Second Republic Senator and a member of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria, Olorunimbe Farunkanmi speaks with PETER DADA about his relationship with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the 1996 coup and other national issues
What are your political antecedents?
As an undergraduate of the University of Ibadan between 1963 and 1966, I was not only an active member of the defunct Action Group Students, but also the National Secretary of the Action Group Students of the Nigerian Universities. With the incursion of the military into politics in 1966, political parties were scrapped. But by 1979, with the formation of the Unity Party of Nigeria under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, I contested election into the Ondo State House of Assembly, made up of the present Ondo and Ekiti states, but I got elected as a senator to represent an area that comprised a sizeable part of the current Ondo and Ekiti States when the National Assembly, was still in Lagos.
In 1998, following the end of another military rule and when we were about to start the Fourth Republic, followers of Chief Obafemi Awolowo again formed the Alliance for Democracy which won elections in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun and Ekiti states. It must be stated that I have always participated in the political parties formed by the followers of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
How politically close were you to Chief Obafemi Awolowo?
I was an ardent supporter of Chief Awolowo because my passage as a pupil through St. Johns Primary School in Sabongida-Ora of the then Bendel State now Edo State, was unique as it afforded me the opportunity to sit for the entrance examination into the Holy Trinity Grammar School, Sabongida-Ora, which I passed in 1955. This enabled me to become one of the beneficiaries of the western regional scholarship targeted at secondary school students in 1956, packaged by Chief Awolowo, the Premier of the then Western Region, to move close and appreciate his worth and kindness. I benefitted from this scholarship between 1956 and 1960. I again secured admission into the Abeokuta Grammar School between 1961 and 68 and I obtained another western regional scholarship for my Higher School Certificate from 1963-66, where I studied for a honours degree in Geography. I was again a beneficiary of Awolowo’s scholarship at the University of Aston in Birmingham, United Kingdom where I studied for a Masters of Science degree in Town and Country Planning in 1969-71. As a beneficiary of the numerous scholarships from his government, I was encouraged to become one of his most ardent political followers. I even prayed that in addition to his rule in the western region, he should be able to win at the national level so that more people might feel his impact and obtain great benefits in the matters of governance, particularly from his welfare programmes. These laudable programmes on education, provision of infrastructure, like roads, water, electricity, agricultural development and others were enviable programmes embarked upon by Awolowo.
What were the specific qualities that you saw in Awolowo that endeared him to you?
Apart from the numerous programmes from which the people benefitted from, Chief Awolowo remained one of the best political administrators that ruled over a part of Nigeria. His administration was uniquely run to benefit the generality of the people, particularly the poor. It was praiseworthy that Awolowo and his cabinet members were not at anytime accused of corruption. He, in fact, ran an incorruptible administration. He made sure that his cabinet members were hard-working members who made sure their programmes were packaged for the masses’ welfare and carried out in the best interest of the people. Awolowo ensured that he started his electoral campaigns with definite policy papers and manifestoes at elections in 1951; he not only introduce free health scheme in 1953, but also began the universal primary education scheme in 1955 and founded the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1962. He was also the first to launch the first television station in Africa in 1959. During the military regime of Gowon, 1966-75, in fact, as the vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council and Commissioner for Finance, he showed unequalled sagacity, discipline and dedication to duty. He showed unequalled competence that Nigeria did not have to borrow any money during the Civil War. These are some of the qualities of a good leader. I loved and respected him so much.
Oba Olufemi Olutoye revealed recently that Major Kaduna Nzeogwu would have made Awolowo the President if he had succeeded in the coup of 1966? Do you think Awolowo would have accepted the offer?
I can’t really say because I didn’t know his mind about it. But I think if he could accept to serve in the government of Yakubu Gowon, may be he could accept that offer.
If Awolowo had become the President then, what would have been his programme for the country?
You see, when Awolowo was leading the Western Region, his government was good. People wanted him but the northerners did not like him because they knew he would not allow them to do anything they like. When he was the Premier, it was then that we started enjoying scholarship and free education, boom in agriculture and so on. Those who worked with him had integrity and there was no case of corruption. So if he had been given the opportunity to rule, he knew what to do to ensure the this country progressed. At the time that there was an oil boom, he would have made use of the money from the oil to develop this country and make it great.
