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SECTION 144 CAN ONLY APPLY WHEN THE PRESIDENT DIES

By NBF News
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Hon. Mohammed Ali Ndume is the minority leader, House of Representatives. He is not a man that spares the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the stick any time he has the opportunity. In this interview with Sunday Sun, the representative from Damboa/Gwoza/Chibok federal constituency of Borno state, explains that section 144 can only be invoked if Yar'Adua is dead. Among othrs, he discloses here that Turai is hiding the President to protect him from infection. Excerpts…

Why is everybody accusing the National Assembly of inaction and docility over the recent constitutional crisis that engulfed the nation following Yar'Adua's long absence from duty and his controversial return to the country?

It is simply because they have nothing to do. We at the National Assembly are now busy trying to amend the constitution. We have been very busy trying to explain to those that come for protest that we have done what we are supposed to do.

Most of them want us to evoke section 144 which fundamentally is the responsibility of FEC and then, the other group is saying we should implement the Justice Mohammed Uwais report on electoral reform; that is in process and it can only be fast tracked.

Constitution amendment is a very serious business. It is not a one-day affair or a thing you do with divided attention; the National Assembly is focused on giving the best electoral laws for the country and we are committed on that.

But generally, this is democracy and people have the right to express their views and one thing I am comfortable with is that all the demonstration and protest march has been very peaceful. Initially, it was not organized and I think it is now becoming more organized and we are having better understanding.

But some people are alleging that some of these protests are sponsored to come and pressurize the National Assembly into doing things; do you share that suspicion?

I normally don't want to work with speculations; I will rather want to work with the substance of issues. These are Nigerians who have the right to organize protest against whatever they don't like. If it is true that they are sponsored, then it is unfortunate. I know it is a matter of interest. My only grouse with some of these protesters is the use of strong language on the leadership of the National Assembly.

But again, I will say this is part of democracy. They want a better Nigeria and I always say I am not better than them. If anybody from my constituency feels that I am not doing it well, I will be willing to allow him come forward in 2011 to come and do better than I do. The other alternative is if I am your representative and you feel he is not doing what you feel he should be doing, you should approach him and tell him what you feel he should be doing instead of abusing and generalizing that all the members of the National Assembly did not win their seats.

Do you agree with those who insist that Yar'Adua must formally write the National Assembly for Jonathan to be able to perform effectively and constitutionally as Acting President?

I don't agree with that at all. Since the President traveled abroad for treatment, this vacuum that some people are talking about did not exist. This is because ever since the President left, everything has been going on smoothly. Let me use the issue of the 2010 budget as example. Since the President traveled, we have received six communications increasing the budget.

Every Wednesday they sit down to award contracts.
Initially Goodluck Jonathan was apprehensive to act, but now, he has changed the National Security Adviser, he has changed his ministers and he is doing everything that will move the country forward. He has even gone ahead to do some things that are not in the constitution like the Presidential Advisory Council and some contract awards. The Acting President has no restriction. The National Assembly said so; we in the Northern Caucus of the National Assembly issued a statement that we are behind him; the Governors Forum said so too and the National Assembly also said anytime he has any impediment, he should allow us to know so that we can quickly remove such. I don't know where those saying he needs the letter got that from.

But what I found out is that the debate about the letter is a PDP creation to distract attention from the lack of performance of the government they are running. The PDP has no programme for Nigerians and they have no clue on how to solve the numerous national problems; that is why they found it wise to cause that distraction that never existed. They used the media to distract attention to the failure to fulfill the promise to deliver 6,000 megawatts of electricity by 2009 December, the porous security network and the poor health facility we have in Nigeria today.

Nobody is talking about the seven-point agenda they promised Nigerians.

They used the issue of the President's health to cover their ineffectiveness and incompetence and instead of Nigerians asking questions on those, we are busy organizing rallies asking where is the President as if the President is the Alpha and the Omega. The market is open for protests and those printing T-shirts are making good money. But while all this protest is on, there is no light in my village in Borno, the health facility in Katagum is bad and the road network in Ibadan is in a sorry state, yet no one is asking questions on that.

