In this interview with Mudiaga Affe, the immediate past Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, speaks on the amendment of Senate Rules, allowances for legislators and his planned defection, among other sundry issues
As a former principal officer of the senate, how would you describe the emergence of the senate leadership which generated a lot of controversy?
The leadership of the Senate was determined by the political exigencies of the time, by contending forces and the dynamics of the day. Though such a situation is unusual, it is not forbidden under the constitution or the Rules of the Senate. The constitution provides that senators shall elect their presiding officers from among themselves. It did not specify that these officers must belong to a particular political party, whether majority or minority. In the case of the Senate Leader, Chief Whip and their deputies, the Senate Rules are specific that they must come from the majority party.
Would you say such controversy could be as a result of change in political baton?
I will say that it is more as a result of the political equation and the contending forces. The All Progressives Congress as the party in the majority could not get all of its members to support a single candidate. Their votes were divided and at the time of the election, anything was possible.
Don’t you find it odd that the Senate President and his deputy are from different political parties?
I will simply say that any situation in politics is possible. I doubt if the situation where the Senate President and his Deputy are from different political parties was contemplated but it certainly was not outlawed, either. From what happened at the elections clearly anything is now possible.
Do you support the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Orders 2015 which is the basis for the calling for the removal of both Senator Ike Ekweremadu and even Dr. Bukola Saraki as Deputy Senate President and Senate President?
Which law abiding citizen would support forgery? Forgery is a crime.
As a member of the 7th senate, did you carry out any amendment to the Senate Standing Order 2015?
We used the Senate Standing Orders 2011 (as amended) throughout the 7th Senate. The then Senate Committee on Rules and Business chaired by Senator Ita Enang with me as vice chairman, proposed amendments to the Rules to the Senate in plenary but the amendments were not taken until the expiration of that Senate. If new Rules were introduced, it certainly was after I left the Senate on June 4, 2015. Therefore until we ascertain how the new Rules, if any, came about, it will be premature to conclude that they were forged.
Why is it that Nigerians are still saying that the pay packets of the nation’s lawmakers are on the high side?
My view is that it is just institutional blackmail. The salaries and allowances of all public officers, from councillors in the local government areas to members of the National Assembly to the President are fixed by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission established by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) for that purpose. The salaries and allowances of members of the National Assembly were accordingly fixed by the Commission. Now compare the salaries and allowances of the members of the National Assembly with those of ministers, Supreme Court Judges and Chairmen and Members of Statutory Commission and Bodies and what will strike you is the parity. If there is parity, how come the salaries and allowances of National Assembly members are jumbo and those of other public officers who earn the same with them are not jumbo? Seriously if what we are talking about is the cost of running the offices of National Assembly members, may be a point is being made. But can we be objective if we merely isolate the cost of running the offices of members of the National Assembly from other public offices? Certainly, no, our approach must be holistic; we must compare the cost of running equivalent offices in the public sector for us to reach a conclusion on whether or not the cost of running the offices of the National Assembly is high. What is the cost of running the office of a minister, Justice of the Supreme Court, Federal Permanent Secretary, and Chairman of a Statutory Commission or chief executive of a parastatal, given the peculiarities of their offices? Until we have done a comparative analysis, any conclusion will be precipitate, tokenistic and ‘scapegoatist’. Now the 2015 budget of the National Assembly is N120bn out of a national budget of about N4.9trn. This covers capital and recurrent needs, salaries and allowances of the members, their aides, the bureaucracy, the National Assembly Service Commission, National Institute of Legislative Studies, Public Complaints Commission, among others and their subscription to Parliamentary bodies to which they belong, for instance, the Pan African Parliament, Economic Community of West African States’ Parliament, International Parliamentary Union, Commonwealth Parliamentary Union, Association of Senates and Shooras and Equivalent Councils in Africa and the Arab World, among others. N120bn is roughly 2.65 per cent of the current budget. Therefore even if you scrapped the National Assembly, you will be saving only 2.65 per cent of the National budget. In my view 2.65 per cent of the National budget is getting 97.25 per cent national attention while 97.25 per cent of the budget is getting 2.65 per cent attention. The attention is diversionary. We must interrogate the cost of governance holistically and not the current isolation and tokenistic approach.
