S.B. Falegan’s Last Interview with TheNEWS: “The Story Of My Life

S.B. Falegan’s Last Interview with TheNEWS: “The Story Of My Life

Wednesday, January 20, 2021 5:18 pm

The Late Chief S.B. Falegan

On Wednesday, 20 January, 2021, Chief S.B. Falegan, the first Nigerian Managing Director of Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria, FMBN, and former director of Research, Central Bank of Nigeria, died. This happened as he was about to clock 88 on earth.

Below is an interview he granted TheNEWS in September 2014.

The Story Of My Life —S.B. Falegan

Chief Samuel Bamidele Falegan, in this interview with FEMI AYODELE, talks about his life, his ordeal at FMBN, the real reason Christopher Kolade resigned as SURE-P chairman, among other sundry issues

How is Life at 81?

This question reminds me of a song rendered by a young lady in the movie, The Sound Of Music – ‘I’m 16 going 17.’ She couldn’t hide her joy for being 17. So in the same manner, I thank God for my life – from 80 to 81, now going to 82. It brings me joy and glory to God for his faithfulness. My being alive is by his grace. Though it is not strange to be having some cramps of old age, by and large, God has been my supporter. My solace is in the words of Psalm 66 and 71.

Can you talk about your upbringing and early years?

I grew up in a polygamous family and my father was a patterned disciplinarian. Both parents were Christians. As early as 6am, my father would send us to the farm. I remember being carried on the head at age 6 – crying when being taken to farm. By 12 noon, we must have been able to cultivate about 200 heaps. Our father used to supply yams for the whole of Christ’s School for six years. All for the principal then, Rev. Canon Mason, to substitute the money for our school fees and return the balance to my father. My mother was trading in clothes. I remember I would carry some of the clothes on my head trekking to Ilawe, Ikere and Iworoko and return same day. Don’t be surprised. In fact, my father trekked from Ado to Ilesa to buy needle for his machine and returned same day to make clothes for some young people in preparation for Ogun festival. In our time, other than Sundays, we were always on the farm during holidays only to return Saturday evening to attend church service on Sunday.

What prompted you to write your memoir: Yesteryears?

I’d thought of writing my life history, but had always felt reluctant to do so. First, as a result of my experience in life, I didn’t want my children to inherit any prejudice nor become victims of such prejudices. Secondly, a friend of mine pointed my attention to the importance of reeling the episodes at the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria and the image it created for me, for better or worse, depending on the way one views it, and that such events should not be swept under the carpet. My children also played a role – they were more persuasive. My story is not meant for me alone, but for the reading public, historians, philosophers and biographers, who will pass judgment on what I did or did not do, topped by what I wrote before my departure. It is good to preserve one’s deeds, or even what others might see as one’s misdeeds.

From your elementary schools days up till tertiary education, you recorded you had problem with passing mathematics. How did you overcome it?

Those were years of serious school discipline, with teachers carrying loads of canes to beat students. We thought they were being wicked but in retrospect they wanted the best for us. Two mathematic teachers frightened me into hating mathematics until I was forced to learn it for Mathematical Economics, which I needed to qualify for my master’s degree in Economics in 1976 at the University of Oregon in the United State of America. The style of the first teacher was to cane you for the number of sums you got wrong. The second always came to school on bicycle. I was always frightened the moment I set my eyes on his bicycle riding up the hill. My seat was by the window, where I could peep, see him and whisper his arrival. He was nicknamed ‘Edumare’. He would lash himself on his right foot about three times and shout ‘Edumare’ before he descended on his victim with numerous lashes. The use of cane was frightening to many of the students and I was particularly frightened of the caning, and I believe that contributed to my hatred for arithmetic later on in life. Even at Fourah Bay College, none of my compulsory subjects involved mathematics. However, it was a different situation for my master’s degree at the University of Oregon. I went to my professor and explained my predicament. He advised me to enroll in a nearby county during my private hours to learn Algebra which would help me understand Statistic and Mathematics Economics at the university. I complied – did that for a whole year and I was amazed at the ease with which I overcame the fear of yesteryears and my hatred for Maths. When some of my colleagues in Christ’s School saw my book on Nigeria’s External Debt Burden 1992, and the qualitative and economic analysis I did, they were surprised.

