•Says I will support Lawan to succeed
•If it were now I would not have gone to school
By Clifford Ndujihe, Political Editor, & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Born in 1959 into a Christian home in Borno, Senator Samuel Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South) is many things to different people. Some see him as a defender of democracy. To some, he is a stubborn senator. Yet there are those who see him as Boko Haram senator. In a no-holds-barred interview in Abuja after the inauguration of the Ninth Senate, Senator Ndume told Vanguard why he refused to step down for Senator Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe North) despite intense pressure mounted by the leaders of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and why he must ensure that Lawan succeeds. The lawmaker spoke on his growing up and humble beginnings, how he went to a Polytechnic instead of any of the two universities that offered him admission, where Nigeria went wrong, and how personalization and privatization of government have destroyed the country among others.
How did you see what happened in the Senate during the inauguration, last Tuesday?
What happened actually was what I expected to be done but not the outcome. The due process of democracy and rule of law should prevail and as I have been saying, there is no democracy where there is no election. With what happened in the Senate that day, democracy has won.
I insisted that I should be allowed to contest for the position of Senate President. As I said several times, it is God that gives power to whomever He wants at the time He wants it. It is in the Bible and Koran. God disclosed His position that day by giving it to Lawan through my colleagues and I say glory be to God.
If you ask God and He does not give, it means that that thing is not good for you. He may have another thing that is better. That is how I took it and that was why I quickly congratulated my colleague.
Ahmad Lawan is my brother. We are from the same zone and we have been in the National Assembly together for a very long time. As I said, every senator out of the 109 is eminently qualified to be the presiding officer of the Senate. I am ready to give Lawan all the necessary support for us to succeed because if he fails, I also have failed, my party has failed, and my region has failed.
So, I have to do everything to make sure we succeed in making the Ninth Senate clearly different from the Eight Senate that was full of very rancorous relationship with the executive.
All of us including Ahmad Lawan can be called the Buharists. So, I will do everything to protect the integrity, and interest of the president.
I had said before that whether or not I get the position, I will continue to stand by the ideals of Mr President because he is one of my political mentors. I am sure he too will be proud of the way I conducted myself and stood for my right.
The election is over. Now, we are ready to move and do those things that will move the country to the next level. I will continue to pursue my nine-point agenda through the Senate President and as a member of the Senate.
I have some bills that I sponsored in the Eight Senate that have lapsed. I am going to bring them forward again. I also have some ideas as to what the government needs to do to achieve its set objectives.
One of them is the Social Intervention Programme, SIP, which is a policy of this government but there is no law backing it. I will strive to see that we create a law that will back it so that it will not stop with the existence of the Buhari administration.
I think the government should be thinking towards it but if they are not I have started drafting a bill that I call Social Intervention Programme Agency, SIPA, Bill so that instead of throwing the Programme away, there will be a director-general under the presidency. There will be various departments and they will have offices in the six geopolitical zones. There will be a budget for it, details of what they intend to do and how they intend to do it. The Programme will go a long way to create employment.
Another is the Constituency Development Bill. The constituency projects are full of controversies because there is no law backing them, and there is no transparency that is required in the process.
I will also assist in making some laws that will cover the massive loopholes in revenue generation, which will help in reducing our dependence on borrowing-domestic and foreign, to fund our budgets.
This Will be my areas of concentration. Thank God we have the North-East Development Commission, NEDC, to address the devastation of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East.
I am trying to see what law the executive should do to address the issue of insecurity. And also to look at the possibility of diversifying and privatizing the provision of basic infrastructures, to see how we can get the private sector involved in rail, road, power, waterways, and other areas as we have in developed economies.
I am also interested in sharing my thinking with the executive on how to address the insecurity challenge at the local level. For example, in Borno, it was with the assistance of volunteers, the civilian Joint Task Force that we were able to defeat Boko Haram in the epicentre of the insurgency, which is Borno. These youths volunteered themselves. There is a need for the government to give them support and help them as a volunteer organization just like the Nigeria Civil Defence before it became corps.
Even though I did not win the Senate presidency election, I am still a senator. With my colleagues, I will push forward these ideas and make them see the light of the day.
Before the election, you were endorsed by the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, which has 44 senators. You had 28 votes, don’t you suspect a sell-out?
No, I didn’t. Clearly, that is PDP’s business. Honestly, I did not know they would endorse me. Initially, my party said we should not deal with the PDP, so I stayed away. Later, they changed their mind and said we could canvass for votes from the PDP. That was why the PDP Caucus invited me and invited Ahmad Lawan too. It was after that they issued that statement and it came to me as a surprise.
I don’t know what transpired or why. All I can say is that people have exercised their right to choose between Ahmad Lawan and I. And only God knows who chose me because it was an open secret. So, I don’t know who voted for me. All I know is that 28 people who believe in my leadership stood by me.
Since the inauguration have you and the Senate President spoken?
