How Tinubu can avoid past errors in governance – Falana

Femi Falana, SAN


Mr  Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria,  in this interview,  states why he is always battling the Federal Government and its agencies. He advises how President Bola Tinubu can avoid the errors of past leaders


Kindly, give an evaluation of the performance of the Buhari administration vis-à-vis its main campaign promises – revamping the economy, and fighting insecurity and corruption

As a military dictator at a time of profligacy on the part of the civilian wing of the political class, General Muhammadu Buhari acquired a cult hero status. He had a large following among the masses in Northern Nigeria, who believed that he would have fixed Nigeria if he was not overthrown in a palace coup led by General Ibrahim Babangida in 1985. Even though he himself believed in the myth of his capabilities, General Buhari did not prepare himself for a return to power. In 2015, he won the Presidential election after three failed attempts, but he did not know what to do with power. His mandate was renewed in 2019, but the story was the same.

It turned out that the Buhari civilian regime was an unmitigated disaster, in every material particular. He said publicly, that court orders would not be obeyed. So, public officers treated the courts with disdain. The Supreme Court slammed the President, for disobedience of court orders. It was so embarrassing that the President had to distance himself, by saying that he never instructed Messrs Abubakar Malami, SAN and Godwin Emefiele not to obey the judgement of the Apex Court on the currency crisis. As no one was in effective control of his regime, every public officer who held a position of authority became a law unto himself or herself. Corrupt family members and other incompetent persons, were rewarded with positions of authority. The economy was hijacked, by half-baked visionaries without a mission. Security nearly collapsed completely, while corruption waxed stronger than ever before. It was out of sheer luck that the country did not disintegrate completely, under General Buhari’s watch

What do you think should be the priorities of the new Tinubu administration? Are you happy with the steps which have been taken so far, that is, removal of the fuel subsidy, appointment of new service chiefs? You mentioned that it is against the law for Nigeria to borrow money to use as palliatives to ease the sufferings of the people. What then, do you recommend that Government does, to ease the financial hardship? Was the increase without the concomitant palliatives, justifiable?

Contrary to the claim of the Federal Government that only the rich will suffer from the removal of fuel subsidy, it is crystal clear that the reverberating effects of the increase in the pump price of petrol have aggravated poverty in the land. In justifying the removal of fuel subsidy, the Bola Tinubu administration gave the impression that subsidy is an economic anathema. On the contrary, subsidy is a policy adopted by every Government to cushion the effects of harsh economic policies. However, the fund set aside for the importation of petroleum products by the Federal Government is not subsidy, but a drain on the resources of the country caused by the failure of the successive  governments to repair the nation’s refineries and build new ones. Tzxhe failure is confirmed by the fact that Nigeria is the only oil producing nation that imports petroleum products, because crude oil can not be refined locally.

Having removed NNPCL from the importation of petroleum products, the Federal Government should, as a matter of urgency, recover the billions of dollars diverted by turn-around maintenance contractors. The Federal Government should also investigate the N11 trillion allegedly spent on importation of fuel between 2015 and 2023.

Sometime in 2020, the Central Bank earmarked N250 billion for the conversion of vehicles run on PMS to CNG. We have sued the Central Bank, as it could not account for the disbursement. But, in view of the fact that CNG is cheaper and more eco-friendly than PMS, the Federal Government should revive the project. The Federal, State, and Local Governments, should roll out palliatives to alleviate the undeserved suffering of the Nigerian people.

On the $800 million Palliatives

The $800 million palliatives proposed by the World Bank, is not a loan but a grant. By virtue of Section 44 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the Government is only empowered to take a loan for the execution of capital projects, and not for palliatives or payment of salaries. In December 2018, the Federal Government indicted the CEOs, for the criminal diversion of N10 trillion from public enterprises. So, a few public officers loot the treasury, and the country is forced to take loans to pay the salaries of the same criminal gang, and other public officers and civil servants. The same gang runs the nation’s refineries aground and turns round to allocate billions of Dollars for turn-around maintenance, and trillions of Naira for fuel importation. This is a pure ‘kalo  kalo’ economic system!

Instead of price increase, the Federal Government should look at alternatives to PMS such as CNG and electric buses and cars, which are cheaper and more eco-friendly.  A few weeks ago, I asked for information on the disbursement of the funds from the CBN. As the CBN could not furnish me with the information, I dragged the CBN to the Federal High Court. The case is pending at the Federal High Court. We do not need any palliatives, from the World Bank. Let the Bank assist Nigeria to recover billions of Dollars siphoned, and kept in western banks by some unpatriotic public officers in Nigeria.

