Elder statesman and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ahamba, has cautioned that the deteriorating security situation in the country could force Nigerians to employing private armies to protect themselves. In this interview, he spoke on several national issues.
There is no contention that the greatest challenge facing every Nigerian today is that of security to his life and property. At the moment, no state is free from the deteriorating security situation. How do you feel as a Nigerian today?
It is very worrisome and everywhere you see two people sitting together, all you hear them talk about is the deteriorating security situation in Nigeria. It looks like the government has lost grip on security and they have to do something about it. If it means changing the service chiefs, let them be changed and let others try. The situation is horrible. Today ( Friday 23), I went to Port Harcourt and we were delayed a long time by armed robbers in the Owerri/Port Harcourt road. The officers of the Nigerian Customs Service came and the people ran away. And between Owerri and Port Harcourt, they have more than 20 checkpoints but the armed robbers took over one of the checkpoints and mounted their operation in that place. I do not want us to get to the stage of South America at a particular time when people had to have private armies in order to survive. May God not allow us get to that level! Insecurity is everywhere and it is terrible. Wherever you see two responsible Nigerians sitting now, what they are certainly discussing is the insecurity situation.
From your vantage position, do you think it is the failure of government to properly address it or there is more to the ugly development. All manner of conspiracy theories have been used to interpret the situation but do you think, it is the government that should be blamed for not doing its job?
I do not think the government has done all it can do. They have to consider the personnel who are in charge of the different sectors whether they will be sacked or retained. That is how governance is done. I do not believe that anybody is perpetrating the insecurity from outside the country. What is happening in Nigeria is local. People who are into kidnapping do that because of the bad state of the economy and it is dangerous. The government in charge should take care of the situation.
Aside the issue of security, how do you feel about the atmosphere of hopelessness and despondency among the people in the country?
The problem is the economy. There are many people who ought to be comfortable today but they are not. There is an Igbo proverb that says that all lizards are lying with their belly on the ground and you do not know the one that has bellyache. There are many prominent people in Nigeria today who like the lizards are lying down with their belly on the ground and you do not know among them who have bellyache. So, when the people who can help the poorer ones are in trouble, you know that there is calamity coming. The problem should be addressed as a serious issue. It should not be politicized or ethnicised at all.
Are you comfortable with the slow pace of government considering that most sectors need quick and urgent action? I ask this question because of the length it took the government to constitute the new cabinet. And looking at the cabinet, how do you feel?
I think that is what the president wants. He has the discretion to choose who he wants, so let us see how it works.
The divide between the North and South seems to be widening by the day; what is the problem and when are we going to achieve real unity in the country? It depends on what you mean by the North. Already, the Middle Belt people have said they are not part of the North. So, the configuration has changed a lot in the country but the conflict between the northernmost North and the rest of the country, something should be done about it because creating dichotomy is not good at all. Everybody must be realistic and objective, otherwise, the calamity will overtake all of us. People are complaining everywhere and nobody should pray for an armed conflict in this country. It will be devastating. I have said it that if it happens again in Nigeria, what happened in Rwanda will be a joke considering the depth of anger in the country now. May God not allow it to happen and government should be conscious of it.
What are your projections ahead of 2023 especially with regards to the position of some prominent Northerners that power should remain in the North after President Buhari’s second term?
It is unfortunate if they insist that it should remain in the North. I think there is a gentleman agreement among the parties on this issue that power should alternate between the North and South even though there is no such thing in our constitution. If the people you are talking about insist that it must remain in the North, it means they do not believe in the unity of this country. And if the Southerners accept it, that is their own business. They cannot enforce it if the South says no. The problem is that if the East and West start fighting over the whole thing, the North should take it. Fairness demands that the North should relinquish power in 2023 to the South, and this time, the East should have it. This is my humble opinion about the matter.
Do you think politicians in the East are prepared enough to take the opportunity when it calls? The question comes against the backdrop of the disagreements that usually characterize politics in that zone. A recent case in point was the deluge of criticisms that trailed the emergence of Peter Obi as vice to Atiku Abubakar in the last presidential election.
