By Bolanle Bolawole
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Today we take snippets from the remaining part of Femi Falana’s Ekiti State University Convocation Lecture as we draw the curtains on this very topical, well-researched, well-articulated, even if controversial, lecture. This is as should be expected of someone who had never shied away from controversy. Starting out as Patrick and “Omo Fada” (who attended to Catholic priests and who, himself, was in line to becoming one), then an atheist later in life, a radical and revolutionary activist on campus at Ife, who later drank from the well of human and civil rights activists and social crusaders like Alao Aka-Bashorun, Baba Omojola, Kanmi Ishola-Osobu, before rubbing shoulders with the likes of stormy petrel, Gani Fawehinmi, fire-eaters like Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Beko Ransome-Kuti, to mention but a few, Falana has etched his name in gold in the annals of revolutionary activism in Nigeria. His commitment to revolutionary ethos cannot be questioned and his humanism, beyond reproach. Yet, present realities demand a review of dogmas. Times have changed! The falcon cannot hear the falconer. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold! Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world! William Butler Yeats (in “The Second Coming”) adapted by Chinua Achebe (in “No Longer at Ease”) speaks to the Nigerian situation. We cannot ignore the handwriting on the wall; neither can we paper over the cracks that keep widening by the day. As they say, a drastic problem deserves a drastic solution. Nigeria, which now spends close to 90 percent of its income on debt-servicing, which borrows to pay salaries (?) and to maintain a semblance of social and infrastructural services – is one such drastic problem that deserves a drastic solution.
I agree with Falana when he said “the articulation of restructuring should be rid of its contradictions” We cannot call for true federalism and at same time support calls for the creation of more states or root for the independence of local governments which, like the States, are arbitrary creation of the power at the Centre that, over time, have given undue advantage to the North over the South in that regard. We cannot campaign to whittle down the power and influence of the Centre, yet, demand the “establishment of development commissions for the zones by the same ‘over-bearing and suffocating’ Centre” Femi is right: We cannot have our cake and eat it. We cannot speak from both sides of the mouth. We cannot approbate and reprobate at same time.
Femi is also right when he said “Restructuring should not be an alibi for governance to go on vacation as we are beginning to see in some states of the federation. States do not have to wait for restructuring to fix primary schools without roofs or health centres without drugs and equipment. The absence of restructuring cannot be a justification for some states to fail to access funds from the Universal Basic Education Commission for primary and basic education to remove 14 million children from the streets. State governments need not wait for restructuring before mobilizing the people to embark on food production and industrialization. Advocates of restructuring should not only put pressure on Buhari to lead the process of restructuring. They should also push the state governors to take advantage of legal openings to deepen Nigerian federalism as Lagos state has done”
A few days ago, I listened to Pa Yemi Farounbi speak on the leadership deficiency whacking the polity. Many state governors are docile and lily-livered, partly as a result of how they got into office and partly for fear of EFCC which, for many of them, is the beginning of wisdom. So, they dare not fight for their rights – and, by so doing, the rights of their people. They are, therefore, happy and relieved to hide under the canopy of restructuring to explain away their failure.
One of the most vexatious issues under the Buhari administration is that of lopsided appointments favouring the North and marginalizing the South. Apart from maintaining that there is a Federal Character Commission and that the 1999 Constitution and the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights Act “have abolished discriminatory practices on the bases of circumstances of birth, religion, gender or political opinion”, Falana simply advocated that “instead of fanning the embers of ethnicity and religion in the composition of the government at the federal and state levels, aggrieved citizens and groups should fight lopsided appointments politically and legally” Pray, who is “fanning the embers of ethnicity and religion”: Is it the persons making the lopsided appointments or those drawing attention to the patently unconstitutional act?
Also, when Falana asked that “Aggrieved citizens and groups should fight lopsided appointments politically and legally”, we must ask whether Falana is one of such aggrieved citizens or is he comfortable with the lopsided appointments? If he is one of the aggrieved, how many of such lopsided appointments has he fought legally, seeing he is a SAN?
