Buhari operating Nigeria in an atmosphere of impunity —Falana
SYLVESTER OKORUWA, SEGUN KASALI and LANRE ADEWOLE sat with Femi Falana, senior advocate, to dissect the state of the nation.
Are you a socialist?
I subscribe to the socialist ideology and I believe very strongly and vehemently that that is the only political system that can transform our country from poverty to prosperity. There is no way you can travel the neo-colonial peripheral capitalist route and achieve meaningful development in Nigeria. It has never worked since 1960. We are now jumping from frying-pan to fire.
Do you subscribe to what President Buhari did with the recovered Abacha Loot, sharing it to households in the country?
I do not agree with the sharing of the Abacha loot to the poor. But how much was actually shared to the poor? $322million dollars out of how much? From my last calculation, this country has recovered close to $4 billion dollars from the Abacha loot, which nobody has accounted for. So, if you are now giving people a chicken change (Laughs), we cannot complain. More so, that was the conditionality for the release of the sum of $321 million. It was agreed that it wold be given to the poor since the bulk of the loot was alleged to have been re-looted. But that has nothing to do with socialism. Frankly speaking, a socialist government would have invested the money in the provision of education or health care for the people.
And the efforts to directly help the poorest of the poor, being coordinated by Mariam Uwais, was also criticized by the wife of the president. Would handout ever work in the name of socialism?
No. Socialism is not about giving handout. It is about empowering the people to be able to take care of their family members. But under a peripheral capitalist system poverty-induced projects are executed by the government to give the false impression that the government cares for the people. For instance, all the state governments in the country dispatch people to Mecca and Jerusalem yearly in the name of religious pilgrimage annually. So, if you are spending such millions of Naira to send people to Jerusalem and Mecca, that is a dole out and an irresponsible way of empowering the people. Why not set up businesses for them with that fund, so that when they make money and can travel to any part of the world. It amounts to a waste. It’s going to be a extremely difficult for the programme being implemented by the government to make much impact on the people because the money being voted for it, is a tip of the ice berg. How much is voted for the empowerment programme? So, in the midst of grounding poverty, how can you make any impact? So, we only talk of the $321 million of the Abacha loot dedicated to the poor and no one is talking of the bulk of the money that was shared in the office of the National Security Adviser and the Office of the President under some previous regimes. At a time, the government claimed to have voted N500 million dollars for the provision of infrastructural facilities in all the six geo-political zones and the execution of those projects were reportedly monitored by World Bank. Of course, it turned out a fluke because some organizations went round and could not locate the projects. So, a petition was sent to the World Bank which investigated the fraud and regretted ever endorsing those phantom projects. It has been a case of looting the loot under previous administrations from 1998 to 2015. At least, the Buhari regime has said this is what we have received and we are taking it to the poor. Of course, Nigerians are entitled to demand an account at the end of the day. But I am just saying that these policies have nothing to do with socialism. Tokenism is not socialism (laughs). Socialism is the full empowerment of the people to manage and run their own affairs. No doubt, the allegation made by the wife of the President or the First Lady is very serious. I want to believe that the matter is being addressed because I just read that the school feeding has been suspended in some states on account of fraud.
Have you discussed your socialist concept with the President?
No, no. I have not had the opportunity to do so. But I know that President Buhari has embraced the neo liberal policies dictated by imperialism. These are policies that are going to further pauperise our people. It is a policy that will intensify the struggle for the liberation of the country. By the time the struggle reaches a crescendo, members of the ruling class will be in the minority. This goes beyond the human rights community. as human rights people will always defend the human rights guaranteed by the Constitution. But this is a higher level of struggle. Anarchy is already going on in this country to the extent that some people are mistaking it for the revolution. In the North East, you have insurgency; in the North West, you have banditry. In other parts of the country, you have armed robbery, kidnapping and the rest of them. These crises pose a challenge to progressive forces in our country to move speedily to arrest our descent into anarchy and mobilize the people to take their destiny in their own hands. That is the only way to the country forward. The ruling class has shown consistently that it is incapable of securing our country. It didn’t start with the Buhari regime. Under the Obasanjo regime, the country lost over 20,000 people to ethno-religious violence. Between 2012 and 2013, about 1,259 people were killed in Benue state in farmers/herdsmen clashes. It is a national calamity that the government cannot secure the lives and property of every citizen of this country contrary to the provision of Section 14 which has imposed a duty on the government to guarantee the security and welfare of the people as it the primary purpose of government. But the government has since abdicated the sacred duty.
