BY TONY EDIKE
The Deputy President of the Senate and Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, CFR was in Enugu over the New Year holiday and took out time to speak on many raging political, developmental, and economic issues affecting the West African sub-region, the nation, South East and Enugu State. Our Correspondent was there. Excerpts:
What would you consider the biggest challenges in the review of the 1999 constitution?
Well, thank you so much. My approach to constitutional review from a position of experience is this: we try to look at what we have done in the past to see where mistake has been made and see areas of improvement that will achieve result.
And one of the greatest lessons we learnt is that if you try to take everything at the same time, we will run into problem. So we decided to do what we called a piecemeal approach. You will recall that in 2010 our major focus was on the issue of electoral reform and we did a lot in that regard, which led to a very successful 2011 election and we are prepared to improve in that regard, as we approach 2015. So, if there are areas that have to do with the elections, both in the electoral act and the constitution, we are also going to touch such areas.
Then moving from electoral reform, we believe that there are some other issues that are key for our development. We believe that our federalism has been distorted by long period of military regime and one of the major areas affected is sharing of power. So, for us, we needed to look at the legislative list of the federation and see areas of improvement. Today, as I speak, we have about 66 items in the exclusive legislative list.
This list is where the federal government only can make legislation, and then we have barely 12 on the concurrent list; that is where both the state and the federal government can make laws. And the constitution went further to say that even in those areas where states and federal government are allowed to make laws, if there is any conflict between the laws made by the National Assembly and those made by any of the states, the one made by the National Assembly will override to the extent of that inconsistency. So, our federalism is structured so much in favour of the federal government.
Striking a balance
We believe that we need to strike a balance to take away some of these things from exclusive list and get them to the concurrent list.
We also noticed that there are some items that are neither in the concurrent list nor in the exclusive list such as health. You can’t find health on any of the legislative lists of the federation. Therefore, we needed to bring health in and appropriately situate it within the concurrent list. We need to rework it, so this is what we have done in the recent constitutional amendment exercise.
Do you see the proposed national conference as an attempt to usurp the functions of the legislature?
Well, it all depends on what the executive wants to achieve. If what they want to achieve is to throw up a new constitution through that process and then whatever body they are trying to bring about to legislate on it, then that is not going to happen because you can’t put something on nothing and expect it to stand.
There must be a foundation for everything we do. So, for us in the parliament, we are looking at it from the perspective that the president or the federal government is free to set up a group that can dialogue on how to govern this country much better. And this is within the right of the people to associate freely.
It is guaranteed in the constitution- freedom of association and assembly. To that extent, we don’t have problem with it. But we believe that whatever be the outcome of that dialogue or discussion, will necessarily come to the parliament for proper legislation because unless that happens then there will be no foundation for what they are doing and it can’t have any effect.
So what we expect is that at the end of the exercise, they will now make proposal to the National Assembly on areas they also believe that the constitution may be amended or to bring about a completely new constitution with what agreement that were reached in that exercise.
Some thought that with you as the chairman of the Committee on Constitution Review, that the Southeast zone would get another state?
Well just as I said, our people have this idea that state creation still remains what it was during the military regime where the leaders will meet and then go ahead and announce states. Regrettably, that is not the case.
I wish it were the case and I will be happy to approach my colleagues and then appeal to them to give us one additional state in the South-East; I would have been the happiest man. Regrettably, that is not the situation, so we have to go through the procedure as enumerated earlier on.
State creation exercise
All I need to do is to urge our people to come together, agree on a state. If they agree on a state within the region, what we can now do, all of us we will put our resources, our energy together and see how we can convince other levels of people that are involved in state creation exercise and try to get them to approve it at different levels.
So that’s one way to do it. But unfortunately and on till now, I have made this appeal severally. They have not been able to come up with a single state that we are going to pursue. So, what you find out is that each state is asking for a state or two. In that state of confusion, it is difficult for anybody to harmonize it. So we are just hoping that, maybe, at the level of Ohanaeze, or South East Governors Forum or any other such organization, they should be able to come together and come up with a state and then we see how we pursue it and appeal to our colleagues to have it done.
How true is the speculation that you want to contest governorship of Enugu state in 2015? Secondly what do you earn as salary in a month?
On the issue of governorship, I think I have said this thing severally and I recall that in June, I made it clear that I’m not interested in governorship and nothing had changed since then. I believe that all of us will work together to ensure that in 2015, we have a governor we will all be proud of.
Then on the issue of the salary, let me state clearly that the salary of a parliamentarian including mine and every other public servant fluctuates a bit because of tax deduction. But for me it is between N560, 000 to N600, 000 per month. So the last salary I was paid I think was about N580, 000 for December.
So, nevertheless, I’m also entitled to a number of allowances including health allowance. That means that if I want to go to hospital, government will not pay for me. I will use that money to pay for the health bill of myself and my family and those around me.
