Culled from Punchng.com
The National Legal Adviser of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Dr. Muiz Banire, in this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, speaks on the issues of lack of internal democracy in the party, the performance of the incumbent government so far and why he seems to hold a different view from the majority in the party
Your party made a mockery of internal democracy at the recently held local government primary election in Lagos State, by trying to impose candidates. Was that the decision at the national level or the electoral committee and the state chapter acted alone?
As far as I’m concerned, there was no primary election, because the election didn’t take place at all. That is my own position, from my vantage position, from my observation and from the point of law. There was no primary, so nothing happened on that day.
But the drama at the Teslim Balogun Stadium that day was as a result of your primary election that was to hold.
That must have just been an assemblage of human beings, the purpose of which I wouldn’t know, but certainly not for primaries. My own view is clear, which is nothing personal. Our constitution is very clear on the way to go about it. If you look at Article 20 of our (APC) constitution, it says a lot about the procedure for nomination of candidates at all levels, from councillorship to the President and that is what must be followed. That has been my own position from time immemorial. If you recall the run-up to the primaries for the governorship election in 2014, that was the same posture I maintained, and all over the nation up till today, I maintain the same posture. The good news is that the Supreme Court in Nigeria has consistently been telling us its position that people must comply with the party’s constitution. That is why I always counsel to avoid this pitfall, and it is not peculiar to Lagos alone. So, for me, it’s nothing personal and what the constitution requires is not optional.
We have reports that high-ranking members of your party who should know what the law requires are guilty of that attempt to impose candidates on the people. For example, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was said to have reeled out those names even before the election. Is that the kind of practice APC wants to be known for?
Let me tell you my understanding. People said to me that Asiwaju had earlier announced some 18 candidates for chairmen. Even at that, I said he must have been misquoted because there is a difference between endorsement and nomination. They are two different things. I reserve the right to endorse anybody, but when it comes to elections, then I don’t have the right of imposition. So, I told them clearly that they must have been misquoting him because he (Asiwaju) certainly has a right to preference.
He wouldn’t have been misquoted because it was the names that were mentioned that were eventually announced as the candidates.
I heard he said 18, but what happened covered the entire state. Then, you yourself must have seen that the process was hijacked.
Can we say it was hijacked, when members of the party waiting to vote simply resisted imposition?
Let me tell you, there are so many godfathers, for selfish reasons, all about bread and butter and it is not in APC alone. It’s in all political parties and that is the essence of having a constitution because the tendency of every human being is to be domineering. It’s innate in us and that is why we agree as members of the same club to say we must have rules and regulations that would bind us and regulate our affairs. And having subscribed to it, then, you are bound by it. The APC is a bigger party, unlike AD, AC, ACN, etc. It’s a conglomeration of several interests and that is why for you not to have an implosion, you must consistently be bound by the rules and regulations.
But there is currently an implosion because some of the aspirants described the Lagos APC as undemocratic and fraudulent. Are those not clear signals?
They are signals. Personally, I think I owe it as a duty as the custodian of the APC constitution to ensure it does not happen. That is why I kept on saying and warning every day that don’t do this thing, do the right and proper thing. If we all agree that all these people are our party members, why discriminate against them. Allow all of them a level-playing ground. Whoever emerges is an APC candidate; simple and straightforward. Are the governor, the President and many others not proud that they went through the primaries before the 2015 election? In fact, part of what put our party on global map today was the presidential primary election we had; that everybody saw and witnessed it. We will not give up because we know it’s not easy for people to change.
One would expect that, as the National Legal Adviser, you would have advised them against that decision, because the imposition was already a matter of discourse before the day of the primary?
Yes, you’re right. That wasn’t our consensus when I attended their meeting. The meeting we had with all the local government officials, the stakeholders and the state executive, I was there and I advised them. They were very happy, they all subscribed to everything in the constitution. In fact, I was very proud of them that day, just for them to somersault suddenly because we had some scavengers who were able to profit from the venture; because people were just selling the party ticket all over the whole place. That was the problem. So, in order for me not to be guilty of standing by, that was why I even had to write them to say I heard something, please do not allow it to happen, follow the constitution.
Those who masterminded the charade are senior party men, like the party chairman in the state, Chief Henry Ajomale and Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, who have tried to defend their action.
Well, I do not even see Afikuyomi as a senior party man; he’s just like any other party member in Lagos. He doesn’t hold any position in the party, and being the chairman of the electoral committee was only a transient thing. Several of them we appoint every day. Some mess themselves up and some will perform creditably and commendably.
In that duty, has he performed creditably?
As far as I’m concerned, he has not even done it or discharged the responsibility.
But he read the pre-selected names, which is part of his responsibility as the chairman of the electoral committee.
