The Fani-Kayode Interview: We wanted El-Rufai for president – Fani-Kayode

PointBlank News, March 16, 2010
Born 16 days after Nigeria’s independence to Chief Remilekun Adetokunbo Fani-Kayode and Mrs. Adia Adunni Fani-Kayode, also a chief, Femi Fani-Kayode means different things to different people. In the early 1880s, when very Nigerians could boast of the ability to scribble A,B,C, Femi’s great-grandfather, The Reverend Emmanuel Adedapo Kayode had already acquired a Master of Arts Degree from Durham University. By 1920, his grandfather, Victor Adedapo Kayode had obtained a masters degree in law at the prestigious Cambridge University. By 1941, Femi’s father, Remilekun Fani- Kayode took after his father by enrolling in

Cambridge University. After obtaining an honours degree in law, Remilekun made history by becoming the best graduating student in the British Bar examinations in the whole of the British Commonwealth. In 1954 , Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode was elected into the Federal House of Assembly on the platform of the now defunct Action Group. In 1963 he was elected Deputy Premier of the old Western region of Nigeria under Chief Samuel Akintola in addition to another appointment as Minister of Local Government Affairs for the Western Region. Shortly after the military coup that sacked the First Republic, Femi Fani-Kayode moved to England. After going through public schools he obtained a degree in law from the same Cambridge University where his father and grandfather attended, making him one of the few Nigerian families with three generation of Cambridge graduates.
Even though he served as Ministers of Culture and Tourism and Aviation, the six-footer and British-accented Femi is perhaps most remembered for his role as Special Assistant on Public Affairs to former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Hardly any day passed without Femi having to join issues with critics of the Obasanjo administration. The role, no doubt, earned him a lot of enemies and few admirers.
Since leaving government in May 2007, apart from a case between him and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over the alleged misappropriation of certain aviation funds, very little has been heard from Femi Fani-Kayode. It was Femi in his element….
In a matter of months, Nigeria shall be celebrating the golden anniversary of her political independence. Incidentally, you shall be clocking 50. Would you say Nigeria has fared well, given the current challenges that seem to have made the country the laughing stock of the world?
I believe that we have to thank God for the fact that the very serious constitutional crisis that was posed by the disappearing act of President Umaru Yar’adua late last year and up until today has more or less come to an end, that is, if it has not fully come to an end. We now have an Acting President in place who seems to have finally cultivated the courage to begin to assert himself and to take charge of the affairs of the nation, which is very important. The country is beginning to stabilize and is now coming out of the terrible trauma of having had to put up with a President that nobody has seen or spoken to in the last five months or so, nobody has set their eyes upon him, heard his voice, knows what is wrong with him or even really knows where he is up until today. That is a very sad state of affairs both for him and the nation but despite that, and with the coming of the new dispensation; I believe that we are now beginning to make some progress. I think there is every reason to hope that things will get better. However there are still some very serious challenges which the nation faces today and which have come as a consequence and a fall-out of the weak, ineffectual and uninspiring leadership that this country has been subjected to in the last 3 years. The movement of troops to the airport without the knowledge of the Acting President when our President was surreptitiously smuggled into Nigeria under the cover of darkness and in the middle of the night without anyone’s knowledge is the first major challenge. The question remains, who gave the order for that troop movement and why was the Acting President and the Commander in Chief not informed? Up until today that question has not been answered, nothing has been done and, as far as we know, no-one has been sanctioned for that grossly illegal and provocative act. The second major challenge is the genocide that was perpetuated in Jos only last week where over 500 innocent Christian women and children were hacked to death by a well-organized, well-armed and well-funded group of Hausa-Fulani Muslims who allegedly acted in collusion with the GOC of the Nigerian Army that was responsible for the security of that area. The Governor of the state Jonah Jang, who is a Christian, and General Domkat Bali who is a respected elder of the state, a Christian and the retired Chief of Defence Staff during General Babangida’s regime together with the Plateau State Christian Elders Forum have all alleged that the GOC, General Maina, who happens to be a Muslim as is his boss the Chief of Army Staff General Dambazzau, simply refused to heed their consistent warnings that an attack against their people was imminent and indeed was already taking place. He admitted that he received text messages to that effect but for some strange reason did nothing to protect the people. This is a major issue and if this sort of thing continues it has the potential of blowing up the whole country and acting as a catalyst for a very bloody and prolonged religious war if not handled with the utmost sensitivity, skill, caution and care. I can tell you that the feeling is running very high over this issue on both sides of the religious divide in this country as the Muslim community see what happened last week as a revenge mission for what members of their own community in the same Jos were subjected to only last January when hundreds of Muslim Hausa-Fulani women and children were slaughtered like flies by Christian and ethnic Berom militias. Needless to say, all these killings and mass murders are an abomination. They are condemnable and reprehensible. And when this sort of