Ogbeni Lanre Banjo, a certified (Chartered) Public Accountant is a three time National Conscience Party (NCP) governorship candidate in Ogun State. He is one of the outspoken and fearless politicians in Ogun State and because of his strong belief in good governance; he has led several crusades in the last twelve years for credible government in Nigeria. Banjo, in this interview with TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE of National Mirror, spoke on some burning issues in Nigeria.
Ogbeni Lanre Banjo contested three times to be the governor of Ogun State without success. Having served as a Treasurer for a member of U.S. House of Representative, Mayor of the District of Columbia, and a Councilmember, and having audited various levels of governments, he had acquired so much experience that his campaign style was second to none and the ease with which he handles questions both during debates and interviews always capitulates his audience. Here in Nigeria, since he refused to underpin such brightness in campaign programs with money, the submission to his plans to serve soon wears out. He was the only candidate in 2003 who promised to run a state with deference to the federal government only on Immigration, military, and custom. He promised to establish his own State Police with the Police wearing locally made uniform which will create a lot of jobs for both tailors and those who have been making the clothing for years and are still poor. He made it categorical that nobody in Ogun will have to go to Abuja to register simple business or pay exorbitant prices for plate numbers currently under the control of the Federal government. He promised to establish Section of Motor Vehicle Administration (SMVA) that will be second to none in Nigeria. The SMVA will have among other missions the responsibility to make and issue plate numbers in Ogun. Under the leadership of the irrepressible Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in 2007, Lagos State started to issue its own plates and he survived the Federal Road Safety harassment. He also promised to establish a Section to cater to the welfare of the senior citizens resident in Ogun State with monthly payment to anyone over 62. That would have been the first of its type in Nigeria, but today, even though Banjo did not win the war to be governor, he won the battle when Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State began payments to elderly people from October 1, 2011. First to call himself Ogbeni because he rejected Chieftaincy titles claiming that a chieftaincy title is not a prerequisite to be a governor, today, Governor Rauf Aregbesola assumed that name. He often jokes that the Governor needs to pay for that patent.
1. What is your view about the state of insecurity in Nigeria, considering the menace of the Boko Haram?
The State of insecurity is everywhere in Nigeria. Boko Haram just added another dimension to it. From Lagos to PortHarcourt you would hear of armed robbery going on for hours without fear of police authority and without the police showing up on time to save life. The Boko Haram angle was caused and deepened by governments. Years ago, a foreign government predicted that Nigeria would disintegrate in 15 years; it was even predicted that terrorism world occur in Nigeria and the country will be branded a terrorist nation. The world power organized Umar Abdulmutallab to stigmatize Nigeria and that prediction came to pass. The Nigerian government did not interrogate the officials of the country who are making all these prediction and prepare to forestall it. The government is even too scared to monitor and interrogate Nigerians who are agents of these world powers. How on earth could Wilkileak report that so many Nigerians deliver reports to the American Embassy about the government they serve without any one in the National Assembly thinking of submitting bills to make it a punishable offence. That tells you that some of them in that assembly may be agents of imperialists. So, the actions and inactions of our government open doors for the prediction to come to pass. Like a cursed society, the disrespect for human life by authority lends itself to a situation where Mohammed Yusuf, his in-law and some of his followers suffered extra-judicial killings. I watched it on Youtube with tearful eyes over a bad image for my country. The family’s initial reaction was not violence; they took their case to the court. The Government lost and was asked to pay N100 million to the family. Neither was the payment made nor was the policemen involved indicted to deter such a killing, until the people chose violence. Form Lagos to Bayelsa and to anywhere in Nigeria extra judicial killing still occurs. If the Yusuf’s organization was grimly determined not to fold their arms rightly or wrongly, we must evaluate the crux of the matter and those earning millions of Naira per year in the National Assembly must rise up to the occasion, by brushing up our laws and demanding enforcement. Now that some people in and probably outside Nigeria have hijacked the Boko and are causing mayhems everywhere, what did our government do? Twice now, they have threatened to release the names of the sponsors. Is it for Lanre Banjo to go and arrest them?
2. There have been several calls for negotiation between the Federal Government and the Boko Haram members, do you think Federal Government should negotiate with Boko Haram or handle them with force?
General Olusegun Obasanjo was told of their demands. Let the government start with that. The award against the government should be settled, should not be in cash because that could lead to another assassination. If I were the president, I would meet with their leaders to determine their issues. There are other measures that I would take that I cannot make public, and if that does not work and I know in my conscience that am truly elected to protect Nigerians, I would do all within my power to bring about peace by all means necessary.
