Constitution Amendment: President’s Veto Too Late – Ndoma-Egba


Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba SAN, who is the out-going Senate Majority Leader, says the veto of President Goodluck Jonathan on the 2014 constitution amendment is coming too late in the day, taking into consideration the process involved. Ndoma-Egba in this interview with Executive Editor Amos Dunia, also says the wounds inflicted on the ruling PDP, which would from May 29, 2015 become the opposition party, will take a minimum of 16 years to heal. Excerpts:

Recently President Jonathan refused to sign the amendment to the constitution into law and the Senate is asking it should be brought back. What actually do you want to do with the original copy of the amended constitution?

When the President refuses to assent or withhold his assent, the constitution provides for an over-ride. You will now take it through the motion again. First reading, second reading and third reading. We have had a precedent with the Niger-Delta Development Commission Act. It was not signed by the President. President Obasanjo refused to assent and the National Assembly over-ruled his withholding his assent. It is not the first time this is happening. We still have that option, we still have that recourse. But for us to properly advice ourselves on whether that recourse is available or not, we need to have back the original copy of the bill that was sent to Mr. President because what was returned to us clearly is a photocopy.

What are the major areas of disagreement?What are the major areas of disagreement?

Well he listed about 12 areas. First of all the right to free education, that it will be a burden on the system because it means that even those in private schools will be entitled to free education. He also raised some issues regarding the split of the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice because under the amendment, the two offices were separated. There were like twelve reasons, I don’t remember all of them off head, but my simple answer to it is, you see constitutional amendment is not like the normal law making process. It is a very tedious, very elaborate and very costly process. If you recall, throughout our constitutional democracy, it was only in 1963 that we successfully amended a constitution under a democratic dispensation. That was when the then Mid-West region was created out of Western Nigeria. After that we never succeeded in amending the constitution until the 6thNational Assembly where we had the first, second, and third amendments. So, the jinx was actually broken in the 6th National Assembly, and we now gathered some momentum in constitutional amendments. It was like we now have the experience and there was a momentum. We were taking advantage of that momentum to see how we could get the constitution to truly reflect the will of the people since its origin was not from us, it was given to us by the military. Now the process involved very elaborate public hearings. First, we had retreats where we invited people to come and address us. Then after that we had very elaborate public hearings in Abuja, in the zones, in each State capital and then in each federal constituency. There were elaborate hearings  that took more than a year, and after that we handed over the outcome to the State assembles, that also submitted this to the same process. Now when you have a public hearing, a public hearing is open to the public at large, and the public at large includes with due respect to the office, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I recall vividly the public hearing that was held in Abuja, a representative of the Attorney General of the Federation made submissions on behalf of the Attorney General of the federation. So, all of these issues that have been raised are issues that ought to have been raised at the public hearing. I believe they are issues that are coming too late in the day, they are issues that ought to have been raised long before now. And in any case, the President has an Adviser on National Assembly Matters, whose responsibility should include monitoring bills as they progress. So, as we were debating these issues, it ought to have been the responsibility of the Presidential Adviser on National Assembly to be drawing the attention of the President as these issues were being discussed. So, I think it’s an unfortunate development that we got to this point. We are awaiting the original copy of the bill.

If you are to look back and reflect, what do you think made the PDP to lose the election so massively?

Impunity. When a party gets to the level where it is not able to respect its own constitution and guidelines, the only consequence would be implosion. In PDP, we got to a sad point where the correct thing was what the governor wanted. So, in PDP instead of democracy being government of the people, for the people and by the people, it became government of governors, by governors and for governors. And this of course thus bred impunity. Every level, whether Local Government, Council, State or National Assembly, it was who the governors wanted and not who the people wanted. And like they say, every situation reinforces itself. If you have a little impunity, it would get worse with time. What breeds impunity? Mental laziness, convenience; you want to take a convenient way out, you want a shortcut, you want to please one person. So mental laziness bred impunity, impurity bred arrogance. So, in summary, the governors destroyed PDP. They recked it, there was no internal democracy; PDP just became a platform for perfecting sycophancy. And because the governors must have their way, instead of having primaries we were having commercial transactions.

What do you mean by commercial transactions?

Tickets went to whoever the governor wanted and they paid whatever price was needed to achieve that. One lesson we must learn from this and I hope the APC and the PDP and other parties learn from this, is the fact that impunity is unsustainable; whether it’s in PDP or APC, impunity is not sustainable anywhere. Impunity has a life and the life is short. So its impunity that got us here, short and simple.

When do you think the PDP will be able to recover?

