INTERVIEW: How Not To Conduct Election, By Osun Attoney General
Osun State Attorney–General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Wale Afolabi, was in Owerri, Imo State for the 2014 Nigerian Bar Association Annual Conference. He shared his experience with journalists, in the hands of security operatives, leading to his alleged disenfranchisement at the last governorship poll in the state. The Guardian’s Charles Ogugbuaja, was at the briefing.
MAY we share your experience in the hands of security operatives during the last governorship elections in Osun State?
Thank you very much. On the eve of the election, that is the 8th day of August, 2014, I went to my Local Government to prepare for the election. I am from ward 7 of that Local Government. Around 8 p.m., in the evening. The collation agents for the ward, the chairman of the ward, the Council of the ward, they were at the collation centre, expecting electoral materials to come from INEC. They told me, because of what happened two or three days previous to that day, in fact, they will prefer to keep night vigil and watch when the materials will arrive. That they wanted to stay there and make sure nobody tampered with the materials. As they were there, somebody called me that combined team of soldiers, police, SSS and Civil Defence; that they came there; that they interrogated them; that they were arresting them. I quickly called the chairman of the council who was with me that he should go there and intervene and explain to the security operatives that those guys are not thugs. That they are members of our party; that the chairman of the Party is here, the councillor of the ward is here and the collation agents. The chairman of the council, executive secretary, immediately went there and interface with the security officials. They came back to inform me that after talking to them, they insisted to arrest those people and that they may likely take them to Osogbo, but before taking them to Osogbo, the capital, they will find a convenient place to camp, to interrogate them. If they discover they are not thugs, that they will release them. If they are thugs, they will take them to Osogbo.
After about five minutes, those ones called me, that from their countenance, they were taking them to Osogbo. That it was better I come and intervene. I asked the chairman of the council to join me in my vehicle. I drove my car myself.
As I was going to town, I saw a convoy of about four hilux vans. I waved them down, they stopped. I came out of my car. The chairman introduced himself. The chairman had earlier met them. They now asked me, are you the commissioner for Justice, I said yes. They now told me, the head of the team had left for Osogbo, that I should follow them to Osogbo. I said please, I have job to do here. I cannot follow them to Osogbo. They took my car key from me. They pushed the chairman of the council into one of the hilux vans. When they took my car from me, they pushed me inside the back seat. One of them by my right, one by my left, two in front. They drove us straight to Osogbo.
I now asked them, am I under arrest? They said not necessary, but I have to go with them to Osogbo. I told them I am the Commissioner for Justice. I am a lawyer. They said no problem I should follow them to Osogbo.
When we got to Osogbo, some of them were masked so that you cannot even identify them. Because I am a lawyer, I have been a lawyer for more than 30 years. I was afraid. I thought they were going to kill me. But then, I had to cooperate. They asked me to go inside. When I got there, I met over 200 party members lying down in the floor outside, the grass, in the cold.
But may be because I am a commissioner, they kept me in the room. When I got into the room, I met the Commissioner for Agric, a colleague of mine from Ilesa. He was arrested too and brought there. Later the head of the team asked me to put down something on paper. He said I cannot go anywhere. That I have to stay there.
They put me inside a room with 10 other people. As I was there, a man from Ogba Local Government was arrested and brought to that place. Later on, there was a High Chief from Igboko. The regent of Igboko. The Oba of Igboko is dead. We call him High Chief Omokaya. He was arrested and brought there. We were inside the room through out the night. The second day, that was on the 9th the SSS person from Abuja said they told her that the Commissioner for Justice is here and that was why she was here to see me. She now called me outside.
She asked me why I was arrested. I narrated the story that brought me there. After that she told me she did not mean to embarrass me. That she apologized to me. That I should leave, that I should not even talk to the press. That I should just keep it like that.
Before, I signed papers. She invited the other commissioner too. She said two of us should go. I told her. I cannot leave. There are others in that room. They are leaders of our party. What will I say that happened to them. She now said that she was going to release them to me. Eventually, she released eight of them to me.
I now told her again that we have about 200 people here. I don’t know if they were inside cell. She said that she did not have the power to release any person again. That her mission was to come and see me and interface and see the possibility of releasing me. That those ones she could not do anything about them.
