Chief Dr Frederick Fasehun is the founder and leader of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, a Yoruba ethno-cultural group. He opens the lid on his many encounters with security operatives, arrests and detentions.
He further throws jabs at the President Muhammadu Buhari Government, the engagement of the OPC operatives to provide security for oil pipelines, the Yoruba leadership tussle, and the agitation for secession by sundry groups in Nigeria, among other salient issues. Fasehun, who is a medical doctor by profession, just turned 80 years.
There has been this strong rumour that the OPC (Odua peoples Congress) was instrumental to the release of Chief Olu Falae from his abductors. How true is this?
I think every good citizen of this country was concerned, and those who had anything positive to contribute to the release of Chief Olu Falae did just that. OPC was not excluded from that sentiment. The only thing I can claim for OPC is that we went and made the earliest statement to alert the country and warn the authorities that Olu Falae is not somebody that you can kidnap with impunity. He is a leader of the Yoruba people; a leader of Afenifere; a leader of NADECO(National Democratic Coalition), a leader of PRONACO (Pro- National Conference Organization), he has served this nation in very high positions; he was a permanent secretary, ministry of finance; he was minister of finance; he was Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF; over and above all , he was a presidential aspirant of the SDP. We don’t think anybody should kidnap such a personality and not expect serious reprisals.
Kidnapping is now a flourishing business in Nigeria. What is your view on the business as it is gradually getting out of hand?
It has gotten out of hand and OPC had to warn the authorities during the Falae episode that those who should speak should speak early enough before it turns out to be a serious crisis. And I personally felt that we are taking things too leisurely. People who should have made statements didn’t make them early enough. But we thank God we made our own statements early enough and called the attention of the powers that be that they were getting too late to make a statement. Two days after that a statement came from the villa, and the police responded and what we got was the response from all the good citizens of this country.
Do you consider counter-abduction procedure as a panacea towards solving this malaise?
I think so. If you are ill and the illness is serious, you must confront that serious illness with a serious treatment.
We learnt that it was Fulani herdsmen that abducted Falae. Don’t you think this has a capacity to exacerbate ethnic tension in the country? If it happens again, what will OPC do? And what will South-west elders do?
We do not expect it to happen again. If it happens again, we will meet the situation with all the exigencies it requires.
Specifically I would like to know what you mean by “exigency” in this regard.
All security operatives will be expected to do their part, and if the security operatives cannot handle the situation, there must be some bodies that can handle or assist the constitutional security operatives to solve the problem.
How would you situate the Buhari–led government within the narrow prism of the deepening ethnic tension in the country today?
Well, Buhari is not the most neutral person Nigeria has ever had as leader. He had in those days made statements that coloured him as an ethnic bigot. He has come back now to Nigeria’s national life, and he should attempt to remove that ethnic garb which he put on earlier, many years ago. He cannot afford to put on that ethnic garb now, because he is for all Nigerians, he should not respect facial marks, any language. He, himself affirmed it. He said he is for the people; he belongs to nobody, and nobody belongs to him. We hope he will keep it and remove the ethnic garb he voluntarily put on in the past.
If you look at his appointments so far, some people have accused him of lopsidedness in the appointments he has made. Do you agree with those people?
I do. And I have made statements that if indeed he wants to be sincere to Nigerians on what he said that nobody belongs to him, and he belongs to nobody, then the federal character principle in the constitution should be complied with, and he should be seen to be doing things as leadership would expect him to do. The constitution is there for him to refer to whenever he wants to take a decision. So far, his decisions have been lopsided.
What about his performance? Although it is too early to assess him, but do you think that in these 125 days in office, do you think he is on the right track in terms of performance?
He told the country during pre-election campaign that he was going to fight against corruption; he was going to govern well. We have seen that the security operatives are up in arms against those who are corrupt in the land, but his methods should also be seen to be free and fair. He should not be selective in his probes. When he said he was going to fight corruption and probe everybody, we jubilated. But when he said he was excluding some groups we felt bad. And we started advising him. A probe is different from witch-hunting. If you want to witch- hunt, tell the nation, and if you want to probe, tell the nation. And there is no reason for separating probing from governance. The two are not related. You can carry on the twopari-pasu .You are there primarily to govern. If there is nothing to probe, you don’t need to probe. Probing is not his primary function.
