•Set To Celebrate His 80th Birthday
Senator Femi Okurounmu is one of the most principled politicians in Nigeria today. He has been around for years. And he is one of the unrepentant Awoists. He will be 80 in August but he does not look it. He is still very smart and articulate. He does not use glasses and his power of recall is superb. He is still agile and uses no walking stick. Over the last few years, he has been working on his autobiography which promises to be explosive and revealing. That is to be expected. Senator Okurounmu is an insider who has been seen it all, politically. He was a Senator representing Ogun Central at the Senate from 29th May, 1999 to 29th May, 2003. He was succeeded by Gov. Ibikunle Amosun, who came in as a Senator, then, to representing the same zone.
Papa Femi Okurounmu was elected Senator for the Ogun Central constituency of Ogun State, Nigeria at the start of the 4th Republic, running on the Alliance for Democracy (AD) platform. He held office from 29 May 1999 to 29 May 2003. He was earlier Commissioner for Works in Ogun State. After taking his seat in the Senate in 1999, Okurounmu was appointed to key committees like Commerce and Economic Affairs. He ran for reelection in 2003, but was defeated by Gov. Ibikunle Amosun who was then in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)
Okurounmu was appointed Secretary General of the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere. In January 2005 he was Chairman of the Logistics Committee for a conference including Leaders of both the Afenifere and the Yoruba Council of Elders, who had been in dispute since 1999. During a February 2006 public hearing on amendments to the Constitution which would allow President Olusegun Obasanjo to run for a 3rd term, Okurounmu presented the position of the Afenifere faction led by Chief Rueben Fasoranti, stating that the country should still maintain 2-terms of 4 years.
He dissociated the Yoruba from Obasanjo’s 3rd term agenda, saying it was the work of the President and the PDP. In July 2008 Okurounmu blamed the unrest in the southwest on the politics of self-aggrandizement and selfishness, where politicians seek power only to serve themselves. In January 2009 he said that Afenifere membership was open to all, regardless of political party affiliation, as long as they believe in the Afenifere and Awoist credo.
Last week, he attended the 50th birthday of Gani Fawehinmi’s son, Mohammed in Lagos. Itwas at the event that City People Publisher SEYE KEHINDE spoke to him about the political situation in the country. Below are excerpts.
The family of late Chief Gani Fawehinmi describes you as one of the most consistent friends and associates of their late dad. Why did you decide to continue to standby his family?
The best glue for friendship is common interest. When you have common interest with somebody, that is something natural to cement your friendship with. All artificial things will disappear. Everything is just natural. Myself and Gani Fawehinmi had interest in fighting for the common man, for the benefit of the common man. We were both disciples of Chief Awolowo.
We once formed what we called A Free Education Association under which auspices Gani was giving scholarships, and stipends. I also initiated another one like his. I was giving scholarships to people from Abeokuta area. We had this common interest in Education, which we both shared with Chief Awolowo. In fact, we were very close to Chief Awolowo. Gani had interest in the affairs of the common man. He had interest in fighting for the oppressed, the person who has no voice. He gave the voiceless people a voice in society. He was the Defender of the defenceless in society. These are the things that drew us closer.
We also had an organisation which we called the Black Renaissance Movement in the early 70s. It was devoted to trying to rediscover the dignity and the pride of the common man to bring of the black man as a whole all over the world. We found out that the black man was the oppressed man.
We started to sensitise our people to brace up and to start to explore our natural talent and develop our human and natural resources and to develop our country to the point where others will begin to respect us.
We saw Nigeria as a typical example. We felt if you can develop Nigeria it will have a great effect on other black societies around the world. So that Nigeria can be a model society that will show the world what the black man is capable of archieving.
At that time, we sensitised the Nigerian government on the need to join in the struggle to fight against Apartheid and to fight for the liberation of Africans still under colonial rule. Gani and I had interest in all these.
Whenever your name is mentioned anywhere people single you out because of your consistency, focus, principle and ability to speak truth to power. How does one explain that?
I am a contented man. I don’t run after money. I believe if you are principled, if you are consistent, if you fight for what is right and what is just, and you have your profession, you will always have enough money to live on. And I don’t think a man needs more than enough money to live on. I don’t believe in the accumulation of money.
