Barrister Monday Onyekachi Ubani, 2nd Vice- President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, speaks on current developments in the polity, such as restructuring, automatic ticket for President Muhammadu Buhari, Mainagate, his foundation for the less privileged and other issues of national interests. Excerpts:
You are one of the prominent Nigerians who supported the ouster of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and emergence of President Buhari in 2015. Over two years now, are you regretting that decision you took?
Not in anyway! I don’t regret the decision of supporting the emergence of President Buhari because at that point in time, he was a better alternative. He contested against former president Goodluck Jonathan and of course, later on we have heard revelations of what that government did in terms of monumental corruption. If we had allowed Jonathan to continue, it would have been monumental disaster for us. Now, President Buhari may not have met my expectations in terms of quality governance that I expect but that will not in anyway affect that particular decision I took at that point by supporting him. Yes, the president needs to improve on governance, he also needs to correct some of the anomalies and then fulfill all the promises he made to Nigerians during the electioneering campaign. That is my focus. But I am not regretting voting him because he is far better than the man we removed out of government.
Some APC governors few days ago endorsed automatic ticket for the president. Are you also in support of that?
I am yet to be convinced about allowing a second term for president Buhari unless between now and next year, I see the fulfillment of all the promises the president made to us. Now, four years is long enough for you to lay a solid foundation. I believe laying the foundation is key and the president is not expected to fulfill all the promises, but what I am looking at are the measures the president is taking to fulfill the promises he made that convinced me that he was a better candidate than Goodluck Jonathan. Looking at the fight against corruption, I am yet to see the structure that is in place because that is very key. You may arrest few persons and probably prosecute them but if I don’t see a structure that is an enduring one that you have put in place so that even if you leave government tomorrow, some other persons can continue from there, then I will not score you good on that. I think by next year, we will now sit down and look at all the promises that this government made when they were coming in in 2015 and then begin to tick them one after the other to see whether they have fulfilled them, especially on the issue of restructuring.
There are many issues that I think they should deal with and give me the impression that they have satisfied me to warrant me having confidence that they should continue in order to fulfill other promises. It also depends on who is running on the opposite party that will contest with President Buhari. If I don’t see a credible person that will give him a fight, I have no other choice again because the issue of choice is also very key. If you have to choose between two devils, you choose the lesser devil. So, I am not going to give President Buhari automatic ticket for now. I will still watch his style of government and see whether he has succeeded in providing the things he promised while coming into governance. If he does not, then he will not get my support. But if he succeeds in attending to them and laying a solid structure for building upon by the subsequent government, of course, I can give him my vote for a second term.
How will you assess the performance of the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) especially in assisting the president in delivering on his campaign promises to Nigerians?
It has been a disaster. The APC as a political party has not shown high level of cohesiveness and unity in addressing some of the promises they made while coming into government. All we have had is a party where members are contending against one another. Sometimes, they behave as if they are not even from the same political party. Judging by what you see in the National Assembly and even in the Executive, it shows that they are working at cross purposes. There is no sign of unity of purpose. So, it is very embarrassing when you see these things happening by a political party that one would have thought will be very cohesive in supporting the president to fulfill his promises. I have not seen the necessary support from the party especially when it comes to the fight against corruption. This president has shown that he has the commitment to fight corruption but majority of his party members are really against the fight. That to me is very embarrassing and doesn’t speak well.
What is your take on the controversy surrounding the return of Abdulrasheed Maina. A man who was found guilty by the Jonathan administration which we say is not fighting corruption but brought back into the country, reinstated in the civil service by the Buhari administration secretly without the knowledge of Nigerians?
I am glad that he has been relieved of his position following public outcry. To err is human but to forgive is divine. The government made a very big error by bringing Maina back into the country thinking that Nigerians are the same docile people who will accept anything done by this government whether right or wrong. However, the reality is that there are some actions of government in times past when we cry and shout and they ignore us. So, if we have come to the level that government now responds to public opinion, especially when there is a concerted opinion against government action that is considered very, very illegal and the government listens to the voice of Nigerians and takes an action, I think we’ve come to the level that developed economies have attained where government is sensitive to the reaction of the electorates. So, I am very happy that even though the government committed a blunder by bringing Maina back, the president even though belated, kicked him out of the civil service and they are looking for him now so he can be prosecuted.
You recently said that you are not a fan of former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar but you frowned at the federal government going after his company, Intels because he has indicated interest in taking a shot at the presidency in 2019. Are you saying the anti-corruption war is in anyway lopsided?
