By Eric Elezuo
A public commentator, Barrister Monday Onyekachi Ubani, is the second Vice President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), and can easily said to be one voice anyone can testify is authentic. His views on political, social and economic situations of the country are reference points in national discourse. In this brief chat, he reveals his in-depth opinion of the Nigerian nation, President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance as well as the way forward for the country. Excerpts:
Kindly introduce yourself
My name is Onyekachi Ubani. I am a legal practitioner. I am the second Vice President of NBA.
As second vice president of NBA, do you nurse any ambition to be the president of the association one day
Well, every human being has a desire to be higher than what he is presently, and if God keeps us alive, there’s hope one day that I will aspire to be the president of NBA. It is a legitimate desire. I will even aspire to be the president of Nigeria someday, God willing.
You were one of the vocal voices against the past administration. Today, your voice seems to have gone quiet. What is the reason?
No, my voice has not gone quiet, the point is that I became too busy and reduce my level of visibility. You know, at that time, I wasn’t in the position I am in today. Like this week, I am going to Abuja and from Abuja I will go to Kenya. So, most times I am not around to be active like I used to be, both on radio and television. But this August by his grace I should be relinquishing my position as vice president. Then I will have some time for myself and for the country as we approach the election coming up next year.
Are you not re-contesting?
Yeah, our tenure is for two years. We were elected in 2016 and in 2018, it is two years. After handing over, I will have much time for myself, my family, and especially for my practice. And also, I write a lot on my social media; Facebook and all. There used to be a radio where I was a regular guest: Radio Continental, but it has been changed it to a musical radio station. Right now, I am yet to find a permanent radio platform to air my views but my views are on the social media for now.
Okay, let’s assume that this is a radio platform. Can you make a comparison between the former administration and this current one based on your critical position of the last one?
The last administration didn’t do well in terms of tackling corruption as a cancer. They seem to have encouraged corrupt activities. A lot of money was taken, and this we can see in recent revelations and all that. There were so many areas where the government of President Goodluck Jonathan did not show competence as one who was clearly in charge. Those who do not like Nigeria took over his administration and he did not do what we had expected somebody with his level of education and knowledge to do. So that was why some of us were very critical of that government.
For the present government we had expected this government to do certain things in certain ways, but they also deviated. I wanted a president that will be more fatherly, that will take everyone along and will be so seriously concerned when the citizens are crying, especially in the area of economy, security and others.
Well, I hear that the railways are being revived, a new national carrier coming up and some level of improvement in power situation. They said power has improved somehow, but we need to have it more permanently. We need to know what they have done in terms of decentralizing power and make it more efficient because we can say we are generating some megawatts and tomorrow we are going back to darkness. So, we must know what structure is being built in place that will become more enduring so our factories, industrial areas and homes will be permanently powered. There are things some of us who critically brought this government to power through vocal and serious advocacy have expected them to do but they have not done much as we had expected.
But we cannot use this government to compare to the last government because the last government has some shortfalls that were clearly irreparable but this government is trying to pick them up with some results we now see.
Could you itemise the areas of failure.
Well, I must say there are areas we have patted ways; areas bordering on issues of respect to human rights, rule of law, judgment of courts, the issue of insecurity, especially that of herdsmen killings and the way it has been handled. All these left so much to be desired and we wanted more proactive measures to have been taken by the government in order to deal with the situation but there was lethargy among other things that have happening within the government circle.
There were so many areas where the government of President Goodluck Jonathan did not show competence as one who was clearly in charge. Those who do not like Nigeria took over his administration and he did not do what we had expected somebody with his level of education and knowledge to do. So that was why some of us were very critical of that government.
But as the election is coming up, I don’t think the government will show any form of lethargy anymore because they know the people have their PVCs and are ready to change anyone who is not working in their interest. By and large, we can see that there are some results coming a bit late but it is better late than never.
But what has improved so far
The people are complaining. The economic situation has not improved. The level of poverty is still high. Though not necessarily caused by this government there are some things they should have done for the masses. When this government came in, one of the advice I gave to President Buhari even on radios is that he must not close his ears to the sufferings of the people or the crying of the people. He should listen and do certain things that will ease their suffering. Since Nigeria got political independence, the poor masses hasn’t enjoyed anything rather it is the rich that has monopolized virtually everything. It is important you listen as well as remain with the people. But that advice was not taken. Most of the economic policies are contrary to the will of the people. You can see the high level of unemployment, you can see the level of poverty, you can see the level of hunger in the land, you can see that people are suffering and businesses are collapsing. Even those of us in the profession; the situation is harsh. The economic climate is harsh. Nothing much has improved for the betterment of the people.
