Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that Senator Ali Ndume has vowed not to step down from the Senate presidency race, insisting that his party, the All Progressives Congress must allow democracy prevail
Most items in the news about Mohammed Ali Ndume, the senator representing Borno South, these days centre on his mission to assume the leadership of the 9th National Assembly. No one remembers that his father was a soldier whose field rank during the Nigerian Civil War was a Second Lieutenant. He reverted to the rank of a Sergeant after the war for not meeting the academic qualification to retain that officer rank. The Old Soldier retired with a bicycle as his most valued material possession.
Not many know that Ndume’s mother was a Christian and his he has Christian siblings. Or that he stayed on his job as a teacher at Ramat Polytechnic for 20 years. Nobody even talks about one of the darkest periods in his life when he was accused and kept out of circulation for a while on allegations that he financed the insurgent group, Boko Haram. Even the stormy sessions in the senate that led to his suspension have been relegated to the background. What else is there to say about Ndume?
You can say that the senator has an uninhibited tongue and you will be right. He talks first, and thinks about the consequences later. This mannerism may have put him into trouble many times, like it did with the accusation against Senate President, Bukola Saraki, which eventually led to his suspension.
Rather than paint him in the colours of a bad-mannered persona, this characteristic exposes unrehearsed honesty and the simplicity of his heart. Ndume is readily trusting and doesn’t see why his statements should be oblique. He says exactly what he means with the courage of conviction, ignoring the temptation to dance around issues. At 60 years, the federal legislator values the eternal legacy that will be linked to his name than the fleeting gains that may be damaging to his hard earned good reputation. Therefore, he sticks to the truth.
For about two decades, Ndume helped to shape the professional and academic dreams of young people at Ramat Polytechnic in Maiduguri, Borno State. His growing good reputation attracted his people. Convinced he would represent them well on higher capacity, they persuaded him to hand in his resignation and vie for a place in the House of Representatives. He won the election in 2003 to represent the people of Chibok/Damboa/Gwoza Federal Constituency on the platform of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). After serving the first term which ended in 2007, he was re-elected. This time, he became a principal officer having been unanimously elected as the Minority Leader on the inauguration of the 6th National Assembly.
Since then, Ndume has traversed the major political parties, going to wherever the wind of popularity blows. His rise to prominence on the floor of the legislature, follows from his ability to talk engagingly, an attribute which must have been horned from serving many years as a teacher. Finishing strong as Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, his status had become so elevated that he was sought after as one with great electoral capital. He combined this with a basket of controversy.
Essentially, by the time he was ready to make his next big political move, Ndume confronted a powerful opponent in former Borno State Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff. From the House of Representatives, Ndume wanted to go the Senate. Sheriff who had assumed the unofficial role of the kingmaker in Borno politics did not want someone who had an aura of independence like Ndume. He was guilty of not coming to bow at the feet of the king. The battle line was drawn. In the 2011 election, running on the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ndume defeated Sheriff’s favoured candidate to represent Borno South in the senate. In the weeks leading up to the election, there were more disputes concerning his candidature, but he triumphed over them all.
However the Borno-born federal legislature is remembered today, the undisclosed strategy of Ndume, which used to be a mystery, has now come into the open. It remains his ability to retain the veracity in his communication and to stay believable to his constituents.
His current battle for the office of the Senate President pitches him against a familiar opponent, Senator Ahmed Lawan from Yobe State. In the past, both men have locked horns over a senate position zoned the North-east. Ndume defeated Lawan in that caucus election. This time, though, the stakes are higher and the territory to be covered is the entire country. Bringing his usual bravado cum honest approach to the race, Ndume has refused to be cowed by the seeming threat of a big stick wielded by the party.
Ndume is stubbornly determined to defy his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) like Senator Bukola Saraki (PDP, Kwara Central) did in 2015, by chasing his senate presidency dream without the approval of the party. While it has been widely reported that Lawan is the choice of the party for the senate presidency, Ndume is going against the party’s consensus candidate. Though the situation is still very fluid with INEC withholding certificates of return to some senators-elect, what is not in doubt is that the ruling APC has a clear majority with about 65 senators. The Nigerian senate is made up of 109 senators. Winning in the contest will require a lot of bridge-building with colleagues in the opposing PDP, a strategy that Ndume says he has started deploying already.
He said, “We have 109 senators and each of them have one vote. If you are contesting to be the Senate President, you have to reach out. But at the beginning, I was cautious because I am a party man. So, when the party said ‘don’t go there,’ I did not. But the party came out again and said, ‘You can reach out to them now,’ so I reached out to them. So far, the response I am getting from my colleagues from the APC and other parties is very encouraging. I am in this race to win; I am talking to everybody. I have the telephone numbers of all the 109 senators-elect and I call them.”
“The senate is supposed to be an institution. Clearly by the constitution, it’s supposed to be independent,” Ndume said at a recent meeting with journalists in Lagos, explaining why he is interested in the office. “I have written the party, indicating my intention to contest. Even my national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, publicly said they only recommended Lawan and not that they are stopping anybody. Nobody has consulted me to say ‘don’t run for Senate President’. Everybody has the constitutional right to do that. I don’t believe that that is truly the position of Mr. President. Before I went into this contest, I consulted with Mr. President and he gave me the go ahead. I consulted with Tinubu, he gave me the go ahead. That was immediately after the primaries. This country needs a senate that belongs to Nigerians.”
