Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, recently reflected on the present administration and challenged President Muhammadu Buhari not to default on his promise of change. Ugo Aliogo writes
As the country endures the pressures of the times, the words doing the rounds amongst the Nigerian people is that they are yet to experience the much talked about change of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Recently, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, expressed his displeasure over the state of affairs in the nation and stressed that the country was going through a lot of crises, despite the promises of the present administration to bring change to the country since assuming office some nine months ago.
He said the country was yet to identify the much needed change and therefore called on civil organisations such as the Committee for Human Rights Defence (CDHR) to sound a note of warning to the regime to take the governance of the country very seriously.
Falana, who gave the charge at the 2016 National Conference Meeting of CDHR with the theme: “Challenges of Protecting the Human Rights of Nigerians in a Democracy” in Lagos, said if after nine months the administration assumed office, the country is yet to experience any evidence of change, then there are problems.
He frowned at the import orientated nature of the economy, which he said makes it possible to bring in everything from oversees, adding that businessmen, who were trading abroad 10 months ago can no longer transact businesses outside the shores of the country because of importation. “I’m happy that President Buhari has said that they are not going to devalue the naira, but devaluation has already taken place,” he said.
Falana called on the leadership of CDHR to join the struggle in hands with all the civil society organisations to save the naira, adding that the currency of the country must be saved. “Last week, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) went to the street to send a note of warning, that there is no way you can justify increase in tariff by 45 per cent. The battle is not over yet.”
According to him, “The NLC president informed me that what happened during the week was just a warning and until the government reverses that decision to increase tariffs in the midst of darkness, the struggle will continue.
“While that is going on and I want to send a copy of my letter to the Minister of Finance during the week because they say they want to take a loan of $3.5 billion from the World Bank and Africa Development Bank. The loan from the World Bank will get the endorsement of the IMF and what IMF will do is to say sack more workers, so that the running of government can be manageable. Withdraw any service at all, any money given to the education and health other sectors. You know those are the usual conditionalities.
“What I did during the week was to write to the Minister of Finance stressing that there is no basis for taking a loan, because this government is owed $66.5 billion by the banks, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and others. In 2006, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Charles Soludo, went to the foreign reserves and collected $7 billion, which he gave to 14 banks at 500 million dollars per bank. Till now, nobody has asked them (banks) to pay back the money.
“Secondly, in 2008, the CBN Governor then Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, gave the same banks $4 billion for bailout which brings the total to $11 dollars since then nobody has asked the banks to pay back.
Business persons took a loan of 5.7 trillion from the government. They have only paid back about 300 billion naira. So, what is owed the government today – 5.4 trillion – that is $25 billion. The government national extractive transparency initiative (NETI) wrote to me on the basis of enquiry that the NNPC and oil companies owe the country 20.1 billion naira, which brings the total to 66.5 trillion naira. Then I asked the government, why do they want to punish the public, when they are being owed this amount?”
Continuing, he urged CDHR to help the government to collect the money, so that they will not continue to oppress the public. He claimed that as at today, Nigeria owes $64 billion and when the country paid $12 billion to the London Parish Club in 2005, Prof. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, expressed hope that the country will not borrow again. But “between then and now, we have taken as too much as $64 billion. Under President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration the country took a loan of $21 billion; the economy was then managed by Iweala.”
He therefore added that: “Great Nigeria people, the point I’m making is that we have no cause to suffer, if the government can muster the political will. It is surprising to state here that all the figures I have given here has nothing to do with the ongoing investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes commission (EFCC). The $2.1 billion, which was stolen in the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), which has been making the rounds is not correct, it is $8 billion dollars and 643 billion naira, which is 4 billion dollars plus 2 billion dollars which is $6 billion dollars.
“The last one which is Air force, 2 billion dollars, and that is over 8 billion naira. One army office, they have traced 23 houses belonging to him. The Abacha loot has been looted again. All the monies being recovered must be put in an extra account so that it can be channelled towards infrastructure development of the country. It must not be left to the government alone; the government must get credible civil society organisations such as Labour, CDHR and others to manage the money.
“CDHR must align with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to help the government recover what it’s owed the country. I learnt recently that the government has reopened investigation of Halliburton Scandal of $180 million given out as bribe for a company in US to take a contract from Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLGN).
“By investigating that fraud, not that they took the money from US, but because those Americans engaged in bribing Nigerian officials, have been arrested – everybody involved. A lawyer named Testler, who was involved, was deported from Britain to US. From Halliburton scandal, US made over $1.5 billion by imposing fines on those, who bribed those Nigerians officials. CDHR must go back to its old tradition of engaging in serious research, so that when it is presented, nobody can fault it.”
On his part the president of CDHR, Malachy Ugwumadu said the socio-political conditions in the country highlights the anger of the Nigerian people against the ruling class, stating that the same victims are equally reassured, more than before that the conditions of their existence are further deteriorating, owing to the failure of leadership at all levels.
Ugwumadu explained that the implications are readily available in the rising incidences of violence and criminal activities ranging from the gentle, but now aggressive ‘Boko Haram’ insurgencies in the Northern Nigeria, massive kidnapping in the South-south, South-east regions and all out criminal activities in the South west.
On the plans of the organisation, he said: “In the weeks ahead, we intend to effectively capture the entire looting activities in the country, properly liaise with the relevant law enforcement agencies and document names of those alleged to have milked our country dry.
“The purpose for this shall be to accurately ascertain the actual amount stolen within the time under review, track the much that would be recovered and quantify, in developmental terms, what it would have translated to.
“Comrades, we are at cross-roads once again in our country. Well, we have indeed, always been at cross-roads throughout the stages of nation building. But the complexities of the present challenge in Nigeria demand that we strategically renew our efforts in rebuilding our constituencies, reorganising our priorities and reinforcing each other with a review to reclaiming the socio-political space that we (unwittingly) yielded to the political class and their collaborators, some of whom are masquerading as civil society organisations.
“Finally, the CDHR shall launch the report and maximise it as a major campaign material for the purpose of ensuring that the looted funds are not re-looted as witnessed in the Abacha loot. Our campaign shall focus on the need to apply these funds on specific areas of development either in terms of education, power, infrastructure, jobs, healthcare or others. As we reflect on the current national malaise, we are preoccupied with the philosophies and the principles of Beko Ransom Kuti, the first national president of the organisation.”
Falana, who gave the charge at the 2016 National Conference Meeting of CDHR with the theme: “Challenges of Protecting the Human Rights of Nigerians in a Democracy” in Lagos, said if after nine months the administration assumed office, the country is yet to experience any evidence of change, then there are problems