FOUNDING father of the dreaded Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), and one of the frontliners in the struggle for true democracy in Nigeria, Dr. Frederick Fasheun, recently had an interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly, when we visited him in his Okota, Isolo, Lagos office. The Ondo born medical doctor turned activist spoke exclusively on several issues that revolve around Nigeria as a nation, his controversial visit to Abacha family and many more.
No doubt, you are a frontliner as far as the struggle for the survival of democracy is concerned in Nigeria, how would you access the terrain so far?
Like we say in our common language, Aluta continua Victoria asserta, in other words, the struggle continues but victory is certain. Unfortunately, victory has not been certain for such a long time we’ve been involved in the struggle. When democracy peeped through the window in 1993, we thought that was it, thinking the struggle was going to end there but unfortunately the power that be then aborted that hope which has sent us back to the trenches. Democracy is still very far away from Nigeria because even two years after an election that would usher in democracy, in some states, they are still in court awaiting the determination of the victor. That doesn’t portray us as democratic. Two years after that election, a panel was set up to look into our electoral system and it made a recommendation and submitted it to the nation and instead of the people at Aso Rock to send that for a debate by Nigerians, they started tinkering with it and removing parts that Nigerians would have even loved to be included and so on. We all know that rigged elections don’t usher in democracy and the president himself also confirmed it that the election that brought him to power was flawed. But I personally admired him for the courage to tell the world and he later promised that he would govern under the rule of law. Of course, he is governing but not wholly with the rule of law because if he is governing with the rule of law, he would obey the constitution to the letter. The quota system is part of the constitution. Everybody now in the ministry of health, finance, economic adviser is from Kano State, even the Central Bank of Nigeria governor. So, it is as if the young man is governing with impunity, flagrant disregard for quota system as enshrined in the constitution.
So, that is not democracy. Democracy is the wish of the majority no matter how strong headed they maybe and democracy is not only about the rule of law but fairness to everybody concerned in the management of a nation. Left to me, I don’t think we are anywhere near democracy. We hope and pray that democracy will one day take root in this country, so that we shall have cause to celebrate.
Don’t you think there is a difference between the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and that of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua?
I don’t think there is so much difference between the two because they both belong to the PDP and you know PDP has its manifestos and so far they have both governed on behalf of the People’s Democratic Party, they should comply with the dictates of PDP as enshrined in their constitution. So, I don’t think there is any difference, the only difference is that Obasanjo with his military background might be a more stubborn character to deal with, but with the impunity, this man is governing this nation, I don’t think there is much difference.
Can we have your own candid assessment of the Niger Delta crisis, especially the militarization of the situation?
The Niger Delta is the goose that lays the golden egg and this goose is not being fed properly. The notable projects this nation has carried out has been with the money from the Niger Delta and when these people go to Abuja and see a new city financed with the money from their area, they are bound to kick. But my worry is that the federal government decided to militarise the situation and indiscriminately destroyed lives and properties of the innocents. Not everybody in the zone is a militant and if you fight the militants, how do you differentiate the militant from the innocent. So, all of them are suffering, that is why I do not agree that the federal government should take the military option. I expect the federal government to exhaust the peace formulae, the method of persuasion, the method of convincing and seek peace with the militants. They are Nigerians and they must have certain Nigerians they listen to. People like Emeka Anyaoku, Abubakar Umar, Sheu Sanni, Mrs. Priscilla Kuye, Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba could be listened to because all these people had one time or the other been involved in the struggle for human rights and justice in this land and these are people the federal government should use. What we want is peace. After a fight you still have to go to a round table conference. Enough of the killings, enough of rapes, enough of kidnapping, Nigeria needs peace.
What is your opinion on their agitation for resource control as against the federal government’s annual derivation allowance?
We started with 50 per cent derivation, when our colonial masters discussed with us, we all agreed on that 50 per cent derivation, now that has become 13 per cent. I don’t even call that derivation but deprivation, 87 per cent deprivation. And if you want to persuade these people to give up their arms, then you invite them to discuss this derivation issue, discuss how to bring their geographical zone in line with the developmental process of this nation along with other zones. To be sincere with you, if you travel from Port Harcourt to Ughelli or Warri, you will be sorry because of the state of the roads and even the condition of their waters. I was once there, I saw the whole thing, it was pathetic. Obviously, they have to agitate but I don’t want the agitation for resource control to degenerate into political separation and that is why we called the attention of the federal government to the fact that we don’t need to answer force with force. Personally, I may not agree with the whole thing done by the militants, for instance, kidnapping is criminal, it doesn’t add anything to the success of their struggle but in actual fact who will fight the cause of the Niger Deltans if the capable hands don’t do it. But it is up to the federal government to say okay, we will do this, we will do that and they live by their words. And after fulfilling all these, it would be mad of any militant to say the agitation continues. What has prolonged the crisis in the Niger Delta is the insincerity of the federal government. For instance, the federal government established the NDDC for the betterment of the Niger Deltans, but the NDDC is being owed well over N300b by the federal government. And various commissions, committees, congresses have been put up in the past to study the situation in the zone, all the recommendations made by all these bodies have not been put into use. Then instead of putting another commission or committee on ground, it is better they dust the recommendations made by the past commissions and implement them. If all these are done, there would be peace because the Niger Deltans also love peace, good life and so on. I am also appealing to the people of Niger Delta to give peace a chance, if they do, we will now see how much the people in Aso Rock will do for them.
