By SIMON EBEGBULEM
Former governor of Anambra State and now the Senator representing Anambra Central District, Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige, was in Benin City last week for the retreat organized for governors in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) controlled states.
In this cat with Saturday Vanguard Ngige speaks on the ongoing legal battle between him and the former Minister of Information, Prof.Dora Akunyili, the 7th Senate and the issue of Boko Haram. He warns that with the prevailing security situation in the country, the nation is sitting on a keg of gun powder.Excerpts:
We hear you may abandon the governorship election legal battle since you are now in the senate.
No no no!. I have not abandoned the gubernatorial legal battle. As you know, I went to court to challenge two things. First, I said that the man declared winner did not meet the constitutional requirements. He has majority of the votes cast quite alright but he did not score 25 per cent of all the votes cast in 2/3rd of all the Local Governments in Anambra state. Anambra state has 21 local governments and 2/3rd of 21 is 14. He has that in 13 but they are claiming that what we are talking about was all the votes cast, not valid votes cast.
In the INEC manual, they defined all these things. That is the first leg. Then the second leg is the voters’ register. 17 per cent of people in Anambra state were alleged to have voted and that 17 per cent translated to about 203,000 voters. Out of it you have 1.8million voters. The issue of whether that register was valid, that is the big question. Can we start to go for an election? INEC has partially answered it. When after their retreat in Uyo, they declared that Nigeria’s voters register was faulty and in particular that of Anambra and Akwa Ibom.
So the question becomes when you deprived people of voting, people who registered and they turned out on election day and their names were not seen, and the people are in the majority, about 83 per cent, can such an election said to be in compliance with the Electoral Act? We are saying no, it should be nullified and a fresh election should take place. So the case is still on. As a matter of fact, the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu, delivered judgment two days ago, saying that we should go back to the Tribunal, that a new tribunal should be set up for us to try the case de novo. So we are waiting now for the Court of Appeal to give us a new tribunal to try the case.
It seems you enjoy having political battles with people. Recently, it was Prof Dora Akunyili. How do you feel always battling?
Prof.Akunyili is my family friend. I don’t want to discuss her but it is good that we are in this political logjam now and it affords one the opportunity to re-appraise relationship you had in the past and know whether the relationship was blossoming because one is gaining from you or the other way.
It is unfortunate that we found ourselves in this situation. Unfortunate, in the sense that at least she came to solicit for my blessing as former governor of the state sometime in October last year and she came again in December. That time, I had not made my interest known because my party had not told former governors that we were the ones that would carry the party’s flag in the senatorial elections so that we could make our party alive. And that was what I did.
What is your focus in the senate?
The 7th Senate will be the best Nigeria will have. As a matter of fact, the 7th National Assembly will be different. We have many former governors there and apart from that, we have people who came from the House of Representatives. We have also some senators coming back for third term and fourth term like the senate president. So the membership is already a qualitative one. Again Mark as senate president is very experienced; he went to school and vast in many ways. So he knows the politics of the place.
So we have good leadership. And when Senator David Mark wanted to come back, some of us voiced our apprehension about the image of the senate. And we know that one of the cardinal things that made the image bad was the so called jumbo pay. And before we came in, we surveyed that issue of jumbo pay and we discovered that actually it was not a question of salaries and allowances of senators that was called the jumbo pay, it was a misconception. Whatever they took in terms of allowances and salaries were as prescribed by the Revenue Mobilization Commission, so it constitutional.
It is this same commission that fixed the salaries of President, Vice President, Judges, senate president and National Assembly members. So National Assembly members did not breach that. What people misconstrued as jumbo pay was the running cost of the National Assembly. And that was what Sanusi was alluding to that it was gulping 25 per cent of the national recurrent expenditure not the entire budget.
Over head cost, which includes refreshment, fuel, stationeries and others, so this is what is called recurrent expenditure. So in order for the National Assembly to feel the pain of the ordinary Nigerians, we advised that they must be slashed. And the Senate President being the chairman of the National Assembly, consulted with former Speaker Bankole before we were sworn in.
And they agreed that the money must be slashed. And after we were sworn in, he informed us that some of those things we were talking about before swearing in have been taken care of. 40 per cent slash of the recurrent expenditure. And it is a very big sacrifice because it means that even the travels and tours funds were slashed.
And from this recurrent expenditure, you take care of your own constituency offices and sometimes it is actually very expensive because you have to open constituency offices in your area, like I am planning to open seven constituency offices which I will furnish and employ people there.
Boko Haram has been holding Nigeria hostage. How do we tackle that?
It is a socio-political religious problem. We need jobs for these people to keep them busy. We need skill acquisition centres. When people apply skills, they will discover that they will make more money than those working in the offices. With that, they will stay out of trouble. This is the social aspect of it. If you go to the political angle, the politicians use them during elections.
We have some big people backing them. Those people also believe that they can destabilize the government. Then the religious aspect of it, this is where the Imams, Mallams who teach the Holy Koran should come in. These people have been brain washed that they are fighting for Allah. That everything Western education is bad. So we must re-orientate them.
The Islamic scholars have big job in their hands now for this country. If they are patriotic to this nation, they should move in now. I know that other Mallams are afraid to go into the matter seriously because of the dangers involved. The security agents must rise to the occasion. It is not enough to start playing politics with security now. I as a matter Chief Executive of a state noticed when I was governor that the SSS and the police hardly collaborate. This is not the time for it.
The office of the National Security Adviser must stand up and be useful. And the job of that office is the coordination of all the arms of security. The enforcement of all security laws is very necessary. The politicians who are doing this should be fished out because they want to destabilize both the state and federal governments. Again, schools, skill acquisition centres should be opened everywhere. If you go to the South East, that is why you see kidnapping everyday. They recruit them because they are idle.
Above all, the government and the elites should know that we are all sitting on a keg of gun powder. If we do not do something to make majority of Nigerian people happy, things will go bad, we might lose Nigeria and we don’t pray for that.
Government must encourage education, it is a weapon against poverty, it is a weapon against ignorance. Once you have gotten education, you have fought poverty, disease, ignorance. So this is the cardinal thing. People should be treated for malaria free of charge. Pregnant women the same. These are social security issues we need to tackle.