3. What advice would you give to government in providing lasting solution to insecurity in Nigeria?
Advice ke! Do you know how many people whose livelihood hinges on this insecurity? I have no public advice to give to the government. Give advice, when the head of SSS is being decorated with a national honor despite a shabby record of insecurity! Give advice when Tishau, a member of Boko Haram, was unduly released and you hear sister Security organizations pointing fingers to one another and no head rolled! I enjoy my peace in Sagamu. I don’t want Akarigbo to accuse me of inviting Boko Haram to Sagamu. On a serious note, investing in sophisticated equipment alone to battle terrorism is a bizarre method to adopt. Security officials need to be trained to identify and deter potential terrorists before execution of their plans. Without uninterrupted flow of electricity that will be difficult. Also the practice of true federalism where the State Governors will act like governors will help.
4. What is your view about the proposed plan by the Federal Government to withdraw the fuel subsidy?
It is wicked, dehumanizing, and it defies economic wisdom. For the government to have passed the buck of its responsibility to tackle the cabal of profiteers to the masses whose welfare is its primary purpose is irrational. Years after years, administration after administration Nigerians are given witless reasons for the increase in cost of fuel. We are told that removal of subsidy will make things difficult for the “Cartel” who is milking the economy of the country. All the yester-years increase has not done anything to this cartel! If all these presidents know that there is a cartel and their agents, brothers and sisters are not members of this cartel who is contemptuously violating the laws of the land, why are the members of the cartel not arrested and prosecuted? Why should the masses be punished for the government’s inability to arrest the cabal? The President has been advised to ensure that all our refineries work, he turned a deaf hear to that. Up till today he has not tabled his plans for the refineries to function. Nigeria sells its crude oil at controlled price only to buy it back from the cartel at uncontrolled price. To give room for corruption, the imported oil has to be cleared in custom with bribes exchanging hands. All these costs are being passed to the consumers, and someone is talking about subsidy. This is wicked. If these people are not wicked, since you have chosen to sell the crude oil and then import it again, why don’t you allow the product to clear the custom without hindrance and any payment?
5. But the price of fuel in the U.S. is also on the rise?
For every gallon sold in the U.S, there is a portion that goes to the State and Federal Highway Trust Funds to maintain roads and highways, a percentage of each gallon sold is used to pay social security, both federal and state unemployment taxes by gas station owners. Do we have this in Nigeria? They device all sorts of ingenuity to bamboozle Nigerians! You should compare us to Libya under Ghadaffi, Venezuela, and other oil producing countries. How much do they sell fuel per liter or gallon? The U.S. has its own oil that is kept for strategic reasons. If they decide to use it today, Nigeria will be in a big mess because the price of oil will crash and yet we have no functioning refineries. With Ghadaffi gone, only God knows what could happen to the price of oil once Libya settles. Are we factoring this into our planning?
6. What is your take on the proposed seven years single term that is being proposed by President Goodluck Jonathan?
A single term may be a good idea for the presidency but the timing of his suggestion is so inappropriate. Also, seven years in a row is too long in my humble opinion. We have more problems now than single term. In a situation where life is not safe in most places in the country and in Kabba where bandits opened fire on the Police rescue team and deflated the tyres of their APC tank before they escaped, insecurity cannot stare us in the face more than that. If peoples’ votes count, the tenure of a non performing elected official will automatically be limited to one term of four years because he will be booted out by electorates, provided they did not ask for money for votes. This is what the President needs to work on. A single term seven year mediocre president or governor will dwarf us down. His suggestion that the single term should also be for states offends he spirit of federalism. His suggestion should have been confined to Federal, if people of Ogun State decide not to have term limit, it is our choice. The president cannot even stay in Abuja and dictate to Bayelsa his home state. Under federalism, the state has every right to decide on its own, and I hope the 36 States of the federation would bind together to fight this imposition of unitary system that contradicts the constitution. The members of National Assembly representing various states should also help to strengthen Federalism by putting their states first and by telling the President that States should decide on their own term limit.
7. Do you think a single tenure would reduce election cost and make public office holders to focus in discharging their constitutional duties?
For good visionaries, it could give them an opportunity to step on toes and clean house for a better society since he knows he is not begging anybody for votes again. In a society where the citizens do not donate to candidates or volunteer to campaign for candidates unless they are paid, if an elected official plans to contest for another elective office after the tenure of the present one expires, he or she would have to consider how such an ambition will be funded. Given our mindsets and values, I am not sure such an elected official would not just amass wealth for his next ambition since citizens do not care whether he performs or not. Therefore, in a country where honesty, discipline, and vision have taken flights, it is difficult to say that a single term would make someone who has nothing to offer other than the fact that he wants to be governor to focus. Someone who paid for votes to get into power whether one term or two terms would have to look for a way to replenish the money. Regarding election costs for the government, they will be drastically reduced if voter’s registration is updated perpetually and if that is left with States with supervision from INEC. In a situation where every INEC Chairman wants to compile his own voters’ registration, cost of election will continue to skyrocket whether in every four or seven years.
