Ado Ekiti — Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana(SAN), has declared that the federal government was allegedly misled into having the erroneous impression that only border closure can guarantee food security and economic development in the country.
Falana, a social crusader and human rights activist, added that the National Assembly lacked the constitutional powers to promulgate any law under the guise of Hate Speech, saying such was not captured under the exclusive and concurrent lists of the 1999 constitution.
The human rights lawyer clarified that going ahead to promulgate such law would not only betray the trust reposed in the National Assembly by Nigerian populace, but would erode the powers of the state legislative arm, since Nigeria operates a federal system of government.
Speaking in his Ilawe Ekiti country home yesterday during the burial procession for Mrs. Ibijola Falana, the lawyer said it was wrong for President Muhammadu Buhari to have closed the border indefinitely without minding that it would inflict serious pains on the already overburdened Nigerian citizens.
"I don't support the closure because it is illegal, immoral and economically senseless. It cannot be defended under the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and Goods. Punishing millions of community citizens for the offence of a few smugglers is immoral. Contrary to the claim by the federal government that smuggling has stopped, the criminals involved in the nefarious trade have merely changed tactics.
"Following incessant trans-border crimes including armed robberies and smuggling of vehicles from Nigeria to Benin Republic in 2003, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration closed the land border between Nigeria and Benin Republic for about a week. Before the border closure, the federal government had investigated and confirmed that one Mr. Ahmadu Tijanni, a highly influential citizen of Niger Republic based in Cotonu was the mastermind of the trans-border criminal activities. Even though he was a sacred cow in Benin Republic, Mr. Tijanni was arrested by a team of the Nigeria Police.
"Tidjani was tried, convicted and jailed for armed robbery by the Ogun State High Court. In view of the fact that the customs service in Benin Republic is hampered from collaborating with its Nigerian counterpart to stop the smuggling of goods from Benin Republic to Nigeria, the federal government ought to have reported President Patrice Talon for using private company to manage its customs affairs. This is the only way to stop smuggling, not border closure alone."
On the vexatious hate speech bill proposal, Falana insisted that the Supreme Court had declared in a number of cases that the National Assembly lacks the constitutional powers to make laws outside its legislative competence, which are by implications are residual matters meant for the states' houses of assembly .
"The attention of the National Assembly members ought to have been drawn to the fact that the Penal Code and Criminal Code applicable in the Northern and Southern states respectively have made provisions for hate speech because it is a state offence. Hence, the House of Assembly of each of the state has enacted laws against incitement, false accusation, sedition and criminal defamation. No doubt, the constitutional validity of the hate speech bill will be challenged in court if it is passed by the national assembly and assented to by President Buhari.
"Unfortunately, while the attention of Nigerians is fully concentrated on the hate speech bill, the state governors are using the Terrorism Prevention Act, Cybercrime Act, penal code and criminal code to suppress press freedom and freedom of expression in the country. The authorities of Cross River State, Akwa Ibom State, Kano State, Kaduna State, Katsina State, Delta State and Zamfara State have charged the opponents of their governors with criminal offences including terrorism and treasonable felony.
"Two students were rusticated by the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, and Taraba State University for exercising their freedom of expression via social media. State governors who are waging such reckless attacks on freedom of expression ought to be exposed and fought"
Falana said the proponents of the seemingly clandestine third term agenda were ill advised on the venture, which he described as a sad reminder of the military era.
"Indeed, the case is a sad reminder of the case filed in court by the Association for Better Nigeria set up by Senator Arthur Nzeribe to pave the way for General Ibrahim Babangida's agenda to extended the tenure of his administration.
"I was compelled to conclude that all manifestations of the third term agenda are present in Nigeria. Even though President Buhari has distanced himself from the third term agenda, his administration must go beyond the verbalisation of the denial.
"Instead of constricting the democratic space the regime should be open. Rigging of elections should be completely outlawed in the country. The suppression of the media should end while court orders should be fully complied with," he