Human rights lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, in this interview with Bayo Akinloye says that while corruption continues to fester under President Muhammadu Buhari administration, it could not be compared to the rot that occurred under former rulers Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan, and Ibrahim Babangida
First is the herders-farmers crisis; it appears the security agencies are stretched and thus are unable to handle the ongoing violence in Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, and others. Some think, as claimed by Governor Ortom, that the security agencies and the federal government are complicit in the killings going on. What is your honest assessment of the issue?
The nation is largely ruled by ignorance, incompetence and arrogance on the part of the ruling class. Since 1999 the country has witnessed avoidable ethno-religious and communal clashes. We have witnessed insurgency, militancy and herdsmenâ€™s attacks which could have been prevented by the government. Each of these crises has confirmed the failure of intelligence and incompetence of the government. It is simplistic to reduce the violence in Benue state to the complicity of the federal government alone. It goes beyond that. Governor Samuel Ortom once revealed that 1,878 people were killed in herdsmen / farmers clashes from 2013-2016. In September last year about 723 Fulani herdsmen were killed in reprisal attacks. In Plateau State over 3,000 were killedÂ in 10 years. In Zamfara State over 2,000 people have been killed. According to Senator Marafa, not less than 5,000 women have been raped by bandits. The post election violence in 12 Northern States and Akwa Ibom in April 2011 claimedÂ 864 lives. These figures exclude killings by terror gangs and killer squads set up by some state governors, armed robbery gangs, kidnap gangs and other criminal gangs. Life has become totally valueless in the country. In very many cases of unlawful killings and violent attacks the police made arrests but the suspects were hardly brought to justice. That is why the killings have been on the ascendancy. Apart from the attacks traceable to herdsmen in Benue State there have been killings by militia groups and other gangs. While it is true that the state government is not in control of the police and other security forces is the Attorney-General of the State not in charge of prosecution of criminal elements? I am aware that the police arrested scores of criminal suspects in all the attacks. Why were the suspects not tried by the State government? In the latest attacks, the police and the army have arrested over 100 people. I can assure you that they will go scot free and the killings will continue.
What do you think is the solution: anti-open grazing law, ranches, or cattle colonies?
I have shouted myself hoarse over the lasting solution to the crisis. Nobody has challenged the solution which is the establishment of ranches. Ethiopia, Mozambique, Botswana and other African countries have solved the problem of animal husbandry. With ranches, Botswana is the largest producer and exporter of meat in Africa. The first ranch, the Obudu cattle ranch was established in Nigeria in 1951. Later the Ahmadu Bello regime founded a ranch in Mokwa, now in Niger State while the Obafemi Awolowo regime set up a ranch in Akunu, now in Ondo State. Under the Yakubu Gowon regime the Audu Bako regime in Kano State had the best ranches in the country. Currently the Nigerian Army has set up a ranch in the Federal Capital Territory. In 2014 the Jonathan administration sent a number of young men and women to Botswana to study the development of ranches. They trained, returned home and were made redundant. That regime made available N100 billion for the establishment of ranches. The fund was diverted by some state governments. By 2016, the Buhari regime announced that it was going to establish ranches. and claimed that 11 states had provided 55,000 hectares for the ranches. But not a single ranch was established. At the height of the crisis, the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe came up with the provocative pet project of cattle colony. Happily, the Miyetti Allah Breeders Association has dissociated itself from cattle colonization. President Buhari also kicked against the idea. But the Miyetti Breeders Association should be encouraged to obtain loans from the banks to establish ranches. Majority of the owners of the cattle are very rich. They should be made to own ranches. We must stop sending cattle rearers to the street in this age and time. With ranches, the animals will be fatter. They will produce quality meat and milk. The cattle rearers will live in the vicinity of the ranches and have schools for their children. It is the height of primitivity on the part of any government to dispatch young men to the street to rear animals. You are risking their lives by allowing them to bear AK47 rifles.
Does it bother you, sir, that each time there is tragedy or scandal in Nigeria, the governmentâ€™s response is to set up a panel or committee to look into the matter with the law enforcement agencies appear to wait for the government to tell them when to act, where and how to do so?
