Banire: Why We’re Pursuing the Change Agenda

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Convener of the United Action for Change and National Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress, Dr. Muiz Banire, has provided answers to some of the frequently asked questions on the initiative behind his pet project, UAC. He also dealt with some topical national issues. Shola Oyeyipo presents the excerpts:

You are the coordinator of the United Action for Change and like a child’s play it has begun to secure interesting attention on the political space, especially given the recent Town Hall Meeting and a lot of people are wondering, what is the rationale behind this initiative?
In the first place, I am not the coordinator. Mr. Niyi Akinsiju is the coordinator. I am the convener. And the group arose out of the need to have an alternative platform, wherein opinions can be expressed on matters of national importance. In fact, it arose out of dialogue among people, not necessarily politicians. Most of our members are not really politicians. It is just that we found ourselves together. Most of the times, some of them get agitated about things happening in the country and some of us try to respond; in some cases even inviting them into the political circles but in most cases they don’t want to touch it.

As far as they are concerned, politics is dirty; they don’t want to get involved. Then, we said okay, let us agree. There are other ways of contributing to the system. Let us have a platform, where all of us can come together and then look at things from objective perspective and pass our ideas. That was the evolution of the group and till date, it remains a non-partisan group because we have people with Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) tendencies; the All Progressives Congress (APC) tendencies, in fact, larger number of our people are non-politicians.

They are substantially people you refer to as ‘I no go gree’ – activists mainly, who believe that they need a platform to add value to the system, particularly, the change mantra of the present government that they believe in. So, that is what is responsible for it. We are not political at all and I can tell you for free that we do not intend, in the nearest future, to be political. We want to remain focused on the things that we are doing and we want to make sure that at the end of the day, we continue to complement the efforts of the government at all levels, when it comes to the issue of propriety and that is what has brought us together.

If you look at most of the things that we have done, you will see the narratives there. I give you an example: we have succeeded in drafting some bills that bother on anti-corruption – the Whistle Blowers’ Bill, the Freedom of Information, which we have taken to some stage and we are still continuing. Our intention is to take it round all the states and get all the states to pass it into legislation.

Beyond that, we hold our monthly round table meetings wherein we take issues that are critical to the development of the nation. For example, the issue of petroleum; we dealt with it at one of our round tables. The issue of power, we have dealt with it, even when Lagos was having serious challenges in governance at the beginning of the administration, we had a round table and in all these ones, the report arising therefrom were passed to the necessary authorities by way of advisory note because for as much as we can, we try to be non-confrontational. We try to advise behind the scene those responsible in that regard.

Of course, we do public interest litigation also and apart from the town hall meeting that we witnessed recently, there are also public lectures and symposiums that we undertake from time to time. Our conviction is that certainly, you do not need a political platform or any office whatsoever to contribute to the development of your society and that is what we are pursuing and what we represent.

The name of the group is United Action for Change and it sounds too much like the APC change mantra, is there any relationship between that group and the APC?
Our believe is that once election is over, the government is responsible for everybody and to that extent, once we believe in it – most of us believe that we must change the way we do things. We must move away from usual things to unusual ones. And to do this one, certainly you need change. So, whether it is the APC change mantra or the proper change mantra in the context of the public expectations – for example impunity – all of us, regardless of your political affiliation or sympathy, will agree that we must stem the tide of impunity in Nigeria.

All of us, I believe to a large extent, will agree that we must fight corruption. So, in all of these issues, we believe that if we are all on the same page, then we can be following that agenda, even beyond what APC is saying about change. We can even escalate it beyond that and which we are doing and we shall continue to do beyond what was envisaged as at the time APC was putting its own change mantra down.

Beyond the immediate intervention, which is to spur the government of the day to delivering on its promises, what are the long term aims and objectives of this group?
The long term aim and objective is to constitute ourselves into a movement – a serious pressure group that is capable of keeping the government on its toes in delivering on its promises always so that the people understand their rights. We want to educate them. We want to ensure that due process and due diligence is undertaken in virtually all our affairs. We want to make sure that Nigerians can no more be taken for granted on any issue whatsoever. We are ready to go to any length in making sure the people know about their rights.

