Date Published: 10/04/09
Soyinka, Umar gave OBJ sleepless nights -Fani Kayode
- I was not Obasanjo's attack dog
- Yar'Adua as OBJ choice divided the presidency
- Abacha wanted to eliminate Yorubas
- OBJ was the Northern choice
- OBJ united Yorubas
Femi Fani-Kayode, Former Minister of Aviation.
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 therefore an uphill task getting Femi to talk. Our joy, therefore, knew no bounds when we got a call from Fani-Kayode’s media assistant, Mr. Bayo Oladeji, that his boss was now disposed to granting us an exclusive interview. It was Femi in his element….
In a few days, Nigeria shall be celebrating her 49th independence anniversary. Incidentally, you were said to have been born 16 days after Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960. How do you feel?
Blessed be the name of the most high God, the God who is I am and the God, whom I serve, blessed be his holy name forever. Well, we give God the glory. I thank him that I am a Nigerian. I thank him for giving me life up till this time. I pray he continues to give me life and health for as long as it pleases him. I’m very thankful for being around to witness yet another birthday of Nigeria, and mine too.
Your website femifanikayode.org claims your father; Chief Remi Fani-Kayode of blessed memory moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence. Records however have it that it was Chief Anthony Enahoro that moved that historic motion. Now, what is the correct position? Who actually did what?
Well, the truth is that, my father was one of those who moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence. A lot of people don’t know the truth behind the events that preceded Nigeria’s independence because they have simply failed to check the Hansard of our parliament in the 1950s, which is the official record of all proceedings in parliament. I shall tell you how events unfolded and, of course, it is left for you to go and cross-check. Chief Anthony Enahoro is one of the greatest politicians that this country has ever known. He undoubtedly opened the door for
the beginning of the process for Nigeria’s independence. Nobody can take anything from him on that score. He played an extremely important role, no doubt. But his was only a first step in a series of steps before we got our independence. In 1953, Chief Enahoro moved a motion that Nigeria should be granted independence in 1956. But the Northern (NPC) parliamentarians opposed the motion and killed it. The killing of the motion by the Northern lawmakers led to the walk-out of parliament by members of the Action Group and NCNC which were both parties that were made up of southerners. The Action Group and NCNC members in parliament felt that the North had betrayed the Nigerian cause by not supporting Enahoro’s motion for independence. The British, who were then our colonial masters, also rejected the motion, thereby sealing its fate. So the motion by Chief Enahoro failed, having been rejected by the North and by the British. But it started a process. As a consequence of the walk-out, as the Northern MPs came out of the Parliament they were abused and insulted and were pelted by enraged Southerners up till the time their train got to Ilorin. This was the first major political crisis that Nigeria witnessed. One of the key Northerners who complained about the stones being hurled at them at the time was the father of the current President, Umaru Yar’ Adua, whose name was Alhaji Musa Yar’ Adua who was minister of Lagos Affairs at that time. In 1957, Chief SL Akintola moved another motion that Nigeria be granted independence in 1959. This time around, the House unanimously
accepted the motion. The only problem was that, the British rejected it. And so it died. The next stage was that in 1958, my father, Chief R.A. Fani-Kayode moved the third motion for Nigeria’s independence. His motion stated that Nigeria should be granted independence on April 2, 1960. It sailed through Parliament and was accepted and it was supported by the British. However in 1959, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa moved to amend the motion by my father that, instead of granting Nigeria independence on April 1, 1960, that the date should be shifted to October 1instead. This amendment, which was seconded by Chief Raymond Njoku, was accepted by the House and the British acquiesced to it. So looking at the process of Nigeria’s independence, there were actually four steps and a number of people must be commended for that. Chief Enahoro kick-started the process, Chief Akintola and my father continued it, and it was completed by Sir Tafawa Balewa. A number of people from virtually all the geo-political zones were involved in this process and it is good for Nigerians to be aware of this. All of this is recorded in Hansard, which I saw in the Colonial office in Britain. They should have it in the National Assembly library as well. It is very interesting to read all the documentation and see exactly what everybody said, what they contributed, how they said it and what the arguments were. There is also an American writer, called Richard L. Sklar, whose book is the leading authority on the politics of Nigeria in the 1950s and 60s. The title of the book is “Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an
Emergent African Nation” and it is a must read for anyone that is interested in Nigerian politics of the 1950s and 1960s.