Of course like I said, I am not fan of Atiku but I believe that if we must fight this corruption, let’s give it a total fight. I am not in anyway excusing Atiku or whether he has breached any law or refused to comply with laid down policies of government. But I can say it anytime that if Atiku had remained with Buhari, in terms of not indicating any interest to contest against him, I don’t think that hammer would have fallen upon him. But the government started scrutinising him and found out that he has erred when he has indicated interest in running for presidency in 2019. So, I am not saying I’m in support of his not obeying the law but my concern is that in fighting this corruption, let’s not look at anybody’s face at all. Let it be in actual fact that President Buhari belongs to nobody at all.
Don’t give any preferential treatment to anybody. If anybody close to you has breached the law, go ahead and apply the hammer. But if you begin to apply this hammer selectively, especially when you consider that person a political opponent or enemy, it will not augur well for government. By saying this, I am not in anyway exculpating Atiku’s company because they eventually apologised for what they did but I am saying let’s be holistic in this fight and I think that the president must, in addition to fighting corruption, lay a solid structure that will be enduring.
What would you say was your greatest achievement as the former Chairman of NBA Ikeja branch?
Apart from the physical things, the greatest achievement was reviving the interest of lawyers in NBA activities. Our monthly meetings were like mini-conferences, with spillovers of lawyers outside our venues. Also, we took our secretariat from ground floor to the roofing stage, our intention was to complete and even furnish it before we left but time was our enemy. We bought a 100KVA generator to make up for light challenges, and we set up a functional library in the new building, complete with a librarian and other staff. Within 2 years of our administration we were able to raise over N80m. But for me, the most gratifying of all is our ability to arouse the interest of our branch members to NBA activities as a true bar man.
What do you plan to achieve in 5 years from now? Any plans to run for the Presidential position of the NBA come 2018?
Immediately after my tenure as 2nd Vice President of NBA, I’d like to concentrate on my practice. Every lawyer aspires to be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, but you have to build your career first. I am not contesting the Presidency as currently being rumoured. It’s trending online, yes, but it’s a lie. I’ve never discussed my intention with anyone in this regard. I am grateful to God that I’ve been considered worthy of such a position, but I am not running for the presidency of the NBA. And that is in deference to those who have already indicated their interest. They are more qualified so we’ll give them that privilege. When the time comes under this dispensation the Eastern Bar Forum (EBF) will make the choice of who will represent us in the 2018 NBA Election which has been zoned to the old Eastern Region. After the choice is made, EBF will present the chosen person to the other forums as the candidate of the region. So for now, I’ve no intention of running for even 1st Vice President’s position. After my tenure, I want to concentrate on my career and practice it to the level that I’ll be proud of.
You run a foundation known for its integrity. What impelled its establishment?
But for the grace of God, I wouldn’t have gone to school or become a lawyer today as I almost became a mechanic. So having come from a background where I experienced certain level of deprivations, I realised that some people cannot be what they want to be because of poverty. With that idea in my head, I decided that I would like to lift up people from poverty and set them on a higher pedestal. That impelled me to establish the Ubani’s Foundation for the less privileged; people without hope in life. I started the programme on Star FM in collaboration with Moyo and Mofe Oyatogun. Every July of the year which happens to be my birthday month, I would raise money through the listeners of the programme, add some of my own resources, which we disburse to the needy in society. We do it every year. A few years ago, I remember supporting a young man who later learned printing, and for the past two to three years he has been printing my complimentary cards for free. There was a time my Foundation collaborated with a computer firm and we had a 2-week computer training programme for over 30 people. They were trained on Word Processing, Internet Technology and Graphics Design. After the programmed, they found jobs.
The high point of my Foundation was the case of a young girl called baby Somaya, a girl that had a hole in her heart. She went for an operation in India and now she’s all grown-up – and still growing. Money was raised by the Foundation through that radio platform and almost N2.4 million was raised by kind people. During the fund raising campaign, MTN heard about it, they partnered with an artiste by name Praize, and raised N10 million for that girl. As we speak, Baby Somaya, although still in school, is a landlady today. That’s the high point of the Ubani’s Foundation.
Ubani’s Foundation was formally launched in August 2016. President Muhammadu Buhari even sent a personal letter in which he encouraged me to continue with the wonderful work my Foundation is doing; lifting people out of penury to prosperity. He praised me for the empowerments we are doing for the helpless in our society. I have realised that you can be whatever you want to be. The only depriving or limiting factor is yourself. Whatever you desire to do, so far you put your mind into it, you will achieve it.
Remember the lady that found N12m at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport? She was earning N7, 000 monthly as a contract staff. We took up her case and was able to raise more than N700,000 for her. We marketed her, then help and support started coming her way. She got a number of awards and accolades from the government and private establishments. She was even given permanent employment by her State Government in Enugu State, that even named a street after her. At last, she accepted FAAN’s offer of employment. Today she’s a full-fledged Federal government employee.