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In this interview with BAMIDELE ADEBAYO, the president of the West Africa Bar Association (WABA) and renowned human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, speaks on a number of current issues, including the impeachment and arrest of the Bayelsa State, Governor, Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha.
In this interview with BAMIDELE ADEBAYO, the president of the West Africa Bar Association (WABA) and renowned human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, speaks on a number of current issues, including the impeachment and arrest of the Bayelsa State, Governor, Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha. Excerpts:
How do you react to the claim that President Olusegun Obasanjo is only using the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to hunt his political opponents?
With due respect, I don’t share that view. So far, the big guys that have been nabbed and arraigned in court for corruption, money laundering and allied offences have been influential members of the ruling class. I mean ex-Inspector General of Police (IGP), Tafa Balogun, ex-Ministers, Sunday Afolabi, Akanga, Osuji, ex-Senate President Wabara etc. But while commending these efforts, the civil society, led by the media, should expose those that are considered sacred cows by the regime. I would want to believe that a revolution that would consume many members of the ruling class has begun. Some of us who are embarrassed by the level of rascality of the current managers of the state cannot afford to be cynical.
There is the urgent need for caution on the part of the media so that we don’t become unconscious agents of corrupt individuals. When Mr. Balogun was arrested, it was alleged that it was because he did not promote Mr. Nuhu Ribadu. When Professor Osuji was arrested, he said it was because he belonged to the Vice-President Atiku Abubakar’s camp. When Governor Alamieseigha was arrested in London, was it not said that it was meant to truncate the struggle for resource control? Did the media not celebrate Governor Orji Kalu’s serious allegations against Obasanjo? Although I criticized the decision of the President to refer the matter to the EFCC, I thought the media should have compelled Mr. Kalu to prove those weighty charges. But what happened? The fellow claimed he was sheathing his sword as a mark of respect to the memory of Madam Stella Obasanjo.
You mean you don’t agree that the anti-corruption war is selective and directed at perceived enemies of Obasanjo?
I would agree with you that Obasanjo is vindictive. Do you know that the President has not forgiven me for having the temerity to hit him hard at the Oputa Panel, to the extent that he threatened to stage a walk out?
In the year 2000, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti’s name and mine were short-listed for national honour for our role in the pro-democracy struggle. Even though we were going to reject the award, Mr. President was said to have deleted our names from the list on the ground that we frustrated his ambition of becoming the United Nations Secretary General in 1991. The point I am making is that if Obasanjo had his way, he would love to have me jailed for one offence or the other. Do you know that his hatred for Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) is unimaginable? Or you think he would not love to have Gani jailed? But if I get arrested by the police or EFCC for duping my client, should I simply say that I have been targeted by Obasanjo because there is no love lost between us? Can that be a reasonable defence in the circumstances?
In spite of your criticism of the Obasanjo regime, you and Chief Fawehinmi (SAN) are supporting Mr. Nuhu Ribadu and his EFCC. Chief Fawehinmi has even suggested that Mr. Ribadu should contest the next presidential election. What is there to admire in Mr. Ribadu?
As a lawyer, Mr. Ribadu was in the Legal Department of the Police for several years. So, we had cause to be on opposing sides as I was always representing victims of police brutality. I recall that when Chief Olu Falae and Dr. Fredrick Fasehun were charged with treason along with Professor Wole Soyinka and Chief Tony Enahoro in absentia at the Ikeja Chief Magistrate Court, he was the prosecutor. Chief Fawehinmi and I appeared for the accused persons. Mr. Ribadu also represented the Police, including Mr. Zakari Biu at the Oputa Panel, while I appeared for a substantial number of the victims.
Incidentally, he was present at the Oputa Panel when I cross-examined President Obasanjo over the Kalakuta case. At the end of the proceedings, Mr. Ribadu commended me, unlike other security chiefs who accused me of embarrassing Baba. In all our encounters, I found Mr. Ribadu passionately committed to Nigeria, even though we have our fundamental disagreements.
When he was made the EFCC boss, I had confidence in his competence and commitment, but I expressed my doubt over the duplicity of the government. While we have commended him for prosecuting economic saboteurs and corrupt public officers, we have not hesitated to call him to order. For instance, Chief Fawehinmi and I had cause to publicly condemn the humiliation of Mr. Tafa Balogun by the EFCC operatives in the course of his trial. From time to time, I join issues with Mr. Ribadu on complaints, regarding the detention of suspects, some of whom are my clients.