thing happens I do not see Christians or Muslims or Hausa-Fulanis or Berom. I only see Nigerians killing one another and hacking to pieces each other’s most prized and most cherished possessions and gifts from God, their own women and their children. And the greatest danger of all is that if the Nigerian Army gets entangled in this mess and is split along religious or ethnic lines that will be the end of this nation. We should all try and learn from history because that is exactly what happened just after independence in India when part of the military supported their Hindu brothers and the other part supported the Muslim community during a spate of ethnic and religious violence and unrest. The result was that the country was thrown into an uncontrollable and unprecedented orgy of fratricidal and sectarian butchery, bloodshed and violence which eventually led to the dismemberment and carving up of the entire country and the subsequent establishment of the Muslim state of Pakistan. That is how the nation of Pakistan was carved out of the predominantly Hindu state of India. Sadly even after that bitter separation the two countries still fought no less than three terrible wars between them over land disputes in the Kashmir. That sort of thing must never be allowed to happen in Nigeria and in order to avoid it the Nigerian military must maintain it’s traditional and professional neutrality when it comes to any form of ethnic or religious unrest or conflict in the country. That is what has made the alleged attitude of General Maina so alarming and so dangerous. The third challenge is the breakdown of the Amnesty accord with MEND and the other militant groups in the Niger-Delta area which has resulted in the detonation of car bombs in Warri just earlier today. It is very important that the government gets a firm grip of this problem expeditiously and tries to solve it as quickly as possible before it escalates into a full-scale regional conflict which would result in a massive loss of life and the disruption of world oil supplies. There are many other challenges that we face today as a nation and in my view the sooner we have a sovereign national conference in this country and the sooner we restructure the Federation and enthrone true federalism with resource control, devolution of power from the centre, derivation as the principle for the sharing of the proceeds from our mineral resources, the introduction of state police, the confirmation of the secularity of the state, the complete crushing of any form of religious extremism, bigotry or fundamentalism and we imbue all the other hallmarks of a true federation, the better it will be for us all. That, in my view, is the way forward if we are really interested in a strong, united and peaceful Nigeria which will then remain as one into the distant future. No matter who becomes President or Governor next year, if we do not address these vital issues and answer the national question once and for all then we are only postponing the evil day. Sooner than later a set of circumstances will certainly unfold which will compel us to address it whether we like it or not. Why should we wait for that? We should get down to it right away and begin to seriously look at these things now whilst we can still do so in an atmosphere of relative peace, camaradie and tranquility.
Talking about the leadership crisis, many Nigerians believe that, denials notwithstanding, former President Olusegun Obasanjo deliberately foisted Yar’Adua on Nigerians simply because he couldn’t pull his third term agenda through. And that some of you, members of Obasanjo’s kitchen cabinet, were collaborators in the scheme that put Nigeria on the brink.
The contention that there was some kind of sinister and a pre-meditated attempt to put Nigeria on the brink by Obasanjo and his boys by supporting Umaru Yar’adua’s presidential bid is simply not true. That decision was taken in the best of faith by the government of that day and by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and for anyone to suggest otherwise is ridiculous and unacceptable. Some of us served that government for four years and others for eight years and we served our country to the best of our abilities. Towards the end of our tenure a decision was made to support a particular candidate for the Presidency. As far as we were concerned the man Umaru Yar’adua had been governor of Katsina state for eight solid years and there was therefore no reason whatsoever for us to doubt his competence and health bearing in mind the fact that he came highly recommended by President Obasanjo and a number of other highly placed people. Based on that we took a position and supported him. The fact is that nobody, not even President Obasanjo, knew how ill he really was at that time. And what happened subsequent to his coming into power such as the gradual yet drastic deterioration of his health and the course that he chose to take in the style and substance of his governance is something that nobody could have seen or predicted. If we knew that things would have turned out like this for him we would not have supported him or put him there. If anybody had told me three years ago or anytime before then that Nigeria would have a President who would disappear for five months, and still counting, and that no member of his government or his family would be able to tell Nigerians about his whereabouts or his medical condition, I would not have believed it. The truth is that the assertion that Obasanjo sat down to plan all this and inflict such pain, trauma and hopelessness on the Nigerian people just really does not make any sense and it is not true. You may not like him very much but one thing that I can assure you is that Obasanjo is not a sadist. For him to have done what some are now suggesting would have been the height of wickedness on his part and this is simply not the case. I repeat that nobody could have envisaged that it would turn out the way it did for Yar’adua and it is only God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, that knew what would happen and what lay ahead. It is something that we pray will never happen to any President in the life of our nation again.
