Ahmed Gulak was a special adviser, Political Affairs to ex- President Goodluck Jonathan. He later tried unsuccessfully to become the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, before defecting to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
He speaks on the National Assembly/ Presidential elections, the challenge of the outcome in court, the composition of Buhari’s new cabinet, and the need to take the seat of the Senate President “ to the South, preferably, Southeast and South-south, among other national issues. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the National Assembly and Presidential elections? Though some people, groups, and individuals have applauded it, but there are some, including the main opposition party, PDP, whose candidate rejected it and he has gone to court?
I would say that though there are some pockets of troubles here and there, including the results, the elections were generally peaceful and credible. It was an improvement on the last elections and we hope and believe that INEC will sustain it in subsequent elections in the country. They were free, credible, and transparent. Generally speaking, I give it a pass mark. It reflected the wishes of the people. To that extent, I commend INEC. We commend their efforts, taking into cognizance how politicians became very desperate and sought to outsmart and maneuver every process, and create too much tension. They wanted to do anything to ensure that they won, but INEC was on top of the situation. Nigerians unanimously voted for who they wanted without undue influences. The elections are now over. Although, there are some issues and grievances, and the issue of tribunal and other contestations have arisen, they are not of the scale, in my view, that will mar the general conduct and integrity of the elections. It is all part of the electoral process. But let me add that whoever that is not satisfied or aggrieved, has the constitutional rights to challenge the results at the tribunal. It is his right under the constitution of the land and no one should deny him that.
But many people and groups are trying to prevail on Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP not to go to court?
No, you see the problem is that in 2015, a precedent was set by President Goodluck Jonathan, who conceded defeat even before the conclusion of the announcement of the result. It is because of that precedence that Nigerians are taking it to that level to say that nobody should go to court. As far as I am concerned, it is the constitutional right of the aggrieved to seek redress in court and no one should stop them. It is all part of the electoral process. It should not be so. The constitution spells out the rights of the individual. Atiku has every right to go to court to challenge anything that he is not comfortable with. It is his right and he must utilize it if he feels aggrieved, or if he feels there were anomalies or malpractices in the election process. That is his constitutional right and it is not debatable. I don’t believe that people should prevail on him not to do so. Yes, he can be advised to follow the path of Goodluck Jonathan. But he should not be prevailed on to drop the idea of going to court. He can take the advice or not, but that is his constitutional right. And I insist and believe that if he is not satisfied he can head to court. People just believe that since Jonathan took that path by accepting the results and congratulating Buhari before the conclusion of the announcement of the results, then it should always be like that. But this time, Atiku feels otherwise and nobody has the right to stop him. It is his constitutional right. The channel is open for him. The tribunal is there to adjudicate on the matter to see if the elections that held on the 23rd of February really reflected the wishes of the generality of Nigerians or not. That is democratic and nothing should be done to detract from that.
What do you say or feel about the state of the judiciary? Do you have confidence in the judiciary on current standing?
As a lawyer and somebody who has been practicing law, I still believe that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. I still believe that the judiciary should be trusted in order to dispense justice in accordance with the law. I still believe that notwithstanding the issues within the judiciary, we should not throw away the baby with the bath water. The judiciary must be supported to dispense justice in accordance with the law and give the common man a sense of trust and belonging. So, to me, the judiciary must be trusted to dispense justice in accordance with the law.
Now, let us talk about the incoming government. How do you want the composition of the cabinet of Buhari’s second term?