For example, after elections, people tend to forget that the political office holders are accountable to them – you have a right in a council to say “My Chairman, how much has come to our council by way of allocation this month, what have you done with that money? You have right to call on your councilor and by extension, the state and the federal government, but right now, a lot of people don’t even know who their ambassadors or representatives are, much less asking them these questions.
So, we believe that Nigeria still needs a lot of education so that people will not continue to take them for granted the way they are being taken for granted currently and that is part of our long term objective. And of course, our advocacy, we believe at a time will still get to the grassroots because for now, I must confess to you, we do not have the capacity. We need mass of people.

For example, we want to be able to go to the market place and tell the market women that cheating via the manipulation of measurement of ordinary gari or rice must be stopped. We need some people that will go to that level to educate them that it is going to be a vicious circle of poverty because if you continue to cheat people here they will cheat you elsewhere. We want to educate the people on the nexus between their votes and their lives because some people can sell it for influence, money or immediate satisfaction.

Part of the next level will be to expand to other states because for now it seems as a basically Lagos-based group. We are not in Lagos alone. Currently, we are in Osun, Oyo, Ogun is coming up, Abuja is already in place, Kogi will be in place very soon, Benue is on its way. So we are moving gradually. We are not in a hurry to be candid.

With due respect to your standing in the league of your profession, the truth is, whenever your name is mentioned, what people see is a politician. You have been very active at both the state and the national level over the years and now, how are you able to extricate yourself and your interest from this group when matters clash?
Well, I must say it is a challenge. I must confess to you, it is challenge. What I do as much as possible when such issues come up, I excuse myself so that I don’t bias their minds – take your own position and move ahead with it. That is number one. Number two, part of the reasons I joined the group was because of the conviction that there is the need for some of us to continue to stand for something.

I tell you, not all of us have that capacity for political intrigues. I don’t have it. Most times, a lot of our people believe that for you to be able to derive one advantage or the other, you have to manipulate the process or play some intrigues here and there but I am not used to it and I want to remain honourable. My word, I want to believe must continuously remain my bond. This is lacking where I am operating currently, to a large extent. I believe we must have a platform, where we must tell ourselves the truth without anybody feeling bad about it. So, that is why I am in UAC today and I believe that the other end is becoming suffocating for me now and I believe it will soon get to a level where some of us will have to exit that platform for good.

Like somebody keeps asking me, “what is happening to you politically, we are not hearing from you,” and I say, “we are ‘Politically Displaced People,’ so don’t mind us. May be with time, we will leave the space for them so that they can concentrate on what they know how best to do. We want to concentrate on what we know how best to do. We want to continuously add value to the system, regardless of position or platform.

But that excuse cannot suffice because presently you are the National Legal Adviser of your party and is this not going to in one way or the other undermine that office with respect to the philosophy and standing of your party?
I can tell you for free that it is consistent with the position of the party on all issues because for those who are in the national exco with me, you can find out yourself, these positions that I am canvassing are the position I take at the party level and I believe that it is the proper positions to continuously take.
Of course, there will always be insinuations. My expectation is to hear that certainly, that group is Atiku’s group or is Saraki’s group; they are being funded by Fashola or somebody is funding them; they have political agenda and all that. But I tell you as I always tell our members, we don’t distribute money; we don’t share rice; we have nothing to share there – all that we do there is to engage in intellectual discussions and bring out things that we believe can add value to the system.