What was it like growing up as the son of Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode , the great Fani Power and the powerful Deputy Premier of the Western Region?
It was an extraordinary and wonderful experience growing up as the son of my father because he cared very much for his family in a very sort of traditional and very regimented and disciplined way. And he expected us to meet the standards set by those who came before us in my family. You were expected to do well in whatever you did. But it also had its’ problems and challenges, for example, it is not everybody that would ever wish to wake up in the middle of the night to see his father being forcefully taken away by soldiers. I had to go through that at the age of six.
You were about six years old when the military struck in what passed as the first coup d’état in Nigeria. Do you have any memories of that fateful night of January 15, 1966?
On that fateful night of January the 15 th, 1966, every single politician and officer that was taken by the coupists, apart from my dad, was tragically and sadly murdered. Sirs Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa, Chiefs S.L. Akintola, Festus
Okotie Eboh-were all killed. Brigadier S.A Ademulegun, his wife (who was eight months pregnant), Brigadier Maimalari and many other officers and politicians were also killed. But that night, due to the hand of God, my father, instead of being killed at home before our very eyes, was taken to an army barracks in Lagos which had not been captured by the coupists. I believe that it was Bonny Camp. He was part of a very fierce gun battle between the coupists and the federal troops in that barracks. He was in the middle of the room in which the bitter exchange of gun fire took place. He was tied up and he was sitting in the middle of the room and any of those thousands of bullets flying around him could have killed him. But God spared his life and I thank him for that. That experience in itself was very traumatic and it was a defining moment for me. It had a profound effect on me in terms of my attitude to protecting my family, protecting myself, and the need to stay strong, focused and battle ready when faced with danger no matter the circumstance. It taught me that God is all powerful and will be there to see you through no matter what. I’ve had many, many challenges since then. Many whilst I was at school and after I left school. Many when I came back to Nigeria. Many before I went into government, many whilst I was in government and many since I left government, but I’ve consistently seen the hand of God in my life and in that of my family. God always sees us through and we always rise up, not because we are special, but because of God’s infinite mercy and grace upon our lives .
Are there any specific events you would say helped shape your life?
Quite a number of them. That night of January 15, 1966, even though I was very young, had a profound effect on me. You see, one of the soldiers that came to take my father away walked up to me. At the time, my father had been forced into a waiting Army lorry. My mother was screaming, and the whole place was in chaos. But one of the soldiers walked up to me, put his hand on my head and said, ‘Stop crying. We won’t kill your father.’ The moment he said that, I stopped crying and I found myself walking up to my mother and telling her, to stop crying as well, that my father would be alright and that they would not kill him. They then sped off with my dad and the whole family was on the balcony, wailing, I was the only person who found the voice to say, “No! Stop crying. He is going to come back”. And of course he did. From that day, whenever I’m passing through any difficulty and I feel I’ve heard a word from God, directly or through somebody, I don’t look back. I attributed the words of that soldier to the word of a higher power going through that man. Of course, it was miraculous because that prophecy or whatever you like to call it, was honoured. They were supposed to take my father to an army barracks in Abeokuta but, miraculously, they couldn’t find their way. They now decided to take him to Bonny Camp in Lagos, which happened to be still within the control of the loyalist federal forces. And that was how he was delivered by
them. Okay, look at the gun battle, with all the bullets flying around. All the others (politicians) were killed in their homes. Why didn’t they kill my father right before us? He went out to meet them in a very courageous way. He didn’t fight them because he told us that if he started shooting from inside the house they may come in and kill us all. He said that it is him that they wanted and not us, so he went out to meet them. It is just providence. It increased my faith in the ability of God to do anything. Secondly, as a consequence of the attempted coup and all the troubles that followed it, we had to go to England, on exile. So that meant that meant that from about the age of seven I was at school in English boarding Schools. This was a very difficult experience for me and it made me different in terms of my thinking to most Nigerians. I was in an English public school at a very tender age. To survive at a boarding school in those days, you had to be extremely tough. I played rugby, I played polo, I boxed and I was a karate expert by the age of 18 because I had to learn to defend myself at a very early age. I was into very physical sports-boxing and all you can think of. I even used to box for my school when I was at Harrow. My whole mind was self-defense, self-defense, because I just found myself in a world where I was surrounded by hostilities and enemies. I was from a foreign land, and in an elite set of private schools and people were looking down on me because I was black and a Nigerian. In those days very few black people went into such schools in the UK and of the few that did, many did not survive it. I
grew up through that very difficult English school system, which was particularly difficult if you were not a white, upper-class person. If you were a black upper-class person, as I was, it could also be very traumatic-the bullying, the insults, the fagging system which they had then. This was all done in the name of tradition. All said, I got the very best of education. Then of course, I went through the British university system, first to London University, and then I ended up in Cambridge and then back to Nigeria.
