Barrister Monday Ubani is the 2nd Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). He spoke to EJIKEME OMENAZU on crucial issues in the polity, including the coalitions against President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term ambition, the anti-corruption war, among others. Excerpts:
The Ikeja branch of the NBA recently led the civil society to protest the Lagos Land Use Charge, after which the state government reviewed the policy. How do you see the protest and the government’s reaction after it?
The point is that any group of citizens that feels aggrieved of any government policy has the right to protest, which is what happened with the Land Use Charge, which the NBA felt is antithetical and does not reflect the economic situation in the land as we are just coming out of recession. The government claimed that the Land Use Charge was not reviewed for the last 15 years. There are so many indices put out there and questions to ask. Who valued the properties? Why must Lagosians be punished for the inability of the State Government over the years not to have reviewed the law they alleged? Are the properties worth the values the government put on them? There were so many other arguable reasons the state government advanced, which were not generally accepted by the citizens. We are happy that the government recanted and slashed it by half. But, that is not what Lagosians actually want.
They are saying that the Land Use Charge does not reflect the current realities. The present situation makes a landlord to be perpetually paying to the government as if he is now a tenant to the government. We realise and emphasise the need for people to pay taxes for the development of infrastructure. But, the governor must not over tax Lagosians to the extent that people will begin to see him in bad light, when what he is perceived doing is like a punishment to the people. People should not be punished with the government’s laws and policies at this time of our national life.
We all like what the government in Lagos State under Governor Ambode is doing. But, we want a review of all the policies and laws like the Land Use Charge, which we consider abnormal. They should take the law back to the House of Assembly for a radical review. We want a review of that law that will include inputs from other stakeholders. If that law is allowed as it is, the landlords and other commercial entrepreneurs will pass the heavy burden to the tenants and patronisers who are the poor masses, the dregs of the earth.
The Lagos Land Use Charge was a product of an Act of the state House of Assembly. State Houses of Assembly are seen as rubber stamps of the Executive. What should be done to make state lawmakers to be on the side of the people that gave them the mandate they are enjoying, rather than the Executive?
You are correct. The various state Houses of Assembly tend to be rubber stamps to the Executive. They clearly lack independence. They do not scrutinise what the governors do. They do not carry out checks and balances on the Executive. When the governors sneeze, they catch cold. We emphasise the strengthening of our institutions. The institutions are weak. They are representatives of the people and should properly represent the people and not the governors. We should elect people who know their onions before they enter into government. Those who are successful in their private enterprises should be those who should go into politics. Politics should not be for people who have never succeeded in running enterprises or who have never employed or pay salary to workers.
If we have people who have succeeded in their own enterprises, or who are employers of labour, being in politics, they will perform better than the present crop of parasites. I strongly advocate for such people to enter into politics and stop the professional politicians from running and ruining our lives.
Three years into President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s anti-corruption crusade, Nigerians have been hearing of animals swallowing millions of Naira, grasses being cut with billions of Naira and sacked people being returned through the back-door. How do you see the success of the crusade?
There are some gains and some errors too in the fight against corruption by this government. There are some areas where this government has shown strength and character in the fight. But, there are areas where they have faltered. The issue of corruption is not as it used to be in the past, where people were stealing with impunity and money was being shared anyhow. It is not to say that corruption is not going on now. But, it is not so open and brazen. The impunity is not as before. If stealing is going on as being alleged in several quarters under this government, it is ‘coded’ somehow.
On the procedural errors in the present fight, one man alone does not fight corruption in any nation, it is a collective fight. The fight should develop a philosophy, which everyone should queue in and imbibe. Everyone who is found corrupt, should be punished. If there is an allegation against anyone in service, the proper procedure should be to suspend and investigate such a person. But, where there is clear evidence that an official of the government is complicit in corruption and you still keep that person in office, that means that the so-called fight is a child’s play. Look at the Babachir Lawal and Ore’s cases. It took a lot of pressure before they were handled by a government that is alleged to detest corruption vehemently.