16 years down the lane, can you shed more light on the significance of June 12 in Nigeria’s political history?
The significance of June 12 cannot be wished away. June 12 is part of the history of Nigeria. It is not the calendar date that matters but the event of June 12. June 12 is the day that Nigerians decided to speak with one voice giving up their ethnic nationalities, religious inclinations and other sentiments. The day we worked in unison for national unity and democracy and of course, it was aborted. And since then, the nation has not settled, we make believe that we have democracy, where is the democracy we are celebrating? We are only celebrating democracy in illiteracy and ignorance. To me, June 12 should be a recognized and appreciated democracy day rather than May 29. May 29 can only be seen as the assumption day, the day this present regime was sworn in and we all know this present regime means little or nothing to Nigerians because we are poorer. We are angrier and hungrier, our health is deteriorating, the standard of education is falling, so what is there to celebrate?
If you were to be in government, what would you have suggested for the immortalization of MKO Abiola?
Anything that can immortalize a national hero should be done to immortalize him because Abiola is a Nigerian hero. He is the type that says the right thing at the right time and to the right people. So, anything to immortalize Abiola should have been done but unfortunately there are people in places of authority that do not want to acknowledge his contribution and that is why they frustrate every move to immortalize him, but some day Nigerians will insist on the immortalization of MKO Abiola.
As one of the respected Yoruba leaders, people don’t expect you to be fraternizing with the Northerners based on what happened to Abiola…
(Cuts in) You should remember that I am a Nigerian and there is no way I can separate myself from other people and my good friends from the North. But those feudal characters in the North that lord it over the common people of the North are those that I disagree with. For instance, how do you expect me to separate from good people like Balarabe Musa, Abubakar Umar, Sheu Sanni and so on who have been fighting fro social justice. There is no way you can expect me to severe my relationship with these good people, I only fraternize with the good people but I disagree with the feudal lords.
But sometime last year there was this noise all over that you visited Abacha family during his 10th year remembrance, is there any justification for that, and what was the true situation because you’ve been alleged to have collected N250m ransom?
(Laughs) The true situation is that the people who started the rumour misrepresented to Nigerians the fact of the matter. I was in Kano for an entirely different thing. There was no way I could have gone all the way from Lagos to celebrate the remembrance of Abacha. I was one of those who suffered most from Abacha’s regime, I was incarcerated for two years under terrible situation but even if I went to Kano for that purpose, God forbid, I wouldn’t have had any regret because as a Christian, I don’t believe I should begrudge the dead for 10 years. I would have been wasting my time. But I didn’t even take that into consideration because I went to Kano for an entirely different matter, it was a business visit and per chance I ended up in that venue after our meeting. And that remembrance prayer had ended before we got to that venue. And when we got to the venue, we saw some past leaders of this nation in persons of General Abdulsalami, General Buhari, General Babangida, the governor of Kano State, some emirs were also sitting there and they acknowledged my presence. There was no way I would just wave to them and leave. I approached them, I greeted and I turned back to leave and behold, my eyes also came in contact with those of Mrs. Abacha, Mrs. Aguiyi Ironsi who was also sitting with Mrs. Abacha, I greeted the two of them and I left the venue, nothing more.
You have not thrown light on the alleged N250m ransom, can you…
(Cuts in) N250m is a formidable amount of money, to me. In the first instance, how could I have transported it. I didn’t even go to Kano with a bag, did I put it in my pocket? And in any case, I am used to this kind of bad rumour. In 1998, when General Obasanjo wanted me to see him in Ota, I went and with the permission from OPC and they asked me to go. But before you could say Jack Robinson, the rumour was all over the place that I collected N20m from him. For God’s sake, I am yet to see anybody that can boast of receiving N1m from General Obasanjo, let alone N20m. That was my second time in Kano, it was my first time of coming close to the Abacha family and they then put their hands in their pocket and doled out N250m to me. Let us even assume that I went to Kano for that event, you think they will be in such a mood give N250m to somebody they were meeting for the first time, it is a bad rumour. People enjoy rumour, they don’t enjoy the truth. I don’t think all my life I have gathered N250m let alone being given such a huge amount at a go.
At 74, has there been anything you were doing wrongly that perhaps you want to change in your life?
I have never thought of anything I might regret or I could have regretted. I was one of the founders of Nigerian Labour Party, I thank God the party is part of the government of this nation now, I struggled for democracy, though the one we have now is seemingly democracy not the one of our choice. And to uphold social justice and the rule of law, I founded an organization that protested strongly the presence of the military in governance. We thank God, the organisation is waxing stronger and stronger and the usefulness of that organization is being appreciated by even those who criticized me at inception. I have no regret so far. The only regret I may accommodate is that time is running out and I would have loved to see Nigerians, high and low enjoy profound democracy because democracy is sweet.
If you have the opportunity to suggest to God, like how many years would you have loved to spend more on earth?
Now what we have in this country, especially among our political office holders, is tendency towards two terms, everybody loves two terms. I would have loved two terms, each being 70 years as prescribed by God.
- TADE ASIFAT
This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, June 11, 2013