Alia: My Mission is to Save Poor Masses through Democracy in Benue

Governor Hyacinth Alia of Benue State, in this interview, laments that 48 years after creation, Benue state remains underdeveloped. He, however, expresses his determination to change the narrative despite stiff opposition by self-serving political leaders in the state. Segun James brings excerpts:

What informed your decision to drop priesthood for politics?

My advent into partisan politics was because too many things were wrong. I’ve lived my life as a functional priest in the last 33 years with my locals. I stayed with them, went to school and returned to spend time with them some more. I have been in the trenches with them and the people I loved working more with are the destitute, the poor masses, those who do not have a voice in the society, and those who are neglected and suppressed.

When you are preaching the gospel, these are the primary things you must do. God does not want them to be lost to the society. These are the people I felt should be taken care of. For years, local government teachers were totally forgotten and I felt their pains. I had that at the back of my mind.

Again, since the creation of the state as a glorified village, we didn’t even have light on the streets in the state capital. It is now we are trying to construct internal roads because our internal roads were minimally tarred.

You come into the state capital, Makurdi and it is like you come into a village. I felt a number of things were missing and so, there was a need for me to come and get things right.

The church is not against her priests joining partisan politics. Where it is a case of plurality of parties, there church will hold her reservations but at the same time, there is a leeway that if the church judges that the society is too dysfunctional and that the only person to salvage the situation is a priest, then, someone can spring up via the church to save the rest of the people.

Not many people understand this and this is why I had to come in and save the souls. We had to take care of the human beings that are out there. In a number of places in the state, some primary schools are no longer functional. We need to fight for the future of Benue which is like fighting for democracy.

We have to fight for democracy and these are the things that we have been trying to do, people need to understand that government is an opportunity to protect people’s lives and ensure that the people go back to their agrarian society.

Today, we are talking about food insecurity. If we do not have social and civil security, we would not have food insecurity. These are concerning. When we fight for democracy, then, we are fighting for food security because farmers are on the farms.

You know, Benue was number one in a number of things not just in the production of yams but in the production of soya beans.

So, we need to get back to this.

I came to save the soul of the poor masses of the state; I came in to assure them that God loves them and that God loves them through democracy so that they can understand they and their children hold the future. So, I came in for the state to have the fullness of democracy and the fullness of life.

In your inaugural speech, you vowed to transform the state, what difference have you made in this regard?

Very true. I declared a state of emergency on our infrastructural basis. Our primary schools are down and as I speak, we have done so much at getting rid of ghost schools. Benue had more ghost schools than the existing functional schools.

Also, Benue had more ghost workers. For instance, we had a ghost school that had 95 teachers and the least teacher on the staff was Grade Level 10, that has been there for a very long time. Just imagine how much the state lost educationally.

What we need in the first month was to save N1 billion and in the second month of our coming on board, we saved close to N3 billion from ghost workers.

We then shifted to the civil service where we saw some other things. The state nearly had more casual staff than permanent staff.

We had to weed out some of them and it is just now that we are coming to terms with reality. That is what we are doing.

That was how we fine tuned the system to work. Having understudied all these in the last nine to ten months, some huge amount of shift is made.

In terms of infrastructure, we are an agrarian state and over 80 percent of the people here are farmers but unfortunately, they were never incentivized to be the best they would be on the farms.

So, we set out to do the roads that could lead from their farms to the market squares and back here to the centre.

We did 16 roads in Makurdi and we are going to announce some 31 roads within the Makurdi township streets. At the same time, other contractors are working on rural roads across the state where we have most of our food production because that is where we want the impact to be first felt.

There are talks that you give contractors 70 percent upfront which is unprecedented in Nigeria but what is the guarantee that they will complete the job having gotten what they want?

We write down that 70 percent be given to them but it is by instalments because of the inflation we have and because of the trust that is built in there.

For the records, we do not give 70 percent. The contractors have built themselves up and also because we have received other testimonials from other states. We also hold them at the jugular; it is not as if we just give them the contracts. It is not true that we give them 70 percent but because the State Executive Council said 70 percent should be given to them because of inflation but then, it is segmented. That is why most contractors are scrambling for Benue State.

Despite submitting report for State Police, what steps are you taking to address the security situation in your state especially in the rural areas?

Before we were ushered in on May 29, 2023, the security reports on our insecurity were horrible and it is also on record that you heard that hundreds of lives were being killed in one local government. Before you took that to heart, you heard of another one. We had tones of these deaths on our hands but since we came in, it is on record that there has been relative peace.

