North is not afraid of restructuring- Ndume
Senate Majority Leader, Senator Muhammed Ndume, represents Borno Central Senatorial District. In this interview, Ndume speaks on claims on the padding of the 2011 budget by some leaders of the House of Representatives. He also speaks on the agitations in the Niger Delta and the South-East for restructuring and the fate of the North should that happen. There is agitation everywhere across the country. Niger-Delta militants in the creeks are clamouring for the control of oil in their region. IPOB and MASSOB in the South-East are asking for independence. Is it not high time we restructured this country? Sen. Ndume If there is a need to restructure, if there is a need to redefine our existence as a nation, it should be through dialogue. We came together through dialogue. When our colonial masters wanted to give us independence in 1957, northerners said ‘hold on, we are not ready yet, let us get our house in order’. So, the independence was not by force. All I am saying is that whatever we want to do to make changes, it should not be through violence but dialogue. It should not be through threat and all the negative means that we are seeing daily. We came together by mutual consent. Why must we separate through violence? It cannot work because we didn’t force ourselves on anybody. And so, I don’t think it is right to use derogatory words on one another. There are some countries that do not have resources and they are surviving. In other words, there is no part of this country that does not have one mineral or another. If the country is divided today, northerners will not die. The resources we are all talking about, they didn’t come from anybody. God gave them to us. Nobody made you to be Fulani, Igbo or Yoruba. It is God’s decision to make us what we are. So, do you believe in restructuring Nigeria? It depends. If Nigerians want restructuring, I have no problems with that. But it can’t be one part of the country, it must be holistic. Then, there must be a proposal, there must be constitutional amendment, there is referendum to be held before we can be talking of restructuring. Recently, Britain exited from the European Union, EU, the people didn’t fight. There was no life lost in the whole drama. Again, I don’t think we should be dwelling too much on oil. The so-called oil is gradually becoming non-fashionable. Other sources of energy are emerging everyday. Time would come when nobody would be talking about oil anymore. Meanwhile, find out the quantity of the reserves of oil in the North,you will be shocked at what we have. It is much more than what you can imagine. The perception that President Buhari is acting like a Northern President makes it more real when you notice that several of his key aides and the nation’s security heads were appointed from the North. Meanwhile, his election victory was pan-Nigerian. Buhari, with his exposure, will never descend to the level you are describing him. Buhari is Nigerian President. He is from the North. But the Constitution is very clear as to how appointments are made and I challenge you to show me where he has so far breached the Constitution in terms of the appointments you are talking about. The appointments is the President’s privilege. He has the discretion as to who he wants and when he wants it, bearing in mind the principle of Federal Character. When former President Goodluck Jonathan was making appointments then, northerners were marginalised. And the heavens didn’t fall. Again, he didn’t breach any part of the Constitution by the appointments. Now, the election victory was not pan-Nigeria as you were insinuating earlier. I disagree with you. Buhari won overwhelmingly in four geo-political zones. The North, which consists of three zones, and the South-West. We lost in the South-East and South-South. I am speaking here as a private citizen to which I have the right. You cannot eat your cake and have it. Even in the democracy we are copying, America, in their Senate, there are 44 Democrats and 54 Republican and two Independents. The congress is controlled by the Republicans where there is no single committee chairman for Democrats. Again, let it be stated that this is not in defence of Buhari’s action. He can speak for himself. This is my own opinion. When Buhari and Jonathan contested, South-South and South-East overwhemingly supported their own which is normal. When appointments are coming now, besides fair representation, if I were some of the people crying, I would not be looking up to appointments from a government I did not elect. But he is supposed to be the father of all Yes, the father of all, but at the same time, you probably favour the child out of your children that likes you more. If you favour the child that misbehaves, there is the tendency that the good child may have a rethink of his perception of the father. The last ambassadorial appointments by the Jonathan administration, of all the 25, none came from the North and nothing happened, and that was because there was no constitutional breach. Here in the Senate, the opposition party has about 20 committee chairmen from the South-South and South-East. In the last Senate, the opposition got only three committee chairmen. Talking about committee chairmen, the Senate President reshuffled the committee chairs such that some members of the Unity Forum were given plum committees. Many people have attributed this to appeasing the Tinubus and the Lawals of this world. To some extent, that is true. What is wrong in making peace? After the emergence of the 8th Senate, there was turbulence and this was as