Mike Kaase Aondakaa, Nigeria’s former Attorney General and Minister of Justice bares his mind on his desire to become governor of Benue State in 2023, in this interview with George Okoh
Why are you in the race for governorship of Benue State?
Our state needs to be developed. I see the shortfall in development and I see the shortfall in our social interaction as a state with other states and other components of Nigeria. My zeal is to make the state prosperous. People should be able to create wealth, especially in the local communities. I was sacked as Attorney General for the stand I took in 2010. I was the first cabinet member to be dropped when I insisted that the late President Yar’adua must die before the issue of handover can take place. I stood my ground.
When I came back, I said to myself ‘let me do something for my people’. I set up a rice mill to create rice value chain and I saw the effectiveness of that single thing I did. It may not be much, but at the time it was one of the four ground breaking rice mills in Nigeria. The idea was trying to lessen importation and create direct wealth in communities. I created the value chain successfully and it has been there for the past 10 years.
The zeal is that since we are an agricultural state, if I replicate that at the state level, not just on rice but other products, in such a way that Benue becomes the hub for agricultural produce, then I must have achieved my targets and I can’t do that by not being in government. That’s why I am aspiring to become the next governor of Benue state by the grace of God.
As the AGF then, how did you impact on the lives of your people?
I used my position to create for Benue people a place of service. First, I tried to lobby the federal government, especially the presidency, to ensure that Benue people got jobs at high power level, middle class level and junior officers’ level. I am proud to tell you that I was able to do this in major regulatory agencies. During my time, these agencies were headed by Benue sons – NAFDAC, EFCC, NEXIM Bank, the bank that stimulates export and import promotion. I was able to get a Benue son to head it.
Even in the EFCC, I was able to bring a young guy, who was less than 36years, Harris Ogbole. I made him a commissioner in the EFCC. I was doing all that, thinking that an effective collaboration between the State and Federal Government will push our educated people up. At the middle class level, I was able to get 498 people, proven names into the civil services – Immigration, Customs and others. So, within the short period, mind you, I stayed in office for only two years and seven months but I was able to achieve a lot for my people.
I called the then Attorney General of the state, Chive Kaave, to give me the list of all the lawyers in Benue. I mean all lawyers and I gave all the lawyers that were submitted to me briefs, so that they could participate in the then ongoing federal government prison decongestion. This brought a lot of income to alleviate some of their problems. I was able to assist others who were not lawyers but could introduce lawyers to me so that I could also support them in those areas to beef up their income.
What are you bringing to the table for Benue people as governor?
I have in my mind that I can aggregate my participation as the next governor under seven headings: to create wealth and engage the youth; to provide security so that farmers can go back to farm because without security the farmers can’t work…to ensure that people in IDPs camps go back and engage in productive ventures; to create a robust education that we can export talents, to be able to feed our sister states in the north that they have jobs for; to tackle the issue of pension reforms by increasing attention to the reforms and act so that our retirees find a permanent solution to their problems.
My concern about the retirees is that at the age they retire, their productive years, like 65 years for a high court judge, the productive years of his life is gone. But the society owes you a duty to programme your life to 90 years or more if your benefits are regularly paid for you to get your basic medications. When this is not done most of them have nowhere else to go, they can’t go to farm.
The next issue is rehabilitation, reconstruction and restructuring of public institutions. What I mean is that we have various public institutions that have been created and have direct impact by the past administrations, but those institutions have been abandoned. There is need to look at them; those who have direct impact must be revived and I will give you examples. We have almost 23 general hospitals in each of the 23 LGAs. Our people have no business coming to treat malaria in the teaching hospital if those hospitals are optimally functioning.
I appreciate past governments for setting up these institutions. My duty is to revive them. I will revive them to the standard that everybody would aspire to access them. I will revive the health centres that are near collapsing. These are just the few public institutions I have mentioned. Then, I will give full judicial implementation of local government autonomy. For local government autonomy, there must be internal domestic socialization effectively, to ensure that every aspect is working. What do I mean by domestic socialization of the local government? You allow them to operate effectively and independently themselves, so that they socialize with local communities, where government can carve out and contract few things they can carry out to stimulate growth in rural areas.
As you provide infrastructure in rural areas by the local government, wealth is generated and it is also distributed at the local area. I have no business trying to be a super human being to control the local government. I will follow the constitution that gives the local government independence. I know that this had been experienced because during the government of Sen. Dr. George Akume, LGs were independent; during the government of Rev. Adasu, LGs were independent; during the government of Aper Aku, LGs were independent, and mind you, he was a Chairman of LG, sponsoring people abroad from LG funds.
