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Why I want to be Senate President — Senator Ndume

Senator Ali Ndume was re-elected in the March 28, 2015 National Assembly election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to represent Borno South Senatorial District. In this interview, he highlighted the reasons why the APC should zone to the North-East geo-political zone either the positions of Senate President or Speaker of the House of Representatives. He also spoke about his readiness to contest the position of Senate President. Excerpts:

The race for Senate leadership has commenced. The North-East is already clamouring for the seat of Senate President. Why are people from your area demanding that the position be zoned to them?
We are clamouring for the highest post in the National Assembly. We want it to be zoned to the North-East because in this political dispensation, the zone is the most marginalized. It is also the most traumatized zone because of the activities of the insurgents. As I said, the North-East has been devastated by the activities of Boko Haram. We believe that when we you look at the results of the election, the North-East really performed creditably well. We produced the second largest votes in the presidential election. That is one. Two, the North-East, particularly, Borno and Yobe states have been in the opposition ever since 1999, even during the second republic. This is the first time Borno and Yobe are part of central government.
The North-East geo-political zone, especially Borno, Yobe and part of Bauchi, is adjudged to be part of poorest region on earth in terms of United Nations Human Development Indices. If you look at the North-East in the last 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government, it is a region that has been mostly marginalized in terms of projects and federal presence. Now that there is a change, we feel that the North-East should be part of the change. That is why we are clamouring that North-East should be given either the Senate Presidency, the Speakership or any high position. This is because it is only when we have our own in the highest leadership position that we will be able to press our case for consideration. You know the common saying is that “he who is in the kitchen will never lack’. We are angry that the North-East is marginalized. We feel that we should have somebody. Now, the Vice President is from South-West. The next position available is the Senate President. We feel that that should go to North-East.
The APC members in the North-East, particularly those in the National Assembly, are party loyalists. We are still waiting for our party to zone the positions in the National Assembly. But we are clamouring for the zoning of the positions of Senate President or Speaker of the House of Representatives to the North-East. We are hoping and we are reminding them to have in mind, the peculiar needs, situations and circumstances that people in the North-East find themselves. I believe the party will consider that. If it does, what they feel should be given to the North-East should not be negligible.

How will you consider the demands of other zones in view of your current stand?
As at now, our major contender is North-Central. The North-Central is also clamouring for the zoning of the Senate President to them. The South-West, I understand, are proposing to hold on to Speakership in the House. But as I said, we have 60 Senators from the APC. All of us are eminently qualified to be the Senate President. But the horse-trading is which region deserves to be considered? The North-Central is pushing their case. We are also pushing our case. Finally, it is the party that will zone that position. We hope they zone it to us just as other zones are also clamouring for positions. We don’t have any problem with people when they also clamour for positions. We are putting our points across. They are doing their own. But when the party decides, we know what to do.