He announced names of people he felt that he wanted. As a person, did you witness any primary? Nomination presupposes voting, and was there any voting? Up till now, there was no voting and there must be. If any other person who succeeds me decides to introduce anarchy, so be it, but while I’m still there, I will ensure that the proper thing is done.
It seems criminal to sell forms to aspirants and still want to impose people on them. Is the party going to refund them?
It’s not even a matter of refunding them, it’s about allowing internal democracy to prevail in the party. People tend to trivialise this issue but it’s an issue that I’ve signed into. There has been several intimidation, harassment and deprivation every day, but I’m not bothered. As far as I’m concerned, all those issues won’t work for me, because my religion preaches dying for what is just and proper. For me, I suffer it every day, from the security agents to government and people all over; that I’m their stumbling block, but I’m nobody’s stumbling block. I only believe that proper things must be done.
Will the party now hold another primary?
It’s not my role to organise primary, as the National Legal Adviser. It’s for the state to do the right thing, subject to guidelines from the national.
The national chairman of your party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, has not said anything on this matter, and some would think it is because of the issue he had with Tinubu that he chose to stay off Lagos matters?
For me too, it’s a possibility. I would reckon the same way, but I don’t know the reason why a pronouncement has not been made, which is allowing court action to fester. My expectation is that the Vice Chairman, South West, Chief Pius Akinyelure, the Deputy National Chairman, South, Mr. Segun Oni, and others should have intervened. Look at cries all over and the way the thing disparaged the party all over. They should have called a meeting urgently on the issue. That’s my expectation because I’m from this state and I don’t want to push anybody. In other states, ask them at the national, I would trigger the process and force the meeting on.
But should you fold your arms in your own state?
The assumption would be that I’m biased and that’s why I’m distancing myself from it a bit. But I know that the way things are going, they themselves would wake up shortly.
Now that election is fast approaching and another date has not been announced for the primary, what if the party goes ahead with those names. What will happen?
Nothing will happen if no aspirant challenges the party. Some have challenged them, my own role is to go and defend. And I’ve told them I will not lie. I’m a very senior member of the bar. I’m a bencher and a senior advocate, so you won’t expect me to go to court and say we did primary where we did not. Of course, I will submit to judgment. It has happened before, where we submitted to judgement. In such cases, I would simply tell the court that My Lord, they did not follow our constitution. So, if anybody goes to court and the matter is to be defended, we will go to court and tell the truth. I will never lie in court to protect party and I often tell our party people not to put us in a position where they would expect us in the legal department to lie, because we won’t.
Also, governors, those under your platform inclusive, find it difficult to conduct local government election. Is it that you don’t advise them?
Well, again, I have advised them on that. That is why most of the states are doing it now. One charlatan recently placed an advert in your newspaper referring to it that I had the effrontery to ask the governor why he appointed sole administrators. It’s my duty to tell anybody. Those are the people that mislead them. In fact, one must commend the governor for saying okay let’s conduct the election. Look at Osun State, it has not conducted election for almost seven years, which is unfortunate and absurd. It’s an impeachable offence. The constitution says no local government must be run by any less than democratically elected leaders. The Supreme Court has pronounced it in Imo and Ekiti states condemning it and I’m sure the apex court would be excited dealing with such issues now because they have made several pronouncements condemning that practice. No governor can substitute his own opinion of what true federalism is for the position of the law, which is clear. My expectation is that people themselves should wake up. Nigerians should wake up.
If refusal to conduct that election is an impeachable offence, and given the quietness across the board, would you say Nigerians are docile?
Extremely docile. I’ve never seen this kind of people in my life. I must confess to you, ha! I get frustrated. At times, when some people decide and say let me take their battle on, what do you find out? The people would even be the first set of people to persecute that person, they would ask him which one is his own? Is he the only one? I start wondering that me I’m okay, it’s because of you that I’m doing this. So, they are just too docile. Ha! It’s too much.
Given the prominent role the party plays in our type of democracy, why has the party not been able to call people elected on its platform to order?
Well, our democracy is still developing. My personal opinion is that it’s because of the financial status of most parties. They tend to rely heavily on these offices rather than on membership dues.
But that itself is wrong; using state funds to run parties.
That is what we are aggressively trying to correct in APC now. The moment we are able to get everybody to be paying their membership dues, the party would be able to flow on its own financially, have a life and be able to take position on issues.
Given your stand on several issues and many of such you have had to deal with over time, are you sometimes embarrassed by some actions of the big men in your party?
