PRESIDENT OF THE EGALITARIAN MISSION FOR AFRICA WHO IS ALSO FORMER NATIONAL SECRETARY OF LABOUR PARTY, DR KAYODE AJULO IN THIS INTERVIEW WITH REMI ADEBAYO BARES HIS MIND ON THE STATE OF THE NATION AND THE PECULIARITY OF THIS LAW PRACTICE.
What is the philosophy behind your advocacy and legal interventions in helping people especially your pro bono services?
Let us get this right quickly. On the issue of the pro bono, it is not as though a lawyer just want to offer pro bono services. Often times, you meet people and you are compelled to help them even when they cannot afford your legal fees. Imagine a person approaching you that the only farm land he/she has, maybe even as little as one hectare has been forcefully acquired by a supposedly ‘big man’, this is someone whose monthly pay may not be up to the minimum wage of N18,000, how can he possibly afford the services of any lawyer? This is reason we come to people’s aid. Lawyers do not need to curry their way to limelight, as we are the limelight. It’s those persons we have rendered pro bono services to that announce it to others. Though pro bono may be a matter of choice to other lawyers, but for me, it is a compelling mandate.
Coming to your first question, that is, what shapes my philosophy – My philosophy basically is shaped by my mother, C.M (you can see her picture up there) she is my first law lecturer, my first law giver, with knocks, slaps and all that…she also nurtured me with her milk of kindness and her mantra was “Do what you can to lift your friends up” and who are your friends? Anybody around you. Also, I am an Anglican, the faith of Anglicans is found in the Scriptures and the Gospels. More so, the traditions of the Apostolic Church, and Anglicanism is to lift people up. I remember an incident when we were in Ilesha at St. John’s Cathedral Iloro, Ilesa, one Mrs. Fajemisin, I think I still remember the name very well. She was a nurse and she went to Jerusalem and at the time, I was about 6 or 7 years old. She came back with this celluloid film to show us Jerusalem movies. I watched one clip on how John the Baptist was beheaded, the gory manner at which John was killed was quite disturbing and on our way home I asked my mother; I said; ‘How could such a man be killed and nobody lifted a finger or even raise a voice for him?’ She explained how powerful Herod was and that no one could stand him and the fact that there are so many ‘herods’ in our society today, some of whom no one can stand up to, there and then, I vowed to be a voice against oppression. This is what birthed Egalitarian Mission Africa; a Non- Governmental organization whose main concern is equality and equity.
Does that also apply to certain well-to-do personalities in the society that have the means to afford your services; people like Kazeem Afegbua; when he had issue with the police and Kemi Oluloyo? These are people that can pay…
Let me quickly say this; when people mention the likes of Kazeem Afegbua and Kemi Olunloyo, the only reason they are mentioned is that they are well known; they have a voice, they have a platform to make them known yet, there are thousands of people like them that are unknown. Let me tell you something, when we started Egalitarian Mission Africa in 2004, I remember then, as a young lawyer, we had a project; ‘Save A Prisoner A Day (SAPAD)’ and what I did then with other members was to ensure that at least a prisoner, or somebody in detention facility gets off the hook. That makes 31 persons in a month and 365 persons in a year! We pursued our goal vigorously and at some point, Divisional Police Officers of some police stations would call to inform me of persons in detention who haven’t been able to meet their terms of bail and they even go as far as telling us to help contact family members of detainees or if we can help get a surety for the detainees. It was through the project I met several Senior Officers of the Nigerian Police Force like Superintendent of Police, Fatai Owoseni, who, then was in charge of the human right office of the Zonal Command in Abuja, a very fine Officer.
Today, he is the Commissioner of Police in Benue State, having formally served as a Commission of Police, Lagos State. So when you hear the names of Kemi Olunloyo and Kazeem Afegbua, it is because they are known and have a voice. For instance, consider what happened in Ekiti State, were Opeyemi Bamidele and some other persons were shot by a policeman yet we didn’t even know the names of these other persons because they were not known! This is what happens time and again, and I should correct the notion that those that are known have money and sometimes the principle is what propels pro-bono service not whether the person has money or not. Consider again, when Senator Dino Melaye was arrested and refused bail, the Egalitarian Missions Africa went to court to fight the violation of his fundamental human right, though he refused to submit himself upon the invitation of the police but that is another issue entirely, however, bail is the right of every Nigerian.
