In this interview with GBENRO ADEOYE, the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and former Pro-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), speaks about Nigeria, the economy, the law profession and other issues
You were at one time the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, looking back now, how well do you think the law profession has done since that time?
Before I became the NBA president, I was Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Ondo State, but I thank God for the NBA. But to me, the NBA should illuminate the darkness of Nigerians. It must act as the voice for the voiceless and the oppressed. To be the NBA leader is not a tea party; it is not like going for a picnic. I cannot see any NBA leader as good if he does not want to step on toes. When I was NBA president, it was under a democratic regime, which was supposed to be rooted in the constitution and constitutionalism. But before then, I belonged to the Alao Aka Bashorun (also a former President of the NBA) dynasty within the NBA. I was one of his boys and I stood by him and with him for the two years that he was president. And I liked his courage and appreciated his carriage. One day, while Femi Falana and I were at his office in Ebute-Meta, the telephone rang. There was no GSM at the time. He pressed the speaker button and from the other end, the person said ‘President’. Then Bashorun asked, ‘who is that?’ The person said ‘my name is Ibrahim’. Femi and I had known by that time that it was General Ibrahim Babangida’s voice. The person then said he was Ibrahim Babangida. Unconsciously, Bashorun stood up. That was reflex action. He said you are the President, sir. But IBB said the President of the NBA is the President of Nigeria. He said the fear of Alao Aka Bashorun was the beginning of wisdom. I’m telling you this so that you understand what the NBA presidency meant to a military dictator, for him to have said that. Babangida then said you are doing well for the NBA but we want you to come and serve. But Bashorun said, Mr. President, forget about that, I’m satisfied being the President of the NBA. He said, but one thing I will request of you. All the decrees that you churn out every day, please can you allow the NBA to have inputs? Can you send us the drafts of the decrees before you sign them? Babangida said Alao, take it as done. And from then on, every decree that Babangida wanted to pass, he would send to the NBA and we would debate it. So I became the NBA president, I knew the background I was coming from. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the President but I knew he was a military dictator. He had and still has military traits and tendencies- the military’s ‘know it all’ attitude. So I knew what I was prepared for. Some people thought that because he was a Yoruba President and I was Yoruba NBA President, I would be treating him with kid gloves, no. When we needed to respect him, we respected him and when we needed to criticise him, we criticised him. There was a time we visited him in his office in Aso Villa and he was harassing me while I was reading my speech, he did it three or four times, interjecting me and banging his fist on the table. But I didn’t want to be rude to him. Gen. Abdulsalami Abukakar and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Kanu Agabi (SAN) were there. Obasanjo didn’t allow the press to come in. He was banging the table, saying No! No! No!
What did you say that made him do that?
Recently, the Federal Government and some members of the public have accused the NBA and the judiciary of aiding corruption with delay tactics to frustrate the anti-graft law. Do you agree with that?
Nowadays, you see people talking about lawyers defending some people. A lawyer is at liberty to defend any person that briefs him. So you should not condemn the lawyers because it is Mr. A, it might be you tomorrow. Frankly speaking, the government and those condemning lawyers are very unfair to lawyers. Have they cast some people aside as lepers that are untouchable? A lawyer must muster sufficient courage whether in criminal or civil actions, to take up the defence or the case of his client without compromising it and without minding whose ox is gored, but it must be done within the ambit of law. He must not go outside that to do what is criminal simply because he wants to save his client or win a case for him. But within the ambit of the law, a lawyer has sufficient room to meander. And a lawyer must be fearless and resolute but he must not be rude. Otherwise, don’t come to the profession. Some people don’t know and some pretend not to know that law has its technicalities-both civil and criminal proceedings. They talk of technicalities and say that lawyers delay cases, look, without being immodest; I have been involved in a lot of cases in this country. I have defended a lot of people. During the run-up to the 2015 elections, I was one of the lawyers hired on pro bono basis to defend the All Progressives Congress and its candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. We employed all the tactics available, employable and allowable in the legal profession; why didn’t they blame us then? If we didn’t, the election would not have held. If you do that today, some people, even within the profession, will blame you. I know what I’m talking about. The election was to hold on a Saturday and Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, said he was going to deliver his judgement on whether or not card readers should be used by the Independent National Electoral Commission on Thursday, two days to the election. We filed preliminary objection, he overruled it. I was in court with Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), Akin Olujinmi (SAN), and Kola Awodein, (when) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu sent an aircraft to pick me in Akure, saying that if we were not in court, the election would not hold. There are things that need to be unveiled in this country. Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola (former Lagos State Governor), the Vice President (Prof. Yemi Osibajo), Lai Mohammed, the AGF (Abubakar Malami) were in the know. And Kolawole overruled us. Then he called the plaintiff and said, can you go ahead with originating summons? I will deliver my judgement tomorrow. Like someone who was possessed, I rose up and said I was applying for stay of proceedings. Then the other lawyer interjected and asked for my formal application. I gave him two authorities offhand that I could apply orally. That was two days to the election. Kolawole said well, whatever it is; I would want to listen to you. He listened to me. We did it pro bono in the sense that the APC hasn’t paid us. Nobody even wrote a letter to say thank you. Then thereafter, he wrote a ruling and granted stay of proceedings 48 hours to the election. The Supreme Court later held that, though the card reader was a good innovation, it was not yet in the law. Would Buhari have been President if we had not done that? What could be more technical than that? They filed action against Buhari, we looked at it; we raised objections and we were dragging that. Is that not technicality? And some people will now accuse me when I do it for other people that I’m defending looters. But when you do it for them, it is right; that is double standard. And what baffles me is that some high lawyers, who should know better, also accuse some lawyers of defending looters? To hell with anybody who has looted the treasury. I believe in my profession and I thank God for what I am. I am a fulfilled person and don’t want any position from any government, but then government should allow those of us who are privately engaged to do our work. In our offices in Lagos and Abuja, we have over 75 members of staff- professionals and supporting staff. We pay more than what the government pays and don’t owe workers. A cleaner in my office earns far more than what government calls minimum wage. And when you say someone is a looter, who is a looter? Anybody who loots will have his day in court and God will punish looters, but at the same time, judge not, so that you are not judged. And let the accused person defend himself. All religions give room for fair hearing. I grew up to know that when people came to my father to settle disputes, he would say ‘e je ko so tie, agba ti o gbo ejo enikan dajo, agba osika ni’ (let him say his side of the story; an elder who bases his judgement on only one side of the story is wicked). I grew up to know that. So you don’t want people to be heard? If that is the case, change the constitution. So once someone is accused, he is arrested and taken to prison. Then, abolish the courts. That is my position. And what goes around comes around. You may be the accuser today, tomorrow; it may be your turn to face accusations. Let the law take its course. It is tyrannical, dictatorial and smacks of militarism when you start accusing lawyers who defend people. You cannot have democracy without free speech and people having access to courts. You cannot be the accuser, the lawyer and the judge. They say lawyers and judges delay the prosecution of looters, then if they have already been adjudged looters, don’t prosecute them. It is only a court of law that can come to the conclusion that someone has looted the treasury after evidence has been produced.
So where does a lawyer find balance? How do you decide who to defend or who not to defend?
A lawyer is at liberty to defend any case and once he takes up the case, he must do it uncompromisingly to the best of his ability. No lawyer can be condemned for defending any person. But as for me, at times, I might decide not to take some cases because of the extenuating circumstances. Today, I have rejected a particular brief, but I won’t mention names because of the parties concerned. I cherish my independence. A lawyer must not be under the control of any person. My clientele cuts across tribal, ethnical, religious boundaries. Once I take up a case, I take it that there is an unwritten covenant between that person and myself supervised by God and I must not compromise his interest. That is at the bottom line for me. I don’t care what anybody says, I owe a duty to that client just as I did to Gen. Buhari as a candidate without seeing him. Some people briefed me on his behalf and I loyally served him.
Some people will wonder how you are able to handle briefs from people from opposing sides like when you defended Tinubu at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and by 2.30pm on the same day, you were defending former President Goodluck Jonathan in another court. How do you quickly shift allegiances?
