By Henry Ojelu
Monday Ubani is a former 2nd Vice-President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA. In this interview, he speaks on the recent utterances by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minster of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN against the EndSARS protests and how the statements have been at variance with FG’s avowed commitment to address cases of human rights abuses. He also speaks on other sundry issues. Excerpt:
Do you see any conflict of interest between the EndSARS panel by the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC and the various state panels investigating the same subject matter?
I am aware that the federal government through the National Economic Council agreed with various state governments to set up panels of inquiry to investigate cases of human rights abuses by the disbanded SARS operatives. Besides the agreement with the federal government, the states also have inherent powers to investigate cases of human rights abuses within their territory as it falls within the ambit of Public Interest.
NHRC is actually the agency whose responsibility it is to carry out investigations of human rights violations across the country but that does not mean that the states cannot set up their own panels over the same issue, after all, we are running a federal system of government. The challenge with NHRC is that it has not been an effective body.
They just carry out investigations and make recommendations but those recommendations are not implemented. I believe the state governments are more likely to mitigate the brutalities that were melted out to innocent victims by the disbanded SARS officials. For instance, Lagos State Government has already put down the seed sum of N200million as compensation for victims.
But should state governments pay compensation for the wrongful act of SARS which is under a federal institution?
I believe state governments can make such intervention especially when the actions were carried out within their domain. Police may be a federal institution but we know that most state police commands are supported by state governments. I don’t see anything wrong with states paying compensations to address injustices melted out to the residents. The responsibility for protection of lives and properties of people within any state is the responsibility of that state. So if that responsibility has been breached, the states also have a commitment to compensate the residents. Moreover, being that there was a mutual agreement between the federal and state government, I believe that at some point after the conclusion of the various panels, they will meet and fashion out a proper compensatory measures.
The Attorney-General of the Federation recently said that suspected army officers who shot at Lekki Toll Gate protesters may have been hoodlums. He also said some police officers previously indicted for human rights abuses cannot be prosecuted because of lack of evidence. What is your take on his comments?
I am very surprised by the utterances of the AGF. I think the statement by the AGF is rather provocative. He is just not saying or doing the right things most times. It is sad that after a prolonged investigation by the NHRM and recommendation for prosecution, the number one law officer is now saying that there is no evidence to link the officers to the alleged crime committed. To me, that statement by the AGF on this issue speaks volumes and is not encouraging.
For the ongoing SARS abuse probes, how are we sure that the recommendations of the various panels will be implemented in the light of statements like these? This is giving those of us in the human rights community a source of concern. If the chief law officer of the country is making a statement that is clearly at variance with the avowed intentions of the government to unravel what happened during the EndSARS protests, then that means that the entire process is a ruse and will never be implemented. This is the reason the protesters did not believe that the government would do anything in the first place. Over time, the government has shown a deficit in confidence. You just can’t trust the government because there is never a time its promises are kept.
How easy is it for Nigeria to have an ideal police?
I believe it is not rocket science to get a good police system in this country. Our police officers on international duties have always performed wonderfully well. So that tells you that something is wrong somewhere. If we really want a Nigeria police that works, we have to start with recruitment.
We need to step up the entry requirement to a Higher National Diploma or University degree. The officers must also be trained like human beings and not animals. We also have to take a look at the operational facilities that are in place for them to work with.
Their welfare package must also be reviewed. These are the things that will make them effective and efficient. So until these things are put in place, the harrassment of innocent Nigerians will continue. I also think that this is the time to revisit the issue of state police. We need a state police with necessary legal safeguards to mitigate interference and abuse by politicians against their political opponents.
What do you make of the clampdown of promoters of the EndSARS protests by FG on the allegation of terrorism and attempt to cause breach of peace in the country?
I believe the government at some point became very scared of the organizational skill that was displayed by the protesters. Government didn’t expect them to have organized themselves in such a perfect manner as we all saw. So to FG, these protesters were sponsored by those who want to take over the government. To me, the clampdown of the protesters and their sponsors is clearly an act of frustration and sign of desperation.
The federal government never believed that Nigerians can suddenly awake from their slumber and demand for their rights. I see no reason the government should begin to freeze the accounts of these patriotic youths when the protest has not been declared illegal. It is laughable for government to even be accusing them of terrorism. In the first place, who is actually terrorizing who here? There are people who are suspected to be sponsors of Boko Haram terrorists. How many of their accounts have been frozen? To me, these are just desperate measures by the government.
Do you think that with the clampdown, FG has successfully suppressed the agitation of the protesters?
It will be very naïve for anyone to think that the government has crushed the agitation of the protesters simply by going after their accounts. I have always wished that something will one day wake us up as a nation from our slumber but I never expected that it would happen so soon.
It is wrong for anyone to think that this will be the end of the uprising we witnessed last month. If our leaders have not learnt anything with this protest, a time will come when we will witness a terrible dimension worse than what we witnessed recently.
This is a build up frustration. Nigerians over time have been enduring their bad leadership which has failed to address issues such as capital development and basic infrastructure that can make life easy for the people.
We have seen other nations with little or no resources living better lives and being treated by their government as human beings and not animals. There is virtually nothing working here in Nigeria and I can tell you that it is just a matter of time before another uprising springs up if the concerns raiseed by the EndSARS protests are not quickly addressed.
If FG feels very comfortable that they have suppressed and intimidated Nigerians to forget about another rallying point, I bet you, it will happen again. It will happen in such a greater dimension that if care is not taken, it may consume some people. So we need to be careful and redress decades of injustices that Nigerians are crying about. Their anger is piling up and the sooner something is done, the better. I feel sorry for the rich because if another uprising occurs, they will not be spared. I just earnestly pray that we don’t get to that point.
In developed countries, when you don’t have a job, they pay you some allowances. That is an admission of government’s failure and so the payment is actually a compensation for failure of that government for not providing you a job. But here in Nigeria, nobody cares whether you have a job or not.
What do you make on the intention by the Lagos State Government to review the state Pension Law?
I applaud the Lagos State Government for the proposal. The Pension law of the state and other states across the country is not only archaic but also anti-progressive. I am not against anybody being rewarded for service rendered to humanity but a situation where those who have amassed so much money while in office are further compensated with outrageous benefits after retirement is bad. This is wrong especially when civil servants are unpaid for months. I advise every state to emulate Lagos State Government on this singular positive action.
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