Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) from Cross River State, is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN.
A former member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ndoma-Egba ably represented the people of Cross River Central Senatorial District in the Senate for 12 years between 2003 and 2015. He left the Red Chamber of the National Assembly as Senate Leader, having earlier served as Deputy Senate Leader and Chairman Senate Committee on Media and Information.
Respected as one of the outstanding lawmakers Nigeria has ever produced at the highest level of the country’s legislature, the legal practitioner-turned politician was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Chairman of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2016.
Ndoma-Egba left as NDDC helmsman to seek a return to the Senate in the 2019 general election. He emerged as the candidate of APC for Cross River Central.
He is presently in the tribunal challenging his exclusion from the 2019 senatorial poll, on account of INEC’s announcement that APC had no candidates for the governorship, National Assembly and state Assembly election in Cross River State.
In this encounter with Sunday Sun, Ndoma-Egba gives an update on his tribunal case, enduring panacea to terrorism and insecurity, assessment of present National Assembly, among other issues. Excerpts:
After the last Cross River Central senatorial poll, you seemed not to be satisfied with the outcome of the election and went to the tribunal to challenge INEC’s declaration. What exactly are the issues?
My case against INEC is that I was excluded from the election. So, I am not challenging the outcome of the so-called election as such. But when you are excluded, I mean it nullifies the election. If you recall on 22nd of February, a few hours to the election, the Resident Electoral Commissioner went to the press and announced that APC had no candidates for the governorship, National Assembly and State House of Assembly elections in Cross River State. This was just few hours to the election. And then when they were making the purported declaration of the result, the result sheet did not carry my name. The ballot paper doesn’t have to carry your name. It only carries the logo of the party. But the result sheet must have the name of the party and the candidate. My name wasn’t there. And the returning officer even announced that the APC had no candidate. So, my case is that I was excluded from the election. And I believe that we have presented all the facts that we needed to present before the tribunal.
How far has the case gone now?
It is for judgment.
How optimistic are you as you await judgment?
I have total faith in the judiciary that they will do justice to my case.
Does it mean that all other candidates of APC in all the elections are also in the tribunal?
Of course, like I said the Resident Electoral Commissioner announced a few hours to the election that the APC had no candidates for the governorship election, for the National Assembly election and for the state House of Assembly election, which means every APC candidate in Cross River State was disqualified or excluded from the election by INEC. So, our case is against INEC and not against any other person.
Assuming that the tribunal orders a rerun of the entire election in Cross River State, what effort has been made so far to resolve the crisis in Cross River APC to enhance its chances should a rerun of the whole exercise is ordered?
We will resolve our problems. Surely we will resolve our problems and we will come out as a very strong and united family. At least the first step has been taken. A minister has been appointed and we believe that it will play a substantial role in uniting the party and healing the wounds.
There is this thinking that APC will not make any significant impact, knowing that PDP is seemingly the dominant party in the state?
We will cross the bridge when we get there.
There is this fear by some Nigerians that the present Ninth National Assembly is going to be a rubber stamp owing to the method of the emergence of its leadership. What would you say about this fear being expressed by Nigerians?
I think it is too early in the day to draw such conclusions. It is too early in the day. Don’t forget that there were lessons learned from the 8th Senate. And every effort was made to derive the best for the Ninth Senate in terms of how the leadership emerges. But one thing has always been very, very clear. Each time leadership emerges from within the Senate, that is, homegrown leadership, and indeed the National Assembly, we have a stable National Assembly. I want to believe that the leadership that we have now emerged substantially from the internal processes of the National Assembly.
You think the fact that the presiding officers as we have now were endorsed and put forward by the ruling APC with the support of the Presidency against other candidates for the positions cannot turn them to stooges in the hands of the executive arm of government headed by the President of the country?
If the party endorses what the members have done or the consensus that the members have reached, it adds value to the process. I believe that the leadership that we have now is substantially homegrown.
The National Assembly has just done its first assignment of screening the ministerial list. From the way the screening was carried out, where the majority of the nominees were asked to just take a bow and go, Nigerians are thinking that some of their fears about the 9th NASS have started manifesting. You have been in the National Assembly; the manner and way this screening was conducted, is it in line with what obtained when you were in the Senate?
I believe so. Former members of the National Assembly, former members of the legislature are entitled to certain courtesies when they appear for screening before the Senate. Not outside the Senate; before the Senate because the Senate is at the apex of the legislative arm of government in this country. Nobody has given them those privileges outside the Senate. They only enjoy those privileges within the Senate, which is an arm of parliament. And it’s something that happens everywhere. In the legal profession, if you have reached a certain mark, you will file your cases first. These are courtesies that you find everywhere. So, I don’t think that making it into such a big issue is necessary. Yes, people have said, okay, to what extent do you extend those privileges? I remember even when we were in the Senate, it was an argument. When a former member of a state House of Assembly was to appear before Senate, it was a heated argument. I think that was in my first term. And it was agreed that even members of the state Houses of Assembly were entitled to those courtesies. They are courtesies that appertain to you as a former legislator. And you enjoy those courtesies only within the parliament. You don’t leave the parliament and go outside to the executive arm and enjoy those courtesies. Those are courtesies that are peculiar to virtually every facet of human life. There are courtesies you enjoy having been a member of an organization. However, if they ask you to bow and go you still have an option to say look I want to say something or I want to be questioned. After all, Senator (Tayo) Alasoadura from Ondo State, even when he was asked to bow and go, he still said no I want to say something and he still went ahead to say something. The fact that you have been asked to bow and go doesn’t mean that you on your own cannot say look I want to say something. It is just a courtesy. It is a courtesy that appertains to you by virtue of having been a member of that institution. And don’t forget, what is the qualification to be a minister? The qualification to be a minister is the same qualification to be a member of the House of Reps. So, if you’ve already been in the House of Reps which is the qualification for you to be a minister, why shouldn’t you enjoy those courtesies, those privileges. It is not a privilege, it’s a courtesy. It’s a courtesy that the beneficiary can waive if he so chooses.
