*Says no guarantee National Conference report will get to the National Assembly
*Boundary adjustment: Nigeria may lose Obudu Cattle Ranch, eight LGAs to Cameroon
In 2002, the International Court of Justice sitting in Hagues, Netherland delivered judgement over the dispute on the ownership of the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsular between Nigeria and Cameroon in favour of the latter. In 2008, Nigeria started the process of pulling out which was completed in 2012 with a Green Tree Agreement which among other things talked about boundary adjustment in relation to the principles of the judgment.
Last week, the United Nation’s team was in Danari, a Nigeria border community in Boke local government area of Cross River state to effect the boundary adjustment and information has it that, with the way the team is going, eight local government areas in Nigeria will likely go to Cameroon if Beacon 113 is not found. In this interview, the Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, is raising the alarm that if nothing is urgently done by the Nigerian government, the famous Obudu ranch resort with the presidential lodge and the Agbokim waterfalls, among other tourists sites, would go to Cameroon. He also speaks on other national issues. Excerpts:
Last week there was a story that some communities in Cross River State may go to Cameroon following the United Nations boundary adjustment as a result of the Green Tree Agreement. What is the situation report now?
Well, there is boundary delineation going on as a result of the Green Tree Agreement which was the consequence of the judgment of the International Court of Justice on what we call Bakassi. The Green Tree Agreement necessitated some boundary adjustments and that exercise started somewhere from lake Chad and it is supposed to go right down to the Atlantic Ocean in the South; the exercise is going on in a place called Danari, in Boki Local Government Area in my constituency. The Anglo/German boundary of 1913 has been there and a particular beacon stone, Beacon 113, we heard cannot been found; the rest have been found; Beacon 113 is the one they are trying to locate. The United Nations team is insisting on taking a straight line. Now, the communities believe that beacon is somewhere further in Cameroon. If they do a straight line as they want to do, then we will be losing some communities to Cameroon including the famous Agbokim water falls where Hon. John Enoh comes from. I am in touch with Cross River State government and the community, we are looking at it so that I will bring the issue formally to the floor of the Senate. I came under Order 42 the last time just to give notice about my intention to bring a motion.
But this information is contrary to what the Boundary Commission said. The Commission said there is nothing like what you are saying, as what they are doing is internal within Nigeria. According to the today, they are delineating local governments and constituencies not boundary adjustments.
Well, my constituents who are from there are the ones who have expressed the concerns that I have just narrated to you. I am in direct contact with the constituents, I am in direct contact with even the chairman of the local government and what is even more worrisome is that, few days ago, the team was there with soldiers and we have been wondering where the soldiers came from, without the chairman of the local government knowing and the state government knowing what is actually going on.
There is the claim that the Cameroonian gendarmes are there now.
Yes, because Nigerian soldiers came. The moment you move troops to a boundary area, the other side is likely to move troops, that is a natural thing.
Is it true if they follow a straight line without locating beacon 113 and 113A, Nigeria will lose about eight local government areas including the famous Obudu Cattle Ranch?
We are going to lose a substantial territory, that is what I can say, I am still getting brief on it. Now the good thing is, the boundary communities, we have Danari in Nigeria and Danari in Cameroon?, both of whom know their traditional boundaries, they know where their traditional boundaries are and they have had no problems with that, so we want to make a case for the UN Team to just accept the traditional boundaries that the two communities agreed.
There are critical bills still awaiting the attention of the Senate. PIB is one of them and so far there is no hope that this bill will be passed and people are saying that you people are playing politics with it. If you take that together with the general performance of the Senate, do you think that the Senate has done well so far?
Let me start on a general note by saying that there is no parliament in the world that you stand at the end of the factory line and you start counting how many products have come out. Lawmaking is about processes not outcomes, we are more concerned about the processes than the outcomes. So you cannot begin to assess parliament by the number of bills it has passed as if you are assessing the performance of a factory. Having said that, I will now go to the second point that the law making process is tediously slow and it has been like that from time immemorial because you must make sure that you capture every essence, every import of the law. And being mortals, you cannot anticipate every situation, so it is a slow process and I have a belief that we have done well as we can possibly do in our situation. Remember it is an institution that is forever losing memory because of the high turnover, it is an institution that is handicapped by lack of consistent growth because the military kept dissolving the institution, so Nigerians must be patient with us if we have not done well as they expect it, is because of the erosion in capacity.
How about the PIB because the PIB has been pending since 2008?
Yes, if you recall, even the Freedom of Information Bill was here from the first Senate; it was only in the fifth Senate we were able to pass it. But I am hopeful that the PIB will be passed before the end of the current Senate. It is a technical bill that comes with a number aspects, we have the legal aspect of the bill, we have the physical aspect of the bill, you have the environmental aspect of the bill, you have the petroleum aspect, you have the gas aspect and, because of these various component, we necessarily need to get several committees to work together, it is not very easy. If we have just two committees, it is easy, but by the time you begin to have three, four, five committees, it becomes a bit problematic, but I am hopeful that the bill will be passed before the end of the current Senate.
So you don’t believe the PIB is jinxed?
I don’t think it is jinxed. Once upon a time they thought that the Freedom of Information Bill was jinxed, the jinx was broken. Going back to the former question whether we are playing politics, I do know nobody has spoken to me about PIB, so I don’t know what politics we have been playing with PIB, nobody has spoken to me about it.
The Committee of the ongoing National Conference recently adopted the recommendation of one of its committees that the National Assembly in Nigeria should run on part time basis. What is your take on this? Do you think Nigeria should run a part-time legislature?
