By Glory Okon/Peter Offem Ubi/Ifere Paul in Abuja
Good evening Leader. We are giving you this interview because you are leaving the Senate in a couple of days. We want to know how you are feeling after 12 years in the Red Chambers. As one who has seen it all in politics, we feel your experiences are worth listening to. It’s a pleasure on us to have you Sir.
Please sir, can we meet you. Who is Senator Victor Ndoma Egba, SAN?
I’m Senator Victor Ndoma Egba, SAN, the outgoing Leader of the 7th Senate. I say outgoing, because even though we had our valedictory today, the 7th Senate officially comes to a close on Saturday June 6th, 2015.
Looking in your office right now we could see experiences. That’s the picture of General Buhari when he was Military leader of the country in a handshake with you; I believe you were a Commissioner then in Cross River state. Can you tell us what it felt like having that famous handshake as a young person?
The photograph was taken in 1985. So, it’s 30 years plus. He was military Head of State at the time. I was Commissioner for Works and Transport in old Cross River State. That is, Cross River and Akwa Ibom. We had only 19 States then in the Federation. Not the 36 States we have today and we were only 7 Civil Commissioners in an Executive Council made up of 11, including the Governor. My Ministry then is 8 Ministries today in Cross River State alone. I don’t know how many Ministries in Akwa Ibom. And he (Buhari) was visiting the old Cross River State officially for the first time and I was attached to him and it was during that trip, which took us around Calabar up to Obudu.
We also know that you met him recently. We want to get that experience and add to the previous one in 1985.
Well, I’ve actually met him twice. I met him twice in 5 days. I asked him about the accident he had at the Cattle Ranch in 1985, and he took us through the story. He remembered the incident very very well. He then asked me how I knew about the accident. And I told him I was that Commissioner attached to him, and I was in the car behind him. It was quite some experience. He remembered an incident that took place many years ago in such fine details. I was amazed. And he told us stories of some prominent Cross Riverians of blessed memories. I. I. Murphy, and Chief Michael Ani. He remembered the roles they played in his career and spoke very very kindly about them. He spoke about his time in Obudu, Ogoja, and Ikom.
Looking at Cross River State, now and then, what do you think is the difference between Commissioners then and now, the quality of leadership as at that time and the quality of leadership we have now? Do you think there’s any great change?
Well, like I said structurally we had just 19 States in the Federation. So, the States were larger. Our responsibilities were bigger. The State was from Ikot Abasi to Obanlikwu. And so I was a Commissioner for a bigger State. Like I said earlier on, we were only 7 civil commissioners in an exco that was made up of a total of 11 persons. I do know that the Executive Council of most States are close to 40 today. So I don’t know how decisions are taken but we had a much leaner government. Demarcation of responsibilities was clearer; responsibilities for decisions and implementation of decisions were sharper. So we could follow through government’s policies and decisions. I still boast till today that, at the time I left office, which was four and a half years, I didn’t have an abandoned project. One or two projects that were not completed, were about 96% completed. At least, one of them was the Ogoja Oban Water Works, at that time it was 96% complete. I don’t know if it has been completed till date.
From your experience Sir, Will you attribute the spate of abandoned projects in the State today to lean financial resources or other factors?
There was more fiscal discipline. At the time, you don’t embark on any project when the financial provision hadn’t been absolutely and adequately made for that project. We used to have what at that time was called the “capital project implementation committee” made up of 3 Commissioners and 2 Permanent Secretaries, the Commissioner for Finance, the Commissioner for Works, the Attorney General, Permanent Secretary Finance, and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Works. The Permanent Secretary Ministry of Works was there because the State Tenders’ Board, as it was called, was domiciled in the Ministry of Works. So the Permanent Secretary in charge of the body that processed contracts and monitor contracts needed to be in that body. And each time monies came, the committee sits down and look at the ongoing projects, look at the percentage completion, and make provision for the next stage of work. So, there was a lot of fiscal discipline. Government wasn’t at large as it is today. I as a Commissioner for Works, I had a Personal Assistant (PA) who was a civil servant. I don’t know how many Personal Assistants they have today, but you’ll see a whole retinue moving with government officials. I had one car throughout the period I was Commissioner and that car was inherited from the previous Commissioner. A new car was never bought for me. The furniture in my official residence was not changed. And I made do with the furniture I inherited. So, there was fiscal discipline. I remember one particular incident, I had gone on an official duty to Bulgaria, and a colleague of mine who was Commissioner, I think he was Commissioner of Local Governments at that time. He wrote asking for reimbursement of 600 Naira he spent to repair an air conditioner. In my absence, my permanent Secretary turned it down, because it wasn’t his business to repair his AC. There was a procedure. And how do you spend 600 naira to repair an AC when a new one actually cost 600 naira? He took the matter to exco and exco took side with us and told him, “we can’t approve the money”. That was the kind of environment under which we operated.
How are you feeling knowing that your tenure for now is coming to an end? Can you share with us your achievements?