Are you saying the PDP did not handle the matter well?

It is a crisis within the PDP. The way they are going looks as if the Acting President is from the opposition, then you'll say there is a crisis, but now they are behaving as if there are two PDP factions-Yar'Adua PDP and Jonathan PDP. They have even shut down the opposition and it is the PDP that is now opposing itself. One group within the PDP says the President is well and already doing exercises when actually we know the President is not well and the other group is saying the President is dead, when actually we know the man is still alive.

The PDP is a failed party and they are already making Nigeria into a failed state. They are afflicting Nigeria with that failure virus and unless something is done about this, we will be in trouble soon. PDP has strangulated Nigeria and we are barely breathing now and we need someone to liberate us.

They are a big failure. Oil, the mainstay of the nation's economy went up during the reign of the PDP to as high as $150. It was the highest ever in the history of this country, yet the life of the average Nigerian has not changed. The price went down to $60, our lives did not change and it went up again to $80, yet nothing happened to us as a people.

The money that God was made available to the PDP government in the last 11 years is enough to build a new Nigeria. I mean level the whole country down town-by-town and rebuild it again. We have enough money to do it afresh. I think it is time for Nigerians to rise up and send them out, if not, we will be in trouble soon because after up, it is down. We are now up financially, the next place we are going is down.

Some people said President Yar'Adua is not in the country and that the report that he came in was a hoax; are you sure the President is in the country?

That is of little importance to me. I understand the man is in the country, that is what you the media made us to know and we believe it. I have not seen him, but I have seen his wife and his mother, and I have seen his ADC and the Chief Security Officer, so I am convinced he is around. If he is not in the country, I don't think these people will be here either; they wont leave him in Saudi Arabia and come to Nigeria.

You saw the ADC and the CSO? But they are supposed to be with the President.

Yes. I know that if the ADC and the CSO are in the country , then the President is in the country too.

You are one of those that went to Saudi Arabia to see the President and thank the Saudi monarch, what happened there?

We did not see the president.
Why?
Like you know, they say we can't see the President. We saw the chief physician to the President and we insisted that we want to see the President, but they told us that it was because of the experience of contact infection that the president once had when people were being allowed to see him.

Did he have a relapse when people had contact with him?

Yes. So, they gave a strict order that no one should be allowed to see him again to prevent that relapse. They then gave instruction that he should be shielded until he is fit enough and can't relapse again. After us, the PDP chairman went there and they did not allow him. The governors went there, they did not allow them too.

I am however happy that while we were there, the National Assembly passed a resolution empowering the Vice President to act for him and that is the end of it and we will continue with that arrangement until he gets well, and come back or until the end of this administration or the Federal Executive Council decides to declare him permanently incapacitated as section 144 says.

But I want to say that the section that everyone wants us to invoke implies that he is dead and we all know he is not dead. You can't write off anybody only God can say the health situation of anybody is a bad case.

Are you disappointed that you didn't see the president?

I was massively disappointed, and I felt that it would have been a good opportunity for them to tell us the problem with the President. I even offered that I was prepared to be sterilized from head to toe so that I can see him and he would not be infected. I feel it would have helped the situation if someone like me in the opposition see him. I can be their mouthpiece because I have see him.

My problem with this thing is, it should not have been dragged to this level now. This is March and we are yet to pass the 2010 budget. People are dying in Jos on daily basis and the electoral act has not been passed, the 1999 constitution is yet to be amended and unfortunately, no one is talking about that but they are demonstrating because of the whereabouts of the President. make this man President, don't make him President. Various groups springing up on issues that do not impact directly on the lives of Nigerians. It is sad.

How far with the electoral act amendment?
The senate has done its own and we in the House have done our own too and INEC too is gearing up.