Yes. Before they finished the counting when I knew I had lost, I went and congratulated him. When he was declared winner he came to congratulate me too. We have passed that, we are ready to move forward. On Thursday, before we closed, I went to greet and congratulate him and he said we would work together. So I have put that behind me.
Despite the pressure on you to step down for Lawan, you fought till the end. What drove you, what was the motivation?
It was not fought. I struggled till the end. One was the public. Honesty, the people who were supporting me outside were more than those supporting me inside, especially my constituency. My constituency was consistently calling me, saying ‘don’t step down.’ My father was saying ‘don’t step down.’ But the powers that be said ‘step down.’ That was the most difficult time for me.
However, I know that I will be in the Senate for only 1460 days. Before you know it 1460 days are over and I will go back to my people. And as I told you, I am nobody who became somebody without knowing anybody. I depend on God and my constituency. I have always been supported by the public. I stood for my right to contest and that right was guaranteed by the constitution. So, I would not have given up.
For those that say that I have disappointed them, I hope they have now realized that I have given credibility to the process. As you have seen, when the election was allowed, the candidate they preferred won but through a credible process. If I said that I don’t agree with the leadership of Ahmad Lawan by now, it means I will be fighting God.
You keep talking about being nobody, who became somebody without knowing anybody. How was growing up like?
Growing up, initially, just like Dr Goodluck Jonathan said, I didn’t have the opportunity of going to school with a shoe, bicycle or motorcycle. I trekked to school. When I was in primary school, after a year or two, I always remember, I bought a shoe made out of old car tyre. Some of us, our parents were not rich enough to buy us a ball, we had to make it out of old clothes. We wrapped and folded it around until it became a ball.
My father did not go to school. My mother was withdrawn from primary school and married off to my father. Initially, we were living in a thatched house. It was later that we gradually zinced it.
In primary school, my parents were not rich enough to buy me the normal uniform. My uniform was made from a bag of salt with the label of the salt company on it. That was what I was wearing.
We are two. At one time, my stepfather could not buy that uniform for both of us. He would buy for me, later he would save and buy for my younger brother. That was typically how growing up was. I remember, if we went to the farm, when coming back we would fetch firewood and sell it to women that were selling Ankara (bean cake) in exchange for akara otherwise we won’t eat akara.
I was lucky to go to secondary school. I was also lucky to finish my secondary with division one. I had eight credits and went to Kaduna Polytechnic.
One interesting thing happened. I had admission to ABU, University of Maiduguri and Kaduna Polytechnic but because there was no counselling, and Kaduna Polytechnic was the only popular higher institution in the North, local government staff used to go there and they used to be big men. So, my father said to go to that big people’s school. After graduating with HND, I now realized that there is a dichotomy between HND and a first degree.
Even at that, I took it positively. I got a scholarship to go to the United States of America and had the opportunity of getting a degree and a master’s degree. I graduated with honours. I thank God for that.
The reason I always say this is to give hope to the children of the poor, that you still have a chance to be somebody without knowing anybody and I am an example. I am the son of a poor man, I know nobody and have no political godfather.
Given your background, what efforts are you making to help the less privileged?
I live almost my life for those who elected me. I don’t want to blow my trumpet, go to my constituency and find out what I have been doing. In the Eight Assembly, I tried to establish a foundation for the children of the less privileged. What I have decided to do is to help any poor person that comes to me whether he is from my constituency or not because I was there.
On his take about being regarded as a stubborn politician by critics
Make your judgment, I am not the right person to answer that. However, I know that I stand for what I believe in especially if I know that it is right even if I am standing alone. If that is what they call stubbornness then they are entitled to their definition. People know me for one thing, I don’t take anybody for granted but you have to stand for what is right.
I guess it is because of that that people think that I am stubborn. I don’t want to be talking about it, I have put it behind me. Had it been that the party called me in a respectable manner and said ‘we want Ahmad Lawan now, two of you cannot be Senate president, for so so reason concede the position to Lawan,’ I would have done that.
Unfortunately, they were doing that at the last minute when my people were telling me ‘don’t step down.’ If I had stepped down, I would have disappointed many Nigerians. Despite the fact that I lost the election so many Nigerians have been sending me messages that I stood for democracy. There is no democracy without election or contest.
I hope they will not say that I am arrogant because I relate to everybody. Because I am the son of a poor man, I relate with the grassroots that have been my strength in all elections. I won an election under ANPP, PDP and APC without a godfather but the support of the people. And I thank God.
At 60, I have come a long way and have started thinking of retiring. Even our Prophet, not only retired but died at 63. By the time I finish my tenure, I will be 64 and should be ready to leave the stage or even die.
That is the truth. If you have 60 years of fruitful life and your prophet died at 63, I cannot be better than the prophet. After 63, if I am alive, that is a bonus.