On Kemi Olunloyo, I wouldn’t want to discuss it because I see it as being immodest to say this is what I have done and this is the reason I do not indulge in mentioning names except those individuals themselves inform people of their own free will. So, when people ask me, I will never confirm it and I will never deny it. Sometimes, even those you call the millionaires of this world, there are times they will be in problem and you may have to render pro bono service.
Will you say that Nigeria is being led in compliance with the rule of law today?Well, let me start with this; today, we practice democracy in Nigeria, and in accordance with Abraham Lincoln’s definition. ‘Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ That is Abraham Lincoln’s own definition. But when you look at democracy itself, it is a system where rule of law prevails and the freedom of the people prevails. With these two, you have democracy. What is rule of law? The rule of law is what the people collectively agree on. Let me tell you, if Nigerians can come with all seriousness to say this is the kind of government we want, we even want monarchical form of government, don’t be surprised, that’s their own democracy because that is what the people have agreed on, particularly when the rule of law is in operation. To this end, these are the things one must know in trying to understand the rule of law. The daily agitations of civil societies and stakeholders are as a result of the yearning for a perfect state.
The 8th National Assembly seems not to be in the good light these days; it is often pitched with the Executive, especially the Police. What does this portend for the polity?
It’s a good omen. Good omen to such extent that when Montesquieu propounded the Theory of Separation of power and Checks and Balances, he had it all in mind that for government to run and for democracy to be as it is; he divided and identified the three organs of government as; the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. And all of them peddle power and whenever there is peddling of power, there must be friction. Even with your wife, there is friction. Interestingly, friction is good for democracy but what matters is how it is handled. If handled carefully, then fine. Thus, separation of Power and checks and balances are integral parts of democracy. If you recall quite clearly, there was a time in this country when some people were complaining that the Executive had the Legislature in its pockets, that they were rubber stamp. So, if they choose not to be rubber stamp anymore, then you should expect some friction. Most of the State Governments unfortunately, have their Houses of Assembly in their pockets and is that what we should be looking forward to as a country? No! It therefore means that when there is proper ventilation of ideas, when there is dialectic engagement in governance, certainly, there will be friction. The question however is, what is the goal of this friction? The goal is to make Nigeria better.
Unfortunately, most of these friction, and struggle for power seem to be more personal and that is what makes me uncomfortable as an advocate of the people. If the friction was in the interest of the populace, even the people would be happy. Imagine an instance where the National Assembly and the Presidency are haggling over the minimum wage, if the presidency is saying ‘we are going to give them N80,000,’ and the National Assembly is saying ‘it must be N200,000’, this is the kind of struggle and friction that we need in our democracy, not one where, for instance, Saraki wants to become Senate President and Gbajabiamila wants the same office and because Gbajabiamila lost, you start attacking the winner.
All these are, by all means and standards, uncharitable and unconscionable. In the same light, anytime you see them fighting, it is always over their selfish interests. A State’s House of Assembly will never fight until there is a call to impeach the Speaker. Let them have a robust argument, let them move a motion and let them fight over that motion for Public Good. That is what will help the Nigerian system and we will all be happy but it is quite unfortunate that what obtains right now is a far cry from what we desire as a people.
The Buhari led Government is believed more to be on the path of fighting corruption. From your opinion, do you see this government fighting corruption?
I cannot emphatically state whether the government is fighting corruption or not. What I can say is that the manner at which the government is fighting corruption is lop-sided and targeted at a selected few. Need I remind you, not that those person’s targeted do not have issues but all I am saying is that the fight against corruption ought to be all- encompassing. The fight ought to be blinded; not minding whose Ox is gored. There is a reason the effigy of justice is blindfolded. It is because the law is no respecter of persons.
