Modern Ghana, November 16, 2010
by Seye Kehinde.
During the 8 years that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was President, he was very vocal in defense of Obasanjo’s policies at that time. Femi Fani-Kayode was always in the news defending OBJ’s moves. From being one of Obasanjo’s aides, he rose to become a Federal cabinet Minister. A few weeks back, FFK as he’s fondly called, celebrated his 50th birthday in Lagos. Days after, he spoke to City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINIDE, about his life, his years in government and his travails during the late President Musa Yar’Adua years. He also spoke about his plans and ambition to contest for Osun State Governorship come 2011, and why someone from lle Ife should be allowed to emerge as the PDP candidate for the number one seat it, in the State. In this explosive interview, he took on ex-Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe and others who sought to persecute those he described as the “Obasanjo Boys”. Excerpts
What has changed about Femi Fani-Kayode at 50?
(Smiles) …Not much has changed. Possibly, I am a little bit older and wiser.
How did the reality of turning 50 hit you?
It has a way of creeping in on you. It crept in on me. But the truth is that it is only when you get to that age that you realise the monumental implication of getting to that age. You begin to look back on your life and you begin to appreciate the fact that you are even alive, in good health, and that you are at peace with yourself and your God is a real blessing. For me, I need to thank God because I have been through so many challenges in my life. Ever since the age of 6, I have been faced with challenges. Ever since soldiers came to take my father away from our house before my very eyes, during the January 15, 1966 military coup, I have seen challenges and throughout my life in school, I have had challenges. All my life, I have had challenges. And in 1993, I had a major challenge in my life which God saw me through. As I passed that bridge, other ones came before going into government, living in exile, going to Bible Seminary, challenges with my 2 previous marriages, going into politics, going into government, challenges with life after public office. But the good thing about it is that for each challenge, God sees me through and I take something from it, I learn something from it. I have just learnt to take life in its stride. It has been a wonderful life and God has been good to me.
Were those challenges divine or man-made? What’s your reading of it?
For me, the greater the future or the greater the role God has planned for anybody, the greater the challenges in that life will be. That’s the lesson I have learnt. It is not how many times you fall that matters, it is how many times you can rise up that counts. If you need to go through challenges in order to come out better and stronger, God will put you through those things. For me, life is a journey of discovery. I don’t focus on the challenges too much. I focus more on the fact that despite all that, God has been so good to me.
How do you mean? Share it with us.
At a relatively young age, I seem to have gone so far in terms of the opportunities I seem to have had. I cannot but thank God. My father was a Minister, I was also a Minister in this country. I have ambition, my political career is very much on. I still believe that I have such a great future for me and many in my generation. I do not feel 50 years old, I feel 40 and that can only come from God. I have learnt from the challenges but I am not fixated on it. In life you meet challenges and obstacles, but you move on, you soldier on.
You seem to have had a privileged growing up years…
I prefer to call it wonderful years, yes wonderful. Really, I don’t think there is anything wrong calling it privileged. It is only in Nigeria that to be privileged is a dirty word. Listen, I won’t lie to you, I had wonderful years. It wasn’t as if all I did was have all I wanted. No, it comes with a lot of responsibility. You have to do well in school. My parents were very generous and good to me only because I had a deal with my father that if I do well in school, anything you want, you will have. I worked hard, did extremely well.
Could you run through your growing up years?
Sure. I was born in Lagos. I went to school in Lagos for my nursery school, then we moved to Ibadan, then we moved to England where my father had been born. We have a strong connection with England because my grandfather had schooled at Cambridge University. My father was born there and my grandfather met my grandmother there too. They lived there for many years. The whole family went back there in 1967 and we lived in exile for many years. I went to school there. I went to a private school there called Brighton College, from there, I went to another top private school called Harrow, which is one of their best schools, and it was a privilege to have gone there. After that I went to Kelly College, another private school. From there I went to London University to do my first degree. After that I went to Cambridge to do my second degree in law, following in my grandfather and father’s footsteps. After that I came back to Nigeria to attend the Nigerian Law School and consequently was called to the Bar in 1985. After that I worked at Chief Rotimi Williams’ Chambers for one year and then I joined my father’s Law Chambers, “Fani-Kayode and Sowemimo”, and worked there as an ordinary lawyer without any privileges. After 2 or 3 years I was promoted to become a full partner. Once I became a partner in that firm I decided to now focus on politics. I went into politics as far back as 1989 when we formed The September Club. I later became the National Youth Leader of the old NNC. After President Babangida formed and established his two government sponsored political parties (NRC AND SDP) I joined the NRC. I was appointed the spokesperson to Chief Tom Ikimi, the National Chairman of the NRC in 1990 and from there I was appointed Special Assistant to Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, the leading Presidential candidate of the party in his “Choice ’92 Presidential Campaign Organisation” and I played a leading role there.