INEC has released the timetable and there is no electoral law to operate with it.

Their timetable will depend on us. I think he is just jumping the gun.

Are you sure you are not the one delaying?
No, we are not delaying. Law making is not a tea party. The timetable is tentative. There are certain things in the law that we need to take a hard look at. There are certain things in the law that people take advantage of. We as a responsible law making body should correct those areas ahead of the next election. We are asking for internal democracy in the parties; we are providing for independent candidacy, we are saying litigation should be over before they swear in anyone.

The bulk of the responsibility is however on the voters. They must insist that their votes count. They must do everything to protect their votes and that is consciously promoting democracy. You rig election only in places where people allow you to do it, if the people stand up against you, you won't be able to do it. If the people make up their mind, for example that because of my performance and activities in the National Assembly, it is Ali Ndume they want and INEC attempts to announce another person, they will rise up against INEC and ensure that it is me that is announced. But if the people decide to fold their hands and do nothing and say God will judge them, then we'll be deceiving ourselves. If people insist on their votes being counted, it will be counted.

There was bombing in Warri recently and then just like the killings in Jos, do you see this as a bad signal for the country?

It is a bad signal indeed. I actually expected the SNG to protest these issue, they only left the women to protest on the Jos killing. It does not matter who is the president; lives of the citizens must be protected by any one on the seat of President. What happened in Jos is very unfortunate and if you look at it very critically, you'll lay the blame at the doorstep of the leadership of the country. The security depends on the leadership. In Egypt, they have three million policemen to a population of eight million.

Here, we have a population of 180 million and we have just 500,000 policemen that are not well equipped or well trained. Our military is the same. Nigerians are very intelligent and agile, but there is very little they can do if they have very bad equipment.

The Air force tried to do some manoeuvre recently to show off but as a result of bad equipment, it skidded off the runway because the equipment are obsolete and those people are not well trained.

The National Assembly is supposed to appropriate money for such things, is it that you are failing in that constitutional duty?

We do that in most cases. On that level, you can't fault us on that area; we are always increasing the budget to meet these things and the executive always fights us for it.

Do you monitor it?
It is not the monitoring but the intention of those saddled with the task of implementation. When the resources of this country were not like this now, some of these facilities were better. There was stable electricity where there is electricity. There was portable water where there is water supply, now with so much money we can't do anything. Look at what happened at the Kano market, it was caused by power surge. The problem is not from us the legislature but from the executive.

You have budgeted money to Niger Delta but the money is nowhere to be found and no one is talking, is there conspiracy of silence?

That is another area, they brought a supplementary budget and we quickly appropriated it but where is the money and the project they said they will do. We can't see anything on ground to show for the money. If you go into that place, you will see that though that place is small, the quantum of money going there is huge. I dare say if a quarter is used for development of that place, the Niger Delta won't be what it is today.

That is the bitter truth that some people won't want to hear, but it is true that the states in the Niger Delta collect a lot of money. If you decide to give one million to each of the people in the Niger Delta, the quantum of money sent to that place up to day would go round. But what do you find? One big man will carry all the money into a foreign account and others will be suffering. It is our society that condoles that. I wish we will elect people that have the interest of the people at heart only. Good people should come out for elective positions.

If you allow dropouts to be your leaders, then you'll have to manage with them. You must demand good leadership and de-emphasise money. If you don't have money, you won't win election in Nigeria. That is the present scenario. We have to go back to the good old days where the community will choose good people they know can assist the community. Today, politics is seen as investment and the issue of representation is not taking bad seat. Those criticizing the National Assembly members should make themselves available for election; they can't afford to sit on the fence any longer.

How do you see the call by Libyan leader, Moamar Ghadaffi that Nigeria should be divided into two along religious lines?

