Ali Ndume has been at the National Assembly since 2003, first as member as the House of Representatives, and now as a senator. For his fourth term in the red chamber, the Borno lawmaker aspires to the position of president of the Senate. His governing All Progressives Congress isnot supporting his candidacy. In this interview with ABDULAZIZ ABDULAZIZ, Mr Ndume says he is racing to the finish, and unveiled his agenda if elected to the post.
PT: There are rumours that some of you vying for the position of Senate Presidency are under pressure to step aside, what is the status of your candidacy?
Ndume: Well, the issue of stepping down, I read that only on the pages of newspapers and online media as yours, but nobody has so far approached me to say I should step down for anybody. And I have not requested anybody to step down for me. I believe nobody will do that because any senator-elect that decided to contest has that constitutional right and as Nigerians we are all bound by that constitution.
Having said that, I am into this race for so many reasons. One, because it has been zoned to the North East and secondly because I feel I have something to offer to the ninth Senate in providing the leadership to reposition the senate. This is why immediately I decided to throw my hat into the race I came up with my nine-point agenda which I feel is critical and important for the ninth Senate, in other to bring back the senate to its constitutional position, and also to deepen democracy and help move the country by making appropriate laws especially on budgets, security, and for transparency and accountability.
PT: But with your party anointing someone else, do you think you still stand a chance in this race?
Ndume: God gives power to whoever he wants, at the time he wants. It is not the party, it is God. So, if God says I am the one and the party says it is somebody else, whoever is going to be? It is the one that God has destined. So, that is one. And two, the party did not anoint a candidate, the party chairman anointed a candidate and the party chairman is different from the party. And even if as it stands, the National Working Committee has endorsed a particular candidate, that is a recommendation that cannot be enforceable until the party’s NEC (National Executive Council) approves or rectifies that decision. I cannot remember a meeting by the national caucus to discuss such a thing, I cannot remember the National Executive Committee discussing this. So, I feel up till now that this decision to the largest extent is that of the National Working Committee or Adam Oshiomhole, the National Chairman.
I am in contact with many of the NWC members and they told me that is the decision of the national chairman, not the NWC even though it is reflected that they discussed that during the meeting but it was just the idea. When they said there was consultation, I have not been consulted and I believe as a contender I am a stakeholder too. This is being the position, the national chairman of the party has endorsed Ahmed Lawan but as I said, power belongs to God, he gives it to whoever he wants. I am making my contacts to my colleagues and I am in the race and at the end God’s will will prevail.
PT: But why do you think you are the best man for this job?
Ndume: Well, I am not saying I am the best man for the job but I am one of those that is best for the job. I have been in the National Assembly since 2003. I was a minority leader and I was also the senate leader. As I said earlier, I have my 9 Points Agenda for the Senate and also because of the very peculiar and precarious situation that the North East in general and Borno being the centre of Boko Haram, this opportunity of a Borno citizen as the Senate President gives us big advantage of that office to get international help and support to treat critical issues that we face.
One is the recharge of the Lake Chad Basin which Mr President is very keen about, but if you have a Senate President that is interested in that and the Senate President is coming from that area, we are in the best position to pursue this globally to see if we can get the international supports. Two, the devastation and the destruction inflicted on us by the insurgency and as I said, destruction in Borno alone is measure to about $9.2 billion which translates to over N2.7 trillion. The Nigeria Government or the Borno State Government cannot fund this even in 20 years.
Lastly, we have been grappling with the issue of poverty, Borno state is adjudged to be among the poorest regions on earth by Human Development Index of the United Nation and therefore makes this as an opportunity.
Also, the other things that affect the generality of this country, especially the issues of security, fight against corruption, infrastructural development, budget funding, can only be addressed by somebody with passion. I have ideas of how we can partner with the executive and work harmoniously to address such issues in order to move the country forward. I have ideas of what I think with the corporation of my colleagues will make the 9th Senate different.
PT: Initially, after the national chairman of the party came out to say they have a candidate for this position, you came out to tongue-lash him and the party to express your anger, why were you angry at the decision?
Ndume: I can say I was angry and disappointed because I feel that the party chairman went against the preamble of the party constitution which says there will be no discrimination among members. I felt that I was discriminated against.
Secondly, I was not consulted. I am a 60-year-old person and I represent nine local governments that gave me the mandate to come and represent them, and not only that but to contest for the position of the senate president.
So, having been a loyal party member, I left the seat of the Senate Leader to my co-contender because the party said they preferred him initially. It wasn’t that I lost, I won that election. I contested against Ahmed Lawan in 2015 to emerge the Senate Leader and it was not that it was given to me, it was unfairly taken from me and yet I took my fate. Number two, I contributed more than anybody among these people, to the success of the party. I can boldly say, that I contributed immensely to the success of the party. During the election, I was appointed the DG of North East Presidential Campaign and I did my best and delivered the region. Some of us like Senator Goje and others delivered 100 percent to the party. I think we deserve that respect from the party, or whoever, to consult with us.
