Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Leader of the Seventh Senate, Victor Ndoma-Egba, looks at the Southeast quest to produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023.
Ndoma-Egba who is the immediate past chairman of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, also speaks on the N1billion consultancy fee controversy, as well as generational shift in Nigerian politics.
Do you support the agitation that it is the turn of the Southeast to produce the president in 2023; against the backdrop of the rotation policy and power sharing formula between the North and the South?
It would be fair, just and equitable for the Southeast Region to produce a president, if that is what you mean. Having said so, political power is neither donated nor given on a platter of gold as the cliche goes. If the Southeast wants it, she should not rely on the charity or the goodwill or understanding of others. She must go for it deliberately, with single mindedness and build the necessary networks.She must be ready to lineup behind one person and shun divisiveness.
When you were chairman of the NDDC board, did the agency pay N1 billion to a consultant, to collect debt on the agency’s behalf or not?
Not to my knowledge howsoever.
Were there times state governments would claim NDDC projects as theirs? What did NDDC do during your time?
There were such times, of course. NDDC has records of her projects. In such a situation you simply produce the records.
The NDDC has been accused of carrying out substandard jobs and inflating projects. Did you experience that during your time?
Quality assurance and standards for NDDC projects were major concerns to my Board. We had to commission a management retreat to address the issue and the question of minimum acceptable standards for our projects which ordinarily should be of the highest quality. NDDC has far too many contracts. When I took over, there were more than 10,000 contracts, from the reasonable to the ridiculous, many of them abandoned. There was no logic to a lot of these contracts because the stakeholder-generated Masterplan that was launched by President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2006, to guide and provide timelines for the development of the region, in an integrated manner, was abandoned almost immediately. Contracts were, thenceforth, awarded impulsively and without any clear logic.This strained the technical capacity of the Commission. There were also budgetary issues. Sufficient provisions were not made for ongoing projects, so contractors were not sure when they will be paid so they took the advantage to maximize profits and minimize quality. We also had governance issues because those who should supervise projects had personal interest in them. The problems are many.
You were the leader of the Seventh Senate. Today, some Nigerians believe the Ninth Senate may end up being a rubber stamp of the Executive. Do you subscribe to this?
I think it is too early in the day to conclude how the Ninth Senate will turn out and it is also, too, early to assess it . The Ninth Senate still has a long journey ahead of it especially with the executive. This journey can take them anywhere. Any judgement now will amount to pre-judgement and that will be precipitate.
Can you do a comparative analysis of your Senate and the Ninth Senate. Some Nigerians say the speed with which this Senate passes Executive Bills was better than your Senate.
It is also too early to compare. You can only compare at the end of the current Senate; certainly not at the beginning or midway. It is only at the end of its term that you can assess or determine its legacy.
Why is the Nigerian Legislature not embracing electronic voting?
Is it the Legislature that is not embracing electronic voting? I don’t think so. The legislature had, to the best of my recollection, proposed amendments that would have increased the role of technology in our electoral environment. Some of the amendments were not assented to by the president, at different times, and the Supreme Court ruled on, at least, one. Essentially, we, as a country, need the appropriate infrastructure for today’s electronic and technological world, not only for elections, but for every aspect of our lives. Elections, though important, are only an aspect of our lives.
The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill passed by the Eighth Senate was turned down severally by President Muhammadu Buhari. Do you think rejection of the amendments affected the last general election?
Maybe. My experience in the last election was INEC’s inconsistency and unwillingness to abide by its own guidelines and its readiness to compromise and lower the bar. It was not that much the inadequacy of legislation.
Which areas of our electoral laws would you want amended; before the 2023 general election?
I am always reluctant to comment on the 2019 elections; for the simple reason that I was a participant and was disappointed by its outcome. I, therefore, do not want to be misunderstood as a sore loser. I, nevertheless, have a responsibility to make my views known. Clearly, there is need to increase the technological content of our electoral process and infrastructure and make our processes less dependent on human judgement and discretion. The bigger challenge is not so much the electoral framework as the will by INEC to abide by her own guidelines and to remain the unbiased and impartial umpire that she should be. From the actions and activities of the then Resident Electoral Commissioner in Cross River State, Dr. Frankland Biriyai, and this went down the line, INEC had predetermined outcomes for the elections. Let me stop here for now.
Is Nigeria ripe for electronic voting and electronic transmission of results?