Before I finish filing the papers and all the other documentations, it was almost 1 p.m. There was no way I could go back to my local government. Even if I went back, they would have finished accreditation. That was why I was not able to vote that day, for the first time. I had been voting for a long time when I was a Councillor. I was a Local Government chairman, Speaker of the House of Assembly as Honourable member, before I became the Attorney- General. That was the first time in my life, I could not vote.
Did you have signs before then?
About a week before the election, we had information that some of us, leaders of the party, would experience this. When we heard that information, we went to court to get an injunction that they should not arrest anybody for any frivolous allegation. We did that. So after the arrest and detention, harassment, we decided that the best thing for us to do is to go to court to challenge the infringement of fundamental rights of our people; to challenge the unlawful arrest of our people. We had enlisted the services of Femi Falana (SAN) to go to court on our behalf, and as I speak with you now, we have about 700 people that could not vote, that were arrested, detained, humiliated, tortured. About 700 of them now, we are filing cases for them.
Before I left Osogbo, we had filed about 500 cases. I am sure by the time I get back to Osogbo, they should have filed about 200 more. So, about 700 of us are going to court to challenge this infringement. Even before this election, our party had gone to court to protest that the President should not deploy unnecessarily soldiers, SSS and Police to disturb the election.
How about a case of fake DSS officer reportedly arrested?
That is the point we are making. That during that election, they brought in so many fake police, so many fake SSS men to Osun state to cover the election. One person was arrested at Ile Ife. That is the town of the candidate of the PDP, Senator Omisore. I have requested my lawyer to take over the file from the Police. They have taken over and I have gone through the file. The man said himself and five others came all the way from Ekiti and they were fake SSS men and police. That police were able to arrest only him. Others escaped. They have charged him to court. He is on bail. He is on remand in prison custody in Ilesha. I cannot remember when we fixed the hearing of the case. When we get back to Osogbo, we are going to commence hearing.
I have decided as a government and as party we will go to court. That is why we are now in court. Like I said, our fight is for 15 Local Government Areas.
We are not saying the security operatives should not come to Osun, but the point we are making is that they don’t have right to arrest people unnecessarily. Their duty is to maintain law and order. Why should they arrest somebody like me? Why should they arrest somebody like the Commissioner for Agric and many of our leaders? Since that time they have not charged anyone to court. You arrested about 700 people and you have not charged them to court, because you know you don’t have any case against them.
Since your party won the election, Why are you still taking the Federal Government to Court?
We want to make a statement to them that you cannot trample upon the rights of the people unnecessarily without any just cause. We want to correct that. Two, you don’t have to arrest people unnecessarily. They arrested me in my Local Government. I could not vote, even our leaders did not also.
What do you think warranted the heavy deployment of security officials?
That is the point we are making. And if you don’t challenge and correct it now, it is going to be very dangerous. What we are saying is except there is a commission of serious crime, you cannot just go and arrest people. Some people were arrested in their homes. If we don’t correct it now, it may be dangerous in the next election.
Before the election, we had gone to court to challenge the power of the President to deploy people anyhow. We are not saying he does not have power to deploy, but not anyhow to go and arrest people and intimidate and harass them.
The first four years, the government touched so many lives. The governor has done so many people-oriented programmes. In education, he is doing good. Some of the students, he feeds them on daily basis, with good food in good locations. In Agric, he has done many things. In employment, he employed 40,000 youths. In our OYES scheme, 3,000. He has decided to employ another 20,000. So we have intervened like no other government in so many areas. Also, we pay elderly people in our state, the highly vulnerable, we pay them N10,000 per head. Construction of roads. He has constructed roads in all the Local Government Areas, in all the nooks and crannies of our state. All these have made people to love our governor very well.
We are saying that they brought over 20,000 police men to Osun state. Over 6,000 Civil Defence. It was too much. Before the election, when they came, they were shooting in the air, sporadically. The job of these people is to prevent crime and not to go to polling units, they were not supposed to arrest people unnecessarily. Just to come and maintain peace. Osun is about three million.
What about the issue of rule of law?
For me as a person, I believe the rule of law should be fully entrenched. My state in Osun, there is no court judgment we do not respect. All court rulings, all court judgments, we abide strictly by them.
How do you pay the number of youths you have engaged and still do some capital projects?
In Osun any money we have, allocation, IGR, we spend them on people. Even if we have very lean resources, we still have many programmes, lots of projects. If we give you a job of N1 billion, we give you about N10 million, when you finish the job, we pay you the balance. That is how we have been able to do our projects.