National Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Muiz Banire, in this interview, shares his views on the party, leadership and hopes for 2019. Excerpts…
Your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), appears distressed?
Well, the problem is that when you give suggestions and people, for selfish reason and out of mischief at times, decide to cast it aside, the result we are experiencing now is what you get. Those who are experienced in this game will know that there are hardly any ways you can run a congress that will be rancour-free and you do not endanger the goal or the objective of your party when it is close to the general elections. It is never advisable and the good news is that, hiding under the constitutional provision of the APC and also the interpretation already given to it in the case of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), you have a way of protecting yourself strategically. But in the wisdom of some people, they felt this is the way to go and I know that, as at now, they should be happier that they have killed not less than 15 people, apart from other confusion around. If that was their goal and they have achieved it, we thank them, we appreciate and we leave them to God.
As an insider, what really happened between the APC NEC where the acting period was granted and the other NEC where President Muhammadu Buhari made a u-turn?
My view is that the president was misled by some people, probably out of mischief or ignorance of the law. Those people know themselves and honestly I know that they will be behind it. The president was at the meeting in which we took the decision, in the first instance. So coming back again and, of course, the president did indicate that he was advised by some people and I believe that those people who must have told him must either be ignorant of the position of the law or were acting relatively out of mischief.
What about the Governor Simeon Lalong Committee Report?
The Lalong Committee validated my own legal advisory then. In the first instance, there was nothing like extension of tenure, but out of mischief, those mischief-makers also decided for their own convenience and propaganda to use the word “extend”. Nobody ever extended the tenure by one day. All that was resolved was that a caretaker committee should be set up pending the conclusion of all the general elections. But they twisted it and the same thing they took to Mr President also. So, when the matter was referred to the Technical Committee, consisting of many senior advocates that were not even politicians from outside and Lalong, who happens to be a lawyer, had to chair the committee. They looked at all I did and they decided that the position was unassailable. When asked, what was his position?, he (Lalong) said he advised the party that, given the reality of the devastating effects of having conflict-prone congresses in an election circle, the acting appointment was in order. That was my position: that it was unassailable and the position represents the position of the law. But in order not to make some people look bad, they now said that trial should be given to a congress and if it fails, we will revert back to the caretaker arrangement.
Is it almost certain now that they will revert to the caretaker committee arrangement?
Well, I don’t know, honestly, whether they are likely to revert to that. But you and I are witnesses to what is going on all over the country, vis-a-vis the party.
You have always been in party politics as the Nationl Legal Adviser since 2010. Now, people believe the APC NWC became almost impotent immediately the election was won in 2015…
I agree with you.
So, what is it that is being done wrongly now that you people used to do rightly when you were a regional party?
The answer is simply firmness, discipline. That is all; nothing else.
You mean there is no discipline in the party…
Yes, to a large extent.
You mean at the top level?
You see, when you have so many people believing to be godfathers and believe they are above the constitution of the party, what you have is what is happening to the party. Unfortunately, such situation requires a firm and strong executive. My position has always been that it is better for you to be removed from the office for doing the right thing, than to continue in office and be unstable.
So you mean from day one, the party leadership at the national level was structured to be impotent?
Well, it will appear so to me. It’s not been really firm enough…
Even at the level of the NWC?
It has not been firm enough. We will take decision and it will somersault. Why?
But Mr President is the official leader of the party. Does that make him to lack discipline too?
Yes, he is the leader of the party. But Mr President is not part of the NWC.
But he is a national leader of the party…
But he is not part of the NWC. You see, the NWC is a management.
So that means the APC National Chairman is also not strong enough…
I want to believe that he is not firm enough. That is my view.
Okay, so where would the party now go from here, even as the congresses are a mess?
We are waiting for all the reports from the different states. By the time the NWC sits, they will look at all the reports and take a position.
Is there a scheduled meeting?
Yes, but that will be after the state congress.
But it is almost certain almost all the states will do parallel congress…
I know, I know.