Well, let me say I feel very fulfilled. I feel satisfied that at every turn, I take myself to the limit of my endowments. It was a full time job for me, I came from a law practice, but for the twelve years I was in the Senate, I never went to my office for anything legal. I concentrated on the assignments I was elected for and I thank God that I did it to the best of my ability. The important thing is that I am satisfied that I did my best. The basic functions of a legislature is law making. I have to my credits 39 bills including the famous “Freedom of Information” (FOI) Act. That was my bill. With quite a lot signed into law. On Saturday the 6th, I’ll get the exact statistics of how many have been signed into law. You know, I moved topical motions. When some Nigerian sailors were taken hostage at sea, near the coast of Yemen, it was my motion that got federal government interested. Even when you had the tsunami, in some years back, it was my motion that opened attention to the environmental possibilities in Nigeria. I was quite active. I mean even when I became Senate Leader, this is a very busy office, I was still very active in all the committees I was a member. So, I’ll say, I am satisfied that given my primary responsibilities as a legislature, that I did the best I could do. Beyond that you also use the position to attract projects. Today we have “World Bank Projects” in Cross River State. We have African Development Bank, and quite a lot of projects funded by federal budgets. Few months ago just before the primaries, I went round the constituency inspecting my projects, and we inspected 76. I heard today people are laying claims to them. When I was inspecting them and fighting for them, nobody laid claims o. I inspected 76, including a specialist hospital in Ikom. Including the Enugu-Abakaliki-Ikom-Mfum-Road. At least all the ministers that had anything to do with that road had always publicly acknowledged the pressure I put them under for that project to become a reality. The second from Calabar through Oban and Etung. The physical alignment was to come out of Ikom but we changed it to Etung, it was awarded and it’s also one of my projects.
I thank God that we attracted quite a number. “We” here means my constituents who put pressure on me and government to make it a reality. The Calabar-Ikom-Ogoja Road was a project I fought significantly for. The award for maintenance was to FERMA. There’s nothing I could do than to put pressure on them. Our peoples’ awareness to putting pressure on government to deliver is zero here. In States like Enugu, Anambra, etc, constituents monitor the award of contracts and follow same to their locality. Here, it’s always Victor this Victor that. But we had a governor whose constitutional obligation was to see the development of the State. People that the President had given so much power to do and undo. They could have moved mountains. I didn’t have that type of power. I was excluded in the middle and excluded in the State. At a point three years ago, I had no knowledge where I belonged. So, I decided to concentrate on my duties. Each time I tried to pull in a project, there are influential invincible hands that don’t want me to pull them through. I ran to the head in the center and I’m asked to come to the State. The State had already succeeded in caging me in a box. You all know the rest. Well, only recently we got approval for National Open University to open a study center in Ikom which has been granted. We got the Federal Ministry of Youths to give us a fallow youth center in Ikom. I think sooner than later, that institution will take off, although my real hope was to attract a Federal tertiary institution to Central Senatorial District, but as they say, “half bread is better than none”.
Now that PDP is no longer the ruling party, we want to know, are you still going to remain in the party? Any plans to move?
Well, you know like I said, I have said it over and over again that in three years, the PDP in Cross River State has not invited me to a party meeting. Will I be here thinking I’m in PDP while PDP thinks I’m not in PDP? I’ve not been invited to any meeting. They said every politics is local. I was just waiting to anchor the 7th Senate. I’ll go into consultation with my constituents. At the end of the day, it’s their interest that’s paramount to me and their views will be most crucial. But I said that in the last three years I have not been invited to any PDP meeting in Cross River State. I’m doing PDP in Abuja.
We now have a new government. What are your expectations?
New government where? Federal or State?
Both levels Sir.
At the Federal level, President Buhari made promises during the campaigns. He said he was going to fight insecurity. He said he was going to fight corruption. He said he was going to create jobs. So, I prefer to hold him onto his promises. So, I expect him to deliver on his promises. The same goes to the government in Cross River State. I believe that the governor, the new governor, who is a colleague of mine, and who is also a friend, made certain promises when he was campaigning. We’ll hold him unto those promises.
It seemed the advice the former President got on tackling insecurity and corruption wasn’t working or weren’t adhered to. Do you have any better ideas to offer President Buhari?
