A former Majority Leader of the Senate, Ali Ndume, in a recent interview with Channels Television monitored by TOLUWANI ENIOLA, berated the leadership of the Senate for rejecting the nomination of Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
You raised an objection after the Senate ruled not to accept Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. What were the grounds for the objection?
It was not an objection, so to say. I just raised a point of order to call the attention of the Senate to the abnormalities that occurred in the process of the confirmation. As I said, democracy is all about numbers. There was the majority but I insisted on having my say. First of all, the last time I said that the Senate did not screen (Ibrahim) Magu was part of the reasons that I was removed as the Senate Majority Leader. But I have been vindicated because it was only yesterday (Wednesday) that the confirmation process was done and he was eventually rejected. The reasons put forward for his rejection had been previously presented (when senate refused to screen Magu). Mr. President appealed that he had done a (security) check and sent his name to the Senate again. I was surprised that the same letter that was communicated to the President, which he acted upon, was (again) used to disqualify or reject Magu. Do not forget that Magu is from Borno State – my state – so I have to stand by him. I believe in standing by what is right.
You said you are standing by your kinsman.
Yes, because he didn’t do anything wrong.
The Senate gave Magu an opportunity to defend himself against the Department of State Services’ report but he said he did not realise that the senate was going to ask him to do that and so did not bring his written response. Shouldn’t he have been able to reproduce orally what he wrote?
No, the senate was not trying Magu. The senate was in the process of confirmation. If you are accused of an offence, you are supposed to be given the right to a fair hearing. I don’t think the senate was the right place where that should be done. The senate is supposed to seek clarifications. I think that was what he did. He said, yes, there was a letter from the Department of State Services and allegations which he replied and that he could avail the senate with that response. Had it been he was told that he would be tried for the allegations or to prove his innocence against an allegation made by the DSS before the senate as part of the confirmation, that would have been the right thing.
Don’t you think Magu should have prepared himself ahead of the screening to answer those allegations?
This is what actually happened. There was a letter written by the DSS in response to a letter written by the Clerk of the Senate seeking security vetting on Magu and other members. The DSS replied on October 3, 2016 and the letter was communicated to us for whatever reason. We were not privileged to know what was in it until December 15. The truth of the matter is that there is more to it than what is being presented to the public.
What could that be?
I don’t know; because if we are in the same government. The President presents a nominee and if there are some issues, before we even go into plenary, or even the executive sessions or exposing it to other members, I feel there should have been discussions, and understanding of clarifications, from both sides. You just don’t ambush (others) – (that’s) the way I look at it.
You said you would stand by what is right. What would be right in this situation?
What I was thinking is that the Senate received a letter of nomination from the President, who is the Commander-in-Chief, under whom the DSS, police and other security agencies operate. Disagreeing later on the allegations of that magnitude should have been discussed with the Commander-in-Chief and getting clarifications before they even continue. That was not done.
Clarifications on what?
On the (DSS’) letter. For example, as the DSS did, and besides, communications are supposed to come from Mr. President to the Senate President. Even before yesterday (Wednesday), I raised the issue. Customs wrote a letter signed by an assistant director. It was rejected because it is not normal for a security report to be written to the clerk of the senate.
Who should the letter have been addressed to?
It should have been addressed to the senate president and signed by the Director General of DSS. That was not the case.
Who then signed the letter?
One F.O. Adams signed for the DSS director general. That is why I am laughing over it. It is funny. We cannot go on this way as a country. It won’t last.
Some principal officers of the National Assembly met with the President recently. It was learnt that this particular subject was not broached. Don’t you think that if the President actually wanted Magu’s screening to be successful, he would have discussed the matter with them?
The President I know is not that kind of person that interferes in such a matter. Honestly, I would have been surprised if the President discussed the issue of confirmation because that would have led to the issue of lobbying for Magu’s confirmation. The President has said what he needed to say in his letter of confirmation. I don’t think that (lobbying) was necessary, considering the fact that we are in the majority in the senate. If there are issues that border on some allegations, what I would have expected was for the Senate to have stated its reservations on the outcome of the investigation set up by the President to clear those allegations – the response by the President in his second letter of confirmation that he had done his investigation and that he is appealing that Magu should be confirmed.
You have been a long-standing politician. Is there any law against lobbying?
No, there is no law against lobbying. In fact, we are supposed to lobby. I lobbied most of our senators but sometimes you keep on learning because this (situation of being in the majority and still have to lobby) is kind of new to me.
You said you stand for the truth and support the EFCC boss. Has your position changed having listened to him at the floor of the senate?
Not at all, because I have run a check on him, especially on the accommodation allegation – I did my personal check on that and discovered that he did not even know what was rented or where he is living. The house is not in his name; it is called safe house. My investigation even revealed that he has no hand in renting the place or whatever method that was used.
Is it possible that there is still a cold war between the President and the Senate?
There is no cold war between them. I don’t really want to use that word. But there is more to Magu’s rejection than meets the eye. The (personal) interest (of some individuals) has been placed ahead of the purpose for which Magu was appointed. The question is this: Is Magu doing his job? The answer is yes. Nigerians are impressed. Were those allegations proven against him? No. If the President who is in the same party said he had investigated the allegations and found out Magu to be clean, why would he go back to ask the DSS to bring another report? In the letter that the DSS wrote, they stood by what they said. As I said, accusation is not conviction. If it is accusation, all of us are being accused.
I have been accused of sponsoring Boko Haram. I contested the senate election and won. The constitution says you are innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The Senate President is in court and other senators too, yet they are sitting there in the chambers as senators. If you say that simply based on an accusation hanging on your neck, then you should be disqualified from such a position, then I am not supposed to be sitting here as a senator. Also, Saraki is not supposed to be sitting as the Senate President, just like other senators in the chambers.
Is it correct then to say Magu was rejected because he was doing his job well?
No, I don’t know because I can’t predict what is in anybody’s mind. I just feel that we should do the right thing. I felt that the majority had its way and I had my say. It is now left for the public to decide on what is right. My concern is that, is this man doing his job?
Would you also say that Magu did not give a good account of himself before the senators?
My position is susceptible to being regarded as bias, or that I am standing for him. I don’t think that Magu did not perform well. I would say somebody can do much better. That is normal. I think he gave an account of himself. The bottom line is the question I raised then: we are trying to fight corruption and we must prevail if this country must move forward. Is Magu doing the job? The answer is yes, undoubtedly. Is he getting results? The answer is yes.