Muiz Adeyemi Banire has had it good in life so far. Still under 50, he holds a PhD in Law and has been Commissioner in Lagos for 12 years and just last Monday, one of his life ambitions to attain the peak of his professional career was fulfilled when he was decorated as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). Banire, who currently sits atop a flourishing law firm in Lagos, is also the National Legal Adviser of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with some journalists, he bares his mind on a lot of national issues. LAWRENCE ENYOGHASU covered the session. Excerpts:
Several years after getting to the peak of your academic career, you finally made it to the top of your professional career with the SAN award? How do you feel?
To a certain extent, one feels fulfilled. I thank God for that privilege. It is not because of hard work that some things in life come our way, but because of divine intervention. So, I am grateful to God for the attainment.
I guess this translates to bigger fees for clients wishing to patronise you?
I don’t know. I have not done any billing for a client yet. Maybe when I want to do that, it will occur to me. There is one aspect that is more important than money. This aspect is one that enables me to use the attainment to pursue the cause of justice. This is because a society where there is lack of justice and fairness cannot know peace.
Corruption is a big issue in the society and this cuts across all strata. How do you think we can collectively tackle the menace?
It must be a general resolution on the part of all of us that we want to banish corruption, otherwise we are heading nowhere. One of the areas of reckoning is obedience to the rule of law by all individuals and institutions regardless of the position that you occupy. If all of us do this, to a certain extent, we will be able to tame this vice. Corruption is not peculiar to any sector. It is everywhere. We need general reorientation with a view to pointing out the follies inherent in corruption. This is because once you are ignorant of something, it becomes a vicious cycle. If you come to me for a service and I have cause to deny you of that service because you did not comply with certain corrupt practices, and it happens like that everywhere, then we are doomed. There must be a new orientation, pointing out the negative impact of corruption on the society vis-a-vis each profession. Pertaining to my own profession, for instance, I know that if there is corruption in the judiciary, I am in trouble. It means that no matter the quality of the submissions I make in court, I will not get justice. The same thing will happen to litigants. If at the end of the day people lose confidence in the justice system, the resort will be to self-preservation, and that will lead to anarchy in the society. And once there is anarchy in the society, there will be no development.
We have a renewed war on corruption going on in the country. Are we doing the right things to succeed?
Nothing much has been done now. It is the structures that are still being put in place. When the structures have been put in place, that is when the war itself will start. For instance, I am waiting for the report of the Prof. Sagay committee on the way forward in tackling corruption. Fighting corruption is not all about picking up people and taking them to court. It goes beyond that. The Sagay committee must look at the structure, the legal framework. That is the starting point. In fact, I wrote a paper on it about seven years ago, that we need to look at the legal framework because there are so many of them that are conflicting, some are unintelligible, some are obsolete. Then how many structures do we have fighting corruption all over the place? EFCC, ICPC, Code of Conduct Bureau, Nigeria Police … even SSS, DMI are all fighting corruption. I believe this thing must be structured. We need a format. We may even need protocol so that somebody does not suddenly wake up and say this is the way he wants to do his own (fight corruption). The Sagay committee needs to give us the legal framework; look at all legislations targeted at fighting corruption in Nigeria, analyse them, I think there is a need for realignment, let them do the realignment and give us proper calibration of the direction to go in terms of the law itself.
Even the procedural law, we need to look at it. This is because if the substantive law is okay, but the procedural law is weak, you will still run into systemic crisis. That is why there are undue delays in anti-corruption cases … four years, five years. The general impression is that no high profile anti-corruption case in Nigeria ever ends. That borders on the weakness of our procedural laws. So, there is the need for the Sagay committee to evaluate the legal framework properly. Once they get that right, the next thing is to look at the structure with a view to ascertaining which institution does what. The submission I made in the paper I wrote some seven years ago was that all the things we need to fight corruption are already in the EFCC Act. All the things the ICPC, the police do are just to follow up. So, there is the need to clearly define the responsibilities of each of these agencies to see if they are still relevant.
So much attention is like being paid to the issue of anti-corruption by the Buhari administration that it would appear that other things are not important, the economy for instance. Should it be so?
There is the risk. But then, the efect of the negative impact of corruption is so devastating that without addressing it, no economic revival will succeed. So, you must balance the two aspects of our national life. Any economic policy without addressing corruption will ultimately fail. That is why the fight against corruption must go alongside our efforts to rejuvenate the economy.
