by Nicholas Kalu
Ex-Senate Leader and immediate past chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Victor Ndoma-Egba, shares his thoughts on his expectations of the 9th National Assembly among other issues, with some reporters in Calabar. Correspondent, Nicholas Kalu, was there. Excerpts
WHAT are your expectations of the 9th National Assembly?
I will start with a wish and that wish is that we see a stable and cohesive National Assembly. Stable not in the sense that they pander unduly to the executive but stable in the sense that at least they are consistent with their positions on the relation between legislation and development because the two must go together. The legislature must work with the executive to deliver on policies and programmes. So one is hoping and wishing that we see a stable National Assembly and one that comes up with a legislative agenda that it would follow very strictly to drive its next four years. My biggest hope and wish for them is stability.
What is your opinion on the leadership tussle in the National Assembly?
It is a bit tricky getting the contest going on now for the leadership within any paradigm. It is a bit tricky. But what I would say is that if you look at the National Assembly from 1999, whenever a leadership appears to have been foisted on the National Assembly from outside, the consequence is instability. The converse has also been the case. The moment they believe that a leadership is homegrown and internally generated, you will see stability. Whichever way the party in power is approaching it, it must ensure that it does not create the impression that it is foisting its leadership on the National Assembly. It must approach the issue of leadership in such a manner that the National Assembly itself takes over its thinking on the leadership, own their thinking and drive the process as an internally generated process. If it appears that they are being foisted, then we have lost it. Instability would be a consequence.
No matter the thought of the ruling party, those thoughts must be appropriated by the membership of the National Assembly and owned by the national assembly. It must appear as their internally generated thinking on the leadership. For as long as it remains that it appears that a leadership is being foisted from outside; it would generate instability. So my advise is that the party must handle it in such a way that the membership inherits their own position on the leadership, assume ownership of that position and drive it as an internally generated position. If it remains like an outside imposition, whether by the ruling party or powers that be or whatever that is coming from outside NASS, the consequence would be instability.
What do you think are the lessons to be learnt on the Zamfara judgment?
I did not see the matter in such details as to know what the detailed facts of the case are. But let me say that the moment the Supreme Court pronounces on a matter; that is final. The Supreme Court is always right because it is final. It is not final because it is always right. The moment is has pronounced on a matter, that is the end of the matter and you must concede that they are right at that point. One lesson from the Zamfara issue and it is not just a lesson for the APC, it is a lesson for all political parties, is that impunity has its limits in a democracy. Secondly under our constitution, we do not have provision for independent candidates. So every candidate must run on the platform of a political party.
What is your position on local government autonomy and stance of NFIU as it pertains to local government funds?
First of all, the constitution provides for a local government joint account in which the respective states were expected to make their own contributions to the funding of local governments. What was the intention and spirit of the constitution? The intention and spirit of the constitution was that local government should be adequately funded because it was recognised as a tier of government and it is not just a tier, perhaps it is the most important because that is the one that identifies with the grassroots, that everyone at the grassroots identifies with. It is the closest to the grassroots. What has been our experience in the last couple of years? From 1999 if we use Cross River for instance, when the local governments were being funded, you could see some activities in the local government and when that funding stopped, the local governments system died. And so much pressure now started mounting on state government and political office holders. The first implication is that it breeds corruption because the moment you begin to put elected officials under so much pressure, they begin to look beyond their legitimate earnings to satisfy the demands of their constituents. Secondly, I grew up in an age when we saw local government doing so much. Today nobody talks about salaries anymore because council members of staff in many places have not been paid, in some places upwards of years, and that is impacting on the local economy. For me anything that would guarantee funding for the local governments because that is the closet tier to the electorates, I would support and I believe that is the intention and spirit of the 1999 constitution. Having said so, we must also acknowledge that in those days when councils were being funded, especially in this current republic, there was irresponsibility on the part of councils. So there must be consequential checks on how these monies are spent when they get to the local governments.
It seems the President, in the 8th Assembly, rejected many bills. What do you think about this?
Talking about bills, it is not the first time bills have been passed and not signed. If you look from 1999, most members’ bills were never signed into law. Those that were signed into law were very few. In our time, the one that I recall is the Freedom of Information Bill and the Anti-Same Sex Marriage Bill. The executive has always been interested in executive bills. The National Assembly must find a way of engaging the executive to also see that members’ bills are also as important as the executive bills. So, what you are seeing now is not something that is new. It is something that has happened from 1999. Quite a bit has changed since I left the senate, but when I was there, there was this regular engagement between the National Assembly executive and the party in power in which very key legislations were considered and areas of disagreements harmonised before we went into the floor and the parties used to have caucuses, where these issues were discussed before the floor. I don’t know if that still happens. But there is need for this interface between the executive and the legislature. A strict application of the principle of separation of powers will take us nowhere.