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I had a good time in Kuje prison – Senator Ndume

Over his inability to produce the former Chairman of the Presidential Pension Reform Task Team (PPRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, who he stood for as surety, Senator…

Over his inability to produce the former Chairman of the Presidential Pension Reform Task Team (PPRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, who he stood for as surety, Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South) was sent to the Kuje Correctional Centre where he spent five days. In this exclusive interview with Daily Trust Saturday, the lawmaker who chairs the Senate Committee on Army narrates his experience at the facility, including his interactions with top politicians and Boko Haram members.

How was your experience at the Kuje Correctional Centre where you spent five days following your inability to produce Abdulrasheed Maina in court?

First of all, my conscience told me that Justice Okon Abang wanted to jail me. This was not fair; but as a Muslim I believe that God had a hand in it. I hold no grudge against anybody. Even prophets that were chosen by Almighty Allah went through this trial. I was not bothered, and you won’t believe, I had a good time throughout the five days I spent there. When I was freed, I contemplated spending more time there because I know deep down I didn’t do anything wrong.

I went to bail Maina because the judge wanted me to bail him when he put in the bail conditions that it must be a serving senator that would be a surety. Every Nigerian has only one serving senator, and I’m Maina’s only serving senator. I have nothing to do with Maina; I have no relationship with him. The first time I saw him was when I went to the prison after he was there for long and there was a threat to his health and he needed medical attention outside the correctional facility.

The second time we met was when the police extradited him from Niger Republic. As I told you, I have a responsibility and I am a politically exposed person. The bail condition required that the bailee must be a serving senator. So, many people from my district begged me to bail him. His offence is bailable and the constitution says he is innocent until proven otherwise.  I don’t know why he did what he did that led to my detention. There was no way the judge should have substituted the accused with the surety. I stood as a surety and a property given as a bail bond, so if there was anything, the judge should have asked why I should not be asked to forfeit the bond, but as I noted earlier, God has his reasons. I was humbled by the reactions of Nigerians and the general public.

What was in your mind when you were being led to the prison?

When I was going to the prison I had my mind prepared. Besides, I was not a stranger to prison. I was in Kuje in 2015 for 10 days. As a politician, you can’t graduate as a true politician, especially in developing countries, if you do not go to prison. So I was not bothered. But I must tell you that I had a good experience. It gave me a lot of time to reflect, it gave me a lot of time to concentrate on two things: prayers; to ask for forgiveness from Allah and read books. I rested so well because I had nothing to worry about. I had no phone, TV and was confined to my room.

I went to the prison on Monday and I was fasting, so after I broke my fast, I prayed Maghrib and Isha with other prayers and slept a bit to wake up later in the night, but for some reasons, I slept off and woke up in the morning. I rested and my blood pressure went down from the 150/90 when I went to Kuje to 135/80 when I was freed. I have been using drugs all this while. So I joked that maybe staying in the prison was the solution.

I interacted with the prisoners from all sectors. We were over 700 and what worried me most was that over 600 were awaiting trial. There are people that have spent eight years waiting for the continuation of their trials.

Who are the politicians you met?

We had groups. There were the Very Important Prisoners (VIPs) and the Chairman was Jolly Nyame, a former Governor of Taraba State; Olisa Metuh; one Yusuf from Gombe and AVM Emmanuel.

Did you interact with them?

We had our joints. Daily between 06:00am and 06:00 pm we interacted. They are allowed to exercise, though I didn’t join them. Olisa Metuh was very lively and active and was our coordinator.

I met so many groups, like condemned criminals, those that have been condemned to life in prison and Boko Haram members; about 60 of them. Some of the Boko Haram members regretted what they had done, but few were still hardened.

Do you have any regret?

I don’t; it was very unfortunate because under the circumstance I found myself, I had no option but to stand as Maina’s surety, but if the conditions were different and he was not from my senatorial district, I would have rejected to do it. What happened was destined. You know, because of my outspokenness, people think there was another hand to it, but I can clearly tell you that that is not true, but just a coincidence.

This government is my government, and I’m close to the president and I have the responsibility of telling him the truth; which is what I am doing. This does not make me a perfect human being or mean that I am right, but I need to let him know what is in my mind. I am also ready to apologise or change my position if I am convinced that I am wrong, but other than that I will say my mind.

How do you see the festering insecurity in the country?

The security issues facing the country are not about the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the service chiefs or the senators; it is about the security of lives of our citizens; which is the purpose of government. So, I do not want people to start trading blames. The Nigerian security architecture is at its lowest ebb and the moral of the army, police and other security agencies is at the lowest and we need to bring it up. It is like we do not have them; we need to have the police and the army back to their glorious days. They need to be upgraded and equipped with state-of-the-art weapons to carry out their duties. That is why common criminals have taken advantage of their lapses to make citizens not to sleep with their two eyes closed.

An opportunity was given to the president to address the country through an invitation by the House of Representatives, but he was advised against appearing. What is your position regarding the invitation?

Let me say that in a government where we have the majority in the parliament, you can’t place your president on the spot. If Buhari fails, it is APC, including Ndume. So, it is not about Buhari, but APC, because we can’t blame him alone. That is why I say it is not only the president that rules this country. The president is not everything, but the head of the government.

Inviting the president to come and discuss security matters in a government that we have the majority is not the best way to go, but to say we do not have the right to invite the president is wrong, but again, to invite Mr. President just like that when we are in the same party and through motion; motion is advisory, the resolution of the parliament, it is like you are saying you are advising the president to come and you discuss about the security situation while you are in the same party, why don’t you go to Mr. President; make him sit down so that you discuss that. At the same time, on the part of the president, you just don’t snub the National Assembly, but the president as you can see, said he was ready to come. It is now the responsibility of the APC caucus in the house to make sure that when their president comes in, he is not embarrassed by anybody. When PDP was in government, they met regularly, but the problem is that there is a serious disconnect in the government of APC; that is the truth of the matter. We are not working together; no connection and ownership. The party as you can see; even at the ward level, is beset with crises. So, there is a vacuum in terms of coordination and interaction within our system; that is the problem.

How would you asses this administration and the previous one vis-a-vis security?

I am in the wrong position to be asked that question because I am in the forefront of this government. Do you expect me to say we have failed? No, the government is trying its best, and I don’t think Mr. President is insensitive or not worried with what is going on. Anytime I go to him to discuss these matters, and sometimes he invites me because he knows where I come from; the epicentre of the insurgency. We discuss the way forward. We have been discussing that, but for it to work out is a different thing. But you can’t compare this government with the previous one in terms of achievement. When this government took over in 2015, especially in my state, my local government was converted to the headquarters of their so called caliphate, but today, my father has gone back to Gwoza; my town. Our emir has gone back. I recall that during the height of the insurgency, our emir ran away and had to trek from Gwoza to Madagalli before he was rescued and brought to Abuja for over three months before we took him back to Maiduguri. So, the situation can’t be comparable because we are better off under this government, but that is not to say we have achieved what we wanted. We are not expecting a half-baked success in the fight against insurgency. We are expecting that the war would be won squarely and clearly, but it has refused to go.