Dr. Muiz Banire is the National Legal Adviser of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). A former commissioner for transport and later environment in Lagos State, and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Banire spoke with Oladipupo Awojobi on several issues including democracy at the local government level and within the party, performance of APC government 14 months after inauguration, and allegations of corruption against judicial officers. Excerpts
Why did you go out of circulation politically since 2011, when you left as a commissioner in Lagos State?
My profession as a lawyer is a very challenging one and it has pre-occupied me for some time now. Secondly, not much is equally going on in the political arena except that we are all trying to add value to the system and there are so many ways to add value to the system. For example, we have an organisation called United Action for Change that we have been using to assist the society at large. We believe that we do not need any public office to improve the lot of our people. We have been doing a lot of programmes consistently in Lagos and outside the state.
Most state governors in the country appoint sole administrators to run the local governments and some people are against this. How would you react to this?
The constitution of Nigeria, I think in Section 7, says that all local governments in Nigeria must have democratically elected officials. This means that anyone that occupies such an office without election is doing so illegally. If you look at the trend now, even in APC states, sole administrators are being appointed to head local governments. Election was recently held into the local governments in Adamawa State, and probably in Sokoto State.
We are encouraging governors of APC states to conduct elections into the local governments. We must be a party and government of the rule of law.
If the constitution states that local councils must be run by democratically elected leaders, you must abide by it. Number two is on of primary elections in the local governments. For instance, in Lagos State here, they say there would not be primaries before nominations at the local councils. Article 20 (II and III) of the constitution of the APC make it compulsory for primaries to be held even for the positions of councillors. If you fail to do that, it would be a violation of the APC Constitution. Anybody that is aggrieved with the outcome of the primary elections can go to court to challenge the outcome. Once you petition the national body of the party and they fail to come to your aid, you can go to court.
There is a provision that enables you to go to court on the constitution. I am even planning to convene a meeting of all the legal advisers of the APC across the states to tell them to start advising their people on the dictates of our constitution. It is also part of our constitution that to be a member of the party, you must have subscribed to the internal democracy of the party. In Article 21. It is an offense for you to sideline internal democracy in the party. It is unconstitutional under the platform of the APC to impose candidates on the party without conducting primaries. It is part of the basis of being a member of the APC. If you don’t believe in it, you cannot be our member.
The constitution is explicit on this. We need to be cautious, when we are handling things in the party. I know how many seats we lost in the states houses of assembly, senate and the House of Representatives in the last election due to lack of internal democracy. I always advise them that we should democratise local government elections because someone can rise up one day to challenge all those that have ruled the councils that were not democratically elected and it would be a doom for all of them. What is wrong in doing primary elections, and I am glad that a lot of APC states are already taking that position. I have personally written a legal opinion on this at the national level, and I believe that all our states would conduct local government elections before the end of the year.
Your government has spent over one year in office and a lot of people are complaining that not much is happening on the economy, and that it is like the APC did not prepare for power. What is your take on this?
I must tell you that we have been putting in our best on the leadership of the country, particularly those in the executive arm of government. I would like to say that what we should concentrate on now is to lay a solid foundation for the country. Not so much could be achieved in four years, so they are laying a solid foundation, which needed to be done otherwise whatever we build on it would crumble. For that to be successful, people should be ready to pay a price. Everybody, including the President, knows that Nigerians are going through a very hard situation unless the person is deceiving himself.
The people are suffering, which is the reality. I have not seen anyone that is not affected. We, the professionals also feel it not to talk of others. We have to leave it as it is now, a lot of adjustments have to be made now. My own appeal to the people is that they should bear more with the government. The government is trying to push out some shock absorber and palliatives. It is not as if those in government are living extravagant life in the midst of poverty that is being experienced by the people. I have been to Aso Rock Villa severally and I see the way they live there too. All those allowances are no more there. We are all going through one excruciating situation or the other now. But, a foundation is being laid on which our future lies.
People are saying that the government should have soft pedalled on Treasury Single Account (TSA) as it has led to job loss in the banks…
I do not know so much about TSA, but I do not see how it would affect jobs in the banks. The only thing about it is that the accounts of the government are now being centrally controlled, which is what I think has changed. The money is still being kept in the banks.
It is believed that the Federal Government is partial in its anti-corruption fight as many people believe that they are only probing those in the PDP, while APC members, who were in one office or the other in the past, are being spared. What is your view on this?
I would disagree with that on one ground because under the Act of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), there is a portion that says if you have any allegation against a particular person, you are at liberty to write them against the person. Let those people bring their copies of allegations against the people they feel are corrupt. You cannot castigate the President on that. It is only in this country that we don’t respect institutions. The laws that established the EFCC stipulate its powers and procedures. You are now saying the President does not order the arrest of some persons thereby giving him the powers he does not have and when he starts wielding the power you would start complaining. He doesn’t have it. If the EFCC is failing, let us challenge them. If I have a petition against anybody, I would come out with it.
