I Weep For Nigeria At 51 – Fani-Kayode
Femi Fani Kayode is a renowned public speaker, former Special Assistant on Public Affairs and Minister of Culture, Tourism and later Aviation in the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration. Though he was before his appointment an avid critic of the former president, his brilliance endeared him to the Ota chicken farmer who carved roles for him in the vortex of power! One of sad stories of Fani- Kayode’s foray into politics was that he was arrested in July 2008 in connection with alleged misappropriation of a N19.5 billion Aviation Intervention Fund after giving his testimony before the Senate Aviation Committee. His father, Adetokunbo Fani Kayode moved the motion that led to Nigeria’s political independence in 1960. Though the senior Fani Kayode is dead, the younger Fani-kayode has kept the fire-burning. When LEADERSHIP approached him for interview, the vintage Femi who was tagged Obasanjo’s attack boy was on hand to fire from all sides of the cylinder. Bayo oladeji presents its excepts.
As Nigeria clocks 51 years on Saturday, what is on your mind?
I am worried for Nigeria but I am hopeful that God will see us through. I weep for all the terrible things happening in this country but I am an optimist. Nigeria shall be great again.
What could you identify as our milestone?
The fact that we have remained one nation for the last 51 years despite our monumental challenges is in itself an achievement. That I believe is the greatest milestone.
Your father played prominent roles in the drama that led to the independence, could you please recall some of those roles?
My father, Chief Remi Fani-Kayode Q.C, S.A.N, C.O.N was not only Minister for Chieftaincy and Local Government Affairs in the Western Regional Government of Nigeria from 1963 to 1966 but he was also the Deputy Premier of the Western Region at that same time. Most people know that and they also know that he was the number two to Chief S.L. Akintola, the Premier of the NNDP Western Regional government at the time.
What they don’t know however is that from 1959 to 1963 he was the Leader of the NCNC Opposition in the Western House of Assembly and that from 1953 till 1958 he represented the ancient city of Ile-Ife in the Federal House of Representatives on the platform of the Action Group.
He was also the founder and leader of the Action Group Youth Wing throughout the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s.
Again most people don’t know that in August 1958 it was my father that successfully moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence in the Federal House of Assembly.
Two motions had been moved before then by two other leading members of the Action Group and Members of the Parliament but sadly they both failed.
Let me share the facts and the sequence of events with you.
Unlike the two previous motions that I just mentioned that had been moved by Chief Anthony Enahoro (in 1953) and Chief S.L. Akintola (in 1957) the motion that my father moved was not only adopted by Parliament but it was also acquiesced to by the British.
That was the difference between his motion for independence and the other two.
Enahoro’s was not accepted by Parliament and it failed and Akintola’s, though accepted and passed by Parliament, was not acquiesced to by the British authorities.
Consequently they both failed. Enahoro’s 1953 motion had asked for ‘’self-government’’ for Nigeria by1956 and Akintola’s 1957 motion had asked for ‘’independence’’ for Nigeria by 1959.
However we did not get our independence on either of these two dates and the two motions were unsuccessful for the reasons that I just mentioned.
My father’s 1958 motion asked for independence for Nigeria by April 2, 1960 and it was accepted by Parliament and the motion was passed, the British acquiesced to it and the matter was settled. April 2, 1960 was to be the date of our independence.
However one year after my father’s motion was passed and specifically in 1959, Sir Tafawa Balewa (who was the Prime Minister and in the NPC) moved yet another motion in Parliament asking for a slight amendment to the original ‘’Remi Fani-Kayode independence motion’’ which had already been accepted by the British and passed by the House.
Balewa’s ‘’motion for amendment’’ was seconded by Chief Raymond Njoku (who was Minister of Transport and in the NCNC) and it asked that the month that we were to have our independence was to be shifted from April 2, 1960 to October 1, 1960 instead.
