Kidnap and Illegal Deportation of President Julius Ayuk-Tabe and Co; Nigerian Lawyers not Giving up yet.
Femi Falana SAN is a famous Nigerian Lawyer and human rights activist. In this interview with PanAfrican Visions, Femi Falana tears into the Nigerian Government over Southern Cameroons Crisis and the kidnap and alleged deportation of the Ambazonian leaders.
We shall pursue the case until Nigeria returns to the community of civilized nation – Falana Nigeria’s Right Activist
By Olayinka Ajayi
Obviously peeved at the extradition of leaders of the Anglophone movement led by Ayuk Julius Tabe from Nigeria, renown human right activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN Femi Falana hits hard at the Nigerian government in this exclusive interview with Olayinka Ajayi of PanAfricanVisions. Excerpts:
The Cameroon Government announced recently that leaders of the Anglophone movement led by Mr Julius Ayuk Tabe in Nigeria were handed over to Cameroon,how did this happen?
Femi Falana:It is true that a number of Cameroonian refugees and asylum seekers who were illegally arrested and detained by the federal government were and deported from Nigeria to Cameroon on Friday, January 26, 2018. When we received information of the plan to deport them we rushed to the federal high court to stop the illegal plan. We also reached out to the Comptroller-General of Immigration, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees in Nigeria. As soon as the Commission confirmed the information it dispatched a letter to the federal government pointing out that Nigeria has a legal obligation under international law not to deport the detained Cameroonians. But in a demonstration of reckless impunity the National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd) deported our clients in defiance of the intervention of the United Nations and the pending suit in court. Out of shame the National Security Adviser could not disclose the deportation of our clients from Nigeria but the Government of Cameroon decided to celebrate the deportation and threatened to prosecute our clients for terrorism. I have protested the deportation to President Buhari and demanded that our clients be returned to Nigeria without any delay.
You were one the lawyers who was mentioned in the case ,what role did you play?
Femi Falana:My learned colleague, Mr. Abdul Oroh is handling the case with our law firm. Both of us were at the high commission of Cameroon last Tuesday to demand for access to our clients who are currently held incommunicado in Cameroon. We were asked to submit a letter to that effect and we have done so.
Does Nigeria have any extradition treaty with Cameroon, what laws were respected and what laws were violated?
Femi Falana:Nigeria has no extradition treaty with Cameroon. For that reason the federal government could not file extradition proceedings in any local court. Hence, the deportation was carried out outside the ambit of the Extradition Act. No law was respected whatsoever but many laws were breached by the federal government which has continued to exhibit authoritarian tactics and rule of might under a democratic dispensation that is supposed to be anchored on the rule of law. In deporting our clients the federal government violated Section 1 of the National Commission for the Refugees etc Act which has prohibited the expulsion, extradition or deportation of any person who is a refugee to the frontiers of any country where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his membership of a particular group or political opinion or whose life may be endangered for any reason whatsoever. The federal government also breached the human right of our clients to enter Nigeria, reside, seek and obtain asylum guaranteed by Article 12 (3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act. The Act further provides that every individual shall have the right, when persecuted to seek and obtain asylum in other countries in accordance with the laws of those countries and international conventions. Apart the violation of such laws the federal government breached its legal obligations under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention on Refugees and which have guaranteed the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Nigeria to protection.
Among those deported were some said to have Nigerian citizenship and working here,and others with refugee status or seeking same,what does the transfer or deportations tell us about the Buhari Administration?
Femi Falana:We have established that three of the deportees are naturalized citizens while others are recognized refugees and political asylum seekers in Nigeria. Twelve of our clients who are the leaders of the people of Southern Cameroon have been living in Nigeria for several years. Some are lecturers at the Ahmadu Bello University and the American University in Yola. Three of them are lawyers. Those who are not refugees among them have been granted permanent resident status in Nigeria. You can only expel a foreigner from your country if he violates the law. Even then an asylum seeker cannot be turned over to the authorities of a country that is likely to persecute him. Under no condition can a Nigerian citizen be deported from the country. The only time that a Nigerian citizen had been deported was in 1980 when the Shehu Shagari regime expelled Mr. Shugaba Abdulraman Darman and dumped him in Chad. The case challenging the deportation was declared illegal by the high court which ordered the federal government to bring him back to the country. The court also awarded damages in favour of the deportee. The illegal deportation of the naturalized Nigerians and the refugees has caused a huge embarrassment to the federal government because there is no legal justification for it. Can you believe that the National Commission for Refugees, the Immigration department and the ministry of foreign affairs were not consulted before the deportation of our clients?