Advice on the National Economy 

Since the CBN merged the multiple exchange rates, the Naira has continued to fall against the United States Dollar and other major currencies. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have been lauding the Bola Tinubu administration, for the devaluation of the Nigerian economy via dollarisation. No doubt, a floating exchange rate refers to a situation where a currency is determined by supply and demand factors, relative to other currencies. But, in the Nigerian setting, the demand for the Dollar is insatiable as rents, school fees etc are paid in Dollars, while some agencies of the Federal Government demand payment of levies and taxes in Dollars. The recent primary elections of two political parties, confirmed that bribe is now paid in Dollars in some quarters.

Section 16 of the Central Bank Act 2007, states that the Bank shall fix and determine the exchange rate of the Naira vis-à-vis other currencies. Section 20 of the same Act provides that the currency notes issued by the Bank, shall be the legal tender in Nigeria. Therefore, it is illegal to spend American Dollars in Nigeria. As far as I am concerned, Nigeria should trade with countries that are prepared to accept the Naira. That will end the dollarisation of the economy. Every buyer of Russian oil and gas is paying Roubles, the Russian currency, due to the sanctions imposed on that country as a result of the war in Ukraine. Five years ago, China and Nigeria entered a currency swap agreement to enable both countries to trade in Naira and Yuan. But, both the IMF and World Bank frustrated the currency swap. Hence, instead of buying goods in Naira in China, Nigerian traders have to look for American Dollars. With courage, the Federal Government can revive the currency swap.

Furthermore, crude oil should be refined in countries that are prepared to accept Naira in place of Dollars. Kenya is currently paying shillings, for fuel imported from Saudi Arabia.  A shadowy group of economic advisors, are asking President Tinubu to sell the nation’s shares in NNPCL and NLNG. Why are these petit bourgeois advisers, not asking that NNPCL be run like Aramco of Saudi Arabia or Petrobras of Brazil? Why should anyone contemplate selling our shares in NLNG, the most lucrative company in Nigeria? In the past 20 years, NLNG paid dividend of $18 billion, feedgas of $15 billion, and tax of $9 billion. That is one of the most lucrative enterprises in Africa. Instead of operating the NLNG model, the economic advisers want the remaining public assets to be privatised. For goodness sake, where is the economic benefit of privatisation? How many privatised enterprises are functioning in Nigeria?

About five years ago, the Federal Government of Nigeria and China entered into a currency exchange agreement. The transaction, which was valued at Renminbi (RMB) 16 billion or N720 billion, was aimed at providing adequate local currency liquidity to Nigerian and Chinese industrialists and other businesses, thereby, reducing difficulties encountered in the search for the United States Dollar. The swap was also designed to improve the speed, convenience, and volume of transactions between the two countries. The deal was frustrated by the IMF and World Bank, in order to promote the dollarisation of the economy.

On $200 billion Illegally Withheld from Federal Account

I have submitted a memo to President Tinubu, wherein I made a strong case for the recovery of about $200 billion withheld from the Federation Account, either by corporate bodies or individuals. Before then, we had written petitions to the anti-graft agencies. The petitions were not investigated, due to political pressure. It is hoped that the Tinubu administration will pluck up the courage, to recover the huge funds. If that is done, the nation will pay off its debts, and have money to alleviate the undeserved economic pain that has been unleashed on the masses. In any case, the Government claims that $10 billion was being wasted as fuel subsidy. Having stopped fuel subsidy, a substantial sum out of the funds saved should be earmarked for palliative

The recent statement by the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly that land titles of non-Lagos indigenes would be reversed, elicited quite an uproar. Soon after, the State Government embarked on a large scale demolition of the Alaba International Market, predominantly owned and occupied by the Igbos. How can the rights of those who lawfully own their properties be protected, under these circumstances?

From the information at my disposal, the majority  of the so-called illegal structures demolished by the Lagos State Government, are owned by the poor masses of Yoruba extraction. When Maroko was demolished in 1991, the Civil Liberties Organisation, under the leadership of Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, led the legal battle to challenge the Lagos State Military regime.  Most of the Maroko evacuees, were of Yoruba extraction. As far as the human rights community was concerned, they were victims of injustice.

After the Maroko evacuees had lost their case in the court, they decided to occupy abandoned housing estates at Ikota and Abesan. The Government wanted to eject them, but I sued on their behalf. I won the case. We have won many cases against demolition, in Lagos and other places. There was a time when the FCT authorities wanted to demolish Mpape. We stopped it, through the court. The point that I am struggling to make is that, persons or groups that are dissatisfied with the demolition of any market or any building in Lagos, should approach the court for legal redress.

Senator Bulkachuwa elicited unprecedented umbrage, when he stated more or less on the open floor of the Senate that he used his wife in her position as President of the Court of Appeal, to help his colleague Senators with their election cases. What does this say about democracy and the Judiciary?

The confession of Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa on the floor of the Senate that he caused his wife, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa,  former President of the Court of Appeal, to assist his colleagues in the Senate to win their cases, has exposed the Judicial to untold ridicule. Even though Justice Bulkachuwa has denied the allegation that she assisted the Senators to win their cases in the courts, it is in her interest and the larger interest of the Judiciary, that the weighty admission of Senator Bulkachuwa be investigated by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).

But, I have just confirmed that the embattled Senator Bulkachuwa has prayed the Federal High Court, to restrain the ICPC and other security and other anti-graft agencies, from arresting, investigating and prosecuting him. It is hoped that the NJC will soon stop the courts from extending the immunity of former Governors, and conferring immunity on other persons to prevent them from responding to allegations of malpractice, or criminal diversion of public funds.

The issue of looting of funds earmarked for arms procurement in the Army

To divert attention from the criminal diversion of the looting of the funds earmarked for arms procurement, the military authorities charged two Generals and 70 soldiers with mutiny and allied war crimes. One of the Generals was discharged and acquitted by the court martial, while the other one, Brig-Gen E.A. Ransome-Kuti, was convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment, and demoted to the rank of a Colonel. The 70 soldiers were convicted and sentenced to death. But, based on the strong representation made on their behalf, the death sentences were commuted to 10 years imprisonment.  Although they completed their jail terms, we petitioned President Buhari on the ground that several Generals who stole the money for arms procurement had been indicted by a Presidential Panel and the EFCC. The President  granted our request and pardoned the 70 convicted soldiers. General Ransome-Kuti was also pardoned. The likes of General Buratai were not called to order for treating court orders with contempt.

Recently, we read that 100 Generals across the Armed Forces have been asked to resign. Is this the normal practice when there’s a new administration? What has happened to the issue of some young officers, who were unlawfully retired by the Buratai leadership? Is the Army planning to reinstate them, especially as we are aware that some of them won their cases for unlawful dismissal at the National Industrial Court which ordered their reinstatement? Should the Army not have obeyed the court orders by now, at least the ones that no appeals were filed?

The practice of sending Generals packing because new service chiefs are appointed in the Armed Forces and the Police,  is wasteful. I can not find any justification for it, in the Armed Forces Act and the Police Establishment Act. So, it is an illegal practice. When  Mr Mike Okiro was appointed the Inspector-General of Police, and Mr Ogbonna Okechukwu Onovo was his senior, he waited and became the Inspector-General of Police later. If you cannot work with a new service chief, you should voluntarily resign from the service. But, it is illegal to embark on compulsorily retirement of scores of Generals before their retirement age, on account of the appointment of junior officers. Even though the appointment of Judges is based on seniority, the most senior Judge may be bypassed if he is not found appointable. In the Universities, the Vice Chancellor is not usually the most senior Professor. So, why should the Armed Forces and the Police be run in a manner that the careers of the nation’s well p-trained officers is scuttled or sacrificed for political exigencies? The Federal Government should stop the practice.

Since President Tinubu has undertaken to operate under the rule of law, the court orders ought to be obeyed. We are handling some of the cases. Our plan is to embark on contempt proceedings, if the orders are not complied

What qualities would you like to see in the next Attorney-General of the Federation?

The AG must be a Lawyer of unimpeachable integrity, independent minded and courageous, experienced in legal practice and committed to the defence of human rights and rule of law. Section 174(4) of the Constitution provides that the Attorney-General of the Federation shall have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process.

Under the current political dispensation, Nigeria has had two sets of Attorneys-General and Ministers of Justice. The first group were Lawyers who  were active in legal practice before their appointment, while the second group were not involved in serious legal practice. The first group led the legal teams of the Government in several cases, and prosecuted criminal cases on behalf of the Government. The second group hardly appeared in the courts, except to obtain ex-parte orders and file nolle prosequi applications, to terminate grave corruption cases.

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