We have not come to that and I think that statement from Ghadaffi shows his ignorance of Nigeria's religious make up. His suggestion is not in tandem with what is obtainable here. He is basing his assumption on the reasoning that the North is predominantly Moslems and the South predominantly Christians not knowing that in several states in Nigeria except very few, we have a mixture of Christians and Moslems. We have a lot of Moslems in the South and a lot of Christians in some northern states too. His suggestion will not work. My mother is a Christian and I am a Moslem. I have a lot of brothers and sisters who are Christians. Where will those people go to? They will go South? You see it won't work.

Do you see any security implication of this statement?

I don't see any. He just displayed that he did not know Nigeria's religious composition.

General Buhari has left the ANPP, what happened?
ANPP has been paralyzed by the ruling government. Opposition in Nigeria thrives only where there is space. What the PDP is doing is to stifle opposition because they know that can be the beginning of the end of their incompetent government. They are scared of the opposition and are always out to kill the opposition.

People, because of the high level of poverty and under development, tend to go to where they think there is greener pasture. Buhari got frustrated with some things in the ANPP.

Buhari is someone you can't question his intelligence and integrity but he realized he can't fit into the ANPP and he left in frustration. It is a big loss, but we will cope. He wanted things done his own way and the party said no.

Again, he is surrounded by people who are supposed to be his think-tank but know very little about politics. They have hijacked him and they are not allowing him to take good decisions. The people in TBO are supposed to be politicians but they are not. Now, he is just trying to put together a party. He tried to be in mega party and he realised he can't cope with the intrigues there and so he pulled out. He is not a man good in intrigues and he is a very honest politician. He does not believe in intrigues; he does everything with an open mind; that is how it should be, but unfortunately politicians that he is lining up with are not like that.

What is the state of opposition party? All of you appear so disunited to be able to stand the PDP?

What will happen in 2011 is that if there is election, you will try to get elected. If they try to do selection, we will try to get selected. If it is allocation, we ensure we are allocated.

Does that mean you'll play the game according to their rules?

What do you do? The last time in 2007, we closed Borno so they have to allocate Borno to us that is why ANPP had 100 percent in Borno. I benefited from that allocation because we closed the place to PDP.

But they are planning to change that in 2011 in Borno and they are getting ready?

They won't get Borno for sure. The ANPP in Borno is very well organized. We have one leader under governor Ali Modu Sheriff. But in Borno PDP, they have more factions than the number of local governments in the state. In Borno PDP, everyone is a leader and a warlord and where there is no law; there is chaos and breakdown of law and order and that is the lot of Borno PDP. PDP in Borno is like Somalia. They play politics of intrigues and in that case, they can never succeed.

AC as a party wants partners and they are discussing with the mega party. What is the ANPP doing ahead of 2011?

We have been open to approaches but ANPP is ANPP and we have come a long way and Nigerians believe it is the party of the people. What killed ANPP is because there was no election. In 1999, those big shots in Nigeria decided to install Obasanjo at all costs. The masses at that time prefer the ANPP and that is why you find the party everywhere. In 2003, when the election came up, the masses became discouraged when they realized that their votes did not count in 1999. Obasanjo did everything to ensure he had a second term in office. He overran the South West and the South East and handed to his party.

In 2007, it was worse because Obasanjo wanted a third term and when it collapsed, he had to choose the present President and God accepted him. In the Presidential election, the election was characterized with widespread irregularities. The few states that stood up to them are those states that fought their gangsterism. Bauchi was taken over from them because the masses wanted their votes to count. They decided to police their votes. It is the same thing that was done in Kano, Yobe and Borno states.

Do you think the sacking of Professor Maurice Iwu on grounds that he has demonstrated incompetence is justified even though some people insist he is not the problem with the nation's electoral process?

I agree Iwu is the problem. The 2007 poll was very poor and you are judged by your performance. The election is his responsibility and that election was adjudged worldwide as the worst. I have nothing personal against him but that record is an albatross on him. I see him as a man that has a lot of ideas but the idea did not work, so if it did not work then he has to go. His tenure will lapse in June so those agitating for his exit will have their way.