Looking back now, would you, in all honesty, say that the decision to support Yar’Adua was a right one?
I am not sure that that question is relevant now. Whether this was the right or wrong decision it was clearly in Yar’adua’s destiny to be President of Nigeria even if it was only for a specific period of time. So whether anyone liked it or not it simply had to come to pass. God willed it and allowed it to happen for a purpose and so no-one could have stopped it or stood against it. Again because there is the principle of collective responsibility which is strictly practiced and adhered to in government and which dictates that once a decision is taken by the leadership then everyone is bound by it no matter how they feel. We can raise objections and even argue about it amongst ourselves and even with the President up until the time that he puts his foot down and takes a final decision. At that point everybody in the cabinet or in the relevant caucus must fall in line and must publically defend that decision and position no matter how he or she felt about it before the final decision was taken. If you cannot do so then you must resign. The truth is that from the outset there were a number of us that were not comfortable with the idea of Yar’Adua becoming President, for a number of reasons and we all said so at the time. But there were other people within government who supported the idea. Those of us that were against it simply did not win the day. This is politics; you can’t always have your way. With that behind us and once Mr. President told us that he had finally made up his mind, we all joined hands together and supported Yar’Adua’s candidacy.
You said there were a number of reasons why some of you opposed the idea of Yar’Adua becoming president. Can you share some of the reasons?
Firstly it was clear to some that if Yar’Adua became President, his wife Turai, would be the one that would be running the country. Two, some of those that knew him from school and that grew up with him believed that he had the capacity to be extremely vicious; that his record in Katsina betrayed him as somebody who enjoyed turning on all those that had once helped him politically. Another issue was that, apart from the Middle East, he had never been to any country in the world or in the west-be it Europe or the United States of America. And for the many years he served as Governor of Katsina State, he never visited any state in the southern part of Nigeria. And then there was the issue of his health. These were the concerns and some within our caucus voiced those concerns at the time. However President Obasanjo had immense confidence in him and assured us that there was no need for such concerns. We discussed the issues extensively and eventually we all agreed that this was the man to support, even though there were other people, other candidates that could have come in and almost did come in.
Others like?
Well there is no doubt that Nasir El-Rufai could have come in. He had a very good chance and he almost got the nod but sadly it was not to be, at least not then. It was really between him and Umaru Yar’adua once it was clear that the Presidency had been zoned to the north. And eventually Yar’adua got it and the rest is history. Looking back at it now it is a decision that I personally regret. I don’t think it is right for us to act as if we did the right thing. If we are to be honest with ourselves I think that we made a mistake and a terrible one at that. And I don’t think it is good enough for me to say, ‘Oh! Some of us opposed it at the time.’ At the end of the day we all have to take collective responsibility for what we did. We have to accept that and we have to concede the fact that it was a regrettable decision. I believe one should be able to stand up and say, ‘gentlemen, we made a mistake.’ He (Yar’Adua) was not psychologically, mentally and physically prepared for that job. He was not the right choice and everything he did from the moment he got into office proved the fact that he wasn’t the right choice. And of course eventually his health failed and he disappeared into thin air and up till now nobody has seen him. But I thank God that there is now an Acting President in place and that the National Assembly did the right thing at the right time to save Nigeria.
Still on el-Rufai, how strong a threat would you say he was at the time to Yar’Adua’s emergence as the PDP flag-bearer and then, president?
If Yar’Adua hadn’t gotten the nod of President Obasanjo, El-Rufai would have been the President of Nigeria today . There is no question about that in my mind. It was a straight choice between the two. There was a strong and very intense lobby from our caucus to get Obasanjo to support el-Rufai. I was deeply involved, he was my candidate and even though he did not win I would never shy away from saying that anywhere. He was my candidate from the beginning up until the time we were over-ruled by our boss and leader and told that Yar’Adua would be the candidate. There was also the issue of the North/South divide for the presidency. But once it was settled that it was going to be a Northern thing, it became a straight fight between el-Rufai and Yar’Adua. Of course there was the ‘’governors’ group’’- people like James Ibori, Bukola Saraki and Lucky Igbinedion backed by Andy Uba, Ojo Maduekwe, Abdullahi Mohammed and a number of others- who all wanted Yar’Adua. But what I call the ‘’intellectual group’’- people like Nuhu Ribadu, Akin Osuntokun, Uba Sani, Lawal Batagarawa, El Rufai, Bayo Ojo, Frank Nweke, Oby Ezekwesili, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nenadi Usman, myself and a handful of others- all supported Nasir. But we lost out. Yar’Adua was endorsed and the rest, as they say, is history. What is important is that once the decision was made we collectively agreed to bring in Yar’Adua and that in my humble opinion was a terrible mistake.
