Barely a week after the Local Government elections in Lagos State, stakeholders of the All Progressives Congress(APC) which recorded a landslide victory in the poll have continued to raise issues with regard to the party’s internal democracy.
In this interview with WILLY EYA, the National Legal Adviser of APC, Dr. Muiz Banire, expresses regret that some members of the party do not want to do things the right way. He advises such people to leave the former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu out of their shenanigans.
The Federal Government under your party, the All Progressives Congress(APC)recently clocked two years in office, what would be your honest assessment of the journey so far?
Honestly speaking, without being sentimental, I believe the government at the centre has done well so far. Of course, certainly that is not to say that things are rosy. No. Everybody is angry. Even President Muhammadu Buhari must be angry, because before he fell ill, he said, if I knew that things were this bad, and that there would not be money to run government, I would have given it a second thought. This is much less an average Nigerian who wants something in his pocket and cannot find it; he is entitled to be angry. The truth of the matter is that President Buhari inherited a situation where things were at their worst and we could not just be building on a sandy ground. We need to build on a concrete foundation. For me, I believe that the last two years are not too much for us to build a foundation for our future and that has been successfully done in my own strong belief. Now, a lot of things are happening gradually, but people are not yet comfortable with it in the sense that until it translates to their personal pockets, nobody would clap for anybody. That is the truth of the matter and that is why the government is trying to get more funding into the system. Imagine last time they said we were in need of over a trillion to pay all our outstanding debts, so that this thing would trickle down for people to start feeling it. Honestly, I feel they have done very well, particularly in terms of foundation laying. It is now time for the government to start building on it.
As it appears, there does not seem to be a connect between the government and the masses. As optimistic as you sound, the masses of Nigeria are not happy because they cannot find food on their tables. So how do you reconcile the effort of the government and the hunger in the land?
I agree with you to a certain extent on that. Honestly, I think the struggle must continue to connect the people. I do not think that we have effectively connected with the masses to appreciate what the government is even doing. I think that all hands must be on deck within our structure, because it goes beyond the media. I believe that all these our town hall meetings are not sufficient, because how many people would that go round. We need to go and find alternative means toward disseminating information and let people see that these things are not eternal, because people are feeling as if it would never end. So, we have to quickly arrest that and give message of hope and say there is light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that we need to do more in that regard.
The time for the next general elections is fast approaching, do you think that the APC administration would be able to arrest the drift to earn another support from the Nigerian voters?
I am personally optimistic. Like I said to you, what all these agitations boil down to even in terms of disintegration, if you ask me, I would tell you it is hunger. People want money and they want to be comfortable. If you are comfortable, you would not fight or you would not even be drumming for a fight. You look at yourself and you are broke and you say what is the option! In such a situation, any small thing, you just react. So, for me, I believe that by the time you are able to translate all these policies into some concrete things, by way of people directly feeling it in their pockets, honestly the agitation and the perception would change. And I believe that can be done and before December, if they quickly disburse all the funds they are talking about, I believe that a lot of things would change for the better. Look at the Paris funds they have sent to all the governors too and I think that the understanding is there that you should pay all workers. If you pay all these people, there would be laughter here and there. These are the problems we have had over the last two years, because people are not getting enough earnings. Nobody is earning enough. If you are talking of an average worker, at least five people are attached to him as dependants. And that person would transfer that anger to another 10 people. These are the challenges that we have been experiencing.
Let us come down to the politics of Lagos where you are one of the major stakeholders. In recent times especially towards the build -up to the recent local government elections in the state, the state chapter of the APC was embroiled in internal crisis. From your vantage position, what is actually the problem?
Honestly, I have said it consistently that there is no crisis in the Lagos chapter of the APC. It is just some people that are trying to give the impression that there is crisis in the party. There is so much misconception about what is going on. What has occurred because it is now past tense, as far as I am concerned, is a situation where we are saying, look, these are the ways to do things and some people say no, these are not the way to do it. So, that is where the disagreement came in. I do not think that is enough to generate a crisis in a party.
But there was nothing new in the last local government election. It is the same system that has run from the Alliance for Democracy, the Action Congress, Action Congress of Nigeria and now APC. If you have always been part of this system, why did you want to change the status quo?
