Dr. Muiz Banire, a former Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation and Environment, is the acting National Legal Adviser of All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, Banire bares his mind on his roles in the formation of the APC, why he does not want to govern the Lagos State. He also debunks the speculations that he was responsible for the case of fraud instituted against the Lagos Speaker, Adeyemi Ikuforiji by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) among other issues.
For sometimes now, not much have been heard from you politically after you left office as Commissioner for the Environment in Lagos State in 2011, what have been happening to you since then?
Well, if you have been following the news, you will know that I played a prominent role in the merger of the parties that formed the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the National Legal Adviser of the legacy party, the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). And beyond that, currently in the National Executive Council (NEC) of the APC, I am still the National Legal Adviser. I am still very much around particularly on issues that border on the legal framework for the operation of the party, so, that is the situation now.
We have had 14 years of democracy or civilian rule in Nigeria, as one of the major players; will you say we have done well as a nation?
No, we have not done well at all. To a large extent, we have not done much, with the available resources in this country, we should not been where we are today at all, we should have gone far and the people should have gone far than this, because I am not too impressed with the situation we found ourselves now.
Will you say the fault is from the political leaders?
Certainly and undoubtedly, they must dictate the direction for the followers and if they dictate the wrong direction, then the problem will be there. A leader must be firm and know what is good for the people and inevitably carry his people along in the reformatory action they are carrying out.
Will you say the amalgamation of the then CPC, ANPP and ACN will bring about the positive change that we desire in Nigeria?
It depends on the way it turns out; it is not a magic wand. As an insider, I know that we still have our own challenges that we need to address towards ensuring that we come out well and I believe that it is what the leadership is concentrating on.
Your party, APC, is opposed to the proposed constitutional conference of President Goodluck Jonathan, what is your take on this?
Unfortunately, I wasnâ€™t at the last meeting of the party few days ago and I wasnâ€™t sure of the position of the party on the issue. But honestly, I have no objection to conference because I believe that it is something that we can take up aggressively and if they are not comfortable on the modalities set out now, we can improve on it and insist on a better modality towards achieving the same end and that is my own personal opinion.
But the President said the recommendations of the conference must be submitted to the National Assembly, are you in support of this?
Undoubtedly it must because if you do not submit it to the National Assembly, what does it become. At best, it becomes a policy paper which anybody can change anytime; they can even cancel the whole thing. Once you submit it to the National Assembly and they put it in a legal framework, it becomes enforceable and whoever is not satisfied with it can challenge it in a court of law and the content can be enforced.
Many people feel our constitution should be changed or reviewed, is the constitution part of our problems?
It is part of our problems because so many things are wrong with it. Constitutional process is dynamic and so it must be because the society itself is dynamic. Your law cannot be static, when the society itself moves, so I believe that, not only must they change or overhaul it now, it must be a continuous exercise to reflect the changes in global trend.
It is believed that ahead of the 2015 general election in Lagos State, you are one of the governorship aspirants of the APC, how true is that?
That is not true. I have just told you that my own disposition is that what God ordains will come to be and my covenant with God is that I will not struggle for all those things, they are material things, they are earthly things that you will leave behind. I believe I have a profession that sustains me and genuinely, I believe that if you want to go and serve the people and you do not have ulterior motive, you must not struggle for it. In my own religion, it is said that you must restrain from it as much as possible, I was telling somebody that leadership position, in Islam, is something that carries enormous burden and that if you are not careful, you will incur not only the wrath of the people, you will incur the wrath of God. So, if you know what it demands, you will run away from it, as far as I am concerned, it is what God designs that matters. So, you will never see me running around for such things, in fact, I have never done it before politically, may be in my university days in activism, but in the general world, I will not.
What my own religion tells me is that if God decides that this is what you will do, you will get there and if He says no, you canâ€™t do anything about it. You would just have wasted your time, money and energy and I am not ready to waste such resources. So, you canâ€™t find me in one corner on that. That is why I tell people, just show me only one human being, donâ€™t show me two, that would say I have invited or discussed with him about such position, donâ€™t even look for two and I do not have surplus that I would distribute, I donâ€™t think I have booty, whatever little I have, I believe I earned it and what you earn, you must know how to distribute, out of genuine philanthropic act, not out of fake act.
Of course, you will see some people, those who have positions in government, they do all sort of things, all those things have consequences too, and it is a temporary joy as far as I am concerned. You canâ€™t just cheat the people and believe you will be at ease, you can have temporary happiness, but the ultimate happiness is something that is questionable.
So, what is your plan for 2015?
