Barrister Femi Falana is a Lead Barrister at Falana and Falana Chambers, a Constitutional Law and human rights organisation. Falana has been a member of civil society and has been a think-thank behind the #ENDSARS Protests. It is not out of place to be on the side of peaceful protests for justice for extrajudicial killings since lawyers and by extension, the judiciary, are meant to be the last bastion of defence and hope under a sovereign and democratic government.
What is, however, baffling is that Falana seem to have crossed the line from being a legal advisor to a promoter of distrust in order to achieve private and socio-political goals. A recent tweet by Folake Falana, a television host and daughter of Femi Falana, revealed that Falana engaged the organisers of the #EndSARS protest in the background. In the tweet, she eulogised her dad’s culture and history of protests and informed her fans that ‘Love my daddy mehn. I can’t stop relaying everything he told us at the PROTEST STRATEGY CONFERENCE CALL.’— Folake Falana (@flakes_ff) October 14, 2020.
The EndSars protest was on the right path to justifying democratic rights with a ‘5 for 5’ Point Agenda which solely focused on issues of police brutality, police welfare and human rights. For clarity, the #ENDSARS agitators demanded the immediate release of arrested protesters, justice and compensation for the family of those who died as a result of extrajudicial killings in the hands of the SARS operatives. This also include setting up an independent body to investigate and prosecute trigger-happy policemen within 10 days, as well as psychological evaluation, retraining of the police and the disbandment of SARS Operatives; even so, increasing the salary of the police saddled with the responsible of protecting lives and property.
These demands were accepted by State and Federal Government. Following this, SARS was immediately disbanded by the Inspector General of Police and in order not to leave a vacuum for hooligans and arsonists to have a field day, the IGP immediately set up the Special Weapons and Tactics Squad with the assurance that the members of the SARS would not be a part of the new unit.
Unfortunately, the #ENDSARS protesters and their mentors, Falana inclusive, did not engage government in good faith as they faulted the short and long-term processes of government to end police brutality, instill discipline and confidence of the Nigerian people in the Nigerian Police Force.
With the absence of the special police agencies that have long put a check on the activities of hardened criminals and hoodlums, the hoodlums began to cause untrammelled havoc under the guise of the #EndSARS protests. There was no doubt that the #EndSARS protesters were law-abiding and peaceful only to the extent of causing unbearable traffic and disrupting the economic life of others, but what Falana and other ‘revolutionaries’ failed to do was to inform the protesters of the realities of their human rights. A decent civic student knows that one’s rights ends when it infringes on the rights of another person. The rights of the #ENDSARS Protesters, thus, ended when they began to turn the main roads, the ports and avenues of people’s economic life into an unbearable logjam. After endless appeals from Federal and State Governments, and being fully aware of some activities of some hoodlums during the protest, the Government had no choice but to impose a curfew.
A curfew is within the constitutional powers of the state governor; likewise is the setting up of a judicial panel to engage cases of police brutality. It was expected that Falana would intervene at this point, informing his son, Falz, the musician and his influencer friends, who helped bolster the protest from a 5 Point Agenda to a Seven Point Agenda, as well as caution the Feminist Movement who saw it as an oppourtunity to stretch the agenda into 23 Key Demands.
Falana did not convince the Youths that government has shown goodwill to their ‘5 for 5’ demands, neither did he use his influence to help both government and youth find middle grounds on the fresh demands of the #EndSARS protesters.
Sadly, those who have or associate with those who have Marxist leanings like Falana, usually encourage revolution instead of amicable resolution in the matters of State.
It is particularly instructive to see that the government of Lagos State as well as the Federal Government had to respond to possible disobedience of the curfew in order not to create a precedence that would endanger the fundamental principles of crime and punishment that held the fabric of the justice system of any state. By Falana asking the Federal Government not to deploy security operatives to discipline disobedience repudiates the essence and the nexus between legal practice and governance in every aspect of the word.
The memory of the #ENDSARS Protest has indeed gone into the annals of Nigeria’s history as a dark moment for both the government and people of Nigeria. It remains unclear the full situation of things. This is the reason the Lagos State Government ordered an investigation into the case. The Lagos State Government and other state governments had set up judicial panels of inquiry that comprised at least a reputable member of the judiciary, a member of the #EndSARS protest, and a member of civil society, amongst others, and had so far not interfered in their investigations. Government took an aloof stance at the panels by making sure that the selected men and women are of reputable character with immense connection to their groups, so that these personalities could assert themselves without government interference.
On the flipside, the proposed panel set up by the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 And Beyond (ASCAB) and spearheaded by Femi Falana has the propensity to aggravate rested emotions, rekindle protests and violence in the country. The Panel which has been stated will comprise of civil society, and #EndSARs protesters, among others is not only a problematic alternative to the panel the State Government had set up, it will no doubt express the bold sentimentalities and prejudgement of Femi Falana, who earlier noted that ASCAB had found the barracks where the soldiers who reportedly shot at protesters came from.
