By Olalekan Bilesanmi
Ismael Ahmed is Senior Special Assistant to the President on Social Investment. He is also a member of the APC Board of Trustees. In this Channels TV interview, Ahmed says it is very important that all political parties call their members in the National Assembly to reconvene.
Are you satisfied with the way your party is going about the issues in the National Assembly?
What do you expect me to say? That I’m not impressed with my party?
Okay, is this the best way your party can go about it?
I think the issue of reconvening the NASS attracts too much importance, such that the budget of INEC should be handled in a bi-partisan way. It should not only be a partisan call of APC. Other parties should also call their members in the National Assembly and ask them to do whatever is necessary to get them back on the table because this is about democratic patriotism. It is a national call to duty. We are six months away from elections, that is, less than 180 days; and it is going to be one of the consequential elections for a long time because of the way things are moving and because of the sovereignity and maturity Nigerians attained in 2015 by displacing the incumbent President. I think with the sovereignity and maturity Nigerians have attained, they want to exercise a bit more in 2019. So, anything that would inhibit that possibility is something everybody should be concerned about. It is not supposed to be APC calling. I think it should be all political parties calling on their members to come back to parliament to see that these things are reconsidered.
From the look of things, isn’t it sad when people think or say that the main reason they think your party wants the National Assembly to reconvene is because it wants to remove the leadership?
You know the price you pay for liberal democracy like Nigeria, in particular, is that you are free to say whatever you want. In all honesty, I think that the leadership of the National Assembly can only be removed by the members of the legislature. First of all, in 2015, Senatot Bukola Saraki emerged as Senate President. He did that, more or less, with 5, 6, 8 APC senators in the chamber? The majority of the people that were in the chamber at the time he was elected or selected, unopposed, were PDP members. This is a numbers’ issue. And we just have to work on our members. If we want him removed, of course, we want to see an APC senator as President, we have the majority, but it is not something we are going to pre-occupy ourselves with at this point in time. If it is something we want, I think it is a convention, since 1999, that people who have presided over the chambers, the House and the Senate, are people who belonged to the majority party. But, ultimately, the responsibility of taking out any presiding officer is the sole prerogative of members of that assembly. Yes, we can call on our members, if we can get the numbers, there is no short cut to this. We have to work on the numbers, we have to do the ground work, we have to play the political game.
When you say working the numbers, you mean through blackmail?
Who is blackmailing who?
It is just a question. You said ‘work the numbers’, how do you mean?
We have to get hold of our own members to make sure that ‘we want you to give us a new Senate President, and he has to be a member of the APC’.
That means you don’t have the number as of yet. You don’t have the 73?
I think the Constitution says two-third, not less than two-third. Whether it is two-third of the whole house or of those sitting, that is the debate.
You are a lawyer. If you had less than the entire Senate electing or selecting who became Senate President, would you subscribe to the scenario playing out now, that just a couple of senators can also remove the Senate President?
This is not about speculation or conjecture. This is about the law. If the law says we need not less than two-third of members, so, now the debate is whether it is members sitting at a time of the election or removal or is it a sitting of the whole house?
What do you think as a lawyer?
It is not about what I think. It is about the Constitution and its interpretation.
I know that there are Speakers of state assemblies that have been removed by few members attending.
You said a while ago that it should not be only the APC that is calling for reconvening of NASS; but it has been explained that the Committees are already working and until they finish their work, there is no need for the reconvenning of the whole house. Since it is about the process, the process is on already.
I think this is an annual recess. But what is happening is about politics and the optics is perception. Where there is a serious issue on ground, people don’t want to see their senators go on holiday. This is not the time to go home for holiday.
But the Committees are working.
Which means they are not on holiday. They might as well just recenvene, then they can tell the Committees to finish the job on time, much earlier than the whole of September. It is simply optics. Everybody should go to his office.
Those Committees, aren’t they headed by members of your party, so why would they be sitting at home?
That is my point. My point is that reconvening simply means, okay, pressure would be put on the Committees but what the senator is saying now is that ‘we are waiting for the Committees to finish, let them take their time’. The bottom line is that there is optics and every Nigerian believes that the Senate or the National Assembly should reconvene and, if they are representing the people, then they should heed the call.
Since the Committees have members of your party, why isn’t your party putting the required pressure on them so that they can finish the work on time?
That is also happening, I am sure. It is the duty of the party to put pressure on any arm of government to ensure that it does its job very well. Nigerians are putting pressure on us and we are putting pressure on our members and Nigerians are also putting pressure. The Senate is saying the budget was submitted late but this is an issue that goes to the foundation of our democracy and I think it is up to the presiding officers of NASS to do the right thing.
But the Chairman of your party insists that the Senate President must resign
That’s an oxymoron first of all. You cannot say ‘MUST’. It’s about honour. He is calling for the moral conscience of the Senate President. Since 1999, the presiding officers have always come from the majority party; that is not a legal requirement. Like I said, we have to work the numbers, no amount of press conferences or social media tweeting can get the Senate President out. We are working the numbers already.
But some people are of the opinion that this same INEC budget can be funded using the Service Wide Vote?
I don’t know the mathematics of that, so I won’t go into something that I’m not too conversant with. And I know that we have tried to find a way to do somethings in the executive arm that the Senate or the House of Reps have come up to ask questions about processes.
Some say there’s no way NASS would reconvene and the issue of leadership would not overshadow the issue of the budget
Let me tell you, whether they reconvene now or later in September, the issue of leadership would still come up, so it doesn’t make any difference. So, you might as well reconvene for a good purpose. Look, if there is one thing that President Muhammadu Buhari is very clear about, it is about the election. He wants it to hold and he’s not going to interfere and his resolve for these is unflinching. The elections are going to be free and fair.
This is how it works and some things are working to his advantage. First is that the other major party is likely going to field a northern candidate who is likely to have to do his eight years but President Buhari has just another four years to go for, when he wins next year. That way, many people from other parts of the country would rather let President Buhari finish his eight years and get their turn in 2023, than allow another northerner win and do fresh eight years.
That is not what happened in 2015 because the former President did not do his own second four years?
That’s exactly my point because it was believed that the former President took the second four years of the North, after making a commitment in 2011 that he was going to run for just one term and that was why those northern governors left him, except Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers. This President is committed to abiding by that, so a lot of people would be more comfortable having him.
When you look at what is happening in Kano…?
Kano has consistently voted for President Buhari since 2003.
But the combination of Mallam Shekarau and Senator Kwankwaso could dent that?
I would be totally naive to sit here and tell you that the combination of those two would not affect our fortunes in Kano. I’m not going to sit here and say that. But we have to work and the President would still win Kano. Yes, these two individuals have ruled for a combination of 16years, so they would pull their weight. As far as the 2019 presidential election is concerned, there are many things going for this President. Since 1999, the South-East has always voted for the party at the centre. This is the first time they’ll vote when there’s another party at the centre apart from the PDP and they will likely vote for the APC.
Is the nation moving forward?
We are moving but not at the pace that we want and certainly not at the pace that the President himself wants. We made a lot of promises but we were hit with realities when we came in. Looking back, I think NIgerians ought to appreciate the efforts of this government in making their lives better and, from the office where I operate, Social Investment, I know how much we have been able to transform a lot of people’s lives. We are feeding 8.5million children every school day – 8.5million children in about 50,000 schools in 25 states, through 100,000 cooks, that get money directly from the Federal Government.