Do you see the PDP imploding on account of the crisis in the party?
Let me say that PDP will never be a minority; certainly it is not going to happen soon. What you are seeing is not different from what we have seen in the past when election approaches. We have had this situation in the past, of people moving about. So I will not be surprised if those governors who left PDP come back to PDP. Just as I won’t be surprised if our colleagues in the House of Representatives who moved from PDP to APC return to PDP.
That is the beauty of democracy and it is flexibility, which our system allows. I remember that my friend Comrade Chukwumerije sometime moved from PDP to PPA and then eventually returned to PDP as a senator. So, we have seen such in the past.
What are your plans for 2015 and where do you stand on zoning in Enugu?
First of all, the issue of what will be my ambition after 2015 is only God who will decide it. He has never disappointed me, hence I always leave my ambition in the hands of God and I have always gotten a very good bargain.
Dividends of leadership
I am not worried about that. So, now I think I should focus on delivering the dividends of leadership to my people. Am not thinking about 2015, that will be taken care of by God. I don’t have problem with that.
On the issue of the zoning, remember that PDP is not the only party in the state. So, for us in the PDP, we are believing God that our candidate will come from Nsukka, but you remember that in PDP just like any other party, we are conscious of the fact that the people have the constitutional right to aspire to be anything.
So, while we are saying that this is what we want, we also take cognisance of the right of others to aspire. But we will also be praying and then be appealing to the other segments to respect that, but any person who feels that his right is being stopped or jeopardised is also free to exercise his constitutional right.
What is the relationship between you and Governor Sullivan Chime?
I don’t think I should use this platform to discuss the governor of my state. I think he is still the governor of my state and we have mutual respect for ourselves.
I don’t want to discus him in this public forum. So, I will appeal that you excuse me from this. I believe that two of us working together, we can achieve more for our state.
Your recent call for the extension of the tenure of the president and governors has received mixed interpretations. Are you worried?
I see myself as a concerned Nigerian. I am most interested in the peace of this country, not someone who is looking at the immediate political gain.
When I made that suggestion I also received some interesting reactions.
Somebody sent me a text from Kano and told me that he is not supporting the single term because he did not want Kwakwanso to stay there longer than necessary.
But, you see, some people are seeing it from a narrow perspective. Nigeria has to exist first. It should not be about any governor.
This morning I was listening to the news on the television. I saw a call by the Ooni of Ife for prayers for Nigeria in 2015. He said he was worried. So, am also worried like the Ooni of Ife and the rest other Nigerians about the way we are moving towards 2015.
So, as somebody who is concerned I thought I should be able to proffer what I consider to be a solution and then it attracted debates, which I find very interesting. I don’t get so worried myself anyway. I felt I have done my part anyway by providing a solution.
Then even some of those people who are criticizing my position up till now they have not come up with alternative solution and we are moving towards 2015. So, they were just criticizing for the sake of criticism. What we want is to find a solution; if you have a superior argument on what we need to do to have a hitch-free 2015, I will be happy to go with you.
But note that I didn’t ask for any particular number of years like seven. What I said was look, our problem has been that of succession and reelection.
Each time we have an election coming, there is this agitation. There is always this problem of the temperature going very high.
So, we must find a way of resolving it and one way for me to deal with it is to ensure that there is a single term. I didn’t say which year. It can be five years, it can be six years it could be seven years, but it is something we have to sit down and discuss.
What I did was that I provided what I considered to be a solution. We can all sit down and work out the modalities on how this can work and I also gave example on where it had worked before. I said that in Latin America, they found themselves in such situation as we have today and what they did was to reflect and insisted on a single term until their democracy stabilised. We can do that.
You have been in the National Assembly for three terms now, what are your achievements so far?
I will situate it from different perspectives. Let us look at it from the perspective of representing the people of Enugu West. I will like to thank God that a lot has changed between then and now in terms of what we are able to do for the people of Enugu West. Basically we were short in infrastructure by the time I got to the Senate to represent Enugu West.
But between then and now I think we have moved a lot forward. Today, we have various roads.
Federal government presence
At the time I got to the Senate, there was no road all the way from Oji-River for instance to Awgu, from Awgu to Ndiabor, from Ndiabor to Mpu, to Okpanku to Akaeze, there was no road there.
There was no road from Awgu to Ishiagu and there was no road between Nenwe and Oduma; there was no road crisscrossing Udi to Ezeagu.
But I can tell you that as I speak to you today, we have federal government presence in those places in terms of roads, we have quality roads. Some are still ongoing and we are hoping it will be completed very shortly.
By the time I got into the Senate, there was no electricity, not even one bulb in any part of Aninri Local Government Area for instance, but today every community can boast of some level of electricity and we are still making progress and I’m happy that the Local Government and State are also supporting in that regard.