Talking about Cambridge, are you the second or third generation Fani-Kayode to attend that university?
I am a third generation Cambridge man. My great-grand father was at Durham University. My grand-father was at Cambridge where he studied law. My father was also at Cambridge where he studied law too. I also attended Cambridge and I also studied law. My oldest daughter, Folake, has just finished her first degree at Durham University, and she may be going to Cambridge, too, though she wants to spend a year doing something else before going there.
PBN: Are you seeking to set a world record in the number of generations of Fani-Kayodes that attended Cambridge University and studied Law?
(Laughter) Well, you know these days, it is difficult to tell a child what to do and what to study. Even when I was directed to go to Cambridge, I refused, preferring London University , where people had more fun and were less stuck in their books. By the time I finished my first degree, I said, ‘let me go and satisfy this man (my father) and family tradition.’ I loved it, and I suppose that Folake is following in her father’s footsteps in that regard.
Given that your father was among the major players in pre and post-independence Nigeria, was there any time he shared what could be regarded as the Nigeria of their dreams with you?
My father believed that Nigeria would become a modern industrialized democracy, where all tribes and religions were treated equally, where people would have freedom of speech, and where the rule of law would prevail. He believed that that would happen in Nigeria one day.
Did his political views change?
They most certainly did. Up until the 1993presidential elections my father was a conservative politician but the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election which Chief Moshood Abiola won shattered all that. The annulment changed his political views, and expectedly, that of many south western Nigerians who initially
belonged to the conservative block. Since that annulment, it has been really difficult for Nigeria. We can only hope and pray that things get back to what the founding fathers had in mind for our country. We hope for the best and we believe God for the best.
When did you return to Nigeria after finishing university in the UK?
I returned to Nigeria in 1984 for the Nigerian Law School programme and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985.
When did you go into politics?
I went into politics in 1987 with the formation of the September Club under the leadership of the late Dr. Hameed Kusamotu and Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi. In 1987, I became the National Youth Leader of the NNC, a political association of conservative minds led by the likes of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, Chief S.B. Awoniyi and Alhaji Adamu Ciroma and a few others. That metamorphosed into the National Republican Convention ( NRC). This was where I cut my political teeth. In 1990, I worked briefly as spokesman to Chief Tom Ikimi, the first and newly elected National Chairman of the NRC. A few months after that, I returned to the man that brought me into politics, Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, the leading presidential aspirant of the party and worked as his special
assistant from 1990 till 1992. Unfortunately, General Ibrahim Babangida banned him and many other so-called old breed politicians, including General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, (the present President‘s older brother) from holding public office and that put an end to our aspirations at that time. That was my first incursion into Nigerian politics.
Let’s talk about you and former President Olusegun Obasanjo. At some point, you happened to be a most grating critic of the man and his administration. But you ended up becoming one of his closest aides. Can you share with us what caused such a transmutation?
This is a question that I am often asked so please sit back, fasten your seat belt and let me explain it to you carefully. I have always believed in Nigeria. I have always loved and spoken up for Nigeria. Both at the war front during the civil war and in politics many of my extended family members and my father’s loyalists have sacrificed their lives for Nigeria. My family has been known to have worked for and believed in one united Nigeria for the last three generations. But June 12, 1993 raised question marks for us. The message June 12 appeared to send was that, hey! Somebody from the southern part of Nigeria cannot be President. After that, (Late General Sani) Abacha came in . He was killing people, destroying people from our part of the country (Southwest), locking them up and sending them into exile.