We have to leave a legacy for people who are still coming after us. And fighting for that legacy is much important than fighting for money.
Did you ever think Nigeria will be at the stage we are today?
Never! I never imagined that Nigeria will be as bad as it is today. But it is easy to see why we are as bad as we are today. It is all due to a succession of bad leadership. A good leader can transform a society overnight. A bad leader can also transform a society into a bad place overnight. I say this because when we were young, if I take the period between 1960 and 1966 (between the time we got our independence and the time of the 1st military coup) Nigeria was on a good trajectory. We were developing almost on the same pace, if not at a faster pace, than countries like Malaysia, Singapore, India. We were all developing. Nigeria was not lacking behind.
It was the coup that ruined our journey. Once the coup took place, and the military took over. We then had a centralised chain of command, centralised administration for the whole country. We abandoned the Federal Constitution, which we have been operating, then, people in various sectors of Nigeria lost the initiative to even develop. We lost the initiative to develop the resources that will help all of us in our various regions. And we were all looking up to the centre, because oil was flowing and the Oil money was coming and it was party time in Abuja and everybody turned its focus on Abuja to get its own share of the Oil money. So we abandoned Cocoa in the Western region, we abandoned all the things that used to fetch us money. They all became secondary. In the same way we lost the initiative to try to develop according to our own priorities. The country now had to move at the same pace. If you want to move faster, and somebody else wanted to move slower, you have to slow down to the level of the slowest-moving person. This is the best way I can put it. Its like we all tied our legs together and we had to rush together and in other not to fall down, we must run at the pace of the slowest amongst us. So, that is what has been happening to Nigeria.
Will restructuring correct this? Will restructuring take care of this?
That is the main purpose of restructuring. The main purpose of restructuring is that it will now allow each sector of the country to develop at its own pace, the way we were doing before 1966.
Before 1966, the Western region felt it wanted to have Free Education. Nobody could stop it. After 1966, Education came under the control of the federal government and they have been trying to slow us down in the West.
But if we restructure every section, I won’t say every region, because we may not go back to the regional set up. But there will still be sections of the country. Every section will have some kind of autonomy to develop at its own pace. That means it will be able to develop its own resources. If it has mineral resources in its area, it will be able to develop them for its own benefit, if it has oil or natural gas, it will be able to develop them for its own benefit. Of course, paying tax to the Federal Government. It will be able to develop its own human power to the level to which it has and according to its own priorities. All these things will be decentralised. The fact that a particular section does not want to move will not slow you down and will not stop you.
This also has to do with corruption, because we have different values in different parts of the country. In some parts of the country the values were against corruption. In some other parts, the value didn’t really worry about corruption. So when we now have a centralised system, the section of the country that used to think corruption was bad, is now forced to go along and swim with those who think corruption should be the way of life. That is how this country got into this whole corruption mess.
In Yorubaland, when Yorubaland was still Yorubaland, before we had this centralised Federal Government, if a person came home with a car, and the father does not know the work he is doing, the father will be the 1st to shout on him, and say don’t spoil my name, where did you get this car from? In fact, he will so shout on him that the son will be embarassed.
And they value the name of the family. Don’t spoil the name of the family. But today, if a person comes with a fleet of cars, they don’t even care whether he has a job or not, the family will go to the church to celebrate. And everybody will celebrate with him and say your son has arrived. That is the state of the transition that we have made. When you have your values and culture that is respected and you mix it with another culture, which is completely contrary to your own.
In a few days, we would have the presidential elections. How do you see the whole process and the postponement that came a few days back?Where do you stand sir? What is your stand on the matter?
If you know where I stood 4 years, I am still there. I am still where I stood 4 years ago. 4 years ago, I was opposed to the election of Buhari and the APC and I gave my reasons.
Can you share with us these reasons?
There were several reasons why I opposed Buhari 4 years ago. And I stand convinced because they are facts. They are not just my opinion. They are facts that if people get rid of sentiments and personal ambition, personal interests they will see what I am saying. These are facts that are recognisable to everybody. One, Buhari has never made a secret of the fact that he is a Jihadist. He made it clear that he was going to pursue Sharia and that he will never relent pursuing Sharia, at any point of his career, that we will ensure that there was Sharia all over the country. These are Buhari’s words. He has never made a secret of that.