Therefore, the fact that I am ideological opposed to the regime does not mean that I should condemn even the minimal efforts of certain individuals to bring to book the enemies of our people.
What do you think could have led to the recent press statement made by Atiku that he was about to be set up? Do you think he was trying to pre-empt the Obasanjo camp?
Frankly speaking, I don’t understand the polities and tactics of the Vice President. For the past six years, he collaborated with President Obasanjo to carry out the sale of our commonwealth through privatization to their cronies. They had no disagreements over COJA contracts, allocation of oil blocks and sharing of ministerial slots. As a loyal deputy, Alhaji Atiku once accused the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) of courting treason by embarking on strike to protest the hike in the prices of petroleum products. Or did they ever disagree over the incessant disobedience of court orders which is subversive of the rule of law? Did the Vice-President not collaborate with Mr. President and Chief Audu Ogbeh to engage in the unprecedented rigging of the 2003 general elections?
No doubt, President Obasanjo may be crude, but is the Vice President not waiting in the wings to inherit the presidency and exercise the same dictatorial powers conferred on the President by Decree 24 of 1999, otherwise called the “1999 Constitution?” As the Chair of the National Economic Council, did Alhaji Atiku reject the pro-imperialist thrust of the economic agenda of Obasanjo?
For me, those who are bent on aborting the third term agenda of Obasanjo without addressing the urgent need to reduce the enormous powers of the president are jokers. In other words, the Movement for the Defence of Democracy (MDD) and Movement for Reformation of Democracy (MRD) should come out with a programme that transcends the abortion of the third agenda. Otherwise, like the G34, they may end up imposing another dictator like Obasanjo.
Since President Obasanjo has made it abundantly clear that he would not allow Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to succeed him, the latter ought to have resigned so as to embark on his campaign, if he seriously wants to contest the presidential election in 2007. But I doubt if the Vice President can take the risk of exposing himself to anti-corruption agencies.
However, President Obasanjo should be called to order in the on-going personalized feud between him and his deputy. In particular, the security forces ought to fish out and prosecute the masterminds of the incendiary statement linking the Vice President with a coup de tat.
You have not expressed any view on the Bayelsa crisis. Why is this so?
I am not sure you are quite right. Of course, I condemned the militarization of the state and the seizure of the Bayelsa Radio. But I have found it difficult to express my views publicly on the fate of Governor D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha. The problem is that I have had cause to handle cases for the state in the last six years. Even since the investigation of the governor commenced, my law office has made several representations to the EFCC on behalf of officials of the state, including commissioners and legislators who were quizzed or detained. To that extent, I have had to give my honest advice to the embattled governor in camera
But you have not appeared for him in court in any case filed by him and his proteges. Did you reject such briefs?
Honestly speaking, I was not briefed to handle any of those briefs.
Alamieyeseigha has been impeached, arrested and flown to Abuja in handcuffs. Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) has said that he should be put on the next available flight to London?
When Mr. Tafa Balogun was handcuffed by the EFCC, I did say that it was violative of his fundamental right to dignity. Except you want to humiliate a criminal suspect, he cannot be subjected to the restraint of handcuff, if he has not exhibited any violent disposition. In this case, the Bayelsa State Police Commissioner, Mr. Rimgim did attest to the fact that Chief DSP Alamieyesiegha did not show any resistance when he was arrested. So, why was he handcuffed? With respect, unless he opts to travel to London voluntarily, Chief Alamieyesieha cannot just be bundled out of the country just like that. There has to be extradition proceedings since there is a treaty between the UK and Nigeria. Alternatively, the warrant of arrest issued by the Crown Court last Thursday has to be registered in the court here before it can be executed on him. Even that has to follow due process.
I have read the report of the impeachment panel. It’s a lot of legal pyrothenics. Even if the facts of jumping bail are so notorious, there has to be a hearing before condemning them. You cannot sacrifice fair hearing on the altar of Alamieyeseigha. Even God, who is said to be ominipresent gave Adam and Eve fair hearing. The cases of the deputy governor of Abia, Akwa Ibom and Ekiti States are similar. The same treatment were meted out to them. It ought to have been done in line with the rules of natural justice.
