Senator Ali Ndume speaks on the 2023 Election and the 10th National Assembly Leadership

 From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye

Senator Ali Ndume

Senator Ali Ndume has said that democracy does not exist in Nigeria as far as he was concerned. Speaking on Channels TV Sunday Politics, he alleged that leadership positions in the National Assembly were being bought by kleptocrats and plutocrats.

Is the outcome of the election exactly what you thought it would be?

Yes. But there were actually some surprises.

Which of the results surprised you?

Lagos, South East.

South East surprised you?

Yes.

You thought your party, the PDP would make an inroad?

Not really. The performance of LP is actually above my expectation.

You never thought Peter Obi could pull that string?

Yes. Even in the general election, all over especially, he had six million votes.

It indicates, he goes to talk about something that people don’t really talk about. And that is to say… I think the science are out there that the middle income group or social group and the youths are getting tired of the… do I even include myself at the upper level of 60s, 70s, 80s, who have been in the corridors of powers since they were 30.

You have been?

Yes. I have been in the National Assembly for 20 years but not because I am directly involved. The quality of work in the National Assembly depends on the number of people who have the experience or ranking. That is why right now in the US Senate, the oldest person has been there for 43 years. Joe Biden was in the Senate for 32 years and the ranking plays a great role there because we are legislators. But in the Executive, you need people that are youthful, that are young that have the energy to execute.


Your candidate was declared winner although a lot of reactions have trailed it. Some people are not happy, some of your supporters are happy. What do you make of them?


Nigerians have spoken. You see, we are trying to hype up trivialities like religion, like tribe but an ordinary Nigerian don’t buy into that and that election results have shown that too.

You think so?

Yeah.

I mean because those who have analyzed that the same religion strategy of your party appears to have worked in your region for example in the North east, is the reason your party performed and in the North West in that regard?

I can say to some extent but our party that is tagged as Muslim Muslim or a Muslim party, won some seats in the South East. We have senators from South East, we have senators from South South and we have senators from North Central. There’s no region or geo-political zone that APC didn’t have a candidate.


Have we learnt any lesson at all if the cleavages of this country has been widened by this dirty part of politics?


No we have not. Especially the politicians are banking on this to the extent that to me now, democracy in Nigeria doesn’t exist because I have said once or twice here that the whole polity of democracy has been taken-ever-by-kleptocrats and plutocrats and now religion and tribal sentiments have been placed in it; putting democracy itself, that is government of the people, for the people and by the people have been put in the background and those kleptocrats and plutocrats


and then the tribal thing and religion; now you find people instead of going to the public to campaign, they go to churches, they go to Mallam to go and campaign.


People can blame you and your friends for that?

Who are my friends?

They are politicians

Yeah! Politicians are from the public, we are not from the moon, politicians are like you maybe because you are not in politics because you didn’t have the chance to be.

No not because I don’t want to but because I am comfortable doing what I am doing?

I am comfortable being a politician too. I didn’t complain about your own. Why should you tell me that my own is not good? Let’s not get off the track.

The track is what you and you colleagues have done during these elections; those you said are bad elements. Have we learnt any lessons?

No. We have not. People are emphasizing on this. Just this morning, somebody was telling me when I told him I was coming to this programme, this is just in Nigeria. You see, if you go to America, religion is not playing or where you come from. Hillary Clinton was at one time from one state and then she moved over to New York to become a senator. In those days when we were not civilized, the first mayor in this South East was an Hausa man, and at one time, a Kanuri man came to Benue because he couldn’t get ticket in Borno; he contested in Benue State and he was a member of House of Reps.

The candidate from your party, Bola Ahmed Tinubu will be sworn in as the next president. Since some of these sentiments have largely divided the Nigerian people, what will you suggest that he does immediately to fix these cleavages?

Immediately he takes over, the Bola Tinubu that I know, married to a Christian, when he was in government, had Christians, Muslims, Igbo in his cabinet. That means he will be able to carry Nigerians along. I think he has already naturally started. He has a wife that is not only a Christian but a Pastor. Would you say that now Tinubu will not be fair to Christians? They will have problems right in his bedroom. So the problem is solved. How can you say just because Tinubu is a Muslim…it’s a personal something. Okay, supposing Tinubu decides to be a Christian tomorrow? Everybody will shut up right? My mother is a christian, she died as a Christian, my siblings are Christians.

Is it possible you will be a Christian?


Me? No no. I am a Muslim. I don’t have problem with Christians.

So the issue of your faith is personal?

So it should not be any issue.

Absolutely. I mean in the real sense of the word, should religion be part of our politics?

