By Alvan Ewuzie
He has over 36 years experience in politics and had deployed this in legislative functions, barring the intrusion of the military in power. Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) has a long standing anti-corruption stance that has seen him reject some rather juicy offers when opponents tried to lure him away from Muhammadu Buhari camp. He stood by Buhari when the president sojourned in the political jungle on his way to the presidency. But in twist of fate, when Ahamba left the ACN, which he helped midwife, Buhari became president. What are his veiws about Buhari’s presidency? Will he return to ACN? As President Buhari’s advocate in the election petitions that saw them arguing their case up to the highest court in the land, what would he tell the president, concerning some laws of the land. He shared his views with this reporter.
COULD you assess the senate and the House of Representatives so far?
So far, they have played more politics that legislation. They need to redirect themselves to legislation. We claim to be copying Britain and America, particularly America but the fact is that in that place, if you play politics with your legislative functions you fail the next elections. But here in Nigeria different criteria qualify you to pass or fail. So, they are doing what they can do in accordance with their modus Operandi, but I believe that time has come to redirect them to making laws for peace, order and good governance.
What do you say about the tussle that ensued between the party and the lawmakers over leadership in the House and Senate? Who has the right to decide leaders in both chambers?
You have to first find out if there is any function for the party in the constitution, concerning both chambers, apart from sponsoring a candidate. When you sponsor a candidate and he wins the elections, he now goes to operate according to his functions in the constitution not according to the decisions of the National Working Committee of the party. We have spent so much time making governance synonymous with the party that sponsored majority of members. We must start divorcing governance from party. Parties are to nominate those who will carry out programmes that are consistent with their desire. If you have watched the conventions of the parties in the United States, you find that no one talks about party chairmen. The president sits with his party in his state, the senators sit with their states. This high table mentality in Nigeria is virtually killing everything; everybody wants to know who is more powerful. Nobody is more powerful than the power the constitution has given the person. The more powerful person is the person who knows the limits of his powers.
You mean that it is the senators and legislators that should decide who will lead them?
Yes, that is what the constitution says. At both chambers, they should simply select one of them to lead them. All this talk about ranking members is not in the constitution; they put it in their rules and if they have decided to do it that way, so be it. The responsibility of deciding their leaders has been given to the members and the parties should respect their decisions. In a case where any member becomes recalcitrant, the chief whip will call him to order. If he continues then, do not nominate him in the next elections, but you cannot stop him from carrying out his functions as a senator or member of the House of Representatives because that is his duty.
So, the party should just nominate them for elections and allow them to behave as they wish?
As I told you, there is a whip. I was the minority whip in the Second Republic in Imo State House of Assembly for National Party of Nigeria. If we nominate people based on what we think they are going to do, then there will be no problem because at the time the person goes into the House, he knows what the party wants. The party does not need to come there and force him. There are party caucuses in the Senate and House. But here we consider extraneous issues in deciding to bring people into the Senate and the House of Representatives. There is a presumption that those nominated know what their party wants if the party has a policy. Oftentimes, the policy of the party is to win elections without knowing what to do with power if they get it. If the party has a policy on education, housing and so on and a member goes against the policy, such a member will be called to order but they cannot remove him. The thing to do is to deny him your ticket in the next elections. I do not think the reason you put people there is to determine who will be what in the chambers. The circumstances that came up in the last election of leaders in the both chambers should not becloud the APC from knowing that the major function of the House is to make laws. They should put aside parochial things and pursue national interest.
You have always been an advocate of part-time legislators, do you think that is still workable.
It has worked in the past and it can still work now. You know I started advocating for this since 1981. The reason is this; you cannot keep them busy all the time. If you watch on television, you see that the House is never full at any point in time, so what are we talking about? When I was in the House of Assembly, I practised my law. The legislators should otherwise be engaged in order to reduce corruption. When I came to court, the ministry of Justice, Owerri, tried to stop me, saying I was a member of the House, fortunately the judge was the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa and I presented the law and he said I should go on with my case. I even practised up to the Supreme Court. The time I did the case of Onuoha vs. Okafor, I was member of the House. I was member of the House for the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) but the case was a matter for the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP). I believe that instead of saying they should attend House for 177 or so days as they wrote, the days should be split into four sessions. My father was a member of the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly; they used to go for sessions and he was a headmaster of a school and used to go for sessions, the longest session was the budget session, which lasted for one month, after which the man went back to his work.
He did not leave his job?
He did not. He would simply inform the authorities of the school that they had a house session and they would permit him to go after which he returned to his job. We must have legislators, who have another means of livelihood other than legislating. If you are a lawyer, you should be able to go to court; if you are a doctor, you should run your clinic; if you are a businessman, you attend to your business when the House is not in session. So, when that matter came up when I was in the House, I told the court that the law says you should not attend House sessions for the whole year, have I no right to apply those days I do not want to go to the House for my own benefit? I did that. I made it clear that if they stopped me, I would resign because my salary in the House was not enough to carry my family and I did not know how to make extras.
In terms of output in the House, which time between your father’s time, your time and now is more productive?