a result of two things: The emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President and later my emergence as Senate Leader against the directive of the APC. Of course, there was the perception of marginalization. And I once told my colleagues that if giving up my position as Majority Leader will bring about peace, I was ready to relinquish it because I am not better than any of the senators just as none is better than me. We are all equal. But they insisted that I stay on, especially my caucus that appointed me. That is the tradition in the Senate. One of the ways of resolving it was to reorganize the committees to assuage the feelings of those who felt short changed. The Senate President brought the proposal and we concurred because there is nothing too much to do to bring about pence. You said President Muhammadu Buhari and Ashiwaju Ahmed Tinubu are your mentors. When did these two persons suddenly become your mentors? Your insinuation is wrong. They did not suddenly become my mentors. The two persons,in fact,three persons are my mentors became. I have since included the Oba of Lagos. These persons became so at different times and in different circumstances. In the case of President Buhari, when I was in secondary school, he was posted to the North-East as governor. We were seeing him afar. I liked the way he ran the affairs of the state in such a transparent and honest manner, even though it was for a short time. That action of his endeared him to me. That was 1976 and since then I have been following his activities and trying to identify myself with his principles. And when he became the Head of State in 1980, I was one of the few students at Kaduna Polytechnic that staged a peaceful protest in support of the change of administration. I was the President of Borno State students at that time. So since then, anything about Buhari, I try to associate myself with it. And I openly told him this sometimes back, that I wanted him to be my mentor. I don’t believe in having a god-father and I am sure Buhari too would not want to be god-father to anybody. I was one of those that encouraged him to join politics in 2002. Even when he was leaving the ANPP for the CPC,. I was strongly against it. When I heard information of him leaving for another party, I gathered all the members of ANPP in the National Assembly and state chairmen across the country and went to him in Kaduna to beg him not to do it. That is history. I am only giving this information so that you can know that my relationship with him did not just happen. When he moved over to the CPC, I refused. I told him that the people, in the CPC were just trying to use him and then betray him. Indeed, they betrayed him. Even my joining APC, Buhari was instrumental to it. I had told him that I won’t join APC because Ali Modu Sherrif was in the party. Of course, everybody is aware of my fall-out with Sherrif at that time. So, I did not want to be in the same party with him. Buhari was one of the people that the leaders of the different groups that make up APC sent to talk to me. So, when we were to sign, he was the one that called me and said I should sign. And I signed. And when I complained that Sherrif was in the party, he said to me that he was also in the party and that if he was here, he would surely stand for me and my rights. When I joined the PDP initially, I didn’t get his blessing because, just like others, he was of the view that I should join the CPC but CPC was not on ground in Borno and I didn’t have the resources to build the party from the scratch because my structure was only in three local government areas when I was in the House of Representatives and three structures cannot be substituted for nine structures which make up the senatorial district. But PDP at that time had the structures in place and it did everything to encourage me to join the party even to the extent of the incumbent giving up his seat for me. I joined the party less than 100 days to the election. In the case of Ashiwaju Tinubu, I didn’t know he too was observing me from afar. When he was to celebrate his 60th birthday, he invited 60 people for a special dinner. And he asked Senator Remi, his wife, to specifically asked to join the celebration. I went there. It was when I got there that he told me that I was one of the few that he liked his progression in politics and my bluntness conviction in anything I believe in even under threatening situation. I was really humbled by his remark. Three people were to speak that day. I was one of the three even though I was not aware. I guess most of the people there were impressed by what I said. I said Tinubu was and still not a Yoruba leader, but a national leader. And whether we like it or not, the change we are now witnessing is the hardi-work of Ashiwaju. He mobilized and did everything to ensure we are where we are today. That endeared him to me too. I also formally, just as I did to Buhari, asked him to be my mentor. As I said earlier, I don’t have a god-father, because you don’t disagree with your god-father, but I disagree with my mentors both of them sometimes even though we still make up. We disagree sometimes and once they have a superior argument, I concur. When this 8th Assembly was about taking shape, Buhari didn’t say in particular his choice for the Senate President but Ashiwaju came out that I should support Ahmed Lawal since I did not indicate my interest to him abiabi nitio. That is the story. It is not that Tinubu doesn’t like and that he supported Lawal against me, no. After the election, Ahmed Lawal quickly declared his interest for the senate