Legal luminary and Chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Imo State, Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN, has called on the Federal Government to quickly cause a discussion on the myriad of issues causing agitations in the country to avoid negative consequences for the country. In this interview with COLLINS UGHALAA in Owerri, he also said that the solution to the problems facing the country is to return to revisit the discussion at Aburi, Ghana, popularly known as the Aburi Accord, even as he said that resource control and restructuring arethe best options for the country.
There have been issues in the National Assembly, ranging from budget padding to budget re-writing and the current impasse with the Acting President over the confirmation of the appointment of the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). As a former lawmaker in Imo State versed in lawmaking, what do you think about the situation in the National Assembly?
The National Assembly is the First Estate of the Realm and they have a lot of responsibilities, but one thing they are not aware of is that they have a lot of restraints. As the First Estate of the Realm, if they have the kind of power they want then we can have a dictatorship of the Legislature. And if one reads the constitution objectively, you would find out that the National Assembly is prevented from doing one thing, and that is giving extra power to themselves.
They have the power to enlarge the power of the presidency somehow. They also have the power to enlarge the power of the Judiciary by setting up new courts. But there is no place in the constitution where they have additional power by any act made by the National Assembly to increase its own powers. The reason is very clear: it was wisely done because if you let it be at large, the National Assembly can even give itself the power to change the name of Nigeria and change it as they like.
Unfortunately, I do not believe that the National Assembly is aware of this restraint or constraint. All they know is that they are representing the people, and they forget that the people they are representing can only be represented in accordance with the constitution of the people. So, that you are representing the people does not enable you to do what the people would not do. And one thing they cannot do under the constitution is to enlarge the powers of the National Assembly or the state assembly.
Consequently, I had written a book as far back as 1982, which had an equivalent of the present one – that the National Assembly does not have the power to tamper with the budget of the country. They are to consider what the President had given to them and see whether they are right or wrong. And whatever changes that could be made in the budget would be made by the President.
They could return the budget to the President to make the changes, but definitely we don’t have two powers in this country under our constitution to make budget for this country. It is only the President that has such powers.
What they call constituency allowance is an illegality bothering on fraud against the nation. In the power of the Executive to implement the budget, there is no place under section four of the constitution where the National Assembly is also allowed to implement the budget of Nigeria.Consequently, I do not see how the National Assembly can infuse anything, or what gives them the power to decide what projects would be done where and how.
If the budget brought by the Executive was not particularly particularized, they can raise that issue; but that doesn’t enable them to do their own.I will also say that I blame the presidency for signing the budget with that error in it. But having signed it anyway, they can refuse to provide the funds for it because it is an illegality.
Will it not amount to breach of the law if they refuse to provide the funding for the budget since the budget is an Act?
If you sign a law and find out that a section of that law is illegal – Appropriation Act is not the constitution, it is an Act, made under the constitution. And if a section of the Act is inconsistent with the budget no Executive has the authority to implement it.
Would it not rather be the function of the judiciary to declare the Act an illegality?
Well, when the presidency refuses to, then the National Assembly would take it to the court for them to decide it. I have always thought that that matter has to be decided in the court. I have had this feeling since 1982 under the first constitution and I wrote it in my book, Thinking Aloud on the 1979 Constitution. And this thing they call Oversight Functions, I cannot understand it.
I mean, your duty is to sit down and make laws for the people, and if there is anything you want for the purpose of making laws you can invite the person to the House. I don’t see anywhere in the constitution where they are given power to supervise ministers.
That is a way to intimidate ministers for selfish purposes. They can go and inspect projects, if they want to, and come to the House and say what they want to say about that project. But the issue that they are doing Oversight Functions, I have not seen that in our constitution.
Following your explanations, can you further define the limits of the National Assembly in terms of the budget process?
I have told you that it is for them to consider the budget proposals brought by the President but they cannot tamper with it. This is my humble opinion, and I stand to be corrected.
In a recent radio programme you said that your father had warned that Nigeria should not rush to a Republican Constitution. Looking back, would you justify that call?
Yes. I think my father was right. He thought ahead of the nation, just as, with due deference to humility, I have been thinking ahead. He didn’t say we shouldn’t have a Republican Constitution. He only said it should be delayed, that Nigeria had not been properly structured and that the bad structuring of the country would cause trouble in the future. There was need then for someone who could intervene, as of right, to stop what was going to happen.
And if we had not taken the Republican Constitution at that time there could have been another conference in London to determine whether we were structurally well constituted to go on our way. Because the cracks had begun to emerge as at that time, but my father was heckled when he said it in 1963 on the floor of the Eastern House of Assembly. And I think if those who heckled him were still alive today they would find out that they made a mistake.