How do we know the indices? By the same security apparatus that we have and by the reports we get from our vigilantes, forest guards and other security apparatus who are working in sync on the security of our people. By the situation report we receive everyday, we are able to measure that. Overall, we have relative peace but at the same time, relative peace does not mean we have absolute people.

We have skirmishes of attacks; of late we had a large number of influx of armed herders that flocked in some local government areas of the state. These local governments are prone to insecurity who share borders with a number of states.

The slogan out there is that Father must continue but there seems to be some dissenting voices. Why do you think some members of your party are against your administration?

Well, in every administration, you expect those who oppose you. I came in with a plan to rebuild our state. Some people do best when there is crisis and there are some political leaders who dug a hole and kept everyone in the state down there and they don’t want anyone to see the light of day. There were no infrastructure and no one knew where the monies given to the state were going to. They did not better anyone’s lives; they took care of their individual families. We have a conscience and we a report card we must present to the people. So, if a select few say they are in charge of the state and that before development comes, they must know, when FAAC allocations come, it must be given to them first. Who does that? The people brought me to the seat, they ensured that I present to them the merits of democracy, they voted me on trust. Let all political gladiators come up with ideologies and not dysfunctionality that will consume everyone. We were created since 1976, where are we? Other states have gone ahead of us.

I have my character and reputation, I came into this game with a defined intention to work with the people and work for the people and accommodate everyone. That is what we will continue to do because at the end of it all, I am going to be responsible for everything.

Some people want the funds to be given to them. I feel it is time everyone gets on board with me. I am for the people, with the people and working for them. The people of Benue gave me their trust.

I am not denying the understanding of doing what we should do by taking care of our statesmen. We have been doing that. I am a moderate person, I don’t need to go on television and say we are giving money to some people, that will be childish. I have hanging on my head and Benue indigenes a huge debt that my predecessors took.

In as much as I agree that there should be opposition, what troubles me are some three individuals who want to be called the APC in Benue State and who want all the funds in the state to be handed over to them. How can we function? We consider the masses and so far, the APC is doing well in the state and we will continue on that part. So, anything short of that, will be detrimental to the state and I am not prepared to settle for less.

Former Governor George Akume is at loggerheads with you, what is your relationship with him and how is it affecting the state? The national leadership of your party also gave an ultimatum that the faction of the APC in your state should withdraw all court cases. Are you distracted with the crisis in APC?

A – For the record, I never took the APC to court and so, the letter is not talking about me. Those who are working for the APC in the state have not taken the party to court. Let that be clear.

I am not distracted in any form or fashion because I came in to the bidding of the party and above all, the people.

We are executing that script, so, there are no distractions whatsoever and that is why I am doing the works I am doing.

In some places, you hear people calling me Mr 25 because their salaries are coming in by then. People need to understand the stability of governance, they worked for it, they earn it, why should we keep it?

As regards my relationship with the SGF, Senator George Akume, for the records, I don’t have any differences with him.

He was the leader of the APC in the state and he endured that everything was done for me to win and we won. There is no way I will talk ill of him or complain. He was the one encouraging me to break all the records of my predecessor.

I am also happy when I read where Akume said he has no problem with me. We don’t have issues but then, it is granted that the social media is new world on its own where some miscreants flourish there.

There is agitation by the NLC over the new minimum wage, is Benue State prepared to key into the new minimum wage?

We are prepared. As one of the sub-nationals, why can’t we be in sync with the entire nation is doing? We must and I am prepared to go for that. Once the minimum wage is agreed upon, we must also follow.

So far, so good, salaries are being paid, we are doing well with the payment of pensions of the people. Their lives are back and I am willing to do some more for them.

What about the state transport service, the Benue Links?

We met nothing on ground, when we came, we saw the need to revamp the establishment. We needed to influence the movement of people who need to go to other parts of the country. This was why we did some investment by buying 100 buses at a time and thank God, it was effective. We subsidized that so that the fuel subsidy removal will not have any effect on the people. I was happy with the result. I am happy that the buses are running to a good number of states.

Apart from stopping the embezzlement of Benue funds, how have you been able to raise money to embark on projects? Also, your predecessor was owing workers, have you been able to pay?

I have not been able to offset the arrears, it is in hundreds of billions of naira, I cannot take care of that now but what I have done is to take care of their salaries. With the pensioners, their situation was more critical but what we are trying to take care of the pensions and continue to scale down. Governance deals with prioritization.

Some people accuse me that because I come from the church and because the church does not have money, we pinch money from the church and then, in governance, I am also pinching money instead of opening the entire treasury for everyone to take what they can take.

I thank the church for giving me such discipline. Without the pinching, you cannot rule the state.

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