Yes, a lot. Honestly. I get embarrassed and that is why I’m even anxious to quickly finish the tenure. Let me tell you something, which is another point that needs to be made clearly to a lot of people. We are sacrificing for the party. We are not paid officials. I’m not being paid anything. I go to Abuja practically every week with my money, I pay for my hotel, maybe occasionally when we have NWC meeting, they used to pay N100,000 now N120,000. My ticket alone is almost N140,000, my hotel is not less than N60,000 per night, apart from the internal transportation and other things. But it’s all about sacrifice. We don’t derive any pecuniary gain from it but we are happy doing it for now, and that is why I maintain that don’t rubbish me over what I’m even doing gratuitously. We just believe that some of us must be able to add value to the system and at least set the template that will outlive us and that is my ambition every day, and that is why when people continuously fight me, particularly in Lagos here, I just laugh. All these things are not personal. I’m not fighting anybody; everybody is my friend. But when it comes to the rule of law, I apologise, I can’t compromise it. It’s as simple as that. I’m unable to compromise it. That’s all I’m living for, that’s all I’m about.
But the big men in your party do these things and get away with it?
Again, that is another thing I normally have issues with. I don’t believe there are strong men in any political party. For me, party is party. Apart from the officers of the party, all members are equal. Once I pay my dues, I’m entitled to the same powers and privileges in the party. The moment we continuously discriminate against some people, that is the source of our woes. That is my own position. That is why given what happened in Lagos, everything I do, I direct to the state chairman. I don’t recognise any other person as the person controlling the party machinery in Lagos. It’s the state chairman that bears responsibility under the constitution for whatever happens. What happens behind, under, beneath, I don’t know about it. By the time you are talking about people that are not officially responsible, you are descending into their arena which is not your business. I don’t have a problem with anyone pulling so much weight, but my problem is where there is no compliance with the rules.
Are you saying you don’t recognise the position of the National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who lives in Lagos?
Officially, the only person I can interact with officially are the party officials. That is what I mean.
People see him as the godfather of APC in Lagos…
(Cuts…) Let me tell you, I do not even see Asiwaju as a godfather, because he is not the person directly involved in that charade. He once drew my attention to it, that Muiz, are you saying I don’t have a right to endorse a candidate, and I told him, sir, I concede. Asiwaju wasn’t the one that came to the field to destabilise the process. Blame the party structure in the state.
People believe he did it underground.
I can equally do anything underground but you can’t hold me for it. How do you prove that?
But some have pointed out that it seems you don’t agree with him on certain things and that you don’t let him have his way sometimes.
It’s not true, let me tell you, it’s people that are hungry that are saying so. I, personally, am telling you I have no problem with Asiwaju at all. Asiwaju is my boss any day but the responsibility on my shoulder makes me not to see him regularly like before. Those people always want to create problem. If you don’t go and poison his mind or misdirect him, there is no problem. When has he himself come to say all of you must vote for a particular person? Some people only do name-dropping for their personal reasons. Same way they said the President told them to pick Yahaya Bello as the candidate for Kogi election at that time. At times, most of these people are innocent, people are only using their name to perpetrate evil.
Are you saying you have a cordial relationship with him?
As of this time I’m talking to you, there is no enmity between us. Let me even tell you, there is nothing I’m doing that I didn’t learn from him. Look at his antecedents. He is the greatest rebel of our time. He taught us how to be rebellious. He’s a very courageous man and he taught us courage. He taught us to hold our views and be tenacious. In fact, he enjoys me facing and disagreeing with him.
Would you then get in touch with the APC chairman in Lagos to do the right thing as regards the imposition issue?
I have written; I don’t talk to them by mouth because they would deny it. I have written to them, I mean several letters. I keep on writing our people to do the right thing, even beyond Lagos. What does it cost people to stand by the truth? Even if they would sack you tomorrow, let them sack you and you go to your house. The problem is that majority of the people that are in politics today, especially at elective level or appointed level, are people without alternative contact address. They have no other job in their lives, so, they can kill or do anything, because they are always desperate to remain in the corridor of power. That is the problem.
There have been several calls for restructuring of Nigeria, and fortunately the first item on your manifesto is that you would restructure the country. Now that people are calling for it, your party that promised it has gone silent. Is that fair?
Again, that is an issue I want to bring up at our next meeting. Personally, I subscribe to it. My only area of conflict is the perception of the restructuring itself, because from what I’ve seen, restructuring means different things to different people. Some would say fiscal, national, complete, organisational restructuring and so on.
Perhaps that is what you get when you leave people to speculate and you maintain silence at the wrong time.
We must fundamentally agree on the type of restructuring that we want to embark upon. Let it be clear to everybody. When it is clear, all of us will go to the next stage and I think that is where the party needs to trigger a process, towards aggregating opinions on what we even mean by restructuring. Let’s agree. When we do that, we can then draw the timetable.
But when you were preparing your manifesto, what kind of restructuring did you have in mind?
We had our own conception of it, but I’ve read several other versions. If it’s our own we are already implementing, but not in the manner people are saying now.
Could you tell us the ones you have done?
