By his own admission, Frederick Fasehun, a medical doctor, politician and human rights activist, is a democracy addict. In the past 25 to 30 years, Fasehun has taken centre stage in every issue of democracy, even at the expense of his own life. Little wonder he has had brushes with each succeeding military governments in Nigeria for which he was sent to jail without any trail.
Since 1999, when the current democratic dispensation came to be, Fasehun, 79, could not find a political party that tallied with his political ideology. Only about 18 months ago, he resuscitated the dormant Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, on which platform, Obafemi Awolowo, the late Yoruba leader, plied his last political adventure in the 1970s and 1980s, to give Nigerians and ideologically-based political party. He served as interim national chairman of the party until this month when the party elected another person as its chairman.
That notwithstanding, the leader of the O’odua Peoples Congress, OPC, a Yoruba socio-cultural group, is not in any way ready to abandon his democratic tendency or shy away from expressing himself no matter how unpopular it may be. The birth of the OPC itself was to fight for the actualisation of the annulled mandate of Moshood Abiola, business mogul of the Yoruba descent, who won the presidential election of June 12, 1993, but was prevented from office by the military. Fasehun was imprisoned for 19 months from December 1996 to June 1998 during the military rule of General Sani Abacha. He regained his freedom 18 days after the death of Abacha. Even the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo could not stand the OPC activities under the leadership of Fasehun and Gani Adams, his main lieutenant. Fasehun and six others in the OPC, having stayed sometimes in prison in 2006, were charged to court for alleged treasonable felony and other sundry offences. The charges were later dropped.
The soft-spoken former executive member of the Campaign for Democracy was born on September 21, 1935 in Ondo town, Ondo State. He started his education late at 13 years at Saint Matthew’s Roman Catholic School, Ondo, Thereafter, he proceeded to Saint Peter’s Teacher’s Training College, Akure, Fasehun was later thrown out of the school because he didn’t succumb to Catholicism’s creed, even though he was top of his class. He was admitted into form two at Ondo Boys High School in 1956. After only two and a half years, Fasehun sat for the final examination and passed his in grade one with distinction in English Language.
From there he went to the United Kingdom to further his studies on September 30, 1958. He first attended Blackburn College, London, where he studies sciences and later proceeded to the Aberdeen University College of Medicine for six years. He was also at the Liverpool Postgraduate School and the Royal College of Surgeons for his fellowship. In 1976, he studied acupuncture in China under a joint World Health Organisation and United Nations Development Programme Scholarship.
Back home in 1977, he set up an Acupuncture Unit at the Lagos State Teaching Hospital, LUTH. But he resigned in 1978 because “too many people were dying (there at LUTH) ….. and my standard of medical practice was not feasible in LUTH.”
Despite his age, Fasehun still found time to devote impartial attention to his calling as a doctor and politics. “Once you are a doctor, you are always a doctor,” he told Realnews in this interview. According to Fasehun, being in politics is because he wants to improve the life of the ordinary Nigerians.
While he is fan of President Goodluck Jonathan, whom he believes, has done very well, he sees General Muhammadu Buhari as an interloper. He spoke to Olu Ojewale, general editor. Excerpts:
Realnews: How well is the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, faring now?
Fasehun: The UPN is faring very well; we thank God. Bearing in mind that the UPN is only 18 months old as a registered party and we thank God that the party has not been flexing muscles with other parties who have been on the field for a longer time. You know that some parties have been around for 15, 16 years. So, there is no way the UPN can flex muscles equally with those that have been on the field for that length of time. But we thank God we are not been doing too badly as a party. We have told the whole world that we don’t have a presidential candidate to vote for. But we are participants in the electoral system of this country and we will vote somebody of our choice.
Realnews: Who is that person you have adopted?
Fasehun: That is Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the current president.
Realnews: Why Jonathan and not (General Muhammadu) Buhari or another candidate?
Fasehun: Because he has performed very well. When a child performs well he is promoted to higher class. He has done very well. People have been counting his achievements on their fingertips, but no number of fingertips can accommodate what he has achieved.
Realnews: So, you are convinced that he has performed very well, but not everyone will agree with you that the President has done very well enough to merit another term in office.