After that all the leading presidential candidate or aspirants of that day, including Shinkafi, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and AlhaJI Adamu Ciroma were all banned from running for the presidency by General Babangida’s government.
It was after that in 1993 that I had a major health challenge and difficulties came along. I was ill, very unwell so I went off the scene for some time. I went to a very good bible seminary in Accra, Ghana called Action Faith Bible College for 2 years where I not only received my healing but also acquired a very good and thorough christian education and reorientation. At the end of the course I proudly left the seminary with a degree in theology and a completely different outlook to life and the things of God. I also finally realised that up until the time that I had been to the bible seminary I had not in fact been properly educated despite all the good secular schools and universities that I had been to. This is because I believe that if you do not have a thorough knowledge and understanding of God, His ways and His word then you know nothing and that you are in fact nothing but an intellectual barbarian. My time and experience at the bible college was a blessing and a joy. It was probably the happiest and most fulfilling period in my life and it was a truly great and wonderful experience.
How was it for you?
It was a wonderful experience for me and that was the real education in my life because everything that happened to me after that and up until today was predicted and prophesied whilst I was at the Bible Seminary. Is that not miraculous and powerful? It is a great testimony. I was taken to Ghana on December 15th 1993 and I was presented before Action Church on that day as somebody from Nigeria who had come to attend the Bible Seminary and who needed as much support, love, prayer and help as he could possibly get. They stood by me, prayed for me, educated me and I made it through the course. 10 years later to the day, Dec. 15, 2003, I was back on that same pulpit where I was originally presented to them only this time I was representing no less a person than President Olusegun Obasanjo as a member of the Presidency from Nigeria. That in itself was a remarkable testimony. And all that was going to happen after that, into the future and right up until the end of my life, I was told. Every challenge that I have faced since then and that I will face in the future, I was told about at that time and I was also told where I am still going in the future and the great heights that I will attain in my country. That is the way God works. He honours His word and He alone will take the glory.
You were close to your father before he died. What sort of a man was he?
He is a wonderful man, somebody I was very close to. I learnt a lot from him. He was very tough, very hard, a real disciplinarian but at the same time, more of a friend than a father to me. He was good to me simply because I knew what he wanted. That was to ensure that I did well at school. He also granted me the opportunity to differ with him on so many things. He also encouraged us to argue, we speak out our minds and to tell him precisely what we felt. He taught me the virtues of being courageous and being strong especially through difficult times. He taught me the value of cherishing your wife regardless of whatever you may be doing. He taught me how to fight in terms of resilience and how not to be overwhelmed by the challenges you face. Most importantly, he taught me the power of love. He was a loving and kind man. A lot of people did not know that about him. He had old fashioned victorian values because he came from a victorian background: very stiff upper-lipped one and he never showed emotions publically. Yet underneath all that was a man of tremendous charm, warmth and love. Everyday I think about him and I miss both him and my late mother, Chief Mrs.Adia Fani-Kayode, a lady of impecabble breeding, tremendous beauty and great strength and courage. I loved them both deeply.
What do you make of all the’ travails that were thrown in your way after you left office?
I look at it and I say well, this is another challenge. This is another test. From day one, we knew the challenges were coming. We, meaning, the OBJ boys. We knew because Nasir El Rufai told me in December 2007 that this was what was going to happen, not because we had done anything wrong, because we had not. I am talking about myself, Nasir El Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu and a few others. We were told we were going to be persecuted; as a matter of fact it would have been worse. One person that went after us with tremendous zeal was Baba Gana Kingibe. He was the Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF) at that time. Kingibe and his group’s initial plan was to implicate us in a coup attempt. They filed a report to the late President Umaru Yar ‘Adua at that time, that Obasanjo’s people were planning a coup and that they should lock us all up and that they should try us for treason. Of course, it was a false report. They had their own agenda. All these things were planned from the beginning. El Rufai and Ribadu left the country, knowing that their lives were very much in danger. I felt that they could not kill me but that they would attempt to humiliate and mess me up. I was ready for that.