It bothers me. Hence, I have decided to challenge the culture of impunity with respect to the killings. For instance, I have asked the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris to produce the reports of police investigation into the killings that have occurred since 2011. I have also written to the Nigeria Bar Association to compel its members who are attorneys-general of the federal and state governments to prosecute all the suspects who were arrested by the police for engaging in unlawful killing of people. I am sending the reports of some of the judicial and administrative panels which investigated the killings to the appropriate authorities. We just cannot allow murderers to go scot free while the relations of those who have been killed are frustrated in their search for justice.
The President Muhammadu Buhari administrationâ€™s critics think the A PC government is displaying the same symptoms of governance that the former President Goodluck Jonathan regime showed. Whatâ€™s your thought on that?
The criticism is not unfounded in view of the composition of the APC. The leaders of the national assembly, a substantial number of legislators, ministers and governors were in the Peoples Democratic Party who migrated to the APC a few weeks before the 2015 general election. With respect, the APC was a special purpose vehicle for changing the federal government in 2015. No more, no less. No commitment to any ideology or principle. The leaders of the APCÂ cannot agree on restructuring or federalism. Nigerians had relied on the personal integrity of candidate Mohammadu Buhari and the change agenda of the APC. Of course, unlike the Jonathan regime, the APC administration has, to a large extent, won the war on terror. But the gain recorded in the north east region has been lost in other parts of the country where insecurity has taken over. No doubt, the Buhari administration declared a war on corruption. But the regime is currently sabotaging the war through the questionable reinstatement of highly corrupt public officers. Apart from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission other anti-graft agencies have been tactically castrated by the Senate which has refused to confirm the members of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Code of Conduct Bureau. The national assembly has also failed to pass the bills for the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Court, Whistle Blowing Bill, Proceed of Crime Bill etc.
The Buhari regime has not mobilised and involved the Nigerian people in the fight against corruption. Hence the people have not joined issues with the legislators on the refusal to pass the necessary bills to fight corruption. By reinstating and retaining corrupt public officers the regime is encouraging corruption to fight back. The APC controls the majority of the members of the national assembly. Yet the assembly is dedicated to the frustration of the war against corruption.Â Out of the 21 states controlled by the APC only Kano state has an anti corruption agency. Is it an irony that the PDP government in Ekiti state is trying to set up an anti corruption agency?
Some have said it is shameful that state governors in the South, comprising the East, West and South-South, have failed to condemn the herdsmen menace, especially in Benue and Taraba. What do you think about that?
It is a shame that all the 35 state governors have allowed the federal government to usurp police powers in Nigeria. Mind you, the Constitution has not created the federal government police force but the Nigeria Police Force. Section 214 of the Constitution provides that the President cannot appoint or remove the Inspector-General of Police without seeking the advice of the Nigeria Police Council. The principal function of the Nigeria Police Council is the organisation, administration and supervision of the Nigeria Police Force. Who are the members of the Nigeria Police Council? The President, the Chairman of the Police Service Commission, the Inspector-General of Police and the 36 state governors. But since 1999, the 36 governors out of a body of 39 members have allowed the President alone to control and supervise the Nigeria Police Force. It is on record that in the appointment and removal of all the Inspector-Generals of Police the advice of the Nigeria Police Council has never been sought. Neither has the Council intervened in the administration, organization and supervision of the Nigeria Police Force. Never! So the state governors could not have done much in policing their states.
So far, so good, how has the government performed in terms of fighting corruption?
In 3 years, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has recovered over N750 Billion, and properties worth much more. It has also recently succeeded in the conviction of a few politically exposed persons. The regime has implemented the BVN policy, the TSA policy and Whistle Blowing policy. The Chief Justice has ensured the creation of Special Judicial Divisions to hear and determine corruption cases. To that extent, the Buhari administration has recorded more success than previous regimes in the fight against the menace of corruption. But as far as I am concerned, the regime has not addressed the root cause of corruption which is the peripheral capitalist system operated imposed on the country by imperialism. The system encourages tax avoidance, capital flight, total profit repatriation by foreign companies, dollarization of the economy, mass importation of goods including those that are locally produced, indiscriminate duty waivers, reckless award of contracts etc. It is a system that has produced a few billionaires in the midst of poverty stricken millions of people. President Obasanjo said that he measured the success of his economic programme by the fact that he produced 25 billionaires. President Jonathan said that his economic programme succeed ed because some business men once flew their jets to Kenya while he was there on a State visit. Even though President Buhari is not as lousy as the two ex-rulers the situation has not changed. The point I am struggling to make is that an economic programme that generates poverty and mass unemployment of youths cannot meaningfully fight corruption. A civil servant who knows that his or her gratuity and pension will not be paid several years after retirement may be tempted to steal public funds. If the government seriously wants to fight corruption it has to fix the economy and promote the welfare of the people. The mortgage system has to be organized to build and sell houses at affordable prices to the citizens. The health insurance scheme has to be managed to provide health insurance to all employees in the public and private sectors. The bank interest rates have to be reduced to the neighbourhood of 5 percent.