The APC spokesperson, Lanre Issa-Onilu consented to Ndume’s right to aspire to any office in the land. “Ndume is merely expressing his fundamental rights. But those rights are also taken care of the day you have subscribed to a particular political party, in this case, APC, Issa-Onilu said clarifying the party’s position on the senator’s quest. He sounded a warning, however, “The day he subscribed to be a member of APC, he signed up to obey the position of the party. He is a human being.
But we are also conscious of the fact that Senator Ali Ndume is a respected member of APC. He is a leader in this party and we know he knows the right thing to do and on both sides, right things will be done. And that also includes any other person who has such grievances. Members of the APC are allowed to ventilate whatever their views are, because that is democracy. So, whatever decision we take at the end of the day, would be after you have been given ample opportunity to exercise your right. But at the end of the day, party supremacy sets in.”
Ndume, who has been going round the country with a policy document titled, ‘Nine Agenda for the 9th Senate’, promises to improve on the performance of the Eighth Senate. According to him the Office of the Senate President will be less attractive, as he plans to reduce the unnecessary privileges attached to the office. He said if given the opportunity, he would not compromise the independence of the legislature.
OFF THE CUFF:
*“The senate is supposed to be an institution. Clearly by the constitution, it’s supposed to be independent. In the traditional institutions where Kings, Emirs and Chiefs are not appointed, they are elected. If you are a Prince, that does not guarantee that you will be the King. They are what they call the kingmakers. And the kingmakers in this our case is supposed to be the senators. So , now, who owns the loyalty of the beneficiary? Is it the senators or is it the party? Or is it Adams Oshiomhole? It was Adams Oshiomhole that just threw it to us that Ahmed Lawan should be our next senate president.”
Ndume insisting a level playing field where all contestants for the office of Senate President are free to compete
*“I don’t believe that that is truly the position of Mr. President. Because, let me add that before I went into this contest, I consulted with Mr. President and he gave me the go ahead. I consulted with Tinubu, he gave me the go ahead. That was immediately after the primaries. This country needs a senate that belongs to Nigerians.”
Ndume explaining that he reached out to the top echelon of the APC before he started his quest for Senate Presidency
*I am very loyal to the party. But I only go with the party to extent that the party has followed the constitutional provisions on any matter. I also believe that power belongs to God and He gives it to whoever He likes. So far, nobody has told me to suspend my aspiration because they know that doing so will amount to denial of my constitutional rights. Nobody should be imposed on the senate. I am insisting that democracy should prevail. The party is supreme only to the extent of the legality of its decision. The party has not said it is depriving me of my right. The party has never appointed anybody, even the position of the president was contested. It was the same for the National Chairman of the party – people expressed interest, forms were sold and elections held. The party’s constitution recommends; consensus, direct or indirect primary.”
Ndume asserting that he has a right to run for the office of Senate President
*“I am happy with the response of the Nigerian Army particularly after the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, ordered and relocated the operational headquarters of the Army to Gozombali in Guzama Local Government Area. That is very commendable. I am hoping that at the same time they will also increase and intensify the fight against insurgency in other blackspots in the Sambisa Forest and the Mandara Mountains in Gworza Local Government Area.”
Ndume hailing the efforts of the Nigerian Army on the fight against Boko Haram insurgents
*“The stronger ones who still have the audacity to carry out major attacks are those from Mohammed Nuru’s Boko Haram faction that is operating from the fringes, which is the group that we are suspecting got money from the negotiation for the release of the Dapchi girls. Now they are psychologically pressing for more money through propaganda by using Leah Sharibu. This is true because they must get money to carry out their operations, and the only source of money is the ransom paid to them. But then, the government is in a tight situation.”
Ndume conjecturing on what may be responsible for increased intermittent attacks by Boko Haram
*“I have been one of those that have been most unfair to. What is keeping me strong is my religion and my belief in God that if you do to me what I didn’t do, God will not forgive you. Why should you go and write something about somebody when you know it is libelous? You know what I went through. People just wrote anything. They wrote that Ali Ndume is a sponsor of Boko Haram. I don’t have a credit card, I don’t have an account besides the one I have in National Assembly; I don’t even have an ATM card. That is how I operate. Some of you that know me when they saw me after I was released they cried, because they know me. If I was Boko Haram truly, I wouldn’t have been arrested. After me, did they arrest anybody, any high ranking Nigerian related to Boko Haram? Even if it is true that I am related to Boko Haram, do you think that these operations that these insurgents are carrying out is single handedly sponsored by Ndume? This government and most Nigerians listen to the press. If you have the press support and it swings this way for you, people will let you go. I was already convicted by the press initially.”
Ndume decrying conviction by the Nigerian media naming him as alleged sponsor of Boko Haram
*“We are appealing to the military to intensify operation on the darkest spots in Borno state where the insurgents are said to be carrying out their operations from. These two spots are reported to be Damboa/ Gwoza axis and the Lake Chad axis. It is suspected and reported that Abubakar Shekau, a factional leader of the sect is operating from the Chibok axis while the Mamman Nur’s group operates from the Lake Chad axis. The military should visit the bases of the insurgents with superior firepower, the insurgents would be defeated.”
Ndume identifying two black spots from which Boko Haram insurgents operate in Borno State
*“There was nothing about what happened. I did not see anything personal; I did not take anything personal. I don’t begrudge anybody but if there is anybody who took personal leave that is left to God.”
Ndume stating why he went to court to challenge his suspension from the senate