They were allowed to put LG into proper functions. There may be temptations to control them because of certain recklessness but it is better you allow them, but be in the position to supervise them and where they are erring, the House of Assembly will take action so that development at the local level spreads quickly, for people to realize that you mustn’t come to the centre before you get something.
Benue is an agrarian state. What plan do have to leverage on this?
You have to transit people from subsistence farming to mechanized farming and try to make them see agriculture as a business. I have demonstrated that in my own private sector, by making the rice farmers know that agriculture is a business. What I did was to get effective training for the rice farmers by bringing USAID and GIZ. These are international agencies, to train them on how to improve yields per hectare and make their farming meaningful. It is not about having the luxury of lands. Imagine that a person will farm rice on a hectare and have two bags of rice; it means he is farming at a loss.
But you could also have per hectare make up to 8 tonnes and we have achieved that in Gbajimba. The person who makes 8 tonnes per hectare has no business going near government because he is already a rich man. How do we do that? You make fertizer affordable to them by decentralizing the distribution. By this you are having the LG operate independently to be able to purchase fertilizer for their people. You only have to regulate their purchase of fertilizer, but they buy directly to distribute fertilizer per ward before the rain come.
Second thing is to supply the farmers with improved seeds because the seeds they are using are germinating seeds; they are not improved seeds. Germinating seeds are seeds that every time you harvest, you keep; you harvest, you keep. Every time you do this, they are no longer seeds but just germinating seeds that are used and every season it diminishes the return. Farmers ought to be supplied seeds for every season like rice, beans and others.
Another thing is to stimulate them to attract export. There is a common product Spain uses which generates money for them, they don’t have oil – water melon. Water melon is produced in Benue and it’s one of the best in Nigeria. It is an exportable crop that generates the main income in Spain. You have to make our people realize that they can achieve a lot with any crop. If you go to railway market, you will find out people selling Benue watermelon, they no longer come from Jos alone. We can start by capturing the domestic market i.e Nigeria.
Then the issue of export, this can only be possible when you teach them basic hygiene. You can’t export your agric product when you are doing open defecation. This is one area I will recruit young boys – adhoc recruitment to educate the people against open defecation…they will go for inspection and advise, to ensure everything we produce is exportable.
In terms of mechanized farming, it should be available, centred in our institutions of learning. For instance, we have an agricultural-based institution, a college, now upgraded to a Polytechnic at Yandev. We have federal centres here, some in zone ‘C’, they need to be equipped with tractors for hiring. Of course,
What plans do you have for education in Benue state?
I must appreciate the fact that past governments have done a lot by investing in education. I must take off from there. We must make sure that we bring programmes in our education curriculum for self-sufficiency. While waiting for white-collar jobs, they should be able to engage in productive areas. This is very key. Benue is rated very high in education. We have also exported educational talents to places like Katsina, where university education commenced, to beef them up and Gombe.
We have done much in education, but what we need now is the quality of education, especially in public secondary and primary schools. We have to ensure also the quality of teachers themselves through training and retraining, so that what comes out of Benue is first class. Of course, any where you take a Benue graduate, he demonstrates capacity. I would want to be on top of that, to ensure that those coming from public primary schools are at the same level with those who are trained elsewhere.
Benue state is battling many health challenges. What are your plans in that area?
I want to focus on the Primary Health Care (PHC), to ensure that each of the 276 council wards has a PHC. Where a faith-based organization has a health care centre, we can support as an existing one. So that there will not be a duplication. The view of upgrading our a health care centres to a robust level, takes care of our farming activities because you have lifesaving drugs at the PHC level like hypertension, HIV, diabetes and other minor drugs that people die for lack of access.
People must not leave rural communities to Makurdi to get drugs. Health centres at that level should be working. To demonstrate that, issues that are above these health centres will go to the secondary care i.e all the 23 LG general hospitals. We will rehabilitate them and renovate them with basic facilities and commodities for them to be able to function well. Their environment must be conducive and must have good nurses, and doctors, so that a sick person, who is taken there, will survive. We will renovate and rehabilitate them to make them attractive and affordable.
We will make the teaching hospitals become the centre of excellence for complicated ailments and ensure that two additional teaching hospitals are effectively operational in Benue. I will support the Federal Government.