His pathetic tales of Boko Haram widows, orphans
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Senator Ali Ndume represents Borno South on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party and is Chairman, Senate Committee on MDG. He was a victim of aerial attack by a fighter jet in Pulka, Borno State but he escaped unhurt. In this interview, he tells his survival story. Ndume also speaks on why federal lawmakers are rushing out of the PDP and it’s political implication as well as the state of the nation under President Goodluck Jonathan.
There was an aerial attack on your convoy in Pulka town, Borno State. What really happened?
I was on constituency visit to my local government. That Saturday, l had two assignments. I was going to sympathise with my people in the Gwosa East council area who were recently attacked by Boko Haram insurgents. Most of them were so scared that they had started to relocate. Secondly, there was an incident again as a result of insurgency that ignited a problem between the Christian and the Moslem community in a town called Ugoshe. I was there to reconcile them.
I told their leadership earlier that l will like to mediate in the dispute and they agreed. So I fixed a meeting for that day. Again, l was to deliver a letter to the Emir of Gwosa in my local government who was upgraded from a second class king to a first class traditional ruler. And so, when l went that Saturday to do the first two assignments, l asked the other contingent in my team, consisting of local government representatives at the Government House, members of the state House of Assembly, some special advisers and special assistants to the governor and some of our elders in Maiduguri including the Secretary to Local Government, that they should join me in Pulka. On arriving Pulka, I stopped over to ask whether the convoy that was supposed to join me from Maiduguri had arrived.
They said they were just ten or twenty kilometers away. I then decided to kind of relieve myself from the crowd that came to greet discuss with me. As l was about to join the federal highway from Pulka to Gwosa, I heard a big explosion behind me. When l turned back, l saw the whole place covered by a thick smoke. Initially, l thought it was from Boko Haram. I even suspected some youths sitting by the side, thinking they were the ones that detonated a bomb probably planted on the highway.
But I was told by the military detachment ahead of me that the bomb was thrown by airforce jet hovering over us. And there was, indeed, an airforce jet hovering over us around ten minutes after 2pm that day. Infact, l have the leftover shells of that bomb, about four of them. Even the villagers there took three of those bomb shells and kept with them and l took one as evidence. So l am surprised to hear different stories from the airforce spokesman after the authorities initially admitted that the bombing was a mistake on their part.
Now they turned back to say nothing like that happened. My worry is that if that bomb had hit me, l will not be talking to you now. And that means there will be nobody that will be telling my side of the story. And it is unfortunate that the security agency, didn’t contact me or anybody in Pulka to cross check my claims. Any resident of Pulka and even the army base there, will tell you there was an explosion from the airforce jet that was hovering and we tried to establish communication with them. It is unfortunate that somebody will sit down in Abuja and, without doing his work or investigating what happened, will come out to say that something like that didn’t happen.
Does it mean that the Nigerian Air Force lied that there was no such attack?
I am not that kind of person that will be apportioning blames. But l am a senator, a representative of the people. I am a stakeholder in this country. I should be able to contribute my quota. The NAF authorities cannot say they are perfect. And let me say here, that this is not the first blunder they committed. This is the second one in that area. After the incident, the police told me that they had a similar case in a town near Kano Road. It is a different highway entirely.
But the police have not been lucky like me because one of them lost his arm. Now they are coming out to say that their officers are well trained and perfect. If they say it didn’t happen in my own case, will they also say the same thing about the police case? That police officer now had his arm amputated. The Nigerian Air Force should have simply admitted their shortcoming and say the mistake happened and that they would make sure that it will not happen again.
Now assuming l didn’t inform them, if you just see a convoy moving like that because there is insurgency in Borno, is that enough reason to throw bomb on them on a federal highway. Initially l thought it was a mistake, but now that they have started denying, l am suspicious. If they had admitted that the bombing was a mistake, then my suspicion wouldn’t have been raised. I did not know that l have to contact the airforce to get clearance to go to my constituency. But l am a politician for God’s sake and l have to visit my senatorial district where people are dying to sympathise with them.
What was the reaction of Pulka people when the bomb landed?
The people almost rioted, but l had to calm them down. I told them that this must be a mistake from the airforce. We thank God nobody was hurt. But some people are now thinking that since there was a report earlier that there were some politicians on watch list or hit list, may be Senator Ali Ndume was one of them. No, l don’t want to think like that. I can be on the watch or target list, but l believe that nobody can take my life except God. So l don’t want to shift my faith and trust in God to think that anybody can take my life if God doesn’t approve. If l do that, God will now give that person the chance to do so.
