Barrister Emmanuel Nwaghodoh, a well informed Human Rights Lawyer and quietly influential National Co-ordinator of newly formed organization- the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA)- a Lagos Based non-governmental and non-religious group, accepted to grant interview to Ika Weekly Newspapers recently. He had thought that the conversation will centre on the current environmental and political injustices in the country and what his organization is doing to right some of these wrongs.
But contrary to the expectation of Barr, Nwaghodoh, Jerome-Mario Utomi, Special Projects Officer, of Ika Weekly Newspaper, in the interview that lasted for over two hours, in Lagos, Nigeria, engaged him in a number of topical issues that ranges from needs to have the nation restructured, corruption fight in the country, solution to the Niger Delta degradation, Governor Okowa’s administration, 2023 elections and Delta state politics, and of course the Anioma nation’s cultural values and practices.
The stories are very refreshing and rich with information. It is a must read!
As National Coordinator of the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos Based non-governmental and non-religious group, your activities within the state speak volume and qualifies you as a public figure that needs no introduction, but for the benefits of our readers littered all over the world, kindly say some words to enable the audience understand more fully your background?
My name is Emmanuel Nwaghodoh, I attended the prestigious University of Benin where I obtained my LLB in 1998 and after my call to bar, I proceeded to Lagos to start my legal practice. The first 5 years of my practice was in the area of general practice working in some notable Law firms. Thereafter I got employed in a Non- governmental organization, the Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) based in Lagos. I worked in SERAC for more than 13 years before I left.
Barr, Nwaghodoh, without fear of contradiction, you are a lawyer of repute; so, tell us, what informed your choice of becoming a lawyer in the first place?
Interestingly, I grew up abhorring injustice. I grew up in a family where fighting is strongly frowned at by my parents and it attracts serious punishment but I will always dare the consequences when I perceive that injustice took place or was about to take place. I will feel fulfilled whenever an injustice is redressed and this continued till I left the secondary school and proceeded to Lagos to look for a white collar job while also preparing to further my education. I got a job in a small factory as a store keeper and one day we came to the factory and discovered that thieves broke into the factory the previous night and carted away goods belonging to the Company. Few days later we were all invited to SCID Panti, Yaba, Lagos for interrogation. We were detained and locked up in the cell. The inmates some of whom were notorious criminals gave us the beating of our lives. As a young man who had just left the secondary school to come to the city for greener pasture, I cried, lamented and there and then made up my mind to become a Lawyer so that I will be in a position to defend myself and others.
Why is human right work/activism, why not core litigation, corporate maritime or property where people believe the money is? Again, our readers would like to understand the difference as well as the relationship between a lawyer and a human rights activist
In my earlier comment I made mention of the fact that my first 5 years of Legal practice was in general practice and this I mean working in Law offices where all nature of litigation and practices are done. As time goes on, one begins to find fulfillment in a particular area of Legal Practice. The fulfillment I get in defending the vulnerable in the society has always been my motivation.
As for the difference between a Lawyer and a Human Right Activist, one can be a Human Right Activist without necessarily being a Lawyer. Many of the world known activists are non-lawyers. So many Lawyers especially the conservative ones cannot be human rights activists. To be an activist you must have passion and love to address injustice and human right abuses.
‘To be an activist, you must have passion and love to address injustice and human right abuses’
On the other hand, there exists a relationship between a Lawyer and a Human Rights Activist; both are working towards addressing injustice.
Now, let’s talk about SEJA. Kindly tell us, what is the organization all about SEJA, its objectives and activities?
SEJA (Social and Economic Justice Advocacy) is a non-political, non-religious, not for profit and non-governmental organization based in Lagos; formed by three Lawyers with the general aim of addressing human right challenges and particularly Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR). Its main focus are in the areas of right to housing, health, healthy environment, education, child’ s right Corruption and Youths empowerment.
Barr, Nwaghodoh, you made mention of environmental justice, yet the impact of your group have not been felt in the state (Delta) despite the state being a location with high level of environmental injustices? Coupled with the fact that you and other stakeholders are from the state? What is the challenge?
A journey of one million miles starts with a step. SEJA is a new organization and is not expected to be seen everywhere. Our aim is to consolidate in Lagos and then begin to extend our tentacles to other parts of the Country where our presence is needed. The environmental right violations have been an ongoing violation in the Niger Delta region of this Country and we are not oblivious of that. Many Human Rights organizations both national and international have in one way and the other tried to address the issues but the challenges still persists, don’t forget the celebrated SERAC vs. Nigeria Case popularly referred to as the Ogoni case. SEJA will definitely play its role not because the founders are from that region, but because human life and human dignity are involved. The major challenge the organization is facing is funding. Human Right work is not about sharing one item or the other to the affected. That is good but it goes beyond that, it’s about addressing the root of the violation through advocacy, education, collaboration with all stake holders and in some instances holding the perpetrators accountable for their actions or inactions.
What is the organization doing about the demolition of the so-called shanties and illegal structures in the Delta state capital? Is there any current move to forestall future occurrences?
The major problem facing human rights organization is that state authorities see them as clogs in their wheel of progress. Any time State action is questioned by a Human Right organization, the State will respond negatively or evasively. The demolitions in Asaba Capital Territory have been condemned by SEJA. We are not opposed to developing a State capital that is ecstatic and devoid of slumps and shanties but it is our position that it must have a human face and backed by an order of Court of competent jurisdiction. If the state argues that certain individuals have violated the Town planning Law of the Capital territory, then the State will take the said violators to court and obtain an order to remove the structures. The State cannot be the investigator, prosecutor, a party and Judge in their own case.
Barr, Nwaghodoh, your Group recently praised the Lagos state government’s handling of the Corona Virus crisis in the state. What is your assessment of other state government’s efforts and particularly Delta state and that of the Federal Government?
