Recently, lawyer, activist and founder of Nigerian Advance Party (NAP), Dr Tunji Braithwaite, celebrated his 80th birthday with pomp and pageantry in Lagos. In this interview culled from Daily Trust, he speaks about his life, career and burning national issues.
You are a right activist, lawyer and politician; how have you been able to combine all of these together over the years?
Dr. Tunji Braithwaite: Interestingly, all three are inter-related. If you are a lawyer, you’ve got to know what the constitution of the country where you are, says. Beyond that, if you are expansive, you will even know the constitutions of other nations not to talk about the United Nations. And you become really international because the world has become a global village kind of. So as a lawyer, concerned with the rights of the society, corporate society and the rights of individuals, you will see that the three: law, activism and politics are related. The profession of law offers better platform for any budding politician. This is not to say other professions; other disciplines are averse to being in politics, but the profession of law gives the lawyer a head start ahead of others. So, it has not been difficult to combine these three together.
Besides, when I started law practice 52 years ago, there were lots of political challenges and as a young lawyer, I was quickly drafted into the defense of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. So, at the very early stage of my life, I had my work cut out for me especially the human rights aspect of it and politics. I was one of the young lawyers who defended him.
Having practised law the much you have, many wonder why you are not a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)?
I am not interested in the archaic and backward title called SAN. If you know my title, I abhor anything like that. They are characterized by standards that are below mine. Besides, I have said enough about SAN. It’s an importation from Britain, former colonial masters not only Nigeria, but many other countries of the world.
Divisions deliberately created and foisted on the people for the benefit of the British colonisers. The biggest democracy in the world which also has the biggest scope for lawyers, the United States of America, does not have room for such nonsense unlike the artificial titles by British lawyers. They are ego-massage titles. And it is quite unfortunate that this could make some Nigerians to go to any extent, willy-nilly to acquire these titles. We should discourage it.
You have cited revolution as a panacea to challenges bedeviling Nigeria and many will remember how your house was used as a gathering point for many rights activists. Were you motivated in all of these by your conviction of a revolution and do you really think Nigerians are indeed ready for a revolution?
Again, the power mongers among us, the impostors who have been trampling on the rights of Nigeria will have you believe that Nigerians can never come together to overthrow them. There is nothing farther from the truth. In fact, the period you alluded was a pointer to that effect. And it also showed at the time that even without the labour union, the people of this country can organize a revolution. The leadership of the labour unions betrayed the cause of that revolution. That has always been the modus operandi. Labour will alongside the civil society follow a struggle to a point, but when labour is settled, you have the cause of that struggle being compromised.
The fuel subsidy protests were the first set of protests that we bring people together across board. We had done it before on a small scale.
But that of 2012 has already demonstrated that any non-performing or corrupt government is a sitting duck for a revolution. This is a sort of thing we would be remembered for and that gives us joy. That is better than joining government to steal people’s money. So, don’t come here and voice a brainwashed opinion that Nigerians are not ready for revolution.
As you earlier observed, young people converged here under our leadership and they didn’t converge for the fun of it. There were grounds. There were political, socio and economic bases for them to converge here. They took their destinies into their own hands. By the way, you may not know. That was the slogans of NAP. That Nigerians must take their destinies into their own hands. That kind of the progressive minds cannot be on the decline but will rather be on ascendancy for the sake of this country.
And that leads me to another issue, unless we have a constitution acceptable to Nigerians instead of the military handed down decree known as 1999 constitution before 2015, there will be no election in this country. I said there is a need for a new constitution that is acceptable. Then we also say before there could be a new constitution, there is a need for a Sovereign National Conference. And whether or not Sovereign National Conference takes place, Nigerians most freely agree on the constitution that will bind them together. Not the one that was imposed on them. We have never had the people’s constitution agreed by Nigerian people. The time has now come.
It is also interesting that the timing of this coincide with when Nigeria is to mark 100 years of amalgamation. All these combined; indicate that the issue of Nigerians agreeing freely to hold a national conference is not a mere coincidence with the 100 years anniversary. If you think it is mere coincidence, I bet it is not.
Year 2015 will be a defining moment for Nigerian future. Nigerian future as presently constituted has become rags and tatters. It is completely worn out. A new corporate existence must emerge. People should know that it is not about the agenda of some people who are fragmenting one party or the other with the aim of displacing one another in 2015. That is not the agenda for Nigeria. The 2015 will be a defining moment for Nigeria. It will unfold beyond the elections.
On his visit to President Goodluck Jonathan
Yes, I will put that one too into contest. It was a returned visit. The President first visited me in Lagos and we discussed many things about the country. President Jonathan has many things going for him among which are humility/humbleness, personal charm and I believe transparency. With these three qualities any honest unbiased person will find himself in a position of wanting to give him a chance, unlike some abrasive, uneducated, pompous, stealing successors that were before this young man. With those three qualities, I am interested in nothing but good governance, so, why would I antagonize or turn my back against such a person? I said he visited me first when he came to Lagos and I returned the visit in Abuja and we examined a few things for the progress of this country. When the press accosted and asked me: ‘What have you come to do in Aso Rock?’ and I told them, I came to Aso Rock to discuss with the president one topic: the betterment of this country. If he needs my advice, I will give him.
The downside of this I have told you is the nature of the cabal; the ruling elite. He is a hostage among wild animals.
You mean the President?
Yes. We are talking about the President. I said President Jonathan, because of the nature of the corrupt politics of this country. President Jonathan would appear to be surrounded by or being held hostage by power mongers like wild animals. He is a hostage of them. Notwithstanding that, for the sake of this country, he still needs the existence of unbiased Nigerians, well meaning Nigerians to advise and guide him right. Not for any consideration but for the well being of Nigeria.
As an elderstatesman and as someone who has interacted with the President, how do you think he can break loose from these so-called wild animals?
By the support, prayers and hard work of well meaning Nigerians. And there are many well meaning Nigerians who do not look at any situation from the prism of reward or material reward, he would get out.
As a strong advocate for the convocation of Sovereign National Conference, what do you make out of the recent call Senate President on the need to have a national conference that would however not be attached with the term “sovereign”?
I do not engage in semantics. The Sovereign National Conference which we envisage and which will come on stream is that which does not require the approval of the National Assembly. With or without the National Assembly, the national conference will come because we are talking about the sovereignty of the people. The present National Assembly is a product of a defective constitution. So, how can this National Assembly be the one to anoint or approve the Sovereign National Conference? Let your readers analyse this. The Sovereign National Conference is coming on stream with or without the National Assembly’s approval.