Let us take a look at restructuring. According to Governor el-Rufaiof Kaduna State, the country has been restructured under President Buhari, because the governors now have attention and they come to Abuja to decide how the resources are shared.
Is that his own definition of restructuring, that a president and the governors met? Have they not always met? Don’t we have a council of states constitutionally? Why should a president not meet with his own people? So, if they have met we have restructured? In fact, a lot of people using that word don’t understand what it means. The question of what restructuring means has always arisen, and that shows that many people still don’t understand what it means. Number one, there is territorial restructuring. The other one can be devolution of power restructuring.
Another one is economic restructuring. Then, the most important one is resource control restructuring. As far as I am concerned, the one that has been causing problem is not the territorial restructuring or the other kinds of restructuring, but the resource control restructuring. And I think that Nigerians would agree that we are living in breach of the federation constitution.
The agreement we made to stay as one country is being breached. Like Odinakanu said the other day, Nigeria is living on distribution instead of living on production. And I completely agree with him. When we agreed to stay together, then the military, not the people in a parliament, reversed it to distribution instead of production, which is consistent with what el-Rufai said in his own way, that since the governors come cap in hand to beg, the nation has restructured.
What have they gained from that? It is true that the Buhari administration has been welfare oriented with the workers, let’s concede that to him, by giving what they called bailout fund which no other president had done, and the Paris Club largesse.
Whether any state utilized it or not is no longer the problem of the federal government. What is more important is that they did it. But that is not restructuring. It is rather what I may call administrative acumen by the presidency to arrest a situation. It is what everybody should do. And the states should do that to the local governments. They should bailout the local governments instead of destroying them.
My contention is that we should sit down around a well-polished mahogany table and revisit the agreement we had before. Most of you of the young generation do not know that as at 1957 Nigeria could have been different countries because the Eastern and Western regions had got self-government but they waited for their brothers from the North who got self-government in 1959, and we all got national independence in 1960. Before the national independence, there was a constitutional conference in London and we agreed on how we were going to live together.
How did we agree to live together? That every state should go on and produce and that 50% of what you produced would be left with you to manage, and everybody said Amen. Then the military came and reversed it and the states stopped production. That was where the economic stagnation started. If Kano didn’t require toproduce groundnut to survive, why produce it anyway? That is why many of our young people do not know that there used to be groundnut pyramids in the North.
They don’t need it any more. With their 40 local governments the allocation they would get makes it almost impossible to need any other thing. When Michael Okpara made the Eastern Region the fastest growing economy in the South of the Sahara before the war there was no oil. But when oil came all the states in the then Eastern Region didn’t want to continue with the Okpara programme. Consequently, if you don’t produce anything you don’t eat.
If we decided it that way and we are doing another thing now, then we have to restructure to return to base. That is what restructuring means, to return to our original agreement that made us one federation instead of three.And let us remember that a lot of federations existed in Africa at that time but they had all disintegrated except the Nigerian federation. But we decided to stay together.
That was one of the questions I asked the national conference, whether Nigerians had found out why we decided to stay together while others were disintegrating. Why did our founding fathers decide to stay together while others were disintegrating? One of the reasons was that we agreed that the local issues should be left with the local people. In a federation local affairs are left to the local governments. In other words, local affairs must be left to the respective regions or states, as the case may be, and one of that too is the local government.
We did not start this country with the same local government structure because the whiteman came and did what he called Indirect Rule in the North and came to South to do Direct Rule. That means we did not start with the same structures.
And with that we grew until suddenly in 1976 one local government edict was produced in Lagos and imposed on all the states of the federation, and we had a constituent assembly and civilians went to the House and put a stamp on it. That is why I say that those who blame the military alone for the woes of Nigeria should also blame the civilians because it was they who changed Nigeria to a unitary government instead of a federation.
It was the 1979 constitution that removed the constitutions of the respective regions. It used to be the Eastern Nigerian applying the Constitution of the Eastern Nigeria applicable to the South Eastern states. We removed it.
One thing about a federation is that the units are substantially independent. Go to America and find out. Every state in America has a constitution. Some states in America have bicameral legislature while others have unicameral legislature. Nigerians have not asked how American federation came to be; it started as a confederation. So, when you flash your hand and say ‘as in America’, go and see the American Constitution. Itstarted as a confederation.
What is the implication of this? About 13 states formed the union and others joined. Just like Coasta Rica or another state that now wants to join as the 51 state. So, we have a situation where the union was formed by 13 states and others signed in to join. The component parts created America while in Nigeria the nation created the states.
In the discourse of what to do about this country let us remember that the Aburi Accord of 1967 is still very relevant, because in that accord we agreed to separate to remain together. Like one Professor in Nsukka said, it is getting apart to get close. Let us go back to the Aburi Accord. All this things they are talking all over the country is on Aburi Accord, but nobody has the courage to admit it.