Specifically, what is your personal impression concerning the much talked about Corona virus? The orchestrated palliatives (Food Bank) by the State Government? Has the government (both State and Federal) been fair to the people?
There have been reports of efforts made by State Governments even though those efforts are coming rather late. There were also reports of some States that their Governors appeared nonchalant towards the whole issue even in the face of the ravaging nature of the coronavirus pandemic. In the case of Delta State I think the Governor and his teams have not done badly particularly in the area of preventing interstate travelling. I think that measure is a strong tool in curtailing the spread of the disease in the State. The Federal Government has a lot of work to do in the area of support and coordination.
In recent times, you always comment on activities of the government particularly at the State levels. Tell us, are you a politician?
As a human right group or individual, your area of focus should be on the activities of the State to see how their actions impede on the rights and wellbeing of the citizens. With this, it becomes easier to commend, criticize or suggest to them possible ways of improving on the welfare of the people.
On whether I am a politician the answer is simply no.
Barr, Nwaghodoh, in view of your above response, why not? Are you seeking any elective position come 2023?
The Nigerian political climate is still very hazy and I think I need to get back to school to understudy the type of politics we play. There is no plan for 2023.
Do you think PDP is prepared to bounce back to power at the federal level, especially the Presidency in 2023?
I am not in PDP caucus to be able to assess their level of preparedness towards 2023 and in the real sense of it; it is Nigerians that will determine the party that should form the Government at the Federal level come 2023.
Barr, Nwaghodoh, how would you evaluate the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s led administration?
The administration of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has scored some good marks in certain areas of life. The administration has done well in the provision of roads and in education and there are still rooms for improvement. However in the areas of employment, security and industrialization not much has been achieved.
As you are well aware, the state has the Delta State Capital Development Agency, there is also the Warri/Uwie Development Agency, and the people of coastal region of the state clamouring for the Coastal Area Development Agency (CADA). Do you think that the Delta State Capital Development Agency is serving the interest of Anioma people or should Ndi Anioma clamour for the creation of Anioma Area Development Agency?
Does the State need all these agencies to bring development to the people? Personally I do not think so. Over the years, experience has shown that the more of these agencies you create the more overhead cost you incur in running them. The resources meant for development will now be channeled in maintaining offices and paying staff.
The nation is facing a lot of security challenges now, what would you proffer as solution to the security threats in the country?
It shows that the existing security apparatus in place is no longer effective. It has become impossible for one man to stay in Abuja and be handing down directives on security issues from there. There is urgent need to decentralize security matter.
Barr, Nwaghodoh, stakeholders are calling for regional outfits as a way forward while others are saying true federalism. What are your thoughts on this?
Whatever nomenclature stakeholders are using to describe it, it is the same. Whether it is regional outfit or federalism, it all boils down to decentralization of power. It will be more effective if security issues are handled by smaller federating units.
‘It will be more effective if security issues are handled by smaller federating units’
Is there anything wrong with the Nigerian nation?
Yes, there are so many things wrong with the nation Nigeria. From the Period of amalgamation to Independence and up till now, it has always been a marriage of strange bed fellows and having a batched up affairs.
Barr, Nwaghodoh, can you let us know your position on restructuring?
This word restructuring has been given different interpretations by different people and interest groups. This is not my worry. My worry is that there are fundamental questions that need to be answered before we can begin to talk about restructuring or other suggestions. Nigeria has existed for over hundred years I mean from the time of amalgamation in 1914 till date and surprisingly we still do not understand ourselves. It means that there is something fundamentally wrong in the union. What I will say now might sound strange or seem impossible but it is the key to our continuous existence as a nation. All the amalgamated nations should come to a round table and have useful discussions on the way forward.
What are the issues?
Flowing from the above, the following issues or questions need to be addressed. Having stayed together for over a hundred years, how well have we fared? Are we ready to continue with the union? If the answer is yes, under what arrangement are we to continue? I think it is at this point that the issue of restructuring or not should come up and from there we will get it right. My fear is that none of our past and present leaders have mustered the political will to venture into this delicate issue.
There is so much corruption in the country. Does it worry you?
It worries me but it is not surprising to me. Do you know why? Because most Nigerian political office holders, the political class, civil servants and even our business class have the mindset that we are not one so everyone is struggling to grab whatever he or she can lay his hands on. If we have the mindset that we are one, people will not be engaging in all sorts of corrupt activities. For example, if we think we are one, you cannot steal what belongs to you.
Barr, Nwaghodoh, you exude great knowledge about Anioma history and culture. Ndi Anioma would like to know the Anioma cultural practices that you cherish so much and would not like to fade away? Please be explicit.
You really want to bring me back home. I am a lover of culture and I love the culture of Anioma people. Aniomas are decent, peace-loving and hardworking people. Their dressing, food and dance among others distinguish them from others. It is disheartening to discover that modernity is negatively affecting Anioma dialects and names. Most parents are no longer teaching their children their dialects and some have even stopped giving native names to their children all in the guise of embracing modernization and Christianity. To me, name and language are the commonest means of identity and once they are lost, then the individual or tribe ceases to exist. Anioma names are powerful and are usually associated with events. It is common these days to meet an Anioma child bearing names like Sunday Michael, Anthony Favour, Charity John and so on and you begin to imagine where the person is from. It has gone so bad that even when they are given native names, the children refuse to bear the names, and cannot pronounce their native names.
‘Anioma names are powerful and are usually associated with events’.
Barr, Nwaghodoh Sir, your final message for Anioma people particularly our youths
To all Aniomas and particularly our youths, do not let the labour of our heroes past be in vain. Avoid criminalities and avoid short cuts, then embrace handwork and creativity.
INTERVIEWER: JEROME-MARIO UTOMI