What I give my clients is my knowledge, I don’t sell my conscience. I retain my conscience and independence. I cherish my liberty. I keep it. No client will tell me not to represent others, I will tell that client to go. Let me give you an example. Tinubu is not just my client, he is also my friend. I respect him and he respects me but he cannot say he wants to control me. He does not even discuss my professional jobs with me. The day you just referred to, I was at the CCT in the morning in a suit. Jonathan’s election petition was stood down till about 2 pm and immediately I finished addressing the CCT on Tinubu’s matter, I had to go and change for Jonathan’s matter. Jonathan would dare not ask me why I was defending his foe. But one thing I knew then was that there was no Nigerian that Jonathan’s government feared more than Tinubu.
Why do you think so?
I know. In fact, his camp believed they were contesting election against him, that he was the arrowhead of the opposition but they dared not ask me anything about his case. One thing I also noticed was that Jonathan’s team started withdrawing from me gradually because of the Tinubu factor. And I won’t go to anybody to beg for briefs. A lady, whose name I don’t want to mention, called me one day and said these people are in trouble, why are they running away from you? Who cares? I can be very committed to my clients. Former President Umaru Yar’Adua is dead; I was his lawyer since his days as Governor of Katsina State. He was a gentleman per excellence; he would have been the best president Nigeria ever had but he was overwhelmed by his illness. He was so humble, intelligent, honest and frugal. He was the one who appointed me as Pro Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and he told me, Wole, I know you are going to help me revive and revamp that place. Thank God we did that eventually. We changed the entire face of the university. Anytime Tinubu wants to make jest of me, he will say when it comes to law, nobody talks to you, I will say thank God you know that. He knows that when it comes to his case, I will not compromise his interest. Also, I defended Tinubu when the late Funsho Williams took him to the tribunal. He has been my client over the years. And if you are talking of technicality, we had a plan when we handled his CCT case. We had even planned against the ruling and ahead of the ruling. I had already prepared notice of appeal. I had prepared a notice of appeal, a motion for stay of proceedings, and that if the ruling went against us, we would say okay, let’s take a short adjournment, argue that motion for stay of proceedings. Would you say that is technicality? Is that not allowed in law? Today, if I do it for somebody else, would you now want to shoot me down? When people are in government, they appropriate all knowledge to themselves. And it is only they that are patriotic; that can’t be right. It is only God that is always right. I see a lot of us now, who believe that government is always right, that can’t be right. We must objectively critique the government, not to bring it down but to make it perform. Nobody has the divine right to govern over me, you do so through democratic means, therefore, you owe me a duty to do well and listen to me and my complaints. When government says 2 plus 2 equals 10, we clap. We don’t take the government up any longer; we must not be like robots. It is not in the interest of the government, it is not in our own interest and it is not in the interest of our children.
The Federal Government recently proposed the sale of some assets, which was largely condemned by Nigerians. What is your take on it?
I’m not an economist but I think I have some rudimentary knowledge of economics and what is commonsensical, reasonable and just and not hasty and scandalous. I’m a bit worried about how it came to the national front burner as a discourse. Who first hinted the idea? It was the business mogul- Aliko Dangote. Later, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, supported it and later on, the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II. As someone who has a stake in this country, I ask, was it accidental or were they acting in concert? I’m not happy with the way things are going on in my country. Dangote is a successful businessman but what is his leverage in economics? Saraki is a medical doctor by training but now a politician by vocation and practice. The Yoruba will say the witch cried yesterday, the child died today, who would not know that it was the witch that killed the child. Is it not a case of people trying to position themselves to buy the assets? We must not allow it to happen. We must not behave like prodigals. Does it make any sense to say you have kidney problem, someone now advises you to remove your brain to solve your kidney problem. Does it make any sense? Is it not nonsensical? Is it not stupid? We are talking about core national assets that are not even failing like the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, which fetches us billions of dollars annually. May the time not come when they will sell off Aso Villa and lease it back to us. I hope the time will not come when they will be selling off Nigerian citizens. I read that Obasanjo said that he agreed that they should sell off the assets but not to the cabals. Who constitute the cabals? They should let us know the beneficiaries of the assets that they have sold in the past. Let us have the list; let us know those who bought directly and those who bought through proxies. They are cheating this country and taking us for a ride. And I heard someone saying government will put a repurchase clause in it; they are insulting our intelligence. What an insult? Is there no law again? I sell this building and put a repurchasing clause that after 10 years, I will buy it back. Who will buy that from you? And which court will enforce it? Enough is enough. They are selling dummies to us every day and insulting the mentality of Nigerians. The CBN governor also said recently that the worst was over as regards recession; that is also insulting. People are hungry and angry and you are saying the worst is over. I have some questions to ask when you say that: are you now saying that before the end of the year, the naira will be restored to the position it was before the crisis? Are you going to give people, who have lost their jobs, the jobs back? Obasanjo must reveal the members of the cabals. And let government stop talking about corruption every day.
