The national and state leadership of the All Progressives Congress, APC has been advised to jettison any practice capable of portraying the party as undemocratic.
Giving the advice in an interview with TUNDE THOMAS,, the party’s National Legal Adviser, Dr; Muiz Banire, SAN noted that undemocratic practices such as imposition and hand-picking of candidates are not only capable of portraying the party in bad light but can also affect the its electoral fortunes. He noted that such undemocratic practices may set some APC members on collision course with party leaders. Banire also spoke on other national issues. Excerpts:
YOURSELF and some professionals and politicians recently floated an organization called United Action for Change, what is the group all about?
United Action for Change is a revolutionary group committed to change. We opposed tyranny, injustice and oppression. We are committed to social reforms in all sectors.
For us at UAC, no problem is insurmountable. We ensure that we carry other stakeholders along especially those that have bearing with particular issues we are focusing on at a particular time.
On the position being canvassed by UAC that appointment of a state chief judge be based on merit rather than seniority, some people believe that this may precipitate crisis …?
Cuts in … You know, the National Judicial Council (NJC) is the last bus stop on issues relating to the judiciary. If our position is acceptable to the NJC fine, if not, NJC can reject it. NJC is part of the reforms UAC is canvassing in the judiciary. Although it is not compulsory that NJC should accept all UAC’s recommendations.
What is the option or options your organization have if some of your recommendations for reforms in the judiciary and other sectors like politics and judiciary are not accepted?
What we normally do at the end of UAC sessions is to send our recommendations to the relevant sectors or the agencies concerned. Thereafter, if we discovered that necessary attention is not being given to our recommendations, we try to get the media involved in the crusade, and where it requires that we network with other civil groups, we do it in order to achieve our objectives. Again, where we need to do mass protests to achieve objectives, we also do it. The fact that we have to accept is that we need to reform our society to get rid of those vices which have been a stumbling block to societal development and growth. We also need to change the status quo to ensure that we live in a just society where some animals are not more equal than others.
We in UAC believe that every form of oppression, and acts of man’s injustice to fellow human being are challenged and eradicated for this cause, UAC realize that it may be on a collision course with some powerful interests especially those who want the status quo to remain, but we remain undaunted.
How do you see the ongoing trial of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal? Some are saying that it has become a national embarrassment, and that the Senate President should have resigned. Even your party, APC should have done something to save the Senate from further ridicule?
I don’t see the issue from that point of view. I see it from the operation of the rule of the law, and that is the angle from which the party is seeing it. If somebody has a case to answer, let him go and answer it, and if at the end of the day, you are vindicated, so be it.
For us at APC, we believe in the rule of law regardless of whoever you are, you must go through the same process like a common man.
But what some people are saying is that it is embarrassing having the nation’s number three citizen shuttling between the National Assembly and the court ?
That doesn’t make any meaning to me. I don’t see anything unusual in it because Saraki is still presumed innocent until the final verdict is given. If members of the Senate are comfortable with the present situation as it involves Saraki, then why should we have any issue with that?
Some people are saying that Saraki’s travais is part of the intra-party crisis in APC and that a political solution can still be found to the problem, what is your view on this?
We don’t treat this kind of matter as a family affair in APC. We are not like PDP where they will describe such case as a family affair.
There are many issues of public interest that you can’t treat as a family affair and Saraki’s case is one of such. For a government that is fighting corruption, it must not be seen to be compromising. Let due process be followed, and members of the public will be convinced that this government is truly committed to change, and that it is no longer business as usual. Saraki’s case is good for democracy. It will help our democracy to thrive.
How will you assess the anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari?
So far so good. It’s on the right track. However, what is being done substantially is loot recovery. Corruption must be fought holistically. There are other aspects of tackling corruption that are yet to be touched which government must look into. For example, there is the urgent need to put surveillance mechanism in place to fight corruption.
Are you saying that in the last one year, that Buhari’s administration has only been scratching the surface in the fight against corruption?
No, the president has done more than scratching because some people are already being tried for corruption, and this has sent a strong message to other people, especially those whose hands are not clean, and that in itself has shown us that there is no impunity in our system again. Before, people believe you can get away with anything, that if you have money you can buy justice, or delay justice, but all these are fast disappearing from our system. This is a clear indication that we are progressing.
But some people are saying that the war against corruption is one-sided, and that you have only PDP members being put on trial …?
Cuts in … People saying that or making that allegation should direct their allegations to the EFCC. I believe that we should leave the president out of this. We should allow the EFCC to do its job. EFCC should be allowed to do its job. Rather than accusing Buhari of waging a one-
sided war against corruption, such accusations should be directed at the EFCC. Buhari has nothing to do with arraignment of those being put on trial by the EFCC or are we now saying that Buhari should interfere? No. Let EFCC do its job. But again EFCC has said on several occasions that anybody that has information on anybody as far as corruption is concerned should come out with such information.
Why it appears as if the war against corruption is one-sided is that those being put on trial are involved in sharing security fund to further PDP’s cause during the last general election.
As for funds being recovered from looters, opinions are divided on how it should be utilised. In your view, how should the fund be spent?
Looters should be tried and if found guilty, they should be sent to jail.
But some people are saying that considerations should be given to elderly ones among the alleged looters because of their old age …?
Cuts in … Jail is no respecter of anybody. Once you are guilty you must be sent to jail. Age is not a barrier to being sent to prison. There is no law that says that because you are an old man that you must not be sent to prison.
