Posted by By LUCKY NWANKWERE, Abuja on
In the discharge of his official assignment, the Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, can be said to be daring.
In the discharge of his official assignment, the Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, can be said to be daring. Very daring! In this interview with Saturday Sun, he says he would go to any length to defend his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo who he described as Godís anointed leader for this country and the father of not only the Nigerian nation, but the African continent.
Likening his responsibilities to prosecuting a war, he makes it categorically clear that no one, not even his close associates would make allegations which they could not substantiate about the president, his administration and its policies and expect to go unchallenged.
His friendship with people, he said, stops outside his official duties, warning ďa lot of people feel that because you are their friend, they could insult your boss publicly and get away with it when they could do it privately. They come out with the most self-serving and completely illogical, irrational and unsubstantiated allegations about this administration, its policies and the president and they say because you are their friend, you must not say anything.
ďIf you are my friend, you will respect me enough to know what you should not do to me. So, it takes commitment, it takes courage and it comes with a price and we are prepared to pay that price for our fatherland, Nigeria, for our president who is the father of the African continent and the father of the Nigerian nation, for our families and our loved ones and for the Nigerian people because we are fighting for Nigeriaís future.
ďThose that held this country down for so many years are not happy with what is going on because they want us to go back to where we came from. In many ways, it is a war. Thatís how I see it and we need to take it to its logical conclusion.Ē
The presidential aide who many describe as combative and who is on record to have taken on a good number of the presidentís critics - many of them old enough to be his own father - said he was brought up to take whatever he does seriously, properly, effectively and courageously too.
Is he not afraid of the consequences of his action? Not, not at all, he yelled. He said he neither fears death nor assassination, adding as a born-again Christian, he has absolute belief in the promise of God that nothing would happen to him that is not sanctioned by Him.
ďI donít fear death, I donít fear assassination, I donít fear nothing because the Lord cannot allow anything to happen to me until my purpose on earth is established. I didnít have any fears before I came into this job, I donít have fears now that Iím in this job and I will not have fears after Iíve left this job by the grace of GodĒ, he pointed out.
Asked if with his conviction about his boss, President Obasanjo, he would be willing to die for him (Obasanjo) if need be, Fani-Kayode went biblical, saying no one needs to die for anyone since Jesus Christ had done that over 2000 years ago when he was crucified on the cross.
Here is the full excerpt of that interview:
What is growing up like?
Well, we thank God that right from the beginning, I had a childhood which was truly blessed. I grew up in an atmosphere of love, peace and cordiality with the greatest level of affection accorded to me by my parents both of whom I was very very close to.
Of course, I have very vivid memory of my childhood days. I saw a lot and I remember events very clearly even from the age of five, or six. Many of the things that happened in this country. I still remember because my father was the deputy premier of the Western Region.
We left the country in 1967 and I went to school in England. From that time on up until the time I finished and came back to Nigeria in 1985 when I was called to the Nigerian bar, I was there. But between 1967 and of course the war years up until say the early 70s, I was in England throughout, but I think as from the mid 70s, we used to come back to Nigeria three times a year during every holidays.
So, I never lost contact with my Nigerian roots. I had a blessed childhood and I thank God for the wonderful parents that I had, my siblings, older brothers one of whom we lost in 1989 and wonderful sisters who are now both happily married. I really was blessed and I thank God for that.
My parents were strict, but at the same time, if you did well in school and you worked hard even where you made mistakes, they would always support and encourage you to work out your problems and move on in life. I thank God for my parents and I thank God for my family.
My late immediate brother, Rotimi, was an artiste, one of the finest artistes in Western Europe and America. I have an older brother, Akins, who is the oldest of us all. He is also a lawyer and somebody I have tremendous respect for. He is out of the country.
Iím really the only one here. My two sisters are married. One is living in New York and is married to an English man - in the name of globalization and world peace (laughter). They are deeply in love with each other and are happy people.
My other sister is married to a Nigerian, thank God. They live in London. He is a lawyer and she a journalist. She does a lot of freelance journalism. She used to run a programme on BBC and is actually highly acclaimed in her profession.
She travels to many nations of the world and does interviews with presidents and packages them for British TV, Channel Four and a host of others. She is happily married and has children.
As for me, Iím happily married and I have five wonderful children, one of whom has just started university in the UK. She is doing exceptionally well there and the second will be going to the university there very soon. God has been really wonderful to us and through thick and thin, He has seen us through. And we thank God for His blessings because without God we are truly nothing.
My grand father was somebody that was virtually raised in England. He went to school, to Cambridge University, there as did my father who was born in England. My great grand father, Rev. Kayode who really is my hero in the family was an Anglican priest and one of those who brought Christianity to Ile-Ife. He had strong roots in the UK, working for the Church of England.
