Being the Text of the First Olaitan Oyerinde Memorial Lecture Delivered by Femi Falana (SAN) at Imaguero College Hall; Sapele Road, Benin City, Edo State on May 6, 2013
A Life of Struggle
As an undergraduate of the University of Lagos in the late 1980s Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde was unarguably committed to the revolutionary transformation of the society. In 1989, he teamed up with other progressive students to mount a strident opposition to the Structural Adjustment Programme and other pro-imperialist policies of the Ibrahim Babangida junta. Not unexpectedly, the school authorities were not comfortable with his radical posture. Along with other student activists he was expelled from the university. Impressed with the unalloyed commitment of the dismissed students to the task of nation building I had no hesitation in accepting the brief to mount a legal challenge over the expulsion and the denial of their National Youth Service Corps call up letters. Olaitan and his colleagues won the legal battle. I can say without any fear of contradiction that Olaitan and his colleagues in the Patriotic Youth Movement were the last set of progressives to lead the student movement in Nigeria.
Upon his graduation he joined the human rights groups and the trade union movement. Owing to his leadership qualities and organizational capacity he became the Lagos State Chairman of the Campaign for Democracy and the Deputy General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress. In both organizations he distinguished himself as a reliable and dependable cadre in the struggle for a socialist Nigeria. Even though Comrade Olaitan was an indigene of Osun State he played an active role in the electoral battle led by Comrade Oshiomole to terminate the ruinous reign of the enemies of democracy in Edo State. As the Principal Private Secretary to Comrade Oshiomole he made sure that the governor maintained an organic link with the masses and several progressive organisations in the country. His revolutionary ideas reflected in the several speeches written by him which usually captured the governor’s mood.
Before they Struck
Convinced that no amount of electoral manipulation could make them fix the results of the 2012 governorship election in Edo State the forces of retrogression decided to engage in the brutal assassination of some key members of the Adams Oshiomole Administration. Thus, at a well attended wedding ceremony which took place at the palace of the Benin monarch on February 7, 2012, a powerful member of the Board of Trustees of the ruling party threatened the life of the Edo State Commissioner for Information, Mr Louis Odion. Without any provocation whatsoever Mr. Odion was told, “You will see what will happen to you”. The threat to deal ruthlessly with the spokeman for the Oshiomole Administration was made in the presence of several persons including two state governors. As a law abiding citizen, Mr Odion immediately lodged a complaint with the police. But the complaint was treated in a cavalier manner as no charge was preferred against the criminal suspect who had threatened to violate the fundamental right of a fellow citizen to life.
Regrettably, the Edo State Government left the matter in the hands of the compromised security apparatus and failed to seek alternative means of securing the lives of Mr Odion and other members of the Administration. If the suspect had been dragged to the Magistrate Court and bounded over to keep the peace under Section 35 of the Criminal Procedure Law or sued at the High Court for the threat to infringe of the right of Mr Odion to life guaranteed by section 33 of the Constitution the gang of assassins who invaded Mr Odion's residence three months later would not embarked on the heinous mission. As the suspect was granted amnesty by the Police other criminals were let loose. Happily the assassins missed their target. Barely a week later, a mystery truck rammed into the convoy of the governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomole near Auchi. Although he escaped unhurt three journalists in his convoy were killed while two other members of his entourage were seriously injured. But the Police investigated the accident and exonerated the killer driver of any culpability even though it was established that he drove his vehicle in a reckless manner.
The Brutal Assassination and the Investigations.
In such atmosphere of impunity Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde’s residence in Benin was attacked on May 4, 2012 by assassins who shot him dead in the presence of his wife and children. As usual with all politically motivated assassinations President Goodluck Jonathan ordered the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar to fish out the killers. A police team led by DIG Gana was constituted to inquire into the incident. After the inquiry the Police claimed that Rev David Ugolor, a close ally of Comrade Oyerinde masterminded the crime and recruited some boys to kill Olaitan with a promise to pay them N20 million. The suspects who were illegally paraded by the police at the press conference “confirmed” the police story. Although the Police claimed that there were telephone conversations between Rev Ugolor and the assassins when the plot was being hatched the call logs of all the suspects did not corroborate the police account. Meanwhile, in a suit filed against the Police by Rev Ugolor at the Benin High Court the trial judge declared his arrest and detention illegal and awarded him N5 million damages.
The police account was further discredited when the State Security Service (SSS) held another press conference at Abuja where it disclosed that Comrade Oyerinde was actually killed by a gang of armed robbers. At a parade conducted by the SSS the suspects made “confessional” statements which implicated them in the crime of armed robbery. Disturbed by the conflicting accounts of both the Police and the SSS the House of Representatives set up a Committee to probe the matter. While both security agencies maintained their positions at the public hearing held by the Committee the representative of the office of the Federal Ministry of Justice stated that the Director of Public Prosecutions was confused in the circumstance. Embarrassed by the disclosure the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Mohammed Adoke SAN denied the confusion and that it was not the business of the Federal Ministry of Justice to interfere in the investigation of murder which is a state offence.