That is the problem. There is a difference between the APC and the previous parties. In the APC, we have the All Nigeria Peoples Party(ANPP), we have people who came in from the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and there are people who came in from Congress for Progressive Change(CPC). So, more or less, we have people who came into the party from different political backgrounds. The only way to ensure that we all follow one path is through the constitution. Our tendency would be different from that of the PDP people, the PDP people would be different from those coming from the background of the CPC and so, it is with the people coming from the ANPP. We even had, along the line, somebody like Rochas Okorocha, who was of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). So, we have people with different inclinations. That is the difference.
Some of your party members claim that having been a beneficiary of the system that it would be uncharitable to challenge it.
Well, unfortunately, that is not true. Again, that is where you have a deficiency in grammar in most of them. I have never contested election before, so how could I have been a beneficiary of the system they are talking about.
But you have benefitted in terms of appointment.
Appointment is discretionary. If you were to be a governor, you can take the whole members of your cabinet from one family. Nobody can begrudge you, because those are the people you are comfortable working with and there are no rules guiding it. But election is usually associated with rules. That is the difference. So, I could not have been a beneficiary of such, because imposition is associated with elective positions. In appointments, if you like, take the whole cabinet from your bedroom. Nobody can quarrel against you. Have you seen anybody go to court to say that he was not given an appointment as commissioner or minister? This is because it is within the discretion of the governor or the President as the case may be. So, appointment has nothing to do with imposition at all.
To make the question more specific, what people are saying is that in Lagos for instance, it is the structure of the former governor, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, that made many of you and that challenging what appears like an entrenched system is like confronting Tinubu which amounts to biting the fingers that fed you.
In the first instance, let me tell you that whoever must have said so certainly does not mean well for the system. I have said it severally that because of their iniquities, they struggle by all means to bring in Asiwaju into the picture. I have consistently told them that what has Asiwaju got to do with this one. They want to just somehow keep on rubbishing the name of the man. That is the way I see it and I have kept on saying it. How many of the chairmen and the councilors does Asiwaju even know. It is you people taking benefit of the system that are using the man’s name wrongly. I have said it consistently. At times, most of them do not even know the implication of what they are saying. As far as I am concerned, like I said to you, if you are talking about AD, AC, ACN, those ones were our own. We could do it anyway we wanted to, but we have a larger party now consisting of several interests and that is why we must inevitably adjust to the position of the constitution, otherwise, there would be crises. If Lagos said this is how I want to do my own, Ogun State says this is how I want to do my own, Kano said this is how I want to do my own, you would have confusion in your hands. And what would be the essence of the constitution. The lawmakers and even by extension the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) that mandated that before you register a party, you must have a constitution, they know what they are talking about. In any organization, there must be rules and regulation that guide them.
Are you satisfied with the outcome of the last local government election in the state.
I was not satisfied. The turnout was too poor. I do not think that enough mobilization was done in that regard. I think something needs to be done to improve the number. At times, some of the things that we do have a way of affecting the outcome. If you have one percent of the total number of registered voters, it is worrisome, because they are not representative of the people. In that regard, I believe that we have more to do.
Ahead of the 2019 general elections, do you think the Lagos chapter of the APC can afford an internal crisis like the one that happened recently?
Like I said to you, as far as I am concerned, there is no crisis. But again, you cannot afford a crisis any time, because during elections, one vote matters to anybody. So, we cannot afford crisis at any time.
So, with what appears like a cold war in your party, what would be your template for achieving peace?
My advice is that they should learn how to do things properly and be better guided. What I have decided on my own is to find my way to see Asiwaju myself. This is because since most of them seem to consciously work to ensure that there is hostility between me and Asiwaju, it is better I go to him and say Asiwaju, this has nothing to do with you, sir. It is these characters that you need to tame. That is all. I am sure the day I do that one, you would see reactions in the media. They would start their abuse again. They would never be comfortable. But I have resolved that I would go to Asiwaju and tell him that this has nothing to do with you, sir.
What you are saying is surprising because the impression out there is that in Lagos today, it is the Asiwaju camp versus the Banire camp.