I want the composition of Buhari’s new government to be composed in such a manner that will reflect federal character as enshrined in the constitution. Firstly, the constitution says that every state must have a representative in the Federal Executive Council, FEC. That is taken for granted. That has always been followed. That will also be followed. Other appointments must also reflect the federal character as enshrined in our constitution. I want a cabinet that is crises-free. I want a cabinet that will be imbued with the vision and mission of the president. I want a cabinet that is rancor-free. I want a cabinet that will be spared of any kind of controversy. When a cabinet is not controversial or crisis-free it will be focused and be able to work and deliver dividends of democracy to the people. I want a cabinet that will have a feel of the constitution of the land at heart. I want a cabinet that will be on the same page with the president’s fight against corruption, in the fight against insurgency, in the development of the economy to provide jobs for our people, especially the teeming youths, to provide conducive environment for peace, for business, to provide conducive environment for agriculture in order to grow our economy. I want a cabinet that will be on the same page with the aspirations of Nigerians. I don’t want a cabinet that will be constituted with people that will be fighting each other over the policies of the government. For instance, in the last cabinet, we had the DSS (Department of State Services) working at cross purposes with the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission), the police was not on the same page with other security services, the Armed Forces was not in unanimity with each other in the fight against insurgency. The Service Chiefs were not in sync with the fight against insurgency. We need a cabinet that is united and purposeful. We need a cabinet that will deliver, we need a cabinet that will inspire confidence in the people; that will strictly work for the people and not play politics. We need a cabinet that will advise the president on how to take the country to the next level. We need to see a cabinet that will on their own reflect what the president wishes – a strong economy, a strong military to fight insurgency; that will not be involved in corrupt practices and, therefore, align with the president’s battle against corruption.
In the last four years there were complaints and agitations by some geo-political zones that they were shut out from relevant participation in the governance of the country. Do you believe that is true?
That is subjective. It could be from the position you are looking at it. I have told you that the constitution says that every state must be represented in the cabinet.
I am talking about the security structure of the country?
You know that in the security architecture, there are laws and conventions in the military. For instance, you cannot appoint somebody from below. If the officer leaves, the next to him takes over. In the military, the same thing applies. What we are saying is that in these appointments, the president must look for competent people, we must look for people with capacity, and we must look for people who know the job, not people who will come in and start learning how to do the job or explain why they cannot do the job. Secondly, we need people that will reflect the federal character of the country. Every state or geo- political zone must have a sense of belonging. We don’t need people whose ego drives them, People who are egoistic. We don’t need people like that. We need humble, committed servants who take Nigeria as the focal point. We need people who are interested in the growth and development of Nigeria and Nigerians. We need people who see this country as belonging to all of us, not to a particular section, or sections of the country. We need people who see this country as the only country we have. We don’t have another country. These are the people we must identify and put them in government positions.
Now that you have talked about the importance of appointing people to reflect all parts of the country and enthrone justice, what do you say about the growing agitation by the Southeast geo-political zone to be given the slot of the Senate President in the sharing of the spoils of the election victory?
You see, the position of the Senate President is not easy. The senators elect who they want. And they elect people who show interest in that position. That is that. We need as of today, if my opinion matters; I want the Senate Presidency to go to the South. The president is from the North; the vice president is from the South. I want the Senate President to go to the South, preferably to the South-south, or Southeast. But I don’t know if there is a senator from the Southeast. If there is none from there, you cannot go and give it to somebody from a minority party.
They have two senators-elect now.
Who is the senator from APC from the Southeast?
They have the present governor of Imo State Rochas Okorocha, and the former governor of Abia State, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu.
You see, the Senate Presidency is done by ranking. They have their rules and regulations. Orji Uzor Kalu is coming to the Senate for the first time. Rochas Okorocha is coming to the Senate for the first time.
But Kalu was a member of the House of Representatives in the third republic?
Is that so? Well, it is left for the senators to determine.
But the rules were made by them, and they can always sit down and change it to suit particular sensitive situation.
I am talking about the rules that are available as at today. I am not talking about what happens tomorrow. You know that institutional memory is very important, that is why we go by ranking. I have been a legislator before and I know what it means. That is why we have problems because we change 50 per cent to 60 per cent of our legislators every elective year.
What if the party or president decides they want a particular person to lead the senate?
That is your own view.
Looking at all problems confronting the country, which of them do you want to be given priority
Security is number one. Without a secured country, nothing can happen. There are some projects, which the government wanted to execute in the Northeast, but because of insurgency, they could not do that. Security is number one. You go to the Southeast and even if you want to execute projects there, the contractors are scared that they could be kidnapped. The issue of kidnapping is hampering execution of projects. You go to the Northwest; there is this banditry in Zamfara State. The government must put in extra efforts to contain the situation. It is indeed worrisome. The second one is the economy. The economy must be able to accommodate Nigerians; the economy must be able to put food on the table of Nigerians. The economy must be able to employ the employable; the economy must be able to provide welfare services to the people. Number three; we must be able to fight corruption. Corruption is a canker worm that has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation.