Ahmed Gulak is a former political adviser to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Festus Owete and Sani Tukur , Mr. Gulak speaks on why he was sacked by the former president, his attempt to impose himself as PDP national chairman earlier in the year, the future of the party, the Buhari administration and other issues. Excerpts:
PT: Were you disappointed that you didn’t eventually emerge as the National chairman of People’s Democratic Party?
Gulak: I actually set out to achieve one thing and that is constitutionality. We have given ourselves a constitution and I felt as a member of the party we must abide by the provisions of the constitution and when I saw that Uche Secondus and his team were adamant, they were not ready to follow the part of the constitution and legality, I went to court to test the veracity of their action.
Firstly, I set out to achieve one thing and that is that the constitution must be obeyed by whoever is concerned in this party and my action and after the court judgement, the legal and political steps I took made the PDP to wake up and since then the PDP has never been the same again. There was the emergence of Ali Modu Sheriff from the north-east and that is part of what I went to court to achieve.
Secondly, the party was woken up from its slumber. That is another aspect. I did not set out to say that I must be the chairman of this party. I set out to say that somebody from the north-east must occupy that position. So by and large I have achieved my aim and somebody from the north-east has emerged and is leading the party. The party from that time has been meeting. All the organs of the party have been meeting and that was because somebody had to take some steps and which I took.
PT: So, you are satisfied with Ali Modu Sheriff as national chairman?
Gulak: I am satisfied with him; he is from the north east and I am from the north-east. And like I said, somebody from the north east must occupy that seat and Ali Modu Sheriff is a qualified person to be the national chairman from the north east. So I’m really satisfied with the outcome of my action and without that action may be that couldn’t have been achieved.PT: And you deserve credit for what happened?
Gulak: Well, I do not set out to acquire credit for myself; I am not that type of person. I’m not just coming around. I have been in this game for over 26 years. All I need is for people to respect the constitution they give themselves as members of the political party.
PT: I made that comment because in the past, during the Secondus era, you were seen as a trouble maker. Now that this change has happened are you still seen as a trouble maker?
Gulak; I don’t care how people assess me, but posterity will judge because you have gone to court to seek interpretation of the constitution that you have given yourself. That is not trouble making. In fact, this is part of constitutionality and part of rule of law. So, no matter what anybody says I don’t give a damn. All I know is that I have taken the right steps to ensure the compliance with the constitution. If you go round and ask may be only secondus and his clique will be thinking that I’m a trouble maker because they wanted to cling on that chair that does not belong to him and I said no that chair belongs to the north-east. They couldn’t have ignored that. They excluded north-east, a whole zone with six states, from the PDP national working committee. That was my grouse with them.
You know when the court gave judgment that within 14 days either I or any other person from the north-east must be appointed, Secondus could have appointed any other person from the north–east. But be that as it may we have somebody from the north-east in the person of Ali Modu Sheriff there and nobody can fault his emergence because he is a politician, a two term senator, two term governor. He has the experience.
PT: Has he appreciated the efforts you have made?
Gulak: It is for you to go and interview them whether they appreciate what I have done for them or not. It is not for me to judge, it is not for me to tell. I have done my own part. It is left for them to appreciate or not or to vilify one or not. I have done my own part as a practical politician and as a lawyer and the court has given verdict and the party has woken up from its slumber and has done the needful that is appointing somebody from the north-east I am done.
PT: Since his coming to power a lot of decisions have been taken. Are those decisions in line with the expectations of people like you to move the PDP forward?
Gulak: If I did not go to court and if the court did not give me judgment and if Modu Sheriff did not emerge as declared by the court, may be PDP would still be sleeping and this country for God’s sake need PDP either as a ruling party or as opposition. Opposition is the spice of democracy. You continue to put the ruling party on its edge to give the dividends of democracy to ordinary Nigerians. So my own take is that the PDP is needed in this country now more than ever before and so we must pick up the pieces and begin to rebuild it. But we cannot rebuild without people, without new faces, without new managers of this party.
Luckily enough the timetable has been approved and we will have our national convention in May. So at least the party is alive.
PT: Are you interested in any of the positions?
