Elder statesman and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ahamba has accused those around President Muhammadu Buhari of leading him down the wrong path.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, Ahamba also reminded the Igbo not to expect anyone to donate the presidency to them in 2023, even as he charged them to go all out and fight to make an Igbo man president of Nigeria in 2023.
Many people conclude that the Buhari government has failed. You were an associate of Buhari, or you worked with him sometime ago. Is this the Buhari you knew? What do you think changed?
The difference is that, we wouldn’t have allowed it to happen, but those who got into government with him allowed it to happen. This is the Buhari I knew, but the problem is the people surrounding him, who want him to go the wrong way. When we were with him, we all wanted him to go the right way, but ethnic interests informed the exit of some of us because some people around him didn’t allow some of us to remain with him because they know we would intervene and would not allow such things to happen. I had no quarrel with him. We didn’t disagree on anything. We were just manipulated out.
INEC has released the election timetable for the 2023 general elections. Some are saying certain parts of the country, like the South-East, should have it, while some others think otherwise. What is your candid opinion on this?
My candid opinion is that in this type of situation where there is no provision about rotation in the constitution, the interest of the nation demands that each part of Nigeria be given a chance. It is on that ground that I said it is best if the South-East is given a chance, not as of right, but in terms of equity and to bring peace and justice to the country.
Whether they will do it or not depends on how they vote on that day. Let the candidates from South-East who want to be president move out as others are moving out and let us start assessing them. It cannot be donated. Nobody will donate presidency to the South-East. You have to fight for it. But I have not seen any candidate yet.
Nigeria is witnessing very challenging times, with insecurity in many parts of the country. What gave rise to this?
There is complacency in governance. Not hitting the iron while it was hot is a reason for this problem. Delay of action is dangerous, so we are just having the result of delay of action. These things have shown that they will happen in the last two or three years. Nobody did anything about them and they matured.
People are saying that with the high level of insecurity, 2023 elections may not hold. If that comes to being what is the implication, because the tenure of this government elapses by 2023?
My granddaughter was asked by her grandmother what happened about something. The little girl asked the grandmother ,‘am I God?’ How will I know what will happen, am I God? Let’s see whether it holds or not.
Then what is the legal implication if it doesn’t hold?
There are provisions in the constitution about that. When that time comes, I think the Attorney General will give the relevant advice, while private lawyers will challenge or support the advice.
The Federal Government is alleging that there is a plot to overthrow the government of President Buhari. Is this a pointer that the APC government is not doing well or might have fallen out of favour with the people?
The government wants to create an opportunity to destabilise the opposition by making them suspects of a non-existence offence. That is all. I don’t know what type of a security organ that will tell you that there is a plot to topple government, instead of getting ready to nip it in the bud. Last year December, there was crisis over the invasion of the Capitol in Washington DC. The security arm discovered it and reported to the appropriate body and they nipped it in the bud and it never happened.
Here, we now shout it so that we can arrest innocent people and demand money from them. We have a problem in this country. If they were sharp enough to discover that there was a plot, you nip it in the bud; you don’t go and allow it to happen so that you can punish people or start punishing people without it happening. I learnt the other day they were saying that they would be arresting probable people planning to destabilise the state; that they will start arresting them at home. So, if I’m in my house and you are in your house and you stay there and imagine that I’m plotting something, you will come to my house and arrest me because I’m planning to do what is in my mind. I’m a lawyer, and I know that you don’t talk about a thing until a step is taken relevant to that offence you said happened.
If there is anarchy everywhere and people are complaining, is that a plot? Even the person giving the warning has seen that there is trouble. Why is he saying that somebody wants to create trouble? Can we create a worse trouble than the one we have now? All this is a mark of incompetence; they should put competent people in place. A lot of square pegs have been forced into round holes, which is part of the problems we have in this nation.
Some Igbo people say, based on what the country is passing through under President Buhari, that they have been vindicated for not voting for him all along, even when he had Igbo running mates. Do you share same sentiments?
Did he score 100 per cent in other places? He didn’t, which means that there were Hausa-Fulani who didn’t vote for him. The issue was that, who was the candidate? They preferred a candidate. It has nothing to do with ethnic or anything. At that time, they preferred a candidate to him. It is not a question of being vindicated because you didn’t vote for Buhari; I reject that because I’m an Igbo man, a prominent one for that matter. It was not true that anybody was against him. The issue I think was a preferred candidate at that material time and I campaigned against that position at that time. It is a political game; there is no vindication about it at all.
Even when he had great Igbo men and others like you and his running mates who were also Igbo?
It depends on who he chose as running mates. Maybe if he had chosen other persons as running mates, it could have been better. I remember at that time there was hardly an election; votes were declared even when voting was going on. That was the era. I did the election petition and I have the documents; if you challenge me, I will bring the documents.
Do you mean that Buhari could have won that election?
Even if he did not win, he was not fairly treated at those elections.
When you open pages or newspapers, the social media, what you read is, Nigeria is breaking up, or Nigeria will break up? Why are we having such fears at this time when other nations are conquering other planets?
Breaking up of Nigeria, is it a plate? It is not easy to break up. Nigeria can disintegrate, everybody going his own way because the centre cannot hold. It is true that our constitution says that Nigeria is indissoluble. Whether it is dissoluble or indissoluble is a human act towards a project. That one may never happen, but disintegration is uncontrolled, but that shouldn’t occupy our minds. What should occupy our minds is what to do to prevent it and move forward. Look at India, when I was in secondary school, they used to come here with degrees and we employed them in our secondary schools and paid them higher school salaries and now, we are running there for many things. What is wrong with us?