Some people look back from the arrest and transfer of Charles Taylor under Obasanjo,to the inaction of Jonathan when Libya was under attack and now transferring people who fear for their lives to a government they are running away from and question Nigerian leadership in Africa,what do you have to say?
Femi Falana:It is trite that the foreign policies of a government are dictated by its domestic policies. The case of Charles Taylor is totally different from this one. The Special Court for Sierra Leone set up by the Security Council of the United Nations had issued a warrant for the arrest of ex-Liberian president for crimes against humanity. Nigeria was under a duty under international law to turn him over to the court. But unknown to Nigerians and the international community President Obasanjo did not want Mr. Taylor arrested in Nigeria. As President Obasanjo who was then in the United States was under pressure to hand over Mr. Taylor to the court as a precondition for meeting President George Bush, he quickly directed the immigration to allow the fugitive to leave the country. But as Mr. Taylor was rushing out of the country he was arrested at Damboru border in Borno State at about 6 am on March 2009 by Mr. Sylvester Umoh, a customs officer who was committed to his duty. Even though Mr. Taylor offered to bribe him with $500,000 cash Mr. Umoh rejected it and arrested him. That was how Mr. Taylor was handed over to the Special Court to the embarrassment of President Obasanjo. The federal government then descended on Sylvester Umoh. Instead of giving him a national award he was dismissed from the service without ignominy. Although I succeeded in ensuring the conversion of Mr. Umoh’s dismissal to retirement in 2014 we are still battling with the payment of his entitlements. Again, the Libyan case is different from this case but it also demonstrated a failure of leadership.
Both President Goodluck Jonathan and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa did not have the courage to challenge President Barrack Obama over the planned invasion of Libya. In fact, the representatives of both leading African nations voted for the invasion. Both Nigeria and South Africa betrayed Africa by endorsing the invasion of Libya. In particular, the strategic interests of Nigeria were not considered by the Jonathan administration. Hence, we have paid dearly for the barbaric invasion of Libya. Apart from the slave trade that President Gaddafi would not have allowed in Libya the arms and ammunition looted from the armory of Libya were bought by the Boko Haram sect to launch a deadly attack on Nigeria.
Just like the nation is messed up locally by a cabal of primitive power mongers our foreign affairs have been ruined by the same reactionary group. Luckily for the cabal, Nigerians are not aware of the extent of the manipulation of our foreign affairs. Can you believe that the cabal almost smuggled Morocco to the Economic Community of West African States? The other day, Nigeria lost an important position contested at the African Union because the cabal insisted on a candidate that was not qualified for the post? With the controversial appointment of the Director-General of the new National Intelligence Agency it has been proved beyond any shadow of doubt that the cabal will continue to expose the country to ridicule.
As an international lawyer and seasoned human rights activist, what impact do such actions potend on the international standing of Nigeria?
Femi Falana:It is unfortunate that Nigeria has lost her place of pride in the comity of civilized nations. Nigeria has become a butt of jokes in the international community because of the reactionary policies of the federal government. A time it was when Nigeria successfully confronted the West on the decolonisation of the Southern African region. Was it not Nigeria that ensured the restoration of democracy in Liberia and Sierra Leone? In international conferences Nigeria is no longer reckoned with? For instance, it was President Buhari as a military ruler who had convinced the Organisation of African Unity in 1984 to admit the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic as a member state of the continental body. That was what led Morocco to withdraw from the OAU. Can you believe that Nigeria did not kick against the admission of Morocco to the African Union last year when the situation has not changed? How can Nigeria allow Morocco which is occupying the territory of another African Country to be a member of the AU without withdrawing from the occupied territory of Western Sahara? I have just been briefed by the Government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic to sue the federal government and the Dangote group over the illegal contract to import sulphate for the production of fertilizer in Nigeria because the mineral resource is in the occupied territory. I have requested the federal government to cancel the illegal contract. Otherwise I will challenge the legal validity of the contract.
