Banire: Current Economic Hardship Not Unexpected

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The National Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress, Dr. Muiz Adeyemi Banire, spoke to Femi Ogbonnikan on his party and President Muhammadu Buhari’s first year in office. Excerpts:

The government of your party was a year in office a week ago. How has it been?
The government has been doing very well, so far. Everything is well. We have been doing very well. So, as we are concerned, we are moving steadily.

In fairness, would you say your party has delivered on its electoral promises?
In the first instance, we must recognise the fact, that what we inherited was so bad. So, we need, in the first instance, to rebuild the foundation, and that is what people seem to be forgetting. It is important, that you build a solid foundation, before you start developing on it. And to a large extent, we have been able to put the necessary foundation in place now. And beyond that, also, within the period, in some critical areas of the economy, we have been able to do meaningful things. For example, in terms of security, we have done very well.
At least, we are pleased to ourselves, even if the challenges are coming, but they are being tamed. In terms of the anti-corruption, of course, it is obvious to everybody that now, the culture of impunity, in that regard is fast vanishing from our system. Law and order is returning. Corruption is being tamed largely. And again, there is relative progress in terms of industrialisation, equally. In fact, diversification is taking place at larger scales now. People are diversifying into agriculture, into the solid minerals, rather than everybody concentrating on oil and its products.

But a majority of Nigerians have continued to groan under the excruciating economic downturn. Is that also progress?
To be candid, it is not expected, but that is what we call birth pains. You know, when a woman wants to give birth to a child, the woman would have, first and foremost, gone through severe pains. Thereafter, what comes out of it? Joy! Any moment thereafter, they would be enjoying. And if we did not do such sacrifices, it means we don’t mean well for the system. The government that means well for the people should be able to take courageous decisions. And this is what we have done so far, but we are extremely optimistic that at the end of the day, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. People are going to be praising us for this, but we just must sacrifice this period that we are going through. The outcome of it would be to the pleasure and delight of everybody in the country.

It seems all is not well within the leadership of APC, of which you are its National Legal Adviser. You often criticise the leadership. Why is that?
I can tell you for free that all is well within the party, but what people seem not to realise is that there are structures within the party. We have structures and we have organs within the party and these are the things that you must benchmark within the party. There is peace at the national level, and I am a member of the National Executive Committee and at the same time, I am a member of the National Working Committee. And I know there is no crisis at the national level. But in some few states, we have some skirmishes here and there, which are inevitable anyway. But we must still manage them; they are not something that is that alarming at all. There is nothing to be worried about.

If your criticism has been against god-fatherism and imposition of candidates, which is seen as the stock-in-trade of your party from the days of AD to AC to ACN and to APC, why is this practice suddenly strange to you?
I can tell you to a large extent, if we go by our last experiment, we have substantially been able to eliminate that now. We went through primaries and beyond the Constitution the Electoral Act mandates it too. It is also part of the objectives that each party member must subscribe to it. If you look at our party, in fact, it is an offence under APC constitution for you to torpedo the internal democracy of the party. It is a serious offence, which can earn you expulsion. If you look at our constitution, it is a serious matter and we take it seriously.

Is it true that you and some people within the APC have formed a reformist group and that you have decided to form another platform?
Well, we do not have any group within the APC. I have a movement outside APC, which is not a political group. It is completely not political. It is a neutral platform for people, who for example, largely do not believe in party at all. Some within the party, some are not in APC, they are in other parties. So, it is a new platform for people, who believe, they have something to give back to the society. That is what the platform is all about. It is called United Action for Change. It is not a political party. It is not a political grouping. It is a group, meant for the advancement of practical changes in Nigeria. That is what it is for.

Wouldn’t it be misinterpreted to mean you are gradually leaving the APC?
It is untrue that they said I am leaving APC. We are not leaving the APC for any other political party. We have spheres of operation, areas of operation. We are not going to another party. I believe in the leadership of the President and the Vice-President totally and committed to those, who worked tirelessly for our victory at the presidential election last year.

I am not interested in any political or elective office, but in terms of their characters, integrity and capacity, I can tell you, I believe in them. Even if I am not doing any party again, I will do well within my capacity to ensure, that these people take us as far as our dream land, if not totally to our dream land. But it is not about graduating to another party at all, it is far from that. Anyway, there is no other opposition party in existence again, and there is only one party in Nigeria now, which is APC.

You can’t be in active politics and not seek an elective office or an appointment. Why are you in politics then?
Let me tell you, part of the message we are trying to pass across is that it is time for Nigeria to realise we all need to support any government in power towards realising its objectives. Government alone can’t deliver the goods, except we are wasting our time. They need the support of the followers, and all of us can contribute in one form or the other. It is not when you are given appointment that you can add value to the system. You can do it individually. You can group yourself by doing something. That is the message we are sending out now.

