From the day of yore, praise singers and sycophants have always been in existence. In the cities of men, they exist. In the great palaces and abode of power, they are there. In religious and other places of worship, they function. At market places, schools and public gatherings, they are not difficult to find, neither is their presence difficult to be felt and seen in all walks of life.
In a similar vein, right from the time of Adam and Eve, through to the generation of other creations, social crusaders have not been scarce in existence and one way or the other, their existence is felt day by day through doing what they know how to do best for the benefit of humanity.
These set of people exist and they play their parts as much as they can, ensuring that their voices are heard and this is recognized by our constitution as the right to freedom of expression.
Now back to the basics. I have read with great pleasure and interest, the comments, reactions or should I say, vituperative attacks on Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, of recent, based on their opinion, which with respect, were aired based on his own conviction of what the law says or means. This unwarranted attacks did not come from the Ghomids or the birds in the sky, but from some unknown and faceless individuals, who brand themselves as “International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law”. They are of the opinion that the views expressed by this great man of honor amount to usurpation of the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation. They did not stop there, they pushed their criticisms further by claiming that the learned SAN was wrong to have so aired his views.
Before I proceed further to dilate on this discourse, may I state categorically that we are in a civil rule; or democracy to some people, and if the latter is correct, (which I do not believe) then democracy, being a market of ideas, permits anybody to air his views on issues, whether of tribal, religious or of national importance without any let or hindrance, so far it does not affect others. Not only that, the constitution, which is the fons et origo, also recognizes the right of every person to freedom of expression.
To this extent, the members of the group, for all intent and purposes are entitled to their opinion, but in doing so, they must not only be fair to the person they set out to paint in bad colour in a way that smacks of mischief but also to themselves as the holders of such opinion, so that they do not present themselves to the public as mercenaries. Thus, in engaging in criticism or praise singing, they are either carried away by the rave of the moment or not guided by the fact that all men are not fools. In other words, they do not know that facts are the fountainhead of criticism or opinion molding. I submit that to hold any opinion is to support same with or back it up with facts. Not only facts, unassailable facts that are verifiable and real so as to make their opinion capable of anything to hold as an idea, however weak, and not a facsimile of a façade or script writing that might have been directed by some dramatis personae whose interest might seem to be the object sought to be promoted or protected by their praise singing. According to professor Dias of Cambridge University, “Originality of thought is ensured by a breath of view, a sense of perceptive and sympathetic appreciation of what people have said and are still saying”. In other words, before airing one's view, one is expected to enlarge one’s coast of reasoning by listening to the views of others on the subject and linking it with the facts at his or her disposal to know or appreciate every necessary details about the subject both in the remote, or immediate past and at present. In that way, such views are more likely to be real or genuine rather than a dissemination of opinionated and sentimental opinion views with a view to gaining some pyrrhic advantage or momentary relevance. The question to ask at this point is; by the manner this campaign of calumny was carried out, can it be said that it has passed the litmus test herein alluded to? Or better still, can it be said that such views were not too extreme to be labeled attention-seeking views without any basis. I will come back to that later.
Furthermore, it is arguably true that Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, is a household name in human right world as a seasoned and fecund critic of great repute, Human Right Activist and a Social Crusader who has done so much good for himself and the country as a whole by carving a niche for himself in the hall of famous men. Unfortunately, this group of praise-singers are now calling for the head of the indefatigable Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Right Activist of our time, Mr. Femi Falana SAN, for airing his views on certain issues of constitutional law and national importance, like the status of Magu after Senate’s rejection of his nomination as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the right of the Senate to summon members of the executive at will, especially anyone who says anything they do not like. If one may ask; is it an offense for the SAN to air his view about happenings in his country? or when does it become an offense for somebody to air his views on an issue, whether of law or any subject of importance? I think this group of praise singers are only either out to deliberately cause mischief or stir up the hornet’s nest for nothing so as to heat up the polity for their selfish interest. This is because it is in the public domain that so many Senior Advocates and other Senior lawyers commented and aired their views on these vexed issues, yet none of them was criticized? Then why is his case different?
At this juncture, may I refer to the dictum of Justice Holmes dissenting opinion in the case of Abrams V. United States, 250 US 616, 630 (1919), where his Lordship opined that “ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas - that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market”. Arising from the foregoing is the fact that it may be that this group of praise-singers may honestly be airing their views or expressing their opinion in the best way they knew. However, the way and manner they went about it and the nature of their grouse which have not been supported by any facts or empirical analysis, leave much to be desired. It is also difficult to divorce their opinion of the duo from partisanship and subjectivity. What is more? The unsubstantiated allegations and bellicose inclination of this group towards the SAN are not the best way to show their grievances, if any, or to condemn this great man of international repute. They would need to do more to convince the populace or force their opinion of this man on the people of this nation because res ipsa loquitur. (The fact speaks for itself) about him.
