UNDER THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION, AGITATION FOR SECESSION IS NOT ILLEGAL FORMER NATIONAL ADVISER APC

A former National Legal Adviser of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Muiz Banire, has declared that under the Nigerian constitution, there is nothing criminal or illegal in the agitations by the Indigenous People of Biafra, led by Nnamdi Kanu, and Sunday Adeyemo, otherwise known as Sunday Igboho for Biafran Republic and Oduduwa Nation respectively.

In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former Lagos State commissioner for Environment, noted: “Like I said sometime in an interview, I’m not aware of any law that says the call for secession is illegal or criminal. In fact, as far back as 1951, the North had called for secession first and recently, I saw a newspaper cutting where the president was reported to have called for secession. No law against it.”

Banire, who insisted that restructuring only is not the solution to Nigeria’s challenges, also asserted that there wasn’t any sort of agreement on zoning or power rotation in the APC during the formation of the party. He spoke on a number of other pertinent national issues.

Are you worried about the state of the nation?

I’m very much worried and I think there is nobody who is not concerned about the way things are going on in this country. The president himself is so much worried. Everybody is so much worried about the state of the nation because we all know that we are in a very turbulent and challenging period in the history of this nation. Our currency is nose-diving daily, the economy is dwindling, insecurity is rising unemployment is soaring. So, virtually, in all facets, we are challenged. Any patriotic Nigerian will be worried; even if you are not patriotic in one way or the other, you will be impacted.

What solution can you proffer?

The only solution is credible election, which will lead to credible leadership. This is the only way out of this lockdown; we need people who are round pegs in round holes to take over the mantle of leadership in the country. To get to that destination., we need to have credible elections and to do this, there is an urgent need for the reform of our electoral process, which continues to give us garbage in terms of leaders. If that is done, possibly at the end of the day, we have visionary and missionary leaders that will be able to paddle the affairs of the country into our desired destination.

Some have suggested that restructuring is the way out. Do you share in their view?

It is not the absolute way out, but I share in the sentiment that there is the need to restructure some aspects of our lives as a nation that we believe are essential and necessary, but restructuring is not the only solution to our challenges.

Even, your party, APC has restructuring in its manifesto and further to that, it set us a committee headed by Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai towards its implementation. But the report is gathering dust somewhere?

Let me make it clear: I’m not a member of APC. I stopped being its member since July 2018, and so I’m not part of the gang. For me, restructuring was part of it, but why they are not doing anything, I don’t know. It is a sort of betrayal of trust. When you make a representation to the people, you must be able to live up to expectations. Integrity is vital, and our words, as human beings, as noble people, must always be our bond. So, the reason it is not being implemented, I don’t know because I don’t belong to the party again and so I don’ know what is going on there.

It’s only recently that you ceased being a member of APC. You were a foundation member and very instrumental to its formation.  There is this argument about zoning or rotation of power in the party. Was there anything like that, whether formal or a gentleman’s agreement?

At no point did anybody agree on rotation. There was nothing like that; it is just that it has become part of our tradition. If you like, you can call it a convention that when the North uses a particular period, the expectation that it would come to the other side of the nation, the South. It is just a convention, expectation and tradition. Clearly, there was no agreement to that effect.

It was a tradition in PDP, but under APC…?

APC was a new party and this is the first litmus test that they are facing after Buhari’s tenure. We don’t know what will happen eventually. Maybe, they will respect that kind of arrangement too or they will overlook it.

You are talking about electing credible leaders, but the situations in the two parties are palpable. While APC is asphyxiating, PDP is haemorrhaging. Does this have to do with 2023, as everywhere is tensed up?

It may not be unlikely. But beyond that, I know that APC’s problem is compliance with the rule of law. The challenge APC is always having is the resistance to abide by their rules and regulations. Until they learn how to obey their constitution and follow rules and guidelines that they set for themselves, they will continue to have challenges, which eventually might lead to the party’s demise if they are not careful. For the PDP, there is a formation of mismanagement within their fold, exacerbated by 2023 struggle.

Pundits say there is no difference between APC and PDP, as one is the other side of the other. Here you are talking about electing credible leaders as a way out of this quagmire. If both parties are the same, does it not mean that Nigeria will continue to be in a ‘one chance’ bus in 2023?

I suspect so. I’m of those who subscribe that they are one and the same thing. My position is even deeper than that. I have always believed that we do not have, technically speaking, political parties in Nigeria. What we have in Nigeria are political platforms for people to contest elections. That is why you find people moving from one political party to the other at will because there is not ideological commitments. In fact, I describe all of them as ‘cut and paste’ political parties, it is just a change of name and some other few things they do there. They are just birds of the same feather; there is nothing significantly different in any one of them.

Then how do we go about getting it better?

Getting it better, like I said initially, was to reform our entire electoral process starting from the issues of political parties. Particularly, there is the need to allow independent candidature, which is very vital and crucial. By the time we assumed that, you would see some sort of checks against the political parties. You know the constitution does not allow you as an individual on your own. Still, you have to rely on one political party or platform or the other. But once we are able to diffuse that and people are able to come out with their personalities, you start seeing people of integrity wining election on their own strength without following the crowd. That is very pertinent to be done. We must reform the electoral process. I’m not satisfied with what is going on now, we still have a long way to go, and it has to be a radical departure from our traditional ways of doing things in the political circle.