Some of your associates revived the Unity Party of Nigeria, why did you not join them?
As I have said earlier, I was one of the founding members of the UPN during the era of Awolowo and I contested elections and won on the UPN platform. My first election was as a member of the Ondo State House of Assembly in 1979 to 1983 when Ondo State included the present Ekiti State. I later won another election as a senator of the Second Republic in 1983 when my constituency extended from the present Ondo Central to a greater part of Ekiti, stretching from Oke Mesi, Aramoko, Efon-alaye, Ilawe, Erinjinyan, Ogotun, Igbara Odo to Igbara Oke, Akure and Idanre. As soon as the ban on politics was lifted in the country by the federal military government then, he (Awolowo) with his associates formed the Unity Party of Nigeria with democratic socialism as the goal and free education, integrated rural development, provision of free health facilities and full employment opportunities for all as realisable goals. I was in the UPN. I was in the House of Assembly under UPN. I don’t think those that said they wanted to revive UPN were serious when the original founder was dead, and many associates of the founder had retired. So how sincere are those that said they wanted to revive the party? They are all liars.
You are in All Progressives Congress today; is it because you are an Awoist?
You know there are two major political parties in Nigeria today; the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party. We thought APC members are progressives because Awolowo had always been a progressive person and I will always be where Awo would have been. Then, we see that PDP has spoilt the country in the last 16 years. Is that the type of party I will join? Though APC has its own problem of slowness in governance but we have not heard that they embezzled money. Also, I am a member and in fact, the chairman of the Elders Committee of the APC. The nation needs APC to make progress. T`he PDP ruled this country for 16 years without any appreciable development.
You aspired to contest for the governorship election in Ondo State in 2012, what prompted your aspiration, considering your age ?
I discovered that those who are in government nowadays are only after money and not after the welfare of the people. I have worked in my life and seen money. I have many business ventures that give me money regularly. I can never rely on government money to survive. So I can’t be a governor and mess up at my age. If you see them (Ondo State governorship aspirants) now, many of the aspirants are spending money because they know they would be able to make their money back illegally when they get into the government. But as somebody who is knowledgeable about the development of the environment, because that is my area of specialisation, I was able to tell the people then that it was not because of money that I had interest in being the governor of the state but because I cherished the welfare of my people than anyone else. That is what I was saying about Chief Awolowo; he was particularly mindful of the welfare of the people and you could see that throughout his time. Nobody talked of corruption. He handled his commissioners well that none of them could say he wanted to go and collect money from somewhere illegally. He was in control of his government.
As a professional town planner, have you ever sold any idea to those in government to develop this state?
You can never sell any idea to those people (in government). They have their own master plan, so what do you want to sell to them?
Can you compare governance now and what we had during your time?
There is a lot of difference. We didn’t hear about anything like corruption. Nobody could embezzle during Awolowo’s time. It was a straightforward government. Nowadays, we hear in the news that some people stole billions of naira — to do what ? It baffles somebody like me.
What can you say about the internal crisis rocking the Ondo APC?
The way the crisis is going now, I cannot say one party is better than the other. The problem is that everybody is interested in governing this state, whether he has the experience or not. It is unfortunate that we are experiencing a crisis like that. All the delegates will only be enticed by the money they can get from the aspirants and at the end of the day they may end up in choosing a wrong candidate for the party .
What are you and other elders in the party doing to resolve the matter?
There is nothing we can do. I told other elders at a meeting that why should they allow some aspirants to pay money in Akure and others paid in Abuja? What does Isaac Kekemeke (Ondo APC chairman) want to do with the N2m he collected from the aspirants in Akure? Over N100m has passed through him and we did not know what he spent it on. Is that not part of the corruption that we are talking about? He failed to carry us along in the of affairs of the party. He did not recognise the elders of the party. He was the one that inaugurated us but he is doing everything the way he wants. He did not like our group because the person he wanted to be the chairman did not win the election. The elders said it was me they wanted. After the inauguration, I and some members of the Elders Assembly visited him to advise him but he said he did not want the elders in the affairs of the party. He said he is going to do things his own way. So we are not united in the party in Ondo State. For example, the minister from Ondo State, many of us don’t know him. It is a big problem .
