Viewpoint : The attack on Femi Falana (SAN) is unnecessary and undemocratic

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By Adeola Soetan

I have watched incendiary videos and read many umbrageous comments on the popular pro-democracy and human right lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) that are trending on social media. The sustained attack on the person of Falana was as a result of the television interview granted by him on the on-going ethnic nationalism campaigns by different ethnic groups  with particular reference to the Independent Yoruba Nation campaigners.

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In the interview, Falana expressed his democratic right as a Nigerian and a social activist of many years of indelible practical involvement in social struggles in the country.

He pointed out what he thought were limitations  and ideological confusion in the quest for an independent Yoruba nation, Oodua Republic or any other ethnic self determination struggle for independence or secession.
From his point of view, the ethnic nationalist campaigners would be  creating the same class of corrupt elite class oppressors in Nigeria in their ethnic fiefdom because the campainers have not told us what socio-economic structures the independent ethnic Republic of their imagination is to run, they were not talking on other fundamentals like free education, health and other social infrastructure that would be of interest to the oppressed citizens. It’s like saying that why did you want to leave Nigeria if the same class oppressors would be in control of political power and the economy of the envisaged nation to the detriment of the struggling  working class and the poor masses in your new ethnic nation?

Falana proceeded to say that the ethnic campaigners had not even conducted a referendum for us to be convinced that majority of their fellow citizens of the same ethnic block would like to leave Nigeria for a Yoruba nation or any other nation being campaigned for by varied campaigners.

For me, some of the points Falana raised are valid and cannot be discountenanced with a wave of hand, abuses and sustained attack on his person. A serious project of this nature is not a tea party or a buffet  dinner. It’s a struggle which must not only be fought on the streets but also by contest of ideology, perception, perspectives and the philosophical underpinning in order for everybody to have a fair idea of their collective vision. It can’t be the same thing like the Israelite journey from bondage in  Egypt to the promised land which vision and mission were only known to God, and possibly his  anointed servant(s) to lead the Israelites out of bondage from Egypt but were  not crystal clear to the whole Israelites. No referendum and no democratically accepted programme of exit and the journey. Perhaps if the mission was fairly clear to them without suspense, there wouldn’t be much agitations and disrespect against God’s directive by the people.
Campaign for ethnic nationalism, restructuring or secession allows for divergent opinions for ideas to contest for people to have a fairly clear idea of the alternative programmes that will make their lives better. It’s a democratic exercise not a conscription where people are forced to accept an idea without option or their voices not to be heard loud and clear.

Days after Femi Falana made his statement of caution that it would be meaningless if the same oppressive  dominant bourgeois politicians in Nigeria are the same politicians that would still hold sway in the dreamt Yoruba nation or any other,   Sunday Igboho, a towering leader in the quest for Yoruba nation, came out to appeal to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu not to bother himself by aspiring to become Nigeria’s president, instead he should come and aspire under the “emerging” Yoruba nation. Has Falana not been proved right a bit that it wouldn’t make any difference if people run away from Nigeria dominated by a corrupt anti-poor ruling class of varied ethnic identities but subjected themselves to their own class oppressors in their ethnic  nations.
There’s no way any campaign for independent ethnic nationalities  from the existing  nation would run away from the class nature and which class controls the political structures and the commanding height of the economy  of their desired ethnic nation. If you want to build a new house, it’s expected that your experience with your first house would come to bear on how to lay the foundation and build a better and more solid new house. I think we should always be  conscious  of this vital point from the outset instead of postponing the discussion on the economic  ownership and political control of the emerging nations between the  “inherited” national corrupt bourgeois political class in  Nigeria and the working class of the dreamt nations. The idea of “let’s have Yoruba nation first and all other issues would be discussed later” is very dangerous and may make the whole democratic  struggle for ethnic nationalities wasteful. That’s one of the banes of Nigeria as a failing nation with successive bad leaders consisting of different ethnic extractions selling the nation commonwealth to few capitalists under anti-poor neo-liberal economic  policies of  privatisation, commercialisation, devaluation of currency and deregulation. In this fourth republic alone, we have witnessed the sustained  leadership failure from Obasanjo, Jonathan and now Buhari. This is because your class oppressors in Nigeria will remain your class oppressors in your independent ethnic nations if they still control the lever of political and economic power to the detriment of the poor masses and the struggling working class.
So, Falana was right in giving class perspective dimension during his media interview. There won’t be any respite If the same bad governors, senators and other high profile political public holders of your ethnic group are the same set that will dominate the Yoruba nation, Arewa, Biafra Republic or any other ethnic based nationhood that frustrated Nigerians may clamour for partly due to total leadership failure, pro-rich, anti-poor capitalist system, mass poverty, ethnic mutual suspicion and intense state of insecurity that makes life and living almost meaningless then and now.

However my point of divergence with Femi Falana based on the interview he granted was to have given the impression that a referendum should come before people can start campaigning for independent ethnic nations or that the  referendum should go pari passu with the campaign for it to be legitimate. No, I don’t think so. From my point of view, all campaigns for ethnic nationalism are expressions of democratic rights of disgruntled citizens/ethnic groups and the absence of a referendum now does not delegitimise the campaign. Referendum always comes along the line of the agitation and at times as a climax to give popular support or not to the quest through plebiscite. I also feel that the Falana should have first reasserted and defended the right of self determination by ethnic nationalities to decide their relationship in a union, how they want to coexist or opt out of the relationship in a country peacefully and democratically in line with the UN Universal Recognition of Inalienable Right to Self-determination as a most effective way of guaranteeing fundamental freedoms.

I do not think Comrade Femi Falana as a leading campaigner for Sovereign National Conference, SNC, with many of us during the dark days of the military and after the criminal annulment of June 12 election and the ethnic tension it generated, is against this fundamental right even though he didn’t reassert this  right of ethnic determination in the short interview he granted which made some people to believe that the popular lawyer did not appreciate that inalienable right. That’s a misconception.

I reiterate that ethnic determination campaigners should not be hostile to those who hold divergent opinions from theirs and those  who hold ideological/class perspective on the campaigns. No one should be harrased, intimidated or threatened based on their opinions which they are free to express as a democratic right.

I am not a “gunpoint Nigerian nationalist” with the stony mindset that the unity of Nigeria cannot and should not be negotiated. I am not an effervescent rabid Yoruba nationalist who will be blind to the needed  ideological /class content  of  such campaigns and point it out always to campaigners the way Femi Falana tried to put it in his short  response to the media.

Adeola Soetan is National Coordinator, Democracy Vanguard

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