What is that you saw then that others did not see?
I have been in this business earlier than them. They even saw it, but it is just mischief. I know they know it, because it is not the first time. Let me refresh your memory: When we wanted to have the Osun election, Baba Bisi Akande was the chairman of the party then. He never allowed us to go for congress in Osun and I think in Anambra and also one other state, because we knew the danger inherent in it. So, I believe people know, but out of either selfish desire or mischief, they pretended not to.
But the pro-congress camp is being led by your boss here in Lagos, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, backed by Chief Bisi Akande…
You know, my position in the first instance is that I am not part of it and, like I told you at the commencement of this interview, I am not a politician to have a boss.
But you served under him as… (cuts in)
And you have maintained a relationship until recently…
No!!! There is still a relationship. There is always a relationship in life o.
So, where will the party go from here?
NWC will decide that when they have the full reports.
Is it likely they go back to the recommendations of the Lalong Committee as the last resort?
Honestly! I have no clue yet.
But is it an option?
I know that there are a lot of aberrations in most of the congresses.
So there could be surprises at the end of the day while resolving these aberrations?
Well, I expect so. I expect so; if we want to go by due process, there must be surprises because there are processes; there are guidelines people ought to follow, but they don’t follow them. The consequences must follow naturally.
Why have you not spoken up before now when the party became impotent, but rather just tagged along?
You know that I have always been talking, but you know it must be an internal affair.
Isn’t the party gone with the way it is?
Well, I don’t believe so. I don’t believe so.
How do you think the situation can be rescued?
Well, we have to be objective and focused. But in so far they want us to pretend, then we all will keep on pretending. If they don’t like the truth, we will keep pretending. My own challenge is, rather than lie to anybody, I will tell you the truth.
Is the problem with the constitution of the party?
The constitution of the party to a large extent is strong enough. The problem is with the various godfathers we have in different states across the country.
So, why are the godfathers not following the constitution of the party?
It is because they have never been used to it.
You mean they have never been used to following constitution?
But you used to be part of them…
Of what? I have never been a godfather (laughs).
You have been together from the days of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and so these people you are referring to can easily say that you are also a godfather like them.
Yes. But it is not only ACN alone. Mind you, in APC, we have sufficient number of godfathers. They are so many; indeed, a limitless number. We even have mini-godfathers. We have super, we have mini.
You have crisis in about 24 states. Will this not affect the chances of the party in the Ekiti and Osun elections?
Well, honestly, I suspect so, except we urgently redress the situation.
If you are called upon, as the National Legal Adviser, to advise the party today, what will you say?
Very simple!!! In fact, all I need to do is to take three copies of our constitution, give one to a faction, hold one and give the other faction one and say okay let’s be looking at the relevant provisions: ‘Oga, what does it say?’ Okay! You can see.
But won’t they tell you politics isn’t solely about legality?
Well, that is their own o. But I know the bedrock of politics is also in the rule of law. That is the bedrock.
But they said they are looking for those who can bring in the votes…
They can do so without compromising the rule of law. Anytime you sideline the rule of law, you have a temporary victory because the thing will come back to hurt you.
The assumption is that the governors will deliver their states. So why allow the Abuja politicians to displace them, like what is happening in Imo State?
Let me tell you, as far as I am concerned, due process is due process. That is why you said the rule of law because due process is the rule of law. Let’s say or assume that there is even a crisis in Imo, we have outlined the process. Let people follow the process. We are not in a jungle o.
Everything looked normal until the APC NEC meeting where the acting grace was granted. Were you patching up before then?
You know like I said, you must always be strategic in whatever you do. Of course, to a large extent, we have been wobbling and struggling, but now we have placed ourselves in a major challenging situation and that is why we seem to be having such challenges which is easily predictable.
Whose idea was it that the current APC NWC should be given a caretaker role?