Secondly, I am sure he will take advice from the good people of this country and set to work.
The OPC was involved in safeguarding the pipelines, and it does appear the group is no longer in charge. What was your experience like when the business was on?
The contract was awarded not to OPC, but to a company that needed OPC personnel. We needed about 4000 people. There is no way you can have a security company boasting of about 4000 members of staff. We had to go to OPC to provide this adequate number of personnel. We signed a contract for only three months, and at the end of the three months, government came and said time was up. We left, but unfortunately they have not complied with the contract they signed with us. They said they were going to pay us money, and we went to do the job. Throughout the three months we were at the pipelines, Nigeria did not lose one drop of oil.
You said three months?
Yes, three months. I have the contract here. But there are very powerful people involved in balkanizing our pipelines and stealing the content. They must have prevailed on the government, because OPC would not compromise. And we didn’t compromise. For three months, as a matter of fact NNPC did not expect we will be that serious about that job. We completed the job and the Federal Government is still dilly dallying about paying us. They have not paid us a kobo. They didn’t mobilize us with money. We spent our own money to mobilize to sites. We spent about N73 million to mobilise, buying vehicles, motorcycles, cutlasses and all the things we required. Mention it. And the Federal Government is still dilly dallying in fulfilling their own terms of the contract. We are waiting. So we are waiting.
We hope and pray that good sense will prevail, because it is cruel, it is wicked for the Federal Government that believes that the youths should be taken off the insecurity line. OPC took that decision. We removed 4, 020 people from the unemployment market, and the Federal Government is probably blaming us now for contributing what we believe is our quota of removing young Nigerians from the unemployment market and pushing them back to the insecurity market, because hunger is the major cause of insecurity.
During the three months you were there, were you able to identify the real culprits of this oil theft? Who are they? Can you name one or two you apprehended?
(Laughs) Not by name. It is stealing at very high level They were doing a lot of damage to Nigeria. A common thief will not buy a tanker. Where will he get the money from? We seized some tankers. As a matter of fact, some were set ablaze.
And those tankers were not owned by anybody? The owners were they spirits who could neither be traced nor caught?
(Prolonged laughter)They were owned by Nigerians. We did not see their registration papers. Nobody will leave his or her registration papers in a vehicle with which he was going to steal.
I would like to ask you this. You are a nationalist. But is there any day you felt like dropping that toga or image of a nationalist?
No, because I have no other country I can call my own. I do not want to emigrate to live as a stranger or bloody nigger in another country. So as long as God spares my life, I will contribute my little efforts to nation building.
I would like to take you to the growing struggle for the leadership of the Yoruba race. Some people say it is Obasanjo. Others say it is Bola Tinubu. Who does that cap fit between the duo?
Well, the Yoruba have some socio-cultural groups, or if you like socio- political groups, and Afenifere is the arrow head of these groups in Yoruba land. So, whoever is the leader of Afenifere is the leader of the Yoruba people.
But Afenifere is fractured. It is factionalized into two or three groups which makes it difficult to know who to make the authentic and undisputed leader of the Yoruba. Who is this leader?
The Yoruba people know who their leaders are. You don’t buy Yoruba leadership. So, money doesn’t come into it. Your contribution to the lives of Yoruba people is what really matters. And this is why we keep praying to God that another Obafemi Awolowo will emerge sometime. But the person we have now leading the Yoruba people without impunity is Chief Reuben Fasoranti. He qualifies in every way. He is highly educated, very understanding, he doesn’t have money but he has integrity. And you don’t buy integrity in market places. You obtain it. You acquire it. I as a Yoruba person, Chief Reuben Fasoranti is my leader. I am not a member of Afenifere, but he is my leader not because he is leading Afenifere, but because I find a lot of credibility in him.