Gulak: They have set up four committees – reconciliation committee, finance committee, zoning committee and congress committee. These committees have been announced but have not been inaugurated. So let us wait for the committees to be inaugurated and let us see the zoning formula that they will come up with and what they will send to the north-east. If I see the offices they zone to the north-east and I feel and after robust consultation that I should go for it and I’m encouraged by my people to go for it, I will go for it. But if on the other hand I feel somebody else should go, so be it.
PT: So, we take it that you are still in PDP.
Gulak: I have never left PDP.PT: We are asking this question in the light of recent developments. Some people, some of whom we know are very close to you came out to float a new party, Peoples Mega Party, PMP.
Gulak: I have not been part of that and I don’t intend to be part of it.
PT: But were you ever consulted.
Gulak: I was never consulted. You know these are people who are politically mature in their own right. The fact that you are my associate does not mean that I control your actions. So I have never been part of it and I don’t intend to be part of it. I remain in the PDP. I have begun to pick up the pieces and partner with anybody to rebuild this party. That is my stake as for now. I don’t know what the future holds.
PT: But how do you feel that some powerful people are trying to leave the party?
Gulak: It’s unfortunate and it is because of impunity in the party that people started leaving. Look at Senator Ken Nnamani. He has left the party, a former senate president. He left because of the impunity that Secondus and his people have fostered on the party. They consider this party as their personal organization. The party belongs to Nigerians and you give yourself a constitution that you don’t follow; that is impunity and that has made people to leave. I went to court in order to arrest the mass exodus and give people the hope that there are some people who are still interested in rebuilding this party and I think that singular act has rekindled hope and people are beginning to see that the party can be repaired any way.
PT: You mentioned in your earlier submission that PDP has never been the same since you took your action. Now what future do you see for PDP?
Gulak: Well if the PDP manages itself well, if the PDP is able to embark on genuine reconciliation and come up with peaceful congresses and conventions and give the party new faces and new managers that will radiate confidence and trust and Nigerians will begin to come back to the party. I see a bright future for PDP and I see a new PDP that has been repositioned to harvest fall outs from the APC, because of the way I see politics being played out in APC.
It is so clear that there are four blocks in APC that don’t appear to be ready to mix and the internal crisis of the four blocks, namely the ACN of Bola Tinubu and his people, the CPC of President Buhari and his people, the PDP of Bukola Saraki and his people and the ANPP of Ogbonnaya Onu and his people. These are four different blocks that are not ready to mix. So the PDP, if repositioned, can harvest from the fall outs of the crisis in APC and before you know it we can bounce back to power.
PT: They keep saying they are united and have no problems, why are you insisting that they are not?
Gulak: We are not insisting. You know this politics is not rocket science; it is based on facts on the ground. For example, there are three arms of government – the executive arm led by president Buhari, the judiciary which is apolitical and led by Justice Mohammed Mahmud and the legislature led by Dr. Bukola Saraki. Remove the Judiciary since they are apolitical and let’s talk about the executive and legislature.
There is principle of separation of powers, not separation of government and when you begin to see another head of government being prosecuted by the same government you know something is wrong. As a practical politician I am sure and convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that, that head of that arm of government will not be happy with what is happening to him by the same government he believes he is part and parcel of.
So it is not as if we are insisting that there is crisis no. The crisis is there for everybody to see. I am not happy that the APC is not cohesive because if the government fails, we Nigerians have failed. We will not pray for the government to fail notwithstanding the fact that I am in opposition. I want Nigerians to enjoy the benefits of democracy.
PT: But if they don’t fail you won’t come back to power?
Gulak: We want development. For example, no Nigerian will like this thing that is happening in the north-east, Boko Haram; this thing happening in Benue, the Agatu mass murder or genocide, the kidnappings, the Biafra issue, the militancy etc. No right thinking Nigerian will be happy that all these things are happening. But we cannot get over all these crises until we have a united front at least by the government in power.
PT: You were a political adviser to a president; what is your view regarding President Buhari’s running of his administration presently?
Gulak: I am not part of it so how will I know?
PT: But you are a Nigerian and that is why I said you were a political adviser. You should know more than most ordinary Nigerians. Whether you are in government or not you have an idea or direction this administration is taking.