Yorubas were targeted in those days. At that point, I came to the conclusion that there was no point believing in Nigeria anymore. I believed that, as long as Abacha was in power, there was no place for the Yoruba in Nigeria. I believed that Nigeria should break up. We felt the need to save our people from extinction. They had already castrated us politically. Now, they were eliminating us. We needed to break up. Abacha would have served our purpose because with him, it would have been pretty easy to break up Nigeria. Then Abacha was killed. So was Abiola. After both men were killed, some very smart guys now came up with the idea that, ‘Hey! A Yoruba man should become the next President to appease the Yoruba.’ They settled for Obasanjo regardless of the fact that this man was clearly not the choice of the Yoruba. He was the choice of the North. So, we all opposed the choice of Obasanjo. Apart from a handful, every Yoruba man opposed Obasanjo up till the time he was elected in 1999. Most of us joined the AD with so much reluctance because, at the time, we didn’t even want to participate in the political transition. It was (Late) Chief Bola Ige that insisted that we participate. Even I was in exile at the time. When Obasanjo defeated our choice, Chief Olu Falae, the same Chief Bola Ige, our leader whom we looked up to, called us to come back and join Obasanjo’s government. Of course, he had joined Obasanjo as a minister even though he had opposed Obasanjo in the Presidential election and he was the founder of the opposition AD party. Chief Bola Ige, Akin Oshuntokun, Segun
Awolowo and a few others asked me to come back to Nigeria to join a political association called the Progressive Action Movement in 2000. I heeded their call and returned in 2001. I eventually met Obasanjo. He asked me why I stopped believing in Nigeria, and why I had been attacking him so virulently. He took time to explain to me that Abacha may have killed and jailed several Yoruba people, but that the country had not been any safer for people from other parts of the country. He listed General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Pa Alfred Rewane, Bagulda Khalto and a host of others to buttress his argument. He felt I was wrong in my assessment of the country, and of him. He explained that he was not a puppet of the North or of Western donor agencies, and that he meant the best for Nigeria. I was touched by the fact that he was ready to apportion so much time to explain all this to me. I was moved by the fact that, in the face of attempts by some powerful forces to frustrate him, he was committed to the Nigerian cause. He managed to rekindle the love that I once had for Nigeria in me. He re - awoke the Nigerian spirit in me, gave me hope in our country again and told me that a new Nigeria where all tribes and religions were regarded as equal was now being re-established and built by him. He told me that there would be no more master and servant or horse and horse rider as long as he was in power. He told me that my thoughts for Nigeria were not the same as my father’s who had spent so much time and energy uniting Nigeria and building bridges amongst Nigerians. He advised
me not to allow the failures of the Abacha government change my perceptions and dreams for our great country. It was at that point that I started falling in love with Nigeria again. Obasanjo made me realize the potentials in Nigeria if we were united. That it was possible to be one, no matter where you were from, whether you were Moslem or Christian, or from the North or South. That was where the process began. I realized that I made a mistake. Not just that. The South-west began to change its attitude to Obasanjo himself and the rest of Nigeria as a consequence of what he was doing. If you remember at the time, a lot of people began to move from AD to PDP and so, the South-west began integrating themselves into national politics. Obasanjo and Bola Ige actually brought the South-west back from the brink of secession and re-integrated them into the mainstream politics of Nigeria. And I think it was a very important role that Obasanjo played. Eventually I got close to him. There were elections in 2003, I participated in his campaign team, and he won and invited me to join in his government. But the objective, from the beginning, wasn’t to serve in his government. A series of events led to that, but I believe it was all by divine orchestration. It remains a privilege and honor for me to be close to such a great man, to have worked for him and to have served in his government.
They say that Obasanjo is a difficult man to work for. Did he give you a hard time and did you ever regret working for him?
Not at all because he was very protective of me. I made so many mistakes when I first started, particularly when I began as a minister. You learn on the ropes. He was very gracious to me. He gave me a very long rope when I was SA (Special Assistant). I reported directly to him, which upset quite a lot of people. I ran an autonomous office and a very strong team which was very effective. President Obasanjo supported and backed me all the way and this was a rare privilege.
Some people accused you of having been his attack dog…
I reject such an insulting label. I was not an attack dog and can never be anyone’s dog whether it is for attack or for defence. Rather I was what you what you could describe as the President’s armour bearer. You see, attack dogs don’t rationalize, they don’t strategize and ultimately they don’t think whereas armour bearers do. We were very good at what we were doing when we were at Public Affairs and I had a very good and loyal team working under me. I had a very good team and that was the secret. It was very clear from the outset that it was our job to tell the world about President Obasanjo and to disabuse their minds about the wrong impressions that many had of him. And there was plenty of virulent propaganda coming from people within and outside of the PDP against him. Some was even being sponsored
by people from within his own government. We had to stave them off and fight them to a standstill on every front. Obasanjo was very supportive. My interaction with him was and is still at a very personal level and this helped us immensely.
