Former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, spoke with some journalists recently in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, on national issues, including the capacity of the new INEC leadership to conduct credible elections and the fight against graft by President Muhammadu Buhari, among others. Bassey Inyang, who was at the session, presents the excerpts:
What do you think is responsible for what many have described as an inactive APC in Cross River State?
A lot has been going on and we have been in the dark room or in the engine room and you will see the result at the appropriate time. But things are happening; not exactly what you will see in the public glare. The grand rally was just to announce to the world at large that the party has made its entry into the state. Every other thing that will happen – some will be to the knowledge of the public and some will not be.
Like the issue of the super highway, which people expect to hear from the opposition, it is one issue that needs to be looked at methodically first because there should be a very clear balance between development and protection of the ecology and the economy and the heritage of the people.
We know that recently there was a publication for acquisition of the right-of-way, we have information about the publication, but there is the need to authenticate it because you have to acquire the right-of-way in such object. In fact, I will reserve my comment on the publication until it is authenticated. When we are satisfied that the publication is authentic, we will make our comment.
Is the APC-led federal government succeeding in its fight against corruption?
We will be living in delusion if we think that corruption will not fight back. Certainly, it will fight back and it will fight back so ferociously, and it will fight back fiercely and mercilessly. But the important thing is that there is a sheer magnitude of the depravity now in the public sphere, and it is a subject of public discourse and public discussion.
My understanding and my take is that the outcome of this public conversation and the sheer magnitude of corruption, is that we will reach a common consensus that never again will we get to this level of depravity.
So far, how would you rate the performance of President Muhammadu Buhari?
One thing that is very clear is that the will to implement very difficult decision is available in this government. I give you a few examples. Take the Treasury Single Account (TSA) for instance. The constitution contemplates that all revenue of government should be paid into a Consolidated Account, and the whole essence of that is that at every time you know what is coming in.
But over time, the experience was that MDAs (Ministries Departments and Agencies) had multiplicity of accounts. Some departments had over 20 accounts; some of the accounts known to very few individuals and others known to none. With the TSA today, government is able to have an idea of its income and collective revenue. Now, it is not as if this TSA is new because the idea of a Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) has been in all constitution of the nation since independence. What has been lacking is the will to enforce it.
The second is the reinvigorated fight against corruption. Before now, I think it was just mere preachment and mere lip-service. So, again we are seeing commitment that the scourge of corruption must be contained, and we all need to fight corruption, if not we will all be victims of corruption. When people celebrate the spoils of office, they are unwittingly celebrating their own demise because that spoils of office is actually what would have gone into amenities and infrastructure.
So, now we see the will to fight corruption. We also see the biggest infrastructure of corruption being taken away easily which is the fuel subsidy. It has been removed and Nigeria is still moving on. So, in terms of political will, we can for once say that we have seen the will of the government to do the needful. I concede that there is a lot of hardship, but that hardship is not something that is created overnight. It is an accumulated circumstance.
Things cannot get better without them first getting worse. It’s like a seed when planted; it gets rotten before it germinates. We are in that process of germinating. So, the long and short of my summation is that we need to give support to President Buhari, and show some patience.
What do you make of the conduct of inconclusive elections by the new leadership of INEC?
I am worried about the pattern that has emerged since the present leadership of INEC took over. I mean, every right thinking Nigerian should be worried that what we are seeing is a pattern that every election is inconclusive. So, it is for INEC to reassure us and the nation that they indeed have the capacity to conduct free and fair elections, and carry out their responsibilities because INEC is not to be supervised by anybody because it is called Independent National Electoral Commission.
They owe Nigerians and the state a duty to carry out their constitutional responsibility to a conclusion. Elections must have a winner and a looser; that is what the common man on the street expects. So, to say that an election is inconclusive after financial and material expense, after the emotions because every election is emotionally draining for the candidates, and the supporters are drained, after putting them through all that at the end of the day you say there is no result. That is totally unacceptable.
INEC needs to get its acts together immediately because they remain independent only as long as Nigerians have confidence in their ability and capacity to deliver on their mandate. The moments Nigerians lose confidence in their ability, and then they have lost their independence. So, INEC must do everything to ensure they create a new beginning.
