For 12 years, he was in the Senate and in eight years of the period he served as senate leader through which he garnered a lot of legislative experience. He was on his way to returning to the Senate for a fourth term but unfortunately, he was on the wrong side of the power play in his Cross Rivers home state especially in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which denied him the opportunity. Anyhow, Senator Ndoma Egba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, who has returned fully to law practice, is abreast of contemporary political issues in Nigeria as he displayed in this encounter at his Abuja law firm. Excerpts:
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ON why he did not return to the Senate in 2015 in spite of his legislative experience and exposure
I think that the former governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke is in the best position to explain what happened. I don’t know but the odds were stacked against me in the party.
Were you having issues with him?
You know what happened to the PDP? At some point, especially the state chapters, became personal properties of the governors and it was the governor’s will that prevailed. There was nothing like internal democracy any more. It was what the governor willed or desired that he got.
Submission to the congresses
Take my own situation for example, first you had congresses even though I had concerns about the panels and the way they were going to conduct the congresses, I submitted to the congresses and when the result came out I was comfortable with it.
In the party’s constitution, there is an appeal process, in pursuit of that process, the party in Abuja set up an appeal panel that waited in Calabar until its time elapsed. No appeal was filed against the outcome of the congress and I had to rush to court, secured a court order to protect the result of that congress. The matter was still pending in court. The court order was still subsisting when 24 days later, in total disregard of its own constitution, the party announced that the congresses had been cancelled without the appeal process being utilized or exhausted.
There was a similar situation in Enugu where the party brought out a political solution. In Cross River, the party just ignored its own constitution and embarked on the journey of impunity and illegality. I am a lawyer of 37 years and 11 of those years as a Senior Advocate, there is no way I would have participated in a subsequent congress when there was a court order pending.
Jurisdiction over the matter
The court eventually ruled that there is no jurisdiction over the matter. There were two cases, similar facts before the same Judge. In one case, the Judge assumed jurisdiction. In the other case, he said there was no jurisdiction but I have put all of that behind me.
Was that the reason you left PDP?
Like I said I became the sole issue of PDP in Cross River and I have said it again and again in the last three years I haven’t been invited to any meeting.
Two weeks ago, the state chairman gave an explanation. He said, ‘yes it is true that I haven’t been invited to any meeting of the party in the state for three years but that is half of the story. The other reason is that I was keeping the company of certain people.
So, my friendship now determined my party membership. The whole thing is just ridiculous.
Now you have resigned your PDP membership, what next?
One step at a time and as you can see, I am back in my law firm but I needed to close a particular chapter and that has been done and I will move on.
His assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari so far
They made their promises during the campaigns and we should hold them to those promises and assess them based on the campaign promises they made. What did they promise? They promised that they were going to invigorate the fight against corruption. Has that been done? In my view yes! They also promised that they were going to fight insurgency and insecurity. Has that been done? In my view, yes!
They also promised to fight the issue of unemployment. Has that been done? It will take some time but some very fundamental decisions have been taken that will have far reaching impact on our attitude and also have structural impact on the fight against corruption.
Take the Treasury Single Account TSA. For the first time in many years, the provision of the constitution has been complied with because all revenues of the federal government should go into an account and for the first time we are seeing that.
I heard that there were about 20,000 accounts, which is strange. So, that has now been tackled in a fundamental way. You will also have this feeling; it is a feeling that we are returning to those days when we didn’t have any sacred cow in the society and that nobody is above the law.
So against the promises they made during the elections even though it is early I think from the little that we have seen and the body language, it is so far, so good.
Let’s take the issue of corruption. Recently, there was this feeling that President Muhammadu Buhari shouldn’t limit its probe to the immediate past government. Some people also were of the opinion that he should in fact, halt the probes. Are you of that opinion too?
No. Because the fight against corruption is part of governance. It is part of strengthening the institution of government, enthroning accountability and transparency especially in the public sphere and like they say ‘time doesn’t run against the state in criminal matters’. So, it doesn’t matter when it was committed.
You can’t go forward without interrogating the past and making people accountable for their deeds or misdeeds. It has to be part of the philosophy of governance. You can’t talk about accountability and you are talking of relief, forgiveness for people who committed fraud.
It appears there is a change of attitude among Nigerians. What could have lead to that?
I think the average Nigerian knows what is right. The average Nigerian is an honest person. They know what is good for the society and they were just waiting for the leadership that will take them to that direction.
My reading of the situation, I might be wrong, is that President Buhari is by passing the former structures of power and connecting directly with the masses. So, it is the masses that are beginning to form his power base and my reading of the situation is that the masses are in agreement with this new drive for accountability and they are all part of it.
On controversies trailing the appointments made by the president.
First and foremost, let me say that nobody has complained about the competence of those that he has appointed or their integrity.
The only complaint is that geographically speaking, they appear to come from one side of the country. My simple answer is that the configuration of Nigeria is very complex and we can’t be simplistic in drawing conclusion. We can’t just base appointments on North/South. It will miss the configuration of Nigeria.
Now, in the North they have the major tribes; they have Fulanis but you also have a lot of minorities and you have tribes that are not minorities like the Nupes and the rest of them. But you also have Christians in this sea of Muslims just like in the South especially in the South- West. In the South-West you still have a sizeable Muslim population.
So if you just use the simplistic approach of North/South you will miss the aim of this configuration. Now the minority in the North are they assuaged by this appointment? Yes they are!
The Chief of Staff is Borno and he is not Hausa/Fulani. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation is a minority Christian. For some, it might be convenient to say it is lopsided, for these minorities that have never been touched, they will applaud the appointments.
