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Femi Fani-Kayode: Critics Shouldn't Misconstrue Mediation for Bias

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One thing I have found most despicable, unprofessional, and irresponsible is ''bad press'' particularly when statements made available to journalists are slanted; worst yet, when such statements are put in the print out of context to ridicule the messenger by way of misinforming the public. With respect to the war of words between General Ibrahim Babangida and President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode only sued for peace/truce between these two national leaders. He never portrayed OBJ as an ingrate; neither did he say OBJ is not a true leader. I took time to read the original press statement which emanated from his press secretary; it is purely devoid of comments that are derogatory, maligning, disparaging or words capable of dragging OBJ's name through the mud. People should stop playing with semantics in order to sell their news prints.

Sadly the most common falsehood told by journalist is a falsehood of omission. A critical fact is left out of the story and the listener/reader subconsciously fills in the details from their imagination which gives the story a whole new and false meaning. There is a good reason for journalism to be described by the following phrases: Gutter Press, Media Event, Yellow Journalism and Flash & Trash. That reason is "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Since journalists have no competition, the public is easily fooled by the false and misleading information they pass out. Thankfully we can still see few stakeholders in the media business who have not reneged in their social responsibility drive and agenda setting, which ultimately has helped in upholding the ethics of the noble profession.

Years after the expiration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo's administration, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode has never at any point offer any statements or comments at any forum capable of putting the image of his former boss in disrepute; besides he consistently makes defence for the latter especially when it matters most. One of the many good examples was when allegations were flying round that Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan offered bribe to President Obasanjo to influence the election tribunal in Delta State. In a swift reaction he said: “My attention has been drawn to a story in which former President Olusegun Obasanjo was accused of receiving N770 million purportedly for the purposes of bribing judges in the Delta State election tribunal. My reaction is that if you believe that story, you will believe anything. I assure you that Obasanjo would be the last person to give or receive a bribe from anyone.”

I was at a forum earlier this month at Abuja and I had the opportunity to hear Chief Femi Fani-Kayode say few things about President Olusegun Obabsanjo, someone he considers as father-figure. The former Obasanjo's Senior Special Assistant on public affairs, who served as Culture Minister and subsequently as Aviation Minister reeled out many accomplishments of papa Obasanjo in a public paper presentation. According to Chief Femi Fani-Kayode 1976-1979 perhaps has a way of laying the foundation for an understanding of the Obasanjo presidency in the 90s. Of course the two periods are different; the first was a military regime unencumbered by parliament and the courts, while the second was a democracy with its checks and balances. Obasanjo was able to achieve a lot. On account of the unilateral declaration of independence by Ian Smith in Southern Rhodesia, he placed an embargo on Rhodesia, nationalised British Petroleum interests in Nigeria, hosted a global conference for Action Against Apartheid in 1977, held the Second World Black Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC 77). Many people criticised the huge investment involved in FESTAC but the government justified it on the ground of its contribution to national integration and solidarity of Blacks worldwide. The government did more. It spearheaded the African boycott of the Commonwealth Games in Montreal, Canada, withdrew Nigeria's deposit from Barclays Bank because of the bank's links with apartheid South Africa. The Obasanjo government spread a welcome mat for liberation movements such as SWAPO (Namibia), ANC (South Africa) MPLA (Angola) and pushed for the granting of membership status to them in the OAU. Nigeria also established the South African Relief Fund.

Chief Fani Kayode went further perhaps, on the local scene, the most important achievement was the handover of power to a democratically elected government on October 1, 1979, as scheduled. Trouble came knocking during the Abacha era and he was hauled into prison on trumped-up charges of planning a coup. Lucky man, somehow God saved him but his friend, Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, was not so lucky. He died or he was killed, whichever version turns you on. The lesson here is that in the contest for power in Nigeria, and some would say Africa the rules of engagement are those of the underworld. Survival depends on who pulls the trigger first. However, it was a surprise to many that after his burial in the bowels of a dingy prison, the prisoner would resurrect in a posh place called Aso Villa, the glittering edifice where Africa's most powerful man lives. Fate took him out of prison not just for his own good, but largely for the good of all and offered him the crown. He was kicking and shrieking in some kind of feeble refusal but power is the sweetest temptation available which is why Henry Kissinger, America's former Secretary of State, called it the “ultimate aphrodisiac.” Obasanjo thought to himself: “temptation is no sin” but refusing to yield to it may actually be the sin. His resistance weakened. He took the job and went at it like a diligent customs inspector.

I accordingly heard Chief Fani-Kayode saying Obasanjo made a number of important achievements and posterity will definitely offer him a pleasant place for solace, by assembling a team, especially women that could match any woman in any part of Africa. Look at this: Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Vice-President of the World Bank as the Minister of Finance , Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili as Minister of Solid Minerals and later education, Prof. Dora Akunyili as Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC. The Obasanjo presidency is famous for its privatisation programme. Most of the government companies and parastatals were virtual drain pipes and money guzzlers and the way out was to sell them to those who had the discipline and the technical know-how to run them profitably. But it wasn't an accomplishment that came without a fight. Those who were feeding fat on these government white elephants were ready to kick, and kick they did. But Obasanjo is a strong willed leader and he was not ready to buckle under; that is why privatisation survived and such institutions as NEPA, NITEL, ports, Airways, paper factories, fertiliser plants etc have had the chance of making a new beginning.

