The sudden removal of Senator Ali Ndume as the Senate Leader on Tuesday is the latest of protracted intrigues that had rocked the upper parliamentary chamber since 2015. Omololu Ogunmade writes
Until his sudden ouster on Tuesday as the Senate Leader in a seeming palace coup, Senator Ali Ndume, enjoyed the aura and beauty of the office. Though simple and very accessible, he carried himself with consciousness of the exalted office in his daily transactions. His love and admiration for the office were visible to all but he did little or nothing to protect it.
He had believed that with his popularity among his colleagues, to sustain the office was automatic. However, his removal without any prior notice on Tuesday must have taught him a bitter lesson in history that in Nigerian politics, no condition is permanent.
Ndume had rejected several calls by his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), to yield the office to Senator Ahmad Lawan, who was APC’s anointed candidate for the office of Senate President prior to the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki on June 9, 2015. Lawan eventually emerged as his replacement on Tuesday.
The APC which was bitter about the emergence of Saraki in 2015, had in its bid to put the pains of his emergence against its wish behind it, wrote the Senate president to concede the offices of Senate Leader and Deputy Senate Leader to Lawan and George Akume. The party had positioned Akume to be Lawan’s deputy at the height of the race for Senate President’s office in 2015.
But despite the party’s letter to Saraki on the matter, he proceeded to announce Ndume as Senate Leader and Bala Ibn Na’Allah as his deputy because the Senate caucus decided so. The development exacerbated the hostility of the party and the presidency towards Saraki as they had thought that having expressed their preparedness to accept Saraki as the Senate President, he should have also been magnanimous enough to accede to the party’s request.
The aftermath of the matter was a case soon instituted against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), where he was accused of false assets declaration in his days as the Governor of Kwara State in 2003. Till date, the matter is still on-going in CCT, although there are beliefs that in view of the recent rapprochement between Saraki and the party leadership, the matter may be struck out very soon.
At the height of Saraki’s trial at the CCT, he was offered a soft landing. The arrangement was that he should ask Ndume and Na’Allah to step down and replace them with the party’s choices, Lawan and Akume.
While Na’Allah was said to have agreed to step down, Ndume in his characteristic love for the office, rejected the offer, saying he was popularly elected by his colleagues in the North-east caucus of APC by 13 votes against Lawan’s three. The office was zoned to North-east. He therefore insisted that he would resist the pressure to dump his colleagues’ mandate on the altar of political solution.
At the height of the move was a meeting held with Ndume at the Presidential Villa in late 2015 by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the APC National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, where he was advised to step down for peace to reign both in the Senate and the party. But Ndume reportedly called Osinbajo and Odigie-Oyegun’s bluff and did not mince words to tell the highly placed men that he was disappointed by their action.
Ndume was said to have told them that whereas they claimed to be democrats, they had the audacity to persuade him to jettison the mandate popularly given to him by his colleagues to serve as their leader. He further told them not to think he was one of the opportunists, who rode on President Muhammadu Buhari and APC’s popularity in 2015 to win election, explaining that he had as a matter of fact, consistently won election since 1999 and would continue to win because of his popularity among his people.
There were also other interventions by prominent personalities including the Speaker of the House of Representatives but all was to no avail.
Ndume was not only excited by his status as Senate Leader, he had once told his colleagues during a plenary that he still desired to be Senate President. However, this excitement came to an end on Tuesday when in a seeming palace coup, he was replaced by Lawan as the new Senate Leader without any notice.
Ndume who had earlier led Senate proceedings prior to his sudden removal on that fateful day, left the chamber to pray in the National Assembly mosque, but on his way out, he was confronted with the news of his removal while plenary had also been adjourned.
The removal came as a rude shock to him. But the action was the offshoot of a letter written by APC caucus and read by Saraki, informing him of a meeting it held on Monday, January 9, where it claimed to have agreed to replace Ndume with Lawan as its new leader. But the intrigue was how an APC caucus meeting was held without the knowledge of its leader, who ordinarily should convene it.