Given all you claim you did to stave off attacks on your principal, then President Obasanjo, many still run away with the impression that he had a very battered image. Do you think public perception about him could have been worse or better?
You may claim that in your own mind, he may have a battered image now but when he was in power he did not have a battered image. If people choose to think in a particular way, it is entirely their prerogative and there is little anybody can do about that. For example, this is somebody in my view that achieved so much for Nigeria in terms of unifying the country, pulling Nigeria back from the brink, winning debt cancellation, consolidating the banks, precipitating the telecommunications revolution, creating a booming stock market, fighting inflation, building up our foreign reserves, strengthening the Naira, rebuilding our economy, restoring our voice and respect in the International community, enhancing the fight against graft, and so many other things. I can spend the whole day talking about the achievements of the Obasanjo administration. When you compare what he met on the ground when he became the President in 1999 and what he left on the ground when he left power in 2007 it is truly remarkable. But in
Nigeria nobody likes to align with or say anything good about a man that is no longer in power or is no longer in office. In fact the norm here is to try to denigrate and destroy such people. Most people have very short memories. And if people choose to forget about all these good things and elect to dwell on the mistakes, or fabricate lies, there is nothing you can do. You can only leave it to posterity and history. Truth will always emerge, no matter how long it takes. Obasanjo had his time. He did his very best and he is gone now. I think it is more important to dwell on what is happening now or what happens tomorrow instead of being fixated on what he did or did not do wrong in the past. I was part of that administration and I am very proud of him. I think it is part of a political career which for me started in 1989 and which will continue into the future. For me, Obasanjo is a great Nigerian who created legacies which should be built upon.
Who, in your opinion, were the most formidable critics of former President Obasanjo, who also happened to be the most difficult to take on?
The most dangerous ones were the covert ones, but of those who were overt were undoubtedly Professor Wole Soyinka and Col. Abubakar Umar.
In what ways were they the most dangerous?
Because in my view they had immense credibility, tremendous goodwill. They were the few that were sincere in their criticisms and were both extremely tough. No matter what, they will not bend or compromise. You hit them with what you think was your best shot, and they just come straight back at you with a counter punch. They are both excellent warriors and I admire that. We may have disagreed vehemently, but they both always had my respect. It is just my opinion but I believe they gave us the hardest time of all. And you see, when they speak, they are not alone. They represent a whole power bloc and they cannot be taken lightly. Any government that is worth its salt should do their utmost to either bring them in or cultivate their support because either of them is single-handedly capable of pulling down a government with their criticisms. I have tremendous respect for them.
You talk of respect for them, but that didn’t deter you from being hard on them at the time?
I was just doing my job and you know the funny thing is that I am very close to them both and how much affection I have always had for them. Dangiwa Umar was my polo captain for many years at the Lagos Polo Club, and we were together in the Progressive Action Movement. On his part, Prof. Soyinka was our leader in NADECO, and he remains my leader. We used to have meetings at Dr. Yemi
Ogunbiyi’s house with him shortly after my return from Ghana and before I went into government. Even after joining government we consulted him for advice on a number of occasions.
But you still were hard on them at the time you were in government…
But they too were not soft on us. They gave me sleepless nights (laughter). You know we were fighting then because they disliked Obasanjo intensely and as they say, all is fair in love and war. I regret the fact that we went so far when the missiles started flying, but believe me, when I say we got as good as we gave when it came to those two distinguished individuals.
When mention is made of OBJ boys, your name, Nuhu Ribadu and el-Rufai’s come to mind. Interestingly, the three of you are today enmeshed in one crisis or another with the Nigerian state…
When you say, ‘enmeshed in one crisis or another,’ I see it in a different light. I see it as an opportunity to throw light on the issues and clarify them and set the records straight. I see it as an opportunity to prove to Nigerians and the world that, even though you were in government, you did nothing wrong, and that is why I will never run away from such matters. That is why I have elected to stay behind and clear my name. Like you said, it is an interesting coincidence that the so-called
OBJ boys or girls are facing one problem or the other with the Nigerian State which they served to the best of their abilities. Why this is so, I cannot say. I will let you work it out. But for me, it is an opportunity to clear my name, and I am happy to be doing so.
