By Andy Esiet, Calabar
Recently former Senate Leader and former Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN appeared on Arise Television Morning Show and spoke on EndSARS, Police brutality, and issues of ethnicity in Nigeria, the NDDC and many others, Excerpts:
The EndSARs attack
I was out of the country then but I was watching the vandalisation of my house live…you can imagine the feelings of that violation. The house that had taken my wife and I 18 years to build. We started building the house in 1991 and managed to move in January 2009. It houses everything you can imagine. Everything Was completely looted except the floor. They came prepared with every tool that was necessary. The EndSARs attack was well coordinated and premeditated…My father’s robes were not returned and for me the robes were the only reminder or memento of my father that would have made meaning to me. I am his first child who became a lawyer and naturally when he passed on those robes were handed over to me…Right now as we speak I have nothing to show of my father.
State of Police
The police barracks even at that time were so dilapidated, so unkempt. So the police have been a victim of the mis-governance of the missed opportunities of the missed ones. They are as much victims as every other Nigerian. So for me there must be this national conversation or consensus around where we should go as a nation. Can we continue to retrogress while the rest of the world is moving forward? There must be a national conscious conversation that our politics must be directly tied to development and let us downplay this issue of religion and ethnicity that has never taken anybody anywhere.
Issue of Ethnicity
I think that the issue of ethnicity and religion is an elite thing. The elites just use it to divide the people. The security men in my home are not from my part of the world; they don’t share my faith. My driver has been my driver for the past 32 years and he is from the north and he is a Muslim but he is as much a member of my family as my own children. So it is a conscious decision we must all take to tie our politics to development. Everywhere else they say economics determines politics. It is only in Nigeria that I see politics determining our economics, so it is like the tail wagging the dog in our politics.
Nigerian Politicians and the Mess in Nigeria
Yes politicians are complicit but you know Nigerian politicians are in two hues, you have those in uniform and those out of uniform. If you take countries that were at par with us in 1960, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil and India and China were further down. Now what is it that we did that they also did? We experienced several episodes of military rule and Brazil, Indonesia had the same experience, so you can not totally implicate military rule as the reason for our lack of progress. But what is it that we did that they did not do. Singapore is a city state and it still remains a city state. You go to Malaysia, the federating units have remained the same since 1960. You go to Brazil since 1960 they have probably created one new state. India the provinces are still the same, Indonesia the federating units have remained the same. We had three regions in 1960 and by 1963 we had four regions, by 1967 we had 12 states and by 1996 we had 36 states, which means we were creating an average of one state per year. It is important when you relate it to the ratio between our capital budget and recurrent budget. In 1960 it was single digit, in 1967 it was 60 for capital and 40 for recurrent. Today we have about twenty something percent for capital and seventy something percent for recurrent. So, the solution is not just with the politicians but it is with Nigerians who must agree that the structure we have today has taken us nowhere and we are in a coup de sac. Even if you reform the police and the rest of the country remains the way it is, the reforms will be to no avail, they will just be symbolic.
Local Politics: How are you comfortable with Ayade on the same ship. Are you still in politics?
Let me start with the last question. I’m still very active in politics, I’m still available. I made a commitment to public service a long time ago and I still hold myself committed to public service. As a point of correction, I did not leave PDP, rather I was evicted from PDP by the then governor and it wasn’t Ben Ayade but Sen. Liyel Imoke and I was senate leader at the time of eviction. We had a number of issues that I believe as a senate leader, you are chairman of the National Assembly caucus of the party and I did not get any protection when I was thrown out of the window but because I was sure that only two people can determine my future, that is God and myself, i now decided to take my chances with the APC because I’m still politically active. Those who speak my dialect are 14,000 both at home and in the Diaspora. So for me to have risen to this point by the grace of God, I must remain available to speak for them. And so I remain politically active and senator Ben Ayade, incidentally was in the senate at the time all of this was happening and I was his leader and he was quite sympathetic that I was going through the needless crisis and pains from people I worked with but I was thrown out and had no protection from the party, the presidency nor anywhere, so I had to take my destiny in my hands and move on. I don’t have any issue with Professor Ben Ayade.
Issue of Ethnicity and Development, Power Shift from North to South.
Well, my head is with the notion that who leads this country is not a matter of geography but a matter of competence, experience and vision but my heart is with those who believe that the presidency should rotate. I was listening to the former Emir of Kano, HRM Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, and I don’t think where you come from has anything to do with your competence but unfortunately we are stuck in that part of turn by turn politics but for me I’m hoping and believing a day would come, like in the days of M.K.O Abiola, when Nigerians will look at the individual and not see religion or ethnicity in the prism they use to look at the Nigerian. It happened in the case of M.K.O Abiola and Babagana Kingibe and it can happen again.