Stretched further, it is not in doubt that as social crusaders (wrongly called critics) exist, so do the sycophants. But they are two parallel lines that can never meet at any point, as they speak two different languages. The only difference is that while the former lives for himself, the latter lives for the society. Often times, praise singers are consistent in their ways. Not out of anything but they are too preoccupied with their myopic believes that they can rarely change their views so far they benefit from it. The view of an American Scientist, D.B. Bridgman, expressed by Jerome Frank in his book, courts on trial, is probably true of these praise singers, when he said “In all men, there is an impulse to consistency which is often elevated into an end and a good thing in itself regardless of its practical value. This impulse to consistency springs often from mental limitations, not from mental strengths. It may be evidence of mental caliber of the very highest order to be able suddenly to stop running in one direction and at once start running in the other under the impact of a new idea”. This statement by Bridgman is probably correct about these set of praise singers. They do not know and will never seek to learn whether their malignant opinion about things is correct, given the reality on ground or whether same has any utility value to be accepted in the market of ideas. Also, because such stance of theirs benefits them under the abnormal situation, they do not know when the tide has changed and it is often difficult, if not impossible, to flow with any idea of change. In other words, once there is a positive change in the society, they become like fish out of water. And not being embellished or soaked in water, they know their existence is in jeopardy except they find a shallow river to swim, hence, their need to make some noise to draw attention, however valueless it may be.
This discourse will be of no importance if I fail to reiterate that these praise singers are welcome to air their views in whatever form or way they want and at any time or place; but they need to know that any view devoid of reasoning or any practical value has no relevance in the anal of events or the new order in the country today. If I may ask, where are these praise singers during the dark days of Nigeria?.
For goodness sake, Mr. Femi Falana SAN is an internationally recognized Human Rights Activist who has won not only regional or national honors for this but has also got several laurels for his consistency in the struggle to emancipate the society from the claws of oppression, misrule, and human rights violations. Barring Chief Gani Fawehinmi (of blessed memory), this enigmatic personality, from whatever perspective it is viewed, arguably remains the most consistent Right Activist we have in Nigeria today. Why did the sycophants or their ilks not fight or call him names when he was going to jails for standing against military juntas? Where were the praise singers, when like Fawehinmi, he was attacking various successive governments in the country for anti-people policies? These praise singers were probably asleep when Mr. Falana SAN was fighting and calling on the present government to stop engaging in impunity in their modus operandi, especially in their consistent disobedience to court orders and rule of law? Where were they when Mr. Falana was advising the government on the need to comply with the rule of law by releasing Nnamdi Kanu, Ibrahim Dasuki and Elzakzaky from illegal detention? Where were they when he lampooned the present government for folding its arms and allowing the ministers or officers of government to collude with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to destroy the economy of Nigeria by dollarizing the economy?
Be it noted, that apart from the home front, he has associated with the victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. To this end, we are all aware that he wrote to President Jacob Zuma of South Africa on such inhumanity to Nigerians. Not only that, in the case of detained Aljazeera journalists, Premium Times Journalists, Sahara Reporters’ journalists he defended them from illegal arrest and harassment. It is public knowledge that he defended the about 60 soldiers and army officers who were court-martialed for failing to fight Boko Haram when there had no weapon. Mr. Falana has got a reprieve for those who were sentenced to death and ensured the reinstatement of over 3,000 who were illegally sacked. Also, since the establishment of the EFCC and ICPC as anti-corruption agencies, the indefatigable, consistent and fiery fighter, late Chief Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi SAN (a man that cannot be forgotten in history) and Mr. Femi Falana SAN, stood out from the crowd to support these agencies of Anti-corruption, in fighting the incubus of corruption in Nigeria. Thus, if the advice and stance of his were not usurping the functions of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation at that time, I wonder how his innocent advice on the other issues can be so termed now. But in fairness to the poor SAN, like late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, he does not engage in inanities or frivolities, neither does he ever engage in empty talk without backing it up with empirical facts and evidence which in most cases are verifiable. Like a good student of history, he tells you the grounds of his belief or view which most of the time, are what he had done or the judgments he has obtained. But one may ask what is the ground for the empty noise of the sycophants? Your guess is as good as mine.
I can only end this piece like King Duncan in Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act 1, scene II. When the king received good tidings about the impressive performance of Macbeth and Duncan at the war front against the state enemies, the elated king echoed thus; “Dismay’d not this out Captains, Macbeth and Banquo”. The same it is I beseech for Mr. Femi Falana, SAN. May I conclude also by borrowing a word from that same scene of Macbeth when the Captain who brought the good news of how the oppressed enemies of the people were being defeated, was bleeding from the wounds sustained from the war front and he said he needed to attend to his wound, the king enthused “so well thy words become thee as thy wounds; they smack of honors both”. (Your words like your wounds bring you honors).
In this way, I would like to say that the progressive opinion expressed or the patriotic acts of Mr. Femi Falana, SAN and the attendant attacks on him bring him honors. Thus, I implore him not to be ruffled or get discouraged by the attacks from disgruntled praise-singers who are mere attention seekers. Hence, “Dismay’d not this our Patriot, Femi Falana SAN. So well thy words become thee as thy wounds. They smack of honors both”. May God in his cornucopia of mercies preserve you for the masses of this nation and yonder. My pen aches!
Kabir Akingbolu writes from Lagos.