Do you support the recent effort at cutting the allowances?
I support the downward review of salaries and allowances across the public service, except those that are constitutionally protected like salaries and allowances of judges. I support a comprehensive investigation into the cost of governance with a view to drastically reducing it, minimising corruption and waste, enthroning accountability and efficiency. The exercise must be wholesale and comprehensive and must cut across the entire public sector. In this age of internet, you can use search engines like ‘google’ or any other one to find out the salaries, allowances and perks of parliamentarians or legislators in other climes and do a comparison. If you do, as I have done again and again, you will discover that the allegation that Nigerian legislators are the highest paid in the world is very far from the truth.
Do you still hold it against the former governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke, for your inability to make it back to the senate?
I have nothing against him. He did not do anything to me that was not the will of God. I am a Christian and I believe that everything that happens to a believer has God’s seal.
Why do you want to join the All Progressives Congress?
It is because under our constitution, you can play politics only on the platform of a political party. You recall the events in the Peoples Democratic Party in Cross River State in the last three years. More energy was spent pursuing Victor Ndoma-Egba than were spent on winning elections; they even celebrated their loss because they imagined that I was going to get an appointment. The sole objective of the party was denying Victor Ndoma-Egba political space and I became their only issue. For three years, I have not been invited to any meeting of the PDP in Cross River State and this is understandable. The party shut its doors against me a long time ago. I still have political life and I have no plans to retire from politics. And to play politics, I need a platform and PDP has become hostile and inhospitable, so I move on.
It was rumoured that the party objects to your defection, why?
I hear a few people carried placards against my joining the party in Calabar but the party has since disclaimed them. In any case, I am from Cross River central and not Cross River south where the motley placard carriers are from. However, the six chapter chairmen in Cross River Central had been here to invite me to join the party. The zonal vice-chairman (central) has formally invited me to join; the elders of the party have also invited me to the party. I am consulting widely, both at the national, state, zonal, chapter and ward levels of the party and I am being welcomed.
Some APC members said you must apologise to some persons you and the PDP have allegedly persecuted in the past before you would join the party. How do you react to that?
The few who carried placards were simply misinformed. Virtually everybody is excited that we are coming. Apologise to who? They should name those I should apologise to and tell me clearly what I will be apologising for.
Some PDP members in the South-South have described their members who have defected to the APC as ungrateful and fair-weather friends, what would be your reaction to this now that you might be falling into that category?
The PDP simply mismanaged its fortunes and relationships. The governors appropriated the party in the states and the state chapters became their personal property and only their wishes prevailed. The party lost any claims to internal democracy. Impunity and arrogance reigned in the party. Even with the loss of power at the centre, the PDP is yet to wean itself from arrogance and impunity, it is yet to realise that things have changed fundamentally and that they must adapt to the new times.
How would you describe those who have defected to the APC since the PDP lost power at the centre?
Each person has his or her reasons for defecting. You cannot generalise as circumstances differ.
In April, you denied that you were planning to defect to the APC. What has changed since then?
I was not quoted. It was deduction and speculation that I was not defecting.
Some people have said that you are planning to join the APC because you are eyeing a ministerial position. Is that what your defection plan is all about?
They are free to speculate and you cannot exclude speculation in politics. Let me state categorically that I am not looking for a job and all my life, I have never looked for job. I am in politics to serve, to give a voice to my people to retain my state in national consciousness, to bring the values of rectitude, accountability and selflessness to politics, to deepen our democracy by advocating democratic principles at every level. I have nothing personal to prove. I have since left the Senate, returned to my law practice and the legal profession at a higher level and I am busy but remain committed to democracy and democratic ideals. – Culled from Punch.