Dr. Muiz Banire, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, is a man of many addresses. A law teacher, legal practitioner, politician and convener, United Action for Change, a political advocacy and leadership capacity building organisation.
The erstwhile National Legal Adviser of the ruling All Progressives Congress is often viewed in certain quarters as controversial on account of his principled positions on issues.
He recently granted an interview to ThisDay newspaper during which he spoke about the “sins” of Governor Akinwumi Ambode of the APC in Lagos State which appears to have marred his second term ambition.
He faulted the state of dirtiness in Lagos, transport structure, education, health, capital projects, leadership capacity of the government, experience and a wide range of biting issues rattling the second term pursuit of Ambode.
Part of the excerpts of the interview read:
It is curious to know that you were the first person to stand more or less against the current Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode. You stood against him in many respects. Why was this so? Was it that the two of you had certain connections not known to the public or could it be a case of animosity towards him? However, it would seem that some of what you feared would happen are beginning to unfold, what exactly did you see that made you uncomfortable with his choice?
In the first instance, I regard what we are experiencing in the state right now as a divine intervention in the interest of the state as a whole and that of politicians as well. Like you rightly said, I saw this right from inception but I was the lone voice that shouted several times but the party people never saw it. Rather, most of them castigated and harassed me and kept intimidating me, even victimised me. But of course, I was unrelenting, undaunted and resolute.
Now, God has suddenly opened their eyes to the reality and all of them have now taken the gauntlet and shouting ‘we’re fed up with the governor; we don’t want him again’. In the first instance, he has never been part of the political movement of this state or part of the governance system; he was at best an Accountant General.
He never dealt with the issues of policies, development and programmes with us. We dealt with such. It would have been best if somebody within that circle, who must have known where we left issues; people that we had dealt with; those to be sustained, those to be improved on and those to be jettisoned.
But somebody, who spent the larger part of his life at the council level and suddenly emerged at the state level as Accountant General now governing a state as complex as Lagos? Certainly, it would be challenging to him. I saw the picture and knew we were endangering ourselves generally and I drew the attention of everybody including Asiwaju to it then.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that we were not only coerced into working for him, which we all did. In fact, I used to boast that I was among the top five people that worked for him to get to where he is today, but what did we get in return? Of course, we are living witnesses to my own story.
Regardless, the reality is that once you get to that position, even the people that are highly cerebral will still be receptive to ideas and suggestions from others. But what about someone, who shuts his doors at other people and believes he’s the only one who can do things the way and manner he considers right? The result is what we are seeing today. Today, everybody has now seen including the general populace (not only the politicians) that we are all endangered except something is done. I thank God that I am vindicated at the end of the day.
But what do you think informs his now resentful disposition? Could it be lack of exposure especially, that you said he spent a major part of his life at the local government?
Well, exposure might be part of the reasons. It is not even about going to school alone. Like we used to joke, some people passed through the university but the university did not pass through them. Beyond that, the fact that you have a degree doesn’t mean you will make a good manager to start with.
Second, experience and exposure matter. You can never discount experience particularly in governance. My experience has shown me that if you bring any one from outside of the system to come and govern any state, he will still be struggling the first two years and by the third year, he will just be laying foundation and the next election is already around the corner.
Beyond that, again, the nature of the person also counts. As a leader, you must be receptive to everybody’s idea and you must be accessible. Once a leader is not accessible, he has already failed. People must be able to reach you; they must be able to interact with you; they must also be able to criticise you; you must be receptive to criticisms.
A leader that is not receptive has failed. Unfortunately, I think it is just his nature. He is just not receptive to others and there appears to be some measure of arrogance in him that will not allow him to share other people’s opinion. You can’t be right on all issues.
The fact that they call you ‘Your Excellency,’ does not mean you are excellent; it is just a glorification. He probably got the title of ‘His Excellency’ wrong to think he could do no wrong. It can’t be. The state does not belong to one person; we are all stakeholders in the state. Any policy that is introduced will affect us all in one way or the other, so when we voice out our opinion, why must you then persecute us, more so some of us are Lagosians of the first order?
A lot of people had done several analyses of him but I really don’t know what the problem is with him. Again, like I said earlier, you can never discount the issue of experience and exposure, which he lacks when it comes to the issue of governance.
As an insider, at what time did Asiwaju realise it was time to pull the plug on the governor’s second term bid?
I honestly don’t know. What I know is that in the last four or five months, there has been a subtle evaluation of the administration, and I could tell from his body language and that of people around him that they were beginning to realise that they were in trouble.
By that time, they had begun to realise that if the governor was presented for a second term, the success of the party at the poll was endangered. Again, information reaching me shows that there have been some polls, which showed that there was a looming problem if the party went ahead to field the current governor in the polls.