The issue of budget padding in the House of Reps seems to have exposed certain things, but it is like it is now being treated like a family affair by the APC as stated by some people. Do you agree with them?
It is not as if it is being treated as a family affair, people always think we want to do such a thing. We are not a party like the PDP, where such is being done. You see, let me emphasize that there is rule of law, which all of us must respect. We must allow the rule of law to prevail at all times. The alternative to the rule of law is the rule of man and that would lead to anarchy and chaos. So, we must not allow it, the former chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, has submitted his petition to the EFCC, it is now left for them to go and investigate the allegations. The best you can do is to submit a petition against the man or else we cannot go against the process of investigation or the judicial process, it is not in the character of our party.
The Edo State election is fast approaching. What are the chances of your party, the APC in view of the fact that people are criticizing the performances of Governor Adams Oshiomhole in the last eight years?
It is not Comrade Oshiomhole that is contesting, it is Mr. Godwin Obaseki. Obaseki is a product of the party’s primaries. If you look at what Edo State was before now and where it is now, you would see a lot of differences. Actually no government can solve all the problems of the people, otherwise there would be no need for government anymore. So, Oshiomhole believes he has done his bit and he has somebody, who can take it further.
How would you react to insinuations that some of the leaders of the APC are being alienated such as the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, based on the issues they have with the party?
That is not correct, you must draw a line between government and the party. Nobody can say he or she has been alienated by the party because there is a procedure for such an alienation. But, if you are talking about what is happening in the government, I cannot say much on that. When people come to me for appointment, I always tell them that it is not my duty to influence such.
The issue of state police is coming up again with the state of insecurity in the country with increase in killings and kidnapping, would you want the government to consider this. Also, what is your take on the demand for self determination by some groups?
Under the law, you have a right for self determination, but there is a process for that.
On state police, I believe in it, I also believe in community police, which is the one in the local governments. They are important for the country. Once the states say they can fund state police, why can’t we allow them to establish it. They are not asking the Federal Government to help them fund it. All that they need to do is delineation of jurisdiction about areas where the federal police would cover and where the state police would cover. The excuse they usually give is that state police would be abused. Once they have identified the problem, it is easier to be solved, diagnosis have been made, so, you can easily have the prognosis, we can work out the modalities to checkmate the potential abuse. You would not prevent the merit of state police because of that.
You did well in your days as commissioner for transport and later environment in Lagos State. Where do we see you in the nearest future?
I am not cut out for any elective office, even the other time people were spreading rumour that I wanted to contest for the governorship of Lagos State, I just kept quiet. Not all of us are cut out for such things, we are not ready to compromise and be involved in anything that is ungodly. Also, some of us cannot stand the stigma arising from holding such positions. I am highly sensitive to somebody calling me a thief. If anyone calls me a thief, I would feel bad about it. Truly, if I don’t want to steal, I cannot be a governor because how much is the salary of a governor.
I know how much I need for my responsibility to take care of my immediate and extended families. I know how much I need in a year not to talk of other ones. So, the next option would be to compromise my standard. But, I prefer to face my private work that would provide for me and my family. If I become a governor, except I want to compromise, there is no way I can sustain myself and family, then I would be forced to start compromising. Also, in Nigeria, we have not started practicing politics of issues.
Until we get to politics of issues that some of us would even have some ideas, and encourage people to buy into it, we cannot be part of it. I don’t know where people get money to throw around, when they want to contest elections. I would never share money to people all because I want to go to a public office to serve them. It shows you want to go there to steal, so it is not an attraction to me.
Talking about your constituency, the judiciary, people believe there is a lot of corruption there, especially in the bench, is this true?
It is lack of understanding of the workings of the judiciary to say that. Judiciary, to the best of my knowledge, and I need to be corrected if I am wrong, is the least corrupt institution in Nigeria. The mere fact that you have one or two people that are corrupt does not mean they are all corrupt. I have been practicing law for some time now and I practice in the Federal jurisdiction and I swear I have never given money to any judge for a case. Sometimes, if you are handling a case in the court of a judge that knows you, you would end up losing the case so that it won’t appear as if he is biased. I have some of my friends that are judges and they told me that once they put my matter before them, I should ask for transfer because they would not hear it.
For me, it is a misconception of the judiciary.
At times, people go to court, especially on criminal matters and they do not do their home work very well and they would start complaining, when they lose the case. Sometimes, they put a man that is not experienced in that field to handle the case and they lose and start blaming the judge. You might have one or two that are corrupt, and you now want to generalise. They are extremely negligible, so it would be criminal and unjust to now generalise with this. Most of our judges are people of integrity, I can vouch for them. One of them was trying to buy a property recently in a place, where you would never imagine to live. He wanted to buy it in a canal, and they said he is a judge in a court of appeal. He told them that was what he could afford. If he was corrupt, he would live in Ikoyi, Lekki or GRA. That is what you find out amongst most of the