As I said, his son who was my grand father went to school in England, the Cambridge University and became a very good lawyer and was called to the British bar. He came back to Nigeria, practised and became a judge, a chief magistrate in Lagos. He married a wonderful lady, a high society lady who is my maternal grand mother. They had my father. That in a nutshell is my background.
Is it true when people say you got appointed to this job in the first place based on your familyís background?
It is a ridiculous suggestion that is usually made by people whose fathers are not accomplished and who have some elements of envy. Alright? We work extremely hard here. Here I am, I left the private sector background where I was doing a lot of things particularly outside this country before I came to do this job. I put all that to one side and I got involved.
Itís a pleasure and a privilege for me to serve my country and then somebody comes to say that it is because of my family or my father that I got this job. It is not me that you put the question to, you put it to the person that employed me. Any way, I can give you the answer free of charge. The answer is no.
There are many people in government whose parents are distinguished and it is a blessing. I would rather come from a distinguished background and have distinguished parents than have parents that nobody knows. It is not a curse to come from a good family and distinguished background and to have parents that worked hard for your country and did well in the private setting.
We all aspire to that and that is why you and I work so hard so that when we are called home, our children can say that they had good parents, that their parents did everything for them. I donít think itís anything to be ashamed about that your father or mother was successful.
And I donít think people should use that against anybody or say because you come from a distinguished background, thatís why you have a break in life. If anything, it even works against you because sometimes people expect you to work ten times harder than anybody else to prove yourself.
That is why I take my job very seriously because if I have this job and I do not say or do anything, the next you will say is that ĎFani-Kayodeís son is a mumu, he doesnít know anything and yet they put him there because of his fatherí.
When you take on people, some of whom I believe you may even have some form of relationship with, do you at any time feel pained you have to do it?
No. I donít feel pained that I have to do my job and I donít feel any sense of regret that I have to do my job. Iím doing my job because I believe in this country, I believe in Mr. President and I believe in what Iím doing and saying. Friendship in many ways is limited because when it comes to anybodyís job, friendship should come a distant second.
I have to do my job. I can do my job and we can be friends after office hours, which is what I always try to advocate to those who may not agree with me. Some of my greatest critics are personal and private friends of mine, you will be shocked. We get on well outside official duties, but once it gets to doing my job, we are on opposite sides of the fence.
You know, being a lawyer, it is not a difficult thing for me because you see lawyers who are friends going to court and opposing one another vehemently in court and the moment they step out, they are friends. This is because they are all members of the learned profession.
So, I donít have a problem with that. In what I say or do, I certainly do not go out of my way to hurt anybody. What I would do however is defend myself and defend my president because thatís what Iím paid to do. And the way I was brought up, there is no question of 99 per cent loyalty or 50 per cent loyalty. Loyalty is total.
Not only that, I was brought up to understand that it is important that whatever you are asked to do, you do it properly according to that which goes with your conscience. You do it properly, you do it effectively and you must be courageous in all that you are doing.
A lot of people feel that because you are their friend, they could insult your boss publicly and get away with it when they could do it privately. They come out with the most self-serving and completely illogical, irrational and unsubstantiated allegations about this administration, its policies and the president and they say because you are their friend, you must not say anything.
If you are my friend, you will respect me enough to know what you should not do to me. So, it takes commitment, it takes courage and it comes with a price and we are prepared to pay that price for our fatherland Nigeria, for our president who is the father of the African continent and the father of the Nigerian nation, for our families and our loved ones and for the Nigerian people because we are fighting for Nigeriaís future.
Those that held this country down for so many years are not happy with what is going on because they want us to go back to where we came from. In many ways, it is a war. Thatís how I see it and we need to take it to its logical conclusion.
The way you take on some of your critics, arenít you in any way afraid you could be harmed?
I have no fears because the Lord God of Hosts is with me and is mine. I have no anxieties because the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the blood of the sprinkling that was shed for us at Calvary, speaks for me and the angels of the most high God watch over me and my day and night.
Let me tell you something, if you are planning to kill Femi Fani-Kayode, you are simply wasting your time because Femi Fani-Kayode died many years ago. Today I live only because Christ lives in me and I live in Him. He is my deliverer, my strength, my shield, my glory and the lifter of my head.
Without Him, I am nothing and with Him, I can never be ashamed. He is faithful and true and my faith in Him is total. Therefore, I have no fears. It is well with us because He is with us.