I wonder who they say they consulted when we the contenders, especially myself and Goje were not consulted. Secondly, I wrote to the party and up till now the party has not gotten back to me or called to tell me they want to give Mr A due to some reasons and I will want you to corporate or otherwise.
Party is all about consultation, imposition is not in the constitution of the party because the only way the party candidate for any position will emerge is through consensus or direct or indirect primaries. I have said it, and I want to say it again; he, the party chairman himself was not imposed on us, it was through consensus. And even though there was consensus, people had to gather and spend the whole night at Eagle Square to elect the national officers. We elected them, and therefore, anybody that comes to do anything that is against the constitution will not be accepted.
I always say that it is better for me to stand alone in the path of right than to stand with the crowd. It is also better for me to stand with my conscience than stand with the crowd. It is normally difficult to stand against certain decisions, especially when wrong things are being done.
PT: So, are you now standing alone?
Ndume: No! Visibly, it is a kind of lone voice but the supporters I have, only God knows, in and outside the National Assembly. This cuts across fresh senators, the senators that are returning and even my colleagues that are not returning are encouraging me, giving me support and praying for me. I think truth will always prevail and doing the right thing is to allow things to flow. I am not saying Ahmad Lawan or Goje should step down for me, if such should happen it should be between us not that somebody would instruct anyone to step down for anybody. I think it will only be fair for everybody to be allowed to contest if he so wish to.
PT: Doesn’t nomination of another person by the party mean they are sceptical that you may not serve the party’s interest very well, or that you may not cooperate fully with the executive?
Ndume: Let me say that I am a very loyal party man, and obviously my antecedents have shown that I am a committed party man. Not only that, I am also very committed to the ideals of Mr President. In fact in the political arena, I am one of those that can be classified as a Buharist. I have been with Mr President through the political journey from 2002, the TBO [The Buhari Organisation], to APP, ANPP, then he was dragged to CPC and I was dragged to PDP. He was even the one, I can say, is responsible for my joining APC.
Having said that I want to say, without any fear of contradiction, that if you are to classify people that are so committed to the party and Mr President, I can be counted among them. When we emerged as leaders through controversial circumstances in June 2015, and when the Senate President tried to veer off from supporting Mr President, I stood against that. My stance on the confirmation of Magu [as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission] was what caused me my seat. I stood firmly for Mr President and the party on the confirmation. As the senate leader, I made sure that every nominee of Mr President was confirmed. During Magu’s case it was the same thing. It was because of that I was removed as the Senate Leader. That did not deter me. I continued to stand with Mr President and I will continue to stand with Mr President in and out of government. I have done that before. He is now the president but well before now we have been following him, standing by him and some of us are committed to his ideals.
As for the party, I am a true party loyalist. I have been following the party, making my contributions. I think I have sacrificed for the party more than anybody in that National Assembly because of my stand for the party that I was punished. I was persecuted. I was suspended for six months, and when I was been coerced to fall into line, as many of them did, I refused.
Let me add that it was only after I left the senate leadership that the current leadership had the leverage to antagonise or to frustrate the activities of government while my opponent is sitting down there. Majority of the bills that were the president refused to assent to were passed under the current person that they are anointing. So, when they are talking about party loyalty, I wonder which one is the party loyalty, is it the person who stands against anything…and let me add, you cannot blame the senate president for what has transpired in the 9th Senate without blaming the whole leadership. The leadership is to blame, and particularly the senate leader carries the burden because if you look at the standing rules of the senate; it is the senate leader that does the Order Paper; it is the senate leader that moves motions; it is the senate leader that relates to the committees on activities they are doing; it is the senate leader that leads general business of the senate. The work of the senate president is to preside. So, if you say majority, the APC has the majority even now, so, to be honest with you, if anything goes wrong the blame should be more on members because if they are united and they stand by the ideals of the party and Mr president, nothing will happen. Politics in the National Assembly is a game of numbers, if you don’t have the numbers you can’t get away with what you want, you can only have your say. So, I think I can count myself, without doubt, that I am one of the most loyal party members.
Right now, what the party, or the party chairman wants to do is wrong, and it is only patriotic for me to say ‘Look, this is wrong and it should change’. I am hoping that the national chairman will rescind on his decision to impose a candidate, to anoint a candidate or event to recommend a particular candidate because it contravenes the party constitution, it also contravenes the national constitution, and it also runs against human natural justice to an individual like me who also wants to contest.
I am thinking that they would look at that decision again and rescind it because even the Supreme Court rescinds its decisions when it discovered that it has erred in one way or the other, and that is what I am looking forward to.
PT: If the election is held today, or on inauguration on the 11th of June, are you confident of winning?
With God’s grace, I am confident of winning. Anytime I do the numbers I see it and I am confident that we will get there. My colleagues are in my support, members of the general public are in my support and I put my ultimate faith in God, almighty Allah and my colleagues. Insha Allah, come June I will win the election.