Comrade Olasupo Ojo is a senior legal practitioner and veteran human rights activist. He started human rights activism since his school days. He has been at different times, Chairman, President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) which he introduced to Ile-Ife in 1990 in his student days. He was National President of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADL) and currently, the President of Centre for the Rule of Law.
Olasupo Ojo had a Council of Friends discussion with the Jurisconsult.
You have been involved in human rights advocacy from your University days, how did you become involved in human rights?
I was influenced by the environment in which I grew up, including the Church. My father was a Church leader, Carpenter and Community leader. People used to bring disputes to him, including land disputes and I watched how he used to resolve them. I am from Ilesa and the Ijesa people don’t like cheating.
First public protest
I first participated in a public protest in Secondary School in 1986. It was against imposition of fees which the School authorities called exam levy. In the course of the protests, the School assembled us the students and on the Assembly grounds where the Principal threatened us. Thereafter he asked if any of us would be ready to be the spokesman, to explain what our grievances were. Nobody was ready to come out but I raised up my hand and everyone was shocked. I was able to articulate our position. I called the attention of the Principal to the plight of our poor and struggling parents who would bear the burden of any fees imposed on us and I implored him to reconsider the decision. When I finished my speech, everybody clapped. The Principal and the teachers had a meeting and the decision to charge fees was rescinded. That incident gave me the first insight that injustice would reign if nobody challenged it.
You spear headed the nullification by the Court, of the Nigerian Bar Association Constitution midwifed by the Alegeh administration. Can you tell us what informed your action?
That constitution was an imposition. Lawyers were not aware of it and it was not discussed. Again, the Constitution is illegal because it was not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). The NBA was actually a registered corporate body and the law requires that its Constitution be registered with the CAC. So, it cannot come into operation until it is so registered. The last registered NBA Constitution was in 2004. But that the NBA is still carrying on under the Constitution which has been nullified by the Court makes it a lawless organisation of lawyers.
What’s your comment on the recently concluded NBA Elections?
Nigeria is too large to have the Nigerian Bar Association run as a unitary body as at present. But the NBA is already moving towards restructuring and that is its future as well as the future of Nigeria as a country. Consider the Regional fora in the NBA: Egbe Amofin Yoruba; Eastern Bar Forum. These will eventually end up in the NBA Constitution. The NBA should actually be organised on Regional basis whereby the Regional leadership will then comprise the national Leadership. Let the six geopolitical Regions have a Vice President each and from among them, they would elect the NBA President. The real competition for elective offices would only be at the Branch level. This should be less cumbersome and less acrimonious.
You started human rights activism under the Military. What is your outlook on the current practice of democracy in Nigeria?
We should have a home grown system of government which should grow from the culture of the people. The fact is that the kind of arrangement that may work in Yoruba land many not work in Igbo land. Why can’t we codify what was in the peoples’ culture and implement that? Democracy is not meant for a multi-ethnic Country, it is not fair to such environment. This is because in the Country, you have a section that practices polygamy and other sections embracing monogamy. Now, democracy is a game of numbers. It then means that the section which practices polygamy will always have more number of voters. What is the fairness in that? You will then see that democracy is not fair in such an environment. It is better suited for a mono-cultural environment and you will observe that democracy actually originated from that environment. It is more suitable for the Europeans whose countries are largely homogenous.
Monarchy is in the Nigerian culture. Are you therefore advocating monarchy which from our history, was oppressive?
The system can be reformed to ensure fairness. But there is no Nigerian culture. The position is that different peoples that make up Nigeria have different cultures. Unfortunately, the current system in operation in Nigeria is to slow down other people’s culture in order to equalise. But it’s difficult to destroy a people’s culture. For example, it was the attempt to slow down education in Western Nigeria that made the people to react as shown in the private school phenomenon.
Are you suggesting that the Presidential system or even the Prime Minister (Cabinet System), is not suitable for Nigeria?
The American Presidential System is totally unsuitable to us; neither the Cabinet System. These representative systems are not suitable. The Federal Government does not need so many Ministries. In fact, too much power is concentrated in the centre in Nigeria, so that the President of Nigeria is the most powerful anywhere in the world, in terms of concentration of power in a single individual. The Central government leadership ought to comprise of the leaders of the Regions merely to oversee issues of common interest to the Regions and nothing more than that.
Do you have an example where this model is working?
The United Arab Emirates is an example. Dubai is the most popular but if you go to Abu Dhabi, you will see wonders. The Regions in that country are in competition with one another. At a time, Dubai was constructing the Bhurj Khalifa but they ran out of funds, they borrowed money from Abu Dhabi to complete the Bhurj Khalifa. Can you imagine, one Region borrowing from another! Yet that country borrowed the Constitution of this Country, the 1963 Nigerian Constitution. That was the model they studied, adopted and have been operating. There is no case of one Region trying to dominate another Region or one Region trying to slow down another Region.