Why the need for that?
Because we were close to Obasanjo. So when you say challenges I say it was a preparation for a great future. I have learnt in life that if you are going to have a great future you have to be ready for such challenges, persecution, misrepresentation, misunderstanding, humiliation and shame from those that are nowhere near you in terms of class or anything. You have to be able to take it, and go through it. As for me, I have absolutely no fears about what is going on now. Or what will happen. In fact, it is a summer season now. The one that tormented and sought to destroy, the one that dug that pit, for all of us, for no reason other than the fact that we decided to put him in power which we did, is no more. I don’t wish death for anybody because it is a terrible thing to die. But God is awesome and Almighty and the minute you begin to persecute men and women who are innocent and you abuse your power and seek to destroy those who have done nothing wrong, their innocence will speak for them and all sorts of things will begin to happen. Where is Baba Gana Kingibe today? Where is Tanimu Yakubu today? Where is Abba Ruma today? Where is Michael Aondoakka today? Where is James Ibori today? And there are many others. Where are they all today? In 2007 when we left office we had $20 billion in the Excess Crude Account and we had no debt. We were the only country in the history of Africa that had paid off it’s debt. Three years later before Umaru Yar’Adua died, we had only $450 million left in the Excess Crude Account. They spent $19.5 billion. What did they spend it on? The foreign debt, when we left we were not owing anybody anything anymore yet 3 years later we are now $9 billion back in debt and this was the case when Yar ‘Adua passed on and we are still borrowing today. Clearly, something went wrong at that period. Let me tell you something that will shock you. Late President Yar ‘Adua had no idea of what to do with Nigeria. He had a 7 Point Agenda. There was also a secret eighth point on the agenda which was the discrediting, humiliation, shaming, disgracing, jailing and destruction of Obasanjo and and his legacy and all of his boys.
Who was behind all these?
Late President Umaru Yar’Adua himself. It may be an unpopular thing to say now, but I will say it. Nobody misled him. Listen, responsibility stopped with the man himself. That was the agenda. Only he knew why he was doing it. That was his plan from day one. Let me also tell you another thing that will shock you. The day we were told by President Obasanjo that he wanted to put Yar’Adua in power, we opposed it. We had a big meeting with him. El Rufai was there, Ribadu, Akin Oshuntokun, Remi Oyo, Frank Nweke Jnr., Ojo Maduekwe, Uba Sanni. There were about 20 of us. Their were others there like Lawal Batagarawa. President Olusegun Obasanjo told us this is the person he believes in and we should work for him. Everybody in that room objected. The first person got up and said if you make Yar’Adua President, it is his wife, Turai, that would rule Nigeria and nobody will be able to control him, nobody will be able to consult with him and at the end of the day, he would attempt to jail everybody in this room including you, President Obasanjo. Someone told him that and I think that it was the former Minister of Defence, Lawal Batagarawa, who said so. And El Rufai said that he had known him for over 30 years, that they were in school together, and that he did not think he was the appropriate choice. It was one after the other and everyone spoke his or her mind. But President Obasanjo still felt it had to be Yar’Adua. I cannot fault him on this. It was his choice. But having spoken our minds, we eventually and reluctantly accepted his choice and we supported him. The fight was between Nasir El Rufai and him. OBJ said that he was supporting Yar’Adua and that we must all go into the field to support him as well. We all eventually accepted to do this except for Batagarawa. We didn’t look back. We defended him. We defended the indefensible. We defended the way he emerged as Presidential candidate for the PDP when others wanted it and they were not allowed to get it. Some were even intimidated and humiliated. Some of them and their families members were even harassed and arrested to ensure they didn’t go for the nomination. That’s the truth. After that we now went to the election and we all know what happened. Umaru would have won anyway, believe me, but the margin with which he won was something that was probably the greatest miracle since sliced bread. It was astounding and completely unnecessary. Not only that, look at what happened in Edo State, Ondo State, Ekiti State and a few other states where there was clearly massive rigging. And some of us said so at the time. If you contact Oshiomole, Mimiko, a few of us told them. El Rufai, Ribadu,Osuntokun, Uba Sani, myself and a few others complained that we didn’t think that this was right. Ask the two of them (Oshiomole and Mimiko) what advice we gave them when we collectively phoned them from Nasir’s office and what we told them to do. They took our advice, they did it and thankfully they are both governors today. Can you believe that the late President got to hear everything that we said about him at that meeting with OBJ before he got to power and that some of us