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Igboho Remains In High Spirits In Benin Prison, In Great Demand By Politicians Over 2023 Polls —Lawyer, Yomi Alliyu
Chief Yomi Alliyu, counsel for Yoruba Nation activist, Chief Sunday ‘Igboho’ Adeyemo, in this interview by SAHEED SALAWU, speaks on the twists and turns in the Federal Government’s case against his client, especially his continued incarceration in the Republic of Benin.
The incarceration of your client, Chief Sunday ‘Igboho’ Adeyemo, in the Republic of Benin has been extended by six months. What is your position on that?
You don’t expect anything less from the Republic of Benin. It is widely acknowledged that the Republic of Benin is the 37th state of Nigeria. So, if Nigeria sneezes, they catch cold in Cotonou.
The Republic of Benin has said there is nothing they have against Chief Sunday Igboho. Even the prosecutor admitted as much; that as far as Cotonou is concerned, Chief Igboho merely used the place as a route to Germany and that they were aware that he had 90 days to stay in their country under the ECOWAS protocol. And they admitted that they were keeping him on the instruction of Nigeria.
The DSS, in their affidavit for a stay of execution, also stated that contrary to the order of a court, they kept him in a Cotonou prison. That is the worst a government agency, or even the government itself can do to a citizen: keeping a citizen of Nigeria in a foreign prison notwithstanding a valid and subsisting judgment of a court that that citizen should not be embarrassed, harassed, intimidated or, in any way, have his fundamental human rights violated. In some countries, that is a serious impeachable offence.
Are you going to appeal this extension or you are just going to allow it to stand?
My jurisdiction does not cover the Republic of Benin, unfortunately. And, you know, in Benin Republic, they are practising inquisitorial system of law. Their judges can easily fall into the arena. Unlike here, in Nigeria, where the prosecution has to prove their case, an accused person in Benin Republic would have to show why he should not be sentenced. In the inquisitorial system of law, as opposed to our own common law, there is next to nothing anybody can do about that. And the Republic of Benin is notorious for not obeying court orders. Although the country calls itself a sovereign state, it is subject to Nigeria and its big master, France. Arbitrariness is the order of the day in the Republic or Benin; you don’t expect the rule of law. If you had been there before, you would have seen how they cow their citizens. I was there at a time. When it was 11 o’clock in the evening, they said an order came from the government that all of us must leave the country. It is more or less a police country.
A high court recently ordered the Federal Government to pay the sum of N20 billion to Igboho as damages for breaching his fundamental human rights. How close has the Federal Government come to obeying that order?
The other aspect of the Nigerian government is that from time immemorial, except for [Umaru] Yar’Adua’s regime, the government treats court judgment with impunity. This time around, we filed a garnishee suit against them and asked the Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN] to come to court and hand N20 billion of the money that belongs to the Federal Government over to the court for onward payment to the judgment creditor, Chief Sunday Igboho. We are on that. We have appeared in court. The CBN has employed the services of a SAN, whereas being a garnishee case, the CBN has no such authority to call somebody to come and defend them; it behooves the judgment debtor, the Federal Government, to come to court itself. So, we are in court and the case has been adjourned till March. They also filed an appeal for a stay of execution to restrain the high court from executing judgment on the N20 billion damages against them. Their brief was served on me last Friday (penultimate Friday).
What do you think is the implication of the continued incarceration of your client for the Nigerian government?
I was so much surprised when I went to a dentist to fill a tooth. The dentist was telling me about what he had read in the Morning in the Nigerian Tribune newspaper concerning the extension of Sunday Igboho’s incarceration for another six months. He was so angry that he said, ‘We have to go. We have to leave this country’. If a dentist, a consultant, could be that enraged against the Federal Government and was now preaching that we should leave Nigeria, what do you think ordinary people in the streets would be thinking? Anywhere I go and people find out that his is Yomi Aliyyu for Igboho, you will see them milling round me to take photographs and cursing Yoruba leaders. That is how much acceptance this man enjoys among the populace. To them, Sunday Igboho is a savior. To them, Sunday Igboho is pursuing what they want. Like I tell people, I am not a member of the Ilana Omo Oodua and neither do I support schism or butchering Nigeria into parts but I believe that restructuring is a must. If we want to continue with the entity called Nigeria, restructuring is a must. But if we say we don’t want restructuring, those who are in the streets, those who are less educated will, at a time, revolt against the [well] educated.
