On Saturday 21st February 2015, Squib correspondent, Kunle Smith interviewed Adesina Ogunlana Esq., the national co-ordinator for Lawyers4Change on the emergence and activities of the group. Please read on.
SQUIB: MAY WE MEET YOU SIR?
OGUNLANA: My name is Adesina Ogunlana. I am a legal practitioner and was from 2012 – 2014 the 1st Vice Chairman Nigerian Bar Association Ikeja Branch. Presently I am the National Co-ordinator Lawyers4Change
SQUIB: SIR WHAT IS LAWYERS4CHANGE?
OGUNLANA: L4C is an association of legal practitioners who are concerned about the current political situation in our country. We identify participating individuals in the coming elections, whom we consider credible, who can add value to governance and then support them to win and after they have won monitor their activities in office so as to encourage their performance. L4C is specially identifying with Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN who is the vice presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The professor is well known to us as a decent, knowledgeable, industrious system builder and we witnessed his great achievements in the office of Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Lagos State between 1999 and 2007 and we believe he can deliver even at a higher level. That is why we are supporting him. He is our specific person of interest and because we are supporting him we are supporting the Buhari presidential ticket of cause we admire General Buhari too but we know Osinbajo better. The Professor is a gem. However we are not APC members. We are just an interest group. Our group is not an organ of the APC, so while we are political, we are not into party politics.
SQUIB: HOW DID LAWYERS4CHANGE COME INTO EXISTENCE?
OGUNLANA: The group actually started as a reaction to a particular development in the body politic of the country. You know the APC became the major opposition party in Nigeria upon the merger of the Congress for Progressive Change and the Action Congress of Nigeria. When this merger happened, the new born baby proved to be a behemoth. It was very large indeed and it became more formidable because for one reason or the other, big wigs who were disgruntled or dissatisfied with the ruling party the Peoples Democratic Party, started leaving that party for the APC. When the APC later held her primaries in December 2014, General Muhammadu Buhari won the presidential ticket and some days later the news came that a fairly unlikely choice in the person of Professor Yemi Osinbajo SAN had been picked as running mate to General Muhammadu Buhari. When we learnt of the selection of Professor Yemi Osinbajo as the vice presidential candidate of the APC we became elated. The first thing I did was to put a call across to Prof who is very well known to me.
I have known him now for upwards 23 years now, I first knew him as a teacher, he taught me Law of evidence in the year 1992 at the Lagos State University (LASU). I was the captain of the class and interacted with him a little more than most other class members because of my position. He struck me then as exceptionally cerebral, highly organized, gentle, accommodating, polished and humble. So humble indeed that he never called me Sina for many years but always 'Mr.Ogunlana' to the extent some of his staff in his Chambers thought I was a friend to him!
So when I put a call across to him and it was to pull his legs, I said something like, “you have to go out now oga and buy more agbadas because you will be needing them now” and he just laughed. Then I teased him further saying “but oga why were you wearing that child looks on the podium when your hands was raised up on the podium as the running mate to General Buhari”? Then he laughed again and said “Sina you know I am not used to that kind of a thing but went on to say something that touched me. He said “Shina I need your help, this is a very big opportunity for those of us who consider ourselves serious minded to work for the betterment of this country and do our best”. That really touched me because I know that he was stepping out of his comfort zone, he was stepping out of his safety zone. As we all know, politics in our country is played roughly, crudely, even violently. I remember that M.K.O. Abiola also stepped out of his comfort zone to play leadership politics in Nigeria but perished along the way. Professor Yemi Osinbajo is a successful and highly respected legal practitioner. He is comfortable, he may not be fabulously rich like the Dangotes, the Otedolas and the Adenugas but he is very far away from poverty.
I later put calls across to two of my friends Dare Akande and Dave Ajetomobi who are my longtime political associates in the Bar and discussed with them on the necessity for us and all those who believe in Professor Osinbajo to rally round him. My friends agreed with me and after three brainstorming sessions, we went to meet Professor Yemi Osinbajo and presented to him a position paper. The professor liked it.
After the meeting we invited three other lawyers to join us at the formative stage. They are Isa Mohammed Buhari, SOK Shillings and Yinka Farounbi. The six of us brainstormed more and together we agreed to have a meeting of the association of our contemplation. We invited 30 people to a meeting. The meeting held on January 2nd, 2015. Out of the 30 people invited, 26 people turned up and the rest is history.