Two, Buhari has always been a very sectional leader. In this 1st coming, on December 31, 1983, when Buhari and Idiagbon took over, we saw what they did to the various political leaders. The best performing leaders, the best performing politicians of the time were the UPN leaders who controlled the government of Ogun, Lagos, Oyo, Ondo, Bendel. And then the NPP leaders who were in Imo, Anambra.
These were the leaders he really tortured the most. Many of them went to their untimely graves because of the torture they experienced under Buharis government, not because they were the worst performing governors but because he particularly didn’t like those from the South, he hated the South. He has never made a secret that he hates the South. He has a bias in favour of the North. Those who did not see then, I know the last 4 years has shown clearly where his bias is.
At that time, Governors like Chief Olabisi Onabanjo, Jakande, Bola Ige, Adekunle Ajasin who were the best performing governors of the 2nd Republic, he found reason to put all of them in detention and try to find reason to jail them even when there was no reason.
He took Ajasin to trial twice. Ajasin was discharged twice. He still refused to release him. Ambrose Alli went blind in detection and died. In Lagos, they couldn’t find anything against Jakande but still they held him, they detained him. The Metroline that Jakande was planning for Lagos they cancelled it.
Can you imagine if we have had Metroline in Lagos since around 1980, when that thing would have been functioning? Do you know where Lagos will be today. Today, we are still at the level of bringing in new buses to resolve our transport problems in Lagos.
When I was growing up, we had a better bus transport services in Lagos than we had today. It was no exaggeration. They were privately owned, not run by government. We had a better public transport service by bus at that in Lagos, than the one government is running today.
Now they are talking of railways. Didn’t we have railways even before independence. Before independence, students of Ahmadu Bello University used to go to school by rail from Lagos to Zaria.
There were regular trains that went through Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan. Now, they are making a big issue over resuscitating railway between Lagos and Abeokuta. We have been railways between Lagos and Kano ever before we got independence. We ran this things down.
So, the thrust of my point is that Buhari has always shown that he is anti-South. At that time the NPN governors were the worst. They were the most corrupt. In fact, Awolowo was always warming late Shagari about the fact that the county was being run down and the country was going to collapse. He told Awolowo to shut up.
But the interesting thing was that when Buhari took over, they repeated Awolowo’s words, that the country was being badly managed, but the people they put into jail were Awolowo’s men, whereas the NPN leaders were kept there to enjoy themselves. After some time, they released them. Only very few of them were sent to jail.
At that time, he said they was fighting corruption, yet he left the really corrupt ones untouched. It was the least corrupt ones he was putting in jail for 21, 23 years or 100 years and so on. That shows the bias of Buhari.
Don’t forget that when Buhari & Co had their coup they seized Awolowo’s passport. They went and surrounded his house with soldeirs. Awolowo could not travel. He could not go anywhere. They even went and gave a Press Conference ever before they charged his governors to court. They told all sorts of lies against the governors, which forced Awolowo to have a counter press conference refuting all that has been said because of what Awo said they yes we are going to punished the governors. But Awolowo only said the truth. It was only when Babangida got there that he released Awos passport and Awo was able to travel.
In fact, we can say that in fact what Buhari did to Awolowo contributed to Awolowo’s early death. There is no doubt about that, not to talk about the death of some of the UPN Governors of that era like Bisi Onabanjo and others.
People now have a chance to again choose a government of their choice. 4 years ago, Nigerians were crying for change. Everybody was crying for change for his own reason. I am sure by now people have realised that not everybody crying for change was crying for change for the same reason. Some were crying for change because they truly wanted a change to a better society. They wanted less corruption.
They wanted a better economy. They wanted Nigeria to move faster.
Some, on the other hand, were crying for change because they wanted the government to return to a particular part of the country. They didn’t care to whom, in that section. Everybody was crying change. So, now that we have had 4 years of that change, everybody has had a chance to assess, if they thought they have made a mistake, they can correct their mistake, if they thought they have done the right thing, then they can continue along the same path.