I find it difficult to answer that question because I am involved. But if you accept my objectivity, I think the past was better than the present. I say so because the laws are there for you to see what they did. Now, go and check how many laws have been made since 1999 in Imo. All they do is harass the governor; they are settled and they shut up; harass local government chairmen, they are settled and they shut up. They do not even need to make new laws. They could look at existing laws and update them. You see people who want to go to the House or Senate and ask them if they have ever read any law to know what job they would do when they get into the place, 80 per cent of them or more will answer in the negative if they are honest. What you hear most of the time is, it is our turn to produce a member of the House or Senate.
Those are some of the obsolete and mundane reasons for electing people in Nigeria and the thing is affecting us so badly. I believe that for a country to do well, the legislature is even more important that the presidency. A legislature that respects itself, the president will respect it and they now work on the basis of respect, things will work well. I know that the current president is going to stand firm and I want the National Assembly to be careful. This is not the type that you threaten to do things for you.
You have been President Buhari’s lawyer and turn of events made you leave APC for PDP and just when you left the party won elections. Will you return to APC?
It was circumstance I could not control because I was not in charge of either way. I had to leave the APC in Imo because Governor Rochas Okorocha did not give any other person space to operate. I have nothing against the APC. I helped form CPC that entered the APC. I was happy that those of my friends I left in CPC I had reunited with them. But here in Imo State, the governor who, as far as I am concerned, was not yet legally a member of the party, got control of the national headquarters and would want to tie us and put us in his pocket, but we are too big for his pocket. How do you see a situation where somebody who is not officially a member of the party comes to form executive members of the party at your ward. The effect was to emasculate all of us. We protested to the then leadership of the party, myself, former governor Achike Udenwa, Nwajiuba and our chairman here protested seriously. We did not get a reply to any of our protests and we made up our mind to go. When the statement was made that they were supporting the governors because they were the ones to bring money for the elections, we knew we were out. At that time, the PDP in the state opened discussions with us. There, you knew you would be working with people who would not be fighting you in the course of the operation. That was why we left. If only Bisi Akande, APC chairman at that time, had kept his word of coming to Imo to see things for himself, maybe most of us would have been in the party. He never came and never sent anybody. In fact, he stopped taking our calls. The leadership in Abuja simply felt that the only person they needed in Owerri and Imo was Rochas Okorocha.
Let us return to the present. It’s 100 days that President Muhammadu Buhari mounted the saddle. How do you assess his presidency? What I will say may surprise you. As far as I am concerned, so far, so good. I am saying this because we have a different approach to things in the country and we all clamoured for a different approach. Our problem is that we are not ready to wait for the different approach to come to fruition. I always like to use Nigeria football to give example. We used to have a coach called Philip Trousier, who qualified us for the World Cup and Nations Cup but they removed him because he was playing a new system, not the type we had before. The new system had qualified us but you do not want to use it in the World Cup and we went to France and disgraced ourselves. I want people to be patient with Buhari. We are adopting a new method, let us see how this new method will work. People say he has made appointments and omitted people from the South-east, but I still want to tell them that Buhari will not marginalise the Sout-east ultimately. There are more things to be given out than what has been given out. There are chief executive of parastatals yet to be appointed.
The complaint is that the appointments so far is tilted towards the North, are there no honest people in other parts of the country?
What he has appointed so far are personal staff. The Chief of Staff and others so far are just personal staff. Those he has appointed now are those you might call the core loyalists. You know Buhari has passed through a lot in the political arena and these are people who could have gone but chose to remain with him and if he has not forgotten those people do not blame him. He has not forgotten them without hurting the system. I still believe that President Buhari would accommodate people from all parts of the country. He is a very careful man. He will put round pegs in round holes and he will know where to get these people. You can see how he picked Ibe Kachikwu for NNPC, someone who had worked with a multinational oil firm; he will get other people for more positions. I am asking my people from the South-east to be patient. This is only 9am of this regime. Let us see what happens at midday. Do not stampede him. You wanted something different and that is what he is bringing let us see it through; if you do not like what he has brought you tell him so in four years time. This is my opinion. I do not think he has stepped outside what he ought to do for now. You are talking about Abuja, who complained here in Owerri when Rochas appointed his son-in-law and close relations into office? Who complained when former governor Ohakim did the same thing? Then you had Secretary to the Government, Chief of Staff and some other positions all coming from the same place. It is happening here and the people are still shouting ‘my governor, my governor’. My appeal is that while they may have justification in their complaint, it is not enough to turn the apple cart, like the Igbo man says ‘chi ka bu ututu’ ( it is still early).
Sir, in politics and life, perception mean a lot. The perception now is that the president is not spreading out.
In one of my books, entitled ‘Twin pillars of unity, freedom and justice’, I did say that what you spread is quality for the purpose of what you want. when he wants to pick operational staff, he will go anywhere to get them. Why do we quarrel about these things in Nigeria? In America, President Kennedy appointed his younger brother Attorney General and the young man protested, saying the people would say the president was appointing his brother and the president told him, ‘there is something I know about you, which they do not know’. Let us be patient; President Buhari will make a lot of appointments this September or shortly after.