Fasehun: He has done very well when you compare with past regimes. He has done very well. What Jonathan has been asked to fix are ills and failings of previous rulers. Those who precipitated this country into bad situation that has sustained for about 30 years, Jonathan has now to fix the nauseate situation. If we think he can fix 30 years ills in just four years, then we expect him to be a magician. But he is not a magician.
Realnews: Is that the reason why you joined the Afenifere to endorse President Jonathan for re-election?
Fasehun: No! We endorsed Jonathan on our own. We didn’t join anybody to endorse Jonathan. After we endorsed him it seemed we had created a bandwagon, that’s when other people started to jump on the bandwagon. We are very bad about that.
Realnews: Well, people say you are very close to him because government gave the O’odua People’s Congress, OPC, a multi-million naira contract to provide security for some government pipelines? What is the true position?
Fasehun: That is a profound lie emanating from a warped shed mentality. The OPC applied to provide security of pipelines since November 2011, and even now we have not been awarded the contract. People got wind of it and started bad propaganda. At a stage, they even put figure that I collected N2.8 billion for working for government. I didn’t think it was worth the denying, because those are bogus lies and even if we collected that contract from government we are Nigerians; are we not worth it; don’t we deserve it? We have had 40,000 people set apart for this contract. And do you know the economic effect of a government contract awarded to provide 40,000 people, the ripple effect? So, we will not argue with those who are telling lies to the whole world. We know the contract has not been awarded and still struggling for the contract to be awarded. We are Nigerians; we deserve to work for our country.
Realnews: How would you assess the political situation in the country?
Fasehun: The political situation is better now. About two three back the polity was fidgeted. Every Nigerian was frightened that if we went for the elections we thought it might spell some dooms. But some of us became so anxious we had to work to advise the INEC that if the elections were not shifted it might precipitate this country into some chaos and confusion, from which the country might not survive. We were worried and it was a good thing that the authorities in the INEC listened. And at that time, the INEC still had some four million permanent voter cards to print. If it had taken the INEC four years to print the number it had printed, and what it had printed at that time had not been fully distributed, how long will it take the INEC now to print the rest of the PVCs, four million of them, to distribute them and teach the recipients how to use the PVCs? The authorities in the INEC listened to good reasons and they shifted it. People virtually castigated us and chastised us for such advice. But the authorities of the INEC themselves had said they were lucky they listened. Even now, are we ready for the elections?
Realnews: That is actually my next question. Are we ready for the elections?
Fasehun: We are not ready for the elections, yet. We won’t be ready for the elections until the permanent voter cards are uniformly distributed to the voters; all right? If you distributed the PVCs hundred percent to village A and distributed 80 percent to village B. Now that you don’t have voters’ register in village B; if you did that you would have disenfranchised 20 percent of the registered voters in village B and that will not bring in democracy.
Realnews: When do you think the INEC will be ready for the elections?
Fasehun: That question is best answered by the INEC authorities. We hope and pray that the INEC having realised its faults inherent in what it had been doing for sometimes, for four years. Obviously, INEC would have learnt its lesson and must be applying vigorous methods now to ensure that people who were registered get their PVCs to be able to enjoy their citizenship; to be able to contribute their quota towards democracy and so and so forth. But, now, I don’t think we are ready yet. When we are ready, INEC should be able to mention it to the whole country.
Realnews: What about the security situation in the country? Do you think the security that has been used as excuse is okay now?
Fasehun: I don’t think so. Security operatives protested; they said they would not be able to guarantee security all over the country if we went ahead with that elections at that time, and we listened. We know what they are doing now security-wise. So, we hope and pray that they will be able to provide adequate security for the elections. We ought to have listened to them when we did because at that time Yobe State was 80 percent given PVCs, and Lagos State had been given 62 percent. And disenfranchising Lagosians to the tune of 38 percent, was virtually like disenfranchising the whole Lagos State. We listened to them because we thought if the elections took place and if the security operatives concentrated their efforts on security in the North East, how would they be able to provide security for voters in Ogoja, in Calabar, in Akure, in Ibadan? And so, we listened to them. They will have no excuse in four weeks’ time to say we are not yet ready.