Falana, however, made a very informed disclosure that can impact positively on the country’s security architecture – and situation – when he said: “In the last few days, governors have, like Pontius Pilate, claimed that they are helpless in maintaining security in the country because of lack of control of the police. According to Gov. Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, the recent #endsars protests has called into question ‘why State Governors are called Chief Security Officers of their states, whereas, they do not have the necessary powers to control the Police force. Peaceful protests are a big part of our democratic process. The right to freedom of speech and assembly are guaranteed by our Constitution, and I will never support any attempt to rob citizens of their fundamental human rights’. With profound respect, the Constitution has empowered state governors to share police powers with the President but for reasons best known to them, they have abdicated the responsibility to the federal government”
According to Falana, the Nigeria Police Council “is constitutionally empowered to administer, organize and supervise the Nigeria Police Force… About two years ago, my repeated call on state governors to requisition the meeting of the Nigeria Police Council fell on deaf ears. Hence, I sued the President at the federal high court to convene the meeting of the Council to address the security challenges in the country. However, section 6(4) of the Nigeria Police Act 2020 has made provision for at least two meetings of the Council per year and emergency meetings when necessary. In spite of the worsening security situation in the country, governors have not requisitioned a single meeting of the Nigeria Police Council…”
We must ask the governors why this has been so or must we wait for restructuring before putting this provision of the law to test? I have always wondered why governors fund the police that they do not control. The police are controlled from Abuja and most of the time work against the interest of the governors that fund them. It is said that he who pays the piper dictates the tune; not so Police/state governors’ relationship! I remember Gov. Nyesom Wike of Rivers State bitterly complaining openly about this situation of the tail wagging the dog, as it were. Those who claim to know say governors are caught between the rock and the hard place on this issue. Apart from the possibility of police blackmail if governors fail to “shake body”, as they say, the need to justify their humongous security votes also compel governors to fund the police. Abuja knows this and latches on to it!
One sore point of our democracy is the vile violation and mindless abridgment of the fundamental human rights of citizens – right to freedom of life, right to freedom of speech and to hold opinion, right to freedom of association, right to freedom of worship, among others. Falana posited that these rights have long been guaranteed by the Constitution, backed up by various pronouncements of learned judges. Top government officials have also paid lip service to these rights; yet, they have been observed more in their breach than in their observance, especially by the police.
It is a class thing. The rulers belong to a social class diametrically opposed to the people they claim to serve. They bear rule over the people. They oppress, not serve them. The ruling class serves interests that are injurious to those of their own people. So, they need force to hold the people down. The various forces of coercion are meant to serve this purpose – from colonial times up till now. The ENDSARS protests and the way the various governments responded – in Abuja as well as in many states of the federation (even by so-called “progressive” governors) – bore testimony to this. The Nigerian ruling class is solidified in its antagonism to the interests of the people; upstaging and scattering this vicious ruling class appears a worthier venture than the constitutional amendments and court judgments that Falana appears to favour.
Following in the footsteps of Gani Fawehinmi, Falana has challenged many of the shenanigans that have ruined the economy of the country as the members of the ruling class buffet the hapless citizens on all sides. Falana must be commended for his yeoman’s efforts in this regard. He has fought many battles; he has won some and lost some. He has fought battles against the CBN paying monies remitted from overseas by Nigerians in Naira instead of in the originating currency; he has asked questions about the humongous amounts government officials claimed they spent as COVIC-19 Relief Fund/palliatives. Aftermath of ENDSARS, we saw how the palliatives were hoarded by our heartless leaders.
Falana has railed against the dual exchange rates that have made influence peddlers emergency billionaires while ruining the Naira and, by extension, the economy as a whole. The adverse effect on the mass of our people is telling. Falana has kept up the fight from where Henry Boyo left it by speaking out against what he described as the illegal substitution of Foreign Currencies Account by the CBN. Falana has cried himself hoarse about the US$22 billion allegedly diverted from the Federation Account; the US$62 billion royalties from the oil companies that our officials are curiously side-stepping; and, in this lecture, he has revealed that the Combined Expatriate Residency Permit and Aliens Card yielded over N20 billion in 2018 and over N40 billion in 2019. He insists these sums ought to have been paid into the Federation Account.
Nigeria leaks profusely! That is why every infrastructure is decrepit. That is why no progress has been made; instead, we have regressed in all spheres of human endeavour. A one-time British PM said if the amount of money stolen from Nigeria had been stolen from Britain, the European country would have long ago collapsed! Is that not why we were called fantastically corrupt and shithole?
I shudder to think why an unmitigated disaster such as Nigeria should still be left to mess around the place! Bankruptcies – and failed states – have clearly defined trajectories. The earlier the undertaker is summoned, the safer!