We have the infrastructure to fight corruption, and the National Assembly and I’m grateful to God that I was part of that National Assembly; we provided the legal framework to fight corruption. The EFCC was created, the ICPC was created, we passed an anti terrorism bill, we passed the anti money laundry bill. And we kept amending those bills each time we think the infrastructure should be tweaked for greater efficiency. We’ve also done what we needed to do to provide the legislations and create the environment to fight corruption. Just yesterday we passed the Proceeds of Crime Bill which is also an ancillary to fight against corruption. So, we’ve always provided the legal infrastructure for that. For insecurity, you’ll recall that each time the President asked for a State of Emergency, we’ve always granted that except the last one. We always did. We’ve always made sure that there’s adequate financial provision in the budget for the fight against insurgency. So, if we did not achieve that much, in the fight against corruption or insurgency, I’ll not blame it on the lack of legal infrastructure to do so. I’ll rather blame it on the lack of the political will to carry the fight through. You know, President Buhari has always ticked his credentials for anti corruption before now, and when he was Military President. I don’t believe that this will change or that has changed. The only change is that now, he has to fight it through the constitutional means. He cannot do so by fiats. He was also a soldier at some point in his career, he was involved at some point in the fight against insurgency. He was involved in the fight in Chad, he had to chase insurgents that came from Chad out of Nigeria and then during the ‘Maitatsine’ riots, if I remember my history very well, I think he also played a role. So, insurgency is nothing new to him. He won’t be depending on hearsay or second hand stories. He has the first hand experience as a General who was directly involved in situations of insurgency. I believe that he has prepared himself. Let’s not forget that President Buhari is the first Nigerian who did not become an accidental President. He consistently sought the office. So, he must have prepared himself and has apprised himself of the challenges.
What advise do you have for the Senators Elect now coming in?
I gave them advice on my valedictory on the 4th of June which was very elaborate. They must protect the integrity of the institution. Protect the independence of the institution. They should act with courage. Make sure they deliver the deliverables of governance and make sure they are delivered to the commonest among us. Avoid playing to the gallery. Because the Parliament anywhere in the world is not a popular institution. When you begin to play to the gallery, I see people talking that “I’m coming to the Senate to fight the unholy allowances they are being paid”. When they came and they didn’t see the allowances they kept quiet. I have no doubt in my mind that those going to the gallery will soon keep quiet like those before them.
Would you support the idea by some stakeholders calling on the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on tourism development in Nigeria?
There is nobody that will leave his own country to another country to say he’s a tourist when you don’t have the road to travel on or electricity. So we must upgrade our infrastructure and upgrade our security. Until we upgrade our infrastructure and security, tourism will not grow. I think that the basic infrastructure should first of all be created.
What should be the ideal criteria for becoming a legislator against the background of arguments that lawyers have basic knowledge of the law and will make the best legislators?
I don’t agree that you must be a lawyer before you can be elected into the legislative body because people with different backgrounds have a role to play. Senate is where people with different ideas come together not until you are a lawyer. For instance, when we are discussing security matters, we have to rely on Senators who are retired Generals with security experiences. Same goes to Education and other sectors. I don’t think it will help if it’s just for lawyers. Our Democracy, in our post independence, pre- colonial history we have had more of military rule with episodes of democracy in-between. In fact, by 1999 it was possible to have somebody who was almost 29 years old with no idea of democracy because we had aggregate of 29 years of military rule. Between 1999 and today it’s the longest, unbroken episode of democratic rule and I am hoping that sooner or later, it would no longer be refered to as episodes but as something that has come to stay. We’ve had sixteen years of unbroken democracy which is unprecedented. We have had a President who was elected and re-elected as a President, President handed over to another President but on the same political party, we have had a Vice President who succeeded to the powers of a President in acting capacity even where there was constitutional lacuna, because there was a problem and Senate waded into the issue and resolved it. And the Acting President contested and became a President. Today, we have a situation where power has moved from the party in government to the opposition, so we survived all stress-points that we did not survive in the past because in the past each of those stress-points would have resulted in military take over. And even in the legislative arms of government we have also passed through those stress-points. We have made remarkable progress. For social scientists they have drawn a correlation between economic development and democracy and they believe that it is political stability that can deliver the expected economic results of any dispensation.
Lastly Sir, there’s a proposed bill called “the bill for lobbying registration”. How will this bill benefit the ordinary Nigerian?
It has to be passed into law first. The logic behind is that in a democracy you have interest groups. Recently we passed the anti smoking bill and there were all sorts of interest groups. There were those who believed that the tobacco companies should be killed completely. There were those who believed that they should allow the tobacco companies to operate because if you kill them, that does not mean there won’t be cigarettes on the streets. You’ll have smugglers take over the industry. So, it’s better you regulate it. And each group had people who were going round to sell their positions to legislators. Now, they are going round in an unregulated manner. There should be ethical standards. There should be some values. There should be a code of conduct. There should be things that you should do and should not do as a lobbyist. Because when people hear lobbyists, they believe that they are people moving around with bags of money in “Ghana Must Go” and giving to legislators. In fact, that’s what should be prevented in the bill. And I believe that that is what the bill seeks to prevent. So, I believe that when the bill is signed into law, it will give standards for those who want to register as lobbyists to meet, and you proceed from there. I intend to set up a consultancy, it’s not a lobbying consultancy. It will be an outreach, and advocacy consultancy that focuses on the work of the legislators. I hope to employ several people from Cross River State and train them in legislative outreach and advocacy consultancy. I’ll be happy to partner with enthusiastic young men like you. Thank you.