Elder statesman, Mike Ahamba: Our leaders live in opulence, but they want us to make sacrifices

Elder statesman and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Mike Ahamba SAN, has lamented that Nigerian leaders are asking Nigerians to make sacrifices whereas the leaders and other government officials live in untold opulence.

While reacting to the billions the House of Representatives reportedly spent on cars for its members, Ahamba stated: “If you want people to make sacrifice; you start by making the sacrifice yourself.” He spoke with VINCENT KALU.

What is your view on the state of the nation?

It is very worrisome, but we cannot be conclusive about it now until the Supreme Court tells us who is Mr. President.

You said it is worrisome. How?

It is in terms of the presidential petition, which is still before the Supreme Court. The way we are is not the most convenient thing anybody will want. Let us hope that whoever wins the presidential election petition will have a rethink. A situation which I have to pay N1, 000 for one dollar is not comfortable for me let alone the man in the village.

Nigeria had so much promise at independence. When compared with the nations that had their independence at the same time, how has the country fared?

Let me tell you the reason why we have problem. If you to look at my book, getting it right in Nigeria or the paper which I submitted at the National Conference, the problem we have had in Nigerian is that nobody gets benefits from Nigeria; everyone gets his benefit from a section of the country. So, it was right from the beginning. It has not helped us. So, people now tend to give their loyalty to the section to which they hope to get benefits in any administration. That is the biggest problem we have. Nobody gets anything as a Nigerian; he has to get it as a westerner, a northerner, an easterner; as an Igbo man, a Yoruba man, a Fulani man, a Hausa man, a Tiv man, an Ijaw man etc. But in other countries, people get benefits from the nation right from the beginning.

How then do we get it right?

We can only get it right if we get an administration that follows the geographical spread theory. They call this country in the beginning, ‘Unity in Diversity’, a country of combinations. So, anybody who comes to power and begins to look in one direction only, the others will definitely protest either openly or silently, and when they do that, things cannot move well.

You were a Second Republic parliamentarian at the state level. The House of Representatives is planning to spend billions to buy cars for its members. What is your view on this?

It is unfortunate. Do you blame them? They do it so that these people in the villages you are talking about will continue to support them. This is the problem. Like I told you, we take positions in Nigeria based on personal benefits; there is no nationalistic tendency. This is the headache we have, and which is unfortunate that some people will do that type of thing. In other places, all of them will lose the next election. But in Nigeria, that will enable them to win. This is the headache we have in Nigeria. In other countries, when you do what is wrong, the people punish you with their votes. But in our case, people do what is wrong, and all you want to consider is what you get from those persons, and you don’t punish them for what they have done wrong.

For example, when I see people talking about being members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), I asked them, on what basis would anybody be a member of a party that came in and education collapsed, health collapsed, and the economy collapsed? What are we basing our support for APC on, except cash? It is unfortunate.

The president keeps telling Nigerians to make sacrifices for a better tomorrow, but when one side is making sacrifices and the other one is living in opulence, what does it suggest?

When my father was the traditional ruler of Lorji Autonomous Community, the then military governor of old Imo State, Commander Amadi Ikwuechege paid him a courtesy call. That was when the regime was talking about austerity measure, and in my father’s speech to Ikwuechege, he told him that it is difficult to accept austerity measure from a position of opulence. This is exactly what you are seeing now. You can’t stay in a position of opulence, and you want people to make sacrifice; you start by making the sacrifice yourself.

I think that any administration now should think of voluntarily lowering the cost of governance, which is unfortunately rising instead of being lowered. The problem is that the man you are talking about in the village, whom you think will support you when you said the cost of governance should be lowered, he will ask, is it now that my brother is a minister that you are talking about lowering the salary? Which is an unfortunate attitude in a nation.  During the last election in America, a sitting president called an officer in a state that he should get him some votes. The instruction was very clear.  The man replied that what he asked him to do was not consistent with the data before him. When shall we come to that level? When shall we stop blaming people at the top when we are supporting the things that they are doing wrong? Mr. President, sir, what you are asking me to do is not consistent with the data before me. When shall Nigerian public officer develop the courage to tell a chief executive that type of thing? At that time, we’ll then begin to change.

You mentioned the cost of governance. There was this Oronsaye Report on reducing the cost of governance in Nigeria. Buhari had 42 ministers, and today Tinubu has 48 ministers. Fresh appointments are being made. What does this portend to the economy?

Let us get it clear, every team has a method of playing; it is the same team playing, the same APC. So, how do you expect a change? It is the same team. Every team has a system of play. Check the footballers, some play 4-2-4, some 4-4-2, whatever you call it. But this one, they play on the basis of doing what pleases them and not necessarily to help the man in the street, and they still say they are the best and some people are clapping for them. Let them keep clapping.

After the fuel subsidy was removed, the government told Nigerians that they were saving over one trillion naira every month. Yet the same government is planning to borrow $1.5 billion. What is your reaction to this?

It is the same APC that when they came to power in 2015, told this nation that there was nothing like subsidy. They said it was a clear fraud by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); that there was nothing like subsidy, but when they came to power, the thing quadrupled. Now, they say, we remove subsidy, and we save three trillion, and now they are borrowing money after removing the subsidy. When people started by telling lies, and you want them to change now, it is not possible. Only the people can change them with their votes when the time comes. Any opportunity to take them out of office whether at the national or state level will be a great relief to the nation.

The way Nigeria is structured, do you think that people can easily remove them with their votes?

We must keep telling them to learn to take people away with their votes. The word, ‘rigging’ is not Igbo, it is not Yoruba, and it is not Hausa or any other Nigerian language. There is no culture that has a word that does not exist in their community. In other words, since it is English, that means there was a time there was rigging there. Do they still have it now? No. So, it is a question of insisting on what right is being done. We keep insisting on getting it right. Let’s keep trying, some day we will get to the destination, and rigging will be a thing of the past. I have confidence that it would happen.

