The immediate past Senate Leader, who was removed in controversial circumstances early this year, Senator Ali Ndume, speaks on his ordeal in the Senate and allegation of attacking a Borno State House of Assembly member among other issues in this interview with SUNDAY ABORISADE
How have you been coping outside the Senate?
My suspension will lapse on the 15th of November; so, I am going back. When I was elected as the Senate Leader, I had it at the back of my mind that I am just first among equals. I am not better than any of the 108 members in the Senate. In fact, majority of them are even better than me in terms of whatever criteria and yardstick that could be used. I also believe that power belongs to God; He gives it to whoever he wants and He takes it at the time He wants. There is no situation I cannot adapt to. I still attend to the needs of my constituents despite the fact that I am on suspension.
You were removed because the leadership of the Senate alleged that you were working against its interest.
My colleagues signed for my removal as the leader but none of them confronted me with any allegation. I was suspended without being allowed to defend myself on any allegation. The only thing that I did was that I called the attention of the Senate, coming under Order 14 and 15, which has to do with individual privilege, to the issues in the public domain which touched on the integrity of the Senate that should be investigated. One of them was an allegation that the Senate was on vengeance mission against the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service because he impounded the bullet-proof cars allegedly imported by a principal officer of the Senate. The second issue was that of Senator Dino Melaye’s educational qualification. Both issues were widely published by print and electronic media. I asked the upper chamber to consider the matters as very important worthy of investigation, this was done and the affected members were cleared.
So, why were you suspended since the officers were vindicated?
I wonder why they would now go round to say I should be suspended for six months for calling the attention of the Senate to issues that threatened the integrity of the Senate. As far as I am concerned, I didn’t do anything wrong. I think instead of punishing me, I should be commended because the matter was laid to rest when the committee that investigated the matter called the necessary witnesses, did its work and submitted its report.
What actually prompted you to bring up the issue of Dino Melaye’s alleged certificate scandal to the floor?
When the media published such grave allegation against a Senator, we are duty bound, as an institution, to investigate and that was exactly what I did as the Senate Leader. This is not the first time that such thing would be done. There were allegations against four former speakers (House of Representatives) Dimeji Bankole, Salisu Buhari, Aminu Masari, and Patricia Ette. They were investigated and those who took their cases to the floor were not punished. There were several precedents of members calling the attention of colleagues to specific allegations against some members without them being punished for doing so.
A principal officer said you were removed because of your alleged romance with the Presidency to the detriment of the collective wish of your colleagues. Is this true?
I was the Senate Leader and in the same party with the executive. My responsibilities also include marketing the ideas and position of the executive in the chamber and that was exactly what I was doing. The case that started the controversy was the nomination of Ibrahim Magu for confirmation as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. His name was forwarded to the Senate by the President and as the Senate Leader, I have the duty to defend, protect and market the candidate to my colleagues. Apart from this, Magu is a nominee from my state. I also have the responsibility to defend the appointment of my constituent. I actually did the right thing and stood by the truth. If I was punished because of that, so be it. This is not the end of it, we are just in this world for a period and our actions will be judged thereafter. I pray God will reward me for the injustice carried out against me.
Will you say that the Senator Saraki-led leadership used and dumped you after helping it to achieve a great level of stability in the red chamber?
I don’t want to agree with the assertion that I was used and dumped. God destined that I will be Senate Leader for one and half years. It is God that said my time was over; that was why I was removed although it was done through Saraki. The Senate President was instrumental to my removal but God actually sanctioned it; that was why it was possible for him to remove me. I feel bad, I feel betrayed by Saraki and other people that we struggled together. But since they decided to stab me in the back, I leave them to God; He is the ultimate judge. I have since put the matter behind me and I am ready to move on. I thank God that I did not die on the seat. I have no regret. I would have been worried if I did anything wrong. I didn’t say anything that is not true, I didn’t fight anybody neither did I abuse anyone.
As a former Senate Leader, will you say there were cases of budget padding perpetrated by the leadership?
I am still on suspension. So, I don’t want to speak on official issues bordering on the Senate as an institution. I can only react to issues that affect me personally.
Is it true that you slapped a member of the Borno State House of Assembly during a meeting you hosted in your house recently?
There was nothing like that. Honestly, I did not slap anyone and I cannot slap a lawmaker. We can shout at each other and express disagreement over issues but it can never lead to a physical assault.
But the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Abdkareem Lawal, announced the suspension of plenary for one month to protest the alleged attack on Aji, the member.
There was a political gathering which I arranged. The women group came in larger number than we expected and so we have to shift the venue to my compound. I attended to the women first and they left. I then asked the youth to enter but some of them, who were not invited, started misbehaving and nobody could restore order among them; so, I was upset. I stood up in annoyance and as I was walking towards one of them to order him out of my house, the House of Assembly member quickly came to beg me, asking me to calm down and he attempted to hold me but he couldn’t reach me before I turned back. Instead of walking towards the boy, I changed my mind and entered my house. How can I invite someone to my house and I will slap him? I didn’t slap him at all.
The APC has suspended its convention again. How do you think the crisis within the party could be resolved?
Honestly, I don’t know anything about the convention and I don’t want to comment on any issue that I don’t have adequate knowledge of.
Do you think President Muhammadu Buhari should run for a second term?
My support for President Buhari is 100 per cent. Buhari is what Nigeria needs now. His initial challenge was his health and everybody prayed for him and he was healed, waxing strong every day. As long as Buhari is strong and healthy, then Nigerian needs no other person apart from him in 2019. For us in the North-East and in Borno State in particular, we are morally bound to support Buhari because without him, the insurgents would have wiped us off. Personally, I take him as my mentor. I don’t have political godfathers but I have political mentors in the persons of Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
There are insinuations that Tinubu is being sidelined in the Buhari government. Have you tried to mediate among the parties?
That one has passed my power (laughs…). Asiwaju and Buhari are my fathers. How do you expect a child to mediate between two elders? It should be the other way round. I can only plead with my fathers. However, Asiwaju (Tinubu), the Jagaban, cannot be ignored by anybody in this government because he played a major role in the emergence of President Buhari and he remained a formidable leader of the APC.
You sponsored the North-East Development Commission Bill which has been signed to law by President Buhari. Do you think the agency will not encounter similar problems like the NDDC?
The concept of the NDDC and the NEDC are quite different. NEDC is established for the reconstruction, rebuilding and the rehabilitation of the North-East zone that has been devastated by the activities of insurgents, compounded by our natural environmental degradation which placed us as one of the poorest region on Earth. It will address the humanitarian crisis we are facing now. But the NDDC was established to address the long years of neglect and unfair treatment of the Niger Delta region as the host community where the nation’s economic resources are being extracted. So the two agencies are different.
Are you saying there won’t be cases of abandoned contracts and looting of money meant for specific projects?
There is an institutional framework in place. There are rules of engagement and procedure for contracts award. There will be strategy for monitoring projects to ensure compliance. So let us be optimistic that everything will work according to plans.
The insurgents are still making many communities inaccessible in Borno State. What is the assurance that they won’t strike again and destroy whatever has been rebuilt?
The war against insurgency cannot be won like the conventional wars. These are miscreants that are pursuing inhuman agenda. The intermittent attacks cannot be totally eradicated but with God on our side, we shall conquer them. That is why we will continue to urge the military to sustain the cleanup operation.