During the days of Jonathan, they said everything ends on the table of the president. Where does the bulk end now?
There’s no other place you can place the bulk. It ends with the president. You are coming with the matter of change, and in three years, the level of poverty has increased and the level of unemployment has not been addressed. So, the bulk stops at the table of the president. He has not managed the economic situation in such a way that ensures that people get out of poverty. There is high level of poverty but note that there is a history. However, I’m not going to lay so much blames on the previous government because that’s why we got them out and brought this this government. We got them in to correct those mistakes the previous government made, but they continued and even increased the level of affliction.
During the 150 days Mr. President was away sometimes ago, the vice president was acting and a lot of people said that there was a kind of change. Do you share that sentiment?
Yeah, there are some things the vice president did in order to get the economy going. One is the issue of the foreign exchange. Remember it was escalating and it was like there was no solution. From 160, it skyrocketed to almost 500 before some measures were taken that actually made it remain at 360. Even at that, it is still very high but it would have been bad if it entered 1000 to a dollar. That intervention by the vice president was very critical and helpful. Also, in dealing with the militancy in the South-South, he went there in person, and made them to look at the positive side of things; that really helped and most of them withdrew their antagonism and lay down their arms. The economy was actually crumbling. The vice president’s intervention in stopping the destruction of oil pipelines was very critical and brought some level of turnaround. He did well. If he had been allowed to continue, we would have got us out of challenges of the economy by now hopefully.
But wasn’t there team work. Most people have thought that when the president returns, he will continue in the stride, but everything went back to what happened before.
Well, the point is that everyone has a style. I’m not too sure that if the vice president is in charge of the country, he would retain some of the ministers till now. But the final say on who is retained and who is not lies with the president. There are some certain ministers that shouldn’t be in office by now.
Like who and who sir?
Well, if I tell you some of the ministers he should have sacked, you will…(laughs) I am not the president. Wait till I become a president.
Yeah, you can tell us. The people will like to know
Yes, we are the people. One of the ministers I would have kicked out of my cabinet would have been the Minister of Sports. He would have gone out a long time ago. The man that is in charge of Science and Technology, I don’t know. .. even the one in agriculture. What is the Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria doing? They’ve not engineered any farm produce to feed Nigerians or anything, and the man is a farmer. I don’t know why I should retain (Audu) Ogbe as a minister.
The president recently signed an executive order that has to do with seizing property of suspected corrupt officials without trial. What is your take in that sir?
I don’t know under what law that was brought into being. Did it pass through the legislative process? It is the court that has to do that. The law is there and the procedure is there also. People are scared that the order may be used to target perceived enemies, and you know power corrupts and an absolute power corrupts absolutely. You don’t allow a situation where the executive can be allowed to exercise maximum power as if it is the military.
The president has been a soldier, a former head of state, tasted the use of decrees and how it was also applied, but I tell you, our constitution is very special, especially the provision of fundamental human right: freedom to own a property. Therefore, there is no executive order and there is not even any legislative act in the National Assembly that can override the provision of the constitution. In fact, if there is any provision of any law that is contrary to the express provision of the constitution, that particular provision will be rendered null and void, to the extent of inconsistency. So, no matter what you call it, whether executive order or acts of parliament; the constitution remains supreme. Whatever the executive order is meant to achieve, it is challenge-able in court.
When we were campaigning for Buhari, we put in our best, we felt that a new Nigeria is about to be born with all the promises. But can I still say that a new Nigeria is actually being born? Is the custom not the same? Is police not the same? Is the judgment of the court being obeyed? So, what has changed? Nothing! If you want to fight corruption without restructuring the system, you will only succeed in arresting your opponents and putting them in jail without change
Can you then in a nutshell differentiate between executive order and legislative law?
Legislative act is something that has passed through the process of law making, whereas the executive order is what it is called, without legislative input.
Does a person have the power to create an executive order?
