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Abacha ‘Loot’: Femi Falana kicks, says States, LGs must get own share

…Tears Control of Infectious Disease Bill apart, dismisses it as superfluous.

… Government may have to review strategies for COVID-19 lockdown.

Fiery lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, has carpeted the Federal Government for its decision to deploy the recently received over $311 million stolen by a late dictator, Sani Abacha, and stashed away in the US and Jersey, to fund some of its road projects. Falana, senior advocate of Nigeria, also asserted that “the United States of America has no right under our law to dictate to us how to spend our recovered money” declaring that “It was insulting and embarrassing on the part of the Buhari administration to have accepted the insult”.

 In an interview on Channels Television, on Wednesday, Falana noted that “first of all, this fund was stolen from the federation account in the Central Bank of Nigeria. So, if the money is going to be returned, it’s being repatriated, it has to go back to the federation account. The money does not belong to the Federal Government alone; it belongs to the three tiers of government. If money was taken from the federation account, taken away, and is being brought back, it must go to the federation account for sharing by the three tiers of government. So, it cannot be spent alone. The money cannot be used for funding the budget of the Federal Government alone. So, that is number one.

“Number two, the United States of America has no right under our law to dictate to us how to spend our recovered money. It was insulting, and embarrassing on the part of the Buhari administration to have accepted the insult. The Federal Government should have told the American government how dare you; this money was stolen from our country, taken away and kept for 20 years, 20 years, nobody is talking of interest; nobody is talking of penalizing the banks that kept the loot. But as far as the law is concerned, this money does not belong to the Federal Government, so it cannot be used by the Federal Government alone”.

The radical lawyer insisted that “If the Federal Government wants to use the money to fix some roads, so be it; that’s good enough. But the Federal Government must be prepared to refund the part of that money belonging to the state governments and local governments in accordance with the revenue allocation sharing formula”, warning that “If the Federal Government goes ahead to use the money, that would be against the provisions of the constitution because the Federal Government cannot deploy money, cannot spend money without appropriation. So, we expect the Federal Government to have an appropriation because money has been budgeted for the Lagos/Ibadan road. If the money can no longer be found, you now want to deploy other funds, there has to be appropriation. There has to be accountability”.

 On the controversial Control of Infectious Disease Bill before the House of Representatives, Falana said the real issue, rather than its provisions, was whether the bill was necessary at this stage, stressing that “it is pertinent to inform Nigerians that in November 2018, a law was passed; a law was enacted in this country, ‘The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC Act’ which has taken care of infectious diseases in the country. So, it is not correct, in fact, it is misleading on the part of the House of Representatives to say that it is amending the 1926 Quarantine Act because there is another development”. He noted that between 1926 and now, there was the 2018 Act which he said has taken care of the entire provisions of the new Bill.

“So, the new Bill, as far as the law is concerned, is superfluous. Its provisions are largely illegal and unconstitutional. You can’t for instance, say you want to acquire any place and convert it to an isolation centre; you must negotiate with the owner of the building. I must be ready to sell my house to you before you can convert it to an isolation centre because under Section 43 of the constitution, I have a right to acquire property in any part of Nigeria.

“Secondly, you are saying that you are taking over the power vested in the president and the governors under the Quarantine Act, and you want to concentrate those powers on an appointed official; that is the Director-General of the NCDC. Again, this is a subversion of the Federal system of government whereby state governors are in charge of their states while the president is in charge of the entire Federation. So, powers conferred on them, political leaders, cannot be transferred to an individual who has not been elected by the Nigerian people”.

Baring his mind on easing of the total lockdown imposed by the federal government on Lagos and Ogun States, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Falana, who is the chairman of the Alliance on Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond said whether partial lockdown or total lockdown, what the government should be talking of is addressing the challenges of the moment. “The lockdown has been suspended or rather lifted in Ogun, Lagos States, and the Federal Capital Territory. But from the reports reaching all of us, and the fact that the figures are increasing, in other words, the coronavirus pandemic is on rampage in Nigeria. So, there are fears that the government may have to review its entire strategies”.

He said the surprising aspect of it all is that the National Assembly would have been expected by now to be addressing the challenge of the collapse of our public health system, for example, to “appropriate money to fix our hospitals; appropriate money to fix medical centres in the country so that we can be prepared for any eventuality”. Falana said God forbid that anything should happen in the country today, “we are not prepared, and that is why the NCDC is saying the isolation centres are not there. We are asking people to donate their buildings. There are no beds in the isolation centres. There are problems and this where the government will have to address. It’s not just enough to lockdown without providing palliatives”.

Femi Falana Photo
Femi Falana
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