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DEJI ADEYANJU SPEAKS WITH GLOBAL EXCELLENCE: Why Nigerians Can’t Protest Against Bad Government Despite Hardship and Oppression

On: May 28, 2024 - In: News - No comments


DEJI ADEYANJU SPEAKS WITH GLOBAL EXCELLENCE: Why Nigerians Can’t Protest Against Bad Government Despite Hardship and Oppression



One of the qualities of a human rights lawyer is to help force into operation a transformative change; one that reallocates power toward the oppressed, enables the dismantling of systems of oppression and replaces them with structures that meet collective needs. One of such is Adeyanju Deji, a human rights advocate, with a noticeable impact on the growth and freedom of society, ensuring that the justice system serves justice.


The convener of Concerned Nigerians, who holds a first class in Law and Legal Studies from Baze University, Abuja, spoke virtually to the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, about his life and career journeys, and state of the nation. Excerpts…



Barr. Adeyanju Deji

What difference does it make being a human rights activist without being a lawyer?


Well, being a human rights activist without being a lawyer can still be highly impactful, but there are some important differences to consider.


One key advantage lawyers bring is a deep understanding of the legal system and the ability to leverage it effectively. Lawyers have specialized knowledge of human rights laws, treaties, court procedures, and legal strategies that can be invaluable in advocating for change. They can file lawsuits, represent victims in court, and use the law as a tool to enact reforms and hold violators accountable.


However, this legal expertise is not the only path to effective human rights activism. Many of the most influential activists throughout history have not been lawyers. Their power has come from moral authority, grassroots organizing, political pressure, media campaigns, and direct action. These activists have been able to raise awareness, mobilize communities, and exert public and political influence even without formal legal training.


The passion, commitment and vision that drive a person to become a human rights activist are often more important than their professional background. Passionate non-lawyers can play important roles in documenting abuses, amplifying victim’s voices, protesting injustices, and pushing for policy changes. Their community ties, cultural knowledge, and personal experiences with oppression can make them highly effective advocates.


Ultimately, both lawyers and non-lawyers have important and complementary roles to play in the human rights movement. The most impactful activists often leverage a combination of legal expertise and grassroots organizing. But the dedication to justice and the willingness to fight for it are the true prerequisites, regardless of one’s professional qualifications.


Why does a section of the public think that going to prison for fighting a cause is one of the qualifications needed for an activist to be recognized?


The idea that going to prison is a qualification or badge of honor for an activist is a misguided notion. While it’s true that many prominent activists throughout history have faced imprisonment for their work, this is not a requirement or guarantee of one’s commitment or effectiveness as an activist.


I understand that Activists who go to prison tend to gain elevated public profiles and sympathy, as their willingness to sacrifice their freedom for a cause can make them appear more principled and courageous. This visibility can inadvertently create the impression that imprisonment is a necessary step for activists.


Many revered activists like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi did experience imprisonment as a result of their activism. This has created a perception that incarceration is a common, if not expected, part of an activist’s journey.


There is sometimes a romanticized view of activists as heroic, defiant figures willing to face the harsh consequences of challenging injustice. This can lead to an overemphasis on the sacrificial aspects of activism, like imprisonment, rather than the actual outcomes and impacts.


However, the reality is that effective activism takes many forms. Some activists are able to enact change through nonviolent protest, lobbying, legal challenges, and other means without ever being imprisoned. The ability to sustain long-term advocacy and achieve tangible results is ultimately a more important measure of an activist’s value than having a prison record.


Tell us about your detention experiences and how the outcomes influenced your passion for the human rights struggle.


I was imprisoned at different points, and each incarceration came with its own challenges and experiences. However, I never allowed my spirit to be dampened or regretted my actions. The times that stood out most were my stints at Keffi Prison and Kano Prison.


At Keffi, I was able to positively impact the lives of my fellow inmates in various ways. This included buying them toiletries and food for their cells. The visitors who came to see me were also able to provide assistance to the inmates.


In Kano, I organized football matches for the prisoners, with the winners receiving prizes. Many of them felt happy and alive again after these events. I also recall an instance where an inmate was gravely ill, on the verge of death. I helped secure him proper medical care, which saved his life. Additionally, a friend of mine donated two cows to the prison during Christmas while I was serving there. Seeing the joy and merriment on the inmates’ faces as they ate and celebrated was deeply satisfying and fulfilling for me.


