Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, Minority Leader House of Representatives (2007-2011, Senate Majority Leader 2015-2017 and one of the major contenders for 9th Senate presidency has revealed why he will not step down for anybody ahead of election in June. Ndume who represents Borno South in the Senate, said he has got the blessing of President Muhammadu Buhari to go for the No 3 seat describing the alleged endoresement of Senator Ahmed Lawan by the ruling party as personal opinion of Adams Oshemhole, the APC National Chairman. Excerpts:
Q. Coming from a very tough election, and now facing another hot race with your colleagues, what’s the relationship like between you and other contenders?
A. We’re actually three now, myself, Goje and Ahmad Lawan, and we have a very cordial relationship. We’re from the same geopolitical zone, the North-East. For Lawan, we had been in the House together, and now in the Senate. It’s a competition, not a fight.
I’ve said it before. Not only the three of them, all the other 108 senators are eminently qualified to be Senate President. It’s not a big deal, as far as I’m concerned. That incidentally ties in directly to a point of my agenda, to make the office of the Senate President to not be sucha a big deal. But now it’s a big deal, because of the unnecessary privileges attached to it.
So, like I said, we’re in a competition. It’s just that Ahmad Lawan is Ahmad Lawan, and Goje is Goje, so also Ndume is Ndume. What I expect is that whoever emerges, the others should just rally round him and support him so that we’ll move the country forward.
Q. But specifically, why do you want to be Senate President?
Q. One, it’s a matter of right. As a senator elected to represent my people and the Senate President’s position being zoned to the North-East, I feel I have the right, the qualification, and the experience required.
Two, and most importantly, one of the reasons we lobbied for the office to be zoned to the North-East, is because of the situation that we have found ourselves in as a result of insurgency. We’ve all seen the damage. In Borno alone, a damage of $9.2bn has been inflicted on us. If you exchange that to naira, it will translate to close to trillions. That’s a huge damage that can’t be funded by the Nigerian government or the budget of the state alone. The Borno State Government budget hangs around N100bn annually. If you say you’re going to take all of that in rebuilding Borno, it will take you 27 years or more.
This is a rare opportunity. We may not have the opportunity in the North-East, not to talk of Borno having the chance again. I have the required experience, I’m a cognate member. I was a minority leader in the House of Reps from 2007 to 2011. I was the Senate Leader until early 2017.
I have seen the devastation, and I feel it, especially because I’ve been directly affected. I’m a victim. My whole lLocal government, even now, is not freely accessible. The office of the Senate President can be used to rally global support, or to have the world know what you’re facing. The influence of what one can do as Senate President is more and can’t be compared to what an ordinary senator will do.
I have my own ideas of what the Senate should be. You look at the office and make it an office of the Senate President, not ‘Senators’ President’.
Even on the funding of the budget, I think we can do a lot. We fund our budget through internal and external borrowing. There are a lot of loopholes that need to be covered by law. There are some other tax avenues that should be exploited. Other countries are generating big money from communications service tax. Our communications companies are not paying due tax, they just pay what they want. We need to look at our tax laws.
There’s a need to also look at our constituency projects that have become so controversial so that it would become transparent. The management of the National Assembly should also be carried out in terms of their welfare and rights. These are some of the things I have in mind, if given the opportunity.
Q. Due to the unique situation you’re in, if Mr. President asks you to step down for another candidate, would you oblige?
ANS. I don’t think Mr. President will ask that of me, because he has never interfered in the electoral process. Besides, there’s no reason for me to step down. One can only say ‘step down’ if maybe Mr. A is better-qualified than Mr. B. Just like I won’t step down, I wouldn’t want anybody to step down for me. Let’s go into election and allow the senators to elect whom they want, that’s all I’m calling for. In fact, I’m totally against imposition, because it’s undemocratic. The chairman of the party who said ‘this is a candidate’ wasn’t imposed on us. So, why should he come to the Senate to do that?
Q. But has the party leadership approached you on the issue?
Ndume: No, not at all. Nobody has approached me, and nobody will. Mr. President emerged through consensus, but there were people who wanted to contest against him. So, I can’t be different. I don’t think anybody will approach me to say I should step down. I was given that offer during the primaries, but I said no. What the party’s constitution allows is that among us, we can negotiate and say we’ve agreed that among the three of us, we’ve nominated so and so person to go into contest. The party has to abide by what its constitution says.
Q. Are you saying the party erred by recommending Lawan?
ANS. The party hasn’t even taken a decision, technically.
DT: But Oshiomhole mentioned Lawan during a meeting where the president reportedly aligned with the party’s position…
ANS. The party, technically, hasn’t decided that it’s Ahmad Lawan, because Adams Oshiomhole is the chairman, and the chairman of the party is not the party. We went to the presidential villa and Oshiomhole said they have recommended Ahmad Lawan after consultation, and we objected. The president was supposed to say that, but he declined, and allowed him to say that.
The president didn’t say he aligned himself with the position. He said ‘you have done the most difficult aspect of it.’ But that’s the party’s position. The party’s position is binding on me to the extent of its legality, not to the extent of depriving me my right or encroaching on the constitution. As far as I’m concerned, Oshiomhole erred by narrowing down to a particular person. I consider that as his personal opinion.
