It Is Disservice To Classify Middle Belt As Nort —Ochi
Chief (Ambassador) Ochi Ode Emmanuel, Chairman of the Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC) in the South West Nigeria, is a Benue High Chief (Oji Kpururu 1). The integrity ambassador, who has issues concerning the region on his fingertips, spoke to select journalists including the Editorial Director, JAMES IBECHI, lately, on the change of the Middle Belt from its traditional Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform to embrace the change epitomised by the All Progressives Congress (APC). He also spoke specifically on issues concerning Benue State, among others.
The 2015 elections have come and gone, but with a lot of surprises. As one of the leaders of the Middle Belt zone, what do you consider the surprises of the election in the region?
When you talk about surprises, I don’t seem to agree when things are obvious. Going by the way things were in the Middle Belt region and many other parts of the country before the election, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was heading for the rocks. The party’s governors in several states were doing things in impunity. When things were done in that way, there is bound to be negative reactions. Power belongs to the people. The change Nigerians witnessed was done due to the impunity of the powers-that-be in PDP. We were living witnesses to what the political jobbers in PDP were doing both at the state and federal level. They were very cruel and unmindful of the yearnings of the people. They felt that they would always have their way. There is an adage that “Every day is for the thief, and one day is for the owner of the farm”. That adage caught up with the PDP. That was the situation in PDP which controlled states in the Middle Belt, and even in most other states in Nigeria as a whole.
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) seems to have swallowed the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) as it has become the only organisation being beard of in the North. What efforts are being made to resuscitate the Middle Belt Forum to enable the region have a common voice?
The Middle Belt Forum (MBF) was a political organisation formed under the whims and caprices of the Northern oligarchy to perpetuate its grip in Middle Belt as its component. It is in realization of this that we decided to rejuvenate the Middle Belt Traditional Council which is apolitical. I am the leader of the Council in the South West. The aim of the Council is to fight for the recognition of the Middle Belt, both locally and nationally and to be treated as such as an autonomous entity from what used to be known as the North. The North exists and the Middle Belt exists as separate entity. For anybody to classify Middle Belt as North will be doing disservice to himself, the Middle Belt and the country.
Before the elections, pundits gave the Benue governorship to Terhernen Tarzor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But, at the end of the day, Samuel Orton of All Progressives Congress (APC) won. As one of the Benue State leaders, why do you think the election went the way it did?
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leaders having ruled for over 15 years believed that they are already in their comfort zone and there could not be any change. They felt they could do things with impunity. That was their greatest mistake and they paid dearly for it. Ortom was a member of the PDP until less than a month to the election. During the PDP primaries, he was ill-treated and his efforts to make the party’s leadership realise this fell on deaf ears. That was why he jumped ship to the All Progressives Congress (APC). The APC knowing fully well that Ortom has the popular majority support of the people readily welcomed him and handed him the flag of the party. The people had no option than to rally round him to ensure his victory in the gubernatorial election. So, the PDP lost Benue and indeed the Middle Belt because of their disenchantment with the impunity the powers-that-be in the PDP.
Would you say the outgoing governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, really delivered the dividends of democracy in the eight years of his tenure? If so, what are some of his achievements in those years?
When you talk about achievements, during his first term, Suswam tried in a way, which I think, was a deceit, to do what I may consider a whitewash of things to deceive the people to think that he was giving dividends of democracy. Sooner, he came up with his true nature of his trade and he decided to show the people what he wanted, which was servicing his ego and selective in those in his kitchen cabinet. During his campaign, he promised to revitalise the ailing industries, especially the agro-allied industries, because, in Benue is an agricultural state. As I am talking to you, two weeks to the end of his eight years tenure, there is nothing on ground, not even one, to show for his campaign promises. Even some of the agro-allied industries in epileptic situation before he ascended into power, became totally collapsed. Benue State ranked among the most with unemployed youths in Nigeria as a result of the failure on his part to revitalise the ailing agro-allied industries in the state, which would have engaged these youths who are able and ready labour for these industries. I hope that Mr. Ortom will learn from these mistakes of Mr. Gabriel Suswam.
With the PDP in power for 16 years in Benue State and the achievements of Governor Gabriel Suswam, one would have thought that the state would have continued to be controlled by the party. At what point did things go wrong and people began to look the other way?
When politicians come into office, they will try to lay deceitful foundations of projects to endear themselves to the people one way or the other and leave them half way. These are what they wish to use as camouflage to appeal to the people for their second term. But, I see no reasons why such projects should not be completed to their logical conclusion in their first tenure. In their first term, they deceive the people. Once projects get to a point, they will abandon them, later to use them to campaign for second term. Then people will give them the second term then they will begin to do things with impunity and gather money for themselves, because they are already going. That is why, having seen these type of things, some of us are saying that second term should be abolished. The politicians have seen it as a way of amassing wealth for themselves and their cronies.
Considering the multi-ethnic factors in Benue State, don’t you think the inability of Suswam to carry every section along could have cost the PDP the election in the state?
I don’t think multiplicity of the state was a problem. There is strength in unity in diversity. That has nothing to do with Suswam’s failure. His ability to carry along the generality of the people would have made him a good leader.