Also, the media trial by security agencies, especially by EfCC is another error. It is only a court that can pronounce an accused person guilty. The job of the prosecutor is to present a water-tight case before the court and not otherwise. But, our security agencies parade suspects, try them and pronounce them guilty on air before they are taken to court. Very wrong procedure!
All agencies of government should be rid of corruption. The Army, the Police, Customs, Immigration, judiciary, FRSC, etc, should be free from corruption. In police stations even today and tomorrow, bail is not free. Victims still pay money to the police before their cases are investigated by the authorities. What manner of a fight against corruption is that? The public service at the federal and state levels is neck deep in corruption. People still pay money before their files are treated. Corruption is still thriving in all government agencies under this very government that is said to abhor corruption. That is not good. The truth is that we are not yet there. But, that is not to say that the present government has not put up a good fight against corruption. They have, but, there are some procedural errors which they need to rectify to be back on track.
Do you think the Federal Government was right in rejecting the recent Transparency International report on Nigeria?
I have always believed in the Transparency International. They always pass right judgement on nations and Nigeria is not an exception. When the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in power, the Transparency International presented such negative reports and APC, including many Nigerians, believed them. The world is a global village. Information is everywhere. If Transparency International passed a verdict against the PDP administration and APC hailed them, the APC and its administration should also accept the TI report against them now. I have no doubt about the veracity and authenticity of the TI’s report.
A cross section of Nigerians is alleging political conspiracy in the abduction of the Dapchi school girls, just as was the case with the Chibok girls. What is your take on this?
You cannot rule out anything in Nigeria. But, in absence of any evidence linking anybody, I will accept it that the Dapchi girls were abducted just like the Chibok girls. The abduction was actually carried out by the insurgents. The government should try to recover these girls and assuage the feelings of parents. We do not want blame games or that this government has handled the disaster better than the previous one. We must do everything possible to recover these girls and fast too.
Why should there be such abductions and even killings by the sect when the military said they have decapitate boko haram?
This is another claim causing eyebrows to be raised. If they have reduced the capacity of the Boko Haram or decapitated them as the military claimed, how come they still have free access to schools? What happened to the security agencies patrolling these schools? We thought that security agencies ought to protect these girls? We know the agenda of these insurgents. They do not like western education, and will not like women to go to school. The security operatives should not have allowed that laxity. The government did not provide enough security and those who were there at that point in time relaxed. The stand of the government that they had decapitated the Boko Haram is really questionable. The government should also not allow this type of thing to happen again, not just in the North East, but elsewhere. We cannot be paying attention to only the North East, but everywhere. These people are threatening the security of the entire nation.
With the Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen still killing Nigerians anyhow, what are your thoughts on the state of the nation’s security?
The government should review the nation’s security architecture. There is something wrong with the nation’s security architecture, especially in the area of information and intelligence gathering. Who are the Boko Haram? Who are the Fulani herdsmen? Who are their funders? Nobody is asking these questions. Where are they domiciled? If it is Sambisa, let us level it and turn it to farmland. What is too much compared to what they are doing to the nation’s economy and security? Nigerian government should use drones to gather adequate information on what is happening at Sambisa forest and where these girls are kept. What happened to the assistance of foreign governments to Nigeria in this regard? Is Boko Haram so impossible to crush? Are we saying that this phenomenon will continue ad infinitum? If it is not nipped in the bud, it will be a perennial problem to the country and a perennial source of money for their sponsors.
How do you see President Buhari’s recent disclosure that the IGP disobeyed his directive for him to relocate to Benue State to check the killing of the people by the herders?