I understand you are also eyeing the seat of Senate President. What do you think you can do differently from past Senate Presidents?
I have been telling my colleagues that I want to be Senate President and not Senators’ President. This is my fourth term in the National Assembly. One of the major gaps in the National Assembly is leadership. I was a Minority Leader in the House of Representatives. Because of the way I related with our members, many people were saying that I was very powerful. I was not stronger physically. I just tried to look at myself as one among equals. Looking at my background, especially in the Senate, I’m among the small people in the Senate, where we have big men. We have former governors. We have big Nigerians. In the infinite mercy of God, we have people like Ndume, who come from a poor background to get to the Senate, where we have wives of governors, former ministers and rich people. That is one of the reasons why I think among big people, we should have a small man to preside. I think I will preside in a better way. The second point is that power is given by God to whoever He wants. I did not plan to become a Senator. I really enjoy being in the House of Representatives. But God in His infinite mercy, through my people, insisted that I should go to the Senate. I was in the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). I had issues with my governor. So, I left the party about 100 days to the election. I won the election and joined the Senate. In the Senate, we broke away from the PDP to form the New PDP. Twenty-four of us started with seven governors.  The governors dropped to five. Now, I’m in the Senate again. If I show you my phone, you will see the texts sent by many of my electorate, encouraging me to contest the leadership position in the Senate. So, what I’m doing is to try to represent my people.
 As I said, the Senate needs a Senate President. I’m saying this because the Senate needs to be very effective. I’m not saying that the Senate under the previous leadership did not perform. But a lot can still be done to improve the output from our Senate. The Senate has been more of a reactive organization under various leadership. There is a need for the Senate to be more proactive because of the changes in the country. Though the Senate has been a stabilizing factor in national polity, but it has been reacting. It is not proactive. When things get tough, the Senate intervenes. It is better to act before it gets to that point.
There is a need for the Senate to have a presiding officer who is truly presiding. The officer, who will take the decision of the majority and allow the minority to have its say. Someone who will allow every Senator to express himself or herself either in terms of motion on the Bill or anything else, rather than the way it is being done now. There is a lot that can be done to improve on the current Senate. Many Senators are clamouring for the position of Senate President, who will truly be one among equals. But the call on me to give it a shot is coming from my people. We feel that if it is zoned to the North-east, Borno State, where I come from, should be in the top priority of consideration.
The Senate needs change in the way things are being done. You will not understand some of these things because you are not an insider. But for Senators, who are insiders, particularly those who have been there, know that there is a need for change.

Can you shed light on some of those areas?
Mostly, these things will be more appreciated and understood by my colleagues, the Senators. The procedures, used while presiding at plenary session, need to be improved. Debates should be guided in such a way that anybody who is following from outside, will follow that debate interestingly and understand the process. As it is now, if you look at the Senate and watch the debates, it’s just like a mixed-up thing. If anybody turns on his TV and find out that the Senate is in session, he should be able to follow. This will depend on the way the Senate is led in terms of debates. Many incidences have happened. Let me give you an example; look at the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), it’s a Bill that has been hanging around. An important Bill like that should not last two sessions in the National Assembly. It is better to take a decision than not to take a decision at all. There are some important bills before the National Assembly. The bills have not been passed because of the controversy surrounding it. If you leave a problem, it grows. It is better you face it. That is one example. The other one is the procedure of debate which I mentioned before. It is better to allow those who are for a bill to present their points one after the other. Then, you take those who are against the bill. If somebody is following, he will be able to understand the debate. But if you mixed it up, a viewer will not be able to flow with the debate.

You said you are contesting among big men like Senator Bukola Saraki and Senator George Akume among others. Do you have any chance when facing these people?
The good thing is that it is not wrestling. It’s not a show of power. But it is an election among equals. Our colleagues, the 109 senators will sit down down and decide who leads them. As I said, I’m not contesting against Saraki and Akume because these are my respected colleagues. We are just talking about who is supposed to preside over the Senate. I feel if you put Saraki, Akume and myself together and ask us to elect who is to preside at meetings, they will probably ask me to do that; the two of them. So, it’s not about big men. No. It is not about the Senators. It is about the Senate. It brings me back to my point. I’m trying to contest and become Senate President and not Senators’ President. I want to preside over the Senate. The experience we have been having is the inability of individuals to draw a clear line between being Senators’ President and Senate President. The Senate will be run as a Senate that belongs to all. The decision on the floor on the Senate will be decision of the majority and for all of us. The minority will always have their say when the majority has their way. That brings stability and efficiency. If it is zoned to North-East, even many of my colleagues in the North-East, the Senators, will prefer me to preside over the Senate. If it is an election, if the Senators are to go out there and cast their votes, I have this confidence that I will win.  If it is zoned to North-East, I feel I should offer myself for consideration by my colleagues. But if it is not zoned, I will not come out to disobey the party’s decision because I’m a party man. But we believe that justice will be done to North-East.

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