Realnews: All the same the issue of security is still in the news because some people are arguing that the military should not be used for elections. Do you support the use of the military?
Fasehun: Security is essential for the election. We had security cover for Ekiti State. Ekiti is very peaceful after elections; we had for Osun State. Osun is still very peaceful, post-election. We had it in Ondo State and Ondo is very peaceful. So, who is the disciple of doom saying we should not have adequate security for elections? If I had my way any method that could be adopted to provide security for democracy let us adopt it.
Realnews: But the argument is that it is unconstitutional to use the military for the conduct of elections?
Fasehun: My dear friend, do you think the constitution has cover for all our circumstances? No, no! If the Constitution has taken care of all our circumstances, foreseeable or unforeseeable we wouldn’t have needed to have the National Conference. We went to the National Confab to repair the current Constitution of the Republic of Nigeria. We are still waiting for that democratic correction done by the National Confab. We are waiting for somebody to take on power and accept the recommendations of the Confab. It would be very unfortunate to submit the decisions of the Confab to somebody who doesn’t believe in the Confab. That would be a terrible mistake if you think. General Muhammadu Buhari never believes in the Confab if you now rig him into power and submit the decisions of the Confab to him to work on what do you think he would do to it? Then we would have been back in square one. We have been crying for a National Conference for almost 30 years. In the meantime, many of us who were addict of democracy, we have been dying one by one. Only a few of us remain. Of course, we want to see democracy in this land that is why some of us who remain are still saying let us put somebody who also will join the band wagon of the addict of democracy, and that’s Jonathan.
Realnews: There is a group called Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, which came up recently to accuse Attahiru Jega, INEC chairman of compromising. I am sure you are aware of the group and its allegations against Jega. In view of the allegations do you think that the INEC can organise acceptable elections without first of all sort out the allegations?
Fasehun: Well, it is only a fool who will sustain a mistake made by him or her even after correction. The INEC has been shown the card, it is up to it. But we hope and pray that it would be in a situation to correct its anomalies and recover the confidence of the people in itself. Nigerians have allowed four years for INEC to perform, if it fails to perform in four years then, democracy is in trouble. But I am sure the commission would have corrected its anomalies and by the time the election is here it would be ready to conduct a free, fair, decent and acceptable election.
Realnews: I saw your picture and that of Gani Adams in the newspapers. Does it mean that the OPC has now become a one family and no factionalisation?
Faesehun: The OPC has never been two families.
Realnews: So, that means there has been reconciliation?
Fasehun: The so-called division in the OPC was a media hype. When (former President) Olusegun Obasanjo sent the two of us to jail in 2006, we were sleeping on the same bed. We did not commit any assassination during that time. So, who says there is division in the OPC?
Realnews: Why did Obasanjo send you to jail?
Fasehun: I am yet to know. I have been to jail several times under different regimes but no court of law has convicted me of any offence. The rulers will pick on me and put me in jail.
Realnews: Why didn’t you sue the government to court for trampling on your rights?
Fasehun: Can you sue Nigerian government? Nigerian governments don’t listen to courts. It would be a waste of time and resources to sue a Nigerian government.
Realnews: There are about 26 political parties in the country and 14 presidential candidates. But of the 14 candidates only two are prominent or visible if you like. One would wonder why?
Fasehun: Chairman Mao (of China) when he was carrying out his revolution, he made a remark: “Let thousand flowers blossom.” So, to establish democracy you must allow a thousand flowers blossom; alright? Let as many people as can afford it go to the contest, and those who have alternative things to offer to transform or reform the country can come and tell us what they have. Remember there is only one seat. So, the others like satellite platform will fall away. There is only one that will come in there. The more the merrier. It will afford the country the opportunity to select the best amongst them. Since there are two visible ones, so let us vote for one of them. We need only one of them any way.
Realnews: What do you have against Buhari that you don’t want him to win the presidential election?