As a stakeholder in your state, how would you describe the nomination of Goddy Jeddy-Agba for a ministerial position?
I think it’s a welcome appointment. One, he has been politically active. He ran for governor, for governorship nomination in 2014 (on the platform of PDP). And then when we moved over to APC because of the experiences we had in PDP, he was one of the pillars, he became a pillar of the APC. I have read the argument that he wasn’t visible during the last election. The election is just one incident. So, do we judge him from that one incident? What about the contributions, the various contributions he’s made to APC in the past. Even during the last election, he may have been active elsewhere, because an election is not limited to just one small field of play. In an election, you have people who are operating from different levels – people who are operating from the national level, people who are operating at the state level. He wasn’t visible at the level of the state. That is not to say that he wasn’t visible elsewhere. I mean we cannot fail to acknowledge nevertheless his enormous contributions to the party in Cross River State. Anybody who says he hasn’t made contributions to the APC in Cross River State, then that person I’m sure haven’t been following happenings in the party in the state. The most important thing is that Jeddy-Agba is competent and it was even evident from his appearance in the Senate. It was evident. I don’t need to say more than that.
Looking at the entire ministerial list, would you say President Muhammadu Buhari made the right choices across the board?
Well, from their profiles that have been made public, I think that they are eminently qualified.
Do you think they could assist the President in taking Nigeria to the next level promise?
I believe so.
Some Nigerians are not pleased with the performance of President Buhari in his first term…?
(Cuts in) It will be a miracle to have all Nigerians agree on the president’s performance. It is not everybody who will agree on his performance on his first term. That is not unexpected.
Do you see Buhari’s next level agenda making any significant difference in this second term?
He has promised to do so and I believe him.
The National Assembly as the core institution of democracy in Nigeria has been rife with negative perception such that people tend to believe that nothing good can come out of the NASS; they believe that NASS has failed the Nigerian people. How do you think that these negative narratives about NASS can be changed?
No matter how well the parliament does, it can never win a beauty contest. The parliament is not designed to endear itself to the public. And the reason is simple. It is the inherent nature of the parliament. You know parliament oversights the executive and then the public oversights parliament. So, it can never win a beauty contest. So, my attitude is, in spite of the criticisms, in spite of the poor perception, the parliament must remain focused on its core duties. And that is making laws, oversight the executive and advocacy.
About 10 years ago we started experiencing the issue of insurgency in Nigeria, which has heightened the problem of insecurity in our country. Why do you think it’s so difficult for the government to tackle this problem of insurgency 10 years after it surfaced?
If you go to South America where they have had insurgencies, it’s been on for almost 40 years. Insurgencies are called asymmetrical wars. They are not defined. It is not like one army is wearing a uniform and the other army is wearing another uniform so you can identify yourselves and identify the lines of battle. Insurgency or terrorism has no defined boundaries. So, when we talk of 10 years, yes, 10 years is a long time. But what was the experience elsewhere? How long did it take in Northern Ireland, in Columbia and all those places where you have had this experience of insurgencies and terrorism? So, the important thing is that they are shrinking. Their territory is shrinking. That is the important thing. And they are no longer as brazen or as bold as they used to be.
I remember once upon a time you couldn’t tell on a Sunday or Friday which church or mosque was the next bomb going to blow. At least there has been some respite. In the last few years, we’ve not seen that kind of brazenness any more. And we don’t see flags flying on our territory anymore. Having said so, I think that one, if I may use that word, one magic bullet to address all of these is the economy. The moment you have an economy where people are engaged, where opportunities abound, where people are busy, I think that you have less and fewer people who will be available to be recruited for terrorism. The second issue, of course, is that education must be made available to everybody. With proper education people would begin to make better choices and better judgments of issues. So, I think education and economy are key issues that we must employ to address the issue of insecurity in the country.
Because of the numerous problems confronting us as a nation – the high rate of poverty, unemployment and others – some have come to the conclusion that Nigeria is a failed state. Do you share in this view?
To say we are a failed state is a very hard judgment and certain parameters must be evident. First, there must be the total collapse of institutions. Do we have a total collapse of institutions? Do we even have a significant collapse of the institutions? No! The executive is still carrying out its constitutional responsibility. The National Assembly is still carrying out its constitutional responsibility. The judiciary is still carrying out its constitutional responsibility. So, we don’t qualify in any way to be classified as a failed state. Yes, we have challenges, fundamental challenges. But so it is with every other nation and every other society.