Human rights lawyer and activist, Femi Falana, SAN
By Rasheed Sobowale
Prominent Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, SAN, has on Friday stated that the Federal Government so far cannot be said to be accountable and transparent in its management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the once governorship aspirant in Ekiti under the platform of the National Conscience Party in 2007, the lackadaisical nature of the Nigerian government spans throughout all the levels of the government, notably the state governments.
Speaking during a virtual event hosted by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), titled “COVID-19 spending: The role of students in holding federal and state governments to account”, Falana said; “What happens at the Federal Government level, same goes for the states too.
“It is the same attitude of lackadaisical attitude. We spend money anyhow, we are not accountable to the people. It is the same picture you get all over the country.”
Speaking on the roles of students in the fight against corruption, Falana said; “As citizens, students are required by virtues of section 15, subsection 5 of the constitution to join the fight against corruption.
“Also in section 24 of the constitution, one of the duties of the citizens is to help law enforcement agencies to promote law and order in the country.”
He also noted that citizens have the responsibility to demand accountability from their leaders and also fight against corruption.
Students comfortable with corruption
According to Falana, judgeing by Nigerian students’ attitude, they are comfortable with the level of corrupt practices in the country.
Falana made reference to the students’ response to activities affecting bodies that concerned their institutions and their identity as a student.
“Students haven’t join the campaign of ASUU or NASU or another campus union to fight corruption on the campuses.
JAMB’s revenue should be spent on improving campuses
” I remember a few years ago, I had to petition the national assembly over funds collected by JAMB every year which are not accounted for.
“Luckily, the new JAMB management has been sending money to the account of the Federal Government. In the last four years, I think over N20 billion has been returned as money collected from applicants annually.”
He opined students could have requested the Federal Government spend the remitted money on improving the facilities of the campuses since it is not revenue generated by the federal government.
“Secondly, you also have money collected by NECO and WAEC. Again, nobody is asking any question”.
Recall that Vanguard earlier reported the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, said it has made an interim remittance of N3.5 billion to the federal government consolidated account for the 2020 expected remittance.
The development, according to the board, in a statement through its Head of Media, Dr Fabian Benjamin, was “in line with Prof. Is-haq Oloyede’s avowed commitment to remit wholly, excess funds generated from its operations to the federal government.”
It promised that it would remit more as soon as its “operations are concluded and proper audit of its books done.” JAMB, in the statement, said it “had earlier made the payment of over N3.5 billion to candidates by way of reduction of N1,500 from the cost of each ePIN sold to each candidate as graciously directed by” President Muhammad Buhari.
Recounting his experience while in today’s students shoes, Falana said; “I recall in 1979 when there was report that the sum of N2.8 billion was missing from the NNPC account, we left as student leaders to mobilise our colleagues all the way from Ife and drove to Lagos.
“We surrounded the National Assembly which was then in the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos. We demanded the investigation of the missing fund. That night, President Shehu Shagari had to make a national broadcast to the nation where he set up a panel to investigate the fraud.”
It is illegal for schools to ban student unions
Stating it is not too late for students to join in the struggle of the fight against corruption instead of leaving it to NGOs, Falana said; “When we were students, when we were undergraduates, we had student representative council, that’s the parliament. We had the student judicial organ; we also have the student executive arm.
“It was almost unthinkable in my days to proscribe a student union. But today that has become the order of the day and students aren’t fighting this.
“It is illegal under the constitution to ban a Student Union because you have freedom of association. But students are not bothered.”
The activist hinted that in his 38 years of legal practice, he has been involved in cases affecting over 500 student leaders who were illegally rusticated. He said they were able to return to their various institutions to complete their education.
He also said most of them are doing well today such as Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, currently representing Ekiti Central Senatorial District of Ekiti State at the Nigerian senate. According to Falana, 11 of them were expelled at the University of Benin but after legal intervention, they were allowed to complete their education.