When the CBN team was to discuss the third National Development Plan, 1975-80, with the then Head of State, General Obasanjo, while others were reluctant, you reportedly told him bluntly that what would be spent in the first year of a four-year plan was more than 50 per cent of the whole four years. Please expatiate?

The third National Development Plan, 1975-80, was to be debated with then the Head of State, General Obasanjo presiding. He had late Chief S. O. Asabia, MD, First Bank plc, sitting on his right and Chief S. O. Falae, a permanent secretary then, sitting to his left, Mr. Ola Vincent, deputy governor and I represented the bank. All permanent secretaries and senior government officials were at the meeting. Earlier, with my staff at the Central Bank, we had assembled all the papers and inputs of all stakeholders. The plan was to cost N47.5 billion; the submission of all stakeholders exceeded and doubled the plan and what would be spent in the first year of the plan was more than 50 per cent of the whole plan. He started from his right, calling for presentations and comment. He finally got to the Central Bank and said, ‘Let us hear what the Central Bank would say, since they claim to have monopoly of inflation management.’ My governor gave me the floor and I threw the bombshell – that what would be spent in the first year of a four-year plan was more than 50 per cent of the whole four years. I expected the worse – my dismissal – but all of a sudden General Obasanjo said, “Eh, Olu (that is Chief Falae), Eh Sam (that is Chief Asabia), is that true? Both of them answered in affirmative and he adjourned the meeting immediately. This was later followed by my letter, dated 22 May 1979, of secondment to the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria as the Managing Director and I was subsequently appointed the Managing Director of the bank dated 28 May 1979.

According to reports, you raised the N15 million, 9. 5 per cent half debenture stock of 1982/1988 to finance a 25-storey FMBN building at 23 Marina and it was over-subscribed by N1.8 million. How did you achieve this?

Despite the rapacious elements and the ravaging opposition, I was able to record some measure of success in my odyssey at the bank. One example is the N15 million 9.5 per cent stock of 1982/1988. I make bold to say that by God’s grace, I made – I have not seen evidence to the contrary – the first public offer to take a federal government parastatal, FMBN for that matter, to the Capital Market in Nigeria to successfully raise a debenture – the N15 million 9.5 per cent stock of 1982/1988. It was to finance a 25-storey FMBN building at 23 Marina. It was not only fully subscribed but was over-subscribed by N1.8 million. The over-subscription was what the board shared among themselves when I was sent on compulsory leave earlier referred to in my letter of resignation. The proceeds of the debenture stock that were used to finance what was called General Mamman Kontagora [House] at 23 Marina, Lagos (having modified and reduced drastically the building from 25-storey to 15-storey). My sad reflection about the building each time I pass by is why it was not named after Alhaji Lateef Okunmu. He was the Federal Minister of Housing who helped FMBN to acquire the land. Or in the alternative, after Dr. Wahab Dosunmu, also Federal Minister of Works and Housing, who not only worked and approved the FMBN House at 23 Marina but gave total support for the raising of the debenture stock from the capital market. It is part of our misplaced judgment and of our servile mentality down South here.

During your days as Director of Research, CBN, you participated in the negotiation of a $1 billion loan between CBN and a team of lenders from London. You stated in your memoir that a clause – that if Nigeria defaulted it would forfeit her assets, including the unexplored underground assets – was cleverly introduced in the terms. Please shed more light.

It is true. In fact, I learnt from that experience that in any negotiation, you must never fear to negotiate nor must you negotiate out of fear. The team of lenders with whom we were negotiating the $1 billion loan cleverly introduced a clause which in effect meant that if Nigeria defaulted on any aspect of the loan, Nigeria would forfeit all her assets, including the unexplored underground assets. I couldn’t control my anger at such a condescending and insulting proposal and I gave it back to them, informing them of what the implications were and I asked them why they did not attempt to recolonise the whole Nigeria? It was a pleasant surprise to me, however, to be handed a gold-plated fountain pen from the London team by Dr. Imeh Ebong, a director of Finance, Federal Ministry of Finance, who attended the loan-signing agreement held in London in appreciation of my contribution to the negotiation. They had arranged a BBC interview for me, expecting I would be at the signing ceremony but felt disappointed I could not be present. In Imeh’s words, he said they intoned: “That is the man who called us avaricious bloodsuckers and did not allow us to wriggle Nigeria’s neck.”