He also reiterated the words of President Obasanjo on March 2, 1999, following his election, according to him, Obasanjo said: “My first duty is to reconcile the people of this country and heal their wounds… It is my determination to run an open, fair and transparent government throughout the period of my mandate… I will fight corruption… I will endeavour to create new avenues for employment generation – as soon as possible, re-examine our laws and policies and eliminate all obstacles to genuine environment for private, domestic and foreign investments.” Fani Kayode made bold to say that President Obasanjo set up the National Reconciliation Human Rights Investigation Panel aka Oputa Panel. The panel which had hearings in Lagos and Abuja and Obasanjo was gracious enough to appear personally. However, the other presidents who were invited ignored the invitation for fear of, possibly, facing the hostility of the crowd for their past misdeeds. However, the report of the panel has been in the public domain since then. One issue that the Obasanjo presidency tackled with vigour is corruption, the endemic disease that has been a lifelong problem for the country. Obasanjo set up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the ICPC, NAFDAC and strengthened the NDLEA with the hope of giving corruption a ferocious fight. Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, a tough-talking, lanky-looking policeman, was assigned the EFCC portfolio. He did a reasonably good job. In the area of agriculture, the major achievement was in the cassava revolution. Cassava which had received little or no attention in the past and was merely lying on the floor was elevated to the high table along with cocoa, yams and rice. Several cassava-based factories have been built and some of the products are being exported by many farmers. In the area of education, Chief Fani-Kayode said the Universal Basic Education was established and that it increased the hunger for education as higher enrolment played out precipitously. The National Commission for Mass Literacy Adult and Non-formal Education was established. Through the British Council Supported Community Education Project, about 5,500 nomads in Bauchi and Adamawa States were educated.

Another key milestone recognized by Chief Fani-Kayode to the credit of President Obasanjo's administration is the deregulation of the telecommunications sector. When Obasanjo came into office, there were only 400,000 connected phone lines, 25,000 analogues and the connection cost was high, about N60,000. And if a phone line was available, there was no wire; if wire was available there was no phone line. To have a phone you had to buy the phone, the wire, and the technician. Now, there are about 40 million lines, thanks to the GSM. This has created many jobs and generated a lot of revenue and improved communication between persons and bridged the gap between the rural and urban areas. There are various other issues listed as achievements: creation of new ministries such as environment, solid minerals, Police Affairs, African Integration and Co-operation, the banking revolution, foreign policy, oil and gas development, UN Millennium Development Goals to mention a few. The Niger Delta problem was very problematic but Obasanjo's government took the bull by the horns by setting up an intervention agency, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and getting a development plan created. Two other issues may interest us. The National Political Reform Conference; the conference was convoked in February 2005 with 394 delegates in attendance to address the problems of true federalism, resource control, marginalisation, leadership, ethnicity, youth restiveness, religious crisis etc. It started well until allegations emerged that the government probably had a hidden agenda. Secondly, the resource control issue became more contentious and the delegates from the Niger Delta States staged a walk-out. The conference ended unsatisfactorily.

Perhaps, one of the most significant achievements of the Obasanjo's presidency was our exit from the foreign debts loop. When we paid off the debts we drew a deep breath of satisfaction but we seem to be on the road to the lender again. The Debt Management Office, DMO, says we are under borrowed. Now our debts are 14 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, 16 percent below the internationally accepted threshold. We don't need to reach that threshold or to hold a colloquium on the evils of borrowing. Yes, we can use debts to bridge financial gaps when necessary but as the old saying goes, he who goes aborrowing goes asorrowing, and saddles the future generation with debts it knew nothing about. Besides, debts must be tied to regenerative projects and they must be well managed to avoid corruption. In this country, we are not friendly with figures and I doubt if we ever knew exactly how much we owed anybody. I am told that at one of the debt reconciliation meetings with the creditors, the Nigerian representative was asked to present his figures. He reportedly said: “let's have your figures because I am sure your figures are more accurate than ours.” So, even though some critics thought at the time that Obasanjo was wasting money by paying the debts, I believed, and still believe, it was the right thing to do. Of course, I am not unaware of the fact that the present government is working out new guidelines to limit borrowing by the Federal and State Governments. Inspite of that, we must keep the debt profile as low as possible.

Without prejudice or fear of contradiction Fani-Kayode succinctly stated at the venue of his 50th birthday in Lagos sometime in October 2010, that President Obasanjo has a perceptive, analytical mind and a photographic memory for names, faces, facts and figures. A man of affable moderation, he abhors extravagance as well as conspicuous consumption. He is a systems man, a man interested in reform, not in revolution. He had not participated in any coup during his military career. Perhaps his friend, Chukwuma Nzeogwu, knew he might not be interested in the planning of the January 15, 1966 coup and so he kept it from him and him from it. Obasanjo is a workaholic, putting in 18-20 hours a day. As he drives himself hard so does he drive others? He cracks lots of jokes and generally spreads humour around when he is in a good mood. He has established for himself the reputation of a man who is worthy of emulation with lots of decency. For anyone to now come out with the intent to misinform and mislead the public about the opinion and position of Chief Femi Fani-Kayode over the rift between his party chieftains and two former Presidents (President Obasanjo and IBB), for his neutrality and also for saying the truth is totally unfair, vicious, diversionary and lacks common sense.

Those who are plotting disaffection, hatred and enmity between President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode are probably engaged in hatchet job and must be cautioned and brought back to their senses before they inflict further damage in-between ''father and son''. For clarity Chief Femi Fani-Kayode is still very much appreciative of what he substantially gained from Obasanjo's administration and he would not do anything whatsoever to undermine or soil the integrity of such man who he always consider as his confidant, mentor and ultimately father-figure. However it is abundantly clear and undisputable that there is mutual, continuous and progressive relationship between these two veterans and progressives (OBJ and FFK), contrary to the falsehoods that have been erroneously fielded to the public domain; my last correspondence exchanged with Chief Femi Fani-Kayode on his facebook fan page copiously confirmed these facts.

Alaba Oyakeye is the convener of 'Vote No to Corrupt Nigerians' an indigene of Atakunmosa West LG (Osu), in Osun State, Nigeria.

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