President but I stayed back in Borno. But by that time, Ashiwaju through his friend Abu Ibrahim had committed himself to Ahmed Lawal. And Tinubu as a man of honour would not commit himself and reneged. And he told me this that, look, I didn’t know he had interest and you didn’t tell me. It is late because I have already committed myself. As you can see none of us faught Ashiwaju over it neither did we fight each other over the tussle. Tinubu is one of those that whenever I am in Lagos, either on a private visit or official, I must go to his house, whether he is at home or not. Then the Oba of Lagos. I must do “do bale” to him whenever I am in Lagos. Though he is not a politician, he is my mentor too. He is like my father. Now, he has said I must call him, at least once in a week. And I have complied. Budget padding in the House of Representatives. Actually there is nothing like the word padding in the National Assembly. There can be some abnormal processes but you cannot say the National Assembly pads budget because there is nothing like that in the Senate. Yes, the budget, when brought to the National Assembly, can be tinkered with such that it can remove here and put there, it is not the same thing with what you are talking about. Let me give you an example from my own area. There is a road that has degenerated so much so that it is impassable. Biu-Gombe Road, it was not in the budget. But my constituents have consistently pleaded that I should make sure that the road is done. It is now in the new budget as I pleaded it should be added to the budget. What do you call such, padding? I did what I am elected to do – represent the interest of my people. And that interest is to get Biu-Gombe road done so that it can ease movement and improve trade and commerce. Everybody has one interest or the other in the budget and that is the way it is supposed to be. The 774 local government areas have different 774 interests and it must be accommodated; you know this issue of constituency projects has been on for sometime now. I have been talking about it for more than four years now. Even when I was in the House of Representatives, I sponsored the constituency development funding bill. If there is a law backing constituency projects, who to execute it, how, when and the processes of the execution, all this hullabato about the budget would not have arisen. But the bill did not see the light of the day. And I intend to re-present the bill. The constituency project thing is not new anywhere in the world. Some of the constituency projects are said to be non-existent as they are completed projects only on paper. That may be true because there is no measure of tracking the so called projects. That is one of the things I was fighting for. Now, your constituent’s believe that if you don’t bring anything home for them such that they can see physically – hospitals, roads, schools – you have not represented them well. I agree that there are certain abuses and mismanagement. And can that be done by legislators alone? No. It is usually done in connivance with the executive. So it needs to be looked at holistically rather than passing blames. I am in support of constituency projects because majority of the 774 local government areas would not have felt the impact of the Federal Government if not for these projects. I have built schools, primary health centres, boreholes, more than 100, distributed all manner of empowerment tools, including motorcycles, buses, tricycles, under constituency projects. With the bitting effects of the economy on Nigerians, is the ruling APC not making PDP popular? And is the party considering returning to power 2019. Yes, APC will return. However, I am not God. The economic situation we found ourselves in and the change mantra of the ruling party are two different things. God forbid. If what is happening today were to happen during the PDP era, a lot of things would have collapsed. These are heartless and wicked people such that they take what they didn’t need even when they know it I s injurious and kept in soak-away and farms. Can you believe? This government is transparent ; you can’t give you don’t have. What is happening now is not a result of inefficiency. We are even lucky to __ this kind of President at this point in time the integrity of this man is not in question. With this man, Nigeria’s image abroad is soaring. When the head is good, the body will be safe. The problem we found ourselves has a lot to do with the previous government. Again, we didn’t have savings which would helped during this period. The government of Buhari came in when everything was a ground zero. The changes may not be felt now and that is because a lot of damage had been once in the past such that it would take a while before things begin to be normal again. You can only compare the effectiveness and performance of this government with the past administration. If the resources at the disposal of the past administration is available to this government. Again, those shouting the lowest that this government is bad are the people whose number of drinks have drastically reduced. Unlike before, ministers now fly economy flight. I was with the minister of communication last week on economy seat. If it were before, the ministers were living like kings, and queens.“most of the ministers today have not added any weight rather, they are losing weight. This is not business as usual. It is time to bring back the glory of this country back, and that is not a tea party. It is hardwork. And what we can do to the is to support them so that we can collectively reach the el dorado.