Do you see the frequent trips by President Buhari yielding positive results in terms of the repatriation of funds allegedly stashed away, using the agreement signed between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirate for instance?
I have heard people complain that the president travels too much. My simple reaction to that is: if you are a good student of anti-corruption fight and its strength, the travels of the president are strategic because, out there, it is common knowledge where the bulk of the stolen funds are being hidden; and in my view, the president’s travel has coincided with this common knowledge of where these funds are, and we are beginning to see the benefits.
Today, we can talk about Mutual Assistance Agreements (MAA) being signed with some of these countries where these funds are such as UAE, Kenya and a few others, and very soon, the president will be going to China to consolidate on investments and loans for infrastructure, and one of those other issue that may also come up, is that of illegal funds.
I think even from the president recent comment, he has reiterated his determination to recover all those illegal funds wherever they are, and it is in our best interest to recover funds that have been illegally taken out of our system. When you talk of capital flight, it is not only when multinationals bring experts into Nigeria and are paid in foreign exchange.
People also steal money and take it to foreign countries and that is capital flight. So, we need to stem this capital flight and recover whatever we can recover and bring back into our economy to regenerate this system. So, for me, I support every move that is being made that all the illegally stolen funds are brought back into the country. I am in total support.
What advice do you have for the federal government so it can effectively account for and apply the slush funds to good use?
First, let me say that the issue of recovered and recovery of funds illegally taken out of Nigeria is now an economy by itself because the sums we are talking about is not penny. We are talking about huge sums of money because it is an economy of its own. There is need for a legal framework to manage the process of recovery and to manage the process of the management of these recovered funds, and also manage the process of accounting for them.
My view is that all of these recoveries should end up in the Consolidated Account and should be part of the revenue of government for which it should be appropriated. But, before it gets to that point, there should be legislative framework to manage the process of recovery, and the process to manage the recovery until it has ended in the consolidated account.
What explanation do you have for those who are of the opinion that the laws in Nigeria are too weak to fight corruption?
Let me say that corruption is a very versatile phenomenon. It adapts to new situation and new environment. It is a very sophisticated phenomenon and you can never contemplate every aspect of the mutation of corruption. So, for me, it is very difficult for one to contemplate and anticipate because those involved in it are very intelligent and sophisticated. You can never foresee every situation. So, for me, let us have broad frameworks for dealing with it.
People say that we have enough frameworks for dealing with it. Generally speaking, yes. But, when it comes to stealing; as you know money laundry is a new challenge by itself dealing with illicit funds, especially money from terrorism, which is a challenge on its own. So, our laws must continue to respond to the demands of the times. It is a very sophisticated situation that we are dealing with, so our laws must be responsive at all times.
What about suggestions on capital punishments for corruption related offences?
Now, for the law on capital punishment, in as much as I feel drained by the sheer depravity of corruption as we know, I still do not think that death is a punishment. Death is not a punishment. Death frees you from all punishment. As a Roman Catholic, my faith is against death penalty, and as such, I do not support a death punishment. Death is not a punishment rather it is a relief, a freedom, and you are looking at eternal judgment.
So, I think we should deal with the situation with the kind of punishment that will serve as a disincentive for people to go into it. First of all, make sure that those who are charged for corruption are promptly tried and punished, ensure that they do not benefit from corruption, and all the proceed of corruption are ceased from them. You name them and shame them after due process. So, for me, death penalty is not an option.
What about plea bargain?
No, plea bargain is still an option. It depends on how recalcitrant you are. If you have stolen and you are being difficult, then the issue of how many years you will spend in jail becomes an issue. But, if you are compliant, it should reflect in the kind of punishment you will eventually get after restitution.
I am worried about the pattern that has emerged since the present leadership of INEC took over. I mean, every right thinking Nigerian should be worried that what we are seeing is a pattern that every election is inconclusive. So, it is for INEC to reassure us and the nation that they indeed have the capacity to conduct free and fair elections, and carry out their responsibilities because INEC is not to be supervised by anybody because it is called Independent National Electoral Commission