Since the drama surrounding the second term bid of Governor Ambode began, a lot of people have been speculating what the shortcomings are. Can we have you address the specifics?
There are a lot of issues and I do point them out but people were like why say it and I am like why won’t I say what I know. Take the issue of Environment, for instance. I personally know the state of the environment when I left as commissioner. Again, take the issue of climate change.
As of that time we were among the first 10 in the entire world. Our activities on climate change earned us a seat on the Board of World Health Organisation during that period. There was hardly anywhere in the world where the issue of climate change was to be discussed without involving Lagos State, because we escalated the issue and took it so seriously so much that we became a force to be reckoned with. Where is the issue of climate change today? It is as good as dead.
Look at the issue of waste management. We had succeeded largely in empowering people by way of private sector participation in waste management. We were getting it right and improving. Suddenly, somewhere somebody came with one funny policy and one funny company, maybe from space, emerged to manage our waste. So, Nigerians can no longer manage our wastes and we had to go and get a foreign company to come and help us manage wastes.
When the company came in, I granted an interview wherein I said from what I have seen of them, definitely, the company had no experience in waste management. The moment I started seeing wheeler bins on the roads – nowhere in the world do they put wheeler bins on the road except at construction sites and where they are normally put them are hidden areas or designated dump sites.
What you find on the roads and streets are litter bins, smaller ones like drums. So, immediately I saw that, I said definitely this company does not have experience in waste management. Yet, Lagos State went ahead to give guarantee in billions for such an inexperienced company?
Then they started putting up wheeler bins on the road thereby legalising dumping of refuse on the road and turning the spots to dumpsites. So, people were populating the spots with refuse and they couldn’t cope. Eventually, see where we are today. Half of the state is in state of epidemic as we talk. You need to go to the hinterland – Mushin, Ajegunle and others – in fact, as far as I am concerned, those ones live on refuse dump.
Look at how flood now ravages the state. We had conquered flood largely. We took the issue of flood control very seriously. We used to prepare for the rainy season as if you were preparing for marriages or any social event. Apart from the fact that we had a programme to clean all the drains every quarter, few months to every rainy season we’d mobilised all resources and cleaned all the channels.
We will mobilise all the local government councils, they take over the tertiary drainage and we take over the secondary canals. We would clear all the drainages immediately. What they do today is that they will give out works. I saw one of them, the contractor claimed to have done three kilometres whereas he only did the first 300 metres, so, they will only peep and say, ‘see that one and they’d say yes the job is done’. That is the kind of scenarios that you see today.
When I was in the environment ministry, it dared not happen. Some of my members of staff are still alive. We would go from one end to the other; we were on the road all weekends and our phones were open to all residents to tell us anywhere there was problem. We don’t sleep, we were alive to our responsibilities and challenges, but all these are no more in place.
During the Fashola administration you dared not engage in construction works and endanger the populace; you dared not litter the place with stone or iron rods, not all what you have today. Doing so not only constitutes danger to residents, it is also an abuse of the environment. In fact, the aesthetics of the state is largely gone.
Talk about transportation. I saw the buses that they just imported and I started laughing. How could anyone have thought of such buses in this age and time in a city like Lagos? In fact, Lagos is more than a mega city; we are in excess of 20 million. A mega city is a city within a population of 10 million.
Right from the period of Jakande, we had known that what we need in Lagos are Mass Transit buses. How could we bring in those types of buses at this age? We are going back. The buses will only compound the traffic situation.
Again, we have enough bus stops that are not being used in Lagos, yet, they are building more and more bus stops all over Lagos, when people will not use it. The funds being wasted in that area if I were in his shoes I would have expended it on motivating LASTMA officials, get them more logistics to manage the traffic in the state.
In London, they make use of high capacity buses – mass transit buses – yet how many layby do you see around London, because they are supposed to be moving? At each bus stop, they can spend more than a minute. Why would somebody want to build houses for miscreants and shops for ogogoro sellers and petty traders? Just be patient, you would see that in another three to four months, that is what it would turn to. You are creating another social menace, because that is where all of them will turn to as their new market.
These are part of the dangers of not looking at things holistically. You must always look at things holistically. Look at the BRT initiative. I introduced BRT to Lagos State and we had our plans. They have distorted it now. I feel ashamed when I see the construction going on along Agege Motor road; I feel ashamed at how they have messed up the whole road and how they have technically shown the physically challenged the red card.
They are building some funny looking pedestrian bridges all over the road. In the first place, how does the physically challenged get to the middle of the road to join the BRT buses? What you have on that road is what is called design error. The BRT should have been on the outer lane. They didn’t know how I introduced or why I introduced the one on Ikorodu Road, because they never asked. Instead of them to ask how we arrived at that conclusion, they didn’t ask; they just went there and started replicating what we did on Ikorodu Road, without factoring several other considerations.