The executive can bring a bill for any policy they wishe to enact into law to the National Assembly. But I understand that there are so many bills sent to the National Assembly which has not received any attention. And some people are saying maybe it is out of frustration that the President has to circumvent the powers of the legislature. That again, does not have any place under our constitution.
Constitution does not allow the executive to enact any law. What the executive does is just execute. Look at the functions of all the arms of government. There is an arm that legislates, there is an arm that executes, and there is an arm that interprets. So the moment an arm now usurps the other forms of government; that is illegal. Under the constitution, the executive is supposed to execute what has been legislated on and should not be the one legislating on what he wants to execute.
Can we blame this thing on the current fracas between the executive and the legislature?
The president has not told us that he’s suffering some level of frustration which is making him behave this way. He is just saying because he is the executive president, he has the right to go through executive orders. So, he has not told us he is suffering frustration in the hands of legislature. The constitution has given each arm their powers, and the executive cannot take that away. The fundamental human rights include the right to own property.
There are procedures in law even under EFCC Acts as to how fraudulently acquired property can be recovered. One has to be convicted first before you take his property permanently.
Do we conclude that the president is acting on the catchphrase that says “the law is an ass” where sometimes the guilty may not be found guilty in the court of the law?
We should understand the philosophy behind criminal prosecution. The philosophy behind criminal prosecution is that it is better for nine accused persons who are guilty to go scot free than for one innocent person to be convicted for an offence. The constitution says crime itself must be defined by law. You don’t just wake up one morning and say this person is liable for any criminal offence which is unknown to law. Secondly, whoever is accused of a crime is entitled to fair hearing and defense. He needs to be heard and defended by the legal practitioner of his choice. And three, any accused person is presumed to be innocent until the contrary is proven. So these are all the legal safeguards that are provided for in favour of a person that is accused of a crime. So what this means is that if you are accusing somebody of having committed a crime, you should try as much as possible to have your evidence to prove it beyond reasonable doubt. You don’t allow doubt to be raised in the mind of the judge before whom you are prosecuting an individual. If you do that, the court will act in favour of the accused. What has happened over the years is that we have not yet developed in criminal prosecution. A lot of tardiness is seen in the area of investigation. And why is that? It is because we are not deploying the recent and proper processes and procedures and technology in investigation of crime. We assume that somebody has committed a crime and we begin to apply orthodox method in order to extract supposed evidence from the accused; investigation of crime has gone far beyond that. It has gone technological. If you watch some of the western films, you’ll see them. They don’t accuse people just like that. They gather their evidences and carry out their duties rightfully. They put all innovations in order to make sure that an accused person is in a tight corner in defending himself because all evidence would have been gathered. So, technology is deployed. Here, we have not yet got the basic things in order as a country such as basic data of individuals in the system.
When is the country getting there?
The emergence of good leaders who know and have seen good things and have the willpower to implement them.
But every leader so far has seen them.
Yeah, we see it.
Those aspiring for power always see these things and propose to do better when they get to power but the case is not always the same. Why is it so?
There are so many things wrong with Nigeria. One is the structure. Another is greed and the way things work. You may go there with good intentions but you discover that everyone around is a thief. Many do not go there to work for Nigeria. Many go there to frustrate those with good intentions. If care is not taken, they may even kill those few with genuine intentions. The system will frustrate you. Nigeria’s problem is a combination of many factors. We may begin to get out of our numerous problems as a country if we take the bold step to reconstruct this country structurally.
Sir, what do we say to a president that made a pronouncement that “you are guilty until found innocent” in contrary to what the law says
A lot of people in this country want to do the wrong things. I have seen many people. Even in the NBA where I am a leader. When they see someone who can change system for the better, they will not allow him. It was so bad that if not for God and Mrs. Femi Falana, I wouldn’t have made the chairmanship of NBA, Ikeja Branch. The woman tried a lot. The system is anti-goodness. The people who find themselves in the system are those who compromise. So, when you come in as a righteous man, they will try to frustrate you. Sometimes it becomes so frustrating to the innocent, for it’s either he or she resigns or be like them.
So, how do we break even?