What is your take on Restructuring? What happened to the NDDC vis-à-vis Development?
My board was announced in July, 2017 but we were not inaugurated until November 2017 and in-between, we kept ourselves busy by holding a number of retreats and brainstorming sessions on the way forward for NDDC and I remember Dr. Joe Agba, the then Director General of Bureau for Public Service Reforms, he came to speak to us and his opening sentence was “anything that can possibly go wrong with an organsiation has gone wrong with the NDDC”. In summary, the problems with the NDDC are:
1. There is a law establishing the NDDC and that law has never been complied with. That law has been observed more in breach than in compliance and an example is for years now, NDDC has had no board and the law does not contemplate or envisage a minute of NDDC being without a board but it has been without a board for almost two years and the story they tell us is that because of one magical forensic audit, we cannot have a board, we cannot have a board but if you check the act establishing NDDC, section 18, it is the board that has the power to audit the account of NDDC. There is no board of NDDC that has served out its term but more fundamentally, you can’t build a house without a survey plan to determine the size of your land and then having a building plan you want to setup. NDDC had a well thought out master plan that was launched by then President Olunsegun Obasanjo in 2006. It was a stakeholders’ generated plan, it was homegrown, all stakeholders and oil companies were involved but the plan was abandoned almost immediately. So today we are trying to develop a whole region without a plan and if you look at the mandate of the NDDC, it comes in about 10 or 12 subsections but I usually summarize it in one sentence; “the whole essence of the NDDC was to create an integrated developed economy for the Niger Delta region” but what we have today is the NDDC building classroom blocks which is the responsibility of local and state governments and so there is no plan to integrate the region. When I came in, the starting point for me was to come up with a new plan and we were in the process when I heard over the news that the board of NDDC had been dissolved and nobody told me there were any issues. The point I’m making is that the law setting up NDDC has never been complied with.
2. Secondly, if you look at the processes in NDDC, for you to get a payment of N1000, you need 62 or 63 stops and when you have stops like that, it just breeds inefficiency and the consequence of inefficiency is corruption. Today, the NDDC has no board, it has an acting Managing Director or a Sole Administrator, a contraption that was not contemplated by the law and the surprise is that the member states of the NDDC are just looking in surprise.
APC and the Legality of the Caretaker Committee and they Just Concluded State Congresses
The party itself has settled the issue of the legality of the Governor Buni led interim administration of the party and so I will say no more on that and also plead with you not to push the issue anymore but on the issue of the congresses, let me say this. Congresses are part of a process that leads up to elections and both the constitution and electoral act proffer the frameworks, timelines and milestones for all of those processes. For the congresses, first you must publish a date and venue for the congresses, INEC must be aware of the date and time of the congresses and then the party at the National level will send a panel to condemn the congresses. So for you to determine which congress is valid and which is not, was it witnessed or conducted by the panel set up by the national headquarters of the party? Was INEC there? Were the venue and date published? I know that there are what you call parallel congresses but any of those congresses that do not meet all these requirements is just a political gimmick.
Two Executives Emerged in Some States, How Do You Harmonize It
In Cross River state, everything was very peaceful but surprisingly we saw later that day another list of so-called Exco members and I called one of them to ask where the congress took place but he couldn’t say where it took place or if INEC was there and he was in Lagos on the day of congress and yet elected. Politicians are given to all sorts of tricks and gimmicks but at the end of the day, everybody knows which congress is valid. All other congresses are gimmicks to enable them to negotiate for other things. But for the validity of the congresses, I have no doubt that they will be the congresses that were organized by panels of committees from the headquarters of the party, witnessed by INEC, and venues and dates were long published.
What is Your Take on Restructuring?
If look at the provisions relating to the amendments of the constitution because you cannot restructure without amending the constitution. You cannot achieve any amendment to the constitution without building a national conversation around specific issues and reaching a national consensus around those issues. Now the process of building that conversation and consensus is outside the constitutional responsibility of the National Assembly. In order to amend the constitution or even restructure, you have to go beyond the constitution and the National Assembly. It has to be a national project which the media, civil society organizations, the presidency, National Assembly, everybody has to be involved for you to build and generate the conversation and also build a consensus around those issues before the proposed bill can even pass giving the extant provision of the constitution as they stand. So the issue of restructuring has to go beyond the political party. It has to be a national issue.