This party Chairman, a few months ago, got up and told the whole country that Boko Haram were freedom fighters. Now, in any country of the world which was facing Islamist insurgency, where people were being slaugheterd and the Chairman of the ruling party would get up and say those insurgents are freedom fighters. This would be a reason to ask the gentleman to resign. But in Nigeria, that doesn’t happen. People forget so quickly and we all move on and have halleluyah parties and say everything is wonderful. Things are not wonderful. Things are not going well for our country. We should urge and encourage our government to do better.”
The presenter went on to quote a sentence from Fani-Kayode’s May 28, 2013 declaration in Ekiti State where he said “if an APC candidate wins and they try to juggle and wiggle and say that someone that won has lost like they did at the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, they will know that the rest of us are men in Nigeria.“ He also pointed out to the former Minister that some people have insinuated that it was what General Buhari said after the 2011 elections about not letting anybody get away with rigging the election that got people angry and was partly responsible for the insurgency being witnessed in parts of the country. “”Do you think statements like these are good for our democracy?” he was asked.
“I think they are very good because they serve as a warning”, Fani-Kayode replied. He went further, “let me pose a question to you, are these people planning to rig? Has Nigeria gotten to a point where you can’t even say that if you rig, there will be consequences? In other words, if you are planning to rig, we shouldn’t even say so and say that it is wrong and that we should stand up to you? Is that where we have got to? I am putting the question to you.” Speaking further, he stated that “I never said they were planning to rig. What concerns me is the sentiment that you are not even allowed to come out and speak freely and say you must not rig. There must not be rigging. What we saw at the Nigerian Governors’ Forum election the other day was unprecedented in the annals of Nigerian history. I am a historian, I follow the history of this country and many other countries and I have been doing so for years. It is unprecedented.
You had 35 men that went into a room, distinguished individuals, respectable people and they did vote, it was a secret ballot, everything was fair and it was filmed. One got 19, the other got 16. You now left the room and the one that got 16 now got up and said I won that election; the other gentleman did not win, that Rotimi Amaechi did not win. Now, where do you see things like that? It doesn’t encourage me or others to want to stay within this fold of people who will say by their own knowledge and vocabulary that 16 is actually higher than 19 in the numerical lexicon of humanity. Its extraordinary.”
Again the interviewer fired, “why would you think Nigerians would leave the government of Dr Jonathan and the PDP and vote in 2015 for a party led by Buhari, Asiwaju Tinubu and others. Why? What are your facts?” Responding, Fani-Kayode said “I don’t know what the minds of Nigerians are. All I know is that the level of discontentment for the government of the PDP in this country is unprecedented, not only do I know that, I also know that in terms of the quality of leadership as far as I am concerned, if you compare the leadership of today’s PDP to APC leadership, there is absolutely no comparison. It is time for change in this country. You have a situation where the present administration has marginalised the South West, that is the South West PDP completely. They are complaining bitterly everyday. They may not say so publicly but they are being marginalised, they have been humiliated and disgraced by their own Federal Government and their party leadership. That is one, number two, look at what is happening in the northern part of this country, you see that people are not happy. Put the North and West together and you now juxtapose that and put Ijaw land together and say that Ijaw land will defeat the whole of the North and the whole of the South West in an election. Well, this is a strange calculation as far as I am concerned. I think the APC leadership is good quality leadership. It is not just General Buhari, not just Asiwaju Tinibu, it is not just Nuhu Ribadu or El-Rufai.”
“But you just joined them, how come you know all these”, the interviewer cut in. The former Minister simply replied “I have known the ones I mentioned for many years, El-Rufai, we were together, Ribadu, we are together. So many others and most of them that were in ACN, we were in NADECO together. Don’t worry so much about me. Lets worry about Nigeria and as far as I am concerned, they present a far more credible leadership than we have in the PDP today and we are praying and hoping that we agree on a candidate that will go to the field and defeat the PDP and will put them where they ought to be.”