Parliament accepted this ‘’motion to amend’’ and that is how we arrived at having our date of independence on October 1, 1960. Many are not aware of this sequence of events and these facts but I agree that it is really a very complex plot.
It also says a lot about the inability of most Nigerians to properly and adequately research their own history and this is most unfortunate.
For the majority of the last 30 years, the erroneous assumption has been made and broadcast to our students and masses that the man that successfully moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence was Chief Anthony Enahoro.
This was not so. And Enahoro himself, before he died, set the record straight in an interview that he gave to the Punch Newspaper two years ago in which he said that he never told anyone that he successfully moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence.
In that interview the elder-statesman and great nationalist acknowledged the fact that his 1953 motioned actually failed and was not passed by Parliament.
In fact it actually led to a protest and walk out of Parliament by the northern MP’s and it eventually led to the notorious Kano Riots of 1953.
Even though the credit must go to Chief Enahoro for being the first to attempt to move the motion for our independence, he cannot take the credit for being the first to successfully move it as well because he never did so.
Others may have wrongly attributed that great honour to him but he never attributed it to himself.
Yet despite this if you ask the majority of Nigerians today who successfully moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence they will tell you that it was Chief Anthony Enahoro.
This is false and it is very sad. It also says a lot about us as a people. A nation that does not know how it won it’s own independence and who did what at the time in order to win it.
This is very strange to me. Worse still lies the disinformation fabricated and spread and passed off as truth.
This is a classic example of Goebbel’s theory that an uncontested lie repeated enough time becomes a historical ‘’truth’’.
That is what has happened in this matter. I personally do not see any confusion or controversy in it at all though.
As long as people are prepared to do their research properly, detach their emotions from the quest for historical facts and appreciate the importance of getting those facts right for the sake of our nation, our children and posterity they will eventually find the truth and the truth will set them free.
That is what I am trying to help to achieve here by setting the record straight, nothing more and nothing less.
What are the sources of this revelation?
In terms of the facts and sequence of events that I have enunciated here, if anyone doubts anything that I have said I challenge them to go and read Hansard (which were the formal record of proceedings of the Parliament of that day and which have been kept intact and well preserved by our former British Colonial masters).
They can also go and read what is, in my view, by far the most detailed, authoritative, objective and historically accurate book that has ever been written by anyone about the politics of Nigeria in the 1940’s and 1950’s titled ‘’Nigerian Political Parties-Power In An Emergent African Nation’’ (publishers-Princeton, U.S.A1963).
It was written by an American by the name of Professor Richard Sklar. Sklar actually lived in Nigeria throughout that period and he personally witnessed most of these events in the 40’s and 50’s and anyone that has not read his book cannot possibly claim to know too much about Nigeria’s pre-independence history.
It is a must read.
Professor Sanya Onabamiro, who was a major player in the politics of the 1950’s and early 1960’s as well, who was also a member of Parliament and who was Minister of Education also wrote a book titled ‘’Glimpses In Nigeria’s History’’ that confirmed these events.
I urge anyone that is interested to read that one too. They say knowledge is power.
Some people are calling for the Sovereign National Conference. Is there any justification for the agitation?
I believe that the call for a Sovereign National Conference remains the only thing that can really enable us to resolve our issues and challenges in this country once and for all and in a civilised and peaceful manner.
The same call has been made in varying degrees by many eminent and responsible Nigerians for the last 70 years and indeed ever since the amalgamation of the North and the South by Lord Lugard and the British in 1914.
Yet each time we ignore it and dismiss it with contempt. We even fought a civil war and after that we almost fought another over June 12 presidential election and yet we still ignore it.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo told us that ‘’Nigeria is not a nation but a geographical expression’’ in 1948 and that ‘’there is as much difference between the Fulani and the Igbo as there is between the German and the Turk’’ and we still ignore it.
Political Sharia was introduced in the North 10 years ago yet we still ignore it.