In the letter, entitled: “Notice of Change in Leadership,” APC senators said: “This is to inform Your Excellency and the Senate that after several meetings held on Monday, 9th of January, 2017, and upon due deliberation and consultation, the APC Caucus of the Senate, hereby wishes to notify you of the change in the leadership of the Senate – that the new Senate Leader is now Senator Ahmad Lawan, representing Yobe North Senatorial District. Kindly accept our esteem regards and best assurances.”
It was learnt that following the decision to replace Ndume, Ekweremadu and the Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye, had been assigned by their colleagues to advise him to resign ahead of the announcement. There were claims that when they wanted to tell him, he was nowhere to be found.
There were also insinuations that he might have left the chamber because of fore knowledge of the plan to advise him to resign. But his traducers would not be deterred by his non-availability as they were determined to get rid of him, thus prompting the announcement of his replacement before the end of the plenary on Tuesday.
It was learnt that Ndume was removed for two main reasons. First, he was accused of bringing the Senate into disrepute through a series of behaviour and utterances which senators considered embarrassing to the institution.
Prominent of such perceived embarrassing acts which eventually consumed him was the interview he granted State House correspondents in the Presidential Villa on December 19, 2016 where he debunked Senate’s earlier official position which had rejected the confirmation of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as the substantive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on December 15 last year.
Whereas the Senate had announced on December 15 that in view of damning security report against Magu, it had resolved in its closed-door session not to confirm Magu as the EFCC boss.
According to Senate’s spokesman, Sabi Abdullahi, the Senate had consequently rejected Magu and advised President Muhammadu Buhari to send another candidate as his replacement.
However, while the news of Magu’s rejection was yet generating controversy in the polity, Ndume announced at the Presidential Villa that Magu had not been rejected. He emphasised that Magu could not be rejected in a closed-door session of the Senate, where the decision was taken.
Ndume also dismissed Senate’s call for the resignation and prosecution of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, over alleged mismanagement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) funds in the North-east.
The Senate therefore considered a situation where its leader whom it felt was duty bound to protect the sanctity of its resolutions became the one allegedly twisting it as embarrassing. This prompted Abdullahi to brief the press the following day where he affirmed that Magu’s rejection was the Senate’s official position and there was no going back on it.
Second, THISDAY also gathered yesterday that the Senate found Ndume’s removal this time to be appropriate in view of the recent rapprochement between the Senate leadership, the APC and the Presidency.
Ndume had emerged against the wish of the party, which had in June last year, recommended the nomination of Lawan as Senate Leader following his loss to Saraki in the race to Senate Presidency on June 9, 2016.
But instead of abiding by the party’s decision, Saraki announced Ndume as the Senate Leader following his recommendation by the North-east caucus of APC to which the office had been zoned. Saraki said he could not alter the decision of his colleagues who had chosen Ndume for the office and rejected Lawan by 13 to 3 votes.
The situation was seen by the party as an affront on it by Saraki whom it had accused of first emerging as Senate president against its wish and later failed to accede to its request to concede Senate Leaders’ office to Lawan. This generated bad blood between him, the Presidency and party leadership.
Ndume would later tell an online medium that he was removed because he opposed the rejection of Magu through an unparliamentary norm. According to him, he had insisted that confirmation or rejection was not done in an executive session but in the open where the nominee will have the opportunity to defend himself. He said it was this insistence that pitted some of his colleagues against him, leading to his ouster.
While formally reacting to his removal on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, Ndume said he did not become Senate leader because he was better than any other senator but rather by the confidence reposed in him by his colleagues. Nevertheless, he expressed reservation on the way he was removed, observing that if the tradition of the Senate as a national institution was not preserved, the next victim of procedural breach could be Ekweremadu himself, who presided over that day’s plenary.
Ndume who said he got a list containing 38 senators who signed the list for his removal, noted that the situation only implied that 38 of his colleagues had lost confidence in him adding that even if they were only 10, the trend still meant that he had lost the moral ground to remain in that office. However, he insisted that he was sure that he had done nothing wrong to warrant such a sudden loss of confidence which culminated in his removal.
Ndume who had earlier led Senate proceedings prior to his sudden removal on that fateful day, left the chamber to pray in the National Assembly mosque, but on his way out, he was confronted with the news of his removal while plenary had also been adjourned…The removal came as a rude shock to him