Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba was Senate Leader and three-term Senator who represented Cross River central in the Upper Legislative Chamber before the powers that be in the State worked assiduously against him in 2015 with Sen John Owan Enoh replacing him. Two mnoths ago, Ndoma Egba, who was later appointed Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, launched a campaign to return to the Senate, saying there were things left undone. He spoke recently with Journalists on why he is going back and also enumerated exploits of the NDDC since he took over. Excerpts:
It is been a long time since you last interacted with the media. How has the work been going?
Well, I was in Ikom few days ago and we interacted with many groups and held town hall meetings in all the 6 local government areas in the district. The response everywhere has been massive, favorable and we have taken time to answer the questions that you expect from the electorate, like: what did you forget in the senate?
I told them I forgot a lot of things. I started the Iruan Dam in Boki, it is not finished so that is what I forgot in the senate. I started the Epe water scheme and that was expected to supply water from Mbor in Ikom to Nkonfab, the last village before Ogoja local government, that too has not been completed and forgotten in the senate.
I started a specialist hospital in Ikom which is not completed and forgotten in the senate. I started the Ikom – Otono-Agbokim Waterfalls, not finished and forgotten in the state. I started a Police Barracks in Itigidi, not finished and forgotten in the senate. I started the Faculty of Law Building in the University of Calabar, not finished and forgotten in the senate. So those are the things I forgot in the senate.
And of course I have many bills left in the Senate, and it was only the Freedom of Information Bill which became an act of the National Assembly so the other 37 bills are still unprocessed, so I forgot all of these things in the senate.
I also let the people know that Cross River State should send someone who will brings value and who will align the State with the federal government in Abuja. My friend and colleague, Dr. Sandy Onor is eminently qualified, but he will not be able to achieve what Cross River needs for now which is aligning our State with the centre. And in any case, he will not be bringing in the kind of traction to the Senate that I will be bringing in because I am a ranking member. And ranking in the Senate comes with certain privileges which will not be available to a first term Senator.
So I am essentially running this race on my records and letting my records speak for me. Many of you were with me in 2014 when we toured my projects and if you could recall, we stopped at project number 74, we did not exhaust the projects that we had because there were almost 90 and for want of time we could not inspect all of them. If we attracted the number of projects in the past, then we should be able to do far more in the future.
In the area of employment, we have it on record that we secured employment for young men and women of the central senatorial district in particular and cross river state in general to the tune of 358 persons in federal ministries, departments and agencies, and I believe that we can do much more than that in the future. In terms of empowerment, you could recall that as at last count, we had over 700 students, undergraduates and post graduate students on scholarship; we can do far more than that.
We supported the Central Bank’s Enterprise Project here in Calabar at the former Desam House and we sponsored over 220 beneficiaries from cross river central. Each and every one of them got seed capital of 250, 000 for their training to go and start the businesses for which they have been trained, we can as well do much more than that. So I am essentially running on my records. My brother and friend who is running on the platform of the of the PDP will be running on promises, he can only run on promises, but I am running on my records which are established and verifiable.
We know your records, we know you have impacted your constituency, but can you tell us what you have achieved as chairman of the NDDC?
I have said this before and let me say it again, chances are that whatever road you see anywhere in Cross River state tarred in the last two years were tarred by either the NDDC or the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. I want to be challenged. We have roads right from Calabar south and Bakassi to Obanlikwu. I want to be challenged.
If you see any school, renovated in the last two years, new building, new furniture, the chances are that 90 percent of it was done by the NDDC or Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and again I want to be challenged on this, and until we are challenged, these remain our achievements.”
Once upon a time, the Calabar – Itu – Ikot Ekpene road was impassable but it has been made passable by the NDDC. The same for the Ikom – Calabar – Ogoja and Calabar – Ikom – Obudu road which before now took 5 hours but you could make it today in 2 hours plus, its now about an hour from Ikom to Obudu and Ogoja. These are journeys that in times past took three hours plus. So in summary these are our achievements.
These are not all because if you go to healthcare, we are supplying of vaccines, we have done quite a lot. We supply educational materials; We have done quite a lot and that is for Cross River State only.