We understand there have been similar unreported threats to your life. Who are behind these threats and why were they not reported?
This is a security matter. But l reported some to the appropriate authorities. I even reported some to the President. I wrote to Mr President. I was evacuated from Maiduguri in March 2013 when the President was visiting. Security agents said Boko Haram operatives were to kill me and that l had to leave immediately. They provided me with security and evacuated me to Abuja.
There were two other instances. When the March incident happened, security officeers told me that the Boko Haram commander that had been enlisted to eliminate me was killed somewhere in Sokoto by government agencies. But l didn’t make noise. You don’t need to heighten the situation when you have escaped.
Your state, Borno, is among the North-east states under emergency rule. What is the security situation currently in that area?
Honestly there is improvement. I went round the state. I was in Shani, in Biu, in Gambua and in Gwosa. I went round Gwosa East and Bama. The news that l got that made me excited and hopeful of return to peace is the way the current GOC (General Officer Commanding) commanding the 7th Division, Major General Bindawa is handling the issue of security there. And in Dambua, the battalion commander there, one lieutenant colonel, is also on ground.
When Boko Haram wanted to attack Dambua, he was able to take them on and killed almost over seventy of the insurgents. He lost only one soldier and two civilians. That was very precise and professionally executed operation. I really want to commend the officers on ground. Even that day that l went to Gwosa, there was an insurgent attack from the Mandara mountains, but Captain Habib, who is the acting CO (Commanding Officer) there, was able to repel them.
The period you were attacked, incidentally, was the time Senator Magnus Abe was allegedly shot at by the police in Rivers state. Are these incidents coincidental?
When l came back to Abuja from Borno, l was told that Magnus was shot and l exclaimed.
The police said before anybody can hold a rally, that person must obtain a permit. They said Senator Abe had no such approval to organize a rally and that was why they intervened to stop the gathering. Is that the position of the law?
You don’t need police permission to do that. But let me take it on the other logic. Security agents really have to know that Nigerians are not mad people. They can do analysis. My own analysis when that incident happened was, number one: the police said they shot Abe with a rubber bullet. But when the Senate Committee on Police Affairs went to investigate the matter, the same police said they don’t have rubber bullet.
Senator Abe is lucky because he could have been killed with a live bullet since the police said they have no rubber bullet. It also means that any time they have to quell a riot situation, they use live ammunition. That is the implication of what the police has said.
And it is dangerous for the police in Rivers State where there is this heightened political situation to say they don’t have rubber bullet. So it means they only have live ammunitions that, if need be, they will use. Second, if a senator, unless he is armed and probably pointing a gun at you, is leading a rally, you should be able to confront him and demobilize him if necessary and not necessarily shoot at him or throw teargas at him. It is unfortunate for the police to have shot at Magnus Abe. But we thank God that he is alive.
Many people were shocked when government security linked you with Boko Haram terrorist activities. Why would any one associate Senator Ali Ndume with such violent action. Frankly, to what extent were you involved in the sponsorship of terrorism?
Well, Senator Ali Ndume has nothing whatsoever to do with Boko Haram. Right now, the insurgents are dealing with my people. I have refugees in my town. I have lost so many lives on both sides because l am both from Muslim and Christian background. My mother is a Christian and some of my blood sisters are Christians, while some of my blood brothers are Moslems. In my family, that is how it is.
My junior sister’s name is Diana, followed by David, Naomi and Martina in that order. The husband of Martina, our last born on the side of my mother, who was a secretary to a church in my village, was killed by Boko Haram insurgents. He was closest to me. My mother, too, was a church woman leader until her death. Throughout my election campaign, Martina and her husband were in charge of my feeding. Right now, Martina is under my care.
I relocated her to Jos because of the activities of the insurgents. She was left behind with three children and l had to send them to school right now in Jos. On the other hand,, my junior wife Mariam has a brother who is a Moslem, an immigration officer in a border town in Maiduguri , who was killed in his sleep by Boko Haram. And he left behind three children and a wife. I am the one taking care of them now. So you can see where l am coming from.
Now for government to drag me into the issue of Boko Haram in 2010 when the issue escalated and they formed a Presidential Committee and l started honestly to see how we can resolve this problem, they turned around later on to say that l am a sponsor of Boko Haram because one political thug talked to me on phone. Many people talk to me as senator.
By the way, the case currently is in court and it will be sub-judicial to go into further details of that matter. I just gave you my background for you to use your common sense to see whether somebody like me is Boko Haram or it’s sponsor like government has said.
