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Saturday, 14 September 2013

Tension Between Lagos Civil Society Groups As Associates Of Booed Commissioner Threaten Lawsuit

Kayode Opeifa

A rift appears imminent between several civil society organizations in Lagos State after a group of three activist groups threatened to fight on behalf of Kayode Opeifa, the Lagos State Transportation Commissioner, who was booed out of an event on September 5 commemorating the life and work of the late Gani Fawehinmi.
On Wednesday, the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR), Civil Liberty Organization (CLO) and an unknown National Youth Council of Nigeria held a press conference in Lagos to condemn the embarrassing eviction of Mr. Opeifa from the memorial event to honor Mr. Fawehinmi. The three groups suggested their readiness to pursue punitive action against Mr. Opeifa’s evictors.
Two events, one in the morning, the other in the evening, were held on September 5, 2013 to celebrate Mr. Fawehinmi’s irrepressible legal and social advocacy for the rights of poor people. The morning event was a public lecture while the evening event was a special one to which the organizers had invited, among others, former Petroleum Minister Tam David-West, former Commissioner for Environment in Lagos State, Muiz Banire, and the current local council chairman of Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area, Ayo Adewale.
The Gani Fawehinmi Memorial Organization (GAFAMORG), which organized the event, clarified that the public officials invited to it were associates of the late lawyer and activist. They also explained that Mr. Opeifa, who strayed into the evening segment, came without invitation. He was subsequently jeered and booed and forced to leave after the organizers revealed that he was not a guest.
“Muiz Banire initiated the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park in Ojota, and he was an intern at the Gani Fawehinmi Chambers,” said Ayodele Akele, one of the organizers. Mr. Akele also denied the accusation that he invited the chairman of Amuwo Odofin council, Mr. Adewale, for financial reasons. He disclosed that Mr. Fawehinmi mentored the local government boss while he was a students’ leader at the Lagos State University (LASU).
But the three pro-Opeifa groups questioned the exclusion of the Transportation Commissioner, and threatened to ensure that those who evicted him would be punished. A leader in the Lagos State chapter of the CDHR, Mr. Isiak Buna, said the group’s legal unit was weighing the filing of legal action against Mr. Opeifa’s evictors.
A source told SaharaReporters that Mr. Opeifa, who is rumored to be interested in running for the governorship of Lagos State in 2015, had sent one of his aides to survey the venue before he appeared. “We saw one Mr. Nelson, known to be one of his ‘boys’, come to the venue and then leave moments later,” said the source. He added: “Nelson reappeared afterwards with Mr. Opeifa and we could connect the lines.”
Some civil society groups told SaharaReporters that they were not surprised at the action of the pro-Opeifa groups. “Many of the leaders of the three groups are known to be protégés of the commissioner,” said one source. Mr. Opeifa was a chairman of the CDHR in Lagos State before he joined the cabinet of Governor Babatunde Fashola.
“Comrade Kayode Opeifa has a very clear progressive history as an activist lecturer at the Lagos State University and a former Chairman of the Lagos State Chapter of Committee for the Defense of Human Rights,” said the groups sympathetic to him. They added: “He was a friend o [the] late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, [the] late Chima Ubani. He was the only cabinet member in Lagos State that came to bail out the activists when the federal police arrested members of the Joint Action Front, Muhammed Fawehinmi and his mother, Mrs. Ganiat Fawehinmi, during the protest to commemorate the killings of the protesters during the struggle against fuel subsidy withdrawal.”
But other activists in Lagos have condemned the three groups’ hasty defense of Mr. Opeifa. “We shall make our own position known in [a] few days,” a spokesman of one of the Lagos-based groups told Saharareporters.
Another activist accused the three groups of seeking to obtain money from Mr. Opeifa by offering to host a press conference and sue on his behalf. As he was being evicted, Mr. Opeifa had threatened to sue his evictors. “But out of zealousness, the three groups have requested that he allow them to institute the action on his behalf,” one activist lawyer said.  “It is curious that elements in the so called civil society are being so emotional about this when it has to do with a commissioner. If not for their pecuniary motive, why are they crying more than the bereaved?” he asked. He added: “When have they called a [press] conference like this one to address burning issues in Nigeria—education crisis, transportation hassles, deportation and other issues? Are those not human right issues that needed be defended by them? Have they called [press] conferences on those and have they sued Governor Fashola over deportation?”
“It is very good this is happening. It guides us to know those who are genuine from those who are only out to serve their pockets by establishing civil society organizations,” said a student who participated in organizing the September 5 event.
In a curious development, the third pro-Opeifa group, National Youths Council of Nigeria, is reportedly led by one Mr. Gbadebo popularly known as F.I.G., a personal assistant to Mr. Opeifa. An activist alleged that Mr. Opeifa bankrolled the three groups’ press conference through his aide, Mr. Gbadebo, alias F.I.G. The group reportedly sent a deceptive text message to its unit members to attend the press conference, asking each unit to provide N1000 for “mobilization.”
Saharareporters obtained a text message sent out by the CDHR to its members. It read:
“CDHR/CLO holds a press conference to condemn the assault on COMR. KAYODE OPEIFA. Every unit is expected to come with N1000 as mobilization towards the struggle, at CDHR OFFICE, IKEJA on Wednesday 11/09/13 by 9.00 a.m. Tnx Comr. Deji for CDHR.”
“The sms stated that CDHR and CLO planned the conference,” an activist stated. He added: “How Mr. Gbadebo National Youths Council of Nigeria came later into the organizing made it further clear that the whole charade was bankrolled by Opeifa.”


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