I had said earlier that we need to prepare our national environment for today’s electronic and technological world. We are still some way behind in this. We must not limit this aspiration to only elections.
The Judiciary has always canvassed a special court to try electoral cases. Do you subscribe to that?
No. I don’t. There are too many conflicting judgments in our election jurisprudence which are obfuscating legal principles and legal positions which the judiciary needs to clean up. The problem in my view is not whether or not there are special courts. Judgments should be clear and consistent on what they decide because attributes of law are certainty,clarity, and consistency.
Do you still have faith in the Judiciary, against the backdrop of your experience at the court recently?
I have faith in the Judiciary and will always do. Like every human institution, it has its limitations and problems, but we owe ourselves the duty to encourage the judiciary to rise to its best and be the best that it can be. The judiciary is too crucial to our nation and democracy for us to dare lose faith in it.
Cross River governor, Ben Ayade, promised to construct a 250km superhighway. You are from there. Is that still possible?
Governor Ben Ayade is in the best position to tell us. I have no idea.
So, why did APC fail to win in Cross River in the last general election, considering the heavyweights that defected to the party?
Well, APC’s problems in Cross River State were legion. The then Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Usani Usani, insisted on his control of the party and he was unrelenting . He had support from outside the party. This factionalised the party.There was a spate of litigations arising from this and INEC took sides so much so that on the night of February 22, 2019, a few hours to the elections, the then Resident Electoral Commissioner , Dr Biriyai, announced to the world at large that APC had no candidates for the National Assembly, Governorship and House of Assembly elections; on the alleged basis of a court order obtained by then the minister’s faction; which had been overtaken by a subsequent order of the Court of Appeal. I was restored as a candidate only March 8, 2019, after the elections which held on February 23, 2019 and the governorship and House of Assembly candidates were restored as candidates only on the day of their elections. INEC was a player of a team rather than an umpire. It was simply incredible, but I have taken it in my strides and moved on; moreso, as the courts have validated the elections as they were.
Do you think APC members have convincingly sold the party to the electorate in the South-south?
I think so. This is evident from the outcome of the recent elections in Bayelsa State. The party is now a credible and viable alternative in the zone; waiting in the wings of time to become the preferred party. The other party is fatigued and is burning out. All the APC needs now is to put its acts together.
As a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, what is your legal opinion on what transpired at the court in Abuja on Friday, December 6; with regards to the fracas between Sowore and the DSS?
It was a desecration of the temple of justice, profane and scandalous; to say the least. It should be investigated and the perpetrators punished.
Do you think it is time for generational shift in Nigerian politics because some are of the belief that the youths should, by now, be in control of the affairs of the country?
A 34-year-old lady was just sworn in, in Finland as Prime Minister. I saw a photograph of her with three female ministers all aged 32-34. In New Zealand, France, Canada and Austria, you have leaders in their 30s and you have a Scottish member of Parliament in her early 20s. They did not wait for a generational shift. They worked, prepared themselves for power and seized their opportunities. Back home, our founding fathers were in their 20s and 30s and very few of them in their 40s; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano, Ahmadu Bello, Anthony Enahoro, M.T. Mbu etc. Those in their 40s were considered old. The famous personalities of our civil war years and those who fought the war were in their 20s and 30s; the likes of Murtala Mohammed, T.Y. Danjuma, Benjamin Adekunle, Alabi Isama, Alani Akinrinade etc. General Yakubu Gowon was only 32 as military Head of State. Alfred Diete Spiff was a 24-year-old military governor of Old Rivers State. Pat Utomi was a 27-year-old managing director of Volkswagen Nigeria. Dr Joseph Wayas was a 38-year-old Senate President. Clement Ebri and Donald Duke were governors of Cross River State in their 30s. I was Commissioner in the old Cross River State at 27! I don’t recall any mechanical or tectonic event that shifted power to them. They prepared themselves and took their individual chances. Today, a 60-year-old is proud to announce himself as a youth leader. My advise to the youths is that they should rise to the occasion and seize their chances in politics; as they have done in technology, business and the creative arts; acting, music, fashion etc.
What’s your opinion on plea bargain?
Criminal justice and its administration evolve to facilitate justice delivery. If properly applied it would ensure the quick dispensation of justice with all the benefits. Plea bargains time has come as it provides a win-win situation for the state and for the accused person and it saves valuable time and money.
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