You went to school, there were those who could not go to school in your time…
NO! In my time and in my place, no. They had opportunities, it was free. They attracted us with incentives. When I was in secondary school, our uniform was free, we were given free food and transport fare from your village to the school. There was a lot of encouragement in the North. Then, the government was very responsible. They gave us exercise books, pen, and studying materials. If it were this time, I would not be able to go to school.
What a glorious past. Where did we start going wrong as a country?
When the government began to fail. And it started failing when the government was personalized and privatized. I can’t say the exact time but it started long before this administration. In fact, this administration came to fix it and it is a Herculean task.
Some people said it started when the military intervened in 1966
No, not really. It started earlier, right after our independence. During the First Republic, the issue of corruption started. In most African countries, except a few that are lucky with good and upright leadership, corruption, which is the bane of development set in. That was where we got it wrong.
Unfortunately, corruption, personalization and privatization of government have eaten deep into our system at a time that we are lucky to have a president that has integrity, the interest of the country at heart, and is not corrupt. You can’t accuse him personally of being corrupt.
On Boko Haram insurgency and his being referred to as a Boko Haram senator
I believe in God, and in my people and my people believe in me. That was why they gave me the leadership. I am the only senator in Borno, who has almost all the Christians in the state in his constituency. The other two zones- Borno North and Borno Central don’t have Christians. In Borno Central, Christians are very negligible.
I went into the 2015 election when I was accused of being the sponsor of Boko Haram and I contested against the son of a reverend, who is a Christian but he could not beat me. He did not get 10 per cent of my votes. In the last election, I contested against a Christian too. He succeeded in getting 20 to 30 per cent of the votes. I got over 300,000 votes while he got 34,000 votes.
It is not a matter of religion. It is a matter of trust. In fact, some Christian leaders call me Joseph of their time. So, I had to read the story of Joseph.
Fortunately for me, I was a Christian before I became a Moslem, I was not born into Islam. My junior brother, Joseph, is a Christian. My junior sister is Diana and the other junior sister is Martha and I have a junior brother called David. We are of the same mum but different fathers. My stepfather is a Christian and his name is Yakubu.
Why did you convert to Islam?
That time, God had destined that I would be a Moslem. That is why I don’t look at religious sentiments. When people said I was sponsoring Boko Haram I just laughed. Anybody that is right thinking knows that that is not true because up till now Boko Haram has been defeated but not eliminated.
At one time, the government of Dr Goodluck Jonathan was accusing you of being the sponsor of Boko Haram but was going to Chad to look for an agent of Boko Haram to negotiate with leaving the sponsor behind. Does that make sense?
Some people have a mindset, you can never change it. I went to court for six years, no evidence, no witness was presented, and no statement beside my statement. In my phone, they did a forensic investigation, there was nothing. When they said I discussed, of course as a politician anybody can get your phone number and call you.
At that time, I did not know that the government was seriously looking for a scapegoat. They found that conveniently in me and grabbed me, trying to manufacture evidence against me.
However, God in his infinite mercy saved me. The guy that they took to court claiming that I spoke to him has a mental problem. They could not prepare him or even present him in the court to give evidence.
His assessment of President Bihari’s performance despite a report of 93 million Nigerians now living in extreme poverty
One thing that the government succeeded in doing is bringing sanity into the system. The impunity with which people conducted their affairs had got to a very dangerous level. Now the president has brought sanity by tackling corruption headlong.
The president is trying in the area of fighting insecurity. That is not to say that we have overcome the challenge but he is doing something.
Thirdly is the issue of infrastructure and pulling people out of extreme poverty. The SIP has helped so many graduates through N-Power, traders in the market through Tradermoni and empowering small entrepreneurs and graduates to start small entrepreneurial projects.
Another thing is the personality of the leader. You can accuse Buhari of anything but you can’t question his integrity. Nobody has been able to come up with any accusation as to his compromising on due process, transparency and accountability. The biggest loophole is in government itself. The TSA he quickly introduced covered the loopholes.
The Anchor borrowers Programme in agriculture has enabled many farmers to move from subsistence to commercial farming. He revived most of the fertilizer processing companies and now a farmer can get a bag of fertilizer for N4000.
Given the decay the government met, his efforts in four years are commendable. I believe that in the next four years there will be consolidation and a good foundation to bring the country back on track.
How he sees the Senate in the next four years
Now that the leadership of the National Assembly is the choice of the party and APC governors with a clear majority, I am hoping there will be a very harmonious and inter-dependent relationship that is necessary for the executive to have a conducive environment and corporation from the Senate to move the country forward.
I believe with the calibre of senators even though 66 of us lost out, the 43 that are left will be able to guide and support the other colleagues to move the country forward, ensure cordial relations with the executive that will give the National Assembly a better image than it had before.
I am looking forward to a very good working relationship with the executive and the other arm of government, and with the corporation of Nigerians, we are set to move to the next level.