Former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, in this interview with CLEMENT JAMES speaks on the agitations in the country and other issues and the way out of the quagmire
You have always said there must be this national conversation or consensus around where we should go as a nation. What do you mean by this?
There have been agitations in the polity about restructuring. There however, appears to be no common ground as to what restructuring means and in what context.
To some, restructuring means returning to the 1960 Constitution. To others, it means returning to the 1963 Constitution. Yet to others, it means resource control, and to some devolution of powers. The term means different things to different people and yet, it is bandied by all.
Restructuring is beginning to look like the six men of Indostan, all of them blind, who went to see the elephant that each by observation would satisfy his mind. The elephant was a different thing to each of the blind men, depending on what part of the animal he touched.
Whatever restructuring means to anyone, one thing is common: you cannot achieve it without constitutional amendment. Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution provides not only for the amendment of the Constitution but the mechanics for same. In summary, you require two thirds of each of the Houses of the National Assembly, the Senate and the House of Representatives before any amendment can pass.
Furthermore, it has to be approved by a resolution of not less than two thirds of each State House of Assembly and by at least two thirds of the Houses of Assembly. Clearly, for any amendment to pass, a near national consensus must have been reached. The Constitution does not provide how that consensus can be reached.
Therefore, the process of arriving at that consensus has to be outside the constitution. It will require any national conversation, which may as well be beyond the structure of the country but also its vision and destination. It has to be a conversation that will involve everyone, more so, as the powers of the National Assembly to amend the Constitution are severely circumscribed.
You believe that the economy determines politics. According to you, it is only in Nigeria that you see politics determining our economy. Can you throw more light on this?
There has been this age-long relational disputation between the economy and politics. In theory, the economy should be non-political. In practice however, there is a strong relationship between economy and politics because the performance of the economy, especially developed economies, is always a key political battleground.
Consequently, politics should be about the economy, how to better it, and not the economy about politics. If one should be sacrificed at the altar of the other, it should be politics being sacrificed at the altar of the economy and not the other way round as ultimately, the business of government is the security, welfare and wellbeing of the citizens.
Nigerians must agree that the structure we have today has taken us nowhere and we are in a bad situation. Even if you reform the police and the rest of the country remains the way it is, the reforms will be to no avail. They will just be symbolic.
What is the solution or way out for Nigeria?
Our situation now can be likened to a car whose engine has knocked and the owner is trying to fix brand new tires in the car as a means of getting it to work. The so-called federal structure we have is no longer workable.
The centre is overburdened; it has become so unwieldy that more than 70 per cent of the federal expenditure goes to recurrent expenditure while less than 30 per cent is left for capital. Paradoxically, it is the capital budget that delivers development.
With 68 items on the Exclusive List and 29 on the Concurrent List, we have a more justifiable claim to being a unitary state than a federal one. The states, as federating units, have become absolutely dependent on federal allocations than their own internally generated revenues.
That is what my friend and brother, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, refers to as feeding bottle federalism. The local government system across the country has completely collapsed, leading to increased migration from the rural communities to state capitals, overstretching infrastructure and facilities beyond limits. The structure is no longer working.
We are at the point of structural implosion, more so, as the economy has lost its productive capacity. Manufacturing is grounded and the economy’s absorptive capabilities are zero and unemployment soars by the day.
Social infrastructure has collapsed, social indices are unimpressive and all these are reflective in the security situation and the value of the Naira. Things will only get worse if we insist on retaining the current structure. We have to go back to the drawing board; we must restructure one way or the other.
What is the way out in Nigeria’s current security quagmire?
You cannot isolate the issue of security. It is interwoven with the state of the economy, the state of our social infrastructure, our social indices, equity, justice and inclusiveness, the state of general well-being of the citizenry and the level of participation in the resources and opportunities of the country by all irrespective of tribe, religion or gender.
To adequately address the issue of security, you must go back to the causative factors and address them holistically.
The current National Assembly will soon go. Yet, we are still tinkering with a constitutional amendment. What is the way forward most especially now that the clamour for fiscal federalism is loudest?
I had earlier talked about a national conversation and building up to a national consensus on the constitutional amendments we desire. The National Assembly is severely constrained in matters of constitutional amendment. The process can only be facilitated by National consensus building which will require everyone.