So you know what they do in America? Actually, they don’t talk about religion. If you are talking about religion, go to church, go to mosque. I went to school in America, in the university, you don’t see church, you don’t see mosque, no prayers. Every time here, you start with prayers, you close with prayers.


As it stands, your party holds the majority in both chambers of the National Assembly, although different figures compared to 2019 and 2015…

I think 57.

Yes. In the senate for example, out of the 109 seats, out of the 102 seats declared so far pending the completion of election in some parts of the country, APC has 55, PDP 33, Labour Party 8, NNPP 2, SDP 2, APGA 1, YPP 1. Let’s switch to House of Reps, out of the 326 seats so far declared, 160 seats are for the APC, PDP has 105, Labour Party 34, NNPP 18, APGA, 4, SDP2, ADC 2, YPP 1. It is the most colourful National Assembly since Nigeria returned to the fourth republic in 1999.

But there are other contentions, those jostling for the different positions in the Senate and House of Reps. Do you want to be the Senate President?

I tried to be Senate President twice and this is what we need to discuss about the leadership of the National Assembly. It is not about people just throwing in their hat for it. This is the National Assembly that is supposed to be an institution to oversight the executive and therefore, leadership should be based on certain criteria. Especially, in the emergence of leadership one of the criteria normally is experience and that is what we call the ranking. But in considering the political scenario of today, you just don’t put that as the famous thing. Besides, as these people came out, they have the right to do that, the party said we should hold on, they should be more of consultations other than pronouncements that I want to contest. And of course, if I say I want to contest, and the party said no that it is not fair for the Senate President to come from the North or the North East, then do you now say I want to contest against the wish of the party? Which we did at one time and the aftermath was a bit clumsy and we don’t want to have a repetition of that.


So, we are holding on till the party decides. If the party zones to the North as they did in the case of presidency, where the governors and the party at one time said it should be from the South, and that was what led to the emergence of our current president-elect. If the party says that the Senate President should come from a particular zone, we have to look at it and see whether it is fair.


Which region do you think it would be fair? The president-elect is from the south west, the Vice president is from the north east, in your experience where do you think that the Senate President and the Speaker should come from?

For me, the leadership of the National Assembly should be open in the first instance.

Open?

Yeah

We should not consider the interest of other regions that are not captured?

Look, the Senate President is not supposed to be a regional president, he is the President of the Nigerian Senate. In the United States and that is the Democracy we are trying to copy and that is not what we are actually fully practising, the vice president is constitutionally the Senate President, they have what they call Senate President Pro Tempore, that is the person who presides on the daily basis anytime the Senators are sitting. He is normally the most senior. Then, you have the Senate leader that is also based on seniority. They don’t talk where you come from.

In the Congress, that is the House of Representative, it is the same thing there; normally, seniority plays a role too but the leadership in there is more open that’s why I think they had their elections seven times or more before they eventually agree because they didn’t quite come to the numbers that is lawfully agreed for the leader to appear.

So you see in our own case, we have 109 senators and what did the Constitution or the Senate standing order say as it is now; the leadership emergence is not clearly stated that it must be based on region. Section 50 of the Constitution says that the Senate President shall be elected amongst its members.

I mean this is a political consideration that we are talking about, you know what happened in 2015 and 2019…

Don’t forget about what happened in 2023. I said it, people want to put it behind.

The current president-elect was not the parry’s candidate but you see…


That scenario could play out at at the national assembly?

Yeah! And let me tell you, I was part of the 2015 that you are reemphasizing on, I don’t think we were rebellious, we only did what we thought was right. Unfortunately one day when we got the leadership and if you can remember, I was a senate leader and I was removed because I went into disagreement with the Senate President then, Saraki because I told him that was not what we greed. We didn’t take over the National Assembly leadership to antagonise the Executive or engage in fighting unnecessarily but then I didn’t know that Saraki had his own agenda.

We were not supposed to fight the executive; we are supposed to oversight them, we are supposed to work interdependently, harmoniously without compromising the Constitutional role of the

National Assembly or the Senate and that is to say to oversight the executive. So while Saraki wanted to take us into fight with the executive, I disagreed with that.

Like the case of Magu’s confirmation, we started that fight so I don’t want people to be emphasizing that everybody…no the president of course or anybody can have interest to lead us, nobody should tell us who should lead us, there will be something new.

Senators in the 10th National Assembly might not be exactly the same thing?


Okay let me give you an example. There are 76 new senators, so supposing they put themselves together and say this is the person who will lead us before the day of inauguration and they agree, would you say they can’t produce the Senate president?

