The Travails of Banire

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For seeking an inclusive and ‎transparent process in the conduct of primaries for the local government elections in Lagos State, the National Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress, Dr. Muiz Banire, is under attack, writes Shola Oyeyipo

The plot to boot out the National Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress, Dr. Muiz Banire (SAN) from the party is thickening by the day.

The legal practitioner-academician-turned politician is being haunted because he is a leftist in the Lagos political spectrum. Against all odds, he has continued to insist that things must be done orderly in the ruling party without giving a hoot about whose ox is gored.

Before now, Banire used to be one of the closest political allies of former governor of the state and national leader of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu. He was a commissioner in his cabinet for eight years. However, the relationship broke down when Banire aspired to be governor of Lagos only to discover that his political mentor, Tinubu had a different idea. Tinubu supported Ambode and Banire was left in the cold.

At that point, the reality of how politics is played in this part of the world suddenly dawned on him. He thought of quitting the political arena altogether and concentrating on law practice. He however, admitted that it was not a do or die affair to be governor. He chose to stay on.

Perhaps, he is playing the game in line with the old tradition of he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. Buoyed by a formidable political structure, Banire hopes that tomorrow will bring good tidings.

But then, he isn’t going to sit idly by and watch. Even if it amounts to stepping on the toes of the godfather , he is determined to put up a fight to change the way politics is played in Lagos. He is now a champion of orderliness in the party. He is a lone voice calling for orderliness and respect for the constitution of the party. Banire is especially against imposition of candidates for elective offices.

That has been his position since the 2014 governorship election primaries. But that cause is going to bring him on a collision cause with his mentor. How prepared is he for the battle? Does he have the financial muzzle to champion this course? Only time will decide. For now, it appears he has prepared himself to go the long haul.

The no-love-lost relationship between Banire and the APC leadership in Lagos reached a crescendo in the build up to the recently concluded July 22 local government elections. First, he wrote a letter to the state’s APC Chairman, Chief Henry Ajomale warning against the decision to conduct primaries election for all the aspirants in a centralised location on the grounds that it would amount to a violation of the party’s constitution to do so.

Going by his position, the unified primary election held on May 27 at Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, Lagos was alien to the party constitution. He maintained that the local government executives had the powers under the party’s constitution to designate suitable venues for the exercise.

The letter reads in part: “I must say that I do not want to believe that the essence of seeking to centralise the conduct of the primaries is to manipulate and rig the process in favour of certain imposed candidates. I urge transparency and fairness in the conduct of the primaries. It is necessary to avoid any exercise in futility.”

Eventually, the events that ensued at the primaries and the crisis that followed are still points of reference in debates on the primaries. He was proven right. Angry party’s supporters destroyed ballot boxes over allegations of imposition of candidates at the election. People at the event ran for their lives as fracas escalated. The protesters turned their anger on a former Commissioner for Tourism in the state, Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, who was the chairman of the electoral committee. They attacked him and he was nearly stripped naked before policemen rescued and led him to safety. Some unlucky persons were injured.

There were also protests across the local government over names that eventually emerged as party candidates. It took dexterous moves on the part of the governor and other leaders of the party to do some give and takes that restored some level of peace in the party before the elections.

But that peaceful resolution was not achieved in Odi Olowo Local Development Area where a suit was filed by one Hon Hakeem Abolaji Saka against the APC and the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC). He had asked the court to declare that no primaries were held on May 27 in respect of the Odi Olowo APC LCDA chairmanship office and that prayer was granted by Justice Doris Okwobi of a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja.

She ruled that no primaries were held on the May 27, 2017 in the LCDA and ordered the APC to conduct fresh primary elections for Odi Olowo.

During the hearing, Banire, through the office of the National Legal Adviser, told the court that he warned the Lagos State chapter of the party to obey the provisions of the party’s constitution by organising delegates election and to avoid imposition. He also told the court that the national secretariat of the party had also warned the state chapter to ensure internal democracy by ensuring democratic primaries were held for all aspirants and he told the court that the warnings were not heeded.