Looking back to your years of activism in several spheres, what are your regrets, and what prospects do we have for activism in this country?
My regret is that a few Nigerians set out to struggle for democracy; true democracy, and we are all falling out now without attaining true democracy. Man that is born will die sometime. So there is no way you will expect the Fawehinmis to stay on forever. The Beko Ransome- Kutis, the Alao Aka-Bashoruns, the Chima Ubanis. There is no way you will expect them to stay on and live forever .But we were colleagues night and day in the trenches, and out of the trenches, and we thought that true democracy will evolve through our agitation, activism, fighting occasionally, placard-carrying occasionally, and even advising those in power. But unfortunately, our efforts have not yet yielded much.
That is a setback that there were people that fought for democracy that struggled for democracy. We lost men , we lost contracts, we lost jobs, we lost livelihoods, but unfortunately we have not attained or achieved what we set out to achieve. The only thing that we can hit our chest for is that we showed the military the way back to their barracks.
Let us look at the charter on self-determination by the United Nations? What is your true view on the self determination of people in a heterogeneous entity? I ask this question against the agitation of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB in the South-east for a country of their own and they are always using this United Nations Charter to justify their agitation.
The view of the United Nations, UN is what our constitution calls federal character The right to associate; the right to air your political views; that you want true federalism in your country, which is another interpretation of the United Nations recommendations or prescription. If it was a wrong thing, why are many people agitating? It is not just the South-east alone, there are several groups in the North; Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, the Middle Belt Forum, the Niger Delta Youth Assembly, the South-south groups, and even Yoruba groups. Why is everybody struggling?
We are struggling for true democracy, which is a recommendation from the United Nations, and our Constitution goes a little further to insist on federal character. Nobody has the right to kill the aspiration for self determination. Self determination is another word for federal character. It is another word for the recommendations by the United Nations. I would say that those who want self determination are the lovers of Nigeria. They are the true lovers of Nigeria. We believe in true democracy. True democracy, strong states, weak center. See what happened the moment President Buhari came in. Various governors that have been doing various things with the allocations for their states came out with their caps going to Abuja to be bailed out. That is not federal character. That is not true federalism.
Within the confines of Oodua, would you vote for the Yoruba to go if there is oppression?
If others go, we have no reason to stay. But we are prevailing on the others that this is the only country we can call our own. And if other countries in other parts of the world are coming together to form stronger military might, bigger market, and so on and so forth; we have no reason to disintegrate. Why did we create AU (African Union)? Why did we create ECOWAS? (Economic Community of West African States)?
I want you to look at the deaths of prominent Yoruba people today.
As I said, man that is born will eventually die. We give glory to God for whatever happens. Those who are dying are dying at ripe ages. They have to go. You would be worried if the population of the Yoruba people was dwindling. But the population is rising. So, those who die are replicated. So we thank God. We have no reason to complain. I don’t think dying is limited to only the Yoruba part of the country. People are dying all over the places, but the fact that we live in Yoruba land we are conscious of the loss of Yoruba people.
I should be on my way to the Niger Delta now, to bury an elderly person., the Yoruba people have started to grow not in consonance with the lifespan as dictated by the WHO (World Health Organization). The average lifespan of Nigerians is 52 years. But look at those who are dying. Mama Awolowo has just died at 99. There are still elderly people. Look at Pa Adebanjo, at 87 he is still agile. He takes his exercises seriously by running every morning. Even the leader of Afenifere Chief Reuben Fasoranti is even older than that. Papa Olaniiwun Ajayi, and many others. We felt concerned when Olu Falae was embarrassed, because he is 77 years old. And here I am sitting before you. I have just clocked 80 years. So the biblical prescription for man is 70. We thank God that we are even violating it.
You are 80 now. If you die now, what would you like to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered for struggling for what I believe in, not counting the cost.
Looking at your office, it is decorated with so many awards from many groups and organizations. Which of them is after your heart?
I don’t even know which one because they are all after my heart. The African Students Union has just written to me that they are going to give me an award in November. The West African Students Union had given me an award. The NANS of Nigeria gave me an award. Even my own people gave me an award. So I cannot say this is the best of them .I appreciate all of them; I respect all of them, and I want to thank those who gave me these honours.