But one thing about the Aburi Accord was that the minority felt that Aburi did not accommodate them. That was how the minority authorities in the civil service torpedoed Aburi, because it was the minority civil servants that wrote the memoranda that stopped Aburi from being implemented because all the soldiers had agreed.
So, let us bring back Aburi and if there is any little thing wrong with we have to restructure it a little and use it. But whether we are going to have a confederation or a federation, I believe the base should be the states and not regions. There is no question on going back to the regions because I am aware it cannot work.
You talked about another conference. What of the 2014 National Conference?
That one is not the kind of conference I am talking about. If you look at the paper I presented at the conference, I said that the National Assembly should create a constituent assembly that can take decisions that would be sent for a referendum.
You know that in Nigeria many of us like to use words without reading the basic things. In the South East they say they need a referendum to decide whether they shall have Biafra or not. Under what law would you make it?
Can the President just order a referendum? In the present constitution there is no room for a referendum, except for boundary adjustment. As far as this constitution is still extantthe call for a referendum is a waste of time, unless the National Assembly enacts a law to enable an amendment of the constitution, as against alteration which they have powers to do, but they do not understand the difference.
The Lower Niger Congress (LNC), one of the groups calling for referendum,says they have been in court asking the court to declare the 1999 constitution an illegal document. Is that obtainable under the laws of Nigeria?
I don’t know which lawyer is doing that. You know, in this our legal profession every matter has the other side of the coin. But I wouldn’t advise anybody to do it. May be the lawyer has his grounds. How can you declare it? In fact, in that my Paper during the national conference, I asked: the 1999 constitution, whose constitution? It was the military that made that constitution with which we now set up the National Assembly, the Judiciary, the Executive, but you say it is an illegality.
Now, if the court declares the constitution null and void it means Nigeria has on its own disintegrated and ceased to be an authority. You don’t do that type of thing. What we should do is that everybody should do something. Let suggestions be made that would eventually lead us to the round table where we would discuss everybody doing something.
But for now it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. What is important is let everybody do something. That something everybody should do we would have to bring it to the table and discuss it before people do something on their own and we would begin to speak after we started fighting.
You have talked about restructuring, what process would lead to the restructuring of the country?
It depends on the kind of restructuring you want. During the National Conference we took decisions that could go into three compartments. One of the compartments is the one that requires the National Assembly doing something. The other is the one that allows the federal government doing something without going to the National Assembly because it falls within their current powers.
The third one is the area you cannot touch unless you amend the constitution. Up to now the National Assembly does not understand that in law there is a difference between alteration and amendment. The constitution is a legal document and you interpret it according to law.
Alteration is a type of amendment but it is not the amendment because amendment obliterates what was there and alteration does not obliterate what was there. If you look at the constitution very well it does not say alter the constitution, but that by an act of parliament the National Assembly can alter a provision of the constitution. It does not mean one should change the basic fundamentality of the law. That does not mean we should give extra power to the National Assembly.
Some Nigerians have expressed anger the inability of the federal government to implement the report of the 2014 National Conference. They say it holds the solution to the problems of the country.
It is the problem of Nigeria. Nigeria does not build on what was. I give you an example. In America, the Jimmy Carter regime was the one during which Iran overran the embassy of America in Iran. Every negotiation was on until his tenure ended.
Then Regan took over. Immediately he took over Iran released the hostages. In Nigeria the new president would have gone to receive the hostages with the propaganda that without him it would not have happened. But Regan said Jimmy Carter should go and finish the job he started. It was Jimmy Carter that received the hostages and not Regan. This is one of the things we must learn as a country.
We must learn that governance is a continuum. Since it was the PDP government that set up the National Conference the APC would think that if they implement the report of the conference they would be helping the PDP and not the nation. That is the problem. No governor wants to put a block on the building started by his predecessor because he thinks he would be helping him. Everybody wants to be the originator of their own programmes.
How can Nigeria grow if at the end of every four years we start a new programme? I don’t see anything with a governor starting from where his predecessors stopped. Even though the present government is APC I don’t see anything wrong if it looks at the programmes of the PDP that are very good to the nation and continue with them. I cannot accept that out of about 60 resolutions of the National Conference we cannot find at least 50 that could help this nation.
This is what I would do if I was in charge of the present administration. If you do it, it happened in your time. Pontius Pilate did not kill Jesus Christ, but today when we go to church we say that in the days of Pontius Pilate Jesus Christ was crucified. If you look at the conference papers and see anything good and implement it, Nigerians would say that in the days of President Buhari this change took place. After elections we must forget about politics and look at governance and help the country.