Iím a devout born-again Christian and I believe that my security is in the Lordís hands and nothing can touch me unless the Lord allows it to happen. And God will not allow it to happen because I know where Iím going. God has a purpose for everyone in life.
Where I am today, I knew I would be here over ten years ago because it was spoken to me by certain powerful men of God. I know where Iím going because Iím a spiritual man. So, I donít fear death, I donít fear assassination, I donít fear nothing because the Lord cannot allow anything to happen to me until my purpose on earth is established.
I didnít have any fears before I came into this job, I donít have fears now that Iím in this job and I will not have fears after Iíve left this job by the grace of God.
Are you aware there is too much anger in the land right now, particularly over this issue of 2007?
Why should there be any anger when the president has not said he wants to do A or B. Why? The anger is being invoked and it is being kindled and stoked by those who are trying to create dissention in the land by spreading falsehood, disinformation, lies and deceit.
There are those that believe that unless they have their way in this country, Nigeria must fall. That is the source of the problem because if you are talking of anger, why should any anger be directed to Mr. President or this government when he hasnít said he would do anything that is outside of the constitution?
Yet people are creating all kinds of hypothetical scenarios and stoking the anger of those that do not know any better. You cannot blame the ordinary people because they are reacting to disinformation, lies and deceit.
I want to say categorically clear that the president has not said anything about third term or no third term and he cannot be forced to say anything until he is ready to talk about it. This is because we do not react to hypothetical situations.
Again, when you talk about anger in the land, I disagree with you. I believe there is anger in some of the persons and I believe there is anger in the minds and hearts of those who believe they must rule Nigeria at all costs. But when you look at the record of this government, how can you talk about anger?
We now have debt relief. The countryís currency, the naira has appreciated for the first time in almost 25 years by 3.2 per cent. That is something not to be angry about. That coupled with the fact that the Nigerian economy in the last three years and for the first time in about 20 years has expanded in GDP by 7.2 per cent every year. That hasnít happened in almost 20 years and why should anybody be angry about that?
Again, last year, the economy expanded by 8.2 per cent in the non-oil sector and 5.5 per cent in the oil sector, why should anybody be angry about that? I can go on and on. GDP growth is remarkable in this country. Interest rates are coming down because of the consolidation of the banks so that people can go and get loans in banks.
Some people are borrowing at nine per cent. Investment is at the highest, local and foreign investments, that is. The economy is being diversified and, according to UNDP in its 2004 report, thereís been a 25 per cent reduction in those living below the poverty line in Nigeria.
According to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), when this government came in 1999, it was 25 per cent industrial capacity utilization, now it is 65 per cent industrial capacity utilization. Why should anybody be angry about that?
As for agriculture, we have 7% growth in this sector consecutively for the last two years in this country. You have Nigerians in the private sector now rising up and establishing industries, buying up companies and doing well. Why should anybody be angry about that?
We have won the confidence of the international community because of the economic reforms and the fiscal policies of this government. Why should anybody be angry about that? Why should anybody be disturbed about the quality of Nigerians that are now taking public office.
Look at people like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, Nasir el-Rufai, Ribadu and so many others from the private sector that are in the new generation that this president has given the opportunity to serve. These are the issues of the day and why should anybody be angry about that?
Look at our international image today and the role that this country is playing in the affairs of the international community today.
Do you know how many leaders appealed to Mr. President to stay on for the third term as chairman of the African Union? He himself said he wasnít interested because he wanted to focus and concentrate on continuing to build the Nigerian economy. Nigerians have so much to be thankful to God about this government.
But is the president helping matters by not speaking up on this issue of 2007?
I donít think the president will help matters by answering hypothetical questions. If the president had said before that he intends to go on after 2007, you may have a point. But he hasnít said so and now you are asking us to answer a question on an issue that we have not spoken of. Why should we? Let those who continue to fantasize continue to do so.
The governors met recently in Abuja and endorsed constitutional amendment and already people are linking their move to the third term agenda...
There are certain individuals who make it their business to do nothing but make Nigerians believe so. That is their business and thatís how they make their money and thatís how they create confusion and dissention everywhere. They sit in their homes and tell the Nigerian people that the only thing that constitutional amendment means is third term. And that is absolute rubbish and it is most irresponsible.
The relevant organ which I believe is the Constitutional Conference itself proposed over 100 constitutional amendments and these are as a consequence of their recommendation.
What is going to happen is that the National Assembly, not the executive, is going to now go through a process of asking Nigerians which of these recommendations should actually be adopted or not adopted.
It may interest you to know that one of these recommendations concerns the south-east as it is presently constituted. The whole of the south-east as it is presently constituted has fewer representatives in the Federal House of Representatives than Kano and Jigawa put together.