We need a revolution and I have said that a lot of times. But Nigerians like life and enjoyment. They don’t want to fight. I don’t know whether Nigerians will be ready for a revolution. That would be the easiest way to get out of this corrupt system. When another person comes, he starts to implement different ideas that would move the country to a greater level, and many people may have to die. Those guys who are in the system have to be cleared. But that is an expensive way. Another very expensive way but the most peaceful is the re-orientation of the people. Nigeria will be liberated either by revolution, which is costly and many have to die, or with a new re-orientation, a new set of people who will say enough is enough. In addition to all these, we need a new structure of the country.
Sir, among those people showing interest for 2019 presidential election, who among them do you think is the messiah?
The young men coming up have beautiful ideas, but it doesn’t only take beautiful ideas in Nigeria. There are other considerations. There are other factors like: where are you coming from? It it not your turn stuff. It is expected that the Northerners will complete their 8 years. It is embedded in the mind of 80% of Nigerians. Even the major political parties that have all it takes, all the structures, are also looking for a candidate from the north. So, is it a political party that has no structure that will produce a Yoruba man, or an Igbo man in 2019? No. The Hausa man or Fulani man will become the president in 2019 unless there is a new orientation or mentality. However, it can happen because nothing is impossible with God. It has happened in some other countries before. Please note, it is difficult because of the problem of ethnicity, religious biases and some other factors affecting us. If we are together without those, I tell you, we can move mountains together in Nigeria, including having a new set of leaders irrespective of tribe or religion.
What is the advice to Nigeria now, on how to get out of this mess?
Nigerians must first look at who is coming. One of those promises we should look at from the supposed right man is what he will promise us on the issue of restructuring. Nigeria needs restructuring urgently.
Someone like Atiku has said he will
The point is that Atiku has some baggage. However people are beginning to look towards his direction because of the perceived failures of the present government. Like I said earlier, for Atiku to win, there are lots of mental processes that should take place first. He has work to do.
But between Atiku and Buhari, who has the upper chance?
Buhari has upper chance. But if Buhari is deserted by those who brought him to power, such as Tinubu for example, then his chances will be slim. But as long as Tinubu and some northern leaders are with Buhari, he may still come back in 2019.
Even the major political parties that have all it takes, all the structures, are also looking for a candidate from the north. So, is it a political party that has no structure that will produce a Yoruba man, or an Igbo man in 2019? No. The Hausa man or Fulani man will become the president in 2019 unless there is a new orientation or mentality
What with all the defections recently
Well, Buhari cannot have major power. If all these people can come together to choose a strong person to represent them, then president Buhari will know that he has no ultimate power in the coming election. But you know these people have selfish interest and not national interest. None of them has the agenda to change Nigeria. It is to come and embezzle properties and treasures. But who are these people coming together? The same set of people who were once in PDP, they came over to APC and caused so much trouble and are still going back to PDP. Nigeria should not be confused actually. When we were campaigning for Buhari, we put in our best, we felt that a new Nigeria is about to be born with all the promises. But can I still say that a new Nigeria is actually being born? Is the custom not the same? Is police not the same? Is the judgment of the court being obeyed? So, what has changed? Nothing! If you want to fight corruption without restructuring the system, you will only succeed in arresting your opponents and putting them in jail without change. If in three years, there is nothing convincing enough about this government, then I must be very careful when campaigning in the next election. Nigerians need to think. Nigerians need to work together for the interest of the country. We need to destroy ethnicity, religiosity and other biases. We should think Nigeria, dream Nigeria, and work for her.
You once asked people not to call you Barrister Ubani that you prefer Mr. Ubani. Why
Oh, it is because of my legal profession. They were saying that being called barrister is wrong, that it isn’t proper. So, that is it. But it doesn’t stop me from being Barrister and Solicitor of Supreme Court of Nigeria. People still call me Barrister my brother.
Sir, how do you relax?
I must tell you that I don’t have much relaxing time. I am always on the road, on the air and I have to read for my cases, for knowledge amongst other responsibilities. I do relax however with music and literature of world leaders and successful personalities.
And how do you relate to your immediate family?
Yeah, they are complaining. That is why I must handover. Most people want me to go for NBA president and not so fast friends. I shall be taking them to Abuja this month for a few days relaxation before resumption of activities.
But you should
Not now. I want to become a SAN too. I want to pursue my SANship. I didn’t get the right orientation on time, but it is now a strong desire my brother. I need God’s grace as I commence the process though belatedly. It is better late than never.erico
Thank you very much sir.
You are welcome.