Well, it was the idea of the state chairmen. It came from the state chairmen for several reasons for which I agree with them. Part of this was that most of them are yet to be empowered and, after four years of hard work, you want to throw them away. I don’t think equity and fairness will support that.
Why is your party, even at the national level, perennially broke?
It is because we don’t have money. Unlike the other party, we don’t take money from government in whatever guise. We rely on whatever comes in legally.
But are the members not paying their dues?
Yes, they are yet to start paying their dues because of the entire infrastructure they are trying to put in place.
So, how have you been able to run the party, despite the financial struggle?
You said it all. We are struggling. In my own office, we are indebted to a lot of lawyers.
We are indebted to a lot of lawyers.
So, the party had been in crisis long before this one broke out…
We have been in financial crisis.
And may be structural too?
Well, not so much of structural crisis. Like I told you earlier, it is discipline.
Will you say the governors in your party are disciplined with the way they are pulling the party up and down?
Well, you have told me of the perception or the impression that the governors control everything in their states. So, what can we do? If that is the impression or the perception, you can’t throw them away then.
What is happening to the Peace and Reconciliation Committee, headed by Senator Tinubu?
I am not aware of any single movement in that regard. I am not aware of any single movement or any resolution.
But he said he was going to bring you on board…
Well, I am not aware.
And he has not contacted you yet?
At all o and I am still alive o.
Lagos and Katsina states, of all places, are also having crises. These are the backyards of the two leading leaders of the party…
That is democracy at work now.
Is it not an indication that things have gone worse?
No, it is democracy at work. Politics can never revolve around individuals. It is the people that are called politics. I for one know that if they said congress should be organised today, Lagos is number one where free and fair primaries will not take place. So, I am not surprised that they are already having issues. Of course, I pretend not to see especially what is going on in the state. I have been laughing.
But they said that you are one of the issues in the state…
Well, if they consider me an issue, they should resolve me.
The other day you were allegedly suspended…
Then it was reversed by the National…
(Cuts in) By who? By miscreants? By those who are not party members? Those who are not party members and some miscreants assembled together. You know the only thing is that I am not gifted to truancy.
On these crises, you are going to advise the party on legal matters…
Hen! That is my job.
So, what are you going to say to the killings and everything happening in Lagos?
I have told you it is constitution and guidelines, simple. Honestly, that is what that concerns me. Take the constitution of the party, the constitution of Nigeria, the Electoral Act and our party guidelines, if there is conformity, so be it. If there is no conformity, of course, that means that it is not in line. It is as simple as straightforward.
But what about political solution or are you not for political solution?
I am not aware of any political solution. The only political solution is for the people to go to the field.
You have met with Mr President a couple of times. What is your sincere opinion of his capacity as the party leader?
As the party leader, overtime the president has not shown so much interest. I think now he is showing more interest.
Is it not too late?
Well, the result will confirm that. Honestly, I belong to the school of thought that as much as possible, he should insulate himself against the manipulations in the political arena of the party. Honestly, that is my own personal view that he should insulate himself as much as possible.
Do you believe in the school of thought that if the party had been given to Senator Tinubu to manage after the victory of 2015, the party will not be in a mess today?
Again, I go back. This is the problem we have in Nigeria as a whole and it is part of our major problem. Stop building individuals, but build institutions. What is called a party is not individualism. It is a gathering and in that gathering, there are people elected to do administration and management. That is their job. It is the refusal to acknowledge that fact and give them their full role, that is even causing our problem now. Always let institutions function. It is a problem o. We have to wake up and run away from that problem. We continue to build individuals, rather than building strong institutions. It never worked. So for me, I do not believe in individualism. I believe in communalism.
Your party is in distress in Osun State. Am I at liberty to say that?
So I learnt.
So what are the chances of the party in the governorship election coming up in the state in September?
You know I have not been to Osun in a long time: for almost four years. So, I won’t know. I won’t know, honestly, because I am not there.
What of Ekiti State where the party’s governorship primary election was also contentious?
