Chief Femi Falana, SAN, a prominent human rights activist, cautioned the Federal Government and the political class against inciting citizens to rebel.
He delivered this warning while addressing attendees at the Nigeria Labour Congress’ National Symposium, which focused on the theme of “Nigeria Economy and the Crisis of Survival: Robbing the Poor to Pay the Rich.”
Chief Falana’s warning is a response to recent events that have seen democratically elected governments forcefully removed through military coups in Africa.
Expressing his concern, the outspoken activist pointed out the hypocrisy of the government, as they instruct the poor to endure economic hardships while public officials continue to indulge in extravagant spending.
The legal luminary also attributed the recent trend of military juntas in Africa, particularly the most recent one that occurred in Gabon, to a number of factors, including the ruthless exploitation of African countries’ mineral resources by the west, third term syndrome, political manipulation of the constitution, and the establishment of foreign military bases in African nations.
According to him, “They must be careful not to provoke Nigerians to mutiny. Some of the things going in the National Assembly shows that we are in trouble. 70 billion Naira for palliatives for 469 people and when we said no they claimed it was for the facelift of the National Assembly.
“Three years ago, 37 billion Naira was earmarked for the facelift of the National Assembly. That contract has not been fully executed and there is no renewal of the contract so you cannot talk about 70 billion Naira for facelift.
“Secondly, 40 billion Naira to buy exotic cars now for the leadership of the National Assembly is not going to be allowed.
“The latest provocative news from the National Assembly is that 54 billion Naira has been earmarked for constituency projects for 360 members of the House of Representatives. It has come to 150 million per person. Under this austere condition of the country.
“So when these figures are oozing out of the National Assembly Nigerians are being provoked and enemies of democracy are being provoked.
“The military has been honest to say that they are under pressure to dismantle this rickety political system but someone told them to go and deny it and they came out and denied it. But we can read between the lines. We can’t gather here to talk about democracy that is under threat.
“The immediate causes of coups in Africa today are third term syndromes, manipulation of constitution, military bases.
“Today, America has 29 military bases in Africa. France has 15. Soldiers are protesting because numbers of these foreign bases are receiving salaries as if they are in their countries. So the soldiers are protesting the preferential treatment between them and these foreign troops, so we must look at that.
“The remote causes are the ruthless exploitation of the mineral resources of our country by Western countries.
The people are getting poorer.
“The poor are asked to tighten their belts even when they are dying. We may there discussing democracy, democracy is under threat in Africa”
He advised the Nigeria Labour Congress to circulate his paper presentation so that every union can debate the content of the paper in preparation for a major showdown with “this colonial peripheral capitalist system that is pauperising our country and increasing poverty at a very dangerous level.”
He further said, ” Now Comrade has started by referring to Section 16. In fact, a subsection there says, the Economic system is not operated in such a way as to concentrate the wealth of the country in the hands of the few or a group.
“When Dangote was said to be building a refinery, and I said it publicly, the government of Nigeria gave him land free, they call it free economic zone, for themselves, all the machinery imported at the official rate which is illegal no duty was paid for the machine and the government went to the bank to take a loan of $2.7 billion to invest in a private sector and they then said, we cannot fix our refineries.
“At that stage we challenged them, you said the government has no business in business why are you funding a private enterprise? It was at that stage that they allocated $1 5 billion to fix Port Harcourt refinery, $1.4 billion to fix Kaduna and Warri refinery.
“Comrade President of Nigeria Labour Congress, please I beg you, second assignment, you must get the relevant genius to monitor the ongoing rehabilitation of the refineries otherwise these guys will divert the money criminally as they have always done in the past 35 years.
“Secondly those refineries are no longer enough for us, refineries are being sold in Europe and America, The government must buy some of them and assemble them here so that we can earn revenue from our own natural resource.
“Talking about solid minerals, labour must also take cognizance of what is going on. They give licences to individuals to go and mine and pay a pittance to the government, sometimes you don’t pay anything.
“I am handling a case where the government said don’t pay for five years we want to encourage you … and the country will make $500 million in one year but the poor are asked to tighten their belt even when they are dying.
“We may be gathered here discussing democracy, democracy is under threat in Africa, very serious. I am sure you know what happened yesterday, you know what happened last month and it’s going to continue, there is no apology about it.
“I can predict with mathematical certainty, the next country very close to us that will experience coup very soon where a man suffering from dementia who has been in power since 1982, what did he do yesterday because of what happened in Gabon. Let me tell you the Commander of the army, you are deceiving yourself.
“There was attempted coup in 2019 in Gabon, the guy survived but do you know what has happened, yesterday he also suffered from stroke and dementia, he didn’t know where he was, he said, “I don’t know where I am but please help me”. That’s what they have reduced Africa to, you needed to have seen that guy… “