Barr. Monday Ubani is a former second Vice President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). In this interview with ANAYO EZUGWU, he speaks on insecurity in the country; need to amend the Electoral Act and the 2023 presidency, among other issues
What is your assessment of the current security situation in Nigeria?
My assessment is that the state of our security is clearly alarming. There is high rate of insecurity of lives and property and those crimes range from kidnapping to Boko Haram insurgency, banditry and armed robbery.
So, we voted out the last government based on the fact that the state of insecurity was clearly alarming and the promise of the All Progressives Congress (APC) government was to ensure security of lives and property. But we are not having that safety and it is becoming very worrisome.
The government itself seems not to act or react to people’s feelings concerning the state of insecurity because how many times now has the Senate or the House of Representatives have passed some certain resolutions, insisting that the service chiefs should be changed in order to beef-up and strategize for effective policing and safety of the state but the president is said to be seeing it differently.
It is somehow for the president to be seeing something different and the entire citizens are seeing it differently. There should be one vision. The moment the government does not see the need to beef-up security, it then means that we will remain where we are despite the complains and reality on ground.
But if the government sees that there is complains and those complains are genuine, it should do something that is more radical. It can even declare state of emergency on the issue of insecurity in order to tackle it effectively.
But when it is seeing it differently that there is no insecurity, of course it will keep us where we are and where we are is that the state of insecurity is clearly not something we should cheer about.
The Federal Government, in 2017, declared the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) a terrorist organization. With the ongoing onslaught on the Nigerian state by bandits and herdsmen, don’t you think it is time the government declares these groups as terrorist organizations?
Clearly I’m also at a lost. If IPOB was declared a terrorist organization, why is it that that these bandits would be treated with kid gloves? It is absolutely wrong. Like I said earlier, it all depends on the perception of the government. If the government perceives that there is no state of insecurity, it will also believe the way it presently believes; meaning there is nothing requiring the government to rejig the security apparatus.
But if it sees it as something that is clearly alarming and worrisome, it will do something different. So, perception is key and those in government perceive the issue in such a manner that they are not seeing it as something that requires a practical transformation in rejigging the security apparatus. That is why we are seeing what we are seeing presently.
The Inspector General of Police is expected to retire early next month and there is clamour for a southerner to replace him as police chief. Does it really matter where the new IGP comes from?
If there is security of lives and property effectively being engineered by the man in charge of policing, I don’t have any problem where he comes from.
What we actually want is security but if also in a polity like ours that is very heterogeneous, it looks very suspicious if one particular tribe would be the one to head all the security apparatus in the country.
In a heterogeneous nation and if we are very sincere, we are not getting that state of security that we required. Is it not high time government itself take a second look on other regions? It doesn’t matter where he comes from. I don’t care. If you come to this my office, I have more non-Igbos than Igbos.
My position is once you are competent; funny enough the most competent people I’m working with are not from my region. The greatest friend I have here is a Yoruba friend. I call them friends because we are all equal as lawyers. There is no boss or employee here in my firm.
So I don’t care where anyone comes from. I just want a situation where Nigeria will be run in such a manner that everyone will be very happy, safe and we enjoy the good things of the land. And the rights of the citizens are respected and not being trampled upon.
But when I discover that the country is not being run effectively and it is coming from a certain group, I will say let me also mix this appointment and probably see whether there is going to be a different rather than keeping certain people whether they are doing well or not. That is not how to run a nation.
The president has become very insensitive and he doesn’t care what people are saying. It is whatever you say and see that you will agree to be the reality.
You remember the story that was told of a king that does not actually like any beauty from any other person other than himself. He likes hearing himself. So, one day, somebody came to the king and said he has sown a very big cloth, which he will wear on the king.
But that cloth will not be worn but he will invoke the cloth on him and he will look too beautiful and one of the best king ever on earth but the king must be naked so that he can invoke that particular clothing on him.
Of course, the king was naked and the deceiver came and said he has invoked the cloth upon him and then started praising the king that he looks so radiant and so glamourous. And then the king sort the opinion of his aides knowing full well that if they say anything to the contrary, they will all be in trouble and so when he asked them ‘how am I looking?’
They said: ‘King you are too gorgeous and beautiful.’ In that state, he got up in his nakedness and came to the market square and everyone was praising the king and he went to the entire village in pure nakedness. That speaks volume of the kind of leadership that we have that will never tolerate any contrary opinion. So, in such instance, people will say that you are the best even when you are naked.
