Former Senate Majority Leader, Senator Mohammed Ali-Ndume, in this interview with JOHN AMEH, SUNDAY ABORISADE and LEKE BAIYEWU, speaks on expectations from the 9th National Assembly, the choice of leadership and the fallout of the 2019 general elections
What is your assessment of the conduct of the 2019 elections?
Well, I think so far, so good. The most important thing in any election is credibility and fairness. I think we can safely say that the Independent National Electoral Commission has tried its best this time, despite some hiccups, to conduct a free, fair and transparent election, internationally acceptable. That is what I can say.
Are you not saying this because you are a member of the ruling party? In many states, the opposition does not see things the way you just spoke
Look, compared to the elections conducted and supervised in the past by the Peoples Democratic Party, you can say that the elections conducted under the All Progressives Congress have been fair. Virtually, there were no elections conducted under the watch of the PDP administrations. There was more of selection or allocation of votes. But this time round, election was done freely and transparently. In fact, if it wasn’t for the transparency, the elections wouldn’t have been considered inconclusive in some states. It’s because the umpire wants everything to be transparent, that’s why INEC now said, okay, there were issues in some places, let us do the right thing by doing it again. This is to make sure that the wish of the people is what you get at the end of the day. So, the cancellation of the results of the governorship election in some areas shows that INEC is bent on conducting a free, fair and transparent election.
But there was so much violence which resulted in deaths, allegations of massive rigging and voter intimidation by the military
In fact, if you make a comparison with what we used to see before under the PDP, you can say, thank God! The reason is that, the issue of election violence can never be completely eliminated, but it can be minimised. That is what this government and INEC have succeeded in doing; they minimised violence. Even in areas where the elections were inconclusive, not all of them had violence as such, but peaceful demonstrations. Violence was reported in only one or two areas in the country. All of this is part of the democratic process, and to be fair to ourselves, we have to thank God. Recall that even before the elections proper, tension was so heightened in the country that people thought that there might be no elections at all. But, we thank God that the elections took place. We have to thank God. In a big country like Nigeria, it is natural to expect that a few incidents will happen during general elections. There are interests and there are classes of people.
So, can we justify violence since you said the PDP also did it in their time?
As for the complaints of the PDP, that is normal. In this country, over 75 political parties participated in the elections. But nobody is crying out about violence, rigging and what have you like the PDP. That is because of their desperation. Even during the campaigns, they were not campaigning but complaining, crying, criticising or contradicting themselves.
What ways can Nigeria improve on its electoral system? Can INEC be better and what support can the National Assembly give in terms of reviewing the Electoral Act?
The National Assembly is already playing its role, and it is looking at the law that guides the conduct of elections (Electoral Act). It can be further improved upon any time, and the doors are open to anybody with suggestions to offer on how to improve on the law. As I said before, an activity like an election can’t be achieved 100 per cent at a go. You keep looking at it, the good sides, the weaknesses, the opportunities and threats, and you improve on them. INEC too is bent on doing that now; it is not yet perfect, but it is fair. I want to add that the major challenge we have in Nigeria is that people go into elections with one mindset -to win at all cost! Election has two sides, you either win or you lose. We should be prepared for both sides. People do not want to accept that they have lost because they went in with the mindset of winning by all means. Somebody must lose in an election. That is the truth.
The 8th National Assembly, particularly the Senate, has been unstable through its lifespan because of many crises. What will be different in the 9th Senate?
Well, we are now in a democracy. What I am appealing to the party (APC) and the leadership, is to allow democracy to prevail. Democracy has its rules of engagement. It wasn’t good for the 8th National Assembly because the party did not do what it was supposed to do at the right time. Naturally, the members of the National Assembly had to do what they had to do. That is history now. Going forward, I suggest that first, the ruling party with the majority should come out clearly from the beginning to zone positions of principal officers early. Thereafter, the party should allow the members or the senators from that zone to elect from among themselves a leader. The problem, like I always say, is imposition of leaders. The Executive always attempt to put somebody whom they perceive is their own. That is not the right thing to do. The right thing to do is to guide the National Assembly. Say okay, Senate President should come from this zone, then the senators from the zone should go and produce a candidate. They can either shortlist people or they leave it open. Shortlisting is because the party may have A,B,C in mind. But, when you insist that it is only one candidate, that is where the trouble is. That candidate may not be acceptable to all and secondly, it’s not being fair to other contestants to just close their chances. Doing so is not democratic.
What is your next step, now that Ahmad Lawan has been endorsed by the APC for the position of Senate President in the ninth National Assembly?
