In this interview with journalists, Board Chairman, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Senator Ndoma Egba speaks on the crisis bedevilling the APC, Cross River State politics and the chances of President from the Southeast in 2023.
Are you not worried about the crisis in Cross River APC and the issues surrounding your governorship candidate?
Yes, there are a number of suits, and we are aware of the recent judgement by the FCT High Court in Bwari. Even before the judgement, the suit had generated appeals because people had envisaged that the judgement would affect them one way or the other, and applied to be joined. But the Judge, in his wisdom declined to join them and at the end of the day, he made orders that were binding on people who were not party to the suit. For example, he made an order that is binding on INEC and they were never party to suit and you don’t bind an entity that is not a party to a suit. Secondly, prayers that were not asked for were granted by the court. The court is no Father Christmas, even though it is a Christmas season. The issue however is that there are Appeals, one on the substantive judgement and the refusal of the judge to judge necessary parties to the suit. So, the status quo remains and that is the fact that it is Senator John Uwa-Enoh’s name that remains with the INEC as the governorship candidate for the race in Cross River state.
So, until INEC substitutes the name through the judgement of the court, he remains the candidate.
The APC has been dealing with one crisis or the other since after its primaries. Are you not concerned about this as the party goes into 2019 general elections?
I’m concerned. As a party person, I believe that we should enter a major election as a united front. But the good news is that both persons claiming to be the candidates of the party will be campaigning for the APC. At the end of the day, whoever the court determines is the candidate will be declared governor if we win the election.
Let me also add that the party in the state has set in motion a reconciliation machinery. As we speak, the reconciliation committee members are meeting and I am sure they will bring an end to this seeming dispute.
What is the chance of your party in the South south which is considered a traditionally PDP zone?
Yes, it was a traditional PDP area because at a time, we had our son who was contesting the Presidency. There was that underlining sentiment that our son was contesting. But today, we don’t have that situation and we don’t have anybody who is contesting from that zone. The two major candidates are from the same region and from the same religion. So, that sentiment will not be there. Take the example of Cross River state. In 2015, President Buhari got a paltry 28,000 votes and in spite of the low level of support, see what he has done for Cross River. Cross River remains the only state that he has visited twice. The state is well represented in government. We have the Chief Justice of Nigeria even though he is not a politician.
You can’t run away from the fact that he became Chief Justice under President Buhari, but anything could have happened. The Head of Service of the Federation is from Cross River state, the Auditor General of the Federation is from that state, the Minister of the Niger Delta, the Chairman, NDDC, the Special Adviser on Prosecution are all from that state in addition to Chairmen of boards, all for a paltry 28,000.
What was the record under PDP?
The best we ever had as a state under the PDP was when we had Kanu Agabi as Minister and Senator Liyel Imoke as Special Adviser. These are arguments that will be taken to the field in Cross River. It will be the height of ingratitude for any Cross Riverian not to vote for President Buhari and it will be uncharitable ingratitude. Recently, I had an interview with a radio station and I challenged the public. Any tarred road that was constructed in the last two years in Cross River, 90 percent of the chances is that it was tarred by the NDDC or the Ministry of the Niger Delta. Any renovation of any school in the last two years, the chances are that it was done by either the NDDC or the Ministry of the Niger Delta.
So, we have benefited a lot from this government. We also have our argument. What was the experience under the PDP government. It was one loss or the other for us as a state. It was under the PDP that we lost Bakassi and also lost 76 oil wells. It was under the PDP that we lost the hosting right of the National Sports Festival. Cross River at a time was paradise game under Donald Duke when we had the Cattle Ranch and the Mountain Range. But it was still under the PDP that the paradise was lost. These and many more are the arguments that we are going to confront the people with. The sentiments that our son is contesting is no longer there. We are now dealing with verifiable records which we are going to be dealing with and the records favour the president unequivocally and the APC.
What are your thoughts on the return of NDDC to the Ministry of Niger Delta?
I have heard the rumour. I call it rumour because we are yet to be officially notified of any changes in our reporting line. However, whether we are in the Ministry or the Presidency, each one has its advantage and disadvantages. Either way, we are comfortable, but it is up to the government to take a decision on the reporting line and ours is to comply.