You wrote you were arrested by the SSS on 4 January 1984 and taken to Alagbon to explain a N1.8 million you referred to in your letter of resignation. Can you briefly narrate your ordeal and the lessons?

There was a coup against the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari on 31 December, 1983 to 1 January, 1984. It was on 4 January after my return to Nigeria that I was arrested by the SSS at my residence – CBN flat in Victoria Island. My wife was not in and I was hemmed between two of those who came to arrest me. As they were driving me out in the car, my wife drove in and I just waved to her and shouted that I would soon be back, without letting her know that I was being taken to Alagbon. When I got to Alagbon, I met my board members who had been earlier arrested. I was called to explain the amount of N1. 8 million I referred to in my letter of resignation. I drew their attention to the date I was suspended from the bank, the date I was recalled, the date the money was withdrawn by my board members and the date I resigned from the bank; all showing that the money was withdrawn in my absence and I knew nothing nor was I involved in the withdrawal. There I watched my board members put in a Black Maria and taken to Kirikiri in Apapa while I was allowed to go home. My wife was so embarrassed and frightened when I told her what happened. One of the officers who arrested and later effected my release saw me on another occasion on another case when he told me that he used my book, Redesigning Nigeria’s Financial System as one of his textbooks for his degree in Economics at Obafemi Awolowo University. What eventually happened to the board members taken to Kirikiri did not excite me other than to see the hand of God at work with deep appreciation.

You were initially considered a viable candidate for the post of Central Bank Governor – to succeed Alhaji Abdulkadir Ahmed – but your supposed rigidity was seen as a threat. Did you attribute this to your failure to succeed Ahmed?

Late Bisi Oladipupo, a young Lt. Colonel at that time, from Dodan Barracks came to see me in my office at Investment House building on Broad Street, where I was with Interstate Securities Ltd., from which First Interstate Merchant Bank Limited emerged. Without mincing words, he told me that 22 of us had been shortlisted and further pruned to two to succed Alhaji Abdukadir Ahmed as CBN Governor, who Babangida administration had decided to remove. He went further to say that I was the preferred candidate but I was a very rigid man. I asked what he meant and he explained that if a contract for a road construction was to cost N10 million and another N1 million or N2 million was added to meet “exigencies” I would not allow it but stick to the original N10 million. I replied: ‘If I had not been rigid, particularly at FMBN, I wouldn’t be here talking to you. Instead I would be in Kirikiri prisons where my board members at FMBN were taken to while I was set free.’ I finally told him that if the post was meant for me and it would benefit me and the nation, God would grant it. He told me that the other candidate was already lobbying for the post. I thought it wise to inform Alhaji Ahmed. After telling him the story, he looked at me and said: ‘Chief, you are your typical, brutally frank self. I heard about your nomination three days ago while the other man started campaigning and lobbying six months ago in Algiers. Rest assured, Chief, you have my support.” But those in authority in the North convinced General Babangida not to remove Ahmed, or else he would be overthrown for doing so. And that was how he was left untouched. Unfortunately, Governor Ahmed became a victim of a probe, where the Pius Okigbo Panel Report on the reorganisation and reform of the CBN which recorded the disappearance from the country a sum of $12.4 billion oil windfall illegally transferred abroad through dedicated accounts.

You are the immediate past chairman, Ekiti State Special Intervention and Empowerment Programme Committee, known as SURE-P at the federal level. Many Nigerians are of the opinion that the SURE-P initiative has lost credibility, especially with the controversial N500 billion missing fund that compelled the resignation of the chairman, Dr. Christopher Kolade. What do you think?

I need to first of all clarify the supposed N500 billion missing fund. It is not that any N500 billion was missing or that Dr. Kolade resigned as a result of the supposed missing fund. If anything, Dr. Kolade, who I know very well – we grew up here together in Ekiti; his mother is from Igede-Ekiti while his father, who was a godly priest here where Christopher was born, was from Erin Ijesa, Osun State – a transparent, honest and shrewd diplomat, must have resigned because of evidence of compromised cheating and inequities and partially, made up of ungodly and heartless discrimination against his own part of the country by an organisation over which he is supposed to preside. Why should he continue, as of conscience, to be the chairman of an organisation that discriminates against his own part of the country? Discretion, they say, is the better part of valour. Why are we building some people up and bringing others down, yet pledging we live together in peace as one? It is a spiteful political decision which does not reflect any credit on the balance and the maturity of the people who take such decision. It is an avoidable arbitrariness in the utilisation of funds which in turn breeds corruption.

