George Okoh interacts with Chief Steven Lawani, former Deputy Governor of Benue State.He was also a former National Deputy Chairman of the defunct National Republican Convention and a Senator on the platform of the United Nigeria Congress Party during the General Sani Abacha transition programme. He is currently a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress
How would you assess the ongoing revalidation / registration exercise of the All Progressives Congress?
The exercise is still ongoing. It’s two weeks from February 9. So we still have more days. But so far we have recorded success across the country than anticipated. In fact, if you went round, you would have heard that they sent about 100 forms to each polling unit because the organizers didn’t anticipate that more than 100 members would come forward to register. Now we have about 2000 members registering in some places. So what they did is that after finishing the first 100 forms that were sent, polling stations nationwide got back to the organizers asking what to do next. So, we have instructed them to just register members names in the register without the forms. Therefore, APC has overshot expectations because more have registered than anticipated. So, in that regard, the exercise is a success. Those on ground would expect more facilities provided to them than we have provided. But by and large, I think it’s a success because as a stakeholder, I expected to fill up wherever there are shortfalls. In that regard, I think so far, everything is working well.
What would you attribute the success of the revalidation exercise to?
Like you say in religion, evangelism. The pastors did their work very well. In this case, the stakeholders have gone out and encouraged their members to come out in large numbers to register or that the members themselves, being overly enthusiastic about the exercise themselves have come out beyond expectations. That is why I can say that large numbers have come out to register.
You spoke about the revalidation exercise being orderly but we heard about a party ward chairman who was killed during the exercise here in Benue and crises in other states.
I said the exercise is successful, I didn’t say it was orderly. On the question of whether it was orderly or not, a panel.has been set up by the party to.look into cause of the death. On Friday, we will be in Gboko for that. After hearing from all involved, then we will know the next line of action.
With the large turnout of APC members for the the exercise, do you foresee APC taking over Benue and Nigeria in 2023?
I’m being rationally selfish now because I’m an APC member. So, I’ll want APC to win. I’m seeking to contest and when I declare, I’m declaring to win. I’m not going to come and declare and then play games. I’m declaring to win election because I think I can do something. I’m running on the APC platform. Naturally and logically too, I want the APC to win.
There are already agitations ahead of 2023 and politicians are already networking. At the state level, some people want the governorship to go to Jechira and others are agitating for an Idoma governor. What’s your take on this?
I think we should not vote along ethnic lines. We should rather look at the characters that present themselves for election based on what they think is their ability to govern the state. They should look at them. A situation where an Idoma man would rather vote for his brother who is bad or who is known to be bad and they support him on ethnic line and vice versa is wrong. So, let’s vote on the ground of merit rather than on ethnic lines. That is the way forward for now.
Would you also say the same for the presidency?
Of course I will but then I’ll explain. Certain situations call for certain solutions. Yes, because of the party system we operate, the parties decide who they think is best to make the party win election. They won’t put a Calabar man there when they know that the Calabar man will not make them win the election. But it is wrong to say that certain people are not fit to govern this country. I mean, the Igbo for instance, over the years have not been allowed to get it. Yes, they led us into the civil war but don’t generalize and say there’s no good person from there, there’s no good person from the west, no good person from the north central zone and so on. Let’s look for the right person but as I said when you take it to a larger scale, a party that wants to win has the right to look for the person that will make them win. However, the system that brings out people that are certainly not the best for this country is not a good system.
A lot of people feel that this registration is uncalled for or it’s probably to reduce the influence and power of the National Leader of the Party, Bola Ahmed Tinubu because they fell he has overbearing powers and the only way they can checkmate him is to call for this party revalidation. How true is this?