Violent, well-armed, deadly and extremist ethnic militias who claim to be fighting for the legitimate rights and protection of their various nationalities have emerged before our very eyes in the last 20 years in the South yet we still ignore sovereign national conference.
Boko Haram has now come to the North in full force and it is waging open war against the Nigerian state and yet we are still ignoring it. What type of country is this?
Thousands have been killed over the years and hundreds are being killed monthly over these same issues yet we don’t seem to care. We just smile and say that ‘’it is well’’.
The question is for how much longer can this go on and for how much longer can the centre hold?
Yet until the nationality question is answered, until we sit down and renegotiate the terms and nature of our union, until we allow the many ethnic nationalities that make up this great country to affirm their interest in wanting to remain in a united Nigeria, until we devolve power from the centre and restructure the country, until we affirm the secularity of the Nigerian state and guarantee the fundamental rights of both Christians and Muslims to practice their religion in peace, until we are prepared to allow even the smallest tribes and nationalities the right of self-determination and to tell us how they feel we will just continue to wobble on and go from one challenge to another.
The noble vision of a united Nigeria where all are treated fairly and squarely has remained a mirage.
What happens is that people are dying slowly but surely yet no-one seems to care. All we are interested in as Nigerians is ‘’turn by turn Nigeria’’.
If the Hausa-Fulani had power yesterday, then the Yorubas and now the Ijaws, it must be the Igbos or someone else tomorrow.
That is where the Nigerian political debate begins and ends.
It is just about which tribe or nationality has the right to control the state for a fixed period of time and to use the resources and power of that state for the benefit of their people.
We pretend and say otherwise but this is the bitter truth. Outside of that nobody really cares anymore and those that do are very few and far between.
What type of people are we?
And of course we hate those that tell us the truth about our own sorry situation and plight and we vilify them.
We even try to destroy them.
Has it occurred to you that this country has never drawn up a constitution that came about purely as a consequence of the will of the people?
Every single constitution that we have had in the last 98 years, including the one that we have today, was handed over to us and imposed on us by the military or by our former British colonial masters.
Go and do the research and you will find that I am right. At various points in our history, thet elected representatives of our people met in various constitutional conferences and decided on what to put in our constitution yet after the conferences finished their work and the representatives went home, the military authorities took out what they wanted and they put in what they wanted and told us that was ‘’our’’ constitution.
And we, in an amazing display of utter subservience and helplessness, accepted it like children.
We never insisted on having our way or on fighting back. We just smiled, accepted it and said ‘’thank you very much sir’’.
When you hear all this tell me what makes you think we will not have major long-term and fundamental problems?
Worse still the Nigerian people have never been asked in a referendum whether they want to remain together as one and even if they do under what terms.
We were forced into a ‘’marriage’’ between the North and the South by Lord Lugard in 1914 and he described the north as the ‘’poor husband’’ at that time and the South as the ‘’rich wife’’.
Sadly the two young spouses were never even asked if they wanted to be together in the first place let alone remain together forever.
Given that why wouldn’t we have had serious problems for the next 98 years?
The fact that we are still together as one nation is in itself a miracle.
Do you know that of the three major ‘’forced’’ amalgamations that the British colonial powers established and created only Nigeria still remains as one nation today?
The other two were India (which broke into three separate countries immediately after independence) and the Sudan (which broke into two separate countries earlier this year).
I do not want Nigeria to break up in a similar manner but we must stop burying our heads in the sand and we must try to sit down, do something about the direction in which our ship of state is drifting and settle our differences before it is too late.
We have just taken everything for granted and meanwhile people are being killed every day either for religious or ethnic reasons.
The National Assembly cannot do what a Sovereign National Conference would do because it is not representative of every single ethnic nationality and neither does it have the courage or the will.
And neither can any weak government-sponsored, tele-guided National Conference (of which we have had many) whose resolutions are not honoured by or binding on the government of the day.