SQUIB: WHAT ACHIEVEMENTS HAS L4C RECORDED SO FAR?
OGUNLANA: That may not be for me to say. I would rather want to comment on our efforts, it is for people to say what we have achieved. Our efforts are targeted at achieving our goal and our goal is to promote the Buhari/Osinbajo Presidential ticket in the public. Our method is to enlighten our people via direct social interactions while we work with the press to ensure maximum publicity of our efforts. That we have been doing. We have done about three press conferences, we have addressed lawyers’ gatherings, and we have been doing what we called Walk4Change at first, which has now become March4Change. On our campaigns we have distributed thousands of leaflets to members of the public in the natural habitat of streets, markets, shops, motor parks, homes, fields, yards, etc and in the process walking several kilometers. Thus we bring the gown to the town so to say, we bring our intellect to the grassroots and our people do give us respect saying “for lawyers to be doing this, to be out on the streets, they must know what they are doing”. We have campaigned in Lagos, Ibadan, Oshogbo, Ilorin, Abeokuta, Abuja and Ikorodu and we are still going to many other places in South West Nigeria. There is no place we have been that we met hostile reception. Generally, our message has been well received by people although there are some reservations on the part of a few. See; http://www.lawyers4change.blogspot.com
SQUIB: WHAT CHALLENGES HAS LAWYERS4CHANGE AS A GROUP ENCOUNTERD SO FAR?
OGUNLANA: As a group, the first challenge is the challenge of suspicion of our motive. Our critics claim without any proof that L4C was formed for pecuniary gains. They say, “you cannot be so organized and active except that politicians have given you a lot of money”. You know in this country, our successive rulers have corrupted the psyche of our people so badly, they don’t believe again that somebody can do something noble or patriotic without expecting a gain. When we go out canvassing and are distributing our pamphlets, you hear some people say “add money to the paper, after all you have been well paid to do this.”
Another challenge is the claim that we are working for the APC while masquerading as neutrals. They say our nomenclature tallies with the APCS’s slogan of “change” and so therefore we must be APC funded but this is not true. We are not members of the APC. I am the coordinator of L4C but I am not a member of the APC, likewise so many other members of L4C. I see propaganda at work but we are not deterred. Another challenge, and this is funny is the claim that L4C dragging the Nigerian Bar Association into partisan politics. How that is possible am yet to understand. The NBA is the umbrella body for all lawyers at the professional level. L4C is just a group with particular political orientation and beliefs and membership is free for those who share its beliefs. The focus and agenda of the two groups are clearly different. Instead of raising this type of curious allegations against us our friends who do not believe in our political agenda should go ahead and form their own groupings. For example they can set up 'Lawyers4Continuity' or 'Lawyers4Peace&Continuity' or even 'Lawyers4Nothing!'
SQUIB: HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO INTEREST LAWYERS IN JOINING YOUR GROUP GIVEN THE FACT THAT LAWYERS ARE KNOWN ELITES AND SOPHISTICATES AND MAY NOT BE INTERESTED IN ACTIVISIM?
OGUNLANA: What we have done is to provide leadership to our colleagues, to galvanize them to action. You cannot force a lawyer to do anything. Lawyers are perhaps the most difficult people in the world over to force to do anything. We first spoke to them about our ideas and programmes and they were persuaded. Our members have been working ardently with us showing great commitment. They are learning that there is much joy and sense of fulfillment in been interested in lawful efforts to make Nigeria a better place. At any rate it is the interest of legal practitioners as a class of professionals to ensure that democracy does not fail in Nigeria.
SQUIB: HOW ARE THE ACTIVITIES OF THE GROUP BEING FINANCED?
OGUNLANA: It is financed by donations, from people of goodwill. Some of them are not members of Lawyers4Change but they are lawyers. They give their widows mite and we have been carrying on with the little we have because our passion to succeed is so hot.
SQUIB: SIR, I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW THE MEMBERSHIP STRENGTH OF LAWYERS4CHANGE?
OGUNLANA: Let’s say about three hundred lawyers.
SQUIB: SIR, AFTER THE 2015 ELECTION WHAT NEXT FOR LAWYERS4CHANGE?
OGUNLANA: We shall turn into a watchdog, of our elected officials and their activities in government