National Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress, Dr Muiz Banire (SAN), speaks with TUNDE ALAO on his relationship with former Lagos State governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, his purported membership of the “Abuja or Buhari Boys,” and why forces want him out of the party.
WHAT is happening in your party, especially the call for your expulsion?
Nothing is really happening. We are just enjoying ourselves. My only worry is that people are unduly anxious, calling me here and there, asking me what is going on. This agitation by the people is my only problem, but for the call for my expulsion, I am unperturbed.
But what is the process for expelling a national officer in your party? Where does the power lie?
National. There are several processes, be it at the national, state or local government level. Even let us say an ordinary member, there are several processes you have to undergo. However, as far as I’m concerned, those who purportedly suspended me are not even members of the party in Mushin. You can go there and do your personal investigation. Ask for the chairman of the party there, Mr Aremo and the executive members. According to their release, they said they passed a motion dissolving ward and local government excos and appointed three people who now moved a motion for my suspension. That is not what the party constitution says and that is why I brought a copy of our constitution for you to read.
So, their action is inconsequential, just brigandage as far as I’m concerned, and it’s unfortunate that I see clearly that Lagos government is backing them. You will see evidence of that from the release with the government’s letter-head paper. But if I want to take them up, they will say he has come again. Why are you using government money for the party? At least, you are a government for all parties in Lagos, not for APC alone. But if I take them up they’ll say he has come again.
It is as if some people want to take their own pound of flesh?
Because of your stance on the primaries…
But unfortunately, they are not in a position to do that. Do you know what they want to do? They know that by my nature, I’m sensitive about my name. What my ordinary self would have done is to say what is all this rubbish? All I would have to do is to resign and say take away your job. I’m not getting anything from the position, and if anything, I’m spending my money for the party. So, what is the big deal? It’s not as if I’m earning any money. What I’m after is just to ensure good governance. But this time round, I’m resolving otherwise. I said no, I resolved to stay put till the expiration of my tenure. I will not leave. I will not resign.
Why is it that your party does not have Board of Trustees from inception?
No, we have changed to Advisory Council. I just returned yesterday (July 27). We did the final recommendation of the proposed amendment of our constitution in 85 areas. I was the chairman of the committee. It’s what we are doing now.
It seems there is no synergy between your party and the government, as if your party is an assemblage of strange bedfellows where everybody’s loyalty is to the platform he belonged before the formation of APC?
No, no, no. We will melt together, in fact, we are melting already. You see, the truth of the matter is that I recognise the fact that you cannot run away from some pronounced differences. Just like Joe Igbokwe said: “We are not bothered about the APC constitution, we have a way of doing our own thing,” as in the days of AD or ACN. But for example, people from old PDP were used to primaries. They have different background from ACN, while those from old ANPP have different background. So, hopefully with time, everybody will be on the same page.
But don’t you think it will be too late by 2019?
For me as a person, I will try my best to do what is right till the end of my tenure and that is my resolution. At least, I want to leave that place after which people would be able to make reference to my contribution. For example, when I was the Commissioner for Environment, people saw what happened, the same with my tenure at the Ministry for Transportation on LASTMA issue. People still make reference that Banire, when he was there, you dare not do this or that. That is enough for me. It brought happiness to me. So, when I leave as the National Legal Adviser of the APC, and another person takes over, let him or her crumble whatever they meet on ground; that is their own problem. But for me, while I’m there, I will do the right thing.
Given everything that transpired between you and former Governor Bola Tinubu in the last two years, what is your relationship with him these days?
As far as I’m concerned, I will say categorically that it’s cordial. The only thing is that there are some differences, and not differences as such, but because these days, because of my responsibilities, many people might not like it. Before, I used to be a frequent visitor to his house, but it’s not so again.
Because I’m overwhelmed looking for money to survive (laughter).
It sounds strange for somebody like you to say you’re looking for money to survive…
I must confess to you that the country is tough.
