The removal of Senator Ali Ndume as Senate Leader on Tuesday was a major event that generated attention during the week. Omololu Ogunmade writes
The ousted Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, arrived the Senate last Tuesday as the upper chamber resumed from its three weeks recess, being totally oblivious that he would return home that day with a different status. As it is the tradition, he had walked into the White House arm of the Senate President’s office where principal officers usually assemble before their procession into the Senate chamber and, indeed, joined the procession into the chamber, unknown to him that it would be his last experience in the procession.
The proceedings took the normal shape that day as Ndume, in his capacity as the Senate leader, set the tone for the day’s plenary not bearing in mind that he was carrying out his last assignment. As he led proceedings that day, those who had perfected his ouster must have been yelling at him in their hearts and bidding him farewell as far as the business of the Senate leader was concerned.
Twenty four hours before then, a register had been opened for his removal without his knowledge and no fewer than 38 All Progressives Congress senators had signed the list for his removal. As Ndume led proceedings on that fateful day, Senate President Bukola Saraki was clutching his removal letter and only watching out for a conducive atmosphere to read it.
That conducive atmosphere eventually came when Ndume left the chamber for the mosque and asked his deputy, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, to hold the fort. He had hoped to return to the chamber to take his place after prayer, unknown to him that he would not return to the seat any longer.
Before he could return to the chamber that day, plenary had come to an end. But that was not going to be a serious matter as that should ordinarily imply that he would only proceed to his office and look forward to the next legislative day. However, that was not to be as he was not only confronted with the news of adjournment but also with the information that he had been removed and replaced with his colleague, Senator Ahmad Lawan, who had been the party’s choice for the office since inception.
His removal came to him as a rude shock, as Saraki at the twilight of proceedings that day read a letter signed by 38 members of the APC caucus, informing the Senate of a meeting they held on Monday, January 9, where they agreed to replace Ndume with Lawan as their leader. Ordinarily, an APC caucus meeting ought to be convened by Ndume, as the leader. But because he was the target of the meeting, he was not aware that his colleagues were deciding his fate on Monday while he was preparing for Tuesday’s proceedings.
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 wish 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.”
THISDAY was told that day that following the decision to replace Ndume, his colleagues had assigned the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and the Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye, to advise him to resign to save him from the pain of removal. There were also claims that when the two men wanted to discharge the responsibility, Ndume was nowhere to be found.
There were also insinuations that he might have left the chamber because of premonition of what had been planned against him. But Ndume said he never had any fore knowledge of the action but only went to observe prayers as he had done several times in the past.
Ndume was removed for two main reasons. First, he was accused of bringing the Senate into disrepute through a series of behaviours and utterances which senators considered as embarrassing to the institution. Prominent among 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 Economic and Financial Commission on December 15 last year.
Whereas the Senate had announced on December 15 that in view of a damning security report against Magu, it had resolved in its closed-door session not to confirm Magu as the EFCC boss. Senate’s spokesman, Sabi Abdullahi, said the Senate 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, Babachir David Lawal, over alleged mismanagement of internally displaced persons funds in the North-east.
Second, THISDAY also learnt 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 had battles with his party since his emergence as Senate leader. He had rejected several efforts by the party to compel him to step down.
Little wonder that few hours after the news of his removal broke, APC, which had been campaigning for his exit from the office since inception, quickly launched into celebration, saying it was glad that the new found love between the party and the Senate in recent times had eventually yielded a fruitful result. According to the party’s spokesman, Mr. Bolaji Abdullahi, in a statement, Ndume’s removal was a right step in the right direction.
Abdullahi said, “We believe this is a major step forward in our efforts to reunite the various interest groups in that Senate election, thereby presenting a common legislative front for our great party.
“We are particularly delighted that the consultations that were initiated towards the end of 2015 between the party caucuses in the National Assembly and the party executives as well as other leading stakeholders of our party has yielded these results and the Senate has demonstrated its willingness to finally submit to the will of the party in this regard.”
The following day, Ndume in his official reaction to his removal, described it as a breach of parliamentary norms because he was never confronted with any allegation of wrong doing before the action was carried out. He therefore warned against sustained violations of parliamentary procedure as allegedly reflected in his sudden removal, warning that Ekweremadu might be the next victim.
Ndume, while raising Order 43 in Senate Standing Rules, had said the Senate was a national institution whose sanctity must be protected by members, insisting that he had done nothing wrong to warrant the manner of his removal.
He stated, “Having said that, I want to say that this Senate is an institution that we must protect. How you protect the institution is to obey the rules and the tradition. If today, just like that, without telling somebody and he goes out and he’s removed…If it is Ndume today and it’s ok, it may be God forbid Ekweremadu tomorrow.
“So, what I am saying is that anytime our colleagues err in one way or the other, we should be given the chance to say ‘look, this is what you did and therefore, we have lost confidence in you but I thank God since there is nothing, I am grateful for that. So, I want to once again say thank you very much for the opportunity given me to serve as the Senate leader and I wish my brother, the new Senate leader well. We have been struggling for this for a long time. I hope and I wish you the best of service to this important institution.”
In his own reaction, the new Senate Leader, Lawan, described his emergence as the act of God. Lawan made this remark while seeking his colleagues’ support at the commencement of Thursday’s plenary.
He said, “I thank the APC Caucus for having confidence and trust in my judgement and ability to serve as leader of the Senate. I ask the opposition that what the APC caucus has done is for all of us. I am not a leader for the APC caucus. I am a leader of the Senate. It is the will of God. And we as religious people believe in destiny. We have accepted our fate and we have accepted to work for the betterment of Nigerians.”
Reacting to Lawan’s call, the Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, said the PDP caucus believed that with the elevation of Lawan as Senate leader “all the grumblings and disaffections affecting the Eight Senate would be brought to an end.”