‘MIDDLEBELT GOVS NOT DOING ENOUGH’
Chairman of the Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC), Ambassador Ochi Ode Emmanuel , has never hidden his desire for the people of the region to enjoy improved life. Ochi, who holds sway in the South West Nigeria