How would you assess the release of funds to NDDC under this government?
I have been Chairman for two years. But I would like to say that the release of funds to NDDC in the last two years has been the best experienced. In last year’s budget, the federal government’s contribution was increased and for the first time since the Commission was founded, the NLNG is now contributing to it. For a long time, there was this argument whether the commission was getting its rightful dues under the act establishing it. The Commission has always believed that it has been shortchanged. It is under this administration that a reconciliation exercise was established.
So, as we speak, there is a reconciliation going on among the Ministry of Finance, the office of the Accountant General of the Federation and the NDDC to establish the exact indebtedness of the federal government to NDDC. In terms of projects, we may have done more than what is on ground. We came with lot of projects with some of them completed and others ongoing. The Nembe/Ogbia Road with about 57 bridges and culverts has been completed. We are just waiting for a date from the President for the commissioning. We have quite a number of projects like that. We are also partnering with state governments on major projects. We are partnering with the Ondo State government in the Ilaje/Ibeji Lekki Road. We are doing the same with Edo and Delta state governments. It is far better in the last two years than it has been in the past.
There has been allegations of contract racketeering in the NDDC. How do you respond to this?
First, the NDDC still operates manually and one of the things we intend to achieve before we leave office is the application of technology to our processes to make our operations more efficient. We are still applying manual processes to our operations. When we came in, we inherited over 10,000 contracts. I did a simple analysis and discovered that even if we deploy all our technical staff, including drivers and security men to supervise these projects, each one will be supervising at least 50 projects. That is bound to bring inefficiency. The first thing we did was to cancel over N300 billion worth of contracts in trying to clean up out system. Applying manual operation leads to inefficiency and we are working on those inefficiencies. It didn’t start today. But we are trying to clean it up, even though the inefficiency was deep, we are trying to clean it up.
There seems to be a campaign against APC and Buhari by Niger Delta leaders in the region. What is your take on this?
You don’t expect people who number several millions to go in one straight file. For different reasons, people will have their preference. It could be because their community has benefited from the PDP or that their sons are holding positions. Even in my own community, in spite of what the APC has done there, you still have people who are sympathetic to the PDP. So, we cannot all behave alike. It will be most unusual even in a small nuclear family to share the same opinion. We are doing politics and we are going to campaign on verifiable facts.
What are your thoughts on the permutations for Presidency in 2023?
For Cross River State, I have told you what the position is. For the southeast, let me tell you what may happen and I think they will go with President Buhari. They are hoping to produce a President in 2023 and that opportunity can only come through a President Buhari because by the application of the law, come 2023, Buhari will become illegible to contest because he must end his tenure and that is when the southeast can have their turn. Any other person that comes, forget whatever promises they make. The moment they seat on that chair, they must take their constitutional two full terms. So, any other person will delay the chances for the southeast. That is why I think the southeast will go with President Buhari.
Will you say that after PMB, the presidency will automatically go to Southeast?
No, it is not automatic. We are talking about the opportunity and it is for the southeast to go and organise themselves and prepare itself for that opportunity. Will they have an opportunity in 2023 through President Buhari? The answer is yes, the opportunity will be there and you need to put your house in order. Will it be possible with another person in 2023 considering the fact that the person would have a constitutional two term? The answer is no.
How far have you gone in the struggle for the recovery 76 oil wells belonging to Cross River?
We made an appeal to Mr. President. Ours was to prepare his mind so that when the state government brings up the issue, he will be disposed to it. The rest is for the state government to follow up. How much they have done, I don’t know because the party in power in Cross River isn’t my party. So, I am not privy to what efforts they have made. As a stakeholder in Cross River, each time I have the opportunity to see the President, I always prepare his mind so that he will be favourably disposed to finding a political solution to the situation. But the state must also make move.
However, you know that the government in the state is not an APC government. But when we take over, I can assure you that it will be one of the first issue we intend to push forward.
How far about the issue of Bakassi?
The federal government has been doing its best. But because it is a state government issue, it is still there and a lot more can still be done. I hope and pray that a lot more is done for them.
There is this issue on he Amazonia influx from Cameroon. What is the government doing about it?