Where has there been a consensus on that in Nigeria? There have always been disagreements and eventually an agreement. Many people will come out; you do not expect that one person will shoot out from somewhere and be acceptable to everyone. A lot of interested parties will come and what we are saying is that when that time comes, from the nature of the popularity of that person, acceptability should I say from other parts of the country, one person will emerge from there. The last time, we left power to the North. In PDP, people challenged Atiku but in the APC, nobody challenged Buhari. In 2011, he was challenged. So, this question of the Igbo not speaking with one voice, where is it that people always speak with one voice? I do not know why this thing is associated with the Igbo and unless somebody shoots out from somewhere and he is accepted by all, then the Igbo cannot speak with one voice. There are many people who would consider themselves qualified but only one would emerge and that is democracy. I do not see where it is stated as a rule that the Igbo do not agree on anything. We agree on things in democratic circumstances but we are republican in nature.
The recent assigning of portfolios is currently generating controversy following what appeared like the lopsided nature of it. What is your take on that?
Your paper just published my interview about not obeying the geographical spread that is in our constitution. All I can say is that in the National Assembly, you do not have only people from the North West alone. The composition of the people in the legislature is more important than the person sitting in the executive position. Members of the National Assembly should begin to know when infractions begin to arise and know how to go about it. So, if the National Assembly allows such a thing to occur, Mike Ahamba as an individual cannot do anything about it.
With the mood of hopelessness and uncertainty in the country, do you agree with those who suggest that Nigerians should organize another dialogue again when several of such efforts in the past did not yield any fruits? The conference we had in 1977/78 yielded results and we had the 1979 constitution. What we should do now is for the National Assembly to sit down and enact an act that would provide for a Constituent Assembly or a national conference. That body when it makes a proposed constitution, it can then be sent for a plebiscite as provided in the Constituent assembly act and we may take it from there. But if we just go for jaw jawing as we did last time, it will end there and everyone goes on. If the purpose of the National conference was to send an amendment to the constitution or to do a new one, and an act enacted to back up that responsibility, I do not think the waste of time people are talking about would have happened. So, before we go jaw jawing again, there must be an act backing up that situation. Without an act, it is another waste of time and that act must make provision that whatever decision there, as properly made, must be subjected to a plebiscite.
Some people believe that only the rotational presidency arrangement can stabilize the nation. Do you subscribe to that position?
I have never agreed with rotation but it appears that most Nigerians think that it is the only way out. We are only looking for an easy way out and not a comprehensive way out. Now, when you restate it, it appears that whoever comes out from that arrangement, you are bound to accept him whether he is competent or not. I do not know whether people realize that point but we now have a mental rotation in this country; if the fact that power should alternate between the North and South has been mentally agreed by Nigerians, why don’t we go that way. Now, it has been to the South and the South West and South South have had their chance. It has also been to the North and the North West has had its chance, and if it comes back to the South, it is only natural that the South East should take their chance. If only we agree that we are brothers and should be our brother’s keeper, it is only fair that the South East should take their chance when power comes back to the South. It is just that people who are interested in positions want it the way it would favour them for their own personal interests. Nobody is thinking about our children and grandchildren. It is unfortunate but my view is this, let us for now leave it as it is because we cannot go and make a special law, saying it should rotate. That will be a major constitutional amendment. I will continue to say it. So, what we do is, it has gone to the North and after President Buhari, it should come to the South and the East should have it. Even though candidates of other zones could come out but the voters should vote them out for fairness and justice. When you know that if you go against the people’s wish, people will vote against you, the effort to do that in future will diminish. In Nigeria, we apply quick solutions to create new problems.
As an elder statesman from the South East, how do you feel with the attack on Ekweremadu by those alleged to be IPOB members in Germany?
I feel very bad about it. We must accept that out there, assaulting politicians publicly is nothing new. What I am bothered about is the threat that any political leader who traveled out should be attacked. As far as I am concerned, that is a terrorist statement and IPOB members should take care that they do not embarrass those who have been defending them. Two, if they think they are talking about the interest of the Igbo, I think it is anti-Igbo to go and attack a man who came to associate with you on invitation. Did you invite him there to have him killed? Three is that the leaders should now warn themselves that all that glitters is not gold. Did Ekweremadu not go to pay courtesy call on Nnamdi Kanu when he came back from detention? We have to be circumspect when we take positions if we know that we are political leaders; but in all, I think it was most unfortunate. It was anti Nigeria and anti Igbo and a disgrace to our national image abroad. With the threat that nobody should come, I know that a well organized intelligence agency in the West would take care of the situation.