There was the suggestion of a political solution to the impasse between Sunday Igboho and the Federal Government. But that option appears to have disappeared for now. What is your view about this?
If you look at [Ibrahim] El Zakzaky’s case and consider the situation of the founder of Boko Haram, you will see what can be referred to as similar conducts. Those in power believe in strength rather than diplomacy, and they refuse to learn from history. You will see that Boko Haram was just a group of individuals telling people what they believed before their leader was killed. Immediately their leader was killed, they went into hiding and what came out of that is what we are seeing today. It has become a harmattan fire. I have to give kudos to a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Fatai Williams, who said if you prevent people from exercising their freedom of speech, they will go underground, whispering underground. And when what they are saying underground comes out, it will engulf everybody, and that is what is normally referred to as a revolution. [Umaru] Ya’Adua was the one that, at least, broke away from what hitherto was the vogue in Nigeria. If Yar’Adua had not done what he did, today, Nigeria would not have the golden-eggs-laying goose in the Niger Delta. You will recall that he gave them [militants] amnesty and scholarship to study petroleum-related courses abroad. And that settled the matter. He employed the diplomacy of cane and carrot.
At a time, [Abubakar] Malami alluded to a political solution to the problem which I accepted immediately. But in his recent interview, he reneged on that, stating that they would leave the matter to law. Even the Bible says, by law, nobody can be justified. It is a paradox that he would say that the matter would be left to law. A court of law had delivered judgment and awarded damages of N20 billion; a court of law had said self-determination is not a crime; a court of law said everything confiscated from Sunday Igboho’s house, including his money, should be returned. Somebody who says he wants law has not deemed it fit to obey the same law. A prayer I do every day is that Yoruba youths be not provoked to act in a way that would be detrimental to the peace and harmony of the states in the South West and Nigeria at large, like IPOB.
Having been keeping in constant touch with Chief Igboho in Benin Republic where he is being detained, has there been any indication that his spirit might have broken?
That is something that baffles me: this man has remained in high spirits. He believes passionately that Ilana Oduduwa has come to stay; that he will pursue what he believes in, even with his blood. So, he is not downcast. He is not prepared to go into guerilla warfare; he believes that the battle is not going to be fought with guns or knives or cudgels; that the battle will be diplomatic; that he will fight the war on the floor of the United Nations; that the pressure will be so much on Nigeria that they will not have any other choice than to say let these people go; that no single ammunition will be fired in the South West. In the South West, we are never known to be destroyers or fighting any war against our own people. That is the only thing I have found with him. He abhors war and he preaches to all his people not to be like the other side; don’t shoot anybody. If they had done like the east, I don’t think Nigeria would be able to contain what happens in the South East and the South West. So, he is persuading his people that instead of war, we should go for jaw-jaw. And he is ready to go into discussion with the Federal Government. I impress it on him that ‘what you are looking for at the corner will be gotten from the roundabout through restructuring. If Nigeria is restructured in the way of the 1963 Constitution, what you people are looking for will be a nice menu on your table. You will control what you have and give 13 per cent to the Federal Government instead of the Federal Government giving you 13 per cent. There will be work and all for youths’. And he agrees with me.
Despite his travail, what measure of influence do you think Chief Igboho wields as far as the 2023 elections are concerned?
Politicians have already been making contacts with him inside the prison where he is locked up; so many text messages to the wife, asking whether Sunday would support their party. And the man would tell them that he is ready to support their party if in their party’s manifesto, they have self-determination or the restructuring of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That is, if they don’t have self-determination, their party should support restructuring of Nigeria. They (the politicians) are going to Cotonou. I have not seen any chairman of a political party in Nigeria, especially the two of them that are very popular, that has not sent one message or the other to Sunday Igboho. Everybody knows that Sunday Igboho controls the majority of youths in the six states of the South West. They know the implication of Sunday Igboho coming out and supporting a political party. They are going there, clandestinely sending papers to him to sign.
What is your advice for the Federal Government in the meantime?
There is no situation that is too volatile to find solution to. No government can win guerilla warfare. They should call these guys to the roundtable and hear what they want to say so as to preserve Nigeria. We have to appreciate the governors of the South West. They played the role they ought to have played as leaders of the people, albeit clandestinely. When people demonstrated and went to their offices, they appealed to them and assured them that they were in constant discussion with the Federal Government until last Monday when Malami said that a political solution was not the answer to the problem on the ground. We cannot blame him. He cannot go beyond his knowledge and experience.