By Bilesanmi Olalekan
Senator Ali Ndume is Chairman, Senate Committee on Army and represents Borno South, the hotbed of the Boko Haram insurgency. In this interview, Ndume speaks on the recent claim by Chadian President Derby that he led his country’s troops against insurgents on the Nigerian soil while Nigerian soldiers were missing in action (MIA).
He also shares his perspective on the palliative arranged by the Federal Government to cushion the effect of coronavirus lockdown in parts of the country.
You were quoted as saying the measures taken by the Federal Government to cushion the effect of the lockdown as a result of Covid-19 are a fraud, especially in the North. Can you shed more light?
The intention of the President is commendable. He responded quickly to the needs of the people knowing that when the people are locked up, they, especially the poorest of the poor, who won’t eat because they depend on daily income.
Unfortunately, those people charged with the responsibility of carrying out this assignment are not giving the palliative to the poorest of the poor.
They sit down there in Abuja and claim they have data but call some small boys with laptops in their hands and to generate fraudulent data and, yet, they don’t want politicians to come near them.
That is a big scam as far as I am concerned. If this thing is done properly, people will see and feel it. As I am speaking to you now, I am in my constituency and I am yet to see anyone who says he or she got anything from them.
Boko Haram elements appear to have been substantially defeated especially around the Lake Chad Basin. Any delight in that?
Of course. We are delighted with the development. It is a good development for us and everybody especially around the Lake Chad Basin because Boko Haram has three black spots from where they launch attacks against Cameroon, Niger, Chad, and Nigeria.
With the recent killings of the Chadian army personnel and the Chadian President personally leading the fight against them, the move inflicted serious casualty on Boko Haram.
And the Nigerian government is also responding to those attacks. We are hopeful that this fight will soon come to an end. I am privy to some information that cannot be discussed in the media; based on the information, I am confident that Nigeria will do the needful and bring the fight to a close.
About doing the needful, the Chadian President said Nigeria was missing while the operation lasted…
I don’t think so because even the Chadian embassy here in Nigeria also came out to categorically debunk that notion. Let me remind you, there is a Multi-National Military Joint Task Force around Lake Chad headed by Major General Yusuf.
They were together with the Chadian President during the operation. So, you can’t say that the Nigerian contingent was not there. Nigerian forces were the ones leading the fight. As we speak, the Nigerian Army is everywhere in Borno including Malufotori and Baga.
The Nigerian Army is everywhere. The only difference is that while the Chadians took their time with their president, deployed troops to ensure sustainable assault on the insurgents, Nigerian army deployed troops to black spots in the areas to protect local government areas and spots occupied by Boko Haram.
Did you see the video clip where the Nigerian Army was praising the Chadian army right on our soil?
That is an old clip. That was when President Buhari went to discuss and agree on resuscitating the military joint task force. That clip you saw was when the Chadian forces came to join the Nigerian forces around Baga.
But the insurgents only recently invaded some villages within your senatorial district and nothing was done.
The truth of the matter is that Boko Haram is operating from three locations. One is Sambisa. The second is the Mandara mountain and the third, which is the most dangerous and deadly, is along the Lake Chad fringes.
That is where they lost many fighters last week. It is true that consistently those operating from Sambisa and Mandara mountain are the weaker ones, they concentrate on attacking villages and towns nearby to do two things.
To inflict casualties on the people, destroy villages and secondly which is the main reason of the invasion is to steal food. They were there to reinforce their supplies. They were in my local government areas in Gwoza recently where they killed two Civilian Joint Task Force members that monitored their movement.
In Askira Local Government, two days ago, they launched attack on the place, of course, in the night where they carted away food supplies. But the plan going on now by the military, if it is effectively implemented, would bring more results and that ultimately will put an end to the menace of Boko Haram.
You have been to your senatorial district several times, even against military advice. How true is the allegation that you have charms around you?
I am now in Maiduguri as I am making arrangements to send relief materials to Damboa. They (Boko Haram) invaded the place early this year and I appealed to the Federal Government for relief materials for them. That is what we are trying to do now. Everybody is affected by the lockdown, and we are trying to reach everybody so that assistance can reach them.
First of all, I (Ndume) am a true believer that you can only die when God says it is your time to die. Secondly, I have been elected by my people to represent all the nine local government areas of the senatorial district.
I cannot just sit there in Abuja and say I am representing my people. I must identify with them. The people trapped in their local government areas are also human beings like you and I. Yet they are still staying there. What kind of representative will I be if I am only seated there in Abuja talking on radio, television and newspaper and not meet with them physically and respond to their needs? I was at the camp of the internally displaced people yesterday to consult and identify with and cheer them up.
If you say you are senator representing Southern Borno and they don’t see you, you don’t relate with them, then tell me what manner of the senator are you? I am even more constrained now because of security agencies not giving me clearance to move around.
I wanted to go to Damboa personally but they are saying it is not safe to go by road and I have to wait for a while when they can get me a helicopter. Now we are reviewing materials that we sending to them and my argument with them is that the truck going to Damboa is going to be driven by a driver, a human being like me, so why should I not go.
They said the Boko Haram would be targeting people like us so that the fight would give them more boost and millage. That to me appears to be a superior argument. Even Damboa residents also said I need not come. If you represent the people during good times, you must also represent them during bad times too. They are the most affected by the insurgency.
And concerning the issue of charms against death, I don’t have charms. Nobody does. I am doing what I am doing because my people elected me to represent them. Part of the representation is to identify with them.