I am not talking about the convocation of yet another ‘’national conference’’ but rather I am talking about the real thing- the convocation of a SOVEREIGN National Conference whose findings and resolutions will not only bind the government of the day, whose resolutions cannot be amended or tampered with in any way, whose voice must be honoured by all, who must have a representative from every single tribe and nationality, who will not allow or accommodate any government sponsored or appointed delegates or members and whose findings and resolutions must be subjected to a confirmatory national referendum by the people.
The convocation of such a sovereign national conference is the only way forward and eventually it will come either by good reasoning and the prevailing of good sense or it will be forced on us by a series of very unpleasant events and circumstances in this country.
As a matter of fact I would go as far as to say that the longer we resist this idea of having this parley and sitting down to settle these issues once and for all the more likely we are to eventually break up as a country in a very violent and bloody manner.
One day things will just explode.
Some have said that by 2015 we will break up. I hope that they are wrong but when you see what is happening today, the level of regional divisions between the core North, the middle belt and the South, the level of mistrust between Christians and Muslims, the level of divisions between the ethnic nationalities, the meteoric rise of powerful and deadly ethnic and religious militias like Boko Haram, the level of Islamic fundamentalism and sectarian violence in the North, the class revolution that is silently taking place in the core North and so on and so forth you will know that trouble is coming in Nigeria.
We like to pretend and say that ‘’all is well’’ as a people but the truth is that all is not well.
Nigerians are now suicide bombers and there are parts of Nigeria where Ql Qaeda and Al Shabaz have taken hold.
Their intention is to establish an Islamic fundamentalist state in the whole of the core North and they are prepared to kill, maim and bomb their way to doing so if anyone challenges them. We see all this happening and yet we smile at ourselves and say that ‘’all is well’’. Look at what is happening in Jos and think hard.
It has become a theatre of war between Christians and Muslims and between the Hausa-Fulani settlers and the local Beroms that have always been there. Worst still, most Christians in the country support the Christians of Jos and most Muslims in the country support the Muslims of that same place. That support is covert but it is very real and yet we will all pretend to one another that we are one. We are playing with fire in Nigeria.
Let me tell you this today- if we are not careful one day the Jos nightmare will translate and superimpose itself on the whole of Nigeria and then all hell will break loose. We need to sit down and talk before this happens and before it is too late and we need to resolve these issues once and for all.
If we ever have a major conflagration in this country or another civil war we will be fighting ourselves in this space called Nigeria for the next 50 years and we will set the whole of the West African sub-region on fire. We will turn West Africa into a massive refugee camp.
That is what we are toying with.
No-one in his right mind or proper senses could possibly want that and neither could any group come out on top in such a nightmarish scenario.
No-one would win and we would all lose. In order to avoid this we must do the right thing as soon as possible and we must do it at all costs.
In this respect there needs to be far more urgency on the part of the people and the government.
What would you say is the way out of this mess?
Leadership, if we have strong leadership and take the right bold steps our problems can be solved and our differences resolved.
If you were to be the president of this country today, what would be your cardinal programmes?
Unity, stability, getting the economy right and making Nigeria a strong and respected voice that she once was in the international community.
What has been your experience in politics so far?
I went into full time politics 21 years ago when I was still a young man of 31 years old and at that time, my father warned me that it is not the sort of place or thing that I would enjoy. He was proved right.
I prefer writing and reading poetry or studying and discussing history than playing politics.
Unfortunately however I found myself in it in the last 21 years and it is something of a calling and passion for me. I always knew from the age of 10 that I would end up a politician.
How I knew I don’t know, but I just knew. Maybe this is because I have always loved Nigeria so much and I sincerely want the best for her.
My experiences in the political scene have been both good and bad, both bitter and sweet.
I have enjoyed politics and having the rare privilege and opportunity to serve and make a contribution to the development of my nation and at the same time, I have suffered the worst and most barbaric form of misrepresentation, wickedness and persecution from those that hate me for no just cause.
Yet I still love this country and I am not deterred.