Are you sure a worst Nigeria will not come into the disintegrated areas? You can disintegrate and in each component you have a good portion of Nigeria attitude inside it. It is the same thing. There may be worst Nigeria in the disintegrated areas. So let us solve it now that we are together. I believe that the only answer is to allow the areas some air of ability to do things for themselves at their own rate, not saying that the whole Nigeria must move at the same rate every time. Take for example, people say they want true federation, but they want salary to be the same everywhere. It can’t happen in a true federation. It is not possible for some states to pay what Lagos can pay; some states cannot pay what Rivers or Kano states can pay. In a true federation, things should be according to those areas, but the Nigerian Labour Congress said it would destabilise Nigeria if you go to true federation with labour matters. People say they want true federation, yet they want the Federal Government to fund local governments while the states create the local governments. This is incongruous. If we want true federalism, we will have it. If we don’t want, we continue with what I call ‘unitary federalism’ which is a new trend in politics.
In this direction, are you calling for restructuring, but many are still confused over how it is going to be carried out?
I stand for restructuring; I don’t stand for secession of any part of Nigeria. Let us restructure and go back to our federation agreement. We agreed on certain things before we became a federation. Let us revisit those things and see the ones we can take now and there will be peace in this place.
When the current leadership says restructuring is not an option, what other options do we have?
We keep crying and trying to get it right, but in the end, we may come to Chinua Achebe, ‘Things Fall Apart’ and in another book, ‘The Centre Cannot Hold’. When the centre cannot hold, things will fall apart.
As it is in Nigeria today, what are the consequences of things falling apart?
It portends anarchy because before instability, there will be anarchy. We can ill afford that.
Some people hold the view that Britain is the architect of our woes. They say Nigeria remains the last experiment of the British government, as other nations they brought together have gone their separate ways, each enjoying peace. They mention India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and others. What do you say to this?
I agree, but what we don’t know is why they decided to remain together when others were going their ways, because there is nothing happening now that the leadership of those days didn’t see. Look, Southern Cameroun was part of Nigeria and they quickly eased themselves off, but the others remained together. I asked at the National Conference that our elders have not told us why they remained together when others were going their ways. Until we get that question answered, we may not know why they continued. If you look at the constitution, you find out that as at the time we got independent, regions have prime ministers, not premiers and they have their own governors, apart from governors general. They had their own constitution, but in 1978, some people went to the Constituent Assembly. I don’t know whether they understood what they were doing. They said they were creating a federal constitution and they said there is only one constitution, the national constitution. There we became a unitary federalism and now we are crying. We were doing parliamentary system, but they said it is presidential they wanted. When you have to send people for something, you send people that know the issue, but you find good tailors and good carpenters who know nothing about law being sent to constitutional conferences. I do not know what we have now that was not there then. What we have to do now is to find a solution. Let’s stop talking of how we came to this point; let us find a solution to our present circumstance and find out how we can remain together because if we split in a disorganised manner, it will be very bad.
Talking about the 1999 Constitution, many people argue that what was agreed on is not what we have in the constitution. They said then Head of State, Abdulasam Abubakar handed over the document to Prof Awual Yadudu, who doctored it and produced what we have now.
I don’t like this lamentation about the 1999 Constitution. It is 99 per cent of what was in the 1979 Constitution. Before you complain of the 1999 Constitution, you have to first complain of the 1979 Constitution. If the problem started with the 1979 Constitution, why do you allow it to continue in 1999? Who did you send to the Constituent Assembly? I keep saying it, why would you send people who don’t know anything about constitution to represent you in a constitutional conference? Everything is political and here we are today. The question of accepting the 1979 Constitution and holding the 1999 Constitution as fraud is not acceptable to me because they are the same. If people scampered to go and occupy offices based on the constitution, why did they go there instead of rejecting the constitution and face the military? Silence is acceptance.
But when Obasanjo came into power, one of his advisers said as the military has been eased off, their next plan was to work on an acceptable constitution. But that never came to pass?
It is not easy. Those who said that never knew how tedious it is making a constitution in a civilian regime; it is not as easy as making it under a military regime. In an undeveloped country like ours where everything is selfishly considered, not nationally considered, it is not easy. It was a wrong move to accept it first and then reject it later. That was a cowardly approach to a situation.
How do we move forward?
The National Assembly has power to make laws for peace, order and good government in Nigeria. That is their jurisdiction. They should make a law creating a constitutional conference or a constituent assembly to give us another constitution. We need to sit down and discuss our problem. We need to sit and discuss this situation of somebody having the power to make appointment of one ethnic group, a minority for that matter, for the whole country. The National Assembly should know its responsibility. When a president or governor begins to act contrary to the constitution, they have a duty to remove him from office. But what do we have now? It is our party; it is not our party. They go there to worship party and not the peace, good, order of government that the constitution asks them to do. I can’t do anything about that. I will only complain as I have been complaining. Where I see such a thing I will speak out and go back to my house. If we follow 60 per cent of what is in that constitution, there will be peace in Nigeria.
You said the National Assembly should make a law to set up a constitutional conference or constituent assembly that will midwife a new constitution. But they said there is no need for that as they were already there to amend the constitution.
They have no power to amend the constitution. Go to Section Nine, the word, ‘alter’. Not to alter or amend the constitution; they can alter any provision of the constitution but not to alter or amend the constitution. If you say there is no difference between alteration and amendment, it is not true. It is just like saying that there is no difference between epidemic and pandemic. One contains the other; they are not the same. They think they are doing the right thing, but they are derailing. All these going around in the name of constitutional amendments are just a waste of time.