Now, I cannot possibly subscribe to the view that that is right. I donít believe that and Iím speaking in my personal capacity now. The south-east surely should have greater representation in the National Assembly. And somebody will come and tell you the constitution should not be amended at all, that it should remain at it were. Is that fair?
There are so many other things, over 100 of them. Now if certain people want to fixate on one proposed recommendation for amendment, that is their problem. And that recommendation has not even been discussed, debated or recommended to anybody. I think they are being most unfair to the nation, they are being unfair to the people and they are being unfair to themselves.
The people in the National Assembly are responsible people who are disciplined and are clear thinking. I believe they would do the right thing based on what the Nigerian people want. So, we should be rest assured that whatever that is going to happen will be done according to the will of the people and according to Godís purpose and plan for Nigeria.
Let me assure you again that the president will never do anything that is outside the constitution.
How does the president feel about the situation in Oyo State?
Well, this is a democracy and you have rules and regulations and you have what we call due process. We are above it, we donít get involved in it and we donít need to feel one thing or another about it. We have to deal with the facts on the ground.
The facts on the ground are that the former governor has been impeached and the new governor has been sworn in. This is a state which has a high degree of independence from the Federal Government because we are in a federation. This is an internal matter purely for the people of Oyo State, their elected representatives and their government.
So, we have to remain above it and we canít get involved simply because the matter has gone through certain due process. Indeed, the matter has also gone to court. It is not for us to start interfering. All we know is that we have to deal with the fact on the ground and thatís what we are doing and thatís what we will continue to do because we are bound by the rules of the constitution and also by the rule of law. The rule of law does not allow you to simply get up and start interfering in the internal affairs of one of the states from the federal level.
How do you react to former Kano governor, Abubakar Rimiís allegation that his wife was murdered because he opposed the third term agenda?
First of all, I think it is a tragedy that anybody should be killed by anybody else. We all share his grief and despair. I think we have a duty to do that and Mr. President has commiserated with him publicly. But the truth of the matter is that if he is trying to suggest by that comment that this government or anybody in government had anything to do with that, then it is absolutely not true.
This government does not kill people, neither does it get involved in killing people because of a concept such as the one you have just mentioned. We have respect for the sanctity of life and we will not get involved in such things. And the suggestion that some of our leaders on the ground, the PDP people over there, are killing people or trying to kill people is unacceptable.
Unless the evidence is adduced as we have to be guided by evidence, not just allegations, we reject such. We believe that no one within this government will indulge in such matters. No, it is not true and the Nigerian people know that this president is not a murderer. I mean it is beyond imagination that anybody would suggest that.
Anyway, the matter is under investigation and let the police do its work. It is a painful thing to hear that coming from a man that has had such a distinguished record in the history of this country like Abubakar Rimi. Honestly, we are sharing his pain because he not only lost his wife, he also lost his son. It is painful when we hear such things, but let the police investigate it.
What about Prof. Ango Abdullahiís dismissal of this government as the worst so far?
When did he decide that? Was that while he was in government or after he had left the government? ThatĎs my question. Secondly, this is a man I think we really should not take too seriously simply because even when he left as SSA on food security, he did not leave one hand over note or give one document to his successor in office, Toyin Adetunji who is a colleague of mine.
He did not hand over anything to her or leave any information about what he had managed to achieve. So, I donít think his own record as SSA on food security is anything to write home about.
Having said that, Ango Abdullahi is somebody who you must accord certain level of respect to because heís been in politics for a long time and he is entitled to his opinion. But we are also entitled to rejecting that very strange assertion that the government which he served and participated in and, by his own admission, helped to bring to power is the worst government ever in this country. Is that what he said?
It is a very strange submission coming from him and you must ask yourself what are his motives for speaking like that? There must be a motive for that. The record of this government speaks for itself and thatís why I said there must be a motive. As I said, he is entitled to his opinion and there is nothing anybody can do about that.
Isnít the president disturbed by the alignment and realignment of forces in the country which are clearly targeted against him as we approach 2007?
Why should we be disturbed? Thatís the beauty of democracy and we donít expect anything less. Let people do anything they like and let them align and realign ten times over, at the end of the day, it is only the counsel of the Lord that would be there.
Like the Bible says, I can assure you that all those who gather against the counsel of Jehovah for this nation and against the Lordís anointed leader for this nation shall be scattered because it is the Lordís will that will prevail.
But in terms of politics, people are entitled to align anywhere that they want and we should commend them and encourage them to do so as long as it is being done in a lawful and constitutional way. Nobody can take that away from the Nigerian people.