While in government, you, Ribadu and el-Rufai played prominent roles in the face-off between Obasanjo and his erstwhile deputy, Atiku Abubakar. It was reported sometime that you visited Atiku to, ostensibly to make up with him. What informed that move? Was it borne out of any sense of regret on your part on what you did or didn’t do in the crisis?
When you talk of regrets, it would not be me that would have to express regrets. If anybody, it should be either President Obasanjo or Vice President Atiku Abubakar who were the protagonists in the crisis that should be doing so. I was appointed by the President to do a job. I was dedicated to that call of duty and discharged it to the best of my ability. Did we do some things that I would look back and say, ‘Oh! We should have done this in a different way, Yes!’ I came on board in 2003. The seeds for that division you talk about were sown between 1999 and 2003 before I got there. And when a seed of conflict is sown, very often people forget what caused it. You are at war, and winning that war is what becomes important. You
are all shooting bullets at each other. It is like, may the best man remain standing and may it not be so for the other. We were in a war situation and I was a prominent player. It is always regrettable to have that kind of conflict. It is so sad because had we not indulged in that conflict, there wouldn’t have been this kind of discord and division in the party, and maybe things would have been different today. Did I regret that I was so hard on Atiku? Yes I did, because he was the Vice President. But, also remember that Atiku’s boys were also very hard on President Obasanjo. We all have to regret that we fought each other. The most beautiful thing, in my view, is that we now have the courage to say that what we all did to each other was wrong. Yes, I went to see Vice President Atiku Abubakar. I felt it was very important I did that. For me it was a spiritual issue: make your peace, move on and leave the rest to God. And when I went I felt that a great burden had been lifted off my shoulder. I believe he was happy that I came and he was very gracious to me. And I’m sure President Obasanjo was happy when Atiku came to visit him. All that is behind us. Of course, we all made mistakes and said things we shouldn’t have said. There were forces on both sides of the divide that were not only fueling the conflict, but were also benefiting from it. Atiku is a wonderful man and I wish him well in all his endeavors.
From all you have said, it would seem the crisis cost Atiku the Presidency?
There is no doubt about that. Had there not been a crisis, Atiku would likely have been the President today. But I also see the hand of God in everything that happened at that time. Only God knows tomorrow for any of us. But, I believe that sad sequence of events cost Atiku the Presidency.
When Yar’Adua took over, there were great expectations that some of you, key Obasanjo appointees, would make the list of the new government. Instead, you are being harassed…
I said to you earlier that I don’t believe that anything can happen in the life of any individual, for good or for bad, without God allowing it. If God wanted me to be a minister or anything else in government today I would be. If he has other plans for me in the private sector or elsewhere that is where I will be. I have served my country from 2003 to 2007 diligently, courageously and selflessly and that is more than enough for a life time as far as I am concerned. So why would I complain if I don’t make somebody else’s cabinet? In the life of any man and in the destiny of any nation, it is God’s counsel alone that stands. In everything that happens to anybody or any nation whether good or bad he has his purpose. So I have no regret and I thank God for everything, for what I did yesterday, for what am doing today and for what I will do tomorrow.
PBN: Is it true that this government is just persecuting you and the other OBJ boys simply because you are close to him and they want to spite him?
Please read my poem titled “Are You Being Persecuted” on femifanikayode.org. I think it answers your question. But the truth is that I would not look at who is behind or not behind this problem. Honestly, I do not know and do not bother myself with finding out who is behind or not behind it. I don’t like speculating over such things. You can’t even kill or persecute a person unless God allows it. If tomorrow I am killed, or anything happens to me, it is because God has allowed it. And do I fear death? Certainly not! Again please read my poem titled “If I Should Die” and it is one of my favorites not even death or persecution or tribulation can separate us from the love of the Lord, so why worry? Why fear? I am a Christian and that is what my Bible tells me. In any case what more do I want in this life? I praise God in all things and in all seasons both good and bad. I have led a good life for 49 years. You know I have been dead before and I have risen again. If you pull out a gun and put it to my head today, I would just say, “Lord Jesus, I praise your name and I am coming to you right now. Please take care of my beloved ones”. And I will go to him in glory and style. Other than that I don’t care. I have no bitterness in me against anyone. I see all that is happening to me as nothing but the usual trials and tribulations of any prominent politician who has a great destiny. In
1966 my father was locked up for six months and probed after the first coup in Nigeria when Ironsi was in power, so what is the big deal? Did he not survive it? I assure you that I will survive and this too shall pass. My pre-occupation for now is to clear my name. And that I would do, no matter how long it takes.