It was against that background that Ajomale, accused Banire of being behind the case that brought about fresh primaries in the LCDA, which he described as an ‘ambush’. An allegation Banire denied, but maintained that he acted within his scope as the National Legal Adviser to the APC since Lagos State is not a legal entity in the party constitution.

Constrained to hold the rescheduled primaries with one time vice chairman, Raska Ajala emerging as the candidate, the party had to get the Lagos State House of Assembly to hurriedly amend and pass into law, the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill 2017 four days to the July 22 council elections. It was the only way Ajala’s name could be submitted to LASIEC since the time to submit candidates names had lapsed.

Suddenly, protesters from Mushin Local Government Area and Odi Olowo LCDA, Banire’s strongholds started demanding his suspension from the party for alleged anti-party activities. One of the leaders of the protesters, Mr. Femi Martins, claimed that Banire had made public utterances capable of causing disaffection and electoral misfortune for the APC.

In a petition addressed to Ambode, the Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa and the state’s APC chairman, the protesters listed 17 crimes allegedly committed by Banire against the Lagos APC to warrant the call for his expulsion from the party.

As if that is not enough, the Deputy Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Wasiu Eshilokun Sanni has again dragged Banire before a Lagos High Court in Ikeja for alleged forgery of his purported withdrawal letter from the 2015 election into Lagos Island Constituency 1 of the house in a suit filed alongside the duo of Babatunde John Kehinde and Alhaji Kazeem Olatunji

They are asking the court to declare Banire as unfit to continue to occupy the office of the party’s National Legal Adviser on the grounds of alleged forgery, anti-party activities and breach of several provisions of the APC constitution.

In a 37-paragraph supporting affidavit detailing alleged atrocities against Banire, Sanni averred that having scaled through the nomination and screening of aspirants processes, he contested the primaries of APC on December 2, 2014 along with seven other aspirants and emerged as the party’s candidate and that upon the announcement of his name as the winner, the party issued him with the nomination form as its candidate for the election, but that in gross violation of his legal right, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) unlawfully substituted his name with that of Hakeem Masha as the candidate of the party for the election based on a false withdrawal letter purportedly caused to be written by Banire in his capacity as National Legal Adviser.

Sanni said the withdrawal letter dated January 9, 2015 had his signature and name, whereas there was no time he wrote such letter. He said he approached the Federal High Court in Lagos and in a judgment in suit with reference number FHC/L/CS/34/2015, Justice Mohammed Buba upheld the reliefs sought and ordered his reinstatement as the lawful candidate of the APC. He noted that ever since then the party has not made him (Banire) explain why the letter was written.

Sanni also accused Banire of anti-party activities and breach of several provisions of APC constitution. He cited what he called “the unauthorised publicity” of the party’s dispute in Lagos State by Banire in a national daily without reference to Lagos APC or the national executive committee among other reasons. He called on the court to relieve Banire of his job as the party’s legal officer.

But as the battle of wit and strength continues in Lagos APC, the embattled Banire has been receiving some accolades for standing strong against the power brokers in the state. The National Publicity Secretary, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, in a published article, commended him for standing up to the Lagos hegemony “like a real man with good balls and eyeball-to-eyeball.”

Also, a legal practitioner and deputy convener, United Action for Change (UAC), where Banire is the convener, Mr. Kunle Adegoke, had described those who protested against Banire as engaging in “inglorious show of self-immolation.” Not only did he give kudos to Banire’s exemplary boldness to stand up for the truth in the face intimidation, he said the UAC was fully in support of everything the APC National Legal Adviser did.

The latest development in the strained intra-party relationship is that an executive committee of the APC in Mushin local government area had announced that Banire had been suspended, a move Banire dismissed on the grounds that a local chapter of the APC could not suspend a national officer.

Reacting to the news of his suspension, Banire said: “I have just been told that a press release is circulating around from the state government that I have been suspended. This is another orchestrated lie by the state. I am still the substantive legal adviser of the party above being suspended by any organ but the national leadership of the APC. For those who care, they should watch media outlets tonight and tomorrow to watch me present my constitutional amendment report to the National Chairman. They should ignore the mischief.”

It is now a matter of who will blink first.