Before I went into contest, I spoke with Mr. President, and got his blessing. I spoke with Tinubu and other elders. I wrote to the party. But up till now, there is nothing from the party asking me not to contest. All the other contestants didn’t write to the party, but I did.
Q. If you become Senate President, what kind of relationship do you see yourself having with the Executive?
ANS. The head of the Executive is President Muhammadu Buhari. Every Nigerian knows that I’m one of those that you can call a ‘Buharist’, because I believe in his integrity and what he stands for. He has been our mentor since his days as governor of North-Eastern State, as far back as 1976 when I was in secondary school.
I want to say without fear of any contradiction that I’m closer to Buhari than most of these people in the APC now. We have a relationship, a very cordial one. I respect him, and he respects me too. He knows me very well. I stand by him. Part of my political travails was as a result of firmly standing by him. I was removed as Senate Leader because I stood by his policy. I was suspended because I stood by his anti-corruption drive.
My emergence will enhance the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature. The rancourous situation that existed in the 8th Senate between the Executive and the Legislature won’t happen in my time.
Q. Some people see you as a ‘rebel’, saying you aligned with Saraki in 2015, and now you want to cause more problems. What’s your take on that?
ANS. I’m a party loyalist to the core. If not, I’d have contested for Senate President that time outright. The party ab initio didn’t handle that 2015 scenario very well. We were waiting for zoning, and we formed a group. We invited almost everybody to that group, which we called ‘Like Minds.’ We agreed then that if it was zoned to the North-East, myself, Binta, Goje and Ahmad Lawan showed interest. If it was zoned to North-Central, Abdullahi Adamu, Saraki and Akume had interest.
There was a committee set up by the party headed by Segun Oni. They came up with a recommendation to the national caucus that the Senate President should be retained in the North-Central. That was why I gave up. There was a little objection that the president-elect then, and others, were not consulted. Up till now, the result of the new position of the party has not been made public.
Before we went into election, we went to the then party chairman, Oyegun, to ask him if there was change in the zoning arrangement, and he said ‘no’. So, we went ahead to say ‘Saraki, you’re the one.’ Unfortunately, we suddenly heard that Lawan and Akume forged an alliance as Senate President and Deputy Senate President candidates, but we continued. We didn’t want to go against the party since the Senate President was zoned to the North-Central.
There was connivance between Saraki and PDP, which I didn’t know. That was how Ekweremadu emerged as Deputy Senate President. Even with that, I got all the votes from the APC senators present. The PDP senators voted for their own.
They went back and said they wanted the Senate Leader to be given to Lawan, but we said it wasn’t done like that. We went to Goje’s office as our zonal leader to conduct election. He wanted to be Senate Leader too, and Saraki preferred Goje to me because they’re closer as former governors. I insisted that since I lost out as Deputy Senate President, I should be made the Senate Leader. We did an election, and Lawan got two votes while I got 10. I feel insulted when people say the position of Senate Leader was given to me.
Q How are you relating with PDP senators to get their support considering the number they have, which is around 43?
ANS: Politics isn’t something that you discuss, and lay down your strategies on the table as you want. All I can tell you is that I’m in the contest, and I’m in the contest not to lose. If I have to win. I’m talking to all my colleagues, those that listen to me.
I thank God for what I am today. I’m a son of a nobody, who became somebody without knowing anybody. That means whatever I am today, it’s because of God alone. My sticking in the contest is based on my faith.
Q. You’re contesting for the office of the Senate President at a time Nigeria is facing serious security challenges. How do you intend to use the position to contain the situation?
ANS: The security challenges in this country are there because we don’t have what it takes to face them in the first place. The whole of Nigeria has less than 200,000 men and women in the armed forces. We have less than 400,000 policemen and women. Other security apparatus combined, we don’t have up to a million. Egypt that has a population of barely 80 million has one million police officers and about two million soldiers.
In Nigeria, the equipment and the manpower are not there. Even those that are in service, if you go and see, the environment in which they live and operate, the services provided to them, you’ll feel sorry for them. You’ll think it’s not possible to even work. You can imagine that our soldiers fighting Boko Haram are living in conditions that even animals don’t. So, the Legislature will have to come in by enacting laws in whatever way that will help the situation. It can make more funds available to the security agencies to perform.
Q Do you think that senators should make an input in the budget?
ANS. Of course, yes. In fact, in the US, the budget office is resident in Congress. But the problem is abuse. But I believe that as representatives of the people, we should have input in the budget. But there must be checks and balances so that people won’t abuse that. Our budget process needs to be checked for transparency.
Q. Back to the Senate presidency contest, are you planning to reach out to the two contenders, and probably ask them to step down for you?
ANS I don’t want anybody to step down for me. I must say that I’m talking to the contenders, and if they voluntarily step down for me, it’s a different thing. But they have their rights, their agenda, and reasons for the contest. One of them has even been endorsed. How do you ask someone that’s endorsed to step down for you? In my own case, how do you ask somebody whom you are sitting on his seat to leave another empty seat for you? Ahmad Lawan is sitting on my seat, and another seat is available. Who’s supposed to take that seat?