Human right lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, has called on the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to set up a panel of inquiry to investigate the alleged killing of 150 members of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
He also asked Buhari to investigate the killings of scores of Shiites who have been killed by the army and the police, in view of the admission of the Nigerian Army that it killed five protesters instead of the 150 alleged by Amnesty International.
Falana said this at the 2016 Law Week of the Jos branch of the Nigerian Bar association, at Hill Station Hotel, Jos, Nigeria where he presented a paper titled: “War Against Corruption-Issues and Challenges Confronting the Judiciary.”
According to Falana, “last week, the Amnesty International released a damning report on the brutal killing of 150 members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) by the Nigerian Army. Unsurprisingly, the army has denied the report.
“In joining issues with the human rights group, the Nigerian Army must have forgotten that it had issued a statement on May 31 this year wherein it had said “in the aftermath of the fire fight that ensued, many of own troops sustained varying degrees of injury. These injured troops are currently receiving treatment at own medical centre.”
“Similarly, five members of MASSOB/IPOB were killed, eight wounded while nine were arrested for due legal actions. It is a public knowledge that a judicial commission of inquiry set up by the Kaduna State Government has established that 347 members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria were massacred by the Nigerian Army in December 2015 for allegedly blocking a road in Zaria, Kaduna State during a religious convention,” he said.
Falana said the peaceful protests to demand the release of the leader of the movement, Sheik Ibraheem Elzakzaky and his wife from illegal incarceration by the State Security Service (SSS) had been violently suppressed under the pretext that the religious group had been banned by the government without any court order.
“Meanwhile, the armed soldiers who have engaged in the killings have not been charged to any criminal court whatsoever. It is curious to note that neither the national leadership of the NBA nor any of its 109 branches has deemed it fit to condemn the crimes against humanity committed by the army and the worsening human rights record of the federal government.
“But the NBA reacted angrily to the nocturnal raid of the homes of seven judges who were arrested for alleged corrupt practices last month by operatives of the State Security Service (SSS). However, while not supporting the harassment of the judges I did not hesitate in condemning the NBA for engaging in hypocrisy by limiting the defence of human rights to the senior members of the legal profession.
“Since this is a body of lawyers, I wish to state, without any fear of contradiction, that the Department of State Security (DSS) is not a juristic personality as it is unknown to law. So, if you sue the Department of State Security instead of the State Security Service in any of the courts the case will be struck by virtue of the Nigeria Security Agencies Act (Cap N74) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004,” he stated.
Falana said more importantly, as statutory defenders of the rule of law and human rights, the NBA ought to mobilize its members to stop the liquidation of any group of agitators in the country.
He said the government was at liberty to charge any citizen or group of people to court if it had evidence of their involvement in treasonable conduct or any form of criminality.
Falana said there was no doubt that the ruling class in Nigeria was highly corrupt but that the ruling classes in Western countries were more corrupt, adding that “after all, when former British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron described Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt” in June this year, President Buhari requested him to return the stolen wealth of the Nigerian people in the United Kingdom.
“Having recognized that the bulk of the looted wealth of nation is in the illegal custody of western countries President Buhari should stop portraying Nigeria as a corrupt nation. At the same time, the anti-graft agencies should put an end to the media trial of criminal suspects. Otherwise, transparency and other western anti corruption bodies will continue to justify the fraudulent stigmatization of the victims of grand corruption.”
“To the extent that some funds have been recovered while a number of suspects have been charged to court the fight against corruption may be said to be on course. But the government has to do much more to promote accountability and transparency in government. Since the President and Vice President declared their assets, ministers and all public officers should be made to follow suit. It is not sufficient for President Buhari to deny the allegation that he was receiving double salaries. He should proceed to issue an Executive Order to prohibit ministers and legislators from earning double salaries and allowances because it is illegal and immoral,” he stated.
According to Falana, since the federal government had not made any appreciable progress in the recovery and repatriation of the nation’s looted wealth, the Nigerian judiciary should not hesitate to grant Mareva injunctions in respect of the funds and other assets which had been criminally diverted by a number of unpatriotic public officers.
He said while people charged with corrupt practices were entitled to individual defence counsel, the NBA ought to collaborate with the federal government in the fight against corruption, including the repatriation of the nation’s resources.
“Having regard to the implications of judicial corruption in the country, it is hoped that the bar and the bench will intensify the campaign for an independent and incorruptible judiciary. In view of the fact that the regular courts are congested with many cases, the demand for the creation of special courts to try cases of corruption, drug trafficking, human trafficking and electoral offences ought to be given serious consideration.
“While I am opposed to media trial of judges and other criminal suspects, I often wonder why the NBA and the media have never kicked against the media trial of kidnapped and armed robbery suspects.
“Yet our youths have been driven to armed robbery and kidnapping because of the criminal diversion of public funds earmarked for job creation and education. The other day, a big man who is on trial for alleged money laundering of N400 million was handcuffed from prison to court. There was so much anger in the media.
“I thought that was the height of hypocrisy in a country where poor criminal suspects who steal handsets and tubers of yam valued at less than N10,000 are handcuffed and leg chained. The NBA and the media never talk of human rights or rule of law when the poor are so brutalized,” he said.