Not in a presidential system of government, so how do you oversight the executive arm? The oversight will be part-time oversight. Now I am told that their reason for that recommendation is to save cost, now the budget of the National Assembly has remained at N150 billion in the last three years, and the current budget of the federation is N4.6 trillion, by the time the SURE-P component is added, it is N4.96 trillion. What percent of that national budget is the budget of the National Assembly? It is under three percent. So even if you are to scrap the National Assembly, you will only be saving three percent of the budget or less, is that the saving that you want to make? The fuel subsidy thing is in trillions, our pension regime that is unaccounted for is in trillions, is it the National Assembly that is responsible for the fuel subsidy or the pension or the import waivers? If their argument is the cost, I think they have missed the point completely because all they have been saying is less than three percent. And more importantly, how will you get a part-time legislature to oversight a full-time executive in the presidential system? So, rather than part-time, my suggestion is they ought to have recommended that the National Assembly should be scrapped.
Section 9 of the Constitution has become an issue in the ongoing constitutional review. What is going to happen to Section 9, and what is so controversial about the section?
I think it is just a wrong perception and attribution of motives. Nigerians for a long time have been clamouring for a new Constitution and their argument which I don’t share is that the 1999 Constitution was given to us by the military and that that Constitution lies about itself when it says ‘we the people of Nigeria’, as we never gave ourselves a Constitution. Now if you take the 1999 Constitution, it does not make any provision for a new Constitution, it makes provision for amendment. Now, being a parliament, we must always respond to the wishes of the people. We now said, ‘Ok, the people want a new Constitution, the only way to go about it is to amend Section 9 to provide for modalities for making a new Constitution’. So, in August last year, I represented the Senate President at the NBA conference in Calabar and, in his speech as far back as that occasion, he said the Senate was contemplating an amendment to Section 9 of the Constitution to provide for the making of a new Constitution. But some people now believe that this provision is to accommodate the report of the National Conference, there is no guarantee that the report of the National Conference will get to the National Assembly because the National Conference is a body set up by Mr President; so their report will go to Mr. President and he will do with the report as he pleases. So it is just the suspicion that this amendment is to provide a ploy to foist a new Constitution on the Nigerian people, you can’t just pass a new Constitution like that, it still has to pass through the National Assembly, two-third of the National Assembly, it has to be approved by 24 states assembly; so that is the suspicion surrounding Section 9.
There are insinuations that the senate leadership wants to sweep some committees reports under the carpet like the one on immigration recruitment. Why?
What is our interest sweeping them under the carpet? I and the Committee on Rules and Business schedule matters for the floor and we have as today 187 bills in the system at different stages and they all have to pass through plenary, we sit three days in a week, there is only so much that we can do. 187 plus how many reports, plus now many motions?
But there are some reports that are of national importance
In whose view?
In our views because we are Nigerians
Okay, there could be three of them that are of interest to Nigerians. Can you take three at once? You must take one at a time.
Is the Senate going to discuss the report on the immigration recruitment?
The relationship between the Senate and the Presidency has been very friendly and critics have seen that as dangerous, that kind relationship has not allowed you to look at certain things you ought to look at while performing your oversight functions. What is your comment?
No, can you be specific, can you mention one thing that we should have looked at that we didn’t look at? You must look at historical responsibilities of the Senate all over the world; the Senate is designed from time immemorial to stabilize the polity in times of crisis. The Senate is not supposed to descend to an arena of conflict, we are supposed to stabilize the country when there is a conflict and if you recall the recent past, that has been the role of the Senate. So, if the expectation is that the Senate must manufacture conflict, it is not part of the character of a Senate to do so.
Why has the president refused to assent to some bills passed by the Senate and how do we overcome this?
It is by you people persuading the president to sign the bills.
Why is it that the budget is not implemented fully, sometimes capital project is about 25 percent?
I think we should go to the roots of the matter. Recently it was asked by your colleagues what I was expecting from the 2014 budget and I said nothing, nothing dramatic. Let’s go through it together. The 2014 budget has a recurrent component that is 76 percent and capital component that is 24 percent, what can you achieve with 24 percent?
Why did the National Assembly not change it when it was brought to the floor of the Senate?
Good, you just cannot change because you have workers whose salaries you must pay. Now let’s do a simple exercise. You are a journalist. Go back to the days of three regions, check what the capital components of what the federal and regional budgets were and what the recurrent components were; go back to the days when we had four regions, do the same exercise; come down to when we had 12 states, do the same exercise; come down when we had 19 states, do the same exercise; come down when we had 21 states, do the same exercise. As our federating units increase, the recurrent components of the budget increases and the capital component decreases.
So it is a structural thing that the National Assembly here cannot do it with a stroke of the pen and Nigerians must be honest with themselves and look at this matter critically and address it. Now people tell me that as at 1960, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Nigeria were at par economically, now are we at par today? The obvious answer is no. Why are we not at par? Could it be military rule? Brazil had military rule, Indonesia had military rule, Malaysia had military rule, it is only India and I think Singapore that didn’t have military rule. So if all these countries and Nigeria experienced military rule and they still managed to reach where they have reached, it certainly cannot be as a result of military rule. What is it that Nigeria has done that these other countries have not done? There federating units have remained the same. Ours moved from three to four to twelve to 19 to 21 to 36 all in my life time and I am not 60 yet.
And there is the agitation for more states.
Yes, give them more states, we will get to the point where the recurrent budget will be a hundred percent and the capital zero, just do the analysis yourselves.