Being a former member of the Executive Council of the Federation, how would you describe the stand of the ministers vis-à-vis Section 144 of the Nigerian Constitution? Is it practicable for ministers under such arrangement to declare a president and their boss unfit to continue in office?
Why not? If they had the political will, if they had the courage, if they had the interest of Nigerians at heart, they would. I really don’t see the issue here. As far I am concerned, they should have done that already. The longer they wait, the more they jeopardize the future of the country. It is not good enough to have an Acting President. There is a need for a substantive President and Goodluck Jonathan deserves to be that substantive President. As much as he is trying to be fair to everybody, to be as gentle as possible, to reach out and carry along members of the same cabal that worked against him, the truth is that eggs have to be broken if you want to make an omellete. And at some point he will have to say, ‘’okay, enough is enough. I want to move the country forward’’. The sooner that is done, the better for Nigeria. Lots of people, not just in the cabinet, need to be displaced and replaced.
You have clearly stated that your candidate for presidency was el-Rufai, and that Nuhu Ribadu was on the same page. Today, the three of you are hounded by at least one agency of government. Is this, in your opinion, a coincidence or a move by some persons to exact their pound of flesh?
I leave it for Nigerians to figure that one out for themselves. All I know is that in Nigerian politics there are no coincidences. I won’t say more than that. There were also those who were called to the side and threatened. Such were asked to dump the positions they took as, in their opinions, this was unacceptable. Perhaps their own turn to be tormented would have come at a later date. There is no big deal though and one must always learn to forgive because the battle belongs to the Lord. You cannot win it…only God can win it for you so you just look to Him, trust Him, call on His name and leave it all to Him. One thing is very clear to me though…..that God is with me and He is faithful and true. I see His power and His blessings manifesting in my life everyday so I give Him thanks for all things, both good and bad. You see I am a great believer in the power of divinity and destiny. What God has ordained for a man, that man will be, no matter what any mere mortal says, does, plans or decrees. Delay is not denial. I lost all my sense of fear of men and the difficult circumstances and sheer cruelty that they can inflict on those that they hate for no just cause and the despicable things that they can do to those that they seek to persecute and destroy, many years ago. And at the end of the day you will ask yourself who and what man really is with all his vanity and power. The answer is that he is nothing before God….the bible says ‘’who art thou O man? Thou art as the grass that withers. Thou art as the flower that fadeth…..a man that is born of woman that is today and tomorrow is no more’’. That is all we are…nothing before God….. so no matter what power you may think you have today you must humble yourself before the Lord your maker and know that He alone rules in the affairs of men and forges the destiny of nations. There is nothing anyone can do to me unless God allows it. So if anyone ones to exact their pound of flesh, let them go ahead. Eventually God will exact His own too and we are already seeing signs of that.
The political firmament is beginning to buzz with activities. Your party, the PDP, appears to be fussing about its zoning arrangement for next presidential elections. They have even technically knocked off Jonathan from the race by restricting its presidential ticket to the three zones in the North.
(Cuts in) You see, this is the problem. In my opinion, zoning has created more problems than it has solved. As far as I am concerned, zoning is a phenomenon that came from medieval history. Why should the whole country be bound by the zoning formula of one political party? Merit, not zoning, should be the watchword especially when we consider what we have had to contend with in the last three years or so. We came up with the wrong person and we were stuck with him. Just look at the sheer incompetence of some of the people that Yar’Adua brought on board. The truth is there are competent people who can run for the Presidency on their own merit. You shouldn’t zone anything to help anybody. Let the best person emerge.
What if the party refuses to budge?
Well that would be a monumental error on their part and I certainly hope that they do not. In 2003, the presidency, according to the PDP’s gentleman’s agreement, was supposed to have remained in the South but that didn’t stop people like Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Chief Barnabas Gemade, who are both from the North, from contesting. Fortunately, the party recently said it was throwing its doors open to all the three zones in the North. Maybe they will still go a step further and open the doors to everybody. But, like I said, this is one factor that has held us down and stagnated our growth.
Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi state served as a minister under Obasanjo. In a recent interview he expressed regret working for Obasanjo. Do you feel the same way, too?
