By Daniel Kanu
Fiery Lagos lawyer, Malachy Ugwummadu, who is gradually stepping into the big shoe of the late legal luminary, Gani Fawehinmi is immediate past National President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). In this encounter with Sunday Sun, he raised the alarm that the nation may gradually be heading for the precipice if things continue the way they are going.
He also spoke on rights abuse and the danger that lie ahead of 2023. Excerpt:
We just celebrated the World Human Rights Day. What are some of your random thoughts on human rights abuses?
It is actually an international human rights day, so it is a day that is globally celebrated in recognition of the fundamental rights of citizens of the world. These rights in our own country (Nigeria) are captured under the fundamental rights provision. These rights are also contained in other international human rights instruments such as the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, etc, so on a day like this, organisations that are created and conceived, and designed around issues of human rights, for instance, CDHR, Civil Liberties Organisations, gather to deepen discussions around issues of human rights, to appraise and assess the state of human rights in their environment, be it the state, the local government, the country, and we are passing a verdict today that the recent slaughter of 43 to 60 rice farmers in Borno State on account of the failure of leadership is a very sad commentary on the state of human rights in Nigeria and that the right to life which they sort to acquire for themselves through a dignified way of farming is the most valuable rights, and to lose it in that circumstance clearly underpins the state of the human rights situation in Nigeria and I think that it is the more reason President Buhari would have summoned the courage, having initially accepted to meet the representatives of Nigeria and least explain his own side of it without necessarily divulging the security strategies he had, he lost that moment to reconnect with the Nigerian people, to reassure them that he can tackle the security situation in the land. As it is today, Nigerians feel that they are on their own. If you could wake up one day and lose 53 to 64 human lives and all they do is to change the figures, it is as if we are truly on our own. This poses serious dangerous signal. If these things are not checkmated properly, we may not have heard the worst. The security situation is getting worse by the day and lives are being lost on flimsy reasons. This is sad.
What exactly is your expectation from the government…?
(Cuts in) The first thing is for the government to swallow its pride, accept that they have failed and will continue to fail if they are not ready to change their strategies of security in the country. We need to make them recognise that security in terms of defense and hardware has got the largest chunk of our budgetary allocations in the last 10 years and that the more we provide for security, the more we lose the citizens of this country and that is no longer acceptable and It is only a question of time before the Nigerian people will pass that verdict which was passed on the last the government. The last government failed because of insecurity, it was clear that in spite of all their excuses, we were doomed, life was short, brutish, and nasty where people were killed at random, that has become the situation today. To make it worse is to refuse to thinker with the security architecture that we have, which is failing each passing day. Now as little as coming to the National Assembly to explain what is happening, a state actor within your government is saying something different from what you had accepted to do, in law and morality, it is wrong to say that the president cannot come to the National Assembly at the invitation of the parliament that is contrary to Section 89 of the constitution and I think that the National Assembly should find a way of making the president or executive realise that the government of Nigeria is not just about the executive. The government of Nigeria stands on a tripod, that tripod consists of the legislature, the judiciary and the executive, but the highest of them all is the citizens and when they realise that their lives are taken for granted they will recall that sovereignty they ceded to you and that is partly what we saw during the #EndSARS protest. It sounds funny when the government branded #EndSARS protesters economic saboteurs. There is urgent need to address all the issues the protesters raised; ignoring it is at the government peril.
Are you worried that the #EndSARS protest is also re-emerging again with the information that we are getting?
Well, a country that has remained consistent on the part of decadence and denials and failures cannot avoid, cannot run away from the wrath and anger of the citizens and I think they are lucky the #EndSARS protest was not just organized, they were disciplined, they were empathic, they were sympathetic and they carried along with all sense of decorum in a way that teaches the ruling class how they should be relating to the people. It is in their interest that they listen to them because these people are known, they are organised, when you have to deal with the people you don’t know that is where the problem will come. It’s time for the government to stand up to the reality of the time because the lesson from the youths is simple: that enough is enough, that they do not continue to tolerate further nonsense from an insensitive government.
Aside from the challenge of insecurity, what are some of your other worries about Nigeria?
Wrong priority. We prioritize the wrong thing and place a scant priority on the right thing. Take, for instance, some of our cousins must have been at home in the last 9-10 months over a strike by the Academic Union, that is because successive government, not just this government, have refused to honour simple agreements entered into with organisations, not just ASUU. Even me I don’t sleep when I owe somebody not to talk of salaries as an individual. Go and check, in my chambers I don’t owe because it is their right to receive wages for their labour. When I led this organisation (CDHR) I don’t pay on the 1st or on the 2nd, it must be on the last date of the month or even the month end because I know that it may not be the highest but these people are entitled to get their pay, this is conscience, so a government that now refused to comply with agreements it signed is not a serious government. They sometimes renege; deny signing the agreements, applying all sorts of logic, even when the documents signed are quite explanatory. They are playing over a sector of your livelihood that defines the future of that country, which is education, knowledge. Of course, this is about the knowledge economy, it’s not oil. The whole of Japan and Singapore were turned around because of education so even when we sluggishly return after 10 months what are we going to do in two months and then we churn out people that may not be competent for the emerging challenge. Don’t you see that the Security Chiefs are tired and that they have run out of ideas. They did very well initially, I must say so. Then Buratai was in charge of the Army when the Boko Haram people were at least driven away and they couldn’t take any territory any longer. Let another person with that urge, that zeal, that zest also be allowed to do the job. There is adrenaline in every man to deliver, that is for a moment. When the person you enlisted for a job is not performing, when you are not getting the desired result there is nothing wrong with trying other hands. Simple.
The way the country is going are you really worried about what will happen in 2023?
I am petrified. As I speak to you the Court of Appeal now sits at the National Industrial Court; all my cases in national industrial court two days ago, because Court of Appeal is seeking for a space because the whole place was burnt down. Are you not aware? The Court of Appeal is even better, the high court was completely razed down. If you are not worried in Nigeria, it means you are living in the moon. I understand the dynamics of what is happening, however, we have an opportunity to rescue the country and redirect the affairs of the nation.