Let me even add here, that l happen to be a Moslem just as you happen to be a Christian. When l was a little boy in 1960, l was with my mother and, l was a Christian. I grew up in a Christian community up to the time my father who was a Muslim, took me over and I became a Muslim. After I matured, l decided to be a Moslem. Even now, l can not read the Holy Quran. I am trying to learn how to read the Quran. So how can somebody like that be a fanatic to the extent of supporting terrorism.
But in this country, instead of looking for solution, government was initially looking for a scapegoat or they were really trying to politicize this issue of insurgency to take political credit for it. I guess that was why this thing got out of hand until when government realized that this is a cancerous thing that can destroy all of us. Initially, people were saying it is a war against Christians but they have seen that Moslems are being massacred by Boko Haram and so, nobody is talking again.
As senators resume plenary for the year, there have threats in some quarters to declare the seats of some PDP senators like you who defect to the APC vacant. Is it within the law to do so?
This is not the first time members of the National Assembly or even governors are defecting from one party to another. What happened? Nothing! Why should there be any threat now? Is it because for the first time people are massively defecting from the PDP? Many governors from ANPP and from other political parties, at different times, defected to the PDP and nothing happened.
Is it now that seats will be declared vacant simply because some people are moving from PDP to APC? So many members of the House of Representatives have defected to another party. I Senator Ali Ndume defected from ANPP to PDP and what happened? Was my seat declared vacant then? No. So many senators defected from ACN then to the PDP, was any of their seat declared vacant?
Some of my members in the ANPP defected to PDP when l was the minority leader in the House of Representatives. What happened? Nothing. So this issue of declaring anybody’s seat vacant does not arise because it has happened before and it will continue to happen. A member of a political party, you know that if there is crisis in a party, you have the right to defect. Except those who do not want to say the truth, nobody can say that there is no faction in PDP.
In fact in my state, they have almost forgotten PDP because we don’t have a governor. We only have two senators. Do we continue like that? No. So nobody has the right to declare seats vacant because it is the mandate of the people. If you change your political party especially now that the election is coming, if your people don’t like you you will know, from the votes you will But if they like you, you will still maintain your seat.
Are you one of those senators that will defect to the APC from the PDP?
Well, the time has not come yet. Senator Ali Ndume is nobody if it just about my personality. I am the son of a poor man. My father did not go to school. I am not a rich man neither do l have a political godfather. Only the Almighty God is my godfather. I am here at the National Assembly as a senator by the grace of God and the wish of my people. I am consulting with my people on that matter. They were the one that asked me to go to the Senate from the House of Reps.
The leaders in my constituency came together to decide that l should leave the House of Reps and move to the Senate when former governor Ali Modu Sherriff wanted one of his female commissioner to go to the Senate. I have no choice than to bow to the wish of my people because the voice of the people is the voice of God. Secondly, the people give you leadership. If you don’t take it, it means you are not responsible. Otherwise l would have loved to be in House of Representatives because the place is more vibrant and, besides, l was more effective there.
Local governments under the constituency of a Reps member are few. Looking at the situation in our country, it is easier to manage three local governments but now, as a senator, l am representing about nine local governments. I strongly believe that irrespective of where you are, if God wants you to shine, you will surely shine. There are many House of Reps members like the Speaker Hon. Waziri Aminu Tambuwal who are doing well on their job.
Tambuwal is, today, one of the respected eminent citizens of this country. So l really wanted to go back to the House of Reps but my people said in 2011 that I should go to the Senate instead. I want to say here that really l wanted to contest that election on the platform of CPC (Congress for Progressive Change). Why I was shifting grounds that time was because of the injustice I perceived in my party because the then governor (Ali Modu Sherriff) didn’t want me to contest. Like I said earlier, he preferred a female commissioner of his then from my local government.
The elders in my place in their wisdom sat down and said l should go to PDP and contest. That was how l came into the PDP. The PDP gave me waiver, they gave me their form and l contested and won. It was my coming to the PDP along with our gubernatorial candidate with one other that contested, that made it possible for us to get about four members of the National Assembly and six or seven members of the state House of Assembly.
So if my people say l should continue in PDP, so be it. But l don’t see it happening because the fortunes of PDP have dwindled in Borno and our members have deserted the party.
Even me and my other colleague that are supposed to be flying the flag of PDP are being persecuted for obvious reasons. So with this kind of development, one would really have to think not just twice, but so many times, to continue to remain in PDP. But the bottom line for now, l am still consulting on what to do next.