If it is true that the IG disobeyed the president, then it is wrong for the president to retain him. If the IGP disobeyed the President, what is the punishment for disobedience? If my employee disobeys me, I should reprimand him or sack him or her outrightly. There should be disciplinary measures for disobedience. What did he do when the IGP is alleged to have disobeyed him? That is one of the things people complain about President Buhari. He is alleged to be too slow in taking decisions. He has not changed his cabinet as he promised to do when he returned from London. The way things are, there is no sense of urgency in his governance. We cannot afford to crawl in the 21st century. We are just marking time without progress. Every day, the West is coming out with new breakthroughs in all spheres and here we are, just crawling.
What is your view on the Bill before the Senate prescribing death by hanging for offenders of Hate Speech?
The bill is antithetical to the tenets of democracy. It is against our constitution which provides for freedom of speech. If anyone makes free speech in a way that undermines the law, there are laws, the laws of defamation and libel and other civil and criminal laws to deal with them. What is hate speech? Who determines hate speech? Is it not a law that will be abused? It is like the social media bill. It will not see the light of day. It is not the type of law we sent our representatives to go and enact. It is illogical. The man who initiated the bill should withdraw it. The Senate should not consider it at all.
President Buhari recently refused to give assent to the bill amending the Electoral Act as regards the schedule of elections. How do you see the development?
The matter is now before the court. The Senators also said they are writing a protest letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). Their protest does not mean anything and will go nowhere. Everyone has the right to go to court. The bill is not yet an Act. The court will hear all the parties. The CJN cannot punish the judge because no wrong has been done by the poor judge.
Don’t you feel the INEC schedule will lead to a bandwagon effect as the lawmakers think?
It is a matter of law and politics. If the law gives INEC power to come out with the schedule for elections and the law gives power to the National Assembly to amend any Act, it is still a matter of law and the courts will decide who is right and who is wrong. There are two sides of the matter all based on the law and constitution. The arguments of both sides are interesting. In the midst of this confusion, it is the court that will decide on what they have done. The court will deliver judgment that will develop the jurisprudence on this issue. But remember that the bill is not yet a law.
How do you see the coalitions that are being formed against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the 2019 elections?
For APC to lose the election there must be a coalition. It may even involve the PDP. The only thing that will remove President Buhari from Aso Villa is a coalition of almost all the other political parties comprising the good, the bad and the ugly. If they do, they can dethrone President Buhari, especially if the good are in the majority within the coalition.. If they do not coalesce, there is no force that will stop President Buhari if he decides to run. I repeat that it must consist of the good, the bad and the ugly. But, the good must be in the majority as the discerning electorates are tired of the bad and the ugly in Nigerian politics. It is important that the good MUST be in majority to attract Nigerians. Majority of Nigerians are tired of the bad and the ugly who have messed up Nigeria so far.
What is the state of your foundation, the Onyekachi Ubani Foundation?
The foundation has been doing good and so much. Since we were officially inaugurated by last year, the little money we got, we have used it to do a lot of philanthropic work. We gave out N35,000 each to several Nigerians last year to start some businesses. We funded several widows and widowers in small-scale businesses. In my community, Awomukwu in Ikwuano local government in Abia State, we set up a scholarship for students who study Medicine, Law and Accounting in higher institutions. So, all students from the community reading these three courses are on the foundation’s scholarship. In April/May this year, the foundation will distribute some materials to widows in Umuosoko in Awomukwu. The foundation has refurbished a public borehole, bought a generator and water tank in Umuosoko in Awomukwu. The foundation was able to assist a secondary school in my community, Awomukwu, to become a centre for WAEC and NECO this year. The foundation contributed 70% of the money used for these two purposes.
The foundation also collaborated with some members of the NBA, Ikeja Branch, to give a wheelchair and a car to a physically challenged lawyer who is also a member. The foundation is also paying for most of the cases of the poor that are being handled pro bono. The out of pocket expenses are borne by the foundation.
We plan to help the less privileged, widows, widowers, orphans all over the place this year if we get enough funds from our funders and supporters. I must appreciate one woman who have been contributing N5,000 every month since last year to the foundation. May my God bless her richly, she chooses to remain anonymous.