8. Few days ago renowned writer, Professor Chinua Achebe rejected national award on account that he is not satisfied with the activities of the government. Do you support or kick against his action?
Well meaning Nigerians should applaud Professor Achebe. The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi rejected the honor and he told me that the welfare of the people for which he has been in and out of jail from 1969 -1996 is plummeting. Poverty, in all its dimensions and ramifications, is more pervasive. Rather than improve the quality of material life of the people, governance in Nigeria has been synonymous with infliction of pains and pangs on the populace, high level of corruption in the corridors of power, blood letting and blood shedding in all strata of the society, lack of serious national leadership and general atmosphere of fear and utter hopelessness virtually culminating in a state of anomie. What would be the basis for receiving an award from a government who care less about the security and welfare of the people? The Professor cannot reside in his country, or his state without fear of being kidnapped. He cannot live here without him turning himself to a local government by providing electricity, water, road etc. for himself. So what is the source of happiness for him to accept any award? How can you denounce a government for not caring for its people, and you then turn around to receive an award from such a government?
9. Do you think people are given national award on merit? Should it be scraped or upheld?
National award should be given on merit not only to the rich and famous, but other Nigerians in and out of the country who have demonstrated patriotism and love for the country. University students making researches to make Nigeria great but who are being frustrated by the government should also be considered. There should be guidelines which should be stringently followed and the process must not be corrupt like everything in Nigeria. Our economy is being controlled by foreigners, and you hear those responsible praising Chinese. This last award really embarrassed the nation. For example, Alele-Williams who had been earlier awarded an OFR award by President Obasanjo was again awarded another OFR in a country of over 170 million. That is an eloquent testimony that records of honourees are not kept and majority of them were not chosen on merit. Representative Femi Gbajabiamala should also be commended and I agree with him that people should be awarded, not because of the posts they hold but for their commendable contribution to the well-being of the nation. Honourees should also be stripped off the award should they behave in a non-exemplary manner. This should be part of the rules which should be made known to honourees.
10. The issue of state and local government joint account seems to be generating issues in the country, what is your take on this?
The problem is not joint account. The problem is our contemptuous treatment of the laws of the land with levity, arrogation of power to self and our failure to address issues within the ambit of the law. The way we practice our democracy with utter disrespect to those we represent is the same way we treat joint account. Listen, while a local government is intrinsically part of the State, it is still a body politic and a corporate entity that can sue and be sued on its own. Therefore, on its own volition and supported by the ordinance or law made by the Council, a local government can elect to have a joint account with the State, with all the terms spelled out in an agreement. Joint account implies they will both be co-signers. The only function of the state is to ensure that funds are spent for the purpose for which the funds are given, chikena! The State should have rights to charge reasonable administrative fees. The trouble is that where the governor is the one sponsoring those in local governments because most of the citizens want to collect money for votes and not making contributions to have the best elected, those in local governments in Nigeria will continue to be yes-men to the governor that sponsors them and the citizens will continue to suffer. Because those in local governments were sponsored by the governor, they dare not challenge the violation of laws in Court. This is the crux of the matter. Liberty and enjoyment of dividends of democracy starts with the determination of citizens to enjoy those rights. Citizens must do their part by making both cash and in-kind contributions to candidates they believe in. It is about their lives.
11. Some advocate for the discontinuation of the joint account
That cannot be done without changing the constitution. Those of this school of thought are prescribing cutting off the entire head because of headache. We cannot develop that way. If we stop the joint account, and we refuse to obliterate the dependency of the candidates for elective positions in local government on the governor, the problem will still not be resolved. The governors paid for the pipers and they must find a way to dictate the tunes. Nigerian rulers do not like to confront problems head on. We say that slashing off the head with migraine headaches is not the solution for headaches; yet, we prescribe and implement such solutions in every segment of our lives. When Nigerian Airways were being run aground, instead of addressing the problems by making laws, establishing policy and procedures, we chose to close it down. If we have enforced the laws and indict those running foul of the laws, we would have inculcated in Nigerians the mindset to obey rules and orders. They sold all the planes and nobody was punished! Those who closed the national carrier down now operate their own airlines which are operated like business. They don’t tolerate the type of nonchalant attitude that caused the Airways to be bankrupt in their own private businesses.