While the Presidency is careful not to rely on social media representations of the issues at hand concurrently awaiting the report of the Investigative Panel of Inquiry set up by State Government in whose powers rest such investigative urgencies, Barrister Falana intends to rubbish the attempts of the government to finding justice and closure for the victims of the purported terrible evening at Lekki and the sequels of terror that Nigerians had to bear.
Falana had in fact accused the military of having a hand in the reported Lekki Massacre without any clear facts and without investigation. He had also asserted that he would sue General Tukur Buratai with charges of crimes to humanity at the International Court of Justice coupled with ASCAB alleged discovery of the barracks where the reported soldiers were deployed to the Lekki Toll Gate. All of these show that Falana had prejudged the actions of the military in the reported Lekki Massacre. He had been the lawyer and the judge in this media case and had not provided room for evidence-backed engagements at the courts.
Undoubtedly, it is within the powers of Falana and his ASCAB group to sue the FG, the Nigerian Army within National and international realms like SERAP had recently done, but it is not within the powers of private persons, Non-Governmental Organisations to set up investigative panels for the public. The Presidency is ‘pained’ about the blurry circumstances of the reported Lekki Toll Massacre but it has not allowed its emotion to dispose of legal and democratic approaches to setting up a judicial panel to achieve clarity, and to act without bias to anyone responsible for such brutal treatment of citizens.
Nevertheless, Falana seems to have placed upon himself a huge burden of embodying the flaring emotions of many Nigerians without subjecting such emotions to scrutiny and intelligent contextualization. Perhaps Femi Falana intended to either use the panel to urge for a Sovereign National Conference; a consistent discourse of the human rights lawyer from 2007 to 2012 until it was organised by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015–in which Falana complained bitterly that the composition of Nigerians at the conference misrepresented the voices of the average Nigerian.
Falana has recently called for another Sovereign National Conference to discuss the power relations, resource sharing, duties of Federal and State Governments amongst other constitutional amendment matters. These same issues are currently being discussed in the House of Representatives. Therefore, the creation of the Sovereign National Conference would be seen as undermining the efforts of the lawmakers who are currently working assiduously at amending the constitution. The document of the 2015 Sovereign National Conference seems to be garnering dust on the shelves of participants, stakeholders and organisers despite the fact that the FG spent N7 billion (inclusive of sitting allowances). What Femi Falana should be clamouring for in these dire economic times in our country is for the Nigerian Senate to subject the 2015 SNC document to legislative scrutiny while it embarks on a robust constitutional amendment.
Prior to the pronouncement by ASCAB to set up a panel of inquiry on the reported Lekki Massacre, Falana and other socio-political personalities like Olisa Agbakoba, Attahiru Jega, Prof. G.G Darah and about 40 others teamed up like a self-enacted Sovereign National group to proffer solutions to the problems in the country after the alleged #EndSARS massacre. Some of its recommendations such as the relief of the heads of the security operatives in the country, amongst others, not only aligns with some of the 23 Key Demands of the #EndSARS youths but also problematises the situation. The systemic challenges such as corruption, nepotism, brutality in the country also affect the security agencies, but a headache is not cured by cutting the head off.
The work of change to be done within the security infrastructure of the country concerns both the rank and file of all security agencies in order to better equip them with the right attitude, manpower, welfare, and a higher sense of responsibility to the Nigerian people.
But rescinding all these further indicates that the #ENDSARS Protests had backers, sponsors or advisors who had the intention of using the protest to push for the surface agitation for the disbandment of #ENDSARS while emboldening underlining motives into National discourses, for the sake of remaining relevant in Nigeria’s Socio-political space.
There is no doubt that Femi Falana hopes to use his intellectual resources through ASCAB and many other platforms to lionise himself and his chambers in the eyes of the masses. Falana recently told aggrieved Nigerians who lost loved ones and have had their properties destroyed by hoodlums during the EndSARS crisis to seek redress in court. He implied that government had failed in providing security for lives and properties and asked them to slug it out with government in order to receive compensation from her. Perhaps, Falana also hopes to use the #EndSARS discourse to bring international attention to the case of Sheikh El-Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria. Falana has made unsuccessful attempts to secure the release of the IMN leader under the ambits of the law. He may hope that by presenting Nigeria as a country under a lawless, pseudo-democratic leader, he may be able to bring international pressure to bear on the El-Zakzaky case.
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Influential Nigerians, therefore, need to be mindful of the implications of their speech acts because Nigeria is in a volatile state. They are meant to engage all stakeholders in governance with a sense of temperance that implies loyalty to the well-being and continued existence of the country. Femi Falana needs to retrace his steps and re-evaluate his actions in the light of these positions and for the sake of posterity.
Photo Credit: Falana.com.ng