They thought the solution was to put pedestrian bridges in place. Even the pedestrian bridges are so ugly. Some engineers have even queried the stability and integrity of those pedestrian bridges. From my perspective, the beauty of that place has been disfigured completely.
Somebody was talking about Airport Road and I said to them that it was during my administration that we designed the Airport Road. I gave him the design.
The construction ought to have taken place during Fashola’s tenure, but for the fact that the federal government at the time said after the construction was completed, they would be the ones that would collect revenue from the adverts on the road, then we said how can that be? How can I be playing for IICC and be collecting salary from Rangers Football Club? It doesn’t add up. That was the basis upon which we could not go ahead.
Then Fashola said now that I am the minster, I am ready to construct the road with federal government funds, he said no. He said he would do it with Lagos State funds, the money that could have been diverted to several inner roads that are in terrible state now. He made us miss that money. Fashola came around and said he has appropriated money for that road in the federal budget and it will be done, and you take another place, the next thing was blackmail.
What are the interventions in schools? I go to the General Hospital in Ikeja and I see patients on the floor in state. With N30 billion internally generated revenue? This is part of the problem caused by somebody, who has not been part of the system and suddenly assumed leadership of the state. If it had been any of these two people that are being paraded now, Obafemi Hamzat and Babajide Sanwo-Olu, apart from the fact that they have been part of the system since 2003, they know everything about what we have been doing. They are best suited for the job. They know who and who did what; they can always call people up to ask questions: what happened during so so and so project? What did we conclude on?
Why didn’t we go ahead with that project? In my own very strong view, that is what is called continuity. Somebody that has been part of the system takes over from one person and who takes over from that person is also from within the system. That is what is called continuity. When I was raising these issues, everybody was abusing, denigrating me and saying all manners of things. Am I not being vindicated today?
Do you think it is too late to get him a re-election ticket?
No, it’s not too late, and that is one of the misconceptions that get me angry since this drama started. He took nomination form, Hamzat took the same form and Jide Sanwoolu also did the same thing. So, what has Asiwaju got to do with it? Asiwaju has even said everybody should go for primary, so let him go for primary now. Let him go for primary election – he has everything to his advantage. You are the incumbent governor and I want to believe you have more people to donate money to you.
Some people say he doesn’t have the political structure. That is news to me. Are they saying he is not a politician? Is that what they are saying? I need to be educated, because if you want to occupy that position you must be a politician and to the extent that you are politician, you must be part and parcel of them. So, what you will be saying is that if he doesn’t have a structure, then, he is a foreigner to that system and that simply means you don’t belong there. But if you had the opportunity to be there, you better honourably leave the place.
But is it unfair to subject an incumbent to primary election? No incumbent had been subjected a primary election before, including Asiwaju himself, why him?
I have told you how we arrived at the present situation. I told you that initially it was not fashionable to even have primary. But when I became the national legal adviser of the party as the custodian of the rules, I started enforcing it. Today, it is established.
Something starts some day and somewhere. You cannot say because something has not worked before, it will never work. Since it is now working, let him subject himself to it. Why must it be automatic? It cannot even be automatic anyway, because there is a process in the constitution of the party and you must follow that process otherwise, every other thing becomes illegal. It is as simple as that.
With the whole drama that has played out in the past couple of days and how he has been humiliated, what do you think will be the implications if he was eventually handed the second term ticket?
Nobody is humiliating him except he is humiliating himself. To the best of my knowledge, what has happened is that some other people have come out to contest for the party ticket with him. They have been doing their ground work, contacting people and mobilising support. Let him go about too, contacting people and mobilising supports.
The people now are the constituency of all aspirants. So, go to the people, marshal your arguments, convince them and note please, there is no reversal, because nothing has happened. The screening exercise will soon take place let him go for screening, then primary. It is after then that we will know who the party structure wants.
There are insinuations in certain circles that it could be suicidal for Asiwaju to give him the ticket, because given the governor’s nature, he might fight back. Would that be reasonable enough to stop him?
Well, in the first place, I have told you that this thing has nothing to do with Asiwaju, because when I read about those nonsenses in the newspapers, I get angry. Will Asiwaju be the only one that will vote at the primaries? It is the entire party structure that is saying this is the way they want to go, it has nothing to do with Asiwaju and honestly speaking, the man needs to be shielded from the process. Let everybody go to the field.
Besides, it is not Asiwaju that will conduct the primaries; it is the national secretariat of the party that is going to conduct the primaries, so his handlers should desist from involving Asiwaju in the matter. Let them face the two other aspirants and tell them how they are incompetent to compete with him.