In your view, reviewing the inaugural speech President Muhammadu Buhari gave on May 29, 2015, do you think he has performed as he pledged to do, so far?
People who know President Buhari say that he is a man of integrity. The electorate voted for him on that basis. So far, he has not been accused of involving himself in corrupt practices or primitive accumulation of wealthÂ like his predecessors. But members of the cabal of power mongers who are close to him have been accused of abuse of power, corruption and breach of due process. Since the President chose his friends you cannot exonerate him from the allegations associated with the cabal. It is a case of tell me your friend, I tell who you are. His wife, Mrs. Aisha Buhari was the first person to alert the nation that a cabal had hijacked power from the President. For instance, the President says he is now a democrat. But a democrat must ensure that court orders are obeyed. The President says he believes in the rule of law. But why does he allow officials of the government to engage in impunity by disregarding court orders? Or why should a democratic leader allow people who are persecuted in Cameroon to be abducted and handed over to their executioners? I believe that the President has the golden opportunity to distance himself from shady and corrupt people. Otherwise, his integrity will be ruined by them.
In your view, reviewing the inaugural speech President Buhari gave on assuming power in 2015 do you think he has performed well as he pledged?
In fairness to President Buhari he concedes that he has not met the expectation of the electorate. However, the government has blamed its inability to perform on the ruination of the economy and the looting of the treasury by the PDP regimes from 1999 â€“ 2015. Having been in power for almost 3 years Nigerians are no longer prepared to accept excuses or trading of blames. In fact, the patience of Nigerians has been lost due to the decision of government to treat certain corrupt public officers with kid gloves. Whereas President Buhari had pledged to fight official impunity, the menace is on the increase. Laws are breached with disdain. Court orders are treated with contempt. Indiscriminate arrests and detention without trial by the police and other security agencies have continued unabated. The infrastructural decay has not been addressed.Â Unemployed is on the increaseÂ while kidnapping and armed robbery are on rampant. Hence, Nigerians have not seen the change promised by President Buhari and the APC.
Some think the Obasanjo-inspired Coalition for Nigeria Movement is a circle of same uninspiring politicians and so-called leaders. What do you think?
It was Olisa Agbakoba who set up the Third Force or the Nigerian Intervention Movement. So the idea was stolen from the Agbakoba group. With respect, the Obasanjo-led coalition is a movement for disgruntled members of the PDP and APC. To confirm my categorization,Â the leaders of the coalition are ex-pdp chairman, Colonel Ahmadu Ali and ex-governorÂ Olafinsoye Oyinlola who has not call it quits with APC. But the members are entitled to enjoy their freedom of association and freedom of expression. So let the security forces not harass them. Chief Obasanjo is yet to appreciate thatÂ Nigerians are not looking for politicians whose ideas have expired. In the words of former President Obasanjo, the members of the Coalition are not the messiahs that Nigerians are looking for.
Recently, you were quoted to have described Buhari and Obasanjo as â€˜birds of a feather.â€™ Is that correct? Will you say Buhari has institutionalised corruption as you alleged Obasanjo did during his reign?
Both are retired Generals. Both declared a war against corruption. President Obasanjo was the Petroleum Minister, so is President Buhari. For 8 years President Obasanjo had three Yoruba Inspetor-Generals of Police namely Mr. Musiliu Smith, Mr. Tafa Balogun and Mr.Â SundayÂ Ehindero. The Director-General, Mr. Kayode Are who was in the saddle for 8 years is an Owu man like President Obasanjo. The CBN governor was Mr. Joseph Sanusi. Even the Chief of Staff was General Mohammed, a Yoruba man from Kwara State, the Press Secretary was Dr. Doyin Okupe. But President Obasanjo later expanded the government to reflect federal character. He is asking President Buhari to also reflect federal character in the security forces and the government in order to give members of the ruling class a sense of belonging. It has nothing to do with the masses who are on the receiving end of oppression and exploitation.