Don’t you believe in the anti-corruption fight?
I believe in anti-corruption, you know, I said earlier that woe betide anybody who has looted the treasury or any person who uses his position to amass wealth. But when you keep on describing Nigeria as a country that is corrupt, investors will stay off. And if you know some judges are corrupt, deal with them, but don’t go to another country to say that the judiciary in your country is corrupt; nobody will come there because it is about investment and the rule of law. And when you talk of corruption among lawyers, who are the people? It takes two to tango. Let every politician in Nigeria swear by the god of thunder that he has not tried to induce a judge. Let the President take a cue from the United States President, Barack Obama. George W. Bush squandered American funds on the Gulf War as President of the US because he wanted Saddam Hussein by all means –dead or alive- after the September 11 attack. The economy of the US was comatose when Obama took over, but did you hear him say any bad thing about Bush? He had his own agenda. He started issuing presidential orders and proclamations and within two or three years, the economy was revived without him condemning anybody. To me, government is a continuum. I’m not in the Peoples Democratic Party or the APC; I don’t even see any difference between the two of them when it is so easy for the PDP people to move to the APC and immediately become progressives. You don’t sell that to me. Mr. President should have an inclusive government.
Culled from Punch newspaper
2019: Atiku’s emergence means it will be eagle vs eagle…..Bakare
The Convener of Save Nigeria Group (SNG), Pastor Tunde Bakare on Sunday congratulated Alhaji Atiku Abubakar on his emergence as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate.
According to Bakare, Atiku’s victory would make the 2019 election keen and interesting.
Bakare, Senior Pastor, Latter Rain Assembly, spoke to newsmen in Ikeja after making a speech on Nigeria’s 58th Independence in his church.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Abubakar, a former Vice-President, was declared winner at his party’s convention in Port-Harcourt early Sunday.
He polled 1,532 votes to defeat his closest rival, Gov. Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State (693 votes) and Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, among others at the convention that started on Saturday.
Bakare said the emergence of Atiku was a welcome development as it meant the battle for the presidency would be a tough contest between him and President Muhammadu Buhari.
The SNG convener said both the president, who is the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Abubakar were equal match and it was Nigerians who would decide between the two.
“I congratulate him (Abubakar), he makes the issue in 2019 more robust.
“It is not going an eaglet versus an eagle but an eagle versus eagle: an old eagle versus new eagle and probably both of them old eagles.
“I wish president Muhammadu Buhari the best in 2019.
“He has the power of incumbency and he will do his best to win the election, but Atiku is not going to take No for an answer when the two forces collide in the election,” he said.
Bakare said Abubakar, just like Buhari, had the experience, the exposure and the acceptance expected of the country’s president.
He, however, pointed out that having those qualities alone would not translate into the victory for him, as the electorate would decide the parameters on which to elect the next president.
“I can’t say Atiku will win or lose. You see, I am not advocating for him. Among all the aspirants who contested the PDP’s ticket with him, he is perhaps the most cosmopolitan,he is a Wazobia man.
“He was Vice-President for eight years, and he inherited something from late Yaradua that he had held on to so effectively.
“He has been a businessman with a business acumen and he has the exposure.
“But you see, that is not what qualifies you to win. A lot comes into play, so again, I can not say whether he will win or lose,” he said.
