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‘The Current Leadership in Benue is Not Prepared for Governance’
Mr. Emmanuel Jime, Benue State governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in the 2019 governorship elections fields questions from George Okoh on his plans for the state
What is the truth about the alleged sour relationship between you and the leader of your party in the state, Senator George Akume
There’s no truth in the story. You have to keep in mind that we are in a political environment where stirring up controversy is common to some people. If there isn’t controversy, a number of people are going to go back to their bedrooms hungry. There are people who benefit from it. To have proper governance in the state, it is important that leaders carry others along, working together and drawing from each other’s experience. People forget so soon that Senator Akume was governor of this state for eight years and there must be something about someone who has been governor for eight years that you can gain from. Sometimes in the area of the mistakes that they may have made in the past. They are better equipped to let you gave sufficient information about certain errors that may have been committed in the past in order to assist you so that you can avoid those errors and of course, become better governor yourself. The relationship I enjoy with Senator Akume is one that is rooted in the fact that having been governor, it was important for me and indeed important for anybody who aspires for leadership to accord those who have passed through the system before you the respect that they deserve. I have had no cause to believe that Senator Akume does not mean well for the state. I have a very good relationship with Akume and those who wish that there should be friction between us are peddling these rumours of a fictional rift. When I get to the office next year, I probably will be having a very good relationship with Samuel Ortom as well because I think that my style is to be able to learn from the mistakes of the past and to be able to do that, there’s need to have a good relationship with those who have occupied that position.
What difference would you make if elected governor?
What I bring to this particular project to govern Benue State is the experience that I have had in public service. I have served at different levels in public service of our country and our state. I was member of the state house of assembly, became Speaker and I represented a portion of this state at the federal level legislature for eight years. I am currently managing one of the most important parastatals of the federal government, the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA).From my own perspective, these have prepared me for this office. I can say with all due modesty that I don’t see any of my predecessors that had the same level of preparation that I have both mentally and physically. I come to this project with sufficient preparation for the office in a way that I believe most of my predecessors did not have the advantage or the privilege that I have. There are a couple of things that I personally find a bit challenging as far as leadership and indeed leadership recruitment in our state is concerned. Not many of our leaders have had the courage of their conviction. Unless and until you have the courage of your convictions, there is going to be a difficulty in how you meet up with governance. If you don’t have the courage of your conviction, it means that you can easily get distracted. I am going to bring that as a quality. I believe that I possess the courage of my convictions and I am one who can be very focused in fighting for what I believe in. This is a requirement for leadership that I can say I possess. You have to also understand that being sincere in leadership is also a very important ingredient. I have served in a number of places like I said and in all of the places that I served, I have kept faith with the people. During my stewardship, I have always done the best to be a true public servant of the people in the mandate that I have held. It’s not going to be any different because I believe that you have to earn the trust of the people that you are providing leadership over. I am not saying that other leaders have not been able to earn the trust of the people but I think it’s fair to say that part of the problems that a number of our leaders had in the past is that a lot of people do not trust them enough. That is one of the qualities that we are going to bring on our process. In the current administration, for example, this particular element that is totally lacking. I am one who doesn’t usually like to criticize people who occupy offices that I am aspiring. In this case, I think I can make exception to say that with the current leadership doesn’t appear to be prepared for the responsibility of governance. The evidence is there for everybody to see.
With the clarity of purpose and a clear understanding of what the economic issues of the day are and my ability to relate with the current economic trends, I owe the people a responsibility to perform because I run a federal government parastatal whose responsibility is to assist the federal government in managing Nigeria’s economy. This makes me realise that we have to grow the Benue economy in order for us to be able to deliver on all the other important indices of governance. For instance, if you don’t grow internally generated revenue, much of all the beautiful plans that you may have will fail. I have an interest in making sure that our infrastructure is developed to the level that can carry our economic aspirations. Today, I think it’s fair to say that we can hardly find five kilometers of any motorable road in our state. That is a sorry state to be in. For instance, in Makurdi, we live on the banks of River Benue, isn’t it true that our people are still fetching drinking water from streams? That shouldn’t be the case. The last time I checked, the previous administration brought the greater Makurdi Water Works to a point where today, all that is left is reticulation to circulate the water around. The question is why has that not been done? This has a lot of impact on our people and I don’t think that much attention has been paid to it.