You are talking about reforming the electoral process; recently, the issue of electronic transfer of results by INEC was killed at the Senate. Was it the right thing to do?

I have written a piece on that and my position is clear and simple; it is irrational, reckless and irresponsible for the Senate to have shut it down. It smacks of nothing but rigging. It is something that is doable and INEC has confirmed so, telecommunication firms have confirmed that they have the capacity. Everybody knows that there is the capacity. Even if you don’t want to use telecommunication network, you can use satellite network and get to the same destination. But for anybody to say that it should not be used, it simply means that the person is planning and attempting to rig election. It is as simple as that.

It is likely that the purported popularity of most of these senators have diminished badly, so they need a short cut out of it. It is a very wrong decision, condemnable and reckless.

Majority of those that voted against the electronic transfer of result are APC members. Could it be that because of the unpalatable state of the nation, the party is not sure of winning 2023 election?

I equally suspect so too, because I understand that it is their party’s decision and some of them were not even convinced on why they voted other than that their party directed that they should do so. They are not sure of their future and I equally suspect so because there is no other explanation to it. They are not sure of what the future holds for them, so they have to prepare. To decline to adopt electronic transfer of result is to start building your rigging infrastructure ahead of the election.

You said rotation is a tradition, that when power leaves North it goes to South and vice versa. But from its body language, the North is still insisting that power should remain in the region. What is your take on that?

I have always believed in merit, competency and I have always believed that such policies that border on quota system, federal character are regressive and must not be promoted. In fact, it is against patriotism and nationalism. For me, may the best man always win, if the person is a Nigerian. Today, we are all suffering banditry, terrorism, kidnapping and so on. Do these evils tell us where they come from? Is any one of them saying he’s a southerner or northerner? No. It is bad leadership, inept leadership. For me, I need somebody, just like Babangida insinuated, who will bring us out of the quagmire we found ourselves in. I don’t care where you are from, but you must have the desired competence.

But will Nigerians subscribe to that because of the high illiteracy level? It is very difficult for the voters to differentiate between competency and otherwise. They will vote along ethnic and religious sentiments?

That is why I said that we need to revisit our electoral process. For example, earlier in the year, I wrote a column saying that we need to revisit the absolute franchise system, that enough of the situation where every Tom, Dick and Harry vote. That we must start allowing people that are informed to vote, because the votes of those who are uninformed are endangering not only themselves but all of us put together. So, we must save them from themselves and that is what I’m canvassing; that we need to revisit our electoral system. Nothing is universal. You do things in accordance with the peculiarity of your nation. Like you said, our people are largely uninformed; people don’t even know why they are voting, not to talk of the candidates they are voting for. And at the end of the day, they continue to endanger all of us. We need to find a solution to it and that is why I consistently say that our electoral system needs overhaul.

Like you pointed out, the environment you find yourself determines the system you run or operate. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious group. Don’t you think the issue of power rotation will help to address the issues of agitation?

Again, we are seeing this because there is inequity. We are seeing injustice in the land and there is unfairness in the land. If we have a leader that is a just leader and does things equitably, all these agitations would not arise. The question of where you come from won’t even arise. Nigerians don’t care about where any president or governor comes from. What they care about is good roads, good hospitals, jobs, comfort, etc.  If everything is working, what is your concern about who is on top there? You won’t remember his name. It is when things are not working that you start asking, who is there? That is the reality. All these agitations will fizzle out the moment we get somebody who can readjust, who can enthrone justice and fairness in the polity,

These separatist agitations – Biafra, Oduduwa, Ijaw don’t speak well of the country. What can be done to calm things?

Like I said earlier, there is no justice; there is no equity in the land. In the absence of that, agitations will continue and it will border on secession. Like I said sometime in an interview, I’m not aware of any law that says the call for secession is illegal or criminal. In fact, as far back as 1951, the North called for secession first and recently, I saw a newspaper cutting where the president was reported to have called for secession. No law against it. All these agitations for secession are coming up because of injustice, unfairness in the land, and except we remedy and address them the agitations will continue.

You left APC. Where is the train heading to?

I’m back to my civil society platform. I have my own group, United Action for Change. I also largely work with the Concerned Professionals – myself, Femi Falana, Pat Utomi and others. We are trying to do our best.

What do Nigerians expect from you people?

We are doing a lot. We are trying to mobilise the youths to register and get their voter cards. The next is to enlighten them about the need to get involved in the electoral process because they understand issues better than the uneducated. We are doing a lot of active work in terms of civic engagement.

Will it metamorphose into a political party?

No, I don’t think so.

You are no longer interested in party politics?

Not in this country. Maybe, until there is sanity in the system. Right now, the people that populate the parties are scavengers largely and we are all classified the same so long as you are inside. If you find yourselves unfortunately in government in Nigeria, there is the presumption that you are a thief. And so why will you want to go with that stigma? So, it is better to distance yourself from the arena.   

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