Most of the ones we are looking at is fiscal restructuring and that has started. We used to have inequality in appointment of ministers; some have two while some have one, but that has been eliminated now. A lot is also happening on the issue of local government autonomy and the judiciary. Look at the issue of appeal, not every appeal will now go to the Supreme Court and that has gone far at the National Assembly. But people want more than that and I have no problem with that.
But why has your party not taken a stand in response to the calls for it from everywhere?
Like I said to you, some of these issues, I might be the one to trigger the process, maybe because the party is overwhelmed; running from one election to another regularly and it doesn’t even have so much logistics to anchor some of these programmes.
If you have been overwhelmed with winning elections, does it mean the APC is only concerned with winning elections, not minding if the promises made earlier had been fulfilled?
Certainly, you know that for every election, there must be campaign and you campaign on the manifesto. So, we can’t run away from them. If we are not implementing, people would see them and they would have raised it. There are also issues with the one people are calling for now. It seems we are doing it in piecemeal at the moment, maybe what we need, which I agree to, is a holistic approach to it. I’m sure the party is not averse to it conceptually.
It would seem you are about the only one prompting some of these things. It seems your members go to sleep once they win election.
With due respect to most of our members, I think there is what I will call economic impairment affecting them. You know at times, you need stamina to talk. If you haven’t eaten, you probably won’t be able to talk.
A lot of people have doubted the integrity of your party because when late President Yar’ Adua was sick, your party, through Alhaji Lai Mohammed as the then spokesperson, was on his issue, maintaining that Nigerians deserved to know the state of health of their President. But now that President Muhammadu Buhari is equally ill, the same Alhaji Lai Mohammed said such is a confidential information. Aren’t you taking the people for a ride?
You know the dangers of precedence that I spoke about at that time, that when you talk, know what you are talking. I will escalate this issue to Alhaji Lai Mohammed and seek further explanations on why disclosures about the President’s health are not being made. They might know things that I don’t know. There are several human beings with different ailments. So, continue exploring the channels available to you, like the Freedom of Information.
Should we need to go that far if your party that promised change is sincere about being transparent and accountable?
The actions of some individual officers should not be equated with that of government. Look at what happened the last time when your reporter was sent out of the State House and the government decided to deny it. It happens sometimes like that in government that somebody overzealous somewhere would do something. But for me, we must never get frustrated by any system.
Your manifesto is a very beautiful document, but as a person, when you pick it, are you satisfied with how your party has fared?
Yes, I’m satisfied. The manifesto is not a document for four years. It is a document that is expected to endure for the next 50 years. We have just spent about two years.
So your target is 50 years?
It cannot be minimum. The things there are ideal situation and it can’t be implemented in one day. Those are aspirations and the things we want to see. For example, at times, when people talk and they get into government and they see what resources are available, they face reality. But before they get there, they feel all these things are possible.
Since that was what your party did, it would seem that it hoodwinked the people into believing in your promises.
No, we are saying given all factors being constant, these are the things we want to do. The situation we met was worse than what we even anticipated. Unfortunately again, several other inhibiting factors came in. So, it’s not a document that would just die in four or eight years. It will live for a long time, so give it the benefit of survival.
But shouldn’t we blame the politicians that throw money around?
Yes, that is why at times I wonder if our leaders are not wicked, as they consciously put our people in abject poverty so that they can’t reason. For me, we need a major movement in that regard. The press need to do a lot in that regard. They need to educate people and enlighten them. I have always been saying that there is need to continuously establish the nexus between the people’s lives and their votes. We must connect it to say if you take money for your vote, it’s your life you are selling. Let them see clearly how they would not see hospital, good road, good school and other things, by just mortgaging that votes. We owe it a duty to them, particularly the elite. If that is the minimum we can do.
People have always talked about expensive elections, but for local government election, is N555,000 not too much for the form, excluding N5,000 for the expression of interest?
Again, I, as a person, disagreed with it, because the question I even asked them was that what is the minimum wage? Are you saying that somebody on a minimum wage can’t contest? No. It can’t be. There are some of these things at times that people are not even challenging. That is the problem. That is where it lies. The aspirants should challenge it.
Your signature campaign programme was anticorruption fight. Given the next to nothing achievements recorded in that regard, how would you rate the government’s performance in that regard?
For me, I have a different view about that. I have always believed that little would be achieved with the way and manner we are currently fighting corruption. I want to see that document on the socio-economic diagnosis of corruption in Nigeria. Before you can fight corruption, you need to know what the attractions, the causes and what creates the opportunity, the sociologist must tell us. We underestimate the capacity of those people. We need to do the study. It is when we have the study, then you now start gradually to tackle it, like discouraging the attractions. I have always believed that if all of us wake up and every day at our various churches and mosques, we send curses after the corrupt people, I tell you corruption will reduce.
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