Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
For many political watchers, Alhaji Ahmed Gulak personifies a typical example of a controversial politician. He has equally come a long way in politics, spanning a period of over 30 years. Fielding questions from Sunday Sun in an exclusive interview in Abuja, Gulak stirred some controversies especially on the contentious Igbo president in 2023.
He did not only claim that he will support the next president coming from any part of the country, including the North, but also warned those clamouring for Igbo president that the All progressives Congress (APC) has no zoning arrangement backing such.
Gulak, equally insisted that he has no regret leaving the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), describing it as a dead party that has been reduced from a national to individual party.
He, however, advised Atiku Abubakar to stop distracting President Muhammadu Buhari after the Supreme Court judgment and in the alternative concentrate his energy to re-contest the presidency in 2023.
You seem to be out of circulation, what have you been doing?
I have been around, healthy and praying seriously for the country to get to the next level. And talking about the next level, it means development, peace within the country and reduction of the insecurity across the nation, improving the security architecture. I have been praying silently for unity and peace to reign in this country. Peace is very vital and has been a major challenge for Nigeria as a nation for the past 10 years. In the political terrain, it is good that we are through with election matters and after election litigations. Government has been constituted with the appointment, inauguration and assignment of portfolios to the ministers.
My joy is that those appointed are mostly experienced persons, not those learning on the job and I am happy that they have hit the ground running. Our prayer is that they succeed in their various endeavours. For my party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), it has been bubbling in the euphoria of its victory in the presidential poll, at the tribunal and Supreme Court. It is good that the judiciary has confirmed the party’s victory and what remains now is for the party and the government to accelerate with the distractions over. They have to be focused because Nigerians are expecting more from the government and the party.
What do you tell those complaining on your behalf that you were not rewarded after your efforts and contributions to make APC emerge victorious in the 2019 elections?
I am a member of the APC and have been a member in the past two and half years. I participated in the election as a mobiliser to ensure that we succeeded, but inasmuch as I am happy with my efforts, I know very well that everybody will not be in government at the same time. Don’t forget that we have more than 10 million registered members of the APC and not all of us will be in government. As a member of the party, I must support and pray for the party to succeed. Party politics is now behind us and since the judiciary has ruled that President Muhammadu Buhari won the election, all hands must be on deck to ensure that the country progresses. Whether in government of not, we must contribute our quota. So, I must not be in government to support and make my own contribution.
Why do people always describe you as a controversial politician?
I don’t see myself as a controversial person, but somebody who respects constituted authority, as somebody who is straight forward. I am somebody conscious of my self-worth, I respect the integrity I have acquired over the years, having been in politics for the past 30 years now, dating back to 1990. I know what it means to participate in all the structures of the political party. I am not a controversial person, but I tell people the truth when it matters.
How true is the allegation that you were among those APC sent on mission to destroy the PDP?
I am not a loafer in this game. You recall vividly that when Adamu Muazu resigned his position as the national chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, the Deputy National Chairman was supposed to act for three months, but he exceeded the period, spending over one year, caring less that the position is supposed to be for the Northeast geopolitical zone and must return to us. I mobilised politicians from the zone, including the present governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed. We visited our most senior governor from the zone, Dankwanbo of Gombe State. We visited three times to complain and urge him, as the most senior governor in the zone, to bring anybody of his choice to fill the vacant position belonging to the zone to serve out our tenure, but he refused. I also led a delegation to the PDP Governors Forum then, Mimiko of Ondo State, yet they refused. And that was why I had to go to court to sue Secondus and the PDP. I got the desired judgment from the court, forcing the governors and Board of Trustees (BoT) to wake up from their slumber. After their failed appeal to upturn the ruling, a vacuum was created and I had to take the position of a national chairman, but they rallied round to bring Ali Modu Sheriff to become the national chairman. He met me in this struggle and I had to hands-off the battle with the consolation that somebody from the Northeast is occupying the position. They came back to recruit me to fight Sheriff, but I refused, telling them that the battle was over for me because I have achieved my aim of ensuring that somebody from my zone is occupying the position. APC did not send me to destroy the PDP as speculated. PDP destroyed itself.
Are you claiming that you have found what you are looking in the APC?
If you have no space in the PDP because there was no home in the party since it is a dying political party, I had to leave. The PDP which hitherto was a national party was reduced to a regional party and even further reduced to individual party because you have to go to Port Harcourt to get permission for anything you want to do. I left the PDP not because I don’t like the party, but because it was dead and having been with the APC in the last two and half years, I am happy the party has succeeded. I don’t know what may happen to APC, tomorrow but for now APC has formed government at the centre, majority at the National Assembly and in many parts of the states and House of Assembly. My take is that I have no regret whatsoever leaving the PDP to join the APC.
Are you aware that Rochas Okorocha is not happy with you over the role you played during the Imo APC governorship primaries?
I don’t have any regret over any action I took during the primaries I conducted in Imo State. I don’t expect Okorocha to be happy with me either because I did not go to Imo to make him happy anyway. I went there to do my job and I did it to be best of my knowledge and ability, notwithstanding the tempting offer I got, but refused. I can walk the streets of Imo State, including Owerri with my shoulders high. I may not be perfect as a human being, but I did not go there to make him happy. Somebody who offered me up to $2 million to give certificate of return to his nominee, but I turned it down. How many people can turn such offer down? I would have given him the certificate and pocketed my money because it is money that you don’t go to court to retrieve, but my conscience will not be clear. For now, my conscience is very clear. I can move the streets of Owerri unmolested. Although it is over now, however, I can tell you that APC destroyed itself in Imo State. This is story for another day.