Outside Cross River, the Nembe-Ogbia Road in Bayelsa has been completed by the NDDC with about 57 bridges and we are just awaiting a date for Mr. President for commissioning. We have quite a number of huge projects that are ready for commissioning and I am hoping that we would have time to commission quite a number of these projects before the President’s visit.
How are you going to carry everyone in your constituency along in your campaigns and what about the remaining project you spoke about? Is there no mechanism in place to ensure that the person who succeeded you continued with these projects?
Other parties are also in the field and so if I disclose to you how I am going to do that, they might steal my idea but I want to assure you that everybody will be reached. We recognize the nature of the forthcoming elections. It is not going to be like any other election that we have known in the past, it is going to be different and we are fine-tuning our strategies to accommodate the peculiar nature of the 2019 elections but we are keeping our strategies to our chest because the other parties are also angling to win the state.
On continuity of the projects, there is no mechanism for this and that is the peculiarity of the legislature. There is no handing over notes in the legislature. A legislator loses his elections and just moves on with his life. There is no time for you to interface with your successor and that is why it is advised that legislators return as often as possible. That is why in the US, we have legislators who were elected the year I wrote my school certificate. John Macain entered the senate the year I entered secondary school in 1968 and remained there till he died last year.
This is the peculiarity of the legislature and it does not allow for handover notes and that is why they ensure that what is started is pursued to a logical conclusion. Seniority and ranking in the National Assembly is crucial, so for us and as an emerging democracy, we cannot afford the erosion of institutional memory that we have now and it is too costly for the system.
Take the Judiciary for instance, if you are looking for a court judgment that was delivered in 1898, you will find it because the judiciary has this very sophisticated retrieval system that no matter how old a judgment is, you can find it. Now you go to the executive arm, the governor is handing over to a new one and there are handover notes, transition notes and this is systematic.
For the legislature, which in our circumstances is the weakest even though it should be the strongest, why do I say the weakest because we have had several years of military rule and each time the military struck, the first thing they do is to dissolve the parliament. So the growth of the parliament has not been as consistent as it has been for the executive and judiciary.
So each time you truncate the parliament, it loses memory and then to add to that, you see the turnover of legislators each time there is an election. So you lose the institutional memory because for the legislature, apart from our handset and other records, the institutional memory of the institution is the aggregate memory of the members put together, that is what constitutes institutional memory.
That explains why there is no mechanism for continuity in the legislature as an arm of government because you lose an election and you just come, gather your documents, leave a clean office and move on for the next person to come in.
You said Cross River state should align with the centre but so many politicians in the State have left the APC for the PDP recently. Do you see the possibility of APC winning the governorship elections in the state?
We have seen a bit of movement from the APC to the PDP in CrOSS River State. Some big names, yes, but across the country, the traffic has been more out of the PDP into the APC and I want to leak a secret to you, just watch in the next few weeks, you are going to see very big names leaving PDP for the APC. The traffic is going to be both ways but more will leave the PDP for the APC. It’s a secret and you will see that movement very soon.
On wining elections in Cross River, yes of course we see the possibility of winning all our elections and I tell you why, do an analysis of the votes that PDP has gotten in Cross river state from 1999. In 1999, PDP got over 900, 000 votes, In 2003, over 1.5 million votes, In 2007 – 1.5 million votes, In 2011,over 1.2 million votes and so you saw an upward movement of support for the PDP. But in 2015, the PDP scored just over 400, 000 votes. It came down from 1.2 million to 400, 000 and even this figure is disputed because we have it on good authority that the real result for the 2015 election was about 177, 000.
So the PDP dropped from over one million to the disputed 440, 000 so the decline of the PDP started in 2015 and we are going to complete it in 2019. Cross Riverians have become very conscious and have spent the last couple of weeks educating the people and telling them that for all the support we gave to the PDP for the past years which is over 4 million votes, what did we get?
We lost Bakassi, 76 oil wells, hosting rights for the National Sports Festival, and during this time, paradise was lost in the state. I remember a time when we had flights from Calabar to Obudu, Lagos to Bebi, Port Harcourt to Bebi, Abuja to Bebi, do we still have those flights? Once upon a time, we boasted of having the longest cable car in Africa, do we still have that. Once upon a time, the President spent his vacation in Obudu, does that still happen? Do we still have the mountain race?