didn’t want him. Ojo Maduekwe, who was to later become one of his Ministers, betrayed us all and told him everything. So some of us were marked. And he listed us and said to himself “these Obasanjo Boys that everybody thinks they are such good boys, we will deal with them”. And of course he had loyalists like Kingibe who were willing to deal with us for him. I await Kingibe to crawl out of wherever he is today and begin to talk. I am waiting, even in these challenging times. We would talk. They day I see Kingibe I will tell him how I feel about him, about what he did to his own boss late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, to General Sani Abacha, to late Chief MKO Abiola, to late President Umaru Yar‘Aduaand to the man that gave him the single greatest break in his sorry life by appointing him into a key position in Dodan Barracks when he was military Head of State in 1976, President Olusegun Obasanjo. The fact that Kingibe is a traitor of the highest order is not news and is nothing new. Everybody that knows him well knows this. Treachery resides in his blood and in his genes and loyalty means nothing to him. It is true that he went to an English public school before going to Sussex University but it didnt rub off on him. He is essentially a villager with a village mentality and the truth is that he can never change. It is a sad irony that every single one of the people that I mentioned here that gave him a break and a key appointment and that he later betrayed, with the exception of Obasanjo, were later actually murdered or died in mysterious and terrible circumstances and therefore passed on before the man that betrayed them. What a tragedy. Perhaps the spirit of death walks with Kingibe too, I just don’t know. But whatever the case one day he will surely answer. He will answer to God for his evil ways, his treachery and his sheer wickedness. All these things can never hold down God’s plan for anybody. You learn from it. I learnt, just as the Bible saiys, ” to despise the shame” a long time ago. There is nothing I haven’t seen. You can push me down into the ground, I will rise up if God is with me. And if God is not with me and I do not rise up again I will not complain because I have had a good life. I give thanks to God for everything. I should not have lived this long. I should have died in 1993. I am living on borrowed time. I have a wonderful and beautiful wife and I have wonderful children. My first child has just finished her second degree. She is now doing Law Society exams in England. My second child has just finished her first degree. The others are all in school. I have a wonderful life so what more do I want in life that at 50 I will not be able to speak my mind and speak the truth.
How true is it that your travails after leaving office was also meant to truncate your political career?
Yes, there is also that aspect. There is no doubt about that. The very fact that I wanted to be the Governor of my state didn’t go down well with some people. It was a factor. I still want to be Governor. The idea was stop him and keep him busy, and people were given orders to execute that plan. Every aspect of my life was investigated. Although I will not want to comment specifically on the issues of the case which is still in court but does it not shock you that the charges levelled against me have absolutely nothing to do with the N19.5 billion Aviation Intervention Fund. The charges against me on the N19.5 billion Intevention Fund issue were quietly withdrawn by the EFCC a month after we were charged in Abuja in July 2008. Go and check. I was initially charged for that. They charged the man who exposed the crime. Can you believe that? And they now went quietly to withdraw the charges against me. What I am being charged with now is money in my private account. I mean turn over, over a period of time. That is what we are dealing with now. Nobody has alleged that I stole money anywhere. There was no money missing under my watch and I am completely innocent of any wrong doing. All the charges that have been proffered against me are malicious and politically-motivated and any challenge that comes my way I will face it and I will fight it in court. I am a politician by calling and I have given my life to politics in the last 20 years and I wouldn’t let anybody destroy my career. I will focus on politics, my party and the electorate. Nobody can stop me, unless my party does not want me.
What’s your next move? Are you still running for governorship in Osun?
Yes I am. My plans are simple. I want to be Governor of Osun State. That’s all. I believe I am qualified to be, I believe that I have the ability to help the people of Osun State, I believe that the PDP needs more progressive candidates like me who are more appealing to the masses. What is happening in the South West is interesting with the ACN controlling 3 in the old West and Labour Party in Ondo State: making 4. The PDP has to understand the importance of fielding candidates that can make a difference and go to the field and offer something to the people. Lack of internal democracy should stop. We should stop imposing people on the party. The PDP should get its act together and ensure that we have internal democracy, capable candidates should be fielded or else we will lose woefully. I am running for office.