In an open clash between the Attorney-General of the Federation and Comrade Oshiomole in the Presidential villa on March 12, 2013 the latter accused the former of resorting to escapism to shield the actual murderers of Comrade Oyerinde. Even though Mr. Adoke (SAN) vehemently denied the allegation it ought to be pointed that the Federal Director of Public Prosecutions regularly writes legal opinions on state offences investigated by the office of the Inspector-General of Police. One of such matters pertains to the prosecution of the criminal matter involving a PDP Chieftain, Senator Teslim Folarin & 3 Others (Case File No CR. 611/2010). In that case the Oyo State Police command had charged the suspects to court at Ibadan for the murder of one Mr Lateef Salako on December 30, 2010.
But in letter Ref No HAGF/IGP/2011/Vol.1/4 of 11th January, 2010 the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation advised the Inspector-General of Police to "terminate forthwith the present First Information Report in the matter against the present four suspects pending the conclusion of comprehensive investigations into the matter". It was the view of the Attorney-General that there was “no indication in the report that a single faction had a monopoly of weapons of violence or that the gun shots came from a particular direction. The picture painted in the report is therefore one of a total breakdown of law order at the venue involving different armed factions.” The murder case has since been settled as a family affair of the Oyo State Peoples Democratic Party!
In view of the intervention of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation in the offence of murder in Oyo State which led to the hasty clearance of the suspects Mr Adoke SAN should study both reports of the Police and State Security Service on the murder of Comrade Oyerinde, resolve the conflicts therein and give appropriate legal advice that will lead to the apprehension and prosecution of the actual perpetrators of the tragic murder. In addition, Mr Adoke SAN should publicly apologise to Comrade Oshiomole for the misleading statement that the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation does not give legal advice to the Police with respect to state offences. With respect, while the offence of murder is a state offence the constitutional duty to protect the life of every person is binding on the Federal government and all authorities and individuals in Nigeria.
Ending the Culture of Impunity
Since there is no statute of limitation with respect to the prosecution of most criminal offences the fellow who threatened the life of Mr Odion last year should have his case reopened to prove that the culture of impunity is not acceptable in the new Edo State. I have also advised Governor Rauf Aregbesola to re-open the case of the barbaric assassination of Chief Bola Ige SAN, a former Attorney-General of the Federation. It would be recalled that sometime in December 2001 the 71-year old Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige, SAN was assaulted at a public ceremony at the palace of the Ooni of Ile Ife. His cap was removed and taken away. The very many police and other security personnel on official duty at the ceremony did not arrest any of the thugs who assaulted the Minister and exposed him to ridicule. A politician who later assembled and rewarded the thugs for assaulting the Minister was also not arrested.
With the official endorsement of such brazen lawlessness the Minister was gruesomely murdered, a few weeks later, by unknown gunmen in his residence at Ibadan. At the appointed hour his four police orderlies were nowhere to be found. As if that was not enough the prosecution of the murder suspects was deliberately frustrated by the State. A trial judge to whom the case was initially assigned cried out that he was under pressure “from above” to free the suspects. The then Oyo State Attorney-General later filed nolle prosequi in favour of some of the suspects. The others were later discharged and acquitted as the case was not proved beyond reasonable doubt.
It is my belief that if the thugs who assaulted the person of Chief Bola Ige and stole his cap had been arrested and charged to court together with their well known sponsor the callous murder of the former minister might have been prevented. Therefore, if we are resolved to defend and protect the lives of our people we must be prepared to end the culture of impunity and the official policies of granting amnesty to those who engaged in violence crimes in the society. Instead of relying solely on the police to investigate serious crime the Edo State government should be more proactive. There should be a coroner’s laws for the investigation of politically motivated killings and other unnatural deaths as it is the case in Lagos state.
As we are marking the first year anniversary of the assassination of Comrade Olaitan we should remember all those other unarmed citizens who have been extra-judicially murdered by the security agencies and other criminally minded individuals. In particular, the four students of the Nasarawa State University who were killed on February 25, 2013 while the entire students were staging a peaceful rally in Keffi to protest the lack of water on the campus. Although the students were exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression guaranteed by the Constitution the University Authorities invited armed soldiers and mobile police personnel to put down the protests. In the bloody encounter that ensued four of the students were said to have been shot dead. The Nigeria Army has since denied the involvement of soldiers in the cold murder of the students.
The university authorities must accept full responsibility for the wanton killing of the students. It should be pointed out that under Section 217 of the Constitution it is only the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces who is empowered to deploy members of the armed forces in any part of the Federation in aid of the Police to restore law and order if there is insurrection or mutiny. From the available evidence the armed soldiers illegally deployed themselves as they were alleged to have intervened while on patrol along the Keffi-Akwanga Expressway.