You’re a prominent feature in the push for positive change in Nigeria. With the public reluctance to rise up in support, are you disturbed the country may not experience the desired change anytime soon?


If I had relied on Nigerians to come out en masse for protest, the little I have been able to do, I wouldn’t have done. Nigerians are inherently docile. However, I understand the complexities involved and the understandable public reluctance to take to the streets in protest.


It’s true that Nigerians have endured significant hardships and oppression over the years, which has understandably led to a sense of resignation and passivity in the face of entrenched systemic issues. The public’s hesitance to mobilize en masse is not surprising given the risks and lack of tangible results from past protest movements.


However, I believe that sustainable change ultimately requires the active engagement and determined efforts of the citizenry. While progress may not happen as swiftly as one might hope, I believe the desire for a better Nigeria burns strongly within the hearts of many, even if they feel powerless to take action.


The path forward lies in building a critical mass of engaged, informed, and empowered citizens who are willing to participate in the democratic process, hold leaders accountable, and work collectively towards a shared vision of progress. This may involve grassroots organizing, voter education, and the emergence of new political movements and leaders committed to meaningful reform.


It’s important to recognize that the struggle for positive change is a long-term endeavor, and setbacks and disappointments are inevitable. But with persistence, vision, and a steadfast commitment to the greater good, I believe the Nigerian people can overcome the obstacles and achieve the transformative change the country so desperately needs.


The road ahead is challenging, but not insurmountable. I believe Nigeria can indeed experience the desired change, even if it takes time and sustained effort. The key is to maintain hope, resilience, and a steadfast belief in the power of the people to shape their own destiny.


It is believed that the major challenges to peace and unity among Nigerians are ethnic and religious differences. What is your honest view of this narrative?


It is true that Nigeria’s diversity, with over 250 ethnic groups and a roughly equal Muslim-Christian population, has at times been a source of tension and division. The political elite have at times exploited these differences for their own gain, using divisive rhetoric and policies that appeal to narrow ethnic or religious interests rather than the broader national interest.


However, the reality is more complicated. For much of Nigeria’s history, people of different ethnicities and faiths have coexisted peacefully and even intermarried, with a shared national identity. The challenges facing Nigeria, such as poverty, corruption, insecurity, and poor governance, often have deeper structural and systemic roots that transcend ethnic and religious lines.


Many observers argue that the political class, regardless of their personal ethnic or religious background, have all too often prioritized their own narrow interests over the common good. Clientelism, patronage politics, and the winner-take-all nature of Nigerian politics have incentivized politicians to mobilize their “own” ethnic or religious groups rather than build broad-based, inclusive coalitions.


At the same time, grassroots efforts by civil society, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens to promote interfaith dialogue, tolerance, and national unity have often been overlooked. There are also many examples of Nigerians of different backgrounds working together on shared economic, social, and development challenges.


Ultimately, while ethnic and religious differences should not be dismissed, they are not the sole or even the primary driver of Nigeria’s challenges. Addressing the deeper systemic issues of corruption, inequality, and poor governance is crucial for building a more peaceful and united Nigeria. This will require political will, inclusive institution-building, and a recommitment to the country’s founding principles of diversity and national cohesion.


Tell us about your school days. Was it your passion for social activism as a student that encouraged you to become what you are today or due to an experience you encountered?


My passion has always been for a just and equitable society – one where every citizen can live and pursue legitimate business without fear of discrimination. I envision a society with a more equal distribution of wealth, rather than one where a small political elite siphon off our shared national resources.



Activism to some people is all about fights and arguments; share with us your soft side as simply Adeyanju Deji.


As Adeyanju Deji, I see activism as much more than just fighting and arguing. At its core, I believe activism is about advocating for positive change and holding those in power accountable – not through confrontation for the sake of confrontation, but through principled, well-reasoned arguments grounded in the rule of law and the pursuit of justice.


It’s true that at times, activism may involve challenging the government or those in authority when they are not acting in the best interests of the people. But I don’t see that as an adversarial relationship – it’s more about fulfilling our civic duty to speak up and demand that our leaders do what is right. When the government acts justly and in accordance with the law, we absolutely should commend and support them. But when they fall short, we have an obligation to call that out, not to massage egos but to push for real, meaningful change.


