By Gbenga Akanji
Human rights activist, Chief Femi Falana (SAN) has cemented his place as one not to toy with by anyone desirous of stability and in need of their reputation remaining intact. It does not matter if this erudite scholar once held brief for that someone, all that is needed is a falling out and he will unleash his demons from hell on that person. They get a dose of his venom regardless of whether they once inked the dotted lines with the lawyer. On the surface, this is a portrayal of a no nonsense person who speaks truth to power.
Recent development around the legal luminary however calls for a radical societal rethinking of the roles he is playing in shaping discourse of profound national issues. There are inherent dangers when those looked upon as the community’s moral compass not only put on demagogic robes bestowed on them by their swooning worshippers but have taken to living like demagogues and eventually transiting into deities, an inordinate quest to be named idols of modern day.
Even in the midst of a destructive rampage, the way he has conducted himself in recent times strongly suggests that Nigeria has only one saint, one wise man, the only principality and the lone deity that must be worshipped by anyone that cares to retain a good name. That singular entity is Mr. Falana. The only rich man in Nigeria without a bank account. The poor lawyer who trained his kids abroad but has no money and that one who passionately hates the corrupt and oppressive elite.
It was he who, even in the face of overwhelming leaning of Nigerians, delivered the fiat that the vexious Comptroller General of Customs, Hamid Ali cannot be compelled by Senate to wear uniform. He of course had as his explanation the fact that no law stipulates that the customs boss should wear uniform. The lawyer was, for all his intellect, somehow glossed over the fact that Ali happily uses other NIS branded items, draws salaries from the place and takes decisions based on the powers conferred by his current office yet the uniform is toxic to his skin. Perhaps, since it does not appear so straightforward to Ali’s unofficial counsel, the uniform debacle was the direct result of a custom boss that has decided he will not heed directives from the Senate not to retroactively apply a new policy on car owners. The demand that he wears uniform is symbolic of him answering to Nigerians, whom he wanted to retroactively punish, through their representatives. Falana thinks Ali does not answer to Nigerians and who dares questions the emperor of human rights?
Falana has apparently fallen out with his former client, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), with which he had a retainership. Same cannot be said of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). His relationship with the Nigerian Police at the end of his contracts with them speaks volumes as to what propels his own brand of activism. Once his retainership ends with a government agency and there is no renewal then come the fang barring sessions at which every occurrence in the country is exploited to make the concerned organization look bad. What readily comes to mind is the general saying that where lies a man’s treasure so also his heart.
In this vein, he has recently pitched tent with members of an outlawed fanatical group, an unregistered para-military group and persons arrested in the wake of the deadly clash in Ile-Ife, Osun State. One is therefore not left in doubt as to the overriding incentive for his human rights intervention in these cases that provided him the platform to lash out at his estranged client, the Nigerian Police Force.
As if standing morality on its head to hit at the police was not bad enough, Falana might have also decided to hit out at the entire country, maybe because of the many juicy federal appointments that have eluded him or the governorship ticket of the ruling party that he is now certain he will never get for Ekiti state. His anger against the country finds expression in routing for the dollar what he lost by lack of access to controlling government allocation. His response to this was to hang out with terrorists and stay closer to a dollarized economy, guaranteed each time he sustains outbursts against the government. Mention any group that is up against the State and Falana is there by its side waiting to see what he could make out of their crimes. He represents everything that is truly wrong with our society.
On one hand he asserted that it is illegal for citizens to protest against an NGO that is openly supporting terrorists but on the other hand he sees reasons with Shiites and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) carrying out menacing street actions, sometimes directed against the Nigerian State and citizens. He holds the record of supervising the most ferocious of protests known to Nigerians and yet suddenly finds those for which he was not commissioned or mobilized for to be offensive. Could it be that our legal luminary is angry that the protesters did not remit ‘owó ilè’ (ground rent) to him the way some younger civil society groups normally pay to some seniors?
Living such multiple lives comes at a price as they can leave the subject conflicted. One is therefore not caught unawares with another of his outburst in which he accused the Nigerian government of sponsoring protests against Amnesty International. That was closely followed by his tirade about the Nigeria Police Force’s decision to parade those arrested in connection with the Ile-Ife mayhem. While the innocence of accused persons until proven guilty must be held sacrosanct, Falana delving into such matter often does not help those so accused. The venomous tone with which his views were expressed portrays an ethnic god that is confident that baying can obliterate the substantial fact of the wanton loss of human lives traced to the apprehended persons.
The contradictions around Falana are better understood against the background of his prevailing want or desperation. At the time when he was hell bent on becoming the governor of Ekiti State, before his toxic personality alienated him from those who should make that happen, he had actively canvassed for the EFCC to arrest Ayo Fayose, the incumbent governor, even when he clearly knows that he was shielded by constitutionally guaranteed immunity. That call was a lesson in being careful of the opinion of a Falana with a mission. To him, Fayose can be arrested by the EFCC at the time he wanted a democratic coup to pave way for his ascension as a governor.
At 58 the possibility is strong for a man to rue some of his actions taken in his younger life that have yielded and may still be yielding undesired outcomes like being distrusted to the point of being un-appointable in successive governments. The solution is not in trying to short circuit the entire country over such bitterness. Instead of setting everything in his path alight he should ask if he has, for instance, made any meaningful academic inputs into human rights law that would stand the test of time since that has been his advertised forte. The one aspect he has made so much money from is lacking constructive inputs from him. Instead, he has done more to undermine the very thing he postures to be promoting.
Falana must remember the saying that “A witch doctor who invokes a storm on his people cannot prevent his house from destruction”. Whether he is treading this path of destruction out of vendetta or a desire for pecuniary gain of being paid in foreign currency he remains part of this country and will not be insulated from the consequences of the destruction he is stoking for the land and must not wait to learn the hard way that “He who burns down his house knows why ashes cost a fortune.” But where he is suicidal to the point of being beyond cares for how his petulant actions and utterances are affecting the land he should do the rest of us the favour of going down alone or with his terrorist clients and not take the country with him.
Akanji is a forensic psychologist and contributed this piece from Lagos.