APC seems to be losing popularity in the country. What do you think is wrong?
It is a pity that things are happening the way they are happening. Buhari is a nice person but he lacks political experience. He may have much military experience but I don’t think he has the political experience and civilian government is quite different from military government. Look at how long it took him before appointing his ministers. He is also making appointments to boards of parastatals piecemeal. He’s in office for more than one year and nothing is moving. He ought to have spent the money recovered from looters on some sectors like agriculture to generate employment and tackle food crisis. We have heard of billions of naira paid back by looters. I believe he should spend the money on a sector like agriculture because right now, there is hunger in the land and the only way to get out of it is to go into agriculture fully and we will know that in the next few months the problem of food will be solved. After that, they should address the problem of road and housing.
Buhari’s government is also accused of making lopsided appointments. What is your view?
I don’t support him in that area; majority of the appointees are northerners. It is not supposed to be so.
What do you think about the issue of budget padding in the House of Representatives?
It is criminal. It must have started long ago. I don’t think it is a new issue in the National Assembly. Some of the lawmakers must have been padding the budget for a long time.
Some people are calling for the resignation of the leadership of the House of Representatives over the issue. What is your take on this?
They should set up an investigative panel on it and whoever is guilty among them should be asked to resign. But all I know is that it is not a new thing.
Some people are calling for the restructuring of the country, do you share the same view?
The idea of restructuring is good but the view of some people about it is different. For example, out of 36 states, about 28 cannot pay workers’ salaries. Price of oil have fallen and we need states to generate revenues. On that note we can sit down and say, ‘let’s go back to regionalism.’ Each region will be able to generate money for its development and the allocation to the regions will more and less go to the Federal Government. People are talking about restructuring as if it is something that is not in the interests of the people. There are parts of restructuring that will be very much in the interest of the people. For instance, the number of states would be reduced. Many states in the North has no internally generated revenues. They only depend on federal allocations and some other problems like that. There is no way Nigeria will not be restructured; but there are some vital areas that should be restructured now and that is the reduction of the numerous states we have now , there is nothing we can do to sustain all the states we are have currently.
Do you think the problem would be solved by merging the states?
That is the way I see it. Look at our local governments; they have many workers who are doing nothing and they collect a lot of money. The people also don’t feel the impact of local government administration. If we restructure, all these issues will be addressed.
But it seems the Buhari-led administration is not considering restructuring? Do you think this is right?
He did not look at it maybe because he doesn’t understand the idea. You know he is a military man. His focus is on a different thing. It is a pity. You know corruption is much but apart from corruption there are other problems the nation is facing that are calling for attention, but God will save us.
As one of the elders in Yorubaland, why are you not part of the Afenifere group?
I was in Afenifere during the time of Awolowo. You know they have bastardised the group now. The problem started during the time of Bola Ige. At that time, Abraham Adesanya, Olanihun and others were supporting Falae’s group and Bola Ige was in another group and there is another one called the renewal group and they are not doing anything.
Is that the reason you did not join group?
Yes, I cannot be part of such groups. During campaigns for the general election, some of them collected money from Goodluck Jonathan . I don’t like that kind of thing. They have sent people to me to join them, but I refused.
What do you think is the way forward for the country?
Well, you know the level of damage that the PDP did to this country is not a small thing. Let me tell you, if it was Jonathan that came back the second time, this country would have been forgotten. Maybe every region would have been on its own. If not that Buhari is slow, all the money they have recovered from looters, they should by now know what they want to use it for so that people will feel the impact. In fact, I am surprised that the country will be like this. We are not developed. We rely too much on importation. But as it is now we should start with revival of all moribund companies so that there would be employment generation for our youths. Government should promote agriculture.