But that’s strange, because your party is in government and you’re one of the right hand men of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
Yes. I am bold to say that you can’t count five people among those who delivered his (Ambode) mandate, before mentioning me. It’s not possible for those who have conscience to do that.
So, what is the relationship between you and Governor Ambode now?
The relationship is not rosy at all and I feel bad about it, because there was no reason to have that kind of relationship. But may be that is his way of doing things. I’m unable to have access to him on certain things, to even guide him on certain issues. Sometimes, I even sent him text messages to let him know if I see anything going wrong in the state. At times, I sent one or two people I know that are close to him and will ask them, please, tell him this or that needs to be done. But I would have expected a situation where communication will freely flow. For example, if I observe a situation, just to call him “Hello, Your Excellency, this or that is happening here and this is what I think we should do,” but such relationship does not exist.
What could have caused that?
What I’m discovering that makes me to feel it’s not intentional on his part is that many people are complaining about the same thing, that he doesn’t pick calls. But you know people have peculiarities. Maybe that is his style, not picking calls.
Could it be that you may be a potential threat to his second term ambition?
Well, I have heard a lot of rumour about that. A lot of people have been telling him that. But those that are close to me know for certain that I’m not interested in elective office, not even an appointment again. I don’t covet it; I do not even have interest at all. You see, there is a Yoruba proverb that says “Ilesanmi dun ju oye lo,” which means that to be on one’s own, in private capacity, is much more honourable. And even more than that, it gives you peace of mind than occupying a public office. So, I belong to that school of thought and I have concluded on that because some of us can’t engage in some things that others can compromise on. I can’t compromise on such things, because I’m a very tough person, very decisive and firm on certain things. So, in terms of enforcement, I will take some positions that some people might consider unpalatable, but which I will see as desirable. So, knowing myself in that respect, I don’t need to occupy a position by which I become another controversial person. So, let me leave them to do their business. But if I have any advice, I’ll pass it to them.
With the crack in the walls of the APC, both in states, even at the national level, and with PDP daily getting their bearing, how is your party going to survive? For example, there are insinuations that Senator Tinubu is on self-exile from the party.
Don’t let me pretend, it’s a challenge. But honestly, I believe the problem is surmountable.
It’s by integration. We have to continue to tolerate each other and be accommodating. It’s not too late to get things right, but if things are not improved upon and we are getting to April 2018, then, we might be having problems. If we are not able to resolve issues by then, there may be cause for alarm.
Part of the rumour going on is that you are being suppressed by Ambode because you are one of the so-called “Abuja Boys,” who are purportedly fighting the establishment in the South-West. Do you think that could be the reason for the onslaught against you?
Well, I’m not benefiting anything from Governor Ambode and I’m not complaining. To me, what matters most is good governance and not personal benefits. In fact, in a serious clime, governance is a serious business and a burden to those who care to know and are genuinely there to serve. For me, being in politics is not about what to eat. By the grace of God, today, God has given me what can sustain me in life and I’m extremely contended. Those who know me know that I’m a person with contentment. Beyond my office, home and court, except to attend few occasions, you can’t find me elsewhere doing other things.
I know there are many people that are being indulged by the state government, who are not even in government. But I do not see reason for what he’s doing, because immediately after primary is over, everybody must come back home. Look, the governor, (and I know he will) in his inner mind believe and will say to himself, “if any man worked for me, ah this man did a lot for me”. And I know that he appreciated me, because at that time and thereafter, he showed appreciation largely. So, for me, the primary election shouldn’t be a basis for discriminating against anybody, because it’s legitimate for people to have ambition. But immediately that primary is over, everybody must forget and come back home and that was my attitude at that time. I even made an advertorial thanking all party members for toeing that path of honour. That’s how it should be.