When you say a lot of people, I ask whether it was a public hearing that led to this conclusion. All I can say is that I don’t know about what you are saying. I’m a party man taking directive from the party headquarters. And by the way, before I registered, Bola Tinubu registered and showed his registration form. Bisi Akande did the same thing. So, if it is what you are saying, then, they wouldn’t have registered. I think, to the extent that it has some pluses that were least anticipated by even the organizers, I think we should give credit to what has happened. Whether it was meant to do some other things we will look at it. There is no party that has no internal problems. But I’m hoping that whatever problems we have, we can nip it in the bud quickly before the elections and to all persons, whether the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which is in opposition and APC which is the ruling party and the press and myself, the man on the street, let us put the interest of this country above self and above our individual interest. We have enough problems already bedeviling us. Our children go to school now for a three year course and end up doing it in six years. Let’s put the interest of this country forward. And to our leaders who have sworn to rule us properly both at the national and state levels, let them govern this large country well knowing that any small thing can really scatter us. Each time I leave Abuja to Makurdi, it is prayer on my mouth till I arrive because I don’t know whether I’ll be able to reach Makurdi without being stopped on the road. It was never so before. And we have not seen the worst of things yet. People are not farming again, so that means there’s going to be starvation in three to four years’ time because people are afraid of going to their farms. So, we have a lot of problems and we must put the interest of our nation far and above selfish interest.
Your party in 2019 lost Benue and one of the key issues the sitting party (PDP) used against your party was the Fulani crisis in Benue. Your party, the APC was accused of colluding with the presidency against the state especially on the Fulani invasion. What’s your take on that?
But was that accusation right? If APC colluded with the presidency wasn’t the home of the President himself attacked recently by herdsmen? So, there’s no collusion of any kind. It’s not true. Certainly, the Governor of the state (Governor Samuel Ortom) was right in crying out. It’s his job. He swore to an oath to protect his people. So, if he feels that something is going on that is not right, he has a right to cry out and he did it. Following from that he came up.with the anti open grazing law. Today, all states are following from what he did. So, in a way, he did the right thing. But I wouldn’t sit here to say that the party in Benue colluded with Fulani. When the Fulani man comes to attack at night, does he ask whether you are PDP or APC?
There have been calls from several quarters that the anti open grazing law should be repealed. Supposing you become the Governor of Benue State come 2023, will you repeal the anti open grazing law?
Even those who were against the anti open grazing law are today singing in praise of it. The only way to solve these marauding cows is to put them in one place and ranching is the answer. In fact, I give credit to our Governor for setting the pace.
Nigeria seems to be on the edge and everybody is on edge. What do you think can be done to salvage the country from disintegration?
We are all worried. No question about that. And it has nothing to do with a political party now. We are all worried. Today we have Army and Police controlling affairs. If there is breakdown of security and the hoodlums take over the roads and start shooting, they don’t ask you whether you are APC or, PDP or Yoruba, Hausa, Idoma, Tiv. So, it’s something that we all are worried about. And you can see governors from all parties moving from one part of the country to another. But I think more needs to.be done. If this insecurity situation is not arrested, the worst implication is yet to come. If people cannot go to their farms to farm, there’s going to be starvation in time to come and that will lead to more trouble. So, the implication of insecurity is enormous and therefore, government must do something quickly. That is why I personally would say that if the Nigerian government cannot arrest the situation and requires help from outside, it should not be ashamed to ask. After all, we have in the past aided countries who had a similar situation. If we are not capable of arresting this situation, let us also seek assistance from outside.
Some prominent Nigerians are now advocating that responsible Nigerians should be allowed to bear arms to confront these criminal elements too. Do you support that?
I’m one of those who said so, but I’ve changed my mind because the implications are enormous. Even in the USA where people are allowed to carry arms, it has not stopped crime. Here that intelligence is at its lowest, and where there are no records, if people are allowed to carry arms, there will be a problem. In America or Britain, you require license to bear arms and government can always follow up if there is anything wrong. In Nigeria, if we say arms for all, I think it’s not good.
So, what do you suggest?
That’s why I’m saying that if this government has done it’s best and it cannot arrest the situation, let it seek external aid. That’s my own view. And by external aid, you know what I mean.
Nigeria seems to be more divided along ethnic and religious and party lines these days. I mean what divides us is becoming greater than what binds us. What solution can you profer to this quagmire?