I will never give up on Nigeria till the day I die. One day, Nigeria will be great again. That is my prayer, passion and dream.
Yet I look back and when I see that we are still struggling with the same problems in this country that we had 10, 20 or 30 years ago it makes me very sad.
Worse still the young people of Nigeria today have absolutely no idea about what a wonderful, prosperous and safe place our country used to be.
One sometimes wonders whether it was worth getting involved in politics at all.
The truth is that on the whole it has probably brought me more sorrow and pain than joy and fulfillment.
I wish that I had dedicated more of my time and life to my wife, family, loved ones and children but that was just not the case because I had this terrible passion for politics and for my country.
Thankfully most of us are now leaving it for those of you in the younger generation and I wish you all well. Most importantly I will continue to pray for my beloved country Nigeria.
Readers may like to know about you, your family background?
My great grandfather, Rev. Emmanuel Adedapo Kayode, was one of the earliest Nigerians to be educated having obtained an MA from the University of Durham, after which he became an Anglican priest. My grandfather, Victor Adedapo Kayode, studied law at Cambridge University and later became a lawyer and a judge.
My own father Victor Babaremilekun Adetokunboh Fani-Kayode, who was also at Cambridge was a prominent lawyer and political figure in Nigeria in the 1950s and 1960s: he was Deputy Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria from 1963 until 1966.
I was the Special Assistant (Public Affairs) to President Olusegun Obasanjo from July 2003 until June 2006.
I was appointed the Minister of Culture and Tourism from 22 June to 7 November 2006 and as the Minister of Aviation from 7 November 2006 to 29 May 2007.
I started my primary school education at the age of 8 at Brighton College, Brighton in the U. K. after which I went to Holmewood House School in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, South-East England.
After prep school I gained entry into Harrow School in Harrow on the Hill, United Kingdom and later on into Kelly College in Tavistock, U. K, where I completed the rest of my public school education.
In 1980, I proceeded to the School of Oriental and African Studies, where I graduated with an LL.B law degree in 1983.
I gained entry into Cambridge University (Pembroke College) where my grandfather, his father and his older brother, Akinola (Downing College) had all previously read law.
After finishing from Cambridge I went to the Nigerian Law School and in 1985 was called to the Nigerian Bar. In 1993, after a brief illness and under the tutelage of Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams of Ghana, I became a Pentecostal/Evangelical Christian.
I decided to go back to school to study theology at the Christian Action Faith Bible Seminary in Accra, Ghana, gaining a diploma in theology in 1995.
After leaving Nigerian Law School in 1985, I worked in the law firm of Chief Frederick Rotimi Williams in Lagos after which I moved to my father’s Law Firm “Fani- Kayode and Sowemimo”. After working there for three years, I was promoted to the position of a senior partner in 1989.
I was a member of the Nigerian National Congress (N. N. C) in 1989. I was elected the National Youth Leader of N. N. C that same year. In 1990, I was appointed as Chief Press Secretary to Chief Tom Ikimi, the first National Chairman of the National Republican Convention (N. R. C) and in 1991 as Special Assistant to Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, former head of the Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO).
Disturbed by the actions of Gen. Sani Abacha’s military junta in 1996, I left Nigeria and joined the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) abroad where, together with the likes of the Oxford University-trained lawyer Chief Tunde Edu and others, played a very active role in the fight against Abacha. I came back to Nigeria in 2001 and through my friend, Bashorun Akin Oshuntokun I met President Olusegun Obasanjo.
At the beginning of 2003, I was appointed by Obasanjo as a member of his presidential campaign team for the 2003 presidential election. After Obasanjo won the election I was appointed as the first ever Special Assistant on Public Affairs to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In 2006 I was appointed as the Honourable Minister of Culture and Tourism.
I was re-deployed to the Aviation Ministry where I made some significant impact such as recapitalization and other reforms that put an end to the air disasters.
I returned to legal practice at the end of the tenure of Obasanjo’s administration on 29 May 2007.