Expectedly!!! You know those people know a lot of books.
So, it’s too much knowledge that is now…
(cuts in). It is too much knowledge. All of them are extremely educated and the good news is that virtually all of them are competent people; all of them. I can tell you for free.
Your party is a mess in the South West…
All of them will resolve themselves before the general election.
It appears APC doesn’t have internal mechanism of resolving issue…
That was why I said disciplinary issue.
Some people are treated as being bigger than the party…
Yes, that is the issue. That was why I said to you that until we resort to the rule of law, honestly there won’t be peace because the only option I continuously maintain is that the rule of law is different from the rule of mind. The only consequence or the only thing you can ever get from the rule of mind is anarchy. That is what we are witnessing. Any departure from the rule of law will lead you to jungle environment.
But your Mushin domain is not witnessing peace too. Is that not implicating as the leader?
Nooo. I am not o. You know, I continuously tell you that I am not a person quite like these characters that call themselves politicians. I am not a politician in the area of saying this is my leader. What am I leading for? I don’t believe in all those things. Why should you regard me as your leader? Leader for what? Leading for what? My own is, do the proper thing. Go and do the proper thing. Once the proper things are being done, the rest is simple. You see, what has happened is that some people, for their selfish interest and out of spite, feel that they can disintegrate the structure in Mushin and, honestly speaking, I pray that they succeed. I will now see whose interest will be ultimately endangered: whether it is mine as a professional in my own field or they that are struggling to gather food. Let’s see. Let them continue.
What is the problem between you and the governor?
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode
Well, I don’t know what the problem is. I have said it in my past interviews that he can’t count five human beings that delivered him his governorship victory before mentioning my name, except he wants to lie. And if he lies, his conscience will tell him that he is lying. But he got there and started behaving somehow. I don’t even mind because I won’t even come to you for anything. May be out of threat or whatever I don’t even know why you must go all out to destroy some people’s name. Honestly, I can’t even answer. I often wonder myself.
And nobody has mentioned to you why he is angry with you…
Well, he has a right to be angry with me. It is his right and I can’t take that away from him.
Is he likely fighting the leader’s battle?
Possibly. I don’t even know whether the leader himself is fighting me because I don’t know. I need to be educated because I have consistently said that I have no problem with him. I have no problem with the governor as far as I am concerned. The only thing is that I respect myself.
Does it have to do with your alleged connection with the crisis surrounding the introduction of the Land Use Charge?
You see, if I am interested in talking, by now they would have lost it completely. I can tell you for free. I have refrained from saying a lot of things that are seriously being done wrong in Lagos State because we still belong to the same umbrella. And in fact, it is even so shallow of them. Of course, that is the way they reason because they are shallow; that I will singularly go and command over 300 lawyers because they don’t have brain and say ‘go to the street, go and fight my battle for me’. Haha! What did they think those people are? Politicians? These are not the people they give money to put on the street. These are professionals. But they can’t understand because that is the limit of their knowledge and I am not that jobless. I am not jobless to that extent of looking for whom to protest. Which one is my own? Again, let’s even assume that I did it. Why must you give me the opportunity? Do you know it is improper what you have done?
The demolition notice on your mum’s building, has it been resolved now?
No, we are in court.
You mean they can’t take any action?
No. We were all there. They can’t. Well, they violate the rule of law anyhow.
So you won’t be surprised if they take action?
I won’t be. But, at least, I will still continue to take the professional path.
There is a report I think I should ask you, though it is not yet in public domain, that very soon they are going to make certain demands of you regarding your time in office as Commissioner…
(Cuts in) Ehn! Let them come.
That you did not leave behind some belongings of the state government while you were in office…
Let them come. Let them come now. Let them come. They will now know that there is one power that will ever be above all. Let them come and ask me and I will now tell them that they should go and search their own house and that of those who have appropriated the assets of Lagos. Then we will be able to talk about it. We will even be able to tell the public and ask the public and they will be able to know who owns what and how he got them. Ehnn! I am waiting. Tell them, I am anxiously waiting
The two ministries that you handled then, Environment and Transportation, appear to be very shaky now in the hands of the current managers…
Like I told you, I am pretending not to see anything. We have done our own and we have left.
