Since he turned 60, a few weeks back many people have been wondering whether radical Lagos Lawyer, Femi Falana has changed in anyway from been the fire spitting radical of those days. This was one of the questions I asked him when I met him for his 60th Birthday interview. He told City People that nothing has changed about him. He says he is still committed to the defence of Rule of Law and Human Rights, which has made the fight for the defence of Human Rights to be more vibrant and effective. He now prefers to fight for the ideals he believes institutionally, since there are frameworks for redress. He spoke to City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE about why he can’t change @ 60.
Below are excerpts of the interview..
When you started off practice in those days you were always in the company of older activists of that era like late Alao Aka-Bashorun, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, and many more. How did you cope with them? What attracted you to them?
I think we shared common ideas. It wasn’t about your age. It was about your commitment to these ideas, commitment to the defence of the rights of out people. I was privileged to have been embraced by other comrades and when you are so privileged, you had a duty to earn their respect, confidence. I got locked up, I got imprisoned with some of them particularly the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and late Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti.
We were arrested together. We were detained together. We were tried together. And much later in life I also became their lawyers. So, I have had the privilege of defending the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the late Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Prof. Wole Soyinka, the late Chima Ubani, the labour leaders like Adams Oshiomole, ASUU leaders like Prof. Festus Iyayi, Attahiru Jega and others. Its been a wonderful experience for me, because we must get all our comrades out of trouble. So, you had to do your home work well.
How have you been able to cope with prosecuting loads and loads of human right cases?
I have been extremely lucky with the colleagues I have had to work with. I must also acknowledge the fact that I have been extremely lucky with my wife, Funmi who is the Managing Partner of our law firm. She is a wonderful lady she organsies my home and my office. So that gives me a lot of room to manovre and to get involved in so many activities. I think it is a function of being organised.
I am happy that I have been opportuned to work with dedicated comrades with whom I hold regular consultations. The beauty of our consistency and dedication to the pursuits of Human Rights, I am now in a position where I get briefs from in and outside Nigeria in the area of human rights. My law firm is handling cases for oppressed people in Liberia, Ghana, Burkina Faso. We take up Human Rights cases from Eritea, where is is difficult to get a local lawyer to take on the government.
How do you take the fact that most of the cases of human rights abuse that you fought against in the 90s?
Contrary to the views of people who do not know or who have forgotten where we are coming from, we have made substantial progress in the pursuit of Human Rights not only in Nigeria but in the entire African continent. Under successive military dictatorship in Nigeria, you could not go to court to fight violation of human rights, because the writ of Habeas Corpus was suspended. The enforcement of human rights could not be pursued. People were detained without trial for months and for years. You couldn’t do anything about it. People were even killed without any challenge when I tell my children now that between 1987-1998 that I couldn’t travel out of the country through the international airport for fear that my passport will be seized, they can’t just believe me. They can’t believe that we have to go through Cotonou in the dead of the night because one could fly not to attend conferences.
But today our right of ingress and egress is assured. If anybody is killed in any part of Nigeria, we can ask for an Inquest be conducted to know the cause of death Detention without trial has become a thing of the past. If you are not satisfied with the justice system in Nigeria, you can even go to a regional court like the ECOWAS Court. What I am saying is that there are mechanisms for addressing Human Rights Violations in Nigeria and indeed in other African countries.
So, we have recorded some limited success in that area. No doubt, with a government that is really committed to the rules of law, and respect for Human Rights we could have certainly recorded more success. What is the struggle before us? How to ensure that we establish a government of law as opposed to a government of men and women. And I am very confident tha we are going to get these. Again, unknown to many Nigerians, we have been able to force the Nigerian ruling class, to make concessions in terms of enenting welfare laws to take care of the poor and the vulnerable segment of the society. One of the assignments that my colleagues and I have set for ourselves is how to ensure that these laws are implemented and enforced.
What has changed about Femi Falana at 60? What has not changed?
Has anything really changed? Nothing has changed. I remain who I have always been, in terms of my commitment to the eradication of injustice in society. There is no doubt that with age, I start to reconsider some of my approaches. Take less risks but ensure that I achieve my objective.
Interestingly, there are people at the level of state governments and federal governments with whom we have done struggles together in the past, who I can now remind of our demands in the past and insist that they remain committed to their past and then use what applies like subtle blackmail to get results. I remember a few months ago, there was a protest by the students in one of the states in the South West, I had to call the governor. You better restrain the Police from unleashing violence on the students. Because you and I used to be on the streets together. Don’t let the students show you photographs of you and I doing demonstrations together.
That jotted him to attend to the demands of the students. For me it is an advantage because of my consistency our enforcement in serious cases of human rights violations is taken much more seriously then before. You would even be surprised to know that a lot of cases sent to us by police and military personnel who have been dislodged by the system. Without sounding arrogant, I am handling more cases for policemen and soldiers than many lawyers in Nigeria today.