Funmi Falana, the Managing Partner of Falana and Falana, is a lawyer, Human Right activist and the Director of Women Empowerment and Legal Aids. In this interview with Tribune, she speaks on why she is passionate about women and children’s right.
WHAT informed your choice of career?
I didn’t read Law initially. As a matter of fact, I read Physics but over the years I discovered there was a need to defend the rights of the downtrodden and also advocate for the emancipation of the masses of the country, particularly women and the girl-child. I felt the platform to do this and do it well will be the Law. So, I needed the instrumentality of the Law to defend women and children who were the susceptible group in the country. And that was why I decided to go back to school to read Law. I was called to bar about 26 years ago.
What price did you pay to be where you are today?
I paid the price of commitment, doggedness, hard work and faith in God who has seen me through.
We recently celebrated International Women’s Day. How far do you think the Nigerian women have gone in terms of development?
In Nigeria, I will say a little success has been recorded but we still have a long way to go. Looking at girl-child education, we haven’t gone far, when we talk of involvement and inclusion of women in position of authority and appointments, we haven’t gone far. Looking at the number of women in politics, we have not gone far. In the areas of domestic violence and discrimination, women are still at the receiving end so we still have a long way to go. And that is why NGOs at the fore front of defending and demanding for the rights of women really need to re-strategise and see how we can record more success in the areas of the struggle.
You are the chairman of the Board of Lagos Consumer Protection Agency. What is the duty of your board?
The Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency is an agency that defends the right of consumers in Lagos State. And you will agree with me that the position of Lagos is such that it is the commercial nerve center not just in Nigeria but in Africa so, a lot goes on here. You will also agree with me that the standard of the product and services that are given to the people are usually below standard hence, the need to be an agency that will advocate for the right of the people in terms of the services they get and the quality of the product that they get. So we are to look at the products that are substandard and the services that are not adequate. We need to juxtapose the standard we get in the market with the international standard that is prescribed all over the world. We are saying that there is the need to allow all the goods that are either imported or manufactured in Nigeria to conform to international standard and where they do not conform, the agency will ban, prosecute manufacturers and sellers of such goods and give them a fine. The Law that sets up the agency empowers it to ban, impose fine or proscribe such goods. At a time, Nigeria was almost becoming a dumping ground for goods that do not meet international standard. These are the things we want to eradicate and wipe out completely.
How do you juggle your role as a wife, mother with your role as an activist and a lawyer?
Thank God for God. A woman is a super being created to function in very many departments at the same time. So, all you need is to prioritise and make sure that no aspect of your life inhibits the other. There is a way you can coordinate and allow all the aspects to complement each other. God has been wonderful. He has been helping me. He is the one that sustains me.
You, your husband and son are celebrities. How have you been able to keep your family affairs away from the public glare?
It has been God because nobody gets anything except from God. It is not that one is the best being ever but God has been helping us to do things the way it should be done. And we don’t do beyond what we should do, by His grace, He has been guiding us. We do everything with the fear of God and the principles and commitment we are noted for. We always remember that we have a name and reputation that we need to protect, that should not be soiled. We guard the name jealously because it is a name that has been built over the years and we are very careful that we don’t allow anything to destroy it.
How do you feel having a talented and successful son, Falz?
I give all the glory to God. It is God that has made it so and I pray that God will continue to preserve him, keep him and protect him. We are proud of him.
Lagos State seems to be at the forefront of the fight against domestic violence?
Yes, we are glad that we have a governor like Governor Akinwunmi Ambode who is supporting our cause and struggle against domestic violence and gender parity. There was a walk recently. We are glad that for once, there is a governor that goes out to identify with women. Perhaps he is doing this because the rate at which sexual and domestic violence is increasing these days is becoming so worrisome. With the support of the government perhaps we will record more success in the fight against domestic violence.
What can be done about the increase in cases of domestic violence in our society?
I agree with you, it appears to be on the increase but that could be because the awareness has come up and people are now reporting it. In those days, there was culture of silence so cases of rape and domestic violence were not reported. People keep quiet and die in silence because of the stigma associated with it. But now people are speaking out and it is getting documented. That is why we feel it is on the increase. In Lagos State, we now have two special courts dedicated to sexual offences and also, there is development in the prosecution of rape. In those day, it was difficult to prosecute cases of rape; starting from shabbily conducted investigation and the common law practice that evidence of the victim must be corroborated by the evidence of the third party before the accused person can be convicted, as if rape is a dinner party that you will ask somebody to witness, so usually there is nobody to corroborate so many persons that should be sentenced were left off the hook. But due to the revolution and development in this area of the law, the common law practice has been struck out. So, if we have enough evidence to link the evidence of the underpants; the semen to the accused person, he will be convicted.
Corruption has become entrenched in our society. What is your take on this?
It is unfortunate that in a country where the minimum wage is about N18, 000, where the bulk of the masses are unemployed, the bulk of the masses cannot boast of three square meals, the bulk of the masses still live under the bridge because they have no access to good shelter, good medicare or free education and our lawmakers are happy earning so much. It is very annoying and that is why the youth and the masses cannot but get angry. The polarisation is so much. And when an ordinary citizen listens to millions and billions, naturally they will be angry because it is not that they worked for the money, it is the resources of the country that they are supposed to hold in trust for us that they converted the bulk of it to themselves, leaving little or nothing to the masses. It is very sad.
We used to think that judiciary is the hope of the masses but now even the judiciary is being accused of corruption?
It is because the judiciary manned by human being is an extension of the Nigerian people. The judiciary does not comprise of angels and the moral laxity in the society has crept in there too. I want to tell you that some politicians can corrupt an angel and terribly as it is, the judiciary allowed itself to be corrupted. They dangled money before them and they got carried away. This is because they have forgotten their constitutional role of being the custodian of the right of the common man and to see that justice is done. They have abdicated their role and joined corrupt politicians.
How can parents instil morals in their children?
That has to do with taking the struggles back to the cradle, the homes. And also, parents need to make conscious efforts to spend time with their children and instil in them virtues and training that they need to become leaders tomorrow. It is the children that we don’t give proper training to that will grow up to become corrupt leaders tomorrow.
On the abduction of Dapchi girls?
My organisation has written a petition to the African Union on the Rights of the child to compel them to return the children within a particular time or prosecute the government of Nigeria. We sued on behalf of the children because the government is saddled with the responsibility of protecting lives and properties, especially the right of the girl-child. And if you look at the circumstances behind the abduction of these girls, it is so irresponsible, wicked and callous. It was something so close to being deliberate because they wanted money. They knew if something happened, they will set up committee again and some people will make money out of it. This is exactly what happened, committees have been set up and money has been released. It is wicked and callous.