Gulak: Buhari and his party came to power because Nigerians wanted and believed in the change mantra and the promises made. Buhari brought APC to government; it is not APC that brought Buhari to government. That is the way I see it. Buhari brought APC to government so there must be that distinction. I believe most of the APC governors became governors because of Buhari and Buhari did not become president because of the APC governors. That distinction must be made. But the fact is Buhari as a president was sponsored by a political party and this political party went and campaigned for Nigerians to elect Buhari and the promises are there. But the question is- are the promises being fulfilled? That is the question and it is left for Nigerians to judge.
Yes, Buhari is doing his best in the fight against insurgency and in the fight against corruption but to me the government will start in earnest when they begin to execute their programmes; when the budget is passed and they begin to implement the budget in consonance with the manifesto of the political party. But I have started hearing that the APC government is no longer available for execution of some of the programmes like the N5,000 stipend, the one naira to one dollar promise etc. Be that as it may, no government can be run by one person. He has chosen his ministers. They are his team and it is the team Nigerians expect to move this country forward from the past to where Buhari wants to take it to. This is a one million naira question but we have to sit down and analyse it. In fact, if you remove Buhari and Bola Tinubu and his people, every other person in APC has been a PDP member. So if you say PDP ruined Nigeria for the past sixteen years, know that PDP is just a name. Who were the components of the PDP that ruled Nigeria in the past 16 years? I will begin to name them for you from governor of Kebbi to governor of Sokoto, governor of Kastina, governor of Kaduna, Adamawa, Plateau, Benue. These are all PDP members and so it is not right for me to say that PDP ruined Nigerian for the past 16years. It is better to say Nigerian politicians ruined Nigeria in the past 16 years. Do we have different Nigerian politicians in APC that will move this country to the next level of development? If these were the same people that were in PDP and have now joined APC, my answer is that the fact that you throw lizard into water does not make it a crocodile.
PT: What if they have repented?
Gulak : Well, if they have repented from their old ways then we thank God for that. If it is true that they have repented, we live to see. It will not be too long before Nigerians will begin to judge whether this change bus we have entered will really give us the needed and desired change.
PT: But personally are you hopeful?
Gulak: I have always been hopeful. I am a Nigerian and I believe in this country. I believe in Nigeria; I have no other country than Nigeria, I cannot live outside Nigeria. I better live in Nigeria even if it is in jail than to live outside this country. Nigeria belongs to all of us and it is incumbent on all of us…… all hands must be on deck to see that the country remains united and we need development. All these killings happening left right and centre is not what will take this country to the next level.
PT: Did you suspect the PDP was going to lose the presidential election?
Gulak: I knew PDP was going to lose.
PT: Why?
Gulak: Because we embarked on impunity that will not take us anywhere. We had no reason to lose the states we lost and we did that because of protest votes. We had no reason to lose Adamawa State but because of imposition of the candidate. We had no reason to lose Plateau State; we lost Plateau state because of imposition of candidate. We had no reason to lose Nasarawa State; we lost Nasarawa state because of imposition of candidate. We had no reason to lose Benue State; we lost Benue state because of imposition of candidate. People came out to protest against what the PDP did. In any case, with how many votes did we lose the presidential election?
PT: About two million.
Gulak: Yes, two million! And in the states I have enumerated for you, if we had fielded the correct PDP candidates, we would have made up the difference.
PT: Somehow some people also claim that Jonathan himself was imposed as the candidate of the PDP?
Gulak: I was against that attitude. In 2011 Goodluck Jonathan slugged it out with (Abubakar) Atiku.
PT: Some say PDP would have won if they picked a candidate from the north?
Gulak: I don’t work on speculation. I don’t talk about speculations because this was an incumbent president. He had the right to offer himself for a second term and his party selected him to stand election, whether he is from the north or from the south. These are probabilities.
Who in the north would you have fielded against Buhari to defeat him in the north in the circumstance of the 2015 election? Let us be truthful to ourselves, I did not see any. But if PDP had listened to our advice by picking popular candidates in the states of the north may be the difference would not have been much and we would have recovered the lost ground.
PT: You were his political adviser and you left office at a time people least expected you to leave. What was the circumstance that led to your just leaving the office at a time the president perhaps needed you most?
Gulak: Well, there were some issues that resulted to some of us leaving office, like Bamanga Tukur left as national chairman of the PDP, Mike Ogiadomhe left as chief of staff and Gulak left as political adviser. But the true position I think was that the president was literarily blackmailed into taking those decisions.