In our group, we meet at 3:00 pm every Sunday, and nobody is expecting rice from anybody. Nobody will distribute money there. We all contribute. People volunteer their skills. This is what we do there. We want to show that we don’t need to expect anything from anybody for you to be able to help the system. You know, ultimately, to help the system work, it would benefit all of us. It is true. That is our destination.

Don’t you stand the risk of being sanctioned for anti-party?
I don’t know who will want to sanction me in the first instance because in the first instance, the party has a disciplinary procedure. We have offences that you can and you cannot commit. And all I have been telling you and I have been saying are inside our party’s constitution. There is nothing I have said anywhere that is outside our party’s constitution. We must be apostles of our party’s constitution. So, as far, as I am concerned, if anything, it should be commendation for saying, that our party is unique. It is a democratic set-up. It is not a place, where you have one thing on paper and another thing in practice.

We go by the letters of our constitution. That is what we are continuing to do. You see, inevitably you will expect that there are some political charlatans here and there, and these scavengers, that will misinterpret any step or act, that you take or your omission. But for those that are focused, I believe I am one. I don’t get distracted by anybody. And again, the most important thing is that in your life as a human being, you must be known as standing for something. If you fall for everything, then you are not honourable. You are nobody. If for anything, they bring in and you say, yes, and if they say that, and you will say, yes.

No, let people know you particularly for something that is right; for what is not personal. I don’t bear personal grudge against anybody but honestly, I believe that our subscription as a people is that we must do a proper thing. But all of us must strive towards doing the proper thing. One thing I will tell you, which I always tell people us: how do we get to where we are in Nigeria today? It is the refusal to follow the rule of law. I want to tell you for free that if we do not follow the rule of law, the alternative to it is the rule of man. And the rule of man is not settled.

And do you know the consequences of the rule of man? It is tyranny. So, if you don’t want tyranny; that is why I said to somebody, “Look, if you don’t want the rule of law, let us see if we will exist then”. In the word of Thomas Hobbes, life becomes brutish and nasty. That is the era that we will return to. But in order not for that to happen, all to of us must promote the rule of law and the rule of law expects that institutions should be allowed to function independently.

Apart from you in the new group, who are the other like-minds?
We have so many people there. We have, for example, Yinka Farounmbi. We have Niyi Akinsiju. We have about 600 members. We have Popoola. We are already in Oyo and Ogun States. We are in Osun State. As we are talking now, some people have started theirs in Cross River and I think Akwa Ibom too. Somebody just sent a text to me now that they want to start in Kogi State. We are multiplying daily because the only thing you can possess to qualify to be our member is to say you are ready to do a proper thing and you are ready to sacrifice for the people and that you are ready to add value to the system. That is what we are doing.

In essence, you are insisting it is not a political platform?
It is not.

What if at the end of the day, it transmutes into a political movement?
It cannot transmute because it would defeat our objectives. We don’t want to be convicted in any way. We want to be known to address issues in a neutral manner. So, it can never, because once it becomes a political movement, then we can begin to have issues, challenges with the oppositions.

So, it is just a pressure group?
Something like that! It is a movement on its own, directed towards the reformation of the society as a whole.

You are very close to the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is also said to be unhappy with some of the developments in the party. Is that true or false?
There is nothing like that. It is just speculation. All is well. One thing, you must know is that, we cannot agree at the same time. Like the Yoruba people will always say in their proverb, “you can’t all sleep in one direction”. Occasionally, there might be disagreement here and there, but it is necessary in every development of our democracy. I can tell you, it is not something of a disagreement that is capable of festering or dividing the party at all. It is not.

What is the national leadership of APC doing to address the crises in some state chapters of the party?
We have a lot of crisis. In fact, a lot of them will be resolved soon, leaving about one or two states now. We will resolve them. If we have a situation on our hands now, we don’t allow it to fester before we arrest it. You cannot run away from it. The honest thing is that you can’t run away from conflicts and it is part of human being. You can’t run away from it.

What’s your assessment of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in the last one year?
You see, when you journalists ask me such a question, I always tell you that I am unable to say anything and the reason is simple. Number one, I am not part of the decision-making process in the state. I have no idea of what is going on there. And unfortunately and fortunately, somehow, I seem to operate more in Abuja these days. And so, I am extremely distant from the administration of the state.

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To be candid, it is not expected, but that is what we call birth pains. You know, when a woman wants to give birth to a child, the woman would have first and foremost gone through severe pains. Thereafter, what comes out of it? Joy! Any moment thereafter, they would be enjoying. And if we did not do such sacrifices, it means we don’t mean well for the system. The government that means well for the people should be able to take courageous decisions. And this is what we have done so far, but we are extremely optimistic