Text of an address delivered by activist-lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) at the 60th birthday colloquium in honour of foremost journalist Kunle Ajibade at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos on Wednesday.
I congratulate Kunle Ajibade on the occasion of his 60th birthday anniversary. He is lucky to be alive today because he had engaged in many risky ventures in the struggle for a better Nigeria. When Prof Wole Soyinka said about 30 years ago that his was a wasted generation, Kunle never believed that his own generation would also be wasted. But, since Kunle is still alive and active, we urge him to team up with other patriots to arrest the imminent collapse of our country.
Through its highly reliable sources, The News magazine had confirmed in 1995 that the maximum ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha wanted to be crowned as a civilian president. For exposing the plot to rope some retired and serving military officers into a phantom coup in a bid to eliminate any form of opposition, the brutal dictator ordered the arrest of the editors of the magazine. Even though, he did not write the story that provoked the dictator, Kunle was the only editor in the office when the security forces invaded the premises of the magazine. He was arrested, detained, tried with three other colleagues, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
But, he and others regained their freedom when the dictator was killed in a palace coup three and a half years later. We are celebrating Kunle today because he survived the dehumanising prison conditions which claimed the precious lives of many other convicts.
Unabated killings in Nigeria
In spite of repeated assurances of the Federal Government to ensure the security of life and property of every person living in Nigeria, it has been confirmed that not less than 1,400 unarmed civilians have been killed in Benue State by armed herdsmen and armed gangs between January and May, 2018.
The figures of casualties in Nasarawa and Zamfara states are said to be higher. Although the satanic Boko Haram sect is said to have been substantially defeated, it has continued to massacre scores of people through bomb attacks in schools, markets and mosques in the northeast. In the same vein, armed bandits have embarked on mass killing of people in some local governments in Kaduna and Zamfara states in the northwest. Armed robbery and kidnapping are regular occurrences in all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Contrary to the misleading impression being created by the advocates of state police in the country, the Nigeria Police Force is not an agency of the president or the Federal Government. What has been established by Section 214 of the Constitution is the Nigeria Police Force. It is a police force which shall be organised and administered by the Nigeria Police Council.
It is pertinent to note that the Nigeria Police Council is constituted by the president who shall be the chairman, the chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC) and the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), as well as the 36 state governors. But, for reasons best known to state governors, the President has always been allowed to hijack Police Council. As a matter of urgency the members of the Council should meet to agree on the funding, organisation and supervision of the Nigeria Police Force in conformity with Paragraph L, Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution.
However, it is indisputable that the killings have continued unabated in the aforementioned states due to official negligence and impunity. Hence, the hundreds of murder suspects, arrested by the police and the army, have not been prosecuted by any of the state governments.
I am sure that the criminal elements who murdered some citizens during the just concluded congresses of the All Progressive Congress (APC) will also be treated like sacred cows.
Even my recent call on the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to mount pressure on the attorneys-general in all the states of the federation to arraign the murder suspects in State High Courts was ignored.
Ours has been reduced to a banana republic where kidnappers, murderers, robbers and rapists are conferred with impunity and licensed to continue their criminal enterprise.
Since the government has lost the monopoly of violence to criminal gangs, and life has become totally cheap and unsafe in the country, it is high time that the National Assembly enacted a law to provide for compulsory military training or military service for citizens of Nigeria without any delay.
And pending the enactment of the law, the governments of Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara states should request the president to maintain adequate facilities in some institutions for giving military training to citizens whose lives have become endangered. This call is in line with the provisions of section 220 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 as amended.
With respect to the killing by herdsmen, the Federal Government knows the solution but has refused to embrace it.
As far back as 2016, about 55,000 hectares of land were acquired in about 11 states for ranching. But, instead of implementing the policy, the Federal Government has been toying with the backward idea of cattle colony. Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army, which has a ranch at Giri in the FCT, has offered to establish more ranches in other parts of the country. The offer of the Army has been ignored. The Kano State government, which has ranches and grazing zones, has also offered to accommodate all herdsmen who have been displaced in Benue and Taraba states. The offer has equally been treated with disdain without any justification. However, to put an end to the violent clashes between farmers and herdsmen, all relevant stakeholders should liaise with the Kano State government with a view to establishing a number of ranches.
Bright future for Nigeria
I believe that a bright future is possible for Nigeria. But, it can only be possible if the members of the political class are compelled to abandon politics of money and the manipulation of ethnicity and religion. Nigerian journalists like Kunle Ajibade and his colleagues should force all political aspirants to address serious issues during the forthcoming political campaign. In particular, they must extract commitment from the political class to implement the fundamental objectives enshrined in Chapter 2 of the Constitution. Section 14 thereof provides that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. To actualize that political objective, it is stated in Section 16 that the economy shall be planned and managed by the government to promote national prosperity and happiness.
Furthermore, it is stated that the government shall control the commanding height of the economy and ensure that the wealth of the nation shall not be concentrated in the hands of a few people or a group. It is illegal and unjust to lease oil blocks to a few people who are turned to multi billionaires after subleasing them to foreign investors.
Some of them have been honest to disclose publicly that they do not know what to do with the hundreds of millions of dollars made from the sublease of the oil blocks. Thus, by allowing a few people to collect rents from our national assets, the government has continued to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few people. Since it is illegal and unjust to enrich a few people at the expense of the Nigerian people, we hereby call on the Federal Government to stop awarding oil blocks to local and foreign investors. They should be leased to the federal and state governments in order to have money for development.
The constitution has provided that the socio-economic rights of the people to education, health, housing, living minimum wage, pension, unemployment benefits are guaranteed while the government shall provide for the aged and physically challenged citizens. Apart from the legal obligation imposed on political parties to comply with the fundamental objectives, it shall be the duty of all organs of government and of all authorities and persons exercising legislative, executive and judicial powers to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of the fundamental objectives. The socioeconomic rights of the Nigerian people have also been enshrined in the Africa Charter on Human and People’s Rights Act. Therefore, the justiciability of the fundamental objectives is longer in doubt.
Indeed, through the struggle of the oppressed people in Nigeria, the National Assembly has been compelled to enact welfare laws which shall be funded by the government. For instance, the Compulsory, Free and Basic Education Act and the Child’s Rights Act have made education free and compulsory from primary to junior secondary school. Parents and guardians who refuse to allow their children and wards to acquire education are liable to be prosecuted.
To fund the programme, the Federal Government shall contribute two per cent of its Consolidated Revenue Fund. The state governments shall provide counterpart fund. But due to the refusal of state government to access the fund, not less than N67 billion is lying fallow at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) while the country has about 11.5 million children of school age who are roaming the streets.
Other welfare laws on housing, health insurance, pension and minimum wage among others are being breached with impunity. Yet, if we insist and ensure that the welfare laws are enforced by the governments there will no money left to be stolen by unpatriotic public officers.
Since the 2019 general elections are a few months away, it is not enough to urge Nigerian voters to register and collect their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC). They must be encouraged to know what to do with the PVCs.
When politicians come around to ask for votes, every PVC owner must ask questions on the jumbo emoluments of public officers, unemployment, poverty, infrastructural decay, corruption, abuse of office and human rights violations among others.
The harassment of law abiding citizens by the police and other security agencies should be discussed with political aspirants. The answers to the questions should be noted so that the elected ones can be confronted with all promises made by them.
To assist voters to hold politicians accountable the progressive extraction of the media must provide relevant information on public affairs.
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