Former Leader of the Senate in the 7th Assembly, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN, in this interview speaks on recent worrisome developments in the judiciary, 2023 general election, rising insecurity and other sundry issues.
The National Industrial Court in Abuja recently ordered the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, to increase the salaries and allowances of judges in the country. Do you think this development can help tackle the rot in the judiciary?
Every judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction must be obeyed and it remains valid until set aside by a higher court. The judgment is valid and to the best of my knowledge, has not been set aside. The salaries of judges have been pitiable especially in the recent past with the continuous erosion of the value of the naira and has made the judiciary more susceptible to corruption. This is in addition to other systemic issues afflicting it.
Having said so, the judgment directed RMAFC, the body constitutionally empowered to determine the salaries of certain political, public and judicial officers to increase the salaries of judges by amounts predetermined by the court. How the court arrived at these sums, I am yet to know.
Salaries of public officers, including judicial officers, are guided by constitutional provisions and are as prescribed by the National Assembly but not exceeding what shall have been determined by RMAFC.
Salaries of public office holders are currently governed by the Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, Etc Amendment) Act, 2008.
Implementing the judgment of the court, therefore, is going to be tricky and tedious, in my view as it will require the National Assembly, and RMAFC.
Nigerians seem to have put the saga involving immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Mohammad behind them. Do you think the allegations of corruption against him should still be investigated considering the fact that he resigned voluntarily?
The Nigerian Judiciary has its self-initiating internal cleansing processes. I believe that if the conduct of the former Chief Justice falls below expectation, the judiciary will rise to the occasion and do the needful.
What should be the major task of the acting CJN now?
The major task of the Chief Justice of Nigeria is re-establishing public confidence in the judiciary and this will require a lot. Some of the steps to be taken in this regard will be by the other arms of government.
The APC decision to field Muslim-Muslim candidates for the office of the President and Vice has been generating huge reaction. Do you think that religion should be a factor in who leads the country?
This is a very emotive, rather than rational issue. Religion like ethnicity, has become a mere political tool in the hands of the political elite. Elsewhere, religion has been used to establish social justice and social values needed for the development of its people. But in Nigeria, religion is a mere tool in the hands of the political elite to access power.
If you go to the Middle East, particularly the Gulf Region, religion has brought remarkable economic and social development and promised social cohesion. They now compete with the most developed countries of the world in virtually every index. They have sent people to space. Elsewhere in the western and developed world, religion formed the basis of their social values and social contracts and they have had clear deliverables.
But what do we have in Nigeria? Christianity has lost the message and discipline of the Cross on which Christ died for our sins. What it promises today are miracles, from the sublime to the ridiculous, and teachings that are sometimes even bizarre. Islam here is now known for the Almajiri system, Boko Haram, Fulani herders, poverty etc instead of the religion that it should be. My concern and expectation is development that will guarantee an equitable and thriving society.
If this is to be brought about by atheists or by traditional religionists, or Christians or Muslims, I do not care. It is not religion that will deliver the development and social justice but political will. We should relegate religion and ethnicity in the public space to the personal sphere.
Whether it is Atheist-Atheist, Christian-Christian, or Muslim-Muslim ticket is totally inconsequential to me as religion is a private and personal matter. Religion has become so topical in our public discourse because of the failure of politics, our democracy and religion itself in our clime. We are merely playing politics with religion. In our history, we have had Muslim-Muslim and Christian-Christian dispensations at different times and the heavens did not fall.
President Buhari’s advance convoy was attacked recently. What statement do you think the attackers wanted to make and what is the implication of that on the security situation in the country?
It simply shows that the security situation is still deteriorating and something drastic and dramatic needs to be done.
Considering the precarious situation Nigeria is in right now, what kind of President should Nigerians vote for in 2023?
Any President that emerges in 2023 will require our commiseration and sympathy because our problems have become existential and overwhelming. The President will need to mobilise every Nigerian to an agenda for unity and development and towards a consensus on agreed social values.
More importantly, Nigerians should agree on the Nigeria of their dreams and commit to realising them, and to when and how these should be achieved.
Do you have any fears or reservations about 2023 and do you think that INEC can ensure a credible poll?
I do not have any reservations. It will be an election like no other because the youths for once will massively participate and new parameters particularly technology, will play an unprecedented role.
What does the recent Kuje Prison break portend for the country?
The Kuje Prison break is just further confirmation of the level of insecurity in the country.
Do you think the Constitution should be amended to make it mandatory for an elected office holder to lose his or her seat if he or she defects to another political party?
What we should look at deeply is internal party democracy. It is largely the lack of it that causes the mobility from one party to another.
Furthermore, our parties are ideologically barren and sterile and merely serve as vehicles for the acquisition of political power. The Constitution already has enough provisions prohibiting cross-carpeting and the exceptions are very narrow. What should grow is internal party democracy.