I have no plan; my plan is for God to spare my life till then and make my children greater than me that is my plan.
There is this belief that there is an unusual bond between you and the leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, would you like to share the secrets?
For me, there is this disposition to everybody that I meet, it is to be genuine and I am not very good at pretence. I tell Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu anytime I meet him that there is a lot of difference between me and most people around him. I am not a sycophant, I am his loyalist, my role is not to go to him and say Asiwaju they were clapping for you at a function I went today. There are lots of sycophants around to do that. My own is to go and challenge him and say â€˜ogaâ€™ they told me you said certain things at a place, I donâ€™t think it is proper, why did you say so? At times, he responded and told me that I didnâ€™t know what he was trying to say and that is our own role.
Of course, there are some sycophants and he has enough around him to come and tell him some things both real and unreal. So, he has some level of confidence in us to tell him the truth because I am not very good at pretence at all. If I want to fight anybody, I fight him/her directly, if you are a bad person, I will tell you to your face. It is only God that can deal with anybody. It is in the Holy Quran and the Bible that when the world is coming to an end, you will find people obeying their leaders out of the fear of evil and out of fear of disagreement, I donâ€™t belong to that group at all, I know that if you want to help your leader, you have to tell them the truth.
For instance, he has taken a position on the national conference, I have argued it with him, he has taken his own position, and it does not mean that we must flow in the same direction on issues. If it is a collective thing as a group, then we can say that is the position of the group, but personal opinion, this is my own position.
Some APC leaders supported the confab, but immediately Asiwaju Tinubu had spoken, they changed their tune, what do you think is actually responsible for that?
Yes, that is just it because they donâ€™t want to tell him the truth, that is the problem in the system and that is why leadership has a lot of problems in this country, because genuine people are not around them. When your boss says something, try and situate the argument properly for him, if you are convinced about his position, good, but if you are not convinced, let him know. At a point in time, Asiwaju can say we should try and go along with them. As it is now, Afenifere; both renewal and old want the conference, the Yoruba Council of Elders, some of the civil society groups are going, other ethnic groups are going, then we would be left out and when they now take decisions and we are left out, we will start making noise. Interestingly, Asiwaju never taught us to boycott such an event which could be to our on detriment. It is better to go inside and get into the ring and box along with them and there, you can escalate the situation to a level that is comfortable for you.
True, it is a matter of perfection because some people struggle for power, some donâ€™t struggle for power. Some people believe that in a revolution, there must be bloodbath, some believe it could be peaceful, some believe this power can be served on you spiritually. So, there are so many ways to skin a cat.
Sometime ago, there was a report in the media that you are behind the ordeal of the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, in the hands of the EFCC, for the records, what do you have to say about this?
Like I told you earlier, if I want to fight anybody, I fight him/her pointedly. Secondly, then I was even the National Legal Adviser of the ACN and I tell you for free, between the Speaker and the ACN, who was not known then in Nigeria. Whatever rubbish that comes then, what will it translate to? So, that would not make it attractive for somebody who is one of the key actors of the group then. Also, something that used to amuse me then was the kind of community we find ourselves. In the United Kingdom, how do they treat whistle blowers? Is it condemnation that they would give them? For what reason would that be, you must ask questions, even the ordeal, I must tell you because some few things are logical. What would I stand to gain, I have made so many people members of the place, a Speaker of the House of Assembly is just one among equal. I have made so many, even up to senatorial, is that what I would be interested in? Also, is it governorship that I have no interest in that we want to compete? I said it also that there must be a basis for competing or that we want to outwit each other and if you cannot find that, you will then ask if this thing is probable. You must rationalise whatever you are doing, I donâ€™t think anybody does anything without a reason.
Unfortunately, in our jurisdiction, like I always say, most people that are supposedly leaders donâ€™t even know when to draw the line between loyalty and sycophancy. You find around you some characters that would want to give you information of things that never transpired and that has never happened either to extort, gain one advantage or deprive another person of his or her advantage. There was a time I was in London and I came back, they said that Femi Falana and I wanted to mobilise people to the House of Assembly that Speaker Ikuforiji must be removed. I now started laughing that this man must think that I am a jobless person. If they remove him, which one would be my own portion there, what do I stand to gain from the place, there must be some people that might have gone to give him that kind of information to work him up to derive some advantages.