May I also add that it is not the business of the Revenue Mobilization Agency to interfere in joint account arrangement of the State? If the agency observes any lacuna, it can work with relevant agency to cause a law to be made to frown at it. The Federal government has every right to audit its grants or allocation to local governments through the state government. Local governments should have the rights to apply for federal grants directly and funds for such grants once approved should be disbursed to the appropriate state ministry for onward transfer to the local governments, and of course with notice of approval sent to the concerned local governments. The menace of funds not being given to a local government could be nipped in the bud by policy of the Ministry of Finance that Commissioners of Finance shall be held liable for failure to release funds of local governments by the State. That is Constitutional because such policy is strengthening the Constitution. Where the Commissioner fails to transfer the money and monitor the spending in accordance with the guidelines, the Federal Ministry should have the power to prosecute the Commissioner. That way, since the Commissioner does not have immunity, he/she would be compelled to comply with the law and not the dictate of a governor. If the funds are transferred to the local governments and they are misappropriated or spent in violation of the grant laws, the federal government should act immediately to audit and prosecute. The terms of a grant should not exceed a year to allow the system to be cleaned. It is when we begin to do this that we will be inculcating the fear of laws in the minds of elected and appointed officials.
12. Do you think autonomy should be given to the local government to pave way for grassroots development?
Of course a local government is a body politic. A local government is considered important to the encouragement of political education and participation, and the basis upon which services could be provided according to local needs. Hence, relationships with the centre should be based on the partnership of free democratic institutions. Also, a local government is seen as rational from an administrative point of view as it allows for the efficient provision of public services at the point of service need under the direction of the State and Federal. It must therefore have its own autonomy. The system is designed that way not only because they are close to the grassroots but to make it a laboratory to practice governance. If a local government official performs well, whether as a councilor or Chairman, such an official can be elevated by the votes of enlightened voters to a higher elective office. His records will be there to see. Look, when there was a public uprising in Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, he was held responsible and that protest swallowed him. The same thing happens in Libya and swallowed Ghadaffi because of their systems. The same thing is happening all over the U.S. now, who is held responsible? Local authority! Nobody is holding Obama responsible because, he does not control the local or state police.
13. How would you assess the administration of Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State in his last six months in office?
He is on the right track. He is a friend with whom we shared similar visions for Ogun State. His team is well respected. He does not believe that anyone is working for him but for Ogun State. He will definitely establish his footprint in the sand of Ogun State governance.
14. What is your message to Nigerians and people of Ogun State?
Nigerians should watch the happenings around the world. They should realize that those in comfort want to die in comfort, those in pains must not adjust for infliction of additional pains. All over the world, citizens are standing up to demand for good governance, black folks in Africa are adjusting to oppression. Nigerians wait for every four years to take pittance from politicians just to suffer for another 4 years. This must change. We need to hold our elected officials accountable, and not being economic burdens on them.
15. The Nigerian Authority was unhappy with the recent alert by the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, what is your view?
The U.S. has every right to issue a warning to protect its citizens worldwide. The U.S. Embassy issued the alert; they did not force our media to broadcast and print. Perhaps we should ask Nigerian Ambassadors anywhere if their press statement every made it to the toilet papers of their hosts country. I do not know of any country on earth which respects and protects its citizens more than the U.S. These are the type of acts that we expect our rulers to copy, not someone in the National Assembly sponsoring Gay Marriage bill. I am not asking any man not to marry any man of his choice. I am sure some of them may want to snatch President Jonathan form Madam Patience and I will fight along her side to ensure that does not happen. Of many problems that plague Nigeria, can you imagine the press is not exposing the sponsor of that bill in the national assembly so that all of us will make sure such legislators do not return?
16. What is the State of NCP? What would you do if the INEC proscribes the Party?
Whether we win election or not should not be a basis for the dissolution of NCP. NCP fought for the free association of Nigerians, and Nigerians should be very grateful to the present Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher. He read the leading judgment on Friday, July 26, 2002 and since then I have been his admirer. The judgment admonished Judge Jonah Ada who ruled to infringe out rights to freely assembly. INEC has every right to establish a parameter for funding political parties within the ambit of the Constitution. It can also establish rules that will require primaries be done early enough so that only parties with candidates would appear on ballot papers. It is not its business to say that if I cannot win election under NCP, the party should be deregistered. This is type of development we need to copy from the U.S. Jesse Ventura, a wrestler, ran for Governor of Minnesota in 1998 as the nominee for the Reform Party of Minnesota and he won. He later joined the Independence Party of Minnesota when the Reform Party broke from its association with the Reform Party of the United States of America. His campaign consisted of a combination of aggressive grassroots who did not ask for a penny for votes, using the phrase “Don’t vote for politics as usual.” He spent considerably less than his opponents (about $300,000) since then no one has won election on the platform of that party but the party is still in existence. Why can’t we copy that? Why does someone want to tamper with my freedom to associate? Well, the fighter of the masses now heads the Supreme Court. As one of the founding members of the NCP, I can assure you that we will resist it.