Sen. Ali Ndume, and the burden of representation, by Abdullahi D. Mohammed


The Nigerian 9th Assembly, and by extension, the Senate has been accused of so many things — from lack of vibrancy to being too subservient to the Executive, which earned her the ignoble name tag “rubber stamp” Senate. The romance, especially between the principal officers on one hand, and the Executive on the other, seemingly portrayed the Senate in bad light, at least, in the eyes of Nigerians. Many are quick to draw, or cite example with the 8th Senate which always differs in principle and disagrees with the Executive.  The principle of separation of powers is a  theoretical model of democracy which emphasizes the division of sovereign power into at least three or more organs. Furthermore, the focus is, to forestall tyranny and monopoly through an effective check and balances mechanism.

The 9th Senate, had pitted itself against the people by obviously flouting the principle of separation of powers, and aligning with the Executive, against the common good of the citizens.This posture is quite unpopular. They swiftly assent to, and grant express approval for Government to borrow funds, but acts slowly in adopting security measures which seek to protect the citizens. 

The Senate, whose members carry the sobriquet “Distinguished Senator(s)” rarely act as such. Awkwardly,  one cannot come to terms with their conduct, or, whether they act honorably and deserve such niceties.However, like in every setting there exist the good, the bad, and the the ugly. In the Nigerian Red Chamber, however, there are Senators whose conduct both in and outside office are awesome, and noble. They refuse to go with the pack, choosing instead to stand with the citizens. They demonstrate immense humility, empathy and audacity. And, deservedly distinguish themselves.

One of such Senators is, Sen. Mohammed Ali Ndume. Daring, unassuming and audacious, he speaks to the authorities and power that be, like no other. He refuses to be led, albeit blindly, rather, chose to be led cautiously. First elected as a member, Federal House of Representatives, 2003-2011. His “people-centered” representation endeared him to his constituents, who rewarded him with a Senatorial slot.

Most political actors, elected to represent their constituents are unfortunately, not knowledgeable about the workings and intricacies of Representative democracy.Writing in the Journal of American Politics, under the subheading: Operatives conceptions of political representation in the United States, foremost American Political Scientist,  Roland Pennock, submit, thus, “one of the most straight forward definitions of Representative democracy is to represent and make “present”again. By this definition, it has become incumbent on Representatives of the people to make their “presence” felt in the heart of decision making. Therefore, political representation is the activity of making the constituents’ voices, opinions, and perspective “present” in policy making process.

These features are what characterize Sen. Ndume’s style of representation. A unique and natural born leader, with a touch of brilliance. In his formative years, back in secondary School, he was a Junior, and later Senior House Captain. While at the Kaduna Polytechnic, he was involved in selfless struggles, for the common good of his colleagues. It is not surprising, at the height of Boko Haram menace in 2009-2010, he ran into trouble with the Jonathan adminstration. He was falsely accused of having ties with the dreaded Islamist group, all in a bid to shut and box him into silence, in the face of growing massacre of his helpless people. He remained resolute. He was ready to pay the supreme price, to safeguard his people. Little wonder, he escaped numerous assassination attempts, during the ugly and tumultuous years. This dogged Lawmaker and fighter, has a firm belief in the unity and security of the Country. His representation is not restricted to his native Southern Borno alone, he, sees the entire country as his constituency.

While serving as the Chairman, Senate committee on MDGs, in the 7th Senate,  he pushed for the adoption of policies to alleviate poverty and, tackle environmental degradation. He explored the nexus between poverty and environmental sustainability. Till this moment, desertification, deforestation, draught, erosion and flooding, are partly responsible for most of the challenges the Country is contending with. Constant clashes between farmers and herders are attributed to environmental factors. Since 2012, this apt and visionary Lawmaker has identified these, but, was removed from that position, for political reasons.Many would ask, or try to connect the dots, reasons for constant collision between himself and the authorities. The answer is not far fetched,
While serving as Senate majority Leader in the 8th Assembly, he stood for justice, and was less partisan. He always made a case for Displaced persons, and, sometimes going a bit overdrive. Having about 60,000 IDPs from his home State, in Abuja, clustered around 14 different camps is enough to send any sane mind into a frenzy. The plight, and living condition of these persons, who lacked basic needs —  education,  healthcare and shelter, unsettles Sen. Ndume who, considers these as a moral and natural burden he must fix. It is on record, he expends personal resources in ensuring the displaced persons had access to some basic needs.

Currently chairing the Senate committee on Army, Sen Ndume constantly come hard on authorities, urging them to do more, to halt senseless killings in the country. More bloodshed and carnage means, more Displaced persons, which, is a crisis on its own. Resetting IDPs is a stand-alone crisis, which birthed Refugee crisis.
Sen Ndume, remains by far, the most vibrant and audacious Senator that demonstrated immense compassion and empathy with, a genuine concern in ending insecurity in the Country. He doesn’t shy away from speaking thruth to the Aso Villa hawks. He walk the talk. His disposition in always calling out authorities, despite belonging to the same party landed him in prison. Yes, his remandment in Kuje Prison, last year had some political undertones. The Maina saga was just the subtle justification needed. Its a well known script used by the elite, and Political actors in shutting a dissenting voice.

He leveraged on his capacity as chairman, Senate committee on Army to task and engage the Military authorities to do more in combating criminality across the Country. He equally played a pivotal role in ensuring the new Service Chiefs gets the necessary support to deliver on their mandate, and act, professionally in the course of duty. Sen. Ndume has been a staunch advocate for improved funding, and purchase of sophisticated weapons for the Military.He is a not docile, or passive Lawmaker. He sponsored, and co-sponsored numerous Bills, and moved several motions, on matters that are central, and critical to the development of the country. Some of these Bills include, Nigeria Peace Corps, North East Development Commission and a host of others.

When he thrust himself up to contest the Senate Presidency in 2019, those familiar with his dynamism were jubilant and optimistic, because, the shrewd Senator would make a difference, presiding over the Red Chamber. But, like most contestations, the outcome is predictable — a winner and a runner-up. Sadly, those who fear change, worked against his emergence. But it provided a glitter of hope, for, he come off as a leader, citizens would wish he perpetually represent them.

The synergy between his Committee, and the Army clearly indicates, things going the right way. Hopefully, the unfortunate and untimely demise, last week of Lt.Gen Ibrahim Attahiru, and other top Military brass, would not alter the positive trajectory and gains recorded.
The fulcrum of political representation occurs, when, political actors advocate, symbolize, speak and, act on behalf of others (ie constituents) in the political arena. That, exactly is, what Sen. Ndume has been up to, since 2003.It is imperative, in my view, he gets out of his comfort zone, and throw himself up for national service, and provide to Nigerians selfless representation, which is what the country urgently needs.

Abdullahi D Mohammed is with the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the Ahmadu Bello University-Zaria.

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