During the campaigns, there was the issue of the Benue State’s debt profile under Gov Suswam. How real do you think about this and to what extent did it contribute to the loss suffered by PDP in the state?
As of today, Suswam has not said that the Federal Government is owing Benue State any revenue. He has to account for what he has done with the revenue from the Federation Account. Even during campaigns, when he shouted “PDP”, instead of the people to respond “Power”, they would respond “Pay Salary”. When this happened, he would have realised that the people were no longer with him. If Suswam himself and the PDP leaders were truthful to themselves, they would have known that they lost the elections before voting. Besides, Ortom was loved by the people. The mandate was not just given to him because he left PDP. He was one of the preferred candidates in PDP. Members of the party saw some leadership qualities in him. If they were all given a level playing ground during the primary, Ortom would have emerged the PDP candidate. Because there was no level playing ground, he lodged a complain and it was not taken seriously by the National Leadership of PDP, because Governor Suswam had a firm grip of the leadership because of his relationship with Mr President. When Ortom left, he left with his sympathizers. This created a vacuum in PDP, because of the love the people have for Ortom, he had no major obstacle in APC. His close rival even felt that he was overshadowed by the love of the people for Ortom. The destruction of PDP structure worked heavily in favour of Ortom.
Another shocker of the election is the loss of Senatorial seat to Governor Suswam the incumbent senator, Barnabas Gemade. Why do you think Gemade had upper hand over Suswam in that election?
That is very simple. Suswam destroyed the PDP structure in Benue State. About three months to the election, there was an advice given to him to reconstitute this Local Government machinery. The elected Local Government Chairmen, their tenure came to an end on November 27, 2014. He was advised and even pressured to constitute Caretaker Committees that would have anchored the PDP structure in the 23 Local governments in the state. He disregarded that genuine advice. Then three days to the election, it dawned on him that the advice he was given late 2014 was the real issue that would have helped the party or the candidates. So, three days to the election, he hurriedly inaugurated Caretaker Committees in the Local Governments. At that point, it was too late. So, PDP went into the election without any structure on ground. that was why the PDP could not withstand the fire power of APC. That was the greatest undoing of Suswam. It was obvious that he could not withstand the popularity of Gemade, who was a veteran in PDP and was once the party’s National Chairman.
What agenda would you proffer for Samuel Ortom administration in Benue State?
Ortom, today, is been loved by the people. Benue people have freely given him their mandate to govern the state truthfully. He is expected to do just that in executing his campaign programmes. He should learn from the mistakes of the outgoing administration of Suswam. He should be articulate in rolling out his promises. He should as much as possible not bite more than he can chew. He should be selective in the execution of the projects and ensure that every project he embarked upon in his first term should be completed in the first term. The idea of getting up projects to 70 to 80 per cent completion to use it as campaign gimmick for second term is now old fashioned. Ortom should avoid it because people will no longer accept it.
In the spirit of Change, the Middle Belt people have embraced the All Progressives Congress (APC) instead of the PDP where they have belonged to for over 16 years. What is you advice to the Muhammadu Buhari’s incoming Federal Government concerning this shift?
You should not forget that Middle Belt, which was formerly made up of PDP states, is now in APC. Since we have APC at the federal level, one would expect that the zone will be given fair allocation and the Federal Government favourably disposed to the yearnings and aspirations of the people of Middle Belt. This is our expectation from the administration of Muhammadu Buhari.
Considering your influence and experience in public service and business, one would have thought that you would have been part of those running the affairs of Benue State. Why are you shying away from public office?
There is one thing that people misunderstand about leadership. Leadership to me is multifaceted. I will liken this to a mango tree. Somebody must climb the mango tree to pluck the mango fruit. Somebody else must on the ground to gather the plucked mango. Also, somebody may stay far to direct the one on top to where there are ripe mango fruits. There may also be other people, like those who will help to carry the basket of plucked mango fruits. We must not all gather to for leadership. On my part, I can tell you that I am in South West doing legitimate business and giving leadership in Middle Belt and her people. The leadership I am giving here as Chairman of the Middle Belt Traditional Council in South West is leadership by extension to my home state and the Middle Belt as a region. If I don’t do what I am doing here, the Benue indigenes will have no umbrella to run to either in trouble or in happiness. So also the good in Middle Belt living in South West zone. That is why I say that leadership is multifaceted. I use my experience and position to offer advices to those in government.
What is your view on the recent creation of the first-class chieftaincy stools by the outgoing Suswam administration in Benue State?
I understand that the Benue State House of Assembly has passed a bill establishing additional chieftaincy stools in Benue State. I equally understand that the outgoing government of Gabriel Suswam is to appoint some people to fill up those stools being created by the Act. But, I take exception to his appointing his elder brother into the position in his domain. For him to do that, he is trying to use his position to serve his ego. I feel this should not happen. My advice to him is to avoid appointing his elder brother into one of the newly created stools in the state.
For the Idoma zone, the government should set up a committee that will not be filled with political jobbers to screen the eligible candidates. In doing that, they should carry the communities concerned along to avoid acrimonies in the selection of the candidates to be appointed. If they adopt political solution, it will create severe problems in communities who will be a disservice to the people, even though the idea is a welcome development.