Muiz Banire, the National Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and three-time commissioner in Lagos State, speaks to PREMIUM TIMES on a looming crisis within the state chapter of the party. The APC, in its previous forms, has controlled Lagos since 1999.
What is your assessment of the APC’s chances in next year’s governorship election in Lagos?
To be candid, I am unable to say what it will be like because of what is presently going on within the party. My only hope is that we are able to be transparent, fair and just in the nomination process. Once we are able to do that, I will consider it very bright. But if otherwise, I’m not too sure what that will portend for us.
When you say ‘what is presently going on,’ what exactly are you talking about?
There is a tendency of imposition on the people. And a lot of people are out to resist it. And party members too appear to be on the same plane with those that are leading the struggle against the imposition of candidate. So I believe that it does not signal anything that is good for all of us.
A party leader in APC once said that this imposition method is working since the candidates are delivering, so there is no need changing a winning formula…
(Cuts in) Well, if it has worked, the first question one (would) want to ask such a person, particularly if you are referring to Asiwaju (Bola Tinubu), his own emergence was not as a result of hand picking in 1998, go and ask him. We had direct primaries all over Lagos. And BRF (Babatunde Fashola) will tell you that he is not a product of single-handed imposition, and you can confirm from him. I’m quoting him now. At least we still had primaries all over, some people didn’t participate ultimately, some that felt aggrieved, they left and he had a field day in 2007. So I did not know where that person would have gotten such an impression from. But let’s even assume that to be, the truth of the matter is that it is no more fashionable now, even if he had been doing it before. Secondly, this is a new party, and you recall our slogan is ‘change,’ that we are trying to do away with all those untoward things like lack of internal democracy. So I believe that it must not even be allowed to happen now, even if it had been happening in the past. It is not progressive. And if anybody claims to be progressive, he must not be seen to be advocating that kind of backdoor emergence of candidates.
Still on this issue of imposition, how much damage do you think it can wreak on the party?
A lot. I will start from the fact that it does not encourage mobilisation in the party in the first instance. Because the meaning is that rather than people going to their constituents to solicit for votes, they rather prefer to go to some leaders lurking in one corner or the other to go and solicit tickets. So you are not mobilising people into the system, to start with. Secondly, people are not accountable to their constituents again because of the imposition. Because if you have a godfather who has imposed you on the people, it’s the godfather that you are accountable to and in most cases what you find out is that the accountability in that instance is a tribute. That again does not boost the morale of the party members. And thirdly, it causes a lot of factionalisation, unnecessary ones. And we’ve had the consequence once and I kept on saying it. During the last local government elections, we had a similar experience. Some of our party member went to vote against our candidates. So it’s no news. So it could wreak a lot of damage.
If the party does not revert to internal democracy, do you see members moving out in droves?
To be candid, I foresee it. The level of frustration is so much within the system. Most of the people that I have come across that have struggled within the party seem to be frustrated already. In fact, it has taken my intervention to arrest largely the drift of people to the opposition party. And I believe that if you are giving them assurance you must be able to secure that assurance to the last, because if you fail, then you may not be able to control anybody. It could happen, more so that the PDP is advancing seriously against us in the state. So I do not believe that we should play to their hands at all.
If Mr. Tinubu, for example, insists on having his way in selecting the party’s gubernatorial candidate. What do you think would be the general reaction this time around?
Well, there are so many things that are involved. I’m aware that we have a guideline that is substantially watertight. Unfortunately, I don’t know why, in the last two weeks, that has not been released to the public to know. If we go by that, it will be difficult for anybody to manipulate the process. Because it is expected that when people gather in a place to select their candidates, they will vote secretly in the first instance and at the end of the day they vote for the candidate immediately and the vote given to the candidate immediately. But I think that is being resisted by those that are agents of imposition, already. And I think that…to do otherwise, I tell you the only asset we have and I’ve continued to warn us, is to throw up popular candidates in the state. Not only in our state alone, all over the country in order to make sure that whoever is going to be our ambassador must be a popular candidate. And a product of fair, transparent, and just primary. If it is not so, honestly it could spell doom for us at any level.
If those agitating for internal democracy have their way, do you see those on the other side, that is, the imposition camp, willingly working with them?
Working with us? You know they are in the minority, extreme minority for that matter. All they have access to, in most cases, is free funds. If you put that aside, it’s not that it’s anything extraordinary that is being worshipped in any one of them.
Are you backing any particular candidate for the APC governorship primaries in Lagos?
Number one, I’m a national officer of the party, we are meant to be neutral. I cannot back any candidate because of my position. Secondly, is the fact that some of us will prefer to see a candidate emerge as a result of the resolve of the people. So that’s my own thoughts in that regard.
About a dozen candidates are vying for the APC ticket in Lagos. Do you think the party has provided a level playing field?
Not all of them have level playing field, but we can make it level. Unfortunately for us, some of our leaders that are supposed to be participants in this process of creating a level playing field are the people that are also trying to also undermine it, that’s the sad thing about it. Because leaders must struggle to create a level playing ground for all of them to go into the contest. But we have seen a situation where resources, collective resources of the people and the party, is being used to mould a particular candidate.
Which particular candidate are you referring to?
The so called anointed candidate (Akinwunmi Ambode). That’s common knowledge in Lagos.
There was a period you were touted as the next governorship candidate in Lagos. What happened to that dream?
I for one I don’t have such ambition. And the reason why I don’t have are so many. One of them is the stigmatization of participants in public service. There is this presumption in favour of most people that are in public service, whether you struggle to be upright and honest, they don’t care. Once you are in that system, you are a thief. That stigmatization alone honestly discourages me from serving in any public capacity. Because they don’t believe that there could still be some people that would go into public office and still do it honestly.
Secondly again, is that I do know also because of my independence that some people will never be comfortable in their life with me, and me I’m not ready to compromise my standards and principles. So to that extent I will not even subject myself to that kind of process where you think you can blackmail me. It’s not possible. So I’m not even inclined on that ground again.
Thirdly, is the fact that I believe that at certain level you must allow new generation of people to take over the system. I was in the system for 12 years. I believe, with all sense of humility, I’ve added my own value. There are so many other people with better ideas, better energy, better thoughts than even some of us that we must leave the floor for to contribute their own quota.
When you talked about the people’s resources being used to promote a particular candidate, who did you have in mind?
We are going to define that very soon. Any time from December 3rd, we’ll start defining it. And documenting it appropriately.
Why wait till December 3rd?
Because December 2nd is the primaries. By 3rd, we’ll see.
Do you think ‘stomach infrastructure’ would shape voting in Lagos in 2015?
Not so much this time around, I can tell you. Because people in Lagos are, to a large extent, becoming more and more enlightened about the process these days and they are beginning to see the correct actors. And those dubious characters that used to be the leaders in the system people are beginning to identify them and repulse them. Even if you give them money, you throw everything to them; they will still do what is within their conscience. That is what’s the margin now, and we are going to put everything humanly possible behind to further educate and enlighten the people on why they must do the proper thing.
More members have become outspoken against imposition of candidates now, more than ever before in the party. Do you think Mr. Tinubu’s influence in the party, particularly in Lagos State, is waning?
Number one, APC is a new creation, it’s not ACN. APC is a much bigger party, and it’s a conglomeration of several interests. So to that extent one person cannot be in charge again. So for now everybody is in charge, every party member is in charge now unlike before. So that’s the difference.
Is everybody being in charge a plus for the party?
Yes. Serious one. Because now we have a bigger party, a bigger platform for all of us.