By Daniel Kanu
Quintessential politician and former Majority Leader of the Senate, Victor Ndoma-Egba, is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN.
The erstwhile chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), in this interview with select group of journalists, spoke on crucial national issues, including the spate of insecurity, constitution review, restructuring, agitations by the Southeast, ban on open grazing, Governor Ben Ayade’s defection to APC, among others. Excerpt:
The 9th National Assembly has concluded public hearings in different political zones for the purpose of constitution review. What significant impacts have we seen from previous reviews and amendments of the 1999 Constitution?
We could have done far better. The Seventh Senate, if you recall, had made far-reaching proposals for altering the 1999 Constitution, secured the approval of the two-third of the State Houses of Assembly, and had gone through all the motions. Unfortunately, the president at the time did not give his assent and all the effort was wasted. Previous alterations, four of them, sought to streamline the electoral process and provide for when the vice president can assume the functions of the president in his absence following the Senate’s approval of the Doctrine of Necessity consequent upon President Yar’Adua’s absence due to ill health. Important as these alterations and much more could be achieved.
As has been argued by most commentators, do you think it would be better to discard the current constitution and come up with a fresh document for the Nigerian people?
Apart from being grossly problematic, the 1999 Constitution is of dubious ancestry. It is a gravely flawed document that I blame for most of our current problems. Some say it is an illegal document. I don’t agree that it is illegal because we have ratified it by conduct, we have submitted to it and to the powers created by it. We have been ruled by those elected under it, governed by laws made by legislatures created by it, and obeyed judgments of courts created by it. This ratification does not, however, cure its fundamental flaws or defects. The constitution is not autochthonous, it did not derive from the people contrary to the lie it told about itself in this respect, it creates a unitary state which it passes off as a federal system. We should aspire for a new constitution. The current constitution has no provision for a new constitution, but the section that allows for its alteration can, however, be amended to provide for a new constitution and how it can be brought about.
Most Nigerians believe that restructuring will give Nigeria the status of true federalism where more powers are devolved to the federating units (states) is the only solution to the myriad of problems bedeviling the country. Do you share in this view?
The truth is that our federalism is in name only. In essence, we are a unitary state. For a nation as diverse as Nigeria only true federalism can hold us together, guarantee equity, prosperity, and security.
How worried are you about the current high level of insecurity in the country – ranging from banditry, terrorism, kidnapping to herder-farmer clashes leading to the killing of innocent citizens almost on a daily basis?
I am very worried, absolutely worried. Our security situation has become frightening. Not even during the Nigerian civil war did we experience this level of insecurity, anxiety, and nervousness. An aspect of the insecurity that is now countrywide that is most troubling is the resultant profiling of tribes. Even when the insecurity has been dealt with the profiling and prejudices that come with it will remain with us for much longer.
What in your findings would you say could be responsible for this awful security situation we are witnessing?
A number of factors are responsible. Our fatally flawed federal structure and federalism have reached the limits of their workability. Under the constitution, our institutions and public and personal values have collapsed. The economy has stalled with industries and businesses folding up, population, especially the youthful population has far outstripped opportunities causing the present level of youth unemployment. The most prized resource of any nation is its population, especially the youthful population that is a resource only if it is educated, skilled, motivated, and engaged otherwise the same youthful population becomes a curse. The level of youth unemployment, the lack of motivation for them, the collapse of our institutions, and the loss of the monopoly of instruments of coercion to non-state actors are among some of the factors.
Do you think that the President Buhari-led government of the day is doing much to tackle insecurity? Are you sure we are putting in the required resources (as in proper funding) to fight the menace?
I guess it is, but it is obviously constrained by an impracticable constitution that has led to fundamental civic, social, and political contradictions that have caused grave systemic inefficiencies that have in turn resulted in endemic corruption.
Isn’t it a good idea for us to seek foreign assistance as has been rightly advocated by many?
The security situation is gross. We should not shy away from help from any quarters. We need to seek any avenue to ensure we survive and not die.
There were mixed reactions to the recent resolution by the southern governors to ban open grazing in their states. While some see it as a welcome development, others questioned the constitutionality of the decision. As a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, what’s your take on the legality of the open grazing ban?
There is absolutely nothing unconstitutional about the ban on open grazing. The ban, however, must be supported by well thought out laws otherwise implementing the ban will be a major challenge.
Don’t you think the time has come for us to do away with this outdated system of cattle rearing and embrace modern methods like ranching?
There is a consensus on ranching as the future. Ranching will benefit everybody. It will take care of the preventable herders/farmers clashes that have claimed many innocent lives.
A statement by the presidency indicated that Mr. President has commissioned and approved an actionable plan of rehabilitating grazing reserves in the states as part of measures to solve the problem. Is this likely to bring the expected solution?
Ranching is the way to go. It is what is obtainable in decent societies.
Do you see any justifiable reason for the ongoing agitations for secession by different groups, especially in the Southeast and Southwest where they are asking for Biafra nation and Oduduwa nation respectively?
Clearly sections of the country feel marginalized and excluded from access to the opportunities and resources of the country and are, therefore, frustrated and angry. Legitimate as their complaints maybe secession cannot be a solution, rather it will compound our problems. What we need now is an honest national conversation on the state of our union and to negotiate a new system and new terms.
How would you describe the suggestion of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) that fuel price should be increased to N380 per litre from the current N165? With the pain, Nigerians are going through as a result of the biting economy, is it fair for anyone to begin to contemplate increasing the fuel pump price at this point in time?
The fuel subsidy regime has become the biggest infrastructure for corruption in Nigeria. The only beneficiary of fuel subsidy is a tiny cabal while the general populace has been misled into believing that fuel subsidy is in its interest. Market forces should determine the price of fuel in a competitive and well-regulated economic environment.
Recently, your state governor, Ben Ayade defected from the leading opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to your party, the APC. You issued a statement to congratulate and welcome the governor to APC. Knowing that Cross River has always been a stronghold of PDP, of what benefit will Ayade’s decampment be to APC in the state?
With Governor Ayade’s decamping to the APC the PDP in Cross River State has the unflattering prospect of, for the very first time since I999, the PDP going into political contests without the machinery of government and government’s muscle. For the very first time, it will be truly testing its popularity and not the modus of “carry go” that they have long been used to. PDP in Cross River State is hemorrhaging badly and the prognosis is not good. It is naked and it is not used to being without clothes. It is an unhappy new experience, a new reality.
Now that Ayade has joined APC as a serving governor, is there any contention as to who is the leader of the party in your state?
The president is the leader of the party at the national level while governors are leaders of the party in their states. Governor Ben Ayade is the leader of the party (APC) in Cross River State. There is no argument about this.