Give them 16 years. First of all the wounds inflicted on the PDP are mortal. They are life threatening wounds and are very deep. You must recover from those wounds. So, you require a healing period and a process of healing. Two, there is this over simplification of dynamics with the PDP. Let me use Cross River State for instance. In Cross River today, anybody who leaves PDP is said to be a supporter of Victor Ndoma Egba. That is over simplification of a problem, because amongst those who have left the PDP, the former Chief of Staff to the governor for seven years; the closest aid to the governor is his Chief of Staff. So because you have made the PDP uncomfortable for him, he decides to leave. That mere act of leaving the PDP suddenly makes him a Victor Ndoma Egba’s supporter. The Director General of the governors campaign for four elections, steps out of PDP, he becomes a victor Ndoma Egba’s supporter. Meanwhile when you were working very hard to deny me the ticket in Abuja, you said Victor Ndoma Egba had no supporter. So, where did the supporters suddenly jump out from? The truth of the matter is that rather than take that simplistic attitude to interpreting dynamics within the party, you ought to analyse from a Roman Catholic way the dynamics. When I say Roman Catholic, the Catholics when the pray they take full responsibilities. First, that is why they say I have sinned. I have sinned, I have fallen short of the grace of God. You look inward, what is it that I have done wrong? What is it that I could have done differently? But what I see, sorry for want of a proper word, is a Pentecostalist approach; look for a third party, the devil to blame. So, because we are not thinking, we have become mentally lazy. That is why this impunity and arrogance is growing. Arrogance is a sign of mental inadequacy. A confident person does not need to be arrogant, arrogance is a sign of inferiority complex. And then we go on and boast, we won our election in Cross River; first did you win? Cross River has almost 1.2 million votes, the president could take only 400,000 votes. That is one third. If you score 40 per cent in an exam, is that winning? So, that is where arrogance has taken us to. We are now blinded, and it is the same scenario nationwide. Now go back to the primaries, states that were ordinarily the president’s strong hold were states where we had the greatest crises as a result of the primaries. Play it back to November/December last year, Rivers State, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, I think it’s only Delta that was manageable. Benue, Nassarawa, Kogi, Adamawa, Plateau were states that were ordinarily the president’s hold. So, by the time we went to the elections, we had been weakened by massive hemorrhage in PDP. We foresaw this coming but the powers that be within the party were too arrogant to even see what was coming to us.

What did President Jonathan as leader of the party do?

He intervened, but like they say the party is supreme. Yes he is the leader of the party, but the governors became too strong. He himself became a captive of the governors, he became a hostage of governors. It’s a big lesson for everybody. If APC must thrive, it must ensure the ownership of the party resides with the members of the party. In fact its a lesson for all political parties. I read stories that they want to restructure PDP, and the governors want to take over PDP. It’s the governors that got us to where we are now. They will just dig a deeper grave for PDP, if they dare it. They will just dig a very deep grave, the grave will no longer be six feet but 12 feet. So, for the strength of any party today from what we have seen and learnt would depend on the level of its internal party democracy and the mechanisms they put up to safeguard the internal party democracy.

With all these what did the party leadership do?

They were all complacent. There was no way any of those things would have happened. Like I explained to you, the first congresses was cancelled when there was no appeal, when there was a subsisting court order. Who cancelled them? It was cancelled in Abuja. Only Abuja could have cancelled it. So, the national leadership of the party were all part of the problem.

Are you remaining in the PDP?

For three years I have not been invited to any meeting of the PDP in Cross River State. So, I have been PDP more or less in Abuja. The primaries were fought by my own tendency in the PDP in Cross River State and the governor’s tendency. Now usually after primaries, we have a reconciliation process where we actually go out to talk to ourselves, look we have grown past this, let’s work as a family. In my own case, from the primaries till this moment nobody in the state or in Abuja has spoken with me as we speak. To answer your question directly, I don’t know because I might be thinking that I am in PDP, whereas the others think they are done with me. So, I know because you need a platform to play politics and the only platforms recognised by our constitution are the political parties.

Even as a member of NEC of the party, you don’t know what is happening in the PDP?

I am a member of NEC and I am a member of the national Caucus, but politics is local. Every politics is local. I attend meetings. When they were even drawing up the campaign structure for the PDP in Cross River, if you had any relationship at all with Victor Ndoma Egba, you will be excluded. It was that bad.

What really happened between you and Governor Liyel Imoke?

I wish I knew. I made efforts several times to know. We spoke several times and even when I wanted to run, I went to see him to tell him I will like to run again and I gave him the reasons, and he said it made sense for me to run. He has never told me until the President intervened. It was when the President intervened that I got to know that he didn’t want me to run. He never told me the reasons why he did what he did. But I went to him several times explaining the issues each time I read a story. But for me I am at total peace with myself. See what has happened to the PDP, what have they gained? You pursued an individual and then lost the party. In the Bible, God has brought down nations for a single individual.

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