Bakare said for the PDP to win the 2019 elections, they would need to demonstrate to the electorate that they were a regenerated party and “show repentance for the years of the locust they engineered”.
He added that the opposition party had to convince Nigerians that they would not return to corruption, which he said was the way of life during its rule, to win the confidence of the electorate.
On the chances of APC, Bakare said though the government was trying its best, there was the need for them to do much more to win the next election.
He said the country was facing a lot of challenges which the government needed to offer solutions to, in order to fast track pace of development.
The cleric said that performance and policies, and not necessarily incumbency factor, would guarantee victory for the APC in 2019.
The SNG Convener said his comments about the Buhari’s administration from the beginning, should not be interpreted to mean he was attacking the government, but he was just raising issues needing attention.
“I didn’t take any swipe at the administration of President Buhari.
“What I have always said is that despite the acclaimed progress in the country, Nigerians are not feeling the impact in their homes.
“That does not mean the government is not working. Look at the groanings of the people, the government still has to do a lot more before the 2019 elections.
“They have to work harder to assure Nigerians that they are really up to the task of listening to their yearnings and aspirations.
“The purpose of government is the welfare and security of people.Take that from the equation, then governance means nothing,” he said.
He said the emergence of many political parties was good for democracy and freedom.
Bakare, however, said many of the parties were pretenders and they would need to “rise above the cacophony of noise” they were making to make impact in the elections.
The SNG Convener said he had a presidential ambition but would not contest against President Buhari.
Bakare, who did not say the year he would contest, however, said he would be the one to succeed the president.
In his speech on the Independence titled “The Road to 2019: Quo Basis Nigeria’, Bakare said Nigeria had the potential to be great with the right leadership and positive attitude of followers.
He said 2019 presented another opportunity for citizens to realise the destiny of the country by participating in the process and voting right.
Bakare urged citizens to vote according to their conscience and elect leaders that mean well for the country.
BreakingNews: Atiku Wins PDP Presidential Primaries
Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar has emerged the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic party for the 2019 election after four attempts.
Osun Election: Is this the INEC or should We Expect another?
By Jude Ndukwe
During his screening exercise before the senate prior to his confirmation as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof Mahmud Yakubu had, in response to one of the questions from the senators, said it was too late in his life for anyone, no matter how highly placed or powerful, to influence him in the discharge of his duties. Although I had my reservations about his sincerity but having watched him on that day, he performed so well in convincing the senators and every other person who might have had doubts about his capacity, firmness and fairness that he was the right man for the job. Since then I have taken special interest in him to know if indeed we still have men around who honour their word irrespective of the prevailing circumstances and pressure.
For a majority of the elections which Mahmud Yakubu’s INEC has conducted since he came on board, Nigerians have often expressed strong reservations about them to the extent that at a point in time, the Commission was rechristened Inconclusive National Electoral Commission, INEC, in mockery of its several elections it declared inconclusive as a result of reasons not appearing genuine to some citizens, a move which many saw as attempts to rig the system in favour of one party against the other.
Although INEC has stoutly defended its conduct of elections, if there was still any faith in INEC by the citizens, such faith must have finally melted away with the conduct of the Osun State election which started well but whose rerun ended up leaving soured grapes in the mouths of electorates, observers and Nigerians in general.
To start with, it is believed by many Nigerians that the Osun rerun was conjured up by INEC under the influence of powerful forces who were desperate to subvert the people’s will in the election in order to create time and space for the many infractions observed during the rerun on Thursday, September 27, 2019. The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room rightly observes that “the circumstances that led to the cancellation of the election in the seven polling units where the election were rerun including violence, also repeated themselves in most of this election, raising questions on why results obtained under these conditions should now stand”.
It further stated that “the entirety of the Osun State rerun election derogates from the recent gains made in our elections process and the confidence that was beginning to be built. The lapses in the Osun rerun election have put a serious question mark on the electoral process and raise concerns about the forthcoming 2019 Nigeria general elections”.