Most activists and fighters hardly escape arrest and detention. You have managed to survive it. What is the secret?
I have been to prison 11 times. Virtually all Nigerian leaders have detained me. It is just like saying Gani Fawehinmi was never arrested.
How did you feel each time you were arrested and being taken away?
I felt that I was being counted with the glorious ones that fought the cause of Nigeria. I know that there is no way you will write the history of Nigeria and leave out Anthony Enahoro. Then it will not amount to the history of Nigeria. There is no way you will do that without mentioning Beko Ransome – Kuti, Gani Fawehinmi, or Chima Ubani.
So , it is good to be counted with these people. I have no regrets. I have been in detention 11 times. If anybody told me in 1996 that I will grow up to 80, I would have said forget about it. To hell. I just came back from 19 months imprisonment. And the joy of such detentions is that you are just whisked away; nobody has any serious charges against you. You are not accused of stealing, you are not accused of looting, you are not accused of any indecent activity. So, we thank God.
Were you ever beaten in detention?
Eeem! They wouldn’t. I went through all forms of punishments and embarrassments. I remember when once my wife brought me a Christmas meal. A lady in the SSS (now DSS) just came in and kicked away the food. And she was as young as my last born. Of course I just smiled, and I felt sorry for her. Of course there is one character; the one they call Zakari Biu. He is the most satanic human being ever bred in Nigeria. There was a day my wife tried to talk to me across the counter. He shouted, ‘I told you that you people should never allow this woman to whisper to this man.’ I looked at him and felt sorry for him.’ I couldn’t contain it , and I slapped him.
You did that?
Yes! In the presence of Olu Falae and Adekanye. How could I, a detainee, wrongly detained for being a bridge builder in my country, and a satanic policeman came to say my wife cannot talk to me across the counter. My wife couldn’t bring to me my food to eat. How could I survive on prison food?. I thought that insult; that embarrassment was too much and I had to reduce him to his own level.
What was his reaction when you slapped him?
Ah! The good people of this country came in between us. I was going to complete the script. Even his colleagues only congratulated me. Yes. They were quietly and secretly giving me the thumbs up signs. He made a foolish mistake. He probably didn’t know what OPC is, that OPC would never have accepted that embarrassment. He was lucky that my boys were not there when he embarrassed me. They would have embarrassed him to the dislike of the Federal Government.
I will not say I had it all easy. I was maltreated on many occasions. After writing a 48-page statement at the Inter cente, they took me to Biu, and he said ‘take him away and let him make a fresh statement’. I don’t tell lies. What I wrote in my first statement is what I would have written in the second, in the third , in the fourth statements.
And I told him I was not going to write another statement. I had written a 48-page statement, and Nuhu Ribadu took me to his office and said ‘take that paper, take that pen’ and he started interrogating me. I said to him, ‘you are wasting your time. I am not going to make another statement. Go and refer to the statement I made at the inter center which you are aware of. Everything I needed to say to the country, I have put there. And he tried all his best to persuade me but I was adamant. I said go and read it. I am a man of principles. Once I pronounce it, it stays.
After about two hours, he took me back to Biu, and Biu knew who he was dealing with – a detainee he couldn’t push around. When he was retired, I felt it was good for him. But I understand he is back again. Nigerians, especially those who see themselves as critics. Critics are the best friends of government, because they see the wrongs of the government and call their attention to the wrongs, and say why don’t you do it this way? What is wrong in that? Those who are spectators at a soccer pitch are those who see the mistakes of the players.
We hope that the current government will listen to the critics. The critics mean well for the country.We appreciate them in their graves. Are we not missing Gani Fawehinmi?Are we not missing Beko Ransome-Kuti? Are we not missing Anthony Enahoro? Are we not missing Chima Ubani? We are missing them. It is just that we are crying without tears.
Culled from: http://sunnewsonline.com/new/fasehuns-detention-memoirs-i-slapped-zakari-biu/