But for the people…
If the people know that things are wrong, they have a remedy. I have told them, the only remedy is to get the Permanent Voter Card (PVC). Go and get your PVC.
You mean they should get their PVC to vote out the sitting government?
Well, I don’t know.
Do we still expect to see you in public office again?
I don’t intend to. It is not my intention at all. In fact, age is even catching up on some of us. You know I am one of those people that believe in the ability and the capacity of the youth. As far as I am concerned, people of our age should leave the stage and give guidance to these younger elements.
That means, genuinely, you will advice Mr President not to contest in 2019…
Ah! I will not. I don’t advise people when it comes to ambition. I won’t advise people when it comes to ambition. That is my nature. Otherwise, there are so many people around me which, ordinarily, I would have advised one way or the other. And why I always do so, I will tell you. At times you can say ‘hey, don’t go o, don’t contest o’. If it is ordained that the person can get there, how do you want the person to look at your advice? So always give the gap of God.
So why does your name consistently come up for governor?
It is because they always look at my status and my prowess. They always believe that this guy deserves and merits this thing. Unfortunately, I am not cut out for it. They should accept my sympathy.
Genuinely speaking, was there any time Senator Tinubu promised that you would lead Lagos?
Never!!! We have never discussed it, not even ordinary commissionership. I had never sought for anything. I had never asked for any political office and I will never.
But has he ever promised you at anything?
We never discussed, much less promised.
You were very close to him at a time…
Yes. I am still close to him
So, why do you disagree on almost everything now?
We don’t disagree on anything now. As far as I am concerned, he gave me a job to do. It is the job that I am doing. It might not be palatable, but I must do it. Like I tell people when I write legal opinion, it is not even for this moment. 20 years down the line, someone will go and refer to it. So if I don’t write the proper thing somewhere along the line, then I must have devalued myself.
Okay, you are not advising the government now but traffic…
(cuts in). Nooo. You see, initially when the present government got there, I was taking my time to try and advise them, but they never acknowledged one. I used to even send text (SMS), but I discovered they needed not my advice. So, I decided to keep mute.
Before Ambode became the governor, did you have any interaction or were you interacting?
Of course: Even before and during his campaign. That was why I told you that he will tell you out of his conscience, which I know he has told some people. He cannot count five people that sacrificed for him before mentioning me. In fact, there was no election in which I have ever endangered my life more than his election.
How much of success do you see in Lagos for APC in 2019?
Honestly, I don’t know because we have two more stages where what is happening now is likely to happen again. This is one stage. There is the nomination stage.
What about all these coalitions and the former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third force?
As someone of experience in this area, I will tell you that you should never take anything for granted. That will be my own take. In politics, you don’t take anything for granted.
The United Action for Change (UAC) has been doing a lot lately. Where do you expect to see the youth you are empowering now in a few years, particularly in governance?
They are already impacting all over already. They are impacting, forming their own movement here and there already; enlightening people, educating people and showing leadership.
That should make you a godfather…
Even at that, I am not. I want to try my best, even if you want to give me any name. They call me Humanitarian Banire in UAC.
You are yet to resume at your new duty post as the chairman of Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC). But I am sure you must be putting certain things in place now to address what you are to meet there…
Management comes to me as a matter of ease.
As an intuitive thing or what?
I need not to place anything anywhere. It just comes to me naturally. It is one thing I can tell you categorically that God has endowed me with. Effortlessly, even if I am sleeping, I can manage anything.
So you won’t need any background idea of the banking sector and all of that…
I have a good idea. I have traversed all those areas before.
Have you obtained form to participate in the APC National Convention?
Will you be seeking the office of the APC National Legal Adviser again?