Nigerians subscribed to the `change’ mantra on the grounds that it will translate into improved life for them. But three months after the administration, led by your party, came into office, things appear to be in slow motion. As a top member of the APC, are you not concerned?
The problem is that, by our nature, we are impatient. We are always in haste. To me, there are some areas we need to look at first and foremost in determining whether there is impact or not. For instance, the president said he does not want to make a mistake, he wants to do things meticulously. Everybody has been talking about cabinet. To a certain extent, I believe that is not particularly essential to the development of a nation. This is because there are people in the public service doing the job presently. The issue is that when the ministers are appointed, they essentially will deal with policies. And once the policies are in place, it is for the public service to implement. So, all these things, according to the president, he needs to look at the depth of what he met, so that he knows how to proceed. This tells me how politicians make electioneering promises without knowing the reality when they get into office. That appears to be the obstacle to the prompt realisation of the promises made by the president. But all the same, if we are able to set the right agenda by the end of the year, the people will smile by the beginning of next year. We need to give the president enough time to plan so that the expected dividends can come in the quantum that we desire.
We have been made to understand that some of the policies of the Buhari administration will be implemented from the loot recovered from those who stole from the treasury. But its like we still have a long way to go in the loot recovery. How much hope do you have?
Beyond loot recovery, I have said the government has started well by setting up the Sagay committee. That is the foundation. Without it, you can’t do anything. What we are doing at the moment is not fighting corruption. Fighting corruption is a lot more encompassing. You may even need to go to the schools to inculcate the basic values. I have been agitating, `return moral education to schools!’ I probably would have been something else but for the religious education I had while in school. If you have the fear of God, the tendency to be corrupt will be limited. So, we must go beyond the issue of loot recovery into all aspects of what corruption is doing to us and what even constitutes corruption. Do you know that if you mess up somebody in terms of time-keeping, that is corruption? So, we need to address corruption holistically.
So we may need to bring back the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) that we had under President Buhari as military Head of State?
It may not be in that form. But we need complete orientation against corruption. I envisage the MAMSER type of orientation, as spearheaded by Prof. Gana, that, `If you are a sweeper, sweep well’. That is the type of orientation that must come back. There must be dignity in whatever we do.
Kidnapping is getting worse. Within one week, we have had at least two high profile kidnappings, the latest victim being Chief Olu Falae. How do we stem criminality?
I heard the IG recently talking about community policing. That is the way out. Policing is not all about carrying guns around. Security is better carried out through intelligence. You must spend more on intelligence, people must be incorporated. We see the (American) FBI, CIA acting like magicians when they resolve puzzles. It is because they have agents everywhere who gather intelligence. If I am in charge of any security agency, I will have my people in every sector assembling intelligence capable of bursting crime. And once you have intelligence, you are on top of the situation. Even among kidnappers, you must have your agent – undercover agent. We need to improve the capacity of intelligence officers.
There are certain things that government does that many people, especially the opposition, take as being against them … even if it is clear that government is sincere. In putting in place the sort of orientation against corruption you spoke about, what guarantee do we have that the opposition will not read meaning into it and say it is targeted at them?
Nigeria is unfortunately one of the countries where we do not distinguish electioneering period from when government has taken office. In other climes, once elections are over, everybody rallies round the government while government treats everybody the same way regardless of political affiliation. That is the oath of government swore to. In putting in place national rebirth, government needs everybody’s cooperation for it to succeed irrespective of party affiliation.
Who is your role model?
Prof. Jelili Omotola. I learnt so many things from him. I was very close to him. He was my teacher, he was my HoD, he was my Dean, he was my VC. In fact, when he was VC, some of us were his special assistants regardless of whether we were lecturers at the UNILAG Faculty of Law. He impacted greatly on us. UNILAG worked under him.
I thought Asiwaju Tinubu will be your role model?
There is something people don’t know about me. I am not a professional politician. I am a professional in politics. I am in politics simply to ensure good governance. You can’t fight outside the ring. You have to be inside to make the required impact. That brought me into politics, but people misconstrue my posturings. I have never been out to contest election all my life. Even common political office now, I have said I am not interested. The reason we have problems in politics today is that we have huge deficit of good people in politics.
So, how was it it serving in Lagos State government, especially under Asiwaju Bola Tinubu?
We struggled towards proving good governance. I will give our efforts a comfortable pass mark. Many eggheads were in the Tinubu administration – VP Osinbajo, Cardoso, Teju Phillips, Dele Alake, Aregbe. These were authorities in the various fields. As Commissioner for Special Duties, I cleared the courts of exhibit congestion.