Are you foreseeing a revolution?
I foresee a bloody revolution but the chaos in the land would have to be urgently arrested in the interest of the corporate existence of our country.
There is a widespread allegation that the security forces are protecting Fulani herdsmen who kidnap people, that is why they don’t get arrested like others?
No, you are talking of the incompetence of the state. It is not a deliberate policy to protect them. You are talking of impunity and criminal negligence on the part of the government. The point I am making is the exacerbation of killings ought to be addressed properly. It would be recalled that under the Babangida/Abacha Junta, the state was responsible for many killings. I am talking of bombing of people as a policy of the military regimes headed by both brutal dictators. Are you not aware that people like Dele Giwa and Bagauda Kaltho were bombed out of existence by both regimes? There was a regime not too long ago whose tenure was characterized by political killings. The point I am struggling to make is that we cannot be dealing with official negligence by the federal and state governments to deal with pure criminality. I have not been able to identify a deliberate policy of the federal government to use herders to kill farmers. However, I blame the Buhari regime for failing to ensure that the life and security of every citizen is guaranteed. I strongly believethat we have reached a stage whereby the people will have to be mobilized to defend themselves. Mark you, talking of empowering a people could include mobilizing them to defend themselves. The Nigerian Constitution provides, I think section 220, that there shall be compulsory military training for Nigerian people and pending the Act of the National Assembly providing for military training any state government may make facilities available for such training. It is pertinent to point out that we do not have a Federal Government Police Force in Nigeria. Section 214 of the Constitution that established the Nigerian Police Force, did not make the President the C-in-C of the Police Force, unlike the armed forces that have the President as their Commander-in-Chief. The President of Nigeria is not the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Police Force. Section 216 of the Constitution provides that the President cannot remove an Inspector General of Police without consulting the members of the Council. Who are the members of the Nigerian Police Council? The President as the Chairman, The Inspector General Of Police, the Chairman of the Police Service Commission and the 36 state governors. So, it is a 39-member council, where you have the 36 state governors as constituting the majority. The principal function of the body is to administer, organize and supervise the Nigerian Police Force. So, under this constitution, police powers shall be jointly exercised by the president and the 36 state governors.
So, it is that the governors do not know what they should do?
Frankly speaking, I would not know. The Nigeria Police Council does not meet to discharge its functions. I have shouted myself hoarse while calling on the Governors to requisition a meeting of that body. Since 1999, an incumbent Inspector General Of Police is removed by the President. The Governors will hear about it like all Nigerians through the media. The President would proceed to appoint an acting Inspector General of Police and after a few months, the President would then summon a meeting of the Nigerian Police Council to ratify the appointment contrary to the provisions of the constitution. It is also important to know that kidnapping, armed robbery, banditry, murder are state offences. The federal Attorney General cannot prosecute the case of kidnapping in any part of Nigeria. So, if kidnap suspects are not prosecuted, we must challenge the respective states’ Attorneys-General. We need to understand where we are before demanding for the establishment of state police. In any case, we have just been informed that state governments haven’t taken a decision on the establishment of state police.
Are you also for state police?
My stand is that for every community to police itself because when you talk of state police, you give an impression that there is a federal police force. Some people have expressed the fear that state police would be an instrument of oppression and intimidation in the hands of some governors. Having regards to our terrible experience in the first republic, many people are totally opposed to the establishment of state police. For me, I would like to suggest a state Police Council that would coordinate the police forces in each of the local government. That Council will be constituted by accredited representatives of civil society organisations.
Won’t that be unwieldy?
Not at all. Right now, every estate occupied by the rich has its own security and in recent time, vigilante groups and others have been integrated into the security apparatus of the state. So, what you therefore need at the state level would be the coordination of several police institutions because like I said, every community must have its own police and that was the situation in the past. If there was a rumour, in the traditional African society, that kidnappers had come to a particular community, the traditional ruler would summon a meeting of all the chiefs and at the end of the meeting, the hunters in the town or in the village would be given a marching order to comb the forest or the bush. Instead of relying on the hunters, all you t need, are the young men and women trained and empowered to defend every community. The state police of has its own complications. Hence governors have not agreed on the creation of state police.
Isn’t that sounding too stone-age? Where is the place of scientific policing in all of these?