The solution to this lies with Cameroon. They must resolve their internal crisis because the issue of refugees is a humanitarian on and an International law issue. When you are running away from war, another country must give you refuge. They must be looked after and I think that the federal government and the International community are working on that, and doing their best to look after these refugees.
But the solution to it will be to resolve the internal contentions in the Cameroon. Therefore, the international community must ensure that the contentions within the Cameroon are resolved quickly and if that is not done, the refugee situation will worsen and will put pressure on our lean resources. I came from a place that is less than ten kilometers away from the Cameroonian border. So, you can imagine the kind of pressure I will be going through.
Can you comment on efforts geared towards the Ogoni clean up?
The clean up is more of a Ministry of Environment issue and the NDDC is not directly involved. The Managing Director of the NDDC sits on the Board of the Ogoni clean up. But it is not an NDDC project and so, I don’t have the details.
Can you explain what you feel was responsible for the shouting match in NASS during the budget presentation?
Parliaments all over the world are rancorous places. They throw chairs, throw punches cheer and boo. But we have not had that experience in Nigeria before. Every situation has a cultural undertone.
We should worry about what happened because there is a cultural requirement for respect for elders which I didn’t see when the budget was been presented.
Have you considered running for governor of Cross River?
I ran for governor at the age of 31 and today, I am 62. The position of governors for Cross River state has traditionally been for young people. U.J. Esuene was our first governor in the old southeastern state. He was governor at 32. After him was Paul Omu who was 36 and after him was Elegbede who was 37. The Clement Isong who came from the Akwa Ibom end was the only one in his 50s that governed the state.
Senator Etiebet who took over from Isong was 47. Clement Ebri whom I ran with was 38, Donald Duke was 35. Liyel Imoke was in his early 40s and then Ben Ayade who is in his 50s. Ayade is actually the oldest governor of the state. Given the history of governance in the state, I think I have gone too far at 62 to contemplate contesting the governorship of Cross River state. So, I should respect myself and play politics at another level.
What are your views on the onshore offshore dichotomy?
There is always a political solution to every human condition. When this onshore offshore thing started, I think there was a judgement. The government and the stakeholders went for a round table and found a political, solution to it. Even with the judgement there can still be a political solution. When we lost Bakassi, the then Attorney General, Chief Bayo Ojo assured Nigerians that we are not going to lose a single oil well as a result of that. Bakassi was lost to the Cameroon and the oil wells moved to another direction. The loss of Bakassi is something that should entitle Cross River for compensation in perpetuity.
I was in the senate when Bakassi was ceded. I remember Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshew and I took at least three motions on the floor shouting ourselves hoax. At that time, we had no substantive governor because the election of Senator Liyel Imoke had been nullified and we had an acting governor.
We knew that the action was going to come with security and human challenges we were pleading that there is no hurry.
In spite of that, Bakassi was ceded. That place is the heritage of a people. Their forebears were buried there, their shrines are there. Their history is there. If you lose your cassava farm to the government, they will pay you compensation. Why not Cross Rivers?
What is your take on the seeming disconnect between NASS and Presidency?
There is some logic to that. Even though they are different arms of government. There should be some synergy between the executive and the National Assembly. That is why you always have Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly matters. He is supposed to provide that connect. The Senate Leader and the House Leader are also supposed to provide that interface between the two arms of government. In time past, there used to be frequent meetings between the President and the National Assembly leadership. I don’t know, given the circumstances within which the current leadership of the National assembly emerged, whether those meetings are still taking place.
So, it could be a reflection of that disconnect. But that does not take away the fact that we all came from the background of culture of respect. No matter the level of anger, it should have been better managed on the floor of the National Assembly.
How do you comment on the relationship between Ayade and Buhari vis a vis the 2019 elections?
Fortunately, my governor has always boasted about his relationship with the president. We know that they have a good relationship and it is for that reason that Cross River remains the only state that the president has visited twice.
That means that the president has always shown love to the son who is the governor. This is the time for the governor to reciprocate that love to the president because his election comes first. We will see the genuineness of that on the day of the President’s election.
It is now pay back time for my governor. The president has always shown you love. Now, you reciprocate that love. He showed you love in spite of not belonging to his party. So, show him love in spite of not belonging to your party.