Every one is saying that ‘this thing is not good Mr. President’ but the man is seeing it differently. Meanwhile, he is failing. I think it is better the president also pay regard to the expression of opinions from Nigerians concerning the state of insecurity and see what he can do to address the issue squarely and probably find a solution to the intractable problem.
But if he believes that nothing is wrong and goes on with such notion, I wish him good luck.
The 2023 general election is fast approaching; do you see the National Assembly amending the Electoral Act to reflect the yearnings of Nigerians?
They have no choice because towards the 2019 general election, we had an Electoral Act that was already passed by both chambers of the National Assembly and it was just ready for assent but the President came up with the excuse that the timeline between which to sign and execute was too short.
Many people did not buy into that explanation but he is the President, he had his way and the Senate at that time wasn’t ready to actually override the veto of the president. We had enough time between 2019 and now to have tinkered with our Electoral Act, especially in the light of new realities happening in our electoral process and amend the Electoral Act to reflect those realities and then present them to the President.
One of them is electronic voting system. We need to actually use it the next general election, so we don’t have enough time. I thought by now we should have gone through the process of passing it and then be ready on the table of the President for signature.
Do you think that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is ready for electronic voting even if the National Assembly approves it?
There is no harm in trying. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a step. It may not be perfect at the initial time but as you begin to discover some of the fault lines, some of the things that are making it not to be perfect, you eventually begin to correct them and it then becomes a perfect process.
That was how other nations used such process to develop their countries. My take and my advice is that the earlier we start. Other countries have all migrated into electronic voting and we are still debating whether we can or not, and then allow those mistakes to be corrected along the process.
What is your opinion on the quest by the South-East to produce the next president of Nigeria in 2023?
It is fair that Ndigbo produce the president in 2023 because that will make them know that we are still in one Nigeria. From 1999 to date, almost all the other geo-political zones have actually produced the president. Remember we have three major tribes and then the minority – Igbo, Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba and the minorities.
The Hausa/Fulani have been there, the Yoruba have also occupied that position and even the minorities in the person of President Jonathan also have tasted it but a major ethnic group has not and it has nothing to do with whether they voted for APC or Buhari. Even though I advocated in 2019 that it is fair for the Hausa/Fulani o be given opportunity to complete their term that has been my stake.
My position has always been even in the 2011 elections to allow them complete their eight years, so that the power can then come back to the South. But people like former President Olusegun Obasanjo introduced the confusion that then President Goodluck Jonathan should run, when ordinarily, Jonathan should have taken time to allow the northerners to complete their term, so that power can return to South and from South it goes back to the North again.
But having truncated that system, when it was the turn of the northerners to contest for the president in 2015, we all massively voted for President Buhari. He was also voted for in 2019 so that the North can complete their turn without anyone truncating it. Ordinarily, where there is fairness and equity, the North should have taken four years to make up the Yar’Adua’s term.
The point is that they will argue that there was eight years of President Obasanjo, four years of President Jonathan, so that will make it 12 years. What they are even arguing now is that they must complete that 12 years before power returns to South. But it will not be practicable. The best thing we should allow them is to complete their eight years and allow power to come back to South.
And the possible and better place that power should reside in 2023 should be in the South-East. It is logical. It is equitable. It is justice. But if anyone is thinking otherwise, I won’t want to argue with any person about fairness and equity or having sense of justice. The little I know is that I have always insisted that things must be done properly. In fact, when they killed Chief MKO Abiola, God knows that I was one of the advocates that Abiola was maltreated.
During the June 12 issue, I was all over the place talking on radio and television that justice must be done to the Abiolas and by extension to the Yoruba. And then, General Ibrahim Babangida in 1999, insisted that Obasanjo whom they believe and have absolute confidence in should be the president. They were trying to assuage the wrong done to the Yoruba.
The Yoruba were wronged, their son won election, you did not allow him to ascend the throne, and you killed him in the process. It would have been wrong for any other region to produce the president in 1999 if not for the Yoruba.
So, I was happy that justice was meted out and that the Yoruba feelings and hunger was assuaged. Having done that and power went back to the North, the region should have been allowed to complete their eight years, so that power can come back to the South and then go to the South-East.
But all the truncations and distortions was what made the arrangement look impossible. Now that we have agreed that power should return and indeed actually return to the North, they are going to complete their eight years in 2023, then power should come back to South and the best zone that power should reside or be given that opportunity is the South-East because of the fragility of our nation.
We are not really stable and strong as a nation, so we need to be very sensitive to the heterogeneity and interest that is pulling us aside and see what we can do to cement friendship and unity. And you don’t do that by neglecting a major ethnicity because they didn’t vote for Buhari. That cannot be the basis for addressing inequality and injustice.