With the loss of the war in 1970 many people had thought the issue of Biafra was gone. But for two years now there has being renewed agitation for Biafra to the extent that the May 30 sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPONB) was almost 100% obeyed. What do you make of the renewed agitation for Biafra?
Let me tell you one thing about the sit-at-home order on May 30th. The IPOB put one emotional word in it: honouring the dead. Many people sat at home that day to honour the dead whom they thought had not been honoured.
They wanted those who fought in the war to be honoured in any way possible, even though we said the war ended on no victor no vanquished note. That was what touched the people’s heart andthey decided to sit at home to kind of bury them. Let us think about this for a while. I tell you also that it was the federal government that created the current impulse for Biafra by arresting Kanu and detaining him against the law.
I entered politics as a very young lawyer in 1978 and I was of the NPN, a national party. Those who were in the old Imo and Anambra states, if they could remember, NPN was very popular party in the East. Nobody was going to NPP until Zik came and FEDECO disqualified him. If they had allowed him to continue there would have been no problem. But they disqualified him and the court reinstated him. So, the people, knowing their emotional attachment with Zik, they said he was disqualified because he was an Igbo.
If they hadn’t disqualified him that issue wouldn’t have arisen, and the effect was that all us in the NPN failed election. That is what has happened now. Their handling of the NnamdiKanu issue was very defective and they ended up creating sympathy for him.
But you know, Biafra is no longer a word for those who seceded in 1967. It has become a metaphor, not for those outside the country but for protests against imbalance in Nigeria. Because you have Biafra in the Middle Belt and they have a name for it.
You have a Biafra in the South South and South West and they have their names for it. You now also have a Biafra from the North East and they have their own name. It has now become being used by those who think they are not well accommodated in the country. To that extent I agree with
Biafra, but not to the extent of making me to leave Nigeria, I don’t agree. I cannot leave this country for anybody. I have invested in it. There is nobody who can force me out of this country in any circumstance because I have invested so much in it. Many people have invested in this country and we are not going to leave it for anybody.
Whatever is the problem must discuss it as Nigerians around a mahogany table and if there is going to be any war it is going to be a Nigerian war and not a Biafran war. Because if we allow war to happen again in Nigeria, there will be sectors everywhere because it would be the people protesting and defending themselves against each other.
Let us warn ourselves very strictly that that would be the implication of not talking now. Those things that make some people feel they are not well accommodated in Nigeria, let us put them on the table; and those who are benefiting from Nigeria, let us put it on the table, so that they would tell us why they should continue to benefit while their brothers don’t benefit.And I want to tell you – I was brought up with a notion by my grandfather.
He said that you should never reject food with anger but instead finish the food with anger, because if you reject food with anger you would starve. Consequently, I am not going to leave Nigeria with anger. If they want to leave it for me, let them leave.
So, when the Hausa man tells the Igbo man to leave the North, it is out of ignorance, because he is a Nigerian in the North. Even if there is a Biafra today, that man living in the North has options. Though he of Igbo origin he has the right to opt for a Nigerian citizenship while others have the right to opt for a Biafran citizenship. They should recognize that. They should tell themselves that they don’t have that competence. I have told the Igbo people living in the North not to leave that place.
But the people are afraid of a repeat of the pogrom that happened…
(Cuts in) Let me tell you, the pogrom that happened in 1967, and everybody should be warned – if there is another pogrom it is not going to be one in which one section of the country is running away from the other. It is going to be a war. Nobody is going to run away and they are killed at the railway with loads on their back. It is not going to be same thing. Let them be warned.
Coming back home, let us talk about Imo State. In 2015 you made an attempt to be the governor of the state but your party, the PDP, did not give you their nomination. Looking at the state now would say things are going on well?
I can tell you that Imo State as of now is a failed state in the Republic of Nigeria. It is just that the people believe that it is only there is violence that you talk about a state of emergency. I believe there is a state of emergency in Imo State today. A state where you develop by destruction is a novelty. What you destroyed in 2011 you have not built till today and you are destroying more. Do you develop a state like that? Where would you get the money to do that? Look at Rivers State.
The man in Owerri is suffering. I don’t know from where they get the pictures they put as paid adverts in the newspapers and televisions. What type of state do you have where the workers are not paid, pensioners are not paid, gratuities are not paid and contractors are not paid?
How does money circulate in that state? And this is a state where there is no production. And I indict all the people who have governors in the South East so far to take the responsibility that there is no production in the South East, except now we are building cars in Nnewi.
There should have been more than that if we had thought about production. That is why our people go out, because successive governments have not been able to keep them at home. But the unfortunate thing about Imo State is that the little one that there before the governor came has been destroyed and no new one is being built. Building fanciful halls would not amount to anything governor Fayose would call stomach infrastructure. I