All the troops involved in the criminal action should be rounded up and tried in a court martial for conspiracy and murder of the innocent students. The Federal Government should be called upon to stop the increasing militarisation of the country. Even under the defunct military rule in Nigeria armed soldiers were never involved in curbing students' protests in any part of the country. The excessive use of armed soldiers for routine police duties including the monitoring of elections in a democratic society is a threat to law and order. The police should be equipped and trained to maintain law and order while the armed forces are limited to the defence of the country from external aggression and peace keeping operations. They must never again be involved in curbing protests by students and other unarmed Nigerians.
On October 18, 2012, two policemen were part of the mob that killed and roasted four students of the University of Port Harcourt in Rivers State. On April 9, 2013 about fifty people were killed on the Shagamu-Benin express road. In addition to the condemnation of the carnage by Comrade Adams Oshiomole the Edo state government should mobilize the victims and relations of those who were killed in the accident. My office will be ready to take up such matters pro bono publico. From April 16-17, 2013 a multinational force of armed troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger invaded Baga, Borno State killed 228 people and set over 2,000 houses ablaze. The denial of the massacre and the arson by the Nigerian Army has been challenged by the Human Rights Watch which captured the satellite images of the destruction. It is worthy to note that the National Human Rights Commission has begun an enquiry into the military invasion.
It is doubtful if the Federal Government knows that it is unconstitutional for any foreign force to violate the territorial integrity of Nigeria. In other words, no multinational force can usurp the exclusive constitutional duty of the country's armed forces without an enabling law. Even the National Assembly passed a resolution to back the declaration of a state of emergency in Borno state by the President. There is no law that allows the President to bring in foreign troops to attack and kill Nigerians. It is tantamount to an assault on the territorial integrity of the country which the armed forces are obligated to defend and protect.
Unlike the JTF which is funded through the budget of the ministry of defence did the National Assembly appropriate funds for the joint patrol and other activities of the nigerian troops involved in the so called multinational force?The so called multinational force was secretly set up. Hence there is no backing the force or budget for its operations. There was no agreement that the multinational troops would enter one another's territory. The force should therefore be disbanded forthwith while the armed forces of the Republic are allowed to continue to defend Nigeria from external aggression.
We can no longer wait for the Federal government that is not prepared to prevent avoidable deaths on our roads. Three years ago, a multiple road accident killed about 40 people at shangisha, Lagos. My law office got the coroner to conduct an inquest. One of Dangote's vehicles was found to have caused the accident and the driver was indicted by the coroner. Right now, the Dangote group is negotiating with us with a view to compensating the survivors and dependants of the casualties.
Following the Dana crash on June 3, 2012 our law office requested the coroner to commence an inquest. The Federal Government and the management of Dana Airline obtained a court order to stop the inquest. The order has been set aside and the inquest has resumed. The proceedings have revealed a lot. Unlike the crashes of Bellview, ADC, Sosoliso etc the Dana Airline is currently paying compensation to the families and dependants of those who lost their lives in the crash. Many suits have also been filed in the United States against the Dana Airline and the plane manufacturers for damages. We are pursuing several cases of negligent killing of innocent people in many parts of the country. At the instance of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Projects the Special Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has commenced investigations into allegations of extra-judicial in Nigeria.
In celebrating the life of Comrade Oyerinde we should all bear in mind that no one is safe in our country. Our country is grossly under policed. For instance, with a population of 18 million people Lagos State alone requires the services of 1 million police personnel but the entire country of 167 million people is guarded by 400,000. Out of the figure not less than 120,000 are engaged in special duties while the nation is protected by ill-equipped, ill-trained and underfunded 380,000 police men and women. In some cases the efforts of some state governments to equip the police are rejected without any basis. Just last week, the Federal Government was reported to have stopped Governor Fashola from installing 10,000 CCTV cameras in Lagos state. With the recent arrest of the terrorists in Boston, United States with the aid of cctv cameras and other technological devices it is irresponsible on the part of the Federal Government to continue to politicise the security of life and property in Nigeria. State governments that are not prepared to allow militias to usurp the statutory duties of the Police should not be frustated from acquiring modern gadgets to enhance the capacity of security agencies in the country.
In a country where citizens are treated like aliens outside their states of origin the government and people of Edo State deserve commendation for not subjecting Comrade Oyerinde to any form of discrimination in the service of the people. We also thank the Oyerinde family for donating a man of ideas to a nation that is in dire need of men and women of vision. While the selfless patriot lives for ever in our hearts the greatest tribute we can pay to him is to collectively resolve to build a new society of his dream where the security of life and welfare of every citizen will be guaranteed by the Government.
Finally, when Comrade Che Guevera resigned his ministerial position in the Cuban Government to take part in other revolutions in Latin America he sent a letter to President Fidel Castro on April 1, 1965 wherein he wrote that, "I am not sorry that I leave nothing material to my wife and children; I am happy it is that way. I ask nothing for them, as the state will provide them with enough to live on and receive an education." In the same vein, although Comrade Oyerinde left no material wealth for his young wife and children I am delighted to note that the Edo State Government has adopted them as indigenes and taken care of their welfare. Such humanitarian gesture is a challenge to the Federal Government which has failed to provide for the welfare of the people and secure full residency rights for every citizen in all parts of the country.