On being part of Buhari Boys or Abuja Boys, I have been hearing about that, but I don’t know what they meant by Buhari Boys or Abuja Boys. Personally, apart from seeing Buhari at a far distance, I’ve not sat with him one-on-one since we got to government. We’ve met and I’m sure if I’m passing by his side he will not even know me. I know he knows my position on a lot of issues and he knows the stuff I’m made of, but physically, I’m not too sure he knows me. To me, it’s, to a large extent, a baseless insinuation. Again, I do ask, why do we want to be fighting Asiwaju? Why? There is no reason, no basis. I am a lawyer. Is it that I want to become a political leader? I’ve said it many times: I’m not looking for political relevance, not to talk of leadership, because that’s not my path. My path is the legal profession; that is the only area we can have dispute if you want to corner me there. But as far as politics is concerned, whoever becomes anything, so be it, whoever does not, is none of my business.
You were accused of practically working to ensure the emergence of Mr Rotimi Akeredolu as the governorship candidate of APC in Ondo State, and that opposed Tinubu’s desire to have Olusegun Abraham as the candidate, a development that was said to have caused problems between the two of you. How true is this position?
Let me tell you, people, including my Oga, Asiwaju, know me very well. I can’t be bought over and I don’t listen to directives, but when it comes to writing legal opinions, except anybody wants to pretend or lie, they know that whatever I write as legal opinion is not only subject to the test of present time, but of the future, by which people will be able to read it, if faced with similar circumstances. So, I’m very cautious about what I write and write it independently and submit it, because that’s my job. My job is to play the advisory role. I’m sure all these things are all gossips, because if Asiwaju is actually interested in that circumstance, at least, what would have happened was just to say “Muiz, what is going on there; I heard so, so and so things?” But that didn’t happen, so I believe they were just all gossips.
But there was an opinion you wrote at that time that was said to be contrary to the position of Senator Tinubu on the Ondo election?
Let me tell you, Oga did not tell me anything about any letter or opinion I wrote. If he had called me, ah ah, we have been having disagreements internally on several occasions and at the end of the day, I either conceded, or he did, and just say okay, go and do it the way you like. The truth of the matter is that I write legal opinions every day, because there are more turbulent issues that crop up day by day in the party that make me to write opinions and that’s my job. For example, I wrote opinion on Osun that we should give more accommodation to some people, but my opinion, or advice is not even binding. It’s just to guide the workings of the national committee to take certain decisions, if they like. They can say your advice is useless; we don’t want it. It’s their right, and as a professional in that office, I must do the right thing and that is the problem. The problem I have with people is that they can’t differentiate my professional office from the real political office. I’m acting professionally and I can’t act on sentiment that this one and that one are my friends, because if you get to court, they’ll mess you up. I am not in charge of courts. You see, many matters in court will end up like the Kogi or Osun’s case, where every issue will end up in court and I don’t want to be embarrassed.
On the just-concluded local government election primaries in your party, one would have expected you not to come out openly to air your views, but rather to meet the party leaders. Why did you do that?
That was exactly what I did. I went to the party secretariat physically to address the entire Lagos State party executives and when I addressed them on what the constitution says, and, honestly, except they want to deny, all of them were excited and applauded me. I was very proud of them and I said they made me proud. This is what I have been doing in every state across the federation, to advise them on the imperatives of primaries. So, how would I explain it if my own state does not hold primary? And they all agreed. Cardinal Odunmbaku, the deputy state chairman of APC, presided that day. Two weeks after, our chairman returned and I understand that they changed everything we agreed upon and said that they were not going to conduct primaries again. I did not rest there; I wrote a private official letter to the chairman on the position of our constitution over the matter, ‘that please, adhere to it because this is what I have been hearing.’ Till date, there is no acknowledgment, let alone acting on the letter. Now, when I finally heard that that was their decision, I called him on phone and we had discussions and I know what he told me on the issue and I said alright, but try and guide against all these aberrations, because it’s better to be on the side of the law. A day before that, I saw an advert in one newspaper, that our primaries would hold in one place, and all along, I have been advising them on what our constitution says. At that point, I said, look, let history record me rightly, because in this clime, people don’t bother. But if this kind of situation arises, say in the next five years, and you want to talk, they’ll say, what did you do when you were there? I say let me put my history on record for the future. Even, one of your (reporter) colleagues asked me if I had candidates, and I said that is the more reason I have to speak openly. Did I not say all of them should go to the primary? You can endorse, support anybody, but let the person go through primary. We held only one election in Mushin in the past, did I go there? Even, my own councillor, I don’t know him. Go and ask them, the late Adepitan was elected against my own Private Assistant at Alausa, I didn’t dabble in it. They always ask me, ‘Oga, who do you support,’ and I would tell them I’m not interested, because if they vote somebody and that person starts misbehaving when he gets to office, they will say Oga naa lo fun wa, that I am the one who gave them. So, I run away from such. I said go and pick whoever you like so that when the person is misbehaving in office, the blame will not be mine. In the last one and a half years, we have had a Sole Administrator that I’ve never spoken with; I don’t go to the council. So what does that candidate have to do with me? Even if I have a candidate, did I tell them to impose my candidate on others? I said let everybody go for primary, it’s for our own good. Even if my brother goes to primary and doesn’t win, fine, he will not say I didn’t help him.