So with the massive support that we have given to the PDP, our experience has been one loss after the other. Let us even go into the area of appointment, constitutionally, every state is entitled to a minister so it’s not a privilege but a right. Let us do an analysis of the ministers that we have had. In 1999, President Obasanjo gave us Attorney General and Minister of Justice, that is number one minister because it is the only one that is mentioned in the constitution.
When we had Senator Kanu Agabi (SAN) as minister we also had Senator Liyel Imoke as Special Adviser on Utilities, so the Minister was a right and the SA was a privilege. In 2003, Liyel Imoke became minister of Power, no longer number one but a downgrade. Senator Florence Ita Giwa became SA on National Assembly Matters. So the Minister was a right and Ita Giwa was an extra.
After Imoke resigned to contest for governor, Ivara Esu, the current deputy governor was appointed Minister of State for Culture, that is minister for Ekpe, Mgbe, Nnabo and the rest. We had no SA. Then our brother of blessed memory, John Odey, became minister for information, later environment again a slight upgrade. There was no SA, just our right. No extra. High Chief Edem Duke now came after John Odey.
With the massive support we gave to the PDP, they took Cross River for granted and our people are beginning to know that. Now let us see where we are with President Muhammadu Buhari who we gave only 28, 000 votes. I don’t like to talk about the CJN because we should not politicize it, but it is under Buhari that Cross River has a CJN. It could be a coincidence but we also have the Head of Service of the Federation, Auditor General of the Federation, Chief of Naval Staff as well as Minister all with 28, 000 votes.
The reason I am including the minister is that in the recent past, the PDP had reduced Cross River state to minister of culture and Ekpe. That had been our fate under PDP but Buhari said these people deserve something better. Minister of Niger Delta Affairs from Cross river, Chairman of NDDC from Cross River, SA Prosecution, DG Centre for Women Development, all from Cross River, so you can see what Cross River has benefited with 28, 000 votes.
Today, if you drive along Calabar – Itu road, you see some activities by Julius Berger. They have even cleared the other side, which means the dualization process for that road has started. The abandoned sub-station at Ikom, work has resumed, the sub-station at Obudu, work is almost complete under Buhari with 28, 000 votes. So what is the PDP coming to tell Cross Riverians? What is the narrative now that we should continue to vote for you?
The sentiment that ruled at the time is no longer there. We are a sentimental people. The sentiment then was that our son, Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke took part in the formation of the PDP and President Obasanjo was a southern Christian and out of sentiment we voted for them.
After that, Goodluck Jonathan was our son from the South/South and we gave him massive support. Today, which sentiment are they going to use. President Buhari is a Muslim from the North as well as Atiku Abubakar, so what story are they going to tell Cross Riverians. And so, we stand a better chance of winning. With the vulnerable position of Cross River state today, we cannot afford to be in opposition.
And, our governor has publicly said again and again that he is the first son of the president, and the president has shown him love, and that the President came to Cross River state twice. This is the time to reciprocate that love. So it will be the highest act of ingratitude for any Cross Riverian not to vote for Buhari. The factors that favoured PDP in the past are no longer there.
People say the President convinced you to join the senate race and that he promised to make you Senate President. Can you throw light on this?
I don’t know of any politician who would do that, and supposing I do not win the elections? So that information is just cheap propaganda but what I can tell you for certain is that I am eligible and available. When I get there to struggle for whatever is coming to my zone, I will not shy away from it, but for now, nobody promised me anything.
What is your opinion on the ongoing billboard destruction war between APC and PDP?
Violence is the argument of a man who has ran out of logic. I recall that the governorship candidate of the APC complained of the destruction of his billboards and this does not speak well. Democracy is a matter of choices and I don’t see how the presence of a billboard will affect how somebody votes. The destruction, whether it is done by the APC or the PDP, is condemnable and not acceptable.
Pulling down billboards will only instigate violence in an election that is supposed to be free and fair and so I condemn it. Every candidate should go out and sell what he can do. If you have been in office, you should be able to ride on your records and not promises.
What is your take on controversy surrounding Amina Zakari’s appointment?
First they said she is the blood relation of the president and the same people say the president is from Sudan, a Jubril from Sudan, so how can a lady from Jigawa be related to a man from Sudan? And, then I don’t know what appointments they are talking about. The returning officer for the presidential election is the chairman of INEC, so I think this propaganda is just mere distraction.