By Ochereome Nnanna
THE suspension of Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume is a matter of national importance but first let me put his matter in perspective.
I encountered Ndume who represents Borno South in the Senate for the first and only time in April 2016 when he accompanied Governor Kashim Shettima to receive my Newspaper’s Governor of the Year 2015 Award. Also in the governor’s suite at the Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island, was Senator Baba Kaka Garbai (Borno Central) who audaciously in February 2016 countered the Federal Government’s claim of having “technically” defeated Boko Haram by pointing out that only three out of the 27 local government areas of Borno, were safe from the Jihadist terror outfit. There was also Senator Abubakar Kyari of Borno North who is the Chairman of the Red Chamber’s Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Shettima has always been a uniting force.
Ndume is a very remarkable fellow. Black like charcoal, he always wears dazzling white flowing robes, white caps and white shoes. He is also very articulate, and as a legislator who has seen action in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, he never keeps quiet or out of sight.
You will recall that Senator Ndume has been linked with Boko Haram, though he vehemently denies it. In fact, he is still on trial over this allegation. How he still managed to win again to represent his people (the bulk of Sambisa Forest is in his constituency and so is Chibok town from where the school girls were abducted) is an issue that only he and his Borno South constituents can explain.
So, a politician that many Nigerians believed should be a persona non-grata for his alleged but yet to be substantiated mix-up with terrorists not only won re-election but also came to the Senate to mark up his profile. From Chairman, Senate Committee on the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, he hooked up with the Bukola Saraki group among the All Progressives Congress, APC, senators which had a working alliance with their Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, colleagues, and emerged as the Leader of the Senate on June 23, 2015. It was a continuation of the “coup” that the Saraki group consisting mainly of the “new” PDP faction of the APC had mounted against the new ruling party’s leaders, which had preferred Senator Ahmed Lawan, another hotshot parliamentarian and loyalist of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Ndume lasted some nineteen months as Senate Leader. In January 2017, Ndume left the Senate plenary for his afternoon Muslim prayers. By the time he returned to his seat, he had been replaced as Senate Leader by his old opponent, Senator Lawan! How come?
Obviously, Saraki and his supporters in the Senate felt that Ndume had outlived his usefulness. Two issues were responsible for that. Number one: Saraki, a master of political intrigues, had been in a hot soup since he grabbed the Senate presidency through rebellion. All the anti-graft agencies were after him. He was on trial both in the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, and the regular courts. But he kept his head and continued to give the Presidency a smooth sail in the Senate rather than use his position to fight back.
Meanwhile, the cosy relationship between President Buhari and Saraki’s main traducer, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, had gone a bit sour, and Tinubu had started being nudged to the fringe of party’s and governmental affairs. Saraki’s friendly posture to the President made him an attractive replacement for the space that Tinubu had so magisterially occupied. The Party, instead of replacing Lai Mohammed (who had become Information Minister) with another Tinubu acolyte, offered it to Saraki in the person of Malam Bolaji Abdullahi.
Saraki in return quite nimbly traded in Ndume as Senate Leader handing the plum post to Buhari’s man, Senator Lawan.
Ndume had played himself into this conspiracy by choosing to be a “good” Borno senator. That same January 2017, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo had submitted the name of fellow Borno man, Ibrahim Mustafa Magu, to the Senate for confirmation as Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. While the Senate, by overwhelming vote, turned back Magu based (ostensibly) on adverse security reports by the State Security Services, Ndume came out to tell the world that the Senate had not rejected Magu. That was it for him as Senate Leader.
The last straw that led to Ndume’s six-month suspension was the rather foolish tendering of newspaper reports (originally published by an Online media) in plenary claiming that Senator Dino Melaye did not graduate from the Ahmadu Bello University, and that Saraki had imported a vehicle without paying correct Customs duties. Saraki simply asked the Senator Samuel Anyanwu Privileges Committee which turned in a recommendation to suspend Ndume, a wish the senators overwhelmingly carried.
Debates have raged, even among lawyers, about the propriety of suspending an elected representative in the legislature. My take is that while constituents have a right to be represented, if a legislator misbehaves or acts in a manner that exposes the institution to ridicule, suspension is not out of place. But it should not be a protracted suspension beyond a month or two because of the constitutional right of constituents to be represented.
Ndume is a victim of circumstances and his own naiveté. After Governor Shettima’s diplomatic shuttle for his pardon, I think it is best for Ndume to be brought back, provided he apologises to his colleagues.
This is more so because he represents a constituency and state that is at war. With Boko Haram making a new upsurge and the Internally Displaced Persons needing all the representations they can get to attract succour, it may not be in the overall national interest to keep their senatorial seat vacant for all of six months. Besides, this is politics. It has a way of paying back a debt in the same currency.