Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, in this interview with BAYO AKINLOYE, speaks about Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra and how the government is paying lip service to the restructuring of the country
Nnamdi Kanu is said to be on the run, what’s your opinion about this?
Mind you, the fellow and his wife and children are British citizens. He may have left the country to join his family in the United Kingdom. While campaigning for Biafra he never threw away his British passport. I hope he has not run away so that he does not jeopardise the liberty of his sureties. It is an irony that Kanu, who is leading the struggle for the Balkanization of Nigeria, has dual citizenship, while Mr. Shettima Yerima, who gave the notice to quit to Igbo people in the North lives in Lagos.
Will you say Kanu’s life may be in danger?
For sure. When armed soldiers invaded Odi in Bayelsa State or Zaki Biam in Benue State, they killed scores of people. Everybody’s life in Nigeria is in danger. Nigerians are shot dead in their homes by armed robbers or on the roads by soldiers or policemen or by armed herdsmen on their farms. So, it is a risky business to survive in Nigeria. Even President Muhammadu Buhari had to be flown to Britain for medical attention because his life was in danger here. So, nobody is safe in our country.
Why do you think President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is afraid of Kanu and Indigenous People of Biafra?
It has nothing to do with fear. In the corridor of power, it is generally believed that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. Therefore, anyone who threatens the unity of Nigeria has to be crushed or jailed. That was what led President Olusegun Obasanjo to charge Mujahid Asari Dokubo, Dr. Fredrick Faseun, Otunba Gani Adams, and Ralph Uwazurike and put them away in Kuje prison. (Former) President (Umaru) Yar’Adua charged Henry Okah with treason and detained him. President Jonathan charged Charles Okah with terrorism and put him away in Kuje prison. The regime ensured that his brother, Henry was jailed in South Africa for threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria.
Do you agree with Senate President Bukola Saraki that proscribing the IPOB and declaring it a terrorist group unconstitutional?
Since 1999, I have consistently called for the demilitarisation of the society. Hence, I condemned the military invasion of Abia State. I also criticised the proscription of IPOB by the Nigerian Army. The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, spoke after I had made my comments. All the same, let the National Assembly, chaired by him, carry out its duty under section 217 of the constitution by enacting a law on military deployment by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. That constitutional duty has not been carried out by the National Assembly since 1999. The constitution states that the President shall deploy troops in aid of civil authority as may be prescribed by the National Assembly. Beyond the issuance of a press statement, the senate president should sponsor a bill to actualise the requirement of the constitution.
Are you happy with the way the ruling All Progressives Congress is handling current national issues like restructuring, agitation for self-determination and security in the country?
Not even the Federal government can be said to be happy with the state of affairs with respect to the level of insecurity of life and property in the country. With respect, the response of the Federal Government to security challenge has been rather slow, tentative and superficial. You cannot police 170 million people with 350,000 ill-equipped and ill-trained police personnel. Instead of equipping the police, the Federal Government has allowed the Nigerian Armed Forces to usurp police powers. I have just confirmed that a state government is being made to cough up N100m for a single military operation in one of the states in the South-West. The Nigerian army has announced that the operation Python Dance was designed to combat kidnapping and armed robbery and that the operation Crocodile Smile II will be staged in the South-West to confront the menace of Badoo (cult group) in Ikorodu (Lagos State). Meanwhile, the Lagos State Police Command, under the leadership of the current Commissioner of Police, Mr. Imohini Edgal, has effectively destroyed the criminal gang. Another issue of insecurity pertains to the regular violent clashes between farmers and armed herdsmen. Frankly speaking, it does not require rocket science to deal with the menace. Botswana is the largest producer of meat in Africa. That country of 1.6 million people has a cattle population of 2.8 million. But with ranches and abattoirs established by the government, Botswana has eliminated the clashes between farmers and herdsmen.
The APC recently called for memoranda to be submitted by the public on the issue of restructuring. What do you make of that?
During the last electioneering, the All Progressives Congress promised to restructure the country. It was therefore surprising when the APC Chairman, Chief John Oyegun, claimed that the APC would not restructure the country. In fact, one of the leading ideologues of the party, Mr. Nasir el-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State, described those who are campaigning for restructuring as opportunists. To stop the public deceit, I had to refer the APC leadership to the party’s manifesto where it is expressly stated that the party would initiate action to amend the nation’s constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to state and local governments, in order to entrench federalism and the federal spirit. It was at that juncture that the APC was compelled to set up a committee on restructuring. Is that not a time-wasting exercise? One would have expected the APC to reach out to other stakeholders in the Nigerian project, including representatives of political parties, the labour movement, the youths including students, women, physically challenged people, etc., to debate the devolution and democratisation of powers in a way that the national question is addressed in a holistic manner. That action would have addressed the bulk of agitations over marginalisation, inequality and insecurity in the country. There can be no serious restructuring with a neocolonial political economy. But like the Peoples Democratic Party, the APC government has relied on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in addressing the crisis of underdevelopment and poverty in the country. Hence, the Federal Government is busy piling up debts from the west and the east with dire consequences for the sovereignty of the nation. For goodness sake, which country has been taken out of economic crisis or recession by the IMF and World Bank? None. Why then does the Buhari regime think ours would be different? The other emphasis is on foreign investments. Again, this is another area where the federal and state governments have been misled since 1999. The few foreign investors who come around are in the country to make money and repatriate all the profits. President Donald Trump met African leaders including President Buhari last week during the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
At the meeting, he disclosed in his characteristic raw manner that his friends from the United States have been making a lot of money from Africa. On a yearly basis, in the last two decades, Nigerians in the Diaspora have remitted more funds to this country (Nigeria) than the so-called foreign investors. Has the Federal Government paid any serious attention to the huge population of Nigerians in the Diaspora that are contributing much more to nation-building and economic development than the IMF and World Bank or the much-celebrated foreign investors? Asking the Nigerian people to submit memoranda on restructuring is the height of mischief on the part of the APC.
