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REJECTION OF FINANCIAL AUTOMONY BY STATE HOUSES IS POLITICAL SUICIDE – NDOMA EGBA, DEP. SENATE LEADER

By NBF News

In this interview, the Senate Deputy Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, who was in Calabar, Cross River State for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primaries, stated, 'it would be too bad if state legislatures cannot have the courage to stand for financial autonomy and independence.'

On the issue of jumbo pay for Senators, he averred, 'I find it curious that there is so much interest in what we earn. How come nobody bothers about what a minister earns? A minister who has a budget, nobody bothers to know what the minister earns. I have never seen in the media about the judiciary and how much a judge earns. It is always the legislature.'

Whether President Goodluck Jonathan is qualified to run going by the PDP zoning arragement, Ndoma-Egba, who has indicated interest to run for the Senatorial seat for a third term in 2011, said: 'Constitutionally, nothing stops President Jonathan from running. And it would be historically and politically awkward that an incumbent President is unable to run. It would be an oddity.'

Excerpts:
Zoning
Zoning can be done by different kinds. As human beings, they may have their own zoning which is still being debated. But God has done his own zoning. This is divine zoning. But let me say this, constitutionally, nothing stops President Jonathan from running. And it would be historically and politically awkward that an incumbent President is unable to run. It would be an oddity. I don't think that President Jonathan should want to do that. There is no constitutional impediment stopping him from running.

Constitution amendment
We have said it again and again, that this aspect of the exercise is to address the electoral process. Now, if you check section 9, it provides for the amendment of the Constitution. The implication of the section 9 is that before you can amend any section, you would have reached a national consensus on that issue because the implication of two-thirds of state Houses of Assembly means that the nation would have agreed on an issue before it can pass. Now, if you took too many issues at this point in time, you remember what happened the last time, when because of just one item, tenure elongation, the whole report was thrown away. If you try to do a holistic amendment of the Constitution, it would not work.

What we are doing now is not the first attempt. It is probably the third attempt and whatever we have learnt from the other attempts is that a holistic approach of amending the Constitution would not work. So you isolate one issue; try to get a national conversation on that issue; build a consensus on that issue and then you now push that issue. Our electoral process is one issue that Nigerians have agreed that we need to address. So, that is why we picked that one, because there is a teeming consensus on that. When we finish that, we can now go to another issue. The amendment is not a single digit item. It is a continuous process.

The constitution, being a living document, is subject to review as many times as it becomes necessary. What we did was to isolate an issue and once there is a teeming consensus and even the one we thought there was a consensus, we still pass into law. From media reports, we have discovered that some state Houses are throwing some aspects away. Meanwhile, we thought that a national consensus has been built on this issue already. However, we will just do a compilation; take on an issue and see how the states voted on that issue. If we have 24 states voting for that issue, then that issue stands amended. If we don't have 24 concurring on an issue, then there is a problem.

That is why we made those proposed amendments, because basically, the legislature, not only must be seen to be independent, it must actually be independent. If we are going to have the kind of robust democracy of checks and balance that we need, the judiciary must be independent; the legislature must be independent. Don't forget that this democracy came out of several years of military rule where everything was completely militarized. So it is going to take some time, but I believe we would get there. And if on the issue of independence, the state legislatures don't have the courage to stand for it, then too bad.

The legislature at every level must be independent in terms of finances, and everything if you are going to get the best out of them. If it is not independent, then the legislature just becomes executive establishment, and that is not the intention of the constitution. In fact, it is the level of financial freedom that determines your independence. If I have to come to you to ask for my entitlements, I would have to depend on your mood and goodwill. So how independent am I?

Different governorship tenure resulting from court verdicts

My understanding of the various judgments of the Supreme Court on the matter of tenure regarding governorship is that different tenures have been slated. That is the implication of the various judgments of the Supreme Court. But we have recognized the need to amend that section of the Constitution. So a proposal that we have made is if a governor is subject to re-election, he just continues from where he took the first oath of office to the end of the four years.

It is only if it is another person, who wins that that person's tenure begins to run from the day he takes the oath of office. As it is, we are unwittingly elongating the tenures of governors who win re-elections, but it is the Supreme Court which can pronounce on it and my understanding of their various judgments is that it starts from when he took his oath of office to their re-election. The lesson from this is that when a governor has emerged, and has been sworn in for four years, we should wait for the four years before we begin to challenge him.

Jumbo allowances
I read on the internet what I was supposed to be earning and when I calculated it, I was supposed to be earning a million naira a day. I thought to myself, if I am earning a million naira a day, how come I still have money issues to sort out. It is not true. By law, our salaries are fixed by the RMAFC and I remember that when they adjusted our salaries, it was made public. Salaries of all public office holders were made public. So, ours are known.

I find it curious that there is so much interest in what we earn.

How come nobody bothers about what a minister earns? A minister who has a budget nobody bothers him in the press. I have read on the pages of newspapers how much the judiciary and judges earn. It is always the legislature. What has happened is that you know we have offices; when a Senator is going on official duty like a minister and a judge, he is entitled to duty tour allowance (DTA). Everybody collects it.

Even journalists when you are going on official duty, don't you collect it? If I am going to Sokoto for instance, and I collect my DTA, the press would say it is part of my allowance. If I am given N500, 000 to buy stationeries for my office, it would be 'Oh Senator Ndoma-Egba has an additional N500, 000 to his salary. We must distinguish between overheads and salaries and allowances. They are two different things. Overheads are retired. You cannot collect 10 kobo without retiring it and we are subjected to two audits. We have our own internal audit and then we have the auditor of the federation auditing us. It is not correct.

I read the other time that a House of Representatives member wanted their capital votes collapsed so that they can earn it as allowance. It is not possible. How does capital budget suddenly become recurrent budget? My appeal to the media is that we should be given some space. I understand where you are coming from. Because of the three arms of government, the legislature was the only arm of government that did not exist in the many years of military rule.

So Nigerians had become used to living without a legislature. So when they begin to hear that so much is being spent on that arm of government, they begin to wonder 'ah ah, but we lived without these people for so long. Do we need to spend this kind of money?' But take away the legislature; you don't have a democracy any longer. So it is either we want a democracy or we don't. Democracy is inherently expensive. So it is either we want it or not. The bashing, most time is unjustified.