Scientific policing is the acquisition of modern gadgets to make policing easy. I mean for instance and I did say this when the home of Chief Edwin Clark was invaded in Abuja. Before you search a house, the police would have installed gadgets that would confirm whether or not there are weapons therein. On the highway, you do not need to place barriers, in every police checkpoint. With a gadget placed on strategic parts of the roads, you would know which vehicle is carrying what arms. Science has got to that level. And when you have CCTV cameras stationed all over the place, you can always monitor the movement of criminals.
You were for change of government in 2015.
Yes, I was but I didn’t dream of a change. So, I have not been disappointed.
But, you supported this new crop of leaders, considering the Vice-President is your friend?
Sincerely speaking, I have always had problem with the ideological stand of the APC. With respect, my relationship with the Vice President has not changed my perspectives. In fairness to the Vice President, he appreciates my stand, even when I am critical of the government.
So, you weren’t expected anything different in this government?
I knew there was not going to be an ideological change in the system of governance of the country. So, I didn’t think for heaven’s sake that we were going to have a socialist system in 2015. I couldn’t have been so politically naïve to think so.
So, from 2015, you knew this government would fail?
It depends on what you mean by failing. I knew the government would not succeed without addressing the root cause of poverty and injustice in our country. There is no government that would succeed without challenging the foundation of poverty, of oppression, of exploitation, of detention without trial, of abuse of the rule of law, of disobedience of court orders. What kind of change are you talking about?
With this passion, I know you must have engaged your friend the Vice President on your convictions. Is that why he went into tradermoni?
No, no. You must also appreciate that the Vice President is a social democrat. He believes that the poor would have to be factored into the business of governance. The Buhari administration believes strongly in the private sector. Once you hand over the economy of your country to the private sector, there is a limit to which you can take care of the people because the principal objective of the private sector is profit. Profitability in the midst of poverty. Of course, the Vice President and I have a running battle with respect to governance. issues
You don’t always agree when you are together?
We are not bound to agree. We argue on the basis of our ideological beliefs. I have not set any big standard for the government . But I had thought that within the ambit of the rule of law encapsulated in the constitution, the government would obey court orders and respect the rights of the people. I can say, without any fear of contradiction, that the Nigerian people have waged the democratic struggle to the extent that unlawful detention of citizens has become illegal, that meting out torture to a criminal suspect has become a criminal offence in Nigeria and that law of wandering was banned in Nigeria since 1989. The duty of Nigerian lawyers and other rights defenders is to ensure that these rights of the Nigerian people are respected under the law. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Some people have issues with you on that. Many feel that you started criticizing government, particularly this government, when some of your clients’ rights, like el Zaky-Zakky’s, were breached.
No, the masses of Nigeria are my clients and so before this regime, I have always defended the interests of the masses. Apart from Colonel Dasuki’s lawyers, no other Nigerian lawyer has taken up his case more than me and I am not sounding arrogant. You can google for my position on his matter.
The AGF has been summoned by the disciplinary arm of NBA to explain a statement, relating to Dasuki and obeying orders releasing him. Are you in support of this or not?
Whether I am in support or not, is irrelevant. What is important is that the Attorney-General and Minister has been called to account. In fairness to Mr Abubakar Malami SAN he hassaid that he is prepared to defend himself.
Do you think he should be punished for it?
The question of punishment has not arisen. There are procedures of law to be followed. He has only been summoned concerning the allegations made against him regarding his alleged disobedience of court orders. It is for him to defend the allegations.
If you were seated on the panel, would you hold him in contempt?
I cannot predict and that will be prejudicial to his rights if I begin to suggest what the committee should do. We have not even listened to him yet.
But you were very vocal during a similar case involving former AGF Mike Aondoaaka.
No, I was not very vocal at the material time. A human rights group wrote a petition against him and it was handled by the authorities. Now, the appropriate authorities have also been petitioned.
Is Buhari government lawlesss? Yes or No?
That is rather wide. I would prefer to say that the Buhari administration has been operating the country in an atmosphere of impunity, whereby thousands of citizens are being detained without trial, court orders are being disregarded and the government has placed national security above the rule of law. (Laughs). That is the way I would want to put it.
Were you surprised the administration was returned to power?
Not quite because the regime had a lot of advantages over the opposition. In Africa, a ruling party can hardly be defeated without a coalition of all major political groups and political parties. Nigeria is not an exception as it was the merger of three political parties that assisted the APC to win the 2015 general election.
But there were other credible candidates in the race?
if the parties had adopted a candidate and worked for the success of the candidate the result might have been different. Unfortunately the mainstream opposition political parties did not present an alternative economic programme to the electorate .
