Funmi Falana is the wife of renown lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN. She speaks on her life as a legal practitioner and issues in the profession. Specifically, she shares her first experience in court with her husband.
By Simeon Ndaji
Everybody knows you are the wife of Lagos Lawyer Femi Falana. But from your own viewpoint, who is Mrs Funmi Falana?
I trained as a lawyer – and everything about me: the school I attended,my family, where I was born,my marriage;and I have the zeal to defend the right of the masses. Everything combined to make me what I am today.
How did you meet your husband, Femi Falana (SAN)?
I can’t remember. How does that affect the suffering masses. A lot of people are dying everyday,and you are asking how I met my husband. Why don’t you ask me about the society?
What have you to say about the society?
My concern is that so many people are dying,and some people are stealing money. Look at what happened in Port Harcourt,Rivers State recently;as many as 96 people died. There are so many senseless deaths that could have been averted if we have responsible and responsive government. They would have evacuated everything before people came to scoop the fuel, at least the people did not come immediately to scoop the product.
The appointment of First Lady Patience Jonathan as permanent secretary is condemnable. Permanent secretary is a career position and executive. Mrs Jonathan stopped working since 1999;and I learnt she was on Sabbatical and she was brought to head a portfolio. Is she going to jumble the job—in Bayelsa and Abuja at the same time?This is just a ploy to siphon government money. Does that suggest that the First Lady will shuttle between Abuja,perform her function quote and unquote, and in Yenagoa where she is expected to sit behind her desk and perform the duties of a permanent secretary? It is only in Nigeria that such thing will happen;are we in Banana Republic?In America,will you ask Mrs Obama to be in Chicago Illinois and in White House?
A new Chief Justice for the federation has just been appointed, and she is a woman. How do you assess the appointment?
I commend the appointment of Justice Aloma Mariam Muktar. It shows that women are coming up in Nigeria,and this is the first time a woman is appointed the Chief Justice Nigeria. In 1981,the same woman was made the Chief Judge in Kano, they said it was unIslamic to put a woman in a position of leadership,and she was transferred to Portugal. She spent 17 or 19 years marking time at the Court of Appeal just because she is a woman.
Thank God she was able to wait until the right time she was remembered for such appointment. We also condemn the ploy of government then not to make her the Chief Judge of Kano State. That same woman is heading the judiciary of the whole country today. We know from her antecedents that she is incorruptible and upright. We hope she is going to sanitise the judiciary.
This appointment is coming at a time the judiciary is at the lowest ebb,and people are almost losing confidence in the organ of government. We believe she will carry her uprightness to the judiciary,lift the image of this arm of government,and chase out the bad eggs.
Let us talk about the strangest thing that happened to you?
I can’t remember any strange thing. So many strange things are happening in Nigeria that will not happen in a civilised country. That a First Lady is made permanent secretary is strange in a civilised country, and it is only in Nigeria that it can happen. An Army General was butchered under the bridge while people were passing, and, up till now, nobody has come up with any clue, is that not strange? A lawmaker allegedly took a bribe of $500,000 cash, and he put some in his pocket,some in his cap—is this not strange?
Are there no strange things you have encountered in your life or your legal career?
The first day I appeared in court several years ago;it was in Appeal Court,and my Principal(Femi Falana) was to lead me, but suddenly , he went to the toilet and the case was called in his absence; I felt like the ground should open and swallow me because I did not know how to go about it. However, I managed to summon courage to talk… .There was another strange thing that happened in 1990 when the SSS people kidnapped my husband very early in the morning and dumped him at Epe and threatened him not to criticise government again,and Dr Beko Ransome Kuti was dumped at Badagry Road,and he was warned as well.
Some other time they came to arrest my husband,and we went to the media to shout and he was released. Another time they came, I told my husband this time you’re not going anywhere. I locked him in the room and refused to allow them to take him away and, while I shouted people gathered in support, and the SSS people ran away. It is very funny.
Do you agree with the claim that Nigeria is neck deep in corruption?
Corruption has become an epidemic in our society, from the top to bottom. This is really sad. The problem is that, today, corruption has become a norm. But, worse still, is that the cankerworm has affected our justice system;.from the leadership—they are so corrupt to the extent that this anomaly has become a norm. It is all over…even in the Ministry of Justice; movement of files from office to office cannot be divorced from corruption. Every segment of the society, the various arms of government—the Executive, the House of Assembly and parastatals, is affected by the menace. Look at the Farouk Lawan and Femi Otedola saga. We thought Farouk is a man of integrity, and that holds until he clears himself of the bribery saga.However,the giver and taker are both guilty. Those so accused should be investigated and subsequently charged. The bribery claim should be investigated,and Farouk and Otedola charged.
What does the future hold for Nigeria?
To have a better future, we must rise up to fight corruption. The leadership,policy makers,the press,the police,and the entire people of Nigeria must be involved in this crusade against corruption.Those caught in corrupt practices should be prosecuted and corrupt judges rooted out. However,the case of Farouk case should not be rushed, rather it should be properly investigated. It is sad that people can put in so much and we are getting so little. We have no choice, the struggle continues.
You mean Nigerians are adopting corruption as a way of life?
No! I disagree. The problem is poverty! Nigerians protest even when the police try to extort money from them.
How come we are classified among the most corrupt nations in the world ?
Our leaders are very greedy and selfish. Others may blame their attitude on poverty. It is not poverty. Our country is so richly endowed with natural and human resources; yet we suffer so much.
How can we eradicate corruption ?
We are so corrupt. Some said corruption was copied from the Western world. I don’t believe corruption is alien.
Looking at what is happening in our society today, you wake up one morning and, all of a sudden, somebody becomes rich over-night. Nobody will ask him questions about this sudden wealth,rather he is celebrated in his community, and even in the larger society.
It was not so in those days. People will ask questions about your sudden riches. We must start from somewhere. We must introduce societal ethics, moral studies in the school curricular; teach African values and norms. Start the process of re-orientation in our children.
I attended Missionary Catholic School, and we were taught moral studies. This is how we can begin the process of eradicating corruption in our society.
This panacea is a long term solution. What about the short term solution ?
We have to change the bad system to move forward. One day, a leader may come to wipe out corruption, and proffer a lasting solution… Every Nigerian should be determined to root out corruption. People found guilty of corruption should go to jail. EFCC should be more serious to carry out investigation and to prosecute offenders.
The masses, the press (most importantly) should be serious in doing their job.