Like a cat with nine lives, Senator Ali Ndume (APC Borno South) seems to be bouncing back to political reckoning given last week’s declaration of his suspension by the Senate as illegal and unconstitutional by a Federal High Court, FELIX NWANERI reports
The senator representing Borno South Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Ali Ndume, is in the news again. This time, the former Senate leader, who was in March suspended by his colleagues for failing to do due diligence before bringing up two issues before the whole house, had a Federal High Court in Abuja declare the suspension illegal and unconstitutional. Trouble had started for Ndume, when through a Point of Order, he brought to the notice of the Senate, an allegation of purchase of a bullet proof Range Rover Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) worth N298 million by the Senate president, Bukola Saraki.
He also called the attention of the Senate to the issue of certificate scandal involving Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West). Relying on Senate Standing Orders 14 and 15, which deal with the privileges of senators, Ndume urged the Red Chamber to thoroughly investigate the allegations because they had portrayed the apex chamber in bad light as well as subjected it to public ridicule.
He said the allegation over the purchase of the SUV had prompted insinuations that it was the vehicle’s alleged seizure by the Customs Service that led to the perceived persecution of the Comptroller-General of Customs, Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd) by the Senate.
The upper legislative chamber consequently directed its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to look into the allegations. However, Saraki and Melaye were cleared of the respective allegations by the Senator Samuel Anyanwuled committee, while Ndume was handed six months suspension. Ndume, who is a ranking senator, was faulted by the committee for his inability to follow laid down rules on investigating a matter before bringing it up on the floor.
The drastic resolution of the Senate against Ndume came in spite of pleas by some senators that the chamber should show him mercy as a first offender, but majority overwhelmingly approved his suspension. But for the intervention of some senators, who amended the initial recommendation of the committee, the Borno senator would have been suspended for 181 days (a year). Anyanwu, who presented the report of the committee, told the Senate that Saraki’s name was not mentioned anywhere in the bill of lading or any document whatsoever connected with the importation or purchase of the SUV. According to him, the respondents at the investigative hearing attested that the Senate president did not import any SUV as claimed in the reports in an online medium, which Ndume made reference to. He also told the Senate that the report was fabricated with the intent to embarrass the Senate president, the Senate and by extension, the National Assembly.
The committee also observed that Ndume did not conduct due diligence on the report before bringing the matter to the floor of the Senate. It noted that as a former Senate Leader and a ranking senator, he was expected to have weighed the consequences of the allegation and carefully investigated it before present-ing it. On the allegation against Melaye, the committee stated that Kogi senator obtained a first degree in Geography from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.
The report noted that, having failed to cross-check facts before presentation at plenary, Ndume could not be said to be a patriotic representative of the Senate, and should be penalised to serve as deterrent to others.
Consequently, the committee recommended that the Senate do suspend him for “bringing Senator Dino Melaye, his colleague, and the institution of the Senate to unbearable disrepute at this time of our national life, when caution, patriotism, careful consideration and due diligence should be our watchwords.”
The committee also recommended that the suspension should take effect from March 29 to last for six months, after it was amended from 181 days earlier recommended. When the matter was put to voice vote, the yeah had it and the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the matter, announced that the suspension has been reduced to six months. He added that the punishment would serve as a deterrent to those who indulge in rumour peddling and other indecorous behaviours that could undermine the integrity of the Senate and its members.
The Senate’s decision was however faulted by Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), who described it as the height of the serial illegality in the Senate. Some other analysts, reasoned that it was obvious from the verdict of the Senate that Ndume was punished for his previous offences against the Red Chamber.
They cited the tone of some of his colleagues, who said that he had been working against the interest of the Senate before the issues he raised against Saraki and Melaye. For instance, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (Delta North), particularly pointed out that Ndume was the one, who attacked the Senate on its resolutions on the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Engr. Babachir Lawal; Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu and the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hammed Ali. No doubt, there could be some substance in Nwoboshi’s claim, but Ndume’s indifferent position against that of a majority of his colleagues on the respective issues is understandable given the way he was removed as the Senate leader.
In what many described as a parliamentary coup, the Borno South senator was shown the way out as the Senate Leader and Senator Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North) nominated to replace him immediately.
Ndume was innocently conducting the business of the Senate on the day of his removal (January 10) as the majority leader until about 12:45 pm, when he reportedly stepped out of the chamber to observe his prayers within the White House at the National Assembly complex. Unfortunately for him, by the time he was done with his prayers, he returned to the Chamber to continue with the business of the day only to discover that the place had been deserted.
His colleagues had hurriedly executed their “coup” and quickly vacated the hallowed chambers to avoid any pandemonium, in case Ndume returns and decides to reclaim his position. Lawan, no doubt, was the preferred candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Presidency for the office of President of the Senate, a proposal, which its abortion by Saraki’s emergence triggered an impasse that shook the ruling party to its foundation. As a contestant for the Senate presidency alongside the incumbent, Saraki , Lawan was recommended by the leadership of the APC for the post of Senate Majority Leader, following his failure to clinch the Senate presidency but was rejected by the APC North-East caucus.
After the party’s calculation failed, its leadership and the presidency made several desperate attempts to persuade Ndume to step down for Lawan as Senate leader, but the former insisted that God gave him power and only God can take it away from him. However, the same APC Senate caucus, which backed his emergence as majority leader, pulled the rug off his feet over what the lawmakers described as antagonistic posture exhibited by Ndume against Senate’s decisions on critical issues. Ndume, however, swallowed the bitter pill and moved on with his legislative duties before his suspension.
But, like the cat with nine lives, succour came his way last week, when Justice Babatunde Quadri, who ruled on the suit he instituted against his suspension, held that the 90 legislative days’ suspension is illegal.
The judge said the suspension “is a violation of his right to fair hearing and freedom of expression as guaranteed by sections 36 and 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Article 7(1) and 9(2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, 2004.” While, it is relief for Ndume, it is not yet Uhuru as the Senate has appealed the ruling
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