But what I know, like I said earlier, is that no matter what anybody says or does, it is Godís counsel that will prevail in this country and that this government will not fall. This government will continue the good work that it started in 1999 up until the time that it is constitutionally mandated to leave.
The presidentís temperament has often been criticized as not good enough for a leader. Are you comfortable with his temperament which is said to be legendary?
I do not accept that categorization. If some people think that way, they definitely have the wrong impression of Mr. President. In any case, he is a human being and he is running the affairs of the most powerful and largest black nation on the planet. He has devoted his entire life in serving this country.
If he said something that has offended anybody, anywhere, I think that heís done quite more than enough for this country for people to overlook that and say well letís look at the pros as against the cons because the pros are more than the cons. Apart from that, I donít subscribe to the view that he has a bad temper at all.
I work with this man and I have worked with him for almost three years now and I have not seen any evidence of what you call bad temper. If anything, heís very caring, heís very kind and heís very very accommodating and tolerant. And he allows people to express their views and their opinion.
He allows people to contribute to decision-making. So, this conception that our enemies are trying to paint is a misrepresentation of Mr. President. We just leave them to God and we continue the work. We donít need to worry about such categorization because we donít accept them.
What is it you donít like about the president?
The president is a human being and Iím not saying heís God. But what Iím telling you is that heís the president of Nigeria and my boss and I will not discuss personal details about him on the pages of newspapers. But everything I have experienced about him, I have found nothing but admiration for him.
Ever since I started working for him, I have had nothing but personal admiration for him. Iím learning from him as I learnt from my father when he was still with us. Iím learning from him as I learnt from my spiritual father, Archbishop Duncan Williams in Ghana.
As I learn from him, I see a great man with great vision and great courage and I think we should be proud of him. So, if you are asking me that question, I say yes, there is nothing I see which I donít like about the president.
You appear to have so much confidence in this president. Can you, if need be, die for him?
My belief is that long life is my portion and that I cannot die before my work on earth is done and my purpose for coming into this world is established. In any case, nobody needs to die for anybody else because the Lord Jesus Christ died and shed His blood for the whole of humanity, including Mr. President, Nigeria and you and I over 2000 years ago when they hung Him on a cross. He did this so that we will have long life and enjoy all the other benefits and blessings.
Former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Malu had expressed regret for not over-throwing the president when he had the opportunity to do so. How do you react to that?
Well, the point is that he would have failed woefully if he had attempted to do so. I donít think it is very helpful that people should be speaking like that in a democratic dispensation. Gen. Malu had the privilege of being chief of army staff under this administration. It is really very sad that he should be speaking like that.
If you want to oppose the government, do so with as much passion as you want, but letís do it within the confines of democracy. All this talk about military coups and stuff like that is a great disservice to the nation and a great disservice to himself as a distinguished former chief of army staff and somebody weíve all had tremendous respect for in the past.
So, I think heís doing himself a lot of harm by talking like that. But the truth is that he wouldnít have succeeded. He would have been arrested, he would have been manacled, he would have been prosecuted and Iím sure he would have been convicted for treason if he had tried it. I thank God for him that he did not and that his intention is not to incite others to do such unconstitutional and ungodly thing by talking like that today.
People say you are effective on this job. So, what next?
My spiritual father, Archbishop Duncan Williams taught me something many years ago. He said whatever you are doing, do it well and do it passionately with the fear of God. If you canít do that, donít do it at all regardless of what men and women say about you. Why? Because if you think about what men say about you, you are sacrificing your destiny in doing so.
Focus on your work, focus on achieving your destiny and on achieving your objectives. So, Iím not moved by criticisms or insults and Iím not moved by praises or commendations. Neither of the two moves me. I focus only on my work and on working and being loyal to the man who gave me this job. And if it is not this job, it would be another job in the future.
Another thing he told me is that we should not worry too much about what the enemies of righteousness or the enemies of decency would say because their end has already been determined by God.
Arenít you overshadowing your other colleagues with whom you share the responsibility of this job? Even Prof. Soyinka thought you were the Minister of Information and National Orientation.
As I said earlier, I will not respond to anything that Prof. Soyinka has said outside what we have said already. But it is not a question of anybody overshadowing anybody. We all work closely, we are all one big happy family. Everybody is carrying his weight according to his purpose and ability.
Again, we all have different schedules of duty and we do different things. You may not be aware of this. I have to say that Iím tremendously encouraged by the efforts of not just those who are within the information sector in the government like Onyema Ugochukwu, Remi Oyo, Frank Nweke, but also those in the economic team, the political team and every other level of government. We all share a very high degree of affection and love and we will continue to do just that. So, letís ignore the perceptions of people.
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