You earlier talked about the marginalisation of the South-West; please expatiate.

After deciding to remove oil subsidy, the federal government set up a subsidy withdrawal organ (SURE-P), which is to use the proceeds or savings from the subsidy to finance development projects nationwide. Under it, each state, including the Federal Capital Territory, share in the proceeds of the oil subsidy in accordance with the federal revenue allocation formula. While each state is free to use its own share for projects of its choice, the federal share is to cover the whole federation in key areas warranting development. The crux of the matter is the inequity, political disfranchisement and bias on the utilisation of the federal portion, which has marginalised the core South-West of Nigeria. I will illustrate with three specific instances. A major marginalisation of the core South-West is the federal government announcement that it plans to construct 10 new rail lines as reported in The Punch of 24 December, 2012, page 26. With the 10 new railway lines excluding the core South-West Oyo, Ekiti and Ondo. Why was such planned railway not extended between Oyo State (Ibadan) to Ekiti State (Ado-Ekiti) to Ondo State (Akure)? After all, each state capital was planned to be connected by rail under the Obasanjo Administration. Of the 1,326km roads, the 295km allocated to South-West covers Benin-Ore-Sagamu dual carriageway. It should be observed that Benin-Ore-Sagamu dual way has always been factored into the annual federal budget for roads for the past 20 years. It was reported in The Nation of Saturday 16 February, 2013, that the federal government had obtained SURE-P fund to dualise Abuja-Benin road. Yet, the federal authorities were aware of the appalling state of federal roads in middle and core South-West states. It is common knowledge now and as revealed and confirmed in some dailies that all PDP states received N2 billion Ecological Funds for utilisation for ecological and environmental problems to the exclusion of non-PDP states, which largely affects the whole of South-West states. For instance, Ekiti State Environmental Protection Agency has submitted about 25 ecological projects to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, all with negative replies; as if Ekiti is not entitled to attention from this commonwealth purse. I have it on good authority that Dr. Kayode Fayemi and his officials have severally visited both the Federal Ministry of Environment and (FEPA) on the ecological devastated areas in the state without any polite or positive result. Is this how to live together as one country?

Reference to Sanusi Lamido’s case as CBN Governor, is it lawful for a president to suspend CBN Governor and how does this affect CBN autonomy?

The case of Federal Government with Sanusi, if I may put this way, is the case of dog eating dog. I worked with six governors and I think we are having the tenth. The case of Sanusi was an abuse of office. When I read of all he did and the way he was donating money, I felt the board members were equally culprits. I never saw such an abuse all through the time I worked with those CBN Governors. He is now an Emir but does that mean what the federal government thought was unlawful or criminal cannot be pursued? I think it is ideal for the CBN to be autonomous. I believe it was Sanusi’s style and approach that warranted the move against the CBN autonomy.

Your assessments of Nigerian Banking system?

There are many things being practised in the system that I find not ideal. They said the use of ATM was a plus. Well, I say yes and no, due to the fraudulent practices associated with it. One of the things I dislike in the present day banking is the discrimination. I remember there was a case of a particular young man and lady who I was to assist in getting a banking job here in Ado. Only to discover it is people they recruited from Lagos they sent here and questioned, why can’t they recruit people from this part too? I fault this practice of sending young ladies to get N10 million bank deposits, in the name of marketing, as if Ekiti is Lagos or Abuja.

What informed your interest in writing, music?
I started my career as a writer. In fact, I was the first research officer in the WNTV of then Old Western Region. I was the first audience research officer in the Lagos office, canvassing for adverts and in the process we developed jingles and all that. All through my years in the Central Bank I engaged in writing. My doctor told me I’d engaged in writing too much and this contributed to my having cervica spondilosis. Even now when the hands shake, I still manage to write. As for music, I’d joined the church choir since 1944. My father actually played a role here. When he noticed young men and women singing at Emmanuel Church, he would query why we were not doing same. So I took interest. Then, there was an old man, E.S. Ajibade; he was a fantastic tenor singer who in fact introduced me to the choir master then. Since then I’v been involved in music.

I still take part in choir rehearsals and my favourites are church hymns and chants.

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