By Nehru Odeh
Human rights lawyer and activist, Femi Falana, SAN, has said economic saboteurs and political buccaneers have taken over the country, as he criticized the inhuman treatment given to IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu and Yoruba secessionist leader Sunday Igboho by Nigerian security operatives.
He also added that the Buhari-led administration has taken the country back to 1984.
He made this statement on Tuesday in Lagos at a symposium with the theme, ‘Remaking Nigeria: Towards a secure and viable union.’
The parley was the `13th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series organized by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, WSCIJ and the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, AFRICMIL at NECA House in Ikeja, Lagos.
Falana, who was the Chairperson at the occasion, also charged non-governmental organisations to take active part in politics rather than allow criminal-minded people take charge, adding that the politics of NGO is no longer relevant for the country.
“The politics of NGO are no longer relevant in our country. You can’t have non-governmental people out there, while criminal minded people are in the parliament. What do you expect? Economic saboteurs, political buccaneers have taken over our country and we are saying we are doing NGO work. No! You guys here and if you are in parliament, six of you in our national assembly, the difference would be clear.
“And that is why after this programme, and that would be to the delight of Prof. Soyinka that we can resolve here today that we are going to make maximum intervention in the politics of our country. And I will assure you there is no cause for alarm,” he said.
He also commended Nigerians for rising up to the occasion and rejecting the nomination of the Personal Assistant to the President on New Media, Lauretta Onochie as an INEC Commissioner.
However, Falana advised Nigerians to be on the lookout, adding that the battle is not over as Onochie is likely to be nominated again.
“For me, we are in a very perilous country, that we are still talking of Onochie. By the way, she was rejected last year. A lot of you are aware. She was to be made a National Commissioner. She was rejected. Now they want to make her a Resident Commissioner. She has just been rejected. But mind you, they would bring her back. Because they believe we are just a pack of fools. And that is why I must commend Nigerians for her rejection this time around. Don’t get tired …And this is my challenge to all. We have done very well. But let us be very careful,” he warned.
Reacting to the news that the bill to criminalize protests had been withdrawn, Falana opined. “My son sent this to me and I said ‘the Yorubas say if you are being pursued by a masquerade, keep on trying because just like you are getting tired the masquerade is getting tired too.’”
He also charged Nigerians not to be afraid. “They will only scare you. They won’t win because their cause is wrong, their cause is not just like your own. And the greatest tribute we can pay to Prof. Wole Soyinka, who for the past 60 years has been in the forefront of the struggle of our country for change, is to rededicate ourselves to the struggle for the transformation of our country from a land of poverty to a land of prosperity.
Falana also alerted the media that the federal government had allocate N4.2 billion to monitor telephone and social media conversations of Nigerians “so that when you are communicating with your friend or your political ally and again the message is deemed dangerous you are going to be arrested.”
“And I am saying have no fear. We are going to court because by virtue of Section 37 of the constitution, your right to telephone, your correspondence , telegraphic communication are protected by the constitution. Therefore we are going to challenge the violation. The money has been voted. But we are not going to allow them to spend the money,” he averred.
Falana also had some words of advice for the media. “Finally I want to beg the media. And we must not be sentimental about it. You have to self-regulate. There is a lot of mess going on. And if you don’t self-regulate, they are going to regulate you. I am challenging the NPAN, the NUJ and the Nigerian Guild of Editors to meet urgently and bring out some new code of conduct because today two people or one person can sit down in his house, set up an online medium and begin to send any message, some of them just meant to blackmail. So that must be corrected. We must not wait for the government to do that.
Reacting to the inhuman treatment Nigerian security operatives gave Nnamdi Kanu and the brutish manner Sunday Igboho’s house was attacked he said: “Let me round off by saying it is Kanu today. It is Igboho today. It may be your turn tomorrow. We may not like them and some of us are critical of these gentlemen. But there are certain minimum irreducible standard for our country. So we must not allow the Buhari regime to take us to 1984.
“Because many of you were very young then. An attempt was made to kidnap a Nigerian politician, Umaru Dikko. He had already being kidnapped. He was being taken to the airport when a lady in her flat saw the strange and primitive treatment of a human being and cried to the security. And that was why that was stopped
“So you can’t go back to Umaru Dikko in 2021. And under the law Kenya cannot admit it. That’s why Kenya is in trouble. Kenya cannot admit that in her soil a Nigerian was taken out of her country without going through the law. If you want to remove any criminal in a country, you must go to court. They call it extradition.
“But to abduct a citizen of a country and put tranquilizer on him or send him to sleep is against the Anti-torture Act of Nigeria. It is against Section 35 of the constitution- right to liberty. It is also against right to fair hearing.
“Therefore those who say oh we brought Kanu back through some Interpol, we intercepted him through some international security … No! No! there is nothing like that. I challenge the government. Interpol does not abduct and deport anybody. Interpol would serve what is called Red Alert. That Red Alert allows a criminal suspect to be arrested pending extradition and not pending abduction.
“Therefore let these guys know we are a civilized people. You can’t go to a citizen’s house, who is presumed innocent and you said we have raided. Please you can look at the means of raid in your phones. Raid means to launch an attack on an enemy camp.
“A citizen cannot be an enemy, when he has not even been tried. So you cant go to a citizen’s house in the night and come out to say we killed two people, as if you are talking of two goats or two dogs. Who are they? Where is the post-mortem report? What is their identity?” He asked.
It was an afternoon full of ideas and the proffering of solutions to Nigeria’s problems. Speakers at the event, who are also contributors to the book, Remaking Nigeria: Sixty Years, Sixty Voices edited by Chido Onumah, included Ahmadu Shehu, an academic and the first nomad to bag a doctorate in Nigeria; Nubari Saatah, a Niger Delta activist and acting President of the Niger Delta Congress; Inebehe Effiong, a public interest and human rights lawyer; Victoria Ibezim Ohaeri, Founder and Director of Research and Policy at Spaces for Change, S4C; and Motunrayo Alaka, Executive Director (CEO) of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, WSCIJ.
Other speakers such as Hafsat Abiola Constello, Ndi Kato and Moses Ochonu spoke via Zoom. Guests in attendance who made valuable contributions included Jiti Ogunye, a legal practitioner and Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye, academic and journalism and Mass Communication scholar. There was also a Question-and-Answer session in which speakers fielded questions from the audience.