Some have wondered aloud as to why with all your years of sojourn in the UK, you didn’t flee Nigeria and possibly avert all that you are currently passing through. Did such thought ever cross your mind?
It never crossed my mind for one moment though many suggested it. I have three friends in the current British cabinet who were at school with me. I have about 15 friends who are British MPs, and virtually every single one of them said, you are eligible for British citizenship. So why not just come over and we would protect you. But I resolved many years ago not to go to exile again. I have done it twice before and I resolved not to do it again especially when people just seek to drag your name in the mud for nothing and when you know that you have done nothing wrong. I am the fourth generation Fani-Kayode who is educated. My great-grandfather was an Anglican priest who took Christianity to Ile-Ife. I revere this great legacy because it is something that money cannot buy and I have tremendous respect for my ancestors, particularly Rev.Adedapo Kayode, my great grandfather who was a preacher and the greatest of all the Kayodes. What do I tell him when I
am called home? So what do I tell my children? That I ran away? What do I tell God? That I have lost my faith? Fani-Kayodes don’t run. We stand and we fight. I don’t care how long it is going to take me to clear my name. I was in Abuja for many months waiting for these people to come and arrest me. Everyday I thought they would come but they didn’t. Eventually we were told that they would come and they came and now we are in court.
How far has your trial gone?
I do not want to say anything about the case here out of respect for the court. But what I can say which is a matter of public record is that they (EFCC) are appealing an order granted in the Federal High Court. I believe that by the grace of God I shall be vindicated. I wish to use this medium to reiterate my innocence. The constitution says that I am innocent until proven guilty and I believe strongly in the Nigerian judiciary and that justice will be done in this matter.
Why is it that you have not said much since you left office?
I am naturally a very private person. Before I went into government, I used to write a lot of articles, play polo, socialize with my friends and I hardly ever stepped out of that small circle of friends. Nigerians became used to hearing from me from 2003 when I joined the Obasanjo administration because of the nature of my job. I
was very visible and in the Newspapers and on the television almost every other day for a period of four years and after a while you get tired of that. So from the day we left government in May 2007, I purposed to go back to my family and stay away from public glare and the media and I have stuck to that. Since I left office, this is the first major interview that I am granting any media organization. You can testify to the fact that we have been scheduling and rescheduling this interview for the last one year and it has not been easy to get it. The last two and a half years have been a period of silence, sober reflection, introspection and regeneration for me. And I thank God for that.
Shortly after you left office, the media was awash with stories of how you stormed Abuja airport to free a certain Chioma Anasoh from airport security men. The lady was reportedly nabbed with over $250,000 US dollars.
This is not true. I did not go to the airport to save anyone and neither was the young lady whose name you mentioned and who was a senior member of my staff ever caught at the airport with $250,000. That much I can tell you. If you have any other questions about that incident you can please put them to her.
Is it the same Chioma Anasoh we did several stories on that had problems with you?
What problems were those?
That reportedly gave the EFCC tips about how to implicate you?
Implicate me in what? I assure you that nobody can implicate me in anything no matter how hard they try because I have done nothing wrong. In any case she has denied that, at least to me, so what more do I want? I leave such matters to God.
Your friend Nasir el-Rufai recently disclosed about how Obasanjo’s kitchen cabinet held several meetings that led to the emergence of Yar’ Adua as the President. Is it true that Obasanjo wanted Yar’ Adua as his successor?
There is no doubt that President Obasanjo took a position that Umaru Yar’Adua was to succeed him. We were called into a room and told that.
Who called you into the room?
President Obasanjo himself. There were about 10-15 of us- Nuhu Ribadu, Nasir el-Rufai, Uba Sani, Akin Osuntokun, Lawal Batagarawa, Frank Nweke, Ojo Maduekwe, myself and a few other people with whom he regularly met to analyse the way government was going.
Were there any other groups that he disclosed this to apart from yours?