In summary, I believe you can have all the beautiful plans that are out there from the days of Governor Akume with the Benue Advance Plan and then of course, Suswam had Our Benue Our Future. Beautiful plans that are out there that all you need do is to dust them up. But you may have had all beautiful plans but if you are not prepared for the responsibility and you don’t have the courage of your convictions, you cannot get them implemented. These are some of the areas where we need to do things differently to have a total paradigm shift in the way that governance is being delivered.
You have been the DG of NEPZA. How well have you used that position to attract developmental projects to Benue?
Let’s understand that this is a federal parastatal. The functions of NEPZA is to grant licenses to individuals who wish to participate in the free trade zones. In my time as MD of NEPZA, we have licensed close to 20 private free trade zones. And because there hasn’t been one single application from Benue State, you simply will not just go and dash it to an area where there isn’t an application. I believe that part of the problem is that most Benue business people don’t understand the advantage of participating in the free trade zones scheme. We have what you call the public free trade zones that are established by the Nigerian government. When I went to NEPZA, federal government under President Buhari had a policy in place for the establishment of six new industrial parks in the six geopolitical zones in the country. At the time of my arrival, the location for all of the industrial zones in the six geopolitical zones had been established and Benue was not a part. As a matter of fact, Kwara State was actually chosen by the federal government to house the free zone that is allocated to the north central. But because I came fortunately, at the time when the papers had been fully signed, I was able to use the opportunity of my being in that office to get Mr. President to do a turn-around such that we now have been given the privilege in Makurdi of hosting a free trade zone. That for me is a monumental achievement because we were able to do that only in one and a half years of my occupancy of that office. Contracts have been awarded for feasibility studies in 2017 and as at 2018, funds have been provided for contracts to be awarded for the actual construction work. The site has already been obtained and it’s not far away from the Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering in North Bank area of Makurdi. We have been able to get the federal government to allocate one of the public zones in the country. What we did was to get the federal government to give us an additional slot. We now have seven industrial parks instead of six across the country. Secondly, as far as employment is concerned, when I got to NEPZA, you could hardly have the presence of any Benue indigene. In my time, during the first two weeks, the first five officers that were employed in NEPZA were all from Benue. At the moment, we are still processing more employment but let’s understand that employment in the federal civil service has to follow some procedures like federal character, budget office and so on. It’s not like you just wake up and start throwing employment around; like people are asking how many people have I employed since getting to NEPZA. I can promise you though that in the process that is ongoing, we now have at least an opportunity before I leave that office, to bring on additional 20 slots for Benue State alone into NEPZA. That is not a small achievement by any standard because being a federal parastatal, you have to understand that it has a responsibility to cater for people all over the country. For 20 slots to come to Benue out of about 100 slots meant for the whole country is quite tall. That is what I have been able to do, so far, in NEPZA.
Can you allay the fears about your coming from Miyetti Allah and will you repeal the anti-open grazing law?
In this environment, we practice our type of democracy, it is often said that your opponent who is panicky about your victory may decide to distract people from his non-performance and focus on smearing your name to give the impression that you are simply not who people know you to be. We all know that when a lie is told repeatedly, sometimes, if you are not careful, people tend to begin to believe the lie. It’s a terrible lie for anybody to speak of me in those terms that I am being sponsored by Miyetti Allah. I have heard worse things before. I actually had been told that my mother is Fulani. That is also a lie from the pit of hell. The truth is that I’m a true born Tiv man and my mother is Tiv, as well. Benue knows me very well. Let me remind you that I have been around in the public space in Benue for as long as I can remember. 1992 was when I first got elected into Benue State House of Assembly. I’ve been speaker in Benue and I had been in the House of Representatives for two terms. I ran for governor in 2014. In all of that period until now in 2018, nobody has had any doubts about my origin. Why now? I think the interrogation should really be at the doorsteps of those who are making the insinuation and to find out what really is the motive. The peddlers of this rumour know that they don’t have anything to actually run on for a second term. In proper democracy, reelections are based on performance in office.