The “soft side” of activism, if you will, is the emphasis on rational dialogue, careful research, and constructive problem-solving. It’s about bringing people together around shared values and working collaboratively to find solutions, rather than just fighting for the sake of fighting. Activism at its best is about appealing to people’s conscience and sense of what is moral and ethical, not just their political allegiances.


Of course, there are times when more confrontational tactics may be necessary – civil disobedience, protests, and so on. But I believe these should always be a last resort, when all other avenues for change have been exhausted. The real power of activism lies in its ability to persuade and inspire, to shift hearts and minds through the force of moral clarity and unwavering commitment to the truth.


So while activism may sometimes involve tough battles, I see it as a fundamentally positive and constructive endeavor, one that is rooted in a deep love for our nation and a steadfast belief in the possibility of a more just, equitable, and compassionate society. That is the essence of my “soft side” as Adeyanju Deji – a commitment to reason, empathy, and the transformative power of nonviolent social change.


You often get criticized and labelled unpatriotic for doubting the federal government’s concept about Dollar/Naira valuation. Would you like to share your perspective on the subject and your idea of a way forward?


Those who call me unpatriotic are not in touch with reality and are simply defending every nonsensical action of the government. Their opinions about me are inconsequential. Have I not told Nigerians that the government is clueless about the economy, and have those predictions not turned out to be true? The government has not taken any meaningful steps to demonstrate that they are serious about growing the economy, so why should I be optimistic that they will effectively address the current economic challenges facing the country?


These tax collectors have proven incapable of growing the economy. As long as Customs keeps increasing duties on imported goods, inflation will continue to skyrocket. This government has, on multiple occasions, raised interest rates, yet inflation has refused to subside. This suggests that the government’s economic policies are fundamentally flawed and ineffective.


In my view, this is the most clueless and incompetent government Nigeria has ever had. Their inability to implement sound economic policies that spur growth and rein in runaway inflation is extremely concerning for the well-being of the Nigerian people. Rather than simply defending the government’s actions, those calling me unpatriotic would do well to acknowledge the reality of the government’s failures and demand accountability and better solutions.


How do you find time to relax with family between your tight schedules and what locations within and outside Nigeria do you enjoy vacationing?


I am a proud countryman. (Laughs). I cannot even recall the last time I traveled. My connection to the land is deeply embedded in who I am.


I take my work-life balance very seriously. When I am not at the office fulfilling my professional duties, I much prefer to be at home with my family, resting and recharging. The daily grind of urban life can be overwhelming, so I cherish the time I get to spend in the comforts of my own home, surrounded by my loved ones.


I find great joy and fulfillment in the simple pleasures of living. The hustle and bustle of the city holds little appeal for me. I am content to live a modest, uncomplicated life centered around my work, my family, and my connection to the land.


While some may view my lifestyle as old-fashioned or out of touch, I take pride in my identity as a countryman.


How would you honestly assess Tinubu’s one year administration and do you see the next three years of him in power transforming the country?


In the first year, Tinubu has certainly faced significant challenges in steering the country amid a number of crises inherited from the previous administration. However,


President Tinubu and all the people he surrounds himself with are clueless, and I don’t see the country changing anytime soon. None of their policies have worked, and I don’t think any will work. They are more interested in looting than actual work in transforming the country. What most of them are so interested in is the politics of 2027 and not governance. The cost of governance is at an all-time high, businesses are folding up, unemployment is on the rise, and insecurity is prevalent across the country. Inflation is almost 40%, and investors are losing confidence in the country, diverting their investments to other serious African countries.


Nigeria, in my opinion, urgently needs a national conversation on the way forward for the country. We cannot continue like this.


Regarding the next three years, it’s difficult to predict with certainty how the country will transform under Tinubu’s continued leadership. A lot will depend on the administration’s ability to build consensus, effectively implement its policies, and respond to emerging crises. It’s important that the government prioritizes inclusive economic development, job creation, and improving the delivery of public services. Addressing the root causes of insecurity, such as poverty, inequality, and lack of economic opportunities, will also be essential.


Ultimately, the success or failure of Tinubu’s administration will be judged by its tangible impact on the lives of ordinary Nigerians.



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