If you are not careful as a leader, you would be thrown all around the whole place. It does happen here too, I am not receptive to people coming to me to gossip, I am not. If you tell me something about somebody, I will ask you if I should ask the person and if you say no, then I will ask you to keep quiet. That is why they donâ€™t do it to me, they donâ€™t gossip to me, go and ask one of the representatives of Mushin at Lagos State House of Assembly, nobody can do that because the more of such information you give the more you distract me. I think that is more of products of imagination of those characters. A leader must just dance around such, the capacity to fight is innate in me and all around, the people I know can tell you that if I donâ€™t like you, I can tell you I donâ€™t like you, it is only God that I am afraid of.
What have been your success strategies as a public officer?
Humanity is very important to me because when you sign up an assignment, you must know that what you have said is that I want to change the situation from what it was. If you are unable to do this, you are a failure. I do not accept any assignment without knowing my direction and the ultimate goal of any assignment I take is that I make sure I make things better than I met it and during that period, I did my best to the last without any pecuniary interest because I tell people that if you amass the whole wealth, it is not equivalent to happiness.
I told most people I have seen who were going for such position based on how to create opportunities or derive opportunities from that position, that the opportunities are even transient. Somebody in government even told me that the level he was, generations yet unborn can never suffer again, I started laughing that he didnâ€™t even know God. It takes God less than a minute to take away those things you think you have amassed, and the way God has done this thing is that there are enough evidences around us to show that those, who amassed it yesterday, where are they? So, if you know that, what you should pray for is lawful sustenance from your Creator. Somebody that has created you must know how to sustain you and even if He does not know, remind him and the way to do that is to pray to Him. I believe God is my own treasurer, I continue to ask Him to sustain me and He has never disappointed me. If you feel that you just want to go out there to make money, you will fail because every decision you make would be informed by your pecuniary interest.
I remember when we were in government and we were dealing with the issues of flooding all over and noise and pollution, both mosques and churches were parts of the victims. There was one mosque in Magodo that I shut down for sometimes and people said I should go and ask for forgiveness, I said yes, if I have done something wrong, only God knows. God said we must respect our neighbours, He has not said go and disturb your neighbours. So sentiments, you must put apart, do your job objectively and try as much as possible to impact on those people that you have signed indirectly that you want to better their lots. Once you remove sentiments, no pecuniary interests, the rest is simple, apply yourself and think always about how to improve the situation of the people around you.
In the first instance, nobody can make anybody anything except God, no matter how seemingly powerful that person is, no one can give anybody power, money, influence or any advantage except God endorses it. Number two, I believe in populist decision, let me correct the impression about MEF, I am not the founder of the foundation, some people just put themselves together and formed it towards ensuring that they carry on what I feel we must do to make our people happy and comfortable in that area. So, it is an independent platform, although along the line people tend to use it for political reasons, but I donâ€™t support that at all. If you want it to last till eternity, you need to isolate and insulate it from politics, but I do not believe that you need my endorsement or that platform to become anything, all you need is the people themselves.
If the people believe in you and they support you, of course, they would put you in a relevant position. And the barometer for so doing lies with the people, it does not lie with me. Infact, for those who know, when they wanted to pick the Chairman of Mushin Local Government, I said I was not going to participate in the process and I refused to do so, ask BYA, he presided at the meeting, where they did the whole process and somebody emerged, it wasnâ€™t my own decision. I always tell them to go and take whoever is popular amongst the people and use him. To God be the glory, I am not expecting any returns from anybody and I am not going to interfere in anybodyâ€™s operation, my own is that if you want the people to follow you, reflect their will and the way to do this is to pick the person, who the majority has confidence in.
How would you describe the representatives of Mushin at Lagos Assembly, especially Bolaji Yusuf Ayinla (BYA), who happens to be one of your close lieutenants?
Yes, he is trying his best; most of my own people seem to have imbibed what we call our own anthem, which is to put smiles on the faces of as many people as possible. People come to me here, they send me text messages that they have some problems, I tell them to go and meet BYA. And if it is from Odi Olowo, I tell them to go and meet Hon. Funmi Tejuosho. Recently, somebody said that they were doing recruitment in the Ministry of Health, I directed the person to Hon. Funmi Tejuosho and I am aware that all of them are doing well. That is the brief we have, it is what we signed with our people to represent them, and make them comfortable and make them well. To that extent, you would be proud of people like BYA, it is not about me alone all the time and even if it is about you, you can amass the whole wealth, I have access to some of these rich people, I can tell you, they are unhappy people, they are in a state of sorrow most times, when you see them, you clap for them, they are just smiling outside, they are not happy inside. Wealth or position is not synonymous with joy, happiness or peace of mind. In most cases, you will find out that most wealthy and powerful people donâ€™t have peace of mind. I am contented with BYA