Also, missions of the US, EU and UK observed these infractions with particular concern about the role of the security agents who were reported to have harassed and intimidated voters as a way of preventing some of them from voting and even arrested some election observers including those from the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA. It is therefore troubling that despite these reports from credible local and international observers, INEC still went ahead to declare results in a rerun where a good number of the voters were deliberately disenfranchised.
The Osun election has, no doubt, cast a dark shadow on the nation’s electoral process. Following the election, Nigerians across spectrums have questioned the usefulness of their PVCs which they conclude are only just another card that has no value whatsoever for elections as, in their reckoning, INEC, the security forces and other relevant agencies of government have over time shown unrestrained bias and openly pitched their tents consistently towards one party against the other.
There is no stronger evidence of the rigging template and determination of the APC in their insatiable desire for power even if it means severely circumventing the process and denying the people their will and choice than the Freudian slip of the APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole who was caught on camera saying “Only people who can afford the pains of rigging…should partake in elections”. The bravado with which the former Edo State governor said it is even a louder testimony that the APC is working in cahoots with INEC and security agencies to continue to demean the system.
The Osun debacle borrowed its roots from the earlier Ekiti governorship election that was heavily militarized with the security agencies showing unmitigated bias against the PDP and other political parties in favour of the APC. It is therefore most unfortunate that the zeal and enthusiasm with which Nigerians registered for and collected their permanent voters card just in August have been dampened only barely a month after by the shenanigans of those in authority.
Some Nigerians have even been forced to conclude that the results of the 2019 general elections have already been written to favour the ruling party at the centre and therefore there is no need participating in the electoral process any longer.
How we got here is saddening. While APC rode on the goodwill of Nigerians based on their scurrilous attacks, campaigns of calumny, propaganda, half-truths and sophistry embarked upon against the then president Goodluck Jonathan and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, it is bewildering how this same party that had endeared itself to the hearts of Nigerians with their vitriolic style of campaign has lost so much support and so fast just in three years to the extent that they apply the win-it-by-all-means strategy including dubious collaboration with security agencies and INEC officials to manipulate the process and thereafter declare themselves winners with aplomb while dismissing the electorates and other participants with the “go-to-court” sermon that has now become a new catchphrase of ridicule in our electoral lexicon.
The Osun rerun is a monumental travesty. Videos abound where electorates were lamenting their inability to vote because security agents or APC thugs either harassed them or turned them back from approaching their polling units to cast their votes. The larger implications of such practices could be very dire on the nation. It was John F. Kennedy who once said that “Those who make peaceful change impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”.
In as much as no one wishes violence on another not to talk of the nation, the actions of some of our leaders have gone beyond preaching the impossibility of making peaceful change impossible to actually practicing its impossibility. Such leaders should know that there is a limit to the endurance of a people, and no one has the monopoly of violence. When people are constantly pushed to the wall, they would be forced to react and the extent of their reaction is sometimes only measured after the billowing smoke have gone down and the dust settled.
Prof Mahmud Yakubu and his team must realize that they owe posterity their integrity. They owe the nation their sworn impartiality. They must realize that sovereignty resides with the people and the people have the freedom to exercise it as they see fit. From Kogi, Ondo, Edo, Ekiti to Osun, the story has not been different. The disenchantment created by INEC’s perceived partiality against the people is leaving question marks on their lips? They are asking, is this the same INEC which Prof Mahmud Yakubu promised during his screening was going to be impartial and conduct free, fair and credible elections, or is there another INEC which Yakubu and his team want us to wait for to conduct a widely acceptable 2019 general elections?
INEC should know that the election observers including the US, EU, and UK who spoke with one voice in condemnation of the Osun rerun process cannot all be wrong. The nation is already hanging by the cliff and it might just take only one more push by INEC and the security agencies at the 2019 elections to finally push her down the abyss and set off a conflagration that might make historians write on the nation’s epitaph: “Here lays the ashes of Nigeria, murdered by her electoral umpires. Indeed, there was a country”! May this not be Nigeria’s lot. It will not be only if INEC, the security agencies and other critical stakeholders in the polity allow a free and fair electoral process.
INEC, over to you!
—firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @stjudendukwe
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