Now, there were two powerful groups that had influence in the Villa. There was what I would call the intellectual group, which I just mentioned, and then there was another group led by Andy Uba. There were always tensions between the two groups because we always had diametrically opposing inclinations and views to most issues. It was in one of the meetings with our group that the President told us that Yar’Adua was his choice and that we should support him.
How did members of your group react?
Well, it wasn’t a command and obey issue. I remember vividly what everybody said on that day, only I don’t think it is fair for me to go into all that. Let me just put it this way. There was a division of opinion that day after the President had disclosed his choice of successor. There were some people that knew President Yar’Adua who had a view. Some of us didn’t know him and so we didn’t have any view.
Is it true that Nasir el-Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu and Lawal Batagarawa opposed the choice of Yar’ Adua vehemently at that meeting?
I will never be the one to tell you who said what and neither do I think it is fair for you to ask me that question.
Your father was the Deputy Premier of the old Western Region in the early 60’s. There are reports in the media that you are interested in running for the governorship of your state, Osun in 2011. How true is this?
I have stated my intention to do so publicly, subject to the will of God and subject to the blessing and support of my party elders, leaders and members. These are still very early days and a lot of consultations are still going on concerning this matter so let us wait and see how it unfolds. The Ooni of Ife, President Olusegun Obasanjo, Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the party leadership at all levels, the Presidency, the traditional rulers in the state and of course the good people of Osun state all have a role to play in deciding this issue so let us wait and see. Ultimately God’s counsel will stand and whoever he decides will emerge as the next governor of Osun state will emerge as governor.
The rumour is that it will be a very big struggle between you and your former friend, Senator Iyiola Omisore for the nomination of the PDP. You are both rumoured to be hot headed, tough and you are both meant to have many hard-line and dangerous followers and massive war chests. Don’t you fear that the whole thing may get messy and violent and ultimately get out of hand resulting in the loss of lives?
Hot headed and violent? Hard-line and dangerous followers? Not me. The days of violent and evil men in the politics of Nigeria are long gone. We are insisting on a change and now we are playing the politics of intellect, vision and ideas. At least that is what I believe in, not violence, bloodshed and standing armies. I abhor bloodshed and I am a Christian. You now describe Iyiola as my former friend? Look, as far as I am concerned he and I are still friends till today as far as I am aware and I certainly wish him well. So please don’t try to put a wedge between us. Now specifically to the issues you raised: firstly there are many other people that are interested in that race and not just Iyiola Omisore and I. for example, Alhaji Fatai Akinbade , the Secretary to the Osun State Government launched his campaign just a few days ago and many others from within and outside Ile-Ife will still come out. So these are still very early days. You cannot call it a two horse race today and neither do I think it will ever turn out to be one.
We hear that you are now very active in the internet community and that you are on Face book. How do you find it?
I think that it is wonderful. I have learnt so much from it and I have made so many new friends, both young and old. I have around 4000 wonderful face book friends now which is remarkable because I only joined about five months ago. I believe that the future belongs to all those young people on the net and on face book and I
think every politician should get on face book or any other social network and not be scared of explaining themselves and answering hard questions. And please feel free to join my list of friends on face book. I would love to have you on board. The only thing is that we don’t just talk politics there: we talk about everything under the Sun and that is what makes it fun.
We also noticed that you have been writing a lot of poems lately, what informed that?
Poetry is my passion. I simply love it. For me it is the most refined and sophisticated form of prose. It is in fact an art form and can be very passionate, expressive, inspiring and moving. It is also an eternal work which means it can be applied in all seasons. I have been reading poems since I was very young and I know all the great ones: even some off by heart. I have been writing poems for the last 10 years but it is only in the last two years that I have been releasing them slowly to the public, through my website and in some Nigerian magazines and newspapers. The response has been encouraging and I simply love writing them.
Which of them would you regard as your favorites?
There are so many and I love each and every one of them. Each one has its own story and they are mostly very inspiring. Some are about war, some love, some
death, some women, etc, etc. I suppose that among my favorites are “Daughter of Zion”, “The Warrior”, “The Power of a Woman”, “The Calling of Our Lives”, “If I should Die”, “Why Do You Love God?” Remembering Macdreamie”, “Rejecting The Baphomite” and so many others. If you go to my website, www.femifanikayode.org and go to the poetry page you will find so many there. I hope you will enjoy them.