Senator Ali Ndume, the immediate past Senate Leader from Gwoza town, Borno State and he represents Borno South Senatorial District in the Senate. Senator Ndume who has crisscrossed the two major political tendencies in the country in this interview responds to issues arising from the recent defections, the successes of the Muhammadu Buhari administration even as he asserts that Buhari and the APC are invincible in the forthcoming elections. Excerpts:
By Henry Umoru, Assistant Political Editor
It has not been well in the past few weeks with your party, the APC, what is your take?
I want to say that this is not very unusual, this is a common recurrence in the political scene. Every four years when it is approaching election time and because of varied interests, because of signs that are coming to individuals that want to re-contest or want to change position; you will find this defection, it is very common.
Where do you belong with the spate of defections?
I am a permanent member of APC, I cannot move to PDP and I cannot abandon President Muhammadu Buhari for personal reasons because he is my mentor. Even the last time when I strayed into PDP or I went on sabbatical leave to PDP, I had a strong discussion with him, not with his approval, but he was quite aware.
So we are on course, the challenge is common and surmountable and those that left need President Buhari more than he needs them, everybody knows that. None of them can say that he has gone away and that the fortune of APC will not affect him. We wish them well and as it is rightly said, some have already said no, it is better to be where I am than to go to somewhere I don’t know, it is better to be in a particular place than to embark on a journey with no destination.
Do you see it as boosting the opposition party, the PDP?
When you talk about PDP it only exists in two geopolitical zones, South South and South East. So no matter how the movement is when you have six geopolitical zones and you only have two and in most areas in the north PDP is virtually becoming something like a taboo. I can speak for my state authoritatively; you cannot fly the flag of PDP and get anything, all those that are in PDP are there to fill the statutory gaps so that you have chairman of the party, secretary of the party and all the others in name, but not to win election in the north east for example.
Are you saying that their leaving will not affect President Buhari’s re-election in 2019?
Not at all; I am a Muslim and I believe in my religion and even in Christianity, the Bible said the same thing, God gives power to whoever He wants, not PDP or anybody, that is one.
In APC, it is like two in one party; we have APC that is the conglomeration of those that formed the APC and we have Buhari’s factor himself. Buhari as a person went into election three times and lost, but he garnered 2 million votes, and we can take that to the bank.
And then we now have Southwest that has the next largest population apart from Northwest. Northwest is in the kitty of APC, Southwest and more than half of Northeast and half of North-Central and we are encroaching into Southeast, in South-South; so we have more chances than PDP.
PDP is more or less a taboo in Nigeria now and that is why they are contemplating on changing their name because if you go to some places like Borno and if you shout PDP, people will start running away, even if they change their names as others have defected and changed their party, the voters have not changed.
You change party, but those that will vote for you are still the same and it is like when you are wearing a blue shirt and you steal something and destroy a place and then you enter a room and change your dress to white thinking that when you come out they won’t know you, they will know you, they will look at your face, they know the type of person you are.
Now you will discover that it is the majority of people that have skeletons and dead bodies in their cupboards that are so scared of this government because one of its cardinal Programmes is to fight against corruption and they have seen that the President is not ready to compromise that for anybody and they know that the law will get to them eventually.
So what they want to do is to stop Buhari; don’t you find it very strange that such people that fought and left and then they come back, what is their disagreement when they left and now what have they resolved that is taking them back? The common enemy to them is Buhari and why he is pan enemy to them is because he is not compromising on the fight against corruption and the majority of these people that are scared are those that are looking for a safe haven.
It is said in some quarters that the fight against corruption is selective, that is centred on the opposition party.
First of all there is no truth in that allegation, most of the corruption cases that have been done now are cases that are old and is it not surprising when you say that the prosecution is being selective, why the two prominent people that have been convicted and are serving prison terms now, Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye have both decamped from PDP to APC, and they were jailed during the APC government.
So how do you say there is selectivity in that kind of a thing. Those that are going through trial are going through due process; those that are innocent cannot be convicted. If you don’t have any skeleton in your cupboard, there is no need to fear.
Do you see a link between the defection of last Tuesday and what happened on June 9th 2015 when Senator Bukola Saraki became Senate President against the desire of the presidency?
All has not been too well in the Senate throughout the tenure of this government unfortunately. Starting from the emergence of the leadership which was against the wish of the executive and the party and since then, there has been no love lost. The party on its own has not been able to manage the National Assembly.
The National Assembly, has remained consistently stubborn and instead of supporting the government, they were more or less engaged in sabotaging the government. Instead of being interdependent, the leadership of the National Assembly is insisting that they should be independent as if you have three or two presidents in the country.
Unfortunately all this while, the President of the Senate has seen himself as the president of the legislature and he sees the president as the president of the executive, not the president of the country and that is where the problem started and people didn’t get it right and now the bubble has burst and the consequence will definitely be on those that do not have power and those that don’t have powers are the legislators of course.
In fact the judicial arm of government has more powers than the legislators because if the judge says you should go to jail, members cannot go and protest at the front of that court and say no; you can only go and appeal and it is in the judiciary too you will appeal. But when people forget that and when they sit in front of 108 persons they get carried away and that I think is what happened to the Senate President, unfortunately and he is paying for it.
The problem continued because our party did not allow yesterday to go. When you look at what happened during the PDP and Aminu Tambuwal, the party decided to put the issue behind it and worked with Tambuuwal, Ihedioha and others.