The government lifted 43 items for importation, including rice. What is your take on this?

It is the APC approach to helping the people at the grassroots. You can’t change it; it is the party approach.

But in terms of policy, how does it sound?

It doesn’t sound well, but that is their policy. What have they done right?  We have oil refineries that could be repaired but you preferred to spend more than the money to get the refinery working in sharing what they call palliatives. The palliatives include one tuber of yam for a retired person. How long will that person eat it? This is the problem.

During the COVID 19, I know that the APC administration gave one tuber of yam to three persons as palliative in my hometown. When I make a statement, it is based on what I can prove.  When an administration has come in and everything, they are doing is anti-people, it is for the people to officially and legitimately tell them, no, with their votes whenever they have such opportunity, no matter what they are given at the polling stations.

We are talking about buying fuel and you are giving somebody yam and rice. How long will he eat it? This one they are calling, ‘One paint’ of rice was what they allocated to my wife, we asked the person who collected it for us to take it and eat with her family. We are looking for a cheaper fuel and you are giving me a paint of rice. How many will you give to a person to cover what he is losing in buying rice that used to be less than N20, 000 when they came to power, which is now more than N55,000 per bag?

Now, they want to destroy local rice farmers. They are in power, and they have the right to do what they are doing.  Their policies are anti people. I believe in doing things legitimately and peacefully. Right from the time I was a student unionist, I never believed in going to demonstrate to destroy university property, no.  I always believe in standing up at the right time to say no to the authorities. That has been my attitude. If a government keeps doing one policy after the other; they are making it to be anti-people and they call it pro people, and then the same people or some of them being oppressed still believe in supporting them, what do you do? Is there anything you and I can do about it except to keep on preaching to them that what they are doing is wrong? Elections will happen in November. Let the people of Nigeria wherever they are sending a message with their votes to whoever rules them that they don’t like what is happening. That’s all I can tell them. I can’t go beyond that.

INEC was complaining the other day that for the November governorship election in Imo State that they were still short of 6154 adhoc staff. What’s the implication of this if at the end they couldn’t meet up?

INEC should know why it is so. Maybe the people are afraid. I have not heard about this. Even if there was a shortage of adhoc staff, they are the people who are causing the trouble in what they are doing; let them do the right thing, and people would come out. Before the election, they are going to have adhoc staff, I assure you. Now that we know we will tell people to go out there and get employed and do the job. It is for the federal government to protect them. Recently, some people left Akwa Ibom to do their national youth service in Zamfara State, they are yet to get to their destination. Have you seen this type of thing before? Prior to APC administration in this country, did you ever see such a thing happen? It is a team mantra, a team method. This particular team is not good for us.

One had thought that with the change of government and the change of service chiefs that the security challenges would abate. But it is escalating. Why?

I don’t know why our security people are afraid of our own forests when the bandits are not. If the bandits and the terrorists are not afraid of our forests, why should our security forces be afraid of our forests?

The Monday sit-at-home crisis in the South-East is still telling hard on the economy of the region, coupled with other security issues. What should be done to bring back peace to that zone?

When it started, I made it clear openly that those who are saying that people should sit at home that other elements would hijack it, misuse it and they would not be in a position to control the situation. That is where we are now. When I said it originally, I was misunderstood. I’m not a security officer, my duty is to speak up; I don’t hold any government office.  My duty is to speak up and let those in charge follow up and know what to do.

It is not right for anything untoward to happen in my own time; if I’m in charge, I don’t want something to happen in my own time. Let those in charge now know that if it happens today, even in the next 100 years it is in their time that it happened. Jesus Christ was not in fact killed by Pontius Pilate but was killed by the Caiaphas because Pontius Pilate failed to do the needful. Till today when Christians go to worship and they are talking about their faith, they would say in the days of Pontius Pilate, Jesus was crucified; they didn’t say he crucified Christ. Don’t let the future Nigerians talk about that in the days of XZY this or that happened one time. If I were in charge, I will not allow it to happen in my own time. People are allowing things happen in their own time.

What are your views on the president’s certificate saga? What would you advise him to do?

I will not advise Tinubu on what to do. He has competent lawyers. I will also not advise his opponents because they have competent lawyers too. When they finished what they are doing in the court, we shall give our common comment that is the rule of legal practice. Let us wait till the Supreme Court makes a pronouncement, then we talk on what the apex court has done.

What is your fear for this country?

My fear for this country is that those who don’t understand world history as it has happened in other places might ruin a beautiful country created by God, and I hope they don’t succeed.

How do you mean?              

Have you known a black country that has the quantity of human resources we have? The quantity of natural resources that we have – mineral and others and yet we are the lowest poverty level in the world? Something is wrong. Let those who God gave the opportunity or who grabbed the opportunity instead of waiting for God to give it to them, to please, not spoil this beautiful country God has created to make a firm statement for the black race. This is my payer for Nigeria; that the country will live and survive to a point that it will be the country that will make a definite statement that there is nothing wrong with the black colour.

Based on the escalating banditry in Zamfara and other states in the northwest, the Defense minister was quoted as saying that communities can now negotiate with bandits. What’s your opinion on this?

I don’t want to believe that the Defence Minister made that type of statement. It is surrender.  If you now go and tell the people to negotiate with bandits, it means you have no troops or that your troops cannot be trusted, relied upon. It is not the truth. The truth is that those in charge of the troops are not making good use of them; they are not maintaining them well and they are not positioning them properly. So, when a Minister of Defense said such type of thing, he should resign because he has given up; it means he doesn’t know what to do, he should go home and let another person take over.


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