Let me just say that it would have been a fight against corruption if it was all encompassing. Even, if you recall, we made a statement immediately President Muhammadu Buhari began his war against corruption that ‘charity must begin from his house’. It must start from his backyard; he must first clean his own yard and only then will Nigerians applaud him; not a situation, as we have today, where, knowing that I have a case of corruption against me, I quickly run to the ruling party and all my sins are forgiven as if I’m going to confirmation and baptism. So, the point is, not that Buhari is not fighting corruption but it should be all-encompassing.
What is your take on the ‘Not Too Young to Rule’ law recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari?
Yes, it is a good development that certain provisions of the constitution were altered as the eligible age to run for the office of the President and some other political positions were reduced to give room for a larger spectrum of the youth population. However, I am still not satisfied with the amendment, because I believe that if the constitution gives room for an 18-year-old young man to vote, it should also give him the room to be voted for at that same age. Until this is achieved, I will not rest on my advocacy for more flexibility in the age requirement for elective positions in Nigeria. More so, we have had an occasion where a 22-year-old lady was elected as a parliamentarian in Europe and several others who are younger had been voted into political offices in developed countries. I am of the firm belief that such feat is not too much to achieve in Nigeria. Again, certain provisions and aids should be made available to young Nigerians who desire to run for public offices, especially financially, to enable them have a substantial financial war chest to compete considerably with the older age group. When this is put in place, only then can the nation be assured of the consensus and readiness to pass the baton of leadership to the next generation.
What do you see against the 2019 elections; do we have opposition party in Nigeria today?
The matter is dicey. Dicey in the sense that our leaders with the coming of Buhari have shown that they are corrupt and I know that it is the aspirations of Nigerians not to be ruled by any corrupt person again. Unfortunately, it seems that anybody that has had anything to do with the government has soiled his/her hands. The question is where lies the savior? That is the issue that bothers me, a way out of this conundrum we find ourselves as Nigerians. It is very serious and mark my words, we would not even have anyone to contest against Buhari, because of the fight against corruption, don’t be surprised we would have no one to contest against Buhari, and even those that may be contesting do they have the wherewithal?
But now, we have some young people coming from decent background who have not soiled their hands in this corruption mess. We have people like Omoyele Sowore…
(Cuts in)… I wish him good luck; I wish all of them luck.
Sir, you have been involved in politics but somehow withdrawn now. What informed that position?
No, I don’t want to say one is withdrawn. Maybe now that I stepped down from the office of the National Secretary, it may be perceived that way, but mind you, by the time I was turning in my voluntary resignation letter, I wrote it specifically that I wanted to have time to conclude my Doctorate degree, face my law practice and particularly make better contributions to the society.
You’re from Ondo state, has there ever been a time people from your state, senatorial or federal constituency invited you to come and serve them in any capacity?
Severally! Everyday, not less than fifty calls a day, at least minimum of fifty calls will tell you, ‘Come and rescue us.’
Why have you not then respond to their calls?…
No, let us be sincere, there are different voices even in the Bible. The Bible even tells you that there are true prophets and there are false prophets; it is for you to discern whether these calls are genuine. Many people will just call you with the belief that once you come, money would trickle down to their pockets as one of your coordinators. I am not trying to pick on anybody but these are the issues. But to say there is no call will be out of place, there are calls; and yours is to heed their calls and like I always tell them, I have conditions I have laid down as my checklist anytime I am called to do anything. Even when you need my professional services, I will first do a thorough interview, do my own background check, do my due diligence and my checklist has all these.
Assuming you sit before the him today and he seeks your advice on what to do before leaving government, let’s say in 2019, what will you be telling President Buhari?
One of the things I think I need to tell the President is to look at the people; he has to be pro-people. The essence of government is to be responsive to the hues and yearnings of the people. The aspiration of Nigerians is so simple. They want infrastructure to make life better. Imagine for instance, if all railroads are working, the roads are good and motor-able, imagine the power sector is working; many industries will spring up in Nigeria and foreign investors will come to Nigeria to invest, a lot of people will be employed and when you employ people, you automatically reduce unemployment rate and when unemployment rate is low, crime will be at the lowest ebb and Nigerians will be happy. And you see all these regulatory agencies, as the President you must insist that their constitutional and statutory functions be taken seriously. If the police is working, robbers will think twice before they strike and same applies to all agencies of government. Again, most people take to crime today because they are not gainfully employed.