What do you think about President Buhari saying the National Assembly will handle the issue of restructuring?
Since the (current Nigerian) constitution was enacted and given to the Nigerian people by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.) via Decree no 29 of 1999, the belief in the circle of the military wing of the political class is that any restructuring should be carried out via the constitution. It is crystal clear that the civilian wing of the political class is equally not committed to restructuring. This democratic dispensation has produced two ex-military rulers and two civilian ex-governors. Each of them has struggled to retain the status quo. I laugh when the PDP says that the APC is not committed to restructuring. While in power for 16 years did the PDP restructure the country? The (ex-President Goodluck) Jonathan administration set up a National Conference which recommended power devolution or restructuring. The report was submitted to President Jonathan on August 20, 2014. For nine months thereafter, he did not look at the report. Now, he too is demanding the restructuring of the country. A number of former governors and current governors who are leading the debate on restructuring do not really believe in the restructuring of the country. If so, why are they not restructuring their states? I have studied the communiqué of the Yoruba Summit recently held in Ibadan (Oyo State) with keen interest. The Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayo Fayose, who has shouted himself hoarse over the issue of restructuring, has re-introduced the payment of school fees in primary schools. Yet, the state has a law which states that every child shall be educated free of charge from primary to junior secondary school.
Won’t the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo be turning in his grave that a state governor in the West re-introduced payment of school fees in primary schools over 60 years after its abolition? Go and study the development of the Western, Eastern and Northern regions under Chief Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, respectively. Even though they ruled the regions under a colonial regime, the interests of the people were paramount. The rights to education, health and other social services consumed as much as 50 per cent of the budget. Today, recruitment expenditure consumes over 70 per cent of the budget. The remaining 30 per cent for capital projects is largely diverted and stolen. These serious issues have not been allowed to feature in the debate on restructuring. Before the Yoruba summit was held in Ibadan, the understanding was that the campaign was for power devolution from the centre to the state and local governments. But the summit voted for a structure that will accommodate the federal, state and local governments and in addition, a regional administration. In fact, the regional government will be allocated 35% of the revenue while 15% will go to the central government. The summit was, however, silent on affirmation action for women, income distribution and the justiciability of the socio-economic rights enshrined in fundamental objectives which will benefit the people. I am of the firm view that the debate on restructuring has to be restructured in the overall interests of the marginalised masses of our people. Otherwise, we are simply going to restructure poverty in the midst of plenty.
Some have complained about the Buhari administration huffing and puffing about fighting corruption. Where in your own opinion has this administration gone wrong?
Like the Obasanjo regime, the Buhari administration has identified corruption as the root cause of the nation’s underdevelopment. With respect, I totally disagree with such reductionist conclusion. To the best of my knowledge, every capitalist society is built on corruption, fraud and exploitation. Western countries are much more corrupt than African countries. Hence, all the funds looted from the treasuries of other nations are kept in the vaults of the banks in the West. But out of sheer hypocrisy, the leaders and the media in western countries say that we are corrupt and our rulers swallow (that) hook, line and sinker. For two and half years, President Buhari has been begging the West to repatriate our stolen wealth. In spite of promises (made by the West), not a single dime has been recovered and repatriated. Chapter 2 of the constitution on socioeconomic rights did not have a capitalist society in mind. Hence, a duty has been imposed on the government to abolish corrupt practices and control the means of production and exchange. If social services are funded by the government and the people are empowered to manage their own affairs there will be little or nothing left to steal. That is why a socialist system is less corrupt as the entire wealth of the nation goes for servicing the people. But if you go around saying that government cannot fund education, build hospitals, tar roads, construct railways, etc., you are inviting the plutocrats in government to engage in the criminal diversion of public funds.
No doubt, President Buhari is committed to the anti-corruption crusade than his predecessors. Through the introduction of the TSA (Single Treasury Account) the Federal Government has saved huge funds. Through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, trillions of naira have been recovered. The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences and the Code of Conduct Bureau are being re-organised even though rather belatedly. Owing to the failure of the National Assembly to pass the bill for the establishment of a special court to determine corruption cases, the Chief Justice, the Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen, has directed all heads of courts to create special courts to hear corruption cases. This will go a long way to ensure that pending corruption cases are speedily determined. Although these initiatives are coming rather late in the day, they are going to assist the administration to deliver on the promise to expose and indict a number of corrupt elements in the society. But mind you, no government can successfully fight corruption without involving the people who are the victims of corruption. To that extent, the celebration of criminality by the media has to stop. Religious, traditional and educational institutions have to stop honouring men and women of questionable pedigree. The staff and student unions in the campuses have to monitor funds allocated for the development of our institutions. The labour unions have to monitor the federal, state and local governments with a view to blocking leakages and exposing corrupt officials.