People would not stop asking questions on the anti corruption war of President Buhari’s administration. Do you expect an intensification of the war in this second term of Buhari?
Let us hope there would be an intensification of the war against corruption but when you make people who are standing trials ministers, what do you expect people to say? So, let us hope for the best. Some people may have been accused falsely; even, I have been accused falsely and anybody could be accused falsely and that should not be the disqualifying factor. Until you get the person convicted, you cannot stop him. I believe that there should be improvement and across the board fight against corruption. It should not be a fight against only PDP members and other parties to the exclusion of the APC.
What significant difference do you expect President Buhari to make in this second term? Anybody without expectation or hope for the better is dead and I am not dead. I can only expect that tomorrow will be better than today.
The economy is not looking good at all and Nigeria has not been able to achieve the much talked about diversification of her economy. What is your view on the state of the economy especially against fears that the nation may still go back to recession again if care is not taken?
I tell you that so long as we depend on one aspect of our economy for survival, we continue to run the risk of poverty. I said it before that those days we used to produce groundnut and hides and skin in the North; in the South West, we had cocoa which led to the tarring of roads, free education and all that, and in the East, palm oil led to industrialization. But when oil came, people abandoned all those areas. It will take one or two governors going back to the mentality of Okpara and Awolowo to solve these problems. It is not an issue of national debate. Anambra State is already doing that; thanks to a man like Peter Obi who laid the foundation when he was the governor of the state. If others do it, all these things would end. It is not a question of debate; it is deciding what to do and doing it. That starts by electing the right persons.
You are one of the foremost lawyers in this country; what do you think are the major challenges facing the judiciary in this country?
First of all, we must have a better way of selecting the people who enter it in the first place. You know that when you appoint a High Court judge, you have appointed a potential Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, the search for confidence must start from there. So, we must not just look at the 10 years experience but how the person spent the 10 years. So long as we make mistakes in the appointment, some would bring bad image to the majority. In my book that will soon come out, I discussed these things. I made it a point of campaign when I was running for the presidency of the bar. We have to look at the source of our problems before looking at the solutions; we treat effects and not cause. That is one major problem that we have in Nigeria.
What is your view on the killing of Nigerians in several parts of the world particularly in South Africa? Do you think we are doing enough as a nation to discourage this ugly development?
It is very unfortunate. First of all, I want you to think about the statement of a higher security official in South Africa. He said that most of the killings of Nigerians were done by Nigerians. That is a very serious point we must not ignore. Remember that recently, somewhere in Anambra State, a quarrel or disagreement in South Africa was taken to a church and resulting in many deaths. We also have to ask ourselves, what type of businesses are our people engaged in? We must find out how we are carrying out our businesses in that place and whether we are doing it under internationally accepted standards. Why are we rushing to South Africa and coming back with large wealth? That wealth belongs to some people who are being deprived of their resources and in such a case, some people may take revenge. That is the possibility of what could happen.
What are your greatest fears for this country?
My greatest fears are that people do not appreciate the consequences of their actions and the consequences of their actions may not be what they anticipate. And when such a thing happens, everybody would be a victim. Anarchy is nobody’s friend. Our people say that you do not throw a pebble into the market because you do not know who it would hit. It could be your mother even. That statement came when the average community was just a village. We can expand it to mean the whole country. What you do today, you may not know whether it would be against you tomorrow. I think that the solution to our problems in Nigeria is to be less parochial and more patriotic. Once we do that, I can assure you that 80 per cent of our problems in this country would disappear. These things happen as a consequence of human nature and disagreements. What makes a nation is how they handle the problems that confront them. So, for every incumbent administration, when there is a problem, they should confront it no matter who is involved even if he is your father or brother. That is the only way out, otherwise, the country would not move forward.
As President Buhari settles down for a second term, what is your advice to him?
Let him find out what he did wrong in his first tenure and correct them. Let him not repeat what he did that was wrong. First of all, he must have to take care of the massacring of human beings in villages in some parts of the country including the North. It does not speak well of an administration. An administration that cannot protect the lives of its citizenry is not a good one. Security is the main issue and he must do something about it and everybody should support him to do something about it.