Fasehun: My grouse is not against the person of Buhari but what he stands for. I am one of those who started agitating for a Sovereign National Conference in this country; we changed along the line to National Conference. And now, we achieved a National Confab and over 600 decisions were arrived at in the National Conference. My fear is if you subject it the decisions of the Conference proper to the winds and caprices of Buhari, he will just throw it out. So, you don’t subject weapon of democracy to dictatorship. It will not survive.
Secondly, I think our people are turning the truth upside down. Corruption is one of the biggest problems we have to fix in this country and people are being excluded that this is not corrupt and that is not corrupt; whereas it is putting the truth upside down. In his time as military leader didn’t we have N2.8 billion corruption? Didn’t we have 52 suitcases filled with new currency notes when we changed our currency? Who allowed those 52 suitcases to come into Nigeria?
Realnews: But there was no proof that the suitcases contained new Naira notes?
Fasehun: When those suitcases came in, the Customs who were in charge of our borders cried out and they didn’t tell us where those suitcases disappeared to. Even at that time you couldn’t publish the truth against federal government. Any truth you published if it was seen as embarrassing to the government you were liable. And what is democracy if you cannot publish the truth? If you publish the truth and government feels embarrass about the truth you publish you would end up in jail.
And such decision that banned the culprit, prison sentences, when Buhari came to power he backdated the decisions and people who had been sentenced to imprisonment had their sentences backdated and it earned them death sentences. These are some of the things we are saying. We have had some people telling us various lies. Must Buhari climb up and govern through lies?
In any case, this is somebody who had failed in election three previous times. And should he not have talked to himself that Nigerian people don’t want him. And if he is coming to manage our economy, he should show us how he has managed his personal economy since he retired 30 years ago. How has he managed his personal economy that will enable him now manage the national economy? He should persuade us. And we have not forgotten the Petroleum Trust Fund.
And when you put him (Buhari) side by side Jonathan, Jonathan has done so much for this country. Unfortunately, the young man does not believe in sounding on rooftops to announce what he has done and what he has not done. He has created 12 universities in this country; 12 new universities in four years? That’s a record. He has built various schools for almajiri; he is the first person to have created schools for almajiri in this country. He has built East-West road; he is building railway lines; refurbishing our airports and reconstructing our roads. He has done so much for this country than previous administrations put together. He is promoting agriculture. Where we spent N350 billion importing rice, but he has reduced it to about N100 billion. And if you say with all these Jonathan has not done well, too bad, too bad! Like I said, he gave us the National Conference. He championed the fight against Ebola and Nigeria became a world target against that scourge. He has done so much, producing a revolution in agriculture, health, education.
Realnews: General Muhammadu Buhari says he is now a democrat. Don’t you think he should be given a chance?
Fasehun: Do you believe him? I don’t! I have been under the military before. Leopards don’t change their spots. What is baffling is that Buhari still wants to govern Nigeria again. He has failed three times and he will fail again because he doesn’t believe in democracy. When he came to power in 1984, he asked political leaders to report at the nearest police station. Many of them died in detention. That is the man who wants to come back to rule Nigeria. I don’t want to experience Buhari again. Four years of Buhari will be four years of nightmares for this country.
Realnews: You seem to know so much about the President Jonathan’s achievements and seem to admire him. Then why are you not in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP?
Fasehun: I am not in the PDP because we are ideologically different. Like I said I am addicted to democracy. I don’t think too many people in the PDP are democratic and if they were democratic you wouldn’t have them changing camp every now and then. Yesterday they were sinners, they were indecent, they were corrupt and the following day they were mingling with saints eating on the same table. Where is the ideology? I like to be consistent. All my days, I have been consistent. I don’t like ideological inconsistency. Ideological inconsistency in politics is none issue, which is a brand of corruption. Some of you media men know those who are genuine democrats. I have fought for democracy for 35 years and it is too late for me now to give up.
Realnews: Where do you want the UPN to be in the next four years?
Fasehun: In the next four years, like I said we are not contesting for various elections this time because we started ‘late’ but by the grace of God in four years’ time, Nigerians will be struggling to join the UPN.
Realnews: On a personal note. Have you retired from medicine?
Fasehun: No! I was in my hospital this morning. I attended to patients this morning. Once you are a doctor, you are always a doctor.