Like her husband, Femi Falana, Mrs. Funmi Falana is a renowned lawyer and human rights activist. She is committed to the fight for the emancipation of women and children in the society.
In this interview with SAKIBU OLOKOJOBI, she speaks on how well she is giving back to the society by offering free services and help to the downtrodden or oppressed people.
She also speaks about how her family survived military dictatorship under the regimes of General Ibrahim Babangida and General Sani Abacha when her husband, along with others, battled to send the military back to the barracks.
Mrs. Falana, in addition, speaks about the romantic side of her husband as well as what it means to be the parent of popular artiste, Falz the Bahd Guy: Excerpts:
Your are the boss of the Consumers Rights Protection Agency in Lagos State. How well has the agency fared?
We are doing well. This is the first time we are implementing the law setting up the board. The law was promulgated in 2014 but until 2016 when we were inaugurated, it never took off. We are the pacesetters. We are doing well. Our activities include mediating between vendors and purchasers. We also try to give consumers’ rights education. We let people know what they are expected to get; we also try to sensitise the people because it is a new agency and most people don’t know we exist. So, what we do is to move round, send our monitoring team around to talk to people and sensitise them that they possess this right and that they can always approach us. If the services or the goods they pay for are below the required standards, they can approach us. We have various functions. We can apply to court for fines. When we give a compliance order and they refuse to comply, we can go to court, apply and the court can give fines, sanctions and even imprisonment. They can even seal off the company.
How many cases have you recorded since the agency started?
We have recorded a lot. Since we started, we have been able to prosecute 150 cases, including landlord-tenant cases; including electricity distribution and customer cases. Some had complained that they give them estimated bills and we were able to compel them to refund their money. We have 400 cases pending. People still come. We take online complaints, we take complaints in hard copies. Just get around to us and we listen to you.
Are people responding to you sensitisation?
Yes, they are. What we try to do now is get to the interior areas of the state like Epe, Ikorodu and so on. Those are the areas we need to touch. Those people do not know such things exist and they don’t even know their rights under the law. The inferior goods are always sold in those areas. So, we are looking at these areas.
Let’s move away from the official angle to the personal. What does it mean to be the wife of the renowned human rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana?
(Giggle) I feel… there is nothing special. I feel just like any other normal person. There is nothing special about being the wife of Mr. Falana. We’ve been around for a while. It is like asking him what it feels like to be the husband of Funmi Falana, in my own right (laughs).
I may need to ask him that when I meet him, then…
Your husband used to be moved from one prison to the other in the days of military dictatorship in Nigeria…
(Cuts in) Those were terrible days. They were the days my children were growing up; they were very traumatic years.
Yes, I like to know what the experience was indeed like at the time.
They were very traumatic experiences; they were very traumatic years. That is why I always tell people that we have paid our dues in this country. They were days that people would shut their doors against me just because I am a Falana. Landlords will not want us to live in their houses because they were afraid Babangida (military head of state at the time) would come and set their houses ablaze. I remember our landlord asked me to pack out because he didn’t want Babangida to set his house ablaze. He said, “this house that I built with my retirement benefit should not be burnt down by the government. Please, you have to leave.” My husband was in detention and I looked up and wept. I felt that was one of the people my husband was fighting for, and see what they are giving in return. When I told my husband, he said no, we should not see his action in that light, that the real masses, of course, appreciated his efforts.
How did you survive those years?
Like I said, they were very terrible years. God saw me through. There were days that we would want to go to bed, we would not be afraid of armed robbers but afraid of SSS because they might come in the middle of the night, breakdown the door and just take my husband away. There was a particular day they came in the middle of the night. They had come about a week earlier, they took him away and dumped him the bush. They took late Beko (Ransome-Kuti) as well and dumped him the bush. They turned around to say that they were not responsible. So, the next time they came, I did not allow them in. They knocked the gate – we were living with the masses at Ketu. At Ketu, the landlord chased us away from there (laughs). He said we were a security threat to the house. One day, they broke down his gate at 2.00 a.m. I shouted that I would not allow him to get out of the house. They said I was obstructing them and I said “Yes”. They said they would shoot me, I said “shoot me!” I didn’t allow him to go out. We were shouting across the window until it was 6.00 a.m. For four hours, we were engaging ourselves, shouting. So, by that time, the people around were already awake. I don’t know why they waited till that time. They pulled down the gate. When they pulled down the gate, I jumped out. Falz, my son that is singing now, was a baby. I strapped him to my back and shouted: “Neighbours come ooo! This people are here again ooo! Tomorrow, they will say they are not the one ooo!” Neighbours came out en masse. When the SSS guys saw the people coming out, they ran away (laughs heartily). They were afraid of mob action. The masses will appreciate the struggle, it is the elite that don’t appreciate our efforts. We were living with the masses. That was towards the tail end of Babangida’s government in 1990. They were afraid of mob action. They had guns, but how many people would they shoot. That is why I say, the masses can ask for their rights. There is power in unity. If it had been one or two people that came out, they would have threatened to shoot, but when they saw a crowd, they were afraid and ran away.
Against the background of the experience you spoke about, how would you describe the kind of freedom you now enjoy?
Yes, I tell people, we are enjoying freedom now. Whether this democracy is good or not, it is better than the military. At least, we have democratic structures in place, even if we don’t have genuine democratic values. Now, you can talk and nobody will arrest you; you can sleep and close your eyes. We are better now than the days of Babangida and the days of Abacha. I’m also glad to say that the name, Falana, that would shut doors against me in those days, opens doors for me now. That is life. The landlords that were chasing me out of their houses in those days, because they were afraid that their houses would be burnt down, when they see me now, they are usually quick to identify with me. That is life. People are quick to associate with us now. Then, they would shut doors at us. I thank God for that.
With Mr. Falana engaging in one struggle or the other with or without military dictatorship, many would wonder if he is romantic at all and you are in the best position to say…
(Cuts in): I don’t know what you mean by him being romantic or not, but of course he’s a man. And of course, he is a good father and a good husband if you care to know. He must be a loving father and a loving husband to be able to love the masses to the extent of fighting for them. I’m sure the people should know that. It is a person who has the love of the family that will have the love of the society. Charity begins at home.
What are the other sides of him that you feel is not known to the public?
He can be very emotional about… may be the public will know that. He is usually emotional when he finds somebody suffering. He can’t stand the sight of people suffering.
You read Physics. How did you catch the Law bug, so to speak? Is it because Mr. Falana is a lawyer?
No! I have also been involved in activism, but I noticed that I could touch more lives with the instrumentality of Law than Physics. That was why I decided to read Law several years ago.
What does it mean to be the mother of the popular artist, Falz the Bahd Guy?
There is nothing special about it. I give glory to God, I thank God for him, I thank God for my husband.
You didn’t like the fact that he was going into music initially.
I didn’t like the idea of going into music. He had been saying it and of course, it was a quarrel. I told him I didn’t send him abroad to read Music. He was able to persuade the dad; it took a long time to persuade me.
How do you feel at the end of the day?
We thank God.
What advice would you like to give, particularly to parents generally?
Not much except to implore parents to remember that the children of today will be the leaders and the adults of tomorrow. So, if we want a better tomorrow, we should give our children the best education and training now. It is necessary so that the generation to come can give us a better tomorrow.