Our party has been so liberal. In the PDP days could a Senate President have emerged against the wishes of the party?
But it happened in the House of Representatives even when PDP zoned speaker it was distorted by Tambuwal, heavens did not fall!
Unfortunately I was part of the people who started the rebellion when we removed Patricia Etheh and then we ganged up with half of PDP then to produce Bankole as the Speaker and since then it showed the PDP people that were enslaved as they had the liberty to put whoever they wanted. But at that time, they put Tambuwal and somebody from the Southeast as a deputy and that was fairness.
But in our case, the party did not manage it very well but it was trying to be democratic by what President Buhari said I can work with anybody go and sort yourself out but of course there was underneath cut and now it has exploded.
People thought that your emergence as the Senate Leader would have solved the problem?
I tried my best, there was more peace in the Senate than it is now and I was more or less bipartisan. I was able to bring our members together and we were more united than now and this turbulence that we went through maybe it would have been smoother if I was the Senate Leader and I tried my best and it was in trying to play along and work with the executive that I lost my seat, I insisted that Magu should be confirmed because he didn’t do anything wrong.
I also brought this issue that cost me the suspension to clear the image of the Senate that the noise about the importation of Saraki’s car and certificate of Dino should be investigated which should be a normal thing that should be done. And besides I have been helpful to them because that brought the issue to an end.
How would you rate the Saraki Senate as compared to the David Mark Senate?
Well, I will give the leadership of David Mark credit and I will give Saraki fail because actually we have failed given these circumstances where you keep on fighting.
During the days of Senator David Mark, it was not as if we were subservient or we were rubber stamp of the executive, but we had a smooth working relationship.
But this time unfortunately Saraki turned the Senate into another thing and then senators were geared towards thinking only about the Senate and therefore we don’t have Senate President, but we have senator’s president. It is unfortunate and it was because of the leadership style of Saraki and it is landing him in big problem. And I think he is now embarked on a journey of political self-destruction.
Now, what are you doing as a party to ensure that you don’t have more cases of defection or crisis in the ruling party?
Every disappointment is a blessing, their defection became a blessing to the party, we went to pledge our complete loyalty to Mr President where almost all of us were there, but before now, we didn’t have that kind of cooperation and unity, but now we have all agreed and pledged before Mr President that the 53 of us here are your people and we pledge our unwavering loyalty to you; we will support you and support your programmes, support our party and support the government.
That means that the defection of our colleagues made us to consolidate ourselves. Before we were scattered, we had some of us that were following Saraki; and those that are following Saraki neck deep have been posted to PDP by Saraki.
Why was Senator Saraki absent at the meeting with the President?
I don’t know why Saraki was not there, I am not the senate leader so I wasn’t the one that sent the invitation, I was equally invited and I turned up promptly, so I don’t know why he didn’t turn up.
What is your future political career; Senate or governorship?
No, I prefer being in the Senate because that is where I grew up. I have been in the National Assembly in the past 15 years that is more or less my home and some people call us the landlords of the National Assembly, so I prefer being in the legislative arm till my retirement, but power comes from God and He gives it to whoever He wants. I don’t intend to contest for the governorship of Borno state unless my people say come and contest.
There is mutter that the government has not met the expectation of the people especially on the three cardinal programmes?
That is not true, your statement is completely untrue. If you go to my state and make that statement in the market, people will at least insult you and some will even attack you. I can assure you that people will tell you that they are happy that he is doing the three basic things : fighting corruption, building infrastructure and also facing the security challenges. Besides, the programme of this government for the past four years have been more people oriented than elites oriented and that is why the elites continue to use the media to castigate and to say all sorts of stories and what have you about the government.
But I can agree that this government is not popular with the elites, the elites that stole government money, the elites that believe in carrying briefcase and making millions of money just by signing papers, the days of that type of business is gone. Government is providing the enabling environment for local manufacturers and local industries to thrive, it has closed the borders, it has banned the importation of all those goods that can be locally manufactured and they are doing fine.
Given the simultaneous sieges to the homes of Saraki and Ekweremadu last Tuesday, it is alleged that there was a plot to unseat the two men.
I went Borno and I came back Monday 9th. I came into the chambers at around 11 a.m. I have asked my colleagues if they were aware of any meeting at the Transcorp or any plan to do, you know I am supposed to be at the centre or at least I should be informed and I am telling you that there was nothing like that. It is just that there were issues that Saraki has with the police and there are issues that Ekweremadu has with the EFCC on invitation and such like that. And when they said they barricaded the Senate President’s convoy, the AIG came out and issued a statement that it was not true and they went ahead to investigate the matter whether some people are being overzealous.
And what is the big deal about inviting Saraki on the issue that is connected with robbery that over 30 people were killed? The law is not discriminatory and if you have no skeleton in your cupboard you have no reason to fear.
I nearly became the deputy Senate President, in fact, I attempted to be the Senate President I wanted, I ended up being candidate for deputy Senate President, then there was connivance between PDP and Saraki and they betrayed me, but that was what God gave me, and what God gave me was Senate Leader for one and half years and I served my time and I finished well and my people are not judging between me and the person that took over from me and for what I am now, I thank God for everything.
Have you put the issue of your suspension behind you?
Yes I have put that behind me it is over. How many people died in that chamber and somebody was also suspended too unjustly Omo- Agege; so I am moving on with my life.