Section 188 (10) of the constitution, which ousts court jurisdiction, has been exploited by the legislators to effect the removal of the deputy governors.
There was this report that Sergeant Rogers who was alleged to have been the head of the killing squad during Late Gen. Sani Abacha’s regime has been reinstated by the Nigerian Army. What does this portend for the country, especially the human rights and pro-democracy community?
I was shocked beyond expression when I read of the highly condemnable decision to reinstate Sgt Rogers in the Army. For me, it is a confirmation of the culture of impunity which has been accentuated by the unprecedented insensitivity of the current pseudo-democratic regime. The official policy of honouring and compensating self-confessed criminals is subversive of the rule of law.
There is no society in the world where offences are not committed on a daily basis, but for most societies where there is a medium of political stability, the rule of law has to be observed strictly. And you can only do this if you are prepared to arrest criminal suspects and have them brought to book.
Once their offences are detected, any country that treats criminal suspects as heroes can never guarantee political stability, can never ensure justice.
Sergeant Rogers was not charged, despite his confessional statement regarding the killings, instead, he was used as a prosecution witness. Legally, is it right to release and reinstate him, especially when the case is still pending in court?
It is within the powers of the prosecutor to decide who to prosecute and who to choose as his witnesses in a criminal trial. In this case, Sergeant Rogers has given very helpful and relevant evidence. I am not insisting for now that he has to be prosecuted, more so, that the trial is still on-going. What is disturbing is the report that he has been re-instated and given back his position in the military. And what was his duty in the military under the Abacha junta? This young man was recruited and trained at public expense, not to defend the integrity of Nigerians or the territorial sovereignty of Nigeria. But his main task was the illegal and extra judicial killing of patriotic Nigerians who had the temerity to challenge corruption and abuse of office, authoritarian rule, dictatorship in our country. Without debriefing such a character, without retraining him, even if you are going to forgive him, sending him back with his distorted orientation, you are simply asking him to continue his old ways, which, to me, is a very dangerous precedent that the government has done.
There is no country in the world where anybody who has confessed to murder or attempted murder would be pardoned and allowed to regain his position in the military.
Considering the calibre of people that were allegedly murdered by Sergeant Rogers and his colleagues, I mean the victims were mainly from the human rights and pro-democracy community, what is the likely response of the human rights community in the matter?
The human rights community is taking up this matter very seriously with the appropriate authorities and from the information at my disposal, if the government remains intransigent in the matter, certainly some provisions of the law would have to be applied with a view to ensuring that Sergeant Rogers is asked to leave the military as soon as possible.
In what way? Are you people going to court over the matter?
Quite a number of the relations of the victims are around.
Have they contacted you over the matter?
The human rights community is discussing with them with a view to solving this problem. I think it is embarrassing and criminal.
The relatives of the victims, are they very bitter about the reinstatement of Sergeant Rogers?
Understandably so. They have to be bitter, because that means an official endorsement of the cold murder of their parents or loved ones. There is no country that allows that kind of criminality to go unchallenged.
Can you tell us the names of some of the victims’ relatives that are discussing with the human rights activists?
No. I wont like to embarrass anybody.
There is this suspicion in certain quarters that the reinstatement of Rogers may be part of the alleged third term agenda of the President. Do you share the same opinion ?
I would believe that as the regime gets more desperate to enforce the third term agenda on Nigerians, I am not sure they are going to leave any stone unturned. That may, of course, include sending these trained gunmen to town, to silence those who are opposed to the government.
When it was reported by this newspaper that a lawyer who has his office at Fajuyi Way, GRA Ikeja was arrested over the case of the impeached governor of Bayelsa, how did you feel, since your office is also located around the place?
Quite a number of people were worried over the report. I got so many calls and received a lorry load of emails. It was not possible for me to have engaged in any reckless adventure or criminality. In October 2002, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), under Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) visited President Olusegun Obasanjo in Aso Rock, and I reminded the president that the last time I visited the State House, I was a prisoner. In reply, the president assured me that I won’t be a prisoner under his regime. But I was quick to tell him that I won’t breach any law to warrant my going to jail. So, I was not the lawyer being referred to.
SUNDAY PUNCH, December 11, 2005
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