But there is the need to ensure loyalty to the party leaders.
Ah, these people? Politicians? They are only loyal to their pockets o. I’m telling you without fear of contradiction. Loyalty? These characters? I don’t believe they cherish anything like loyalty, but their pockets. That is why the best way to relate with them is by following the rules. Honestly!
What is your take on the accusation that the APC deceived Nigerians on the issue of restructuring, which has now become a moral burden?
…(Cuts in.) We did not deceive anybody, we did not. We spoke about fiscal restructuring and we are doing that already. Look at solid mineral resources, some federal roads and properties, being conceded to the states. These are all parts of the restructuring we are talking about. It’s a gradual process. Under the new constitution now, there are certain items that were under the exclusive list, but now, they have been taken to either the concurrent or the residual list. Devolution of power is another form of restructuring that will take place. I said it before; the issue of restructuring depends on individual perception. Some will tell you that their definition of restructuring is reordering of natural resources, while some will say it’s the restructuring of the country on regional basis, while to some, it’s autonomy of their states and that is why we set up a committee to deal with that.
One of your leaders and former interim National Chairman of your party, Chief Bisi Akande, said recently that the 1999 Constitution is not redeemable and should be jettisoned. What is your view on this?
So, what do we do, to be without law?
He suggested a return to the 1963 constitution.
Then, let somebody bring it out now. At least, the Senate is doing constitutional amendment. Take it to them and say look, our own position is that don’t start any amendment, take back the 1963 constitution.
What about the call for the adoption of the 2014 National Constitutional Conference report. What is your view?
Plausible argument. Honestly, I’ve not read the report, but I have a good idea about the aspect relating to the judiciary, which is my sector, and I know that most of suggestions there are worthy of consideration. That is much I can say on that.
Why is your party not doing much on that?
For the past two years, what we have been trying to do is to lay a foundation for the prosperity of the country. There is need for priority. You don’t want to come and tell somebody that is hungry about constitutional matters. People will just tell you not to talk rubbish to them, that what they need is money in their pockets.
Do you support the Senate’s decision to take LG elections away from states?
I am fully in support. Let me tell you, this issue of devolution must be well-guided when something is not working. All the states are guilty when it comes to the council elections. If it’s APGA, PDP or APC-controlled sates, it’s the party in power that wins elections. We all know that is what happens in all the states. Essentially, it is selection or appointment of people to local councils. So, it’s either we cancel local government as it is presently constituted and turn them to state government agencies or parastatals, so they can appoint directors-general for them or heads of agencies. But if we are talking about election, experience has shown clearly that in virtually all the states, we don’t have elections. So, how will you sustain what is not working? You need to devise another means. If you don’t want to go towards one direction, you go towards another. But the truth of the matter is that what we have on ground now is not working and it is not capable of working. So, you must look for the alternative. I’m not saying the proposal of the National Assembly is the best, but let other people come out with a superior one. At least, nobody will tell you in Nigeria today that this is the best we can get.
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