Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
Sen. Mohammed Ndume, who represents Borno South in the senate, is known as a staunch supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari. Ndume in an interview with journalists in Maiduguri, Borno capital recently said though the decision to re-contest the presidency or not in 2019 lies with President Buhari, he said his supporters were determined to galvanize support for him and get over 12 million votes, higher than what he got in the 2015 poll.
He also hinted that he would be disappointed if Buhari compromised his principle by using public funds for his campaigns because it is illegal, adding that Buhari’s election has been largely financed, supported and executed by Nigerian masses from all sections of the country.
The former senate leader also spoke on other issues including the economy and budget among others.
The debate over the right or wrong of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s open took centre stage in the political arena weeks ago. As one of President Buhari’s staunch supporters, were you rattled by the development?
I have respect for elders and most especially the former president. I also have respect for individual rights as guaranteed by the constitution. The former president has the right to express himself through his letter though I feel that is not the best way to have communicated to a former Head of State, a president and even General of the Nigerian Army. I think they have this kind of espirit de cop among themselves. I think that former president; Olusegun Obasanjo has unfettered access to the president. He would have appropriately use private meeting to discuss the issues he raised with the president instead of triggering this wild national debate on an issue which I think is personal. That is one aspect.
Second, some Nigerians easily forget that Buhari contested for the presidency of this country and this is his first term. I would say he was pushed into the contest. Therefore, the decision on whether he would contest or not for the second term is his own. While people like Obasanjo are saying Buhari should not contest, many of us are also pushing for him to contest. So it is democracy and Buhari will ultimately decide when the time comes. We will wait for election day when Nigerians will decide.
We are pushing him to contest because Nigeria has been derailed by same people that are asking that he should not contest and she needs to get back on track. If nothing, Nigeria has a leader that his integrity is not questionable and his determination to fight corruption which is the bane of this country is not questionable and his determination to work for the interest of this country is not in doubt.
Yes, the president has his shortcomings but for now, we don’t have an alternative better than Buhari. Until we get this alternative and is visible, which we can quantify, classify and compare, Buhari is still the best. We are looking at our 12 million votes and more in 2019. We are not looking at minus because the votes of Buhari have been very consistent. In 2003, the votes were over 12 million likewise in 2007 and 2011. It was only in 2015, it was ANPP and new PDP merger that added value to it and that was the south-west votes and middle belt. I think the issue has been well debated. Majority of Nigerians have said Obasanjo’s advice was inconsequential and personal to him.
Don’t you think the consistency in Buhari’s votes since 2003 was because he has not been tested? Now that Nigerians have tested his leadership, do you think many will still give him same number of votes to sustain the trend of his election scorecard especially now with economic hardship in the country, insecurity and fuel crisis?
Let me give you a typical example. I saw what happened in Kaduna during his visit in the wake of fuel scarcity. People were crossing and leaving their cars and vehicle crossing to the other side of the road to wave at the president saying ‘sai Buhari!’, because they know he was not the one that caused it. It was deliberate attempt to dent the image of his government.
When Buhari took over as president, the issue of subsidy died down and fuel was coming in steadily. But when politics is approaching, you start having fuel scarcity, communal clashes, and security challenges. You know where all these are coming from; it may be deliberate or may be, means employed to frustrate the government. It is just a million plus or minus. As you said some are unhappy about the government and may be disappointed, but majority are also happy. What an average Nigerian wants is a leader that is just, transparent, trust worthy and has integrity and Nigerians are happy that their president has all these qualities. Nigerians are at home with any leader that is able to ensure that he makes anybody that has stolen a common wealth to bring out their money. Even on the economy, there are certain indices that we must consider. These are excess crude oil reserve among others. Our reserve has jumped from $25 billion dollars to about $41 billion now. There is no argument about that. By 2015, price of bag of rice (50kg) was about N20, 000 or more but it is now between N12, 000 to N15, 000.
But many are feeling the bite of the economic hardship. Nigerians talk about it daily anywhere you go. How do you juxtapose that with your position?
Let us look at hajj operation in the last two years. Eighty percent of the people that performed hajj last year especially from the north-west were farmers unlike in the past when huge numbers of the people are politicians and their supporters. The number of politicians dropped significantly this year. It is true that we politicians and those at the upper social level and the government workers who have been stealing money can no longer continue now that there is TSA, they can’t steal again or it has been drastically reduced. These set of people will complain. Of course they own the media and they have been using them to say people are suffering, the country is bad. But in actual sense, the ordinary man isn’t complaining. Most Nigerians are not even talking about fuel. Buhari is an enigma as of now, his followership is a cult-like thing, somehow because of the strong belief they have in the man and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
So how is he going to fund his campaigns bearing in mind that people who made donations for him in 2015 may no longer be willing this time around or is he banking on the public fund since this has always be the tradition with the incumbent ?
He did not use public funds in the first place. I will be disappointed if Buhari compromised his principles. I will be very disappointed if he tries to use public fund for his campaigns because it is illegal in the first place. Buhari’s election has been largely financed, supported and executed by Nigerian masses from all sections of the country. The support for Buhari has transcended the north or even south-west now. Right now, Buhari is more popular in the south-east because of the infrastructure development that is going on there. The works going there is massive.
But those who do not want him are already feeling that Buhari is going to be in the saddle for eight years and that means their influence will be curtailed for eight years or the law will get to them because when you get hold of visible thieves, you may later get invisible thieves. That is why some of them are opposed to his re-election. The problem Buhari had initially was his ill health and I don’t think there has been any Nigerian leader that received the kind of support and prayers Buhari received when he was sick. Almost all churches and mosques were praying for him.