Let these Generals not think that our memory is so short. I never said that President Obasanjo institutionalised corruption. It was General Babangida that did that successfullu. His new breed politicians colluded with him to annul a presidential election which almost led to a civil war. With the imposition of the imperialist inspired Structural Adjustment Programme General Babangida wiped out the middle class. Under him official corruption became the directive principle of state policy. President Obasanjo equally had a number of young men and women in his government who aided him to manipulate and fix election results. Together with the young people in his government the assets of the nation were sold through blind trusts. Even though the era recorded the sale of a barrel of oil at over $120 the nationâ€™s energy sector, roads, hospitals etc were not fixed. Did the government not generate darkness for the nation with the sum of $16 billion. Majority of the elements who engaged in the criminal diversion of the public funds were young men and women. So, it is not about age but ideas. There are old people with revolutionary ideas. To build a new nation we need the experience of old people and the energy of the youths. Therefore, we need political parties and political movement founded on ideology, whose vision will be clearly set up. We need discipline political parties like the African National Congress in South Africa which can withdraw its officials from the government.
How can Nigeria avert bloodshed in 2019 general elections?
Since government has become the easiest avenue for personal enrichment politicians have become very desperate for power. But with the rising consciousness which is exhibited in the social media, the days of godfatherism may soon be over. Millions of young men and women have registered to vote in 2019. With the determination of Nigerians to participate in the democratic process we are not likely to witness any orgy of violence. The security forces are familiar with the dark spots all over the country. They are going to be mobilised to prevent violence. In any case, movement of persons and goods will be restricted on election days. I am confident that the Nigerian people will not allow violent politicians and their ilk to disrupt the elections.
Can Nigerians get Buhari out of power in 2019? If yes, how can they do so?
I am not in a position to predict what will happen in 2019. Some pastors have already engaged in that diversionary exercise. I am however sure that there are political groups that are determined to make the election issue based. Some politicians are going to insist on restructuring. But young people will demand job creation, the rural people will demand poverty elimination, the human rights community will demand a commitment to the actualization of the fundamental objectives in Chapter II of the Constitution. Other interest groups will make specific demands from the political class during the electioneering campaign. No doubt, the APC and PDP have zoned the presidency to the north. But there are southerners who are going to run for the presidency. Majority of the 68 political parties that have been registeredÂ by the independent national electoral commission will field presidential candidates from all over the country.
Which northerners do you think can successfully pick up the gauntlet? Atiku Abubakar? Sule Lamido? Aminu Tambuwwal? Or, is it Emir Muhammad Sanusi?
Some of the people you have just mentioned have not indicated any interest in the presidency. Frankly speaking, I cannot recommend any candidate whose programme or ideology has not been unveiled. In the interest of the development of the country let the media start promoting programmes instead of big names and size of the pockets of politicians.
Do you think as some have argued that itâ€™s time Obasanjo, IBB, and Buhari left the centre stage?
To the extent that these retired Generals have vested interests in Nigerian enterprise they cannot voluntarily quit the centre stage. It is the APC regime that has given them room to manipulate the consciuosness of our people. But they will soon be rendered irrelevant in the affairs of the nation. I know one of the groups which is determined to ask these two gentlemen to answer questions on the disappearance of $12.4 billion from the central bank and the $16 billion earmarked for the energy sector. Another group is not bothered about 2019. It is dedicated to mobilise Nigerians to challenge police brutality, official impunity and criminal diversion of public funds. One group wants to ensure that some reactionary legislators are not reelected. The 2019 general election is not going to be business as usual.
Some people have said that by default a northerner must emerge as Nigeriaâ€™s President in 2019. Do you agree?
It is almost certain that President Buhari is going to ask for a fresh mandate in 2019. The electorate will judge him on the basis of his performance in office. I am comvinced that APCÂ will not find it easy to ride to power. At the same time the Nigerian people will not go back to a rogue regime. As for Generals Obasanjo and Babangida they wonâ€™t go far this time around. The alternative perspective that Nigerians are looking for has excluded both of them. But they should continue to convey the frustrations of Nigerians to the presidential villa through letter writing and public speeches.