Address it based on fairness. There are people like us who voted for Buhari. So, to me, it is something that is advisable for people who have sense of justice to ensure that Ndigbo be allowed to take a shot at the presidency.
Given the controversy that trailed the recent election of the apex Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, do you think Ndigbo are ready to form a common front come 2023?
It is very important that they form but of course you know elections are always very contentious. Every electoral process is not always easy. Looking at what is happening in America, even where we said they are the custodian of democratic principles, you saw what President Donald Trump did, even inciting the people to take over the Capitol.
So, the electoral process is always contentious, but at the end, what matters to me is the maturity that is brought to bear to settle some of these differences and allow the person who has emerged to complete his tenure. It is turn by turn, it will come to your turn instead of creating crisis in the polity.
To me, I won’t because of a singular incident of an election of the Ohanaeze begin to jump into conclusion that Ndigbo cannot be handed power or that they cannot be trusted to run the affairs of this country. What I would rather advice is that the Ndigbo must be sensitive in trying to build consensus among ourselves and make it easier for other ethnic groups to look at us with fair mindedness. We must also not play exclusive politics.
We must play an inclusive politics. What I mean by that is that we should reach out to other major tribes in the country and build consensus, so that it becomes easy when the time comes. You can’t be an island. Ndigbo cannot elect themselves as the president because from the look of things, the Yoruba may not show support, especially when one of their frontline sons in the person of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has indicated interest and has not shown that he is going to withdraw.
There are also fair minded Yoruba who have said we have taken this for eight years, so let’s allow another major ethnic group, particularly the Igbo to also take a shot at the presidency. There are northerners who have expressed similar sentiment that Ndigbo should be given the opportunity and there are also people from the South-South.
So, the issue of building consensus and reaching out to other ethnic groups in order to ensure that they will be in a position to support the presidency of the Igbos is what we must take seriously to ensure that they gather that support which is critical for the eventual emergence of an Igbo presidency.
In the interim, what do you think Prof. George Obiozor should pursue as the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo?
He should pursue the unity of Ndigbo. The singular thing I want him to do is to create unity among Ndigbo and then prepare them for the presidency in 2023.
How do you rate the Federal Government’s response to the fight against COVID-19?
Government is hypocritical about it. You cannot be talking about closing clubs, churches and mosque, asking them to observe protocols, and at the same time, you are asking them to go and register and cluster at National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) centres in order to obtain their National Identification Number (NIN).
That is hypocrisy. Those guys are being exposed. I passed through the office of NIMC at Alausa, Ikeja in Lagos and there was no evidence of social distancing. You are risking the workers and Nigerians. That was why I went to court, which I know you are aware of. I sued the Federal Government and I was asking for the people to be giving enough time.
If from 2012 to 2020 you were able to register only 40 million, how do you think is practicable and possible to register 120 million Nigerians within a period of six weeks because it was initially two weeks. When some of us cried and even went to court, they now said it is six weeks, but how do you think that is possible?
By the way, this NIN registration as a sine-qua-non for you to register your SIM card; as at the time Nigerians registered their SIM cards, was it a requirement? If it was not a requirement, why are you punishing Nigerians because of just a pronouncement of a minister that is not even backed up by law? There is no law or legislative enactment backing this thing they are doing; it is just a pronouncement of a minister.
As at the time your SIM was registered there was no such order and if there was, the people that should be held accountable are the telecommunication operators that did the registrations.
If it was originally there and they refused to abide by it, they are the ones to be punished and not innocent Nigerians, who complied with the requirement that was then in existent. But now who are being threatened or being deactivated if they fail to link their SIM cards within a timeline.
That is clearly unreasonable and illogical. So some of the reliefs I sort were that it is clearly a threat to Nigerians because the constitution guarantees life and then the issue of your property, the constitution also guarantees it and nobody takes it away except in accordance with the law. Then freedom of expression, we know what we do with these telephone lines. In fact 90 per cent of lives now are lived on the internet.
The physical world is practically becoming irrelevant. Most of the things I did as I travelled home were on the internet and phone. You are conducting this interview using phone, so you can imagine when this particular important gadget is taking away from you just because you were not able to comply with the requirement that was never there when you registered your SIM card.
It is clearly unlawful, unconstitutional and a clear violation of the rights of Nigerian citizens for which I felt compiled on public interest concern, I went to court. I am pursuing that the matter be assigned to a judge but I have served them and they are all on notice. I hope they will not in any way do the deactivation when the matter is clearly in court.