How do you source your funding?
Thank you very much. The first thing, by our constitution, members have dues they must pay. It is compulsory. Second is the fact that we have donors among ourselves either in cash or in kind. For example, one woman came to our roundtable one day, her name is Mrs. Koya, after the event, she said I am so impressed with what you are doing, she wrote a cheque of N50, 000 and gave it to us. I can count a number of people that have given N100, 000, N200, 000. Somebody, Dr. Afolabi, donated a generator to our secretariat; Kunle Adegoke donated public address system and the last town hall meeting we had, somebody donated all the drinks. So, we do have volunteers from time to time.
But we intend to further develop our funding capability. For example, somebody is working on how we can be raising money directly from members of the public, particularly is, they are convinced about what we are doing. For instance, after the town hall meeting, so many people wanted to join us. Even the meeting was full to the brim yesterday. So many people will want to fund us if they see that we mean well and that we are genuine and not political.

Moving away from the group now, as a national legal adviser of your party and as a Nigerian too, would you think the people are actually impatient with this government almost one year in office and nothing seems to be working?
I think they must be impatient. They are really impatient. For me, as a Nigerian, I believe that the best this government should even achieve is laying solid foundation for us in the next four years. That must be their concentration because if you build a house on sand, it would collapse eventually. Give us something that is solid – that is irreversible so that subsequent governments can start building on it. But they are going beyond that now.
For example, in the anti-corruption group, I know a lot of work has been done and I know they are battling other challenges that you can see. The problem of forex, the problem of petroleum, unemployment, insecurity – they are still putting everything in place to ensure that they nib them in the bud and that, they have been able to do successfully. Having been able to cage those, developmental issues can now come up. This is going to be the first budget the government is running; so they should wait – exercise some little patience and see what will happen in the next one year then we can now be able to benchmark them against their promises.

What can you make of the needless friction between the senate and the presidency lately?
Well, I don’t know what you mean by needless but I won’t agree that it is needless. At times, you need this proper checks and balances. Honestly, we must all be policeman of each other. As far as I am concerned, in fact, this is best experiment I am enjoying most in Nigeria today. If all states can be like this, it will be great for Nigerians and the masses because the executive now is extremely suspicious of the legislature.
So, they are always watching their movement and body language vis-à-vis, the senators and honourable members are looking at the executive; let’s see whether you will do what you are saying we should not do. So everybody is watching each other in a manner that is ultimately beneficial to the masses. So, it is not needless. Now, they are resolving it. Now, they are aligning. That is how it must be. It must be inter-dependence and not dependence.

Do you agree that the present administration does not have the capacity to contain the economic challenges?
Certainly not! I will never agree.

As a Lagosian and one who has served the state meritoriously over the years, a lot of people believe that you are not comfortable with the present administration in Lagos but they cannot understand why. Is it a personal thing or on the grounds of principle?
The first thing I will say is that even if I don’t like the face of the person in government at any time, the truth is that I must ensure that this state progresses and that this state does not fail. I owe this state that duty, regardless of the personality that is there. For me, that duty I am discharging in all manners.
For example, I was in Abuja one day, I wasn’t sent by the Lagos State Government but where I felt Lagos State could benefit from ecological fund, I did my best in that regard and it is still on. It is work-in-progress. When I saw that there were so many challenges for which they seemed not to have direction upon, I convened a roundtable conference and the report of the roundtable with the solution, I sent to His Excellency, the governor of the state.
These are some of the things I have been doing but we don’t have to be personal friends. There is no law that says we must be personal friends. What binds us together is Lagos State. When it comes to the issue of Lagos State, we must be at par. I am always at par with anybody when it comes to our interest but personal, it doesn’t matter. We have never been friends before, we don’t have to be friends now and in the future we don’t have to but one thing binds us together, Lagos State.

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Of course, there will always be insinuations. My expectation is to hear that certainly, that group is Atiku’s group or is Saraki’s group; they are being funded by Fashola or somebody is funding them; they have political agenda and all that. But I tell you as I always tell our members, we don’t distribute money; we don’t share rice; we have nothing to share there – all that we do there is to engage in intellectual discussions and bring out things that we believe can add value to the system