Your record in office should be the basis on which you run for reelection. Now, if you look around Benue in the last three and a half years, tell me, what is it that anybody can point to? Look at all the boxes of development; whether it is in the area of water supply, security, road construction, and infrastructure? I don’t even want to be talking of salaries all the time because to me, payment of salaries isn’t an achievement. But when it is not even done at all, that also calls for question. These are the real issues that we should be addressing. When somebody deliberately wants to cover up his failure, and decides to focus on the one area that is emotional, I think clear headed minds should start investigating the motive.
In 2011, when I was a member of the House of Representatives, I was one of the first National Assembly members from Benue who actually put forward the motion on the floor that discussed this issue of Fulani and herdsmen invasion of Tiv land. The records are there and they are verifiable. Thank God we are in the 21st century. Now, if I was discussing Fulani invasion as far back as 2011, shouldn’t that make me one of the strongest advocates for any law that would be put in place to make sure that the Fulani are no longer killing our people? Why would I advocate for a solution and then turn around to work against it seven years later. It’s just simply illogical. It doesn’t even make sense. How do you even amend a law? There is a process by which a law is put in place. Thank God we are now in an era where the state Houses of assembly have been given autonomy, therefore, they are no longer tied to the apron strings of any governor. To amend a law, it means that you have to carry the state house of Assembly along and it’s a process that we also still have to go back to the people themselves. What is the version of the law that the current administration sent to the Benue State House of Assembly? Let’s not also forget that when the anti-open grazing bill was sent to the House of Assembly, it was an APC-controlled state house of assembly. So, if you brand Jime or his party as a Miyetti Allah party or against the anti-open grazing law, what were we doing with an APC-controlled state assembly passing a law against Fulani invasion?
There are some things that if you connect the dots, it just doesn’t make sense or add up. Today, it’s even more laughable because you are talking about APC and Buhari as Miyetti Allah. Who then is Atiku? I think for me, if you look at the interview that Atiku recently granted, he was advocating for a grazing reserve. Is that not the position of Miyetti Allah? The flag bearer of the PDP, the so-called protagonist of the anti-open grazing law is advocating for grazing reserves. That will tell you clearly who is actually clearly against the anti-open grazing law and the wishes of our people. I find it funny when Governor Ortom gives the impression that he is being victimised for opposing Miyetti Allah. The truth is that Ortom is not the victim, it is the Benue people that are the victims. To put himself forward as the victim, does a lot of disservice to the memory of those who are fallen. He is not the victim. The victims are in their graves. I think he is dancing on people’s graves actually by using this anti-open grazing to extract political sympathy.
You were accused by the PDP-led government of staging political rally at an IDP camp. Can you clear the air on that?
The PDP is in panic mode. You go to bed and all you are dreaming about is defeat. We didn’t go to the IDP camp for campaigns. We went to Daudu for a decamping ceremony of a foremost member of the PDP, Hon. Stephen Tsav and I think they should be worried about that. All the IDPs have their voters cards. If I decided to go and meet the IDPs so that they can use their voters cards in order to vote for us, so we can return them to their villages when we come to office, I think it’s worth it. The IDPs can only vote for us because they feel frustrated that this present administration hasn’t done enough for them. I would have gone to seek their votes because I seek the votes of everyone. But that’s not what happened. When we left the venue for the defection that day, we stopped at a proper IDP camp and gave them some encouragement. Instead of joining hands together to see how these IDPs can return to their homes, a government that has totally failed them is now turning around, trying to use them against a party that has taken it as a responsibility to see to their security and their welfare.