That is what they are saying but fortunately, if you have read that my interview, I consistently said what I am just saying that they should not drag Asiwaju into this thing. It is because they know that they cannot sustain anything without bringing in his name, that is why they kept on dragging his name into it. Is it Asiwaju that went there to be writing names for them? Of course not! I know so. In fact most of them do not even know Asiwaju as I do. They always want to take advantage of the man’s disposition. That is the truth, but I think the mistake I made too is by not going directly to say Oga, please stay off this thing. Let me normalize these things with these people. Let me teach them how to do things right.
There is no doubt that a lot of bad blood has been planted in the hearts of many members of your party after the council elections, do you think the Lagos APC would ever be one family again?
Again, it is inevitable, but when it happens, leadership comes in. It is the leadership ‘s responsibility to now move in and start the process of healing those wounds. And that is why my expectation is that rather than the way they have been going after the election, it is the other direction they should go, pacifying and reconciling people, but unfortunately, this thing at times is a matter of competence. I believe that, that is the direction to go. We must keep on healing wounds.
The people you are talking about, do they include the governor of the state who is by status, supposed to be the leader of the APC in Lagos?
Draw the line. The governor is the head of the government and the party chairman is the head of the party in the state. That is how they operate. So, those are their responsibilities. Then we now have elders and when there is crises beyond them, that is when Asiwaju comes in. But at their own level, they must try and make some attempt at reconciling as many people as possible. That is their basic responsibility.
There were reports that some members of APC in Lagos petitioned the national leadership of the party to remove you as the party’s legal adviser. What is the latest on the development?
There is no petition, but maybe the media got misled or they misled themselves, whichever way. I have not seen a single petition. They said somebody went to court and I have been waiting everyday so that I can quickly collect it but I have not seen it.
Some members of the party were captured on television protesting against you and branding you as the main problem confronting the Lagos chapter of the party.
What you have to ask is, who are these people? Go and see the APC constitution and see whether protests or demonstration are under it. There is none and if there is none, that tells you that definitely these people cannot be members of the APC.
But don’t you think the APC in Lagos can do better than they are doing at the moment?
Certainly they can. Just like the motto of Grange, my children’s school; “Culture of Continuous Improvement.” You must keep on improving. You cannot say I am perfect; no. The party is growing and the continuous dialogue must continue to strengthen the democratic ethos.
So, it is not really as if you are out to challenge the status quo as people think?
Again, I must confess to you that there are so many of them that are uncomfortable with my relationship with Asiwaju. So, they always look for one reason or the other to sow seeds of discord, but where they got it wrong is that like I always say, I am not a professional politician. All I am looking for in politics is good governance. If politics is not that convenient, I can go on my own and still do something. I can add value to the society without politics. There are so many other platforms that one can use to improve the society. Not all of us are scavengers. I am not looking for anything. I just believe I can add value to the society. That is the difference between me and them. Most of them do not even have alternative contact address. If you ask them what they do, they do not have anything. They are always ever desperate.
Some say your problem with a clique of the Lagos APC may not be unconnected with insinuations that you have ambition to one day govern Lagos State.
That has always been there over the years. Every year, they would always be tipping me for the governorship seat of Lagos State and I always laugh. I have a lot of challenges that would not even make me have interest. For instance, I know that I do not have the kind of money to run for such a position and the one I have, I even struggle to get it.
Are you saying that Babatunde Fashola and Ambode, the current Lagos governor emerged because they had deep pockets?
Some of us are different. My tendency and my nature abhor that. If I have to do things, I do it with my money. I won’t go around. That is why when people say that some politicians are backing me, I laugh. Go and ask whether anybody has given me anything. Those who are close to me know that it cannot be me and it is not something that is attractive to me anyway. The stigma alone in the office does not make it attractive. Whether you do well or not, the perception is that you are a thief ,once you are in public office in Nigeria. I cannot stand the stigma.
How did you feel when the bill on the devolution of powers was rejected by the Senate.
Well, mixed feelings. This is because even if they have voted in favour of it, what would have been the effect. The situation we find ourselves is that the house is collapsing gradually and we keep on patching it. All the piecemeal thing you are doing, one day if the house finally collapses, the fatality would be so much. It is better for you to allow it to collapse and you start to gradually rebuild it, but if you do otherwise, it is a time bomb.
Do you have any fears for Nigeria.
Honestly, I do. I am a confused person in that regard.