But the constitution envisaged there should be inclusiveness and the balance of power. The president elect is from the South West, the vice president is from the North East, and both men are Muslims and there are also talks in your party that these consideration have to also be given prominence and the spread. Which region do you think is right to have the Senate president come from?

If you are going by this map that you are doing now, you have the president from the South West, you have the vice president from the North, where is the Chief Justice of the Federation coming from?

But those are not political sentiments?

Why not?

They are not elected; these ones are the elected ones…

The vice president was not elected but was appointed by the flag bearer.

But they were on a joint ticket, those in the judiciary are not elected?

But they are on the consideration. You are talking about the constitution and yet you are trying to drive away…

Maybe because you want to be Senate president, that is why you are thinking…

No, no, no. If I had wanted to be the Senate president without this consideration, you know me, I would have gone out to say I want to be the Senate president. But the time is not yet there. I can do that. Why not? The constitution did not stop me.

Now the times are different…

You are talking about government and religion, Jonathan was the president, was he not a christian from the South south, the Senate president then, David Mark was a Christian. Ekweremadu from the south East was a Christian, and Ette from South West was a Christian. Was it a big deal? Is it now because Kashim is a Muslim from the North East? And Tinubu happens to come from the South, so if you are talking about balancing South and North which is what we do, so you have the CJN from the South; you have the president from the South, the Senate president should come from the North or the speaker should come from the North in order to balance it, then you take another position available based on convenience.

So that’s why l’m saying allow Nigerians to make their choice; they have done that before.

When they started, they went to church and shouted above their voice that Muslim Muslim is not fair but Muslims and Christians, then they went for elections, Nigerians voted for Tinubu and now they are doubting that he won the election. I don’t want to talk about the matter because it is in the court.

I told you I was surprised with the performance of Peter Obi, and I see it is about age, energy and all that, I see him as one of those I have soft spot for. Tinubu is not from the North, he won in the North. He performed in some states better than Atiku. Atiku is from the North but he didn’t win.


There is a huge turnover, a lot of the lawmakers are not returning. How would this impact on lawmaking?

Honestly, that is the problem, it is like starting all over again. When I checked the numbers this evening, the returning senators are only 26. And in law making, there’s no library for you to refer to, there’s no handover note. That means we are starting from the scratch.

So there’s need for experience?

There’s a need for experience. Why are you talking to me? Because I have been there for the past 20 years. Some people are now saying, oh you have been there for a long time and that is why you need to go. Is like Nigerian politics is being turned into something that is turn by turn and that is what I really wanted to discuss. Is a very bad precedent; I see people coming to the National Assembly with nothing and then suddenly, because they have spent years in National Assembly, they become rich, something is wrong.

You see civil servants living in houses worth billions, nobody is asking questions. I have come to this programme several times, there should be an Unexplained Wealth Act. If you display wealth that is not in tandem with your income, you should be investigated and wealth confiscated and if it is extensive, you should be prosecuted.


Now you see what is happening? The position in the leadership of this country is becoming those that belong to kleptocrats and plutocrats. Democracy is no longer there.


So they are trying to buy these positions?

They are buying it already; that is what I am saying. Didn’t you hear about the accusation that they are sharing money?

And I was even thinking in the last election, if I had more money, I would have won. I don’t have money.

What will be the impact of the younger or the newer lawmakers. What do you think the 10th National Assembly will be like? Bola Tinubu, a former Senator, Kashim Shettima, a sitting Senator, they understand the politics of lawmaking.


And the party chairman was a senator, the party secretary is a senator, deputy national chairman North was a senator.

So you think your party should handle the politics of the National Assembly differently?

Yeah! In fact, it is already happening. This is going to be a rancour-free administration. You know, even the pedigree of our president-elect and the vice president and the chairman and all of us in there, given the fact that even the so-called new senators are not new, many of them I think about 20 are from the House of Representatives moving over so they have the experience. We have people coming from the houses of assembly, speakers; we have people that were Senators before that are not new. Akpabio, Izunaso, and some of these are coming back to the Senate, you know, so it’s not going to be and then when I see also the composition, they are not small people.

On a final note, what do you think is important for Nigerians to take note of Tinubu’s presidency and the 10th National Assembly? How expectant should Nigerians be?

Yeah! I think Nigeria should put more pressure on us the Senators and demand for what we are elected to be, we should put Nigeria first and Nigerians interest first in even determining these so-called leadership that you are talking about because as for Senate President, you are just a presiding officer. It’s supposed to be one among equals and not first among equals.


Source: Sun News

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