We have four years ahead of us and you personally believe that something will give if something drastic is not done. Is that your position, sir?
The anarchy may continue and pay way for undemocratic elements to disrupt the democratic process. The situation calls for urgent intervention of progressive forces to organize and reposition the people to take their destinies in their own hands. We should stop waiting for deliverance.
Coming from a respected voice like you, that could sound inciting?
Whatever you may want to call it, the country is warehousing more and more poverty-stricken people. Unemployment is on the rise. Insecurity is on the ascendancy. So, it is going to be extremely difficult to clap for the government.
And you see no hope ahead if this continues?
Do you see any hope? (Laughs) why are you asking me? Again, don’t let us turn ourselves into prophets of doom. I deal with facts and on the basis of the facts on ground, I can predict the future. I have nothing personal against this government or the officials of the government. On the contrary, those who are interested in the genuine development of this country are being challenged to take the bull by the horn. Anyways, there is an ideological battle that I believe is going to be waged very soon. That is the way I look at it.
You have been heavily involved in anti-corruption war even though you are not in government. Has this government done well?
No, no. I cannot award any pass mark for a battle that has not been won.. In the process of defending the human rights of the people, those who are stealing the money meant for building hospitals or roads. are the enemies of our country because people are dying on those roads, people are dying in those hospitals. So, if you are caught looting the treasury, I would take you as the enemy of our country. That doesn’t mean I support half measures in fighting corruption.
Is that what this government is doing?
I think this government has engaged in the recovery of some loot traced to Nigerians. But the bulk of the loot traced to finance of foreign companies has been left untouched. In fact, the government is baulking over the looted asset instead of suing the foreign banks that acted as conduit pipes for looting the treasury. The government is begging those institutions and whenever some money is released, the government is thankful. Where a bank keeps your money for 20 years or more, you are entitled to colossal damages.
I know you are a Nationalist and we cannot also take away the fact that you are Yoruba. The spike in kidnapping in Yorubaland is being traced to kidnappers from the other side?
Please let us not be sentimental. Let us not stigmatize criminal elements. A criminal is a criminal. You know we have been witnessing armed robbery in different parts of our nation, since 1970, after the Civil war. So, are the Fulanis responsible for the armed robberies that are still going on? Let us not help the government to divert attention from the issue of criminality in our country. Just yesterday, about 25 people were killed and buried in Sokoto and virtually all those who were killed were virtually Fulanis. People are being killed in Borno state, in Adamawa and other parts of the North. So, why are we thinking of South West alone. In the South South, in the South East, killings are going on. So, what is so peculiar about the yorubaland that we are not prepared to deal with all criminal elements making life difficult for our people. What is all the campaign all about/ What do we gain by stigmatizing the Fulanis alone? What is important is that the Governors of the south west have announced that they are going to meet soon. So, let us await the outcome of the meeting. Mind you! You are not going to secure your region, you must also consider the socio-implications of security. It has to be noted that the Southwest produces more graduates because the region has more universities than other regions. So, you are producing young men and women who are being sent to the unemployment market. Apart from the provision of security gadgets and motivating the police manning the region and the entire country, the government must also very urgently tackle the issue of poverty and unemployment of our youths. Otherwise, we are not going to solve the hydraheaded monster.
The president said he is ready for federalism talks. What do you think he should be looking at?
I think you should challenge the president to define what he means by federalism . Since he has now embraced the concept the onus is on the President to let Nigerins know his understanding of federalsm.. But, I cannot guess to determine what he means.
What do you think it should be, because someone said NFIU controlling states over LG expenditure isn’t federalism?
Is rigging of local government elections part of federalism? Is going to take money from Abuja part of federalism? If you are talking about fiscal federalism, every region and state should man its own affairs and we pay taxes to run the federal government. I am not for federalism in the air. I advocate vertical and horizontal restructuring. It is not enough to devolve powers from Abuja. Power devolution has to be matched with responsibilities.
Can I have a yes or no, to whether you will still run for governor in Ekiti state?
Why yes or no, when I am not your student. Again, it is not a yes or no answer. I am not a Nigerian politician who thinks he is in control of his life. I am not in control of my life. There may be no Nigeria in 2023, That is what people have to be mindful of. With the possible collapse of the Nigerian state it would be foolhardy of me to be talking of 2023. On a more serious note, I am not going to contest the governorship election of Ekiti State..