You were the President’s lawyer in one of the election petitions that took him up to the Supreme Court and you know him well. Do you believe the country is safe in his hands?
I believe so and like the late Justice Oputa said, ‘something you believe is something for which you have no proof’. I believe the nation is safe under him and I believe that he will justify my belief eventually because for a man to have fought four times to become president means a lot. He will not be doing that to destroy the country. If he were to be playing politics, those who are complaining now will have no right to complain, considering their attitude in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. I want him to he a statesman and not a politician because in politics hatred begets hatred but I would not want him to go that way.
Those concerned have said the lopsided appointments stem from the fact that they did not vote for him.
So what? Have we not seen somebody here in Imo tell the people that he knows how he got his votes. I keep saying that it will be a different thing if he completes his appointments and a section of the country is left out. There was a time an Igboman was Chief of Army Staff, did other sections carry placards? The President is now engaged in a situation where he needs certain people to do certain things. what works for him now is results, if he brings his brother to help him get Boko Haram out, so be it as long as that brother of his achieves result. All we want is to get Boko Haram out, that should be our concern, not who he appoints as Chief of Army Staff. Those appointed now will not be there in the next few years and we do not know who will replace them.
I flow with you but we are in a rather fragile society, one that has fought a civil war, which is why anybody at the helm of affairs should be sensitive to such things.
Yes. You should be sensitive to them but not to the point that it will stop you from achieving results. Those you want to be sensitive to will turn round to blame you. Where is Keshi today? Was he not the man we heralded at the last Nation’s Cup? Nigerians must learn to elect people they want for what they want. If you have elected the person, then allow him to use his method for four years and then look at his scorecard. This is what we always do to our elected leaders, being so much in a hurry. If you elect a person allow him to operate, if he fails then remove him. Do not come and tell him how to do the work, I do not agree.
Another perception is that the president is a known anti-corruption person, but people around him, especially in the party are perceived to be corrupt.
Has the president mentioned any name of people who are corrupt?
Good. How do you know those he will call? why are we considering him from the negative side? As at now, to the best of my knowledge, he has not pointed at any one as corrupt. He has not prosecuted anybody yet. I believe that all these speculative attitude towards him would not help us. I am not saying that he has done everything perfectly well. The only person who cannot make a mistake is someone who does nothing. He is currently working with the permanent secretaries and they are people from different parts of Nigeria. He is being very careful not to be told what you are saying now, that he is working with corrupt people. You know that the plague of corruption has afflicted so many people in Nigeria and all the leaders are lying with their belly down, nobody knows the one that has bellyache. He does not want anybody to say he is living with corruption. In any case, how is he living with corruption? He has moved from the party to the State House; if there are corrupt people in the party, are they in his government? Those who say he has corrupt people around him should be courageous enough to name the people and say what they have done and be ready to prove it. I can assure you that the Buhari I know will certainly act on any such petition where the evidence is overwhelming. If he starts dealing with people without due process, people will say he has come with military method. You see, there is something about the man, which made me follow him for a long time. People do not remember that when he was a military head of state, nobody was punished without the backing of law. You can say that the laws were draconian, but he first made a law before punishing anybody. There were some other military leaders, who announced policies on radio and television and went ahead to announce them against individuals. That is one difference between him and other military heads of state. The man is a stickler for the rule of law. I know that very well. Let us give him a chance.
I don’t know if you are completely correct because I understand that the law that led to the execution of hard drug dealers during that time was retroactive.
That was one of the blunders of his regime. He was not alone in the regime. He was not the only member of the Supreme Military Council at that time. The members constitute a sort of legislature. This issue was fully x-rayed when I was doing the case of Buhai vs Obasanjo where I was saying that we had a legislature during the military and that was the Supreme Military Council. If they elected anybody as Head of State, that person assumed office. Generals in the army came to court to testify as to how decisions were made in that place, the records are there for anybody to read. But the court did not agree with me because I was saying that Obasanjo had been elected by the military in the past and should, therefore, not contest in 2003 but the court did not agree with me. The point being made is that he did not take decisions alone at that time, which is why I said it is one of the mistakes of his regime. Why are we ignoring other members of that regime and visiting him alone? He was in charge but was he dictating to them?
You are sounding as if you may return to APC.
No, I have not said so. I will only leave if there is problem in PDP. I may just move to my chambers absolutely. A lot of people thought that once Buhari became president, Ahamba would run back to the party. I am not in that category and President Buhari knows that I am not in that category. He knows the offers I had to leave ANPP and abandon him. I did not do it. If I did not do it then, I wouldn’t do it now. Right now, I am the lawyer for Emeka Ihedioha, the PDP guber candidate in Imo State. That is the primary assignment I have for now. I left the party when I did because the condition there was not conducive for me to operate, not because there was any attraction in another party.
But the condition in APC may have become conducive with the change of leadership and the ascension of your man to the presidency.
That is what I am telling you. If I ever leave PDP, it will not be because of any attraction in APC but because of problems in PDP if they arise. Do not forget that the president has said he will use people across party lines. You can be in Labour Party and he might make use of you.
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