By your calculations, is it possible for the APC to retain power at the centre in 2023?
Let the government work for the people first and once they work for the people, it will be difficult for the masses to substitute a performing party. We must endeavour to do the work and allow Nigerians to decide. It is the work of APC that will speak for and sell the party especially as President Buhari will be leaving the office in 2023. New person will come and we expect it to be from the APC, the ruling party. In deciding, I know that Nigerians want credible person to replace Buhari and ensure that Nigeria continues as one united indivisible nation.
As far as you are concerned, it does not matter where the next president comes from?
It does not matter to me because I am a realist and I don’t believe in this dichotomy of North, South. I will support whoever that is there and give him the opportunity to serve out his term. Some people claimed that for political balancing the APC should give presidential ticket to the Southeast, but such zoning and rotation is not written in our constitution. I can also tell you that zoning is not written in the constitutions of most big parties in Nigeria. For many persons like me, it does not matter who rules or where the next president comes from. What matters is whether the country is faring better, united and whether every part is getting its own fair share. We must learn to treat individuals for what they are and who they are. If an Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa or Fulani will rule and treat the country fairly, I don’t have problem. Anywhere we can get somebody credible, sincere and who believes in the country, I am okay with it.
Did it come to you as a surprise that we have started seeing the proliferation of posters for Bola Tinubu, Nasir El-Rufai 2023 presidency?
It may come as a surprise to others not me. That is politics for you. Their supporters and admirers have started drumming support for them. The supporters want Tinubu, El-Rufai, Amaechi, Kingibe, Fayemi, Adamu Bello to be president in 2023, but those are their views. When the time comes, the parties will decide who flies their flag in the primaries while Nigerians will decide who becomes their president in 2023 after President Buhari.
But what are the chances of APC winning in 2023 considering the volume of crisis rocking the ruling party at national and grassroots levels?
There is no institution in this world that don’t have crisis. What matters is how they manage the crisis and how they manage it is what makes them matured. However, it is wrong to assume that the APC is engulfed in crisis even when a member of the National Working Committee decided to vent his anger in public space recently. It is also wrong to assume that the party national leadership is not capable or not making efforts to resolve the crises.
Now that the litigations are over, what should Buhari do to write his name in gold when he leaves in 2023?
My happiness is that the distractions will be over. President Buhari and his team should not be distracted from working for the country. They should do everything to executive their mandate to achieve their goals within the shortest period of time and that is when Nigerians will praise them as one government that met their expectations. They will have no reason to leave the party for another one. If the railways are working, the aviation is okay, provision of water, peace and security and few other things Nigerians are asking for, he would have written his name in gold.
The banditry in the Northwest has been reduced, the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast and kidnapping in the Southeast is being handled. The rate of kidnapping going on along Abuja, Kaduna road has been reduced. With all these, what we expect is less distraction.
Where are your supporters seeing you next?
I have tried my best twice to contest for big political offices. I contested for governorship in 2014, but the impunity of the PDP did not make it to work. I tried to go for Senate in 2019, but we have little misunderstanding because the APC did not grasp what the political structure in Adamawa was. The issue of automatic ticket did not also work well for the APC to scale through and we did not make good outing. My party even lost the senatorial seat to another party because of the automatic ticket decision. We knew it was going to be like that.
There is an extent you expect your supporters to follow you because out of anger they may not understand you any longer. If we have been allowed to participate in the primaries, and somebody emerged, we would have clinched the ticket. The automatic ticket was our greatest undoing.
What it means is that you are not calling it quit contesting elective position?
Why should I? If President Buhari can contest several times at the age of 72, why should I quit when I am not even up to 60 years. I am still vibrant with my brain working perfectly. I can still shuttle the 36 states of the country.
What kind of relationship do you have with Atiku Abubakar?
I have never had any cosy political relationship with Atiku since the NRC, SDP days when he contested for the governorship of Adamawa State. The nearest I came close to him was when we were in the PDP between 1999 and 2003. He was the vice president then, but I never stepped my feet at Atiku’s house throughout his eight years tenure. The reason I have not had political relationship with him is because of political camps. In line with what I said previously that integrity is my watchword, I take you to be what you said in the afternoon and give you back in the evening and if they are irreconcilable, I will call it quit.
What is your advice to Atiku now that the storm is over?
Well, the judiciary is part of the electoral process. He has exercised his right to the highest court. And since the highest court has decided that Buhari won the election, I expect Atiku to return and join hands with Buhari and contribute to the peace and development of the country.
He must not be the president of Nigeria to contribute his quota. My problem with people like Atiku is he continuously holds political meetings with people in Dubai instead of strategizing in the country. I will advise him to try again in 2023.
What is your advice to young politicians?
To the young politicians, I advise them to take time to learn the ropes. Like I said earlier, I started at the age of 30 and that is why I have learnt a lot crisscrossing this country. I have friends down South more than in the North. They must make friends across the Niger. They must befriend the Yoruba, Igbo, Itchekiri, Idoma, Tiv, because that is how the country will be united.