The decision by the party to settle for an individual instead of zoning the position of Senate President to a particular geopolitical zone, and also failing to consult senators from that zone to decide who among them they want or they prefer as the candidate for the Senate President and who will ultimately lead to election on the floor of the Senate, came to me by surprise.
The National Chairman of our party just informed us that a decision has been taken to nominate Ahmad Lawan as the candidate of the North-East for the position of the Senate President. I am surprised and shocked, and I believe that the feelings of my colleagues right now are still that of shock.
But your colleagues asked the party to give you the direction which was done?
The normal tradition or the constitutional provision for the emergence of the leadership of the Senate or National Assembly is clearly spelt out in the constitution. Section 50 (1A) of the constitution says that there shall be the Senate President and Deputy Senate President who shall be elected by the members of the House amongst themselves and Section 1 of the constitution clearly states that this constitution is binding on all Nigerians and government agencies and it also went further to state that any other law that contradicts the provisions of the constitution is null and void. To that extent and as a party that is supposed to be democratic and as a government that normally insists on allowing due process to prevail, it should have engaged the critical stakeholders before taking such decision because that is how candidates of the APC in all elections, normally emerge. It is either by consensus, indirect or direct primaries.
Are you saying that you were not briefed before the open announcement?
I am surprised that the decision was taken and we were not given the chance to even ask questions or make comments. The President was called upon to make his remarks and after that we recited the National Anthem. Even the chosen candidate was not given the chance to thank us or to say something about it. Those of us that are interested in contesting the position were not even consulted. I left the venue in shock.
So what is your next move?
I am now leaving this for God and for my people that elected me. I am going home (Borno State) right away to consult with the elders who gathered to and encouraged me to vie for the position. So, I will engage in consultations before I take the final position. But, I want to say that the party has taken a position and I ultimately await the decision of the Almighty God and that of my colleagues.
Do you really consider what the APC leadership has done as strange?
If you look at the history of the National Assembly, such action, normally do not go down well with members. In 1999, Evans Enwerem was imposed, he did not last. After that, Wabara was also imposed and he did not last. The PDP then, that we accuse of impunity did not do what the APC did on Monday. In 2003, the PDP showed wisdom by opening up the contest by just zoning the position to the North-Central and that led to the contest between David Mark and George Akume. Because that process was democratic, David Mark lasted two terms peacefully. I don’t think what happened on Monday has improved on the process but rather, worsened it.
Are you still going to contest on the day of inauguration?
If this is God’s decision, it will last, if it is not, God will take his own decision. I have a vision for the Senate because the Senate has drifted and is drifting to a position where it will not be able to serve its purpose. The Senate is supposed to be an institution of 109 senators to fashion out ways of stabilising the polity. It is not fair for somebody to appoint a leader for leaders. The leaders are supposed to appoint who should be their leader. The Senate President is supposed to be the President of the Senate not senators president. Now, we are again getting a senators president but this country needs a Senate President. Senators from the North-East are supposed to be given the honour of choosing from among us, or at best, the party should have invited some of us who are contesting and tell us to drop our ambition and support the party’s choice but I was not given that honour. Since Lawan has indicated his interest, I indicated my interest, Danjuma Goje indicated his interest, Abdullahi Adamu also indicated his interest, all of us deserve the honour to be invited for a meeting, but that was not done.
What do you really think was wrong with the choice of Ahmad Lawan?
It was Adams Oshiomhole that said that Ahmad Lawan should be our next Senate President. I don’t believe that, that is truly the position of Mr. President because, before I went into this contest, I consulted with Mr. President and he gave me the go-ahead. I consulted with Tinubu and he also gave me the go-ahead immediately after the primaries.
How easy will it be for the Senate to be interdependent under your leadership where you are widely believed to be one of the APC senators closest to President Buhari?
That makes it easier for us because I have been working closely with Mr President since 2003 in the All Peoples Party which was renamed as All Nigeria Peoples Party. We only part ways when he formed the Congress for Progressive Change and I went on a sojourn to the Peoples Democratic Party. I am an ardent supporter and I see Mr President as my political mentor; himself and others like Asiwaju (Bola Tinubu). I cannot boast of godfathers because I don’t have godfathers in politics but I am depending on God and my colleagues, with the support of the party to try my luck to become Senate president.
It seemed that you celebrated the fact that Bukola Saraki lost his return bid to the Senate than you celebrated your own re-election
No! No! No! I did not. All I said was that Saraki tried to play the role of a ruler, instead of a colleague. He was trying to play God and God doesn’t like that. And what has happened, has happened! I hope not only Saraki, but others will learn that whenever God entrusts power in you, don’t abuse it or encroach on God’s power. What you need to do is to serve the people, not to rule the people.
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