The senator representing Borno South and chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Ali Ndume, speaks about the 2023 presidential ticket of the governing All Progressives Congress and members of his party who may wish to vie for the country’s topmost job, the Mai Mala Buni-led caretaker committee of the party in an exclusive interview with Deputy Group Politics Editor, TAIWO AMODU.
Your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) recently inaugurated a caretaker committee with Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, as chairman. Do you think the team has the capacity to ensure genuine reconciliation?
I think because as you know, the governor of Yobe State until his appointment as the governor of Yobe State was purely a party administrator. He started from councilor, he became the national secretary and during that time, all through, the party was stable and because he is known as a man of character and a gentleman. So, the governors and all of us in the APC at the highest level have confidence in him. In fact, to me, APC could have gone haywire but now they have a good doctor that can take care of it. I am confident of that.
But some people have their doubts considering the fact that the governors’ forum is also a power block and some are saying that President Muhammadu Buhari unwittingly surrendered the party’s structure to the governors.
The truth is that party is about people; party is about interest and in the history of party, besides the presidency, the next level of power is the governors, you cannot take that away from them.
In fact, in most of the states that we have it is the governors that keep the party going. So, he who pays the piper [calls] the tune. It is a natural thing and it has been like that. In fact to me, the governors of APC are governors that are more democratic in the sense that they did not apportion power to themselves. Remember, during the time of PDP, the Governors Forum was so strong that they were calling the tune to the party but this one is not like that. In fact, in every disadvantage there is advantage. I believe that had our governors asserted themselves abinitio, we would not have entered this crisis but they left the party for Adams Oshiomhole as a sole administrator and he messed it up.
Another argument is why the leaders of the party had to wait that long to allow Oshiomhole whom you described as sole administrator polarise the party?
There was no leader. There was a vacuum of leadership.
But the party has statutory organs that could moderate what the NWC was doing. The NEC was there, the National Caucus was there …
As I told you, the governors and the president were supposed to be persons that should assert their positions to checkmate what happened to the party when the former chairman personalised and privatised the party and that cost us six states. Odigie Oyegun handed over 24 states and when Oshiomhole came on board, we ended up with 18 and two states are at stake. Had it been the governors asserted themselves and the president too… but we know that our president is more or less a father of the party and he watched until it started getting out of hand before he would come in when it was nearly too late.
Just as you observed, whatever has advantage also has its own disadvantage too. When you concede party structures to the governors, they also put their interest first and decide who gets what. Is that a wise decision to take?
We are not conceding party structures to the governors; somebody must own the party; somebody must be at the top. Somebody must be in charge and be checking the party and that was not there. Let me say that Adams Oshiomhole, during his tenure as APC chairman, appropriated all the powers: he was Board of Directors; he was NWC; he was NEC and even he moved the secretariat to his private office in Aso Drive.
If you look at the National Assembly Caucus of the APC, I mean the Senate …
(cuts in) There is no caucus and when I was the Senate leader, I was not necessarily the APC leader
Why was that so sir?
I don’t know. I have never been called to a meeting. All we know is that the caucus that is functioning in the National Assembly is that of the North-East for now.
Let me take you back to the states. Those who look at Oshiomhole’s stewardship would still want to attribute certain achievements to him and the fact that he was able to subordinate the governors to the supremacy of the party in the sense that the governors appropriated the party structures in their respective states, particularly those states under the control of APC…
And what was the result? He nearly killed the party. The result is that we lost six states. Would you say that he did something? He would go there and try to bully people. You could see the result when people got tired of him. It was even the governors, because the governors are just coming back to do the right thing. You cannot just bring somebody like that and say he owns the party. One time, he said he was the chief executive of the party. If it is shares, even in the corporate setting, the shareholders own the company. Who are the major shareholders? They are the governors. The ordinary shareholders are the senators, House of Representatives, House of Assemblies and the councillors and lastly you have members of the party. That is the set-up even if you look at it from the corporate point of view. Actually, bringing in Adams Oshiomhole as the party chairman has done more damage to the party. We had 24 states, now we have 18.
Talking about doing damage to the party, the Secretary of the caretaker committee of the party, Senator Akpan Udo Edehe, when he met a delegation that came to visit him said the party leaders and chieftains would need to do more to galvanise support for the party simply because he expressed the fear that the post-Buhari administration would be difficult for APC to record the victory it had under Buhari for 2023. Do you share the fear?