Of course not. Yuguda was probably the longest serving minister under Obasanjo. He was Minister and served in Obassanjo’s cabinet for no less than 7 or 8 years. I therefore think it was most uncharitable for him to have said what he was quoted to have said. Since he has not caused a retraction to be published I have to assume that he really did say those things. And the truth is that he has shocked me. I don’t know what happened to the gentle, decent and humble Isa that I once knew and that we was literally like a brother to me and a son to Obasanjo. I am disgusted and horrified by his comments and his outburst. How could he have said such a thing? At what point did he begin to regret? Was it during his tenure as minister, immediately he left office, when he became governor on the ANPP platform, after he defected to PDP, or after he married Yar’Adua’s daughter? It is important for him to tell Nigerians because, they might also be interested in knowing why he stayed put for seven or so years as a Minister without resigning. By the way, how can they compare what they have done in the past three years to Obasanjo’s achievements? When Obasanjo was handing over, Nigeria was debt free. Go and see the monumental debts they have piled up for Nigeria again. They have practically destroyed everything that worked under Obasanjo. Thank God Goodluck Jonathan has come to clear the mess they piled up. That is what Isa Yuguda should be talking about, and about his challenge to keep Bauchi State free of religious extremists. But he appears more pre-occupied with kicking Obasanjo because he imagines it is fashionable to do so. He was a very close friend, so I am really surprised he could blab the way he did. He is one of the few that benefited so much from Obasanjo in terms of the opportunity to serve, which provided the platform for the governorship he enjoys today. And the truth is that had it not been for Obasanjo he would never have been governor of Bauchi state today but that is a story for another day.
Back to you. You were in the news recently, and for the wrong reasons. There was this story that you posted nude pictures of your daughters on your Facebook. What made you do such a thing?
Do you really believe that I could ever do such a thing? As a matter of fact can any sane person do such a thing? Does that assertion make any sense to you? I have exactly the same pictures in my official as I have in my Facebook photo gallery and they have all been there for almost a year now and no-one has ever complained of seeing any nude pictures in my photo gallery out of the almost 5000 friends that I have on Facebook or out of the large number of people that regularly visit my website. And of course if they had made such a complaint I would have asked them to produce the pictures. I have been in politics since 1989 and I have seen all sorts of things and been accused of all sorts of things but I must say that this one really does take the cherry on the cake. The question is where are the nude pictures? They should produce them for the world to see. I have five beautiful daughters who will one day get married. They are not only beautiful but they are also well-educated, well-bred, well-mannered and well-brought up. They are gifted, creative, talented, wonderful and disciplined girls and each and every one of them has a bright and great future. The first finished her first degree at Durham University a couple of years ago and is now doing a law course in London. The second is in her final year at London University, the third is about to finish at her school and begin University and the two youngest ones are at very good private schools. I am very proud of them all, I have always cared for them and given them the best and, as much as possible, shielded them from public glare because I, and not them, elected to go into politics. If you say you want to persecute and fabricate lies about Femi Fani Kayode or whatever, go ahead and do it, but please leave my children out of it. Even in war, the rules of engagement and international convention and practice is that women and children are to be exempted from the hostilities and are not to be touched or harmed. But these, for many, are desperate times. They therefore have no qualms about adopting desperate measures. If not, why would they fabricate such wicked lies in order to embarrass those they don’t like? The pictures that I have there are family pictures from a family album of over 200 shots and the one that they were referring to was the one with my daughter in fancy dress. Another was at their friend’s party, and yet the other was the picture of another of my daughters, who is a final year university student and who has an official portfolio of modeling shots from where she took one of the pictures and gave it to me. And the pictures in question are the ordinary run of the mill pictures that most children take these days. If anyone then chooses to say that these are nude shots then I leave them to their filthy consciences, their depraved and reprobate minds and to God. It is their children that will appear nude and strip naked before the world and not mine. The other picture which they posted was of Folake, my eldest daughter, when she was five years old sucking her thumb and sitting in the sitting room without a shirt on. That picture was taken by her mother 18 years ago. Folake is now 23 years old. When we challenged them to produce the nude pictures they showed a clean pair of heels. The person who ‘authored’ the piece does not exist. I know those behind it. One of them used to be close to me, but she is so full of hatred and bile now. I also know what they plan to do next, in the local papers and in the internet. Even in that, I am very grateful for the response of Saharareporters, even though it was an opinion they merely ran and not a story. They promptly published our rejoinder, which impressed me immensely and by which they earned my respect. Pointblanknews followed suit. Huhuonline, Modernghana, Nairaland, Nigerian Voice, the Will and a number of other blogs also published our rejoinder. I was really touched by that and I remain eternally grateful to them and to all those on Facebook and in the internet community for their expressions of solidarity and support for me and my family. As for the beautiful young ladies that are my daughters they are taking it all in their stride and they find the whole thing quite amusing. I have promised to write them another poem just to make up for all this.