PT: By whom?
Gulak: By people in PDP who felt that people like us around him will always remind him of the betrayals around him. There are people who never cared about his winning election. Their main concern was about what they could get out of the system. We were part of the team that won election in 2011 and ordinarily you don’t discard your winning team. Be that as it may, the short of it is that the president was literarily blackmailed into dropping some of us.
PT: Are you suggesting there was no a rift between you and the president that could have prompted your removal?
Gulak: There was no rift and there can never be rift.
PT: Even after you left office?
Gulak: Even now we meet we discuss and he knows.
PT: You never criticized him?
Gulak: Who?
PT: President Jonathan.
Gulak: Why should I criticise him?
PT: There was a report that you asked for him to be investigated?
Gulak: During or when I left office?
PT: After you left.
Gulak: When exactly?
PT: Before the election.
Gulak: No, I never did.
PT: But did you ever at any point in time……..
Gulak: I never criticised him. Some papers misquoted me to say that I called for his probe by Buhari. I will tell you the circumstances of that. After I won my case in the court against Secondus and the PDP, some newsmen interviewed me on what happened in the court that day. They asked, “How do you see it? What is your take?” I told them that, “Yes, the court has vindicated me; this position belongs to the north-east and the court has declared me.” That day Dasuki too was in court. He was being arraigned. They said, “look the former NSA to your boss is been tried”.
I said, “Yes, there is a probe going on. Dasuki is facing trial, some ministers are facing trials. Let us allow the court to do their job but that the Goodluck I know, you can probe him from morning to night, seven days a week, but you will never see him in those things; that he authorized for government money to be transferred from government account to a private account in the name of prayers, you can probe Goodluck Jonathan and you can never find him support that.”
The Goodluck I know! Those were the statements I made and I was quoted out of context to say that I was calling for Goodluck’s probe.
What I said was that you can probe Goodluck from morning to night seven days a week you can never find him support the transfer of government funds, N4.6billion from government’s account in the name of prayers. That is ridiculous; that is madness. Goodluck will never support that.
PT: Given what is happening now, aides are being probed, Dasuki and co being tried, do you think that now……………
Gulak: Everybody will come and explain his role in everything they did.
PT: Do you expect you will be invited too?
Gulak: Me?
PT: Yes
Gulak: If I have done anything wrong while in office, if may be Dasuki has given me money or somebody else has given me money, I’m ready. I am in the country, I will not run away. I’m here but I believe what happened was wrong for government money to be transferred from government account to private account without job done to the tune of N4.6 billion in the name of prayers. It was wrong, gentlemen. Let us call a spade a spade.
PT: You mentioned the circumstances that brought Buhari to power. You said if we had those circumstances in 2015, no northerner would have been able to face him. If those circumstances present themselves in 2019 do you see PDP returning to power? Do you think any northerner can still face Buhari?
Gulak: It depends on his performance from now till 2019. Performance matters. If Nigerians are satisfied with his performance they can return him to power. But if Nigerians are dissatisfied with his performance, they can vote him out of power.
PT: Adamawa PDP recently still came to the party’s national secretariat. I don’t know what brought them. But to your knowledge, is there any crisis within the PDP still even after the election in the state?
Gulak: Well, I think as a party we are not focussed and united in Adamawa state and that was brought about by the selection of candidates for the election of 2015. And I believe anywhere, not only in Adamawa state, this party PDP needs new faces and new managers so that Nigerians will begin to have confidence in those who are managing the affairs of the party at all levels ward, local government and state levels. I’m not liming my political knowledge to Adamawa state. I am a national figure and so I believe PDP at all levels needs new managers if we want to really take this party to the next level as an opposition party.
PT: What is your assessment of the governor in power now?
Gulak: Well, every government even at the central level, I still believe needs to be given chance. They need to be given time before you access. So you don’t begin to criticise somebody because you are in opposition. No. At least every reasonable person will say let us give them time. Let them begin implementing the budget 2016, 2017, 2018, then we will stand up. And after we have chronicled their failure then we tell Nigerians this is the change you ask for and this is what you’ve gotten, are you happy about it? Can you feed yourself three times a day? Why are your children out of school? But any person criticising Buhari or APC government right now I think is not strategically good. Allow them to fumble, chronicled those failures and keep the records. But now what are you criticising?