For the thousands of refugees flooding in from Cameroon to Nigeria,should this not be a sign that our country, Nigeria is not a safe place for them?
Femi Falana:The implication of the deportation of the Cameroonian refugees is that Nigeria has been discredited once again. Ours has become an unsafe territory for refugees and asylum seekers. Since Nigeria has never violated the provisions of the United Nations Convention Relating to Refugees and the OAU Convention on Refugees by deporting refugees and asylum seekers to any country where they might be persecuted we have requested the federal government to review the illegal deportation and request Cameroon to bring them back to Nigeria. You will agree with me the case of the deportation of the naturalized Nigerians is not negotiable. Because of the desperation of Cameroon to put the deportees on trial and sentence them to death the federal government has to move fast. The United Nations Commissioner for Refugees will have to extract an undertaking from Nigeria that refugees and asylum seekers are safe in Nigeria. More importantly, Nigeria has to demonstrate her readiness to respect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Otherwise, the over 20,000 asylum seekers in Nigeria from Cameroon, Burundi, Sudan, Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and other war torn countries and troubled spots may be expelled at any time by the office of the National Security Adviser.
With the international standing and experience you have is there any role you think Nigeria can play in resolving the crisis in Cameroon?
Femi Falana:Frankly speaking, Nigeria can resolve the crisis in Southern Cameroon in the interest of regional stability. Notwithstanding that Nigeria negligently gave out the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon Nigerians in the island are still been harassed by Cameroonian gendarmes. As far back as 2002 the federal government had opted for a peaceful resolution of the political crisis in Cameroon. When the people of Southern Cameroon filed a suit at the Federal High Court to determine whether the people of Southern Cameroon are not entitled to self-determination within their clearly defined territory separate from the Republic of Cameroun the federal government decided to settle the case out of court. Hence, by a consent judgment delivered by the Court on March 5, 2002, the Federal Government agreed to file a suit at the International Court of Justice to have a judicial confirmation of the human right of the people of Southern Cameroon to self determination. The Federal Government also undertook to take other measures as may be necessary to place the case of the people of Southern Cameroon for self determination before the United Nations General Assembly and other international organizations. On the basis of that judgment which is valid and subsisting Nigeria is estopped from colluding with the fascistic Paul Biya regime to terrorize the people of Southern Cameroon.
Under Nigerian jurisprudence is it possible for people to be held without access to a lawyer?
Femi Falana:Under section 35 of the Constitution and section 6 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act the fundamental right of every suspect or detainee to access their lawyer is guaranteed. With respect to the Cameroonians all efforts made by their lawyers, doctors and family members to visit them in custody were frustrated. Even Mrs. Nalowa Bih who is pregnant was denied medical attention. But due to the intervention of the Minister of Foreign Affairs a representative of the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees in Nigeria was allowed to visit our clients before they were expelled from Nigeria. During the visit, the United Nations representative found that our clients were held in an underground cell at the headquarters of the Defence Intelligence Agency on the orders of the National Security Adviser.
From your findings who ordered the arrest?Some people say they were arrested and taken to Cameroon long before Nigerian authorities even got wind of it,is this plausible?
Femi Falana:When we were refused access to our clients by the National Security Adviser we filed an application at the Abuja Judicial Division of the Federal High Court on Thursday, January 25, 2018 for the purpose of securing their fundamental rights to personal liberty and freedom of movement. Barely 24 hours later, in utter disdain for due process the National Security Adviser deported our clients from Nigeria to Cameroon. Up till now, the National Security Adviser has not been called to justify his action since the country is run on the basis of official impunity. But as law abiding citizens we have challenged the illegal deportation and we have concluded arrangements to give our clients the best legal defence. We shall pursue the case until Nigeria returns to the community of civilized nations. The federal government has to be compelled to abandon its embrace of the rule of might.