Applauding of appointments
In any case, in the public service, these appointments run into several hundreds and so far I think less than 10 has been made. So, I think it is too early in the day to draw conclusion.
His advice to Buhari on ministerial and remaining appointments
First of all, I think the president is bound by the constitutional provision in terms of federal character. I keep saying that no section of this country has a monopoly of competent people and people of integrity. You can find them in any part of this country.
So, he will be bound by the principle of federal character that is bound in the constitution. Secondly, under the constitution, he is obliged to appoint at least one minister from each state of the federation.
As for spread, he will have no choice than to spread accordingly because he has sworn to uphold and protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
So, he is bound by that. What I suspect he will do is that in spite of the demands of the constitution, he will make his government as lean as possible and if you go back to his antecedent as military head of state, I had served as commissioner under that dispensation and I remember that no cabinet had more than nine commissioners, no state; it was between seven and nine and there were only 19 states in the federation at that time.
Today, I don’t know of any state that has less than 20 commissioners but he made do with seven maximum nine in his first outing as military head of state. The entire executive council of Old Akwa Ibom state is now less than the aides of a commissioner. So, I see him going back to the days of lean. I see him also in a very structural and systemic manner cutting down the cost of governance.
I remember then as a commissioner you were entitled to one personal aide and he was drawn from the public service, so there was no additional cost. Now, we see public officers moving with an entourage, I think that is going to be minimized.
PDP’s prediction of 60 years rule was cut short at 16. What were the mistakes?
What happened in PDP was just impunity and like I said the governors became the owners of the party in the state and it was their will that reigned and because it was their will, arrogance also set in. The lesson is that arrogance and impunity can’t sustain anywhere in any party.
His experience at the Senate: The National Assembly in Nigeria is still evolving and you must situate its performance against its historical position in our post colonial history. We had very many years of military rule with episodes of democracy. In those long years of military rule, the National Assembly didn’t exist because it is inconsistent with totalitarism. So the first thing the military did each time they struck and they struck quite often was to dissolve the National Assembly.
I think in all, we had 29 or 30 years of military rule after our independence. So we had people who were 29 or 30 years who had never experienced democracy and life went on, which meant that they could live without the National Assembly.
So the fact that they could live without the National Assembly has also cultured the public perception of the institution. It has become the scapegoat of everything that has gone wrong.
Secondly its growth has been episodic; it hasn’t been continuous like you have in the executive or the judiciary.
For the few years we have democracy you have a National Assembly. Then the military comes in and the National Assembly is abrogated. When democracy returns, the National Assembly starts again from the scratch. So development has been more or less a staccato, on and off.
So, we have to contend with this hostile view of an institution that ironically symbolizes our democracy at the same time because if you remove the National Assembly you don’t have a democracy.
You also have to contend with these episodic development that hasn’t given it the opportunity to develop capacity and then to compound matters, there is this very high attrition with the National Assembly. Each time you have an election, far less people return.
We pride ourselves that our democracy is fashioned after the United States but in the United States if four senators lose their seats in an election, it is considered an upset but here, in just 16 years of our democracy you have only one senator with 16 years experience and that is Senator David Mark whereas in the United States you have so many with 30, 40, 50 years experience. When we assess our National Assembly, it has to be against this background of historical realities.
Back to your question, I feel fulfilled that I was part of the Senate in its most stable years. I was there for 12 years and eight of those 12 years I was in leadership and in those eight years, there was no scandal and there was stability.
For the first time, a Senate president was re-elected and he served out two terms. He was re-elected with his deputy who served two terms with him. The deputy senate leader became Senate leader in his second term. So, you can see stability. So for me, I am thankful to God that I was part of the institution in its most stable era and perhaps most glorious.
Looking back, are there some legislations that you would have loved to push that were inconclusive during your time?
Yes, several. I can’t begin to single them out but I think that we must address the issue of lapsed legislations in a fundamental manner. Why do we have so many bills that are not passed? The answer is simple; the constitution under Section 62 if I remember clearly says each house of the National Assembly stands dissolved on the fourth anniversary of its inauguration which means four years from when you were inaugurated you stand dissolved. Now if you did elementary chemistry when you dissolve something, nothing survives. So, when you dissolve an institution everything dies with it.
So all the bills that haven’t been passed, all the motions that haven’t been addressed immediately stand dissolved with the institution. So, they have to start denovo and this is at a very great cost because the process of law making is quite expensive especially the aspect that involves public hearing, engaging consultants and all of that. It a very expensive process which means that all of that is lost. So we must go back to the constitution and see how we could save this.
So, there is no carry over of bills?
No you can’t. In the sixth senate we actually amended our rules to allow for a carry over what we call rule 111 but we realized that it was inconsistent with the provision of the constitution. The constitution is supreme, superior to any other legislation not to talk of rules. In the US, there is no provision that says the congress stands dissolved because they have staggered elections. So, congress is continuous and that is why in US you find bills that are over a hundred years that are still alive because the institution is never dissolved but our own case is the opposite.
So for me, yes, there are very many bills that one would have liked to see passed. I had about 39 and out of the 39, I think only 8 or so were taken to conclusion and I have to check how many of them were actually signed into law by the president but the real issue is not the number of unpassed bills but what can be done to ensure that those bills survive each parliament.
What advice will you give to the 8th Senate?
The necessary component of the promise of change; the present administration came into power on the promise of change and that change will require a lot of legislative infrastructure, legislative input and they must realise that Nigerians will hold them as part and parcel of changes. So, they must do everything to ensure that change is delivered to the Nigerian people that are expecting it.