Yes. There will be no campaign slogan that worked for us in the North-East: ‘From top to Bottom.’ All those slogans will not work in 2023. Virtually, everybody will be on his own. It will be the survival of the fittest and that is not going to be good. Unlike in the other three geopolitical zones, North-East, North-West and North-Central, the Buhari mantra, Buhari’s name and personality consistently gave us 12 million votes from 2003. Now, the 12 million votes is not there. So, if you remove 12 million votes from our votes, you will end up with three million votes. Even, I heard the governor of Katsina State saying that the Buhari personality will not be there for us. It is something that will be very interesting. Meanwhile, the memory of the damage that PDP did to the physche of Nigerians has not been totally eradicated. So, they are wondering which one it is going to be. APC really needs to sit up. If we sit up within this remaining time, it will be easy to defeat PDP because what PDP did to Nigerians is still fresh in their memory, but they will be wondering is it better than the PDP without Buhari especially and coupled with the fact that we have some challenges which we must be realistic about, especially the challenge we are facing with insecurity. It is a big problem and minus to our party and this administration and that is why I, particularly because as an ardent supporter of Buhari because he is my mentor, still feel very bad about what is going on. I know that Buhari, is equally worried but as usual, he delegates the power but, unfortunately, those he delegated the power to have deregulated the power.
By 2023, Buhari would have exercised eight years of the North-West and there is no clear cut position on which zone will take the shot after the North-West’s eight years. Which zone do you think should pick the presidential ticket of APC in 2023?
For APC, it is natural that the president should come from the South and I am a frontline advocate of that because I believe in equity and justice and where there is no equity and justice, there won’t be peace. When APC was formed, we zoned the president to the North. That is why four candidates from the North contested and one candidate only from the South-East. No candidate contested from the South-South and the South-West. Only one candidate which was [Rochas] Okorocha and everybody knew then he just wanted to exercise his rights. He didn’t even relinquish his gubernatorial ticket; he put his in-law there and when the result came out as expected, he went back and picked his gubernatorial ticket. This time round in APC, it is only natural for every person of conscience to support a candidate from the South, whether it is South-South, South-East or South-West. To me, in APC, supporting a candidate from the North is tantamount to a third term for Buhari, because the constitution is very clear. It says there must be equity in position, even in appointment. My position is known on that. I will not support a northern candidate and I don’t think APC will support a northern candidate. Southern candidate is the way to go. But for the PDP, it is a different ball game. I am not in PDP. The PDP scenario is different from that of APC. For the APC, as I said, to support the northern candidate is tantamount to a third term for Buhari.
There is this slogan rightly or wrongly about National Assembly being referred to as rubber stamp. In fact, the Senate president once said whatever Buhari presents is good for Nigerians and that they will always be on the same page. You are saying you are not a rubber stamp but your actions speak differently.
On moral grounds, because I contested for the leadership of the Senate, that means maybe the position of Senate would have been different from what it is now because in my nine-point agenda, I stated what I would have done as Senate President and the sitting Senate President, I don’t think it would be morally right for me to make comments on the performance of the Senate which I am part of.
Decisions are taken with me in there even though so many decisions that are taken do not necessarily go down well with my person. But then, it means I am either a loner or a minority as to what is being done.
What I want to say is that there is a reason whereby the framers of the constitution separated powers. The separation of power does not mean that we are supposed to be enemies or that the checks and balances that the constitution requires are not there. The executive as an arm of government, if they bring something and you reflect on that thing, you can amend it, adjust or advise otherwise, whatever you think should be done as a human being. Buhari is a human; he can never be perfect and again, two heads are better than one. The judiciary is supposed to adjudicate but now they have only one head and one head cannot be better than two. There are so many things there. If you are a husband, you cannot be a wife. Even if you said you wanted to be a wife, it is only going to be temporary because this same sex marriage is not even allowed in Nigeria. It is not natural. So, when you say the executive and the legislative are the same. No, they are not the same. We are supposed to provide the checks and balances.
Do you think that is lacking so far?
Yes, so far. The necessary checks and balances are not visible. If it is visible, you won’t be calling us rubber stamp. I have been hearing this repeatedly; the rubber stamp does not mean that we should be fighting the executive. I don’t believe in that.
But are you not worried that in your crave to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship between the executive and the legislative arms of government, there is perceived insolence of members of the federal cabinet like ministers when they come for appearance before committees. Are you not worried that it is rubbing negatively on the parliament?
I have been observing the recent fracas and misunderstanding in the committee works, I think that has to do with experience. This leadership made a mistake of trampling on the traditions of the National Assembly. You don’t set up committees and hand them over to a new member; he will not handle them the way they are supposed to be. In the National Assembly, you give committees to experienced members because that is what we have. You don’t hand over with files, it is with experience. But these days, they give committee chairmen as settlement and that is very unfortunate.
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