A lot has been said about a cabal wielding an undue influence over the President in the Villa and recently, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar complained about being sidelined by Buhari and the APC despite his huge financial contribution to the electoral victory of the two. Do you think that apart from Atiku, other key APC players have been sidelined by the government?
I think it was President Obasanjo who said that those who invested in his campaign might have wasted their money. Frankly speaking, I would have taken Alhaji Atiku Abubakar much more seriously if he had accused the Buhari administration of abandoning the manifesto of the APC. The members of the political class should learn to engage in a battle of ideas like their counterparts in the West. For instance, the battle being waged in the United States pertains to the Affordable Health Care called, ‘Obamacare’, climate change, defence budget, taxation, etc. No one has accused President Donald Trump of not rewarding him for funding rallies or paying for adverts in the press. It is a battle of ideas between the Democrats and the Republicans. In Nigeria, that was the case in the Second Republic when the struggle was between the Unity Party of Nigeria, led by Chief Awolowo and the Peoples Redemption Party, led by Alhaji Aminu Kano on the one hand, and the National Party of Nigeria, led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari and the National Peoples Party, led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe on the other hand. But today, the APC and the PDP legislators have no fundamental disagreements over constituency projects and jumbo emoluments. In fact, they have all taken oaths of secrecy not to reveal their salaries and allowances. I expect Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and others who financed Buhari’s campaign to have realised that they were taking a risk.
The Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Aisha Alhassan, has come out to say she won’t support Buhari if he seeks re-election in 2019 presidential poll. What is your reaction to her stand?
Madam Aisha Alhassan is a conscious reactionary lady. As a magistrate, she once ordered my detention along with the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and the late Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti in Suleja prison custody for organising protests against the annulment of the June 12 (presidential) election in July 1993. And when I complained to her that the Suleja prison condition was horrible she reversed her order and sent us to Kuje prison. In sending us to prison, she was full of smiles. Like the President’s wife, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, Mrs. Aisha Alhassan is a very determined woman. Like the President’s wife, who said she might not campaign for her husband (in 2019), Mrs. Alhassan has boldly said that she would prefer Alhaji Atiku to Buhari in 2019. Unfortunately, her preference is not anchored on ideology or principle. But she is entitled to her opinion.
Do you think Atiku will be a better president than Buhari?
It is too early in the day to answer that question. To answer your question you have to consider the ideological, philosophical worldview, antecedent and record of performance of these two personalities and others including Mallam el-Rufai, who has intervened in the debate between the duo. Both President Buhari and Atiku have been in and out of power for quite some time. Since Nigeria voted for Gen. Buhari because he promised to fight corruption, Atiku has said he would fight corruption better. Since President Buhari is seen as an incorruptible leader, Atiku has challenged Nigerians to prove that he is corrupt. Governor el-Rufai has dared Atiku to travel to the United States if he is sure that he is not corrupt. These personalities know one another very well. After all, both Atiku and el-Rufai as chairman and director general of the Bureau of Public Enterprises respectively sold our common patrimony in the name of privatisation. The race to the presidency is going to be an interesting game.
It appears nothing has come out of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s report on the former Secretary to Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal and the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke, submitted to Buhari. Do you think this government is truly transparent in its anti-corruption drive as it claims to be?
The report was submitted when President Buhari was embarking on his last medical trip to the United Kingdom. Since the President has returned to the country I want to believe that he is studying the report. In the past, top officials of the government alleged to have been involved in corrupt practices were given a clean bill of health. The probe is a welcome development. Having given the two officials fair hearing, the President should be pressured by Nigerians to take a decision on the report. Other corrupt officials should be exposed by the media until actions are taken against them by the federal, state and local governments.
Do you in any way feel embarrassed about the government’s action and inaction?
How can I feel embarrassed by the action of a neocolonial government? I knew ab initio that the government was going to embark on reforms whereas revolutionary measures are required in addressing the fundamental crisis of underdevelopment. The government has failed to realise that no nation has become economically independent by relying on foreign investors. A government can only develop by investing in its own people. But over the years, the government has invested only in the private sector. The government has allowed neoliberal characters to dictate the economic programme. The government is asked to devalue the currency by dollarising the economy, privatise public assets like the concessions of the airports and seaports and take huge loans from abroad. No country has been developed through such dangerous economic prescriptions. Over a year ago, I wrote to the Finance Minister (Kemi Adeosun) detailing how the government could realise not less than $200bn from the resources criminally diverted or looted by foreign and local corporate bodies and individuals. While my claim has not been challenged, the Federal Government has not paid any attention to the facts and figures which I supplied.