For the recovered loot I believe that it should be used for massive infrastructural development. We have a lot of infrastructural deficit in the country.
Speaking as a Nigerian and not as party man, how would you assess the last one year of APC-led federal government, because some people are saying that the pain and suffering is becoming unbearable, and that they voted for change and not for pain, what is your take on this?
Those people saying that must have voted for business as usual. Buhari’s government is a government of the unusual, but it is just a matter of time before Nigerians will start enjoying dividends of democracy under this government. Like the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo recently said “What Nigerians are presently experiencing now is what you can likened to birth pain, like when a woman wants to deliver, but as the woman puts to bed a bouncing baby, shouts of joy will erupt.”
Nigerians must realize that positive change doesn’t come without some sacrifice, Nigerians should have patience.
Other Nigerians are even claiming that the present pain they are experiencing would not have been this much if the President has been staying more at home rather than travelling abroad most of the time, that his being at home would have afforded him an opportunity to have first hand knowledge of the extent of hardship in the land, do you agree with this?
No, I don’t share that sentiment. The President’s foreign trips have been a source of tremendous benefits to the country. It has helped to change the wrong perception some world leaders have about Nigeria.
Buhari’s trips have really helped the country. His trips have economic and social benefits. Again by the virtue of technology today you can govern from anywhere. The world has become a global village, and technology has made things easier.
On the issue of the recent fuel price increase, the President has been criticized for being insensitive to the feelings of Nigerians who are already complaining about hardship and suffering they are passing through for now, and that even the former President Goodluck Jonathan didn’t have courage to do so when Nigerians kicked against his plan to do so?
But somebody must have the courage to do the proper thing. What is certain is that with time fuel price will crash. That is what deregulation is about. Nigerians should exercise patience, gradually the price will come down.
But the organized labour, especially the NLC seemed not to have looked at it from that perspective …?
Cuts in … I’m surprised by their action. Going on strike was wrong. Government even invited them for talks on new wages for workers but they remained adamant until other eminent Nigerians including APC leadership intervened before they called off the strike. To me, the strike was uncalled for. It was even a distraction and that was why it even polarized the NLC itself.
Having realized that the price hike will lead to astronomical increase in the prices of some commodities, that was why the Federal government invited labour for discussion. I believe NLC should have reciprocated government gesture by sitting down with government officials to work out palliative measures to cushion the effects of the price hike.
PDP recently accused APC and Lagos government of being afraid to conduct council polls, because the APC knows that PDP will inflict crushing defeat on it having defeated the ruling party in several local government areas during the last general election, what is your view on that?
Politically, I will say that the PDP is not correct in its view. There is no way the PDP can defeat APC in Lagos State. But legally, I have always been an advocate of a democratized system. My understanding of the constitution is that some of those measures like selecting or hand-picking candidates are not constitutional including having a caretaker committees in place as we have in Lagos State councils today. What the constitution says is that local government areas should be run by democratically elected people. That is why I’m advising Lagos State government to conduct election into the councils. It is not only undemocratic but also unconstitutional to have caretaker committees in place.
PDP made some electoral gains in Lagos State during the general elections in 2015 with PDP members in the State House of Assembly and at the House of Representatives, what do you think is responsible for this?
It means that something is wrong with our party, APC. Certainly there is a disconnect somewhere, and we have been trying to address this.
Does that mean that all is not well within APC?
When I say that there is a disconnect, that means that we need to reform. Before, APC was not used to conducting primaries for contestants or aspirants, we were used to hand-picking candidates, but now we have started conducting primaries to pick candidates, and I believe that has helped to reduce rancor in the party, unlike before when we were handpicking.
For those of you canvassing reforms within APC, don’t you fear you may be tagged rebels?
They have already tagged us rebels but we are undaunted. If the APC leadership called it rebellion, we don’t mind. We see ourselves as reformers. I always believe in the constitution.
Let’s follow the constitution and what the law says, this has always been my position. Some people in APC who believe in the status quo see me as a threat to entrenched interests. But I will continue to canvass equity, fairness and justice.
Don’t you see your position leading to a collision between you and some APC leaders like Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu?
Collision is part of life. My position is that honorable people must always stand for something. If you are convinced that this is the right position, you must stand by that position.
Rather than canvass your position openly, are there no other avenues to reach Tinubu and other APC leaders about the need for reforms in the party especially in Lagos State?
As far as I’m concerned, our crusade for reform is not about Tinubu, it is about the need to reform the system. It is a systemic problem. I don’t personalise issues. It is the party’s leadership that is concerned, and Tinubu is not part of the leadership exco in Lagos State or at the national level. It is the leadership at those two levels that must do something about these reforms.
But many people believe that there is hardly anything these people can do without Tinubu …?
Cuts in … Well, I don’t know anything about that. There is something called rule of law, and once you fail to abide with the rule of law, what you have is rule of man. And what is the rule of man? It means tyranny and oppression.
Don’t you foresee the possibility of being sanctioned or expelled by APC over your stand on the issue of reform?
You see, some of us are not crazy about position. We are in politics to add value, and if they make it difficult for you to add value to a particular system, you look for another platform. You can see that we even have a platform now to ventilate our position on any issue and that is United Action for Change. It is even a matter of time we exit from APC and concentrate on this platform which we believe will add value to the system.
I prefer an independent manner of dealing with issues. I don’t believe in imposition, dictatorship and god-fatherism. The Sun