I love my country and I have held positions of responsibility in this country one of which is Deputy Governor of Benue State. I’m not going to sit down and tell you that all is well with Nigeria. All is certainly not well. I personally have spoken against what is happening and it is my desire that the government should put its ear to the ground and listen to what people are saying. In recent times, it has to do with perhaps things like appointments only of people from certain parts of the country. It has to do with other factors; so many things too numerous to name. They can be solved. It has to do with the recent #EndSars protest. So, a lot of things have been enumerated. It is now up to those in authority to sit down and address these issues. The parties, both the major parties including the ruling party have their solutions. It is time that we move fast, sit down and address these issues to halt further chaos in the country. That’s all I can say for now. I’m.not disagreeing with you. If I did, I will be lying and even my age doesn’t allow that. We (as a country) do have problems and they must be addressed.
Recently, the Presidency finally listened to the cries of Nigerians by changing the service chiefs. Do you think these new crop of service chiefs have what it takes to take Nigeria out of this problem of insecurity that we have found ourselves?
I didn’t look at the CV of the new service chiefs. Has that appointment satisfied certain parts of the country? The answer is no. The problems are numerous but I will appeal for patience on the part of Nigerians including myself. But while we are appealing for patience, the people who have power to do these things should rise up to the situation. The National Assembly should, the Presidency should, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum should, and of course, you and I should. It’s time that all who have powers to solve the security situation of this country should rise up. It’s not beyond salvaging. We all have responsibility towards solving this problem, let us do it.
But with all that are happening right now, don’t you think it’s high time we all went out different ways?
There are so many suggestions including what you are saying but will that be the answer? Let’s perfect the system that we have because this is a system we borrowed from outside and it’s working where we borrowed it from. It can work here too. When there’s a problem and you bring five French men, there will be seven solutions. Is that what we should do here? I think we should try and perfect what we have. For instance, I believe one of the problems we have in this country is that there are too many powerful individuals and the system.is very weak. It should be the other way round. Let’s have a perfect system. Let the EFCC do its job, let the Police do its job and so on. You get somebody arrested and he’s detained in the police station, before one hour a phone call goes to the Commissioner of Police that they should release him: Powerful individuals, weak institutions. That’s the problem. Somebody steals public money and he’s detained but before you know it he’s out of detention.A small man like me, if I steal money, within two weeks they will arrest me.and jail me. Some people steal much more than that, their case is still in court for over six years. Is that correct? We have very weak institutions and too many powerful individuals. Let’s take them one by one. The judiciary is weak, the system is weak in this country.
Are you implying that you are dissatisfied with the Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari?
In my statement, I didn’t say so. I said I am dissatisfied with even the press, I’m dissatisfied with so many things. So, not just the Federal Government (alone).
Former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar warned that anarchy and disintegration loom in this country. What is your take on this?
I’m happy to hear Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar say so. I’m happy to hear the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo say these things. We have the Council of State. When they call this Council of State meetings, let them all attend and bare their mind and be courageous to say it. Some of them don’t attend. I agree with what Gen. Abdulsalami said. I’m not a Nigerian leader today but I’ve had the privilege of being in that position before. I’m aspiring to return there. I’m not tired. They should say it at the appropriate place. If you talk to the press and play to the gallery, it’s one thing. If you call a proper meeting, it’s another thing. If all the former Heads of State come together genuinely meet with the current President and discuss, I believe it would be better.
I love my country and I have held positions of responsibility in this country one of which is Deputy Governor of Benue State. I’m not going to sit down and tell you that all is well with Nigeria. All is certainly not well. I personally have spoken against what is happening and it is my desire that the government should put its ear to the ground and listen to what people are saying. In recent times, it has to do with perhaps things like appointments only of people from certain parts of the country. It has to do with other factors; so many things too numerous to name. They can be solved. It has to do with the recent #EndSars protest. So, a lot of things have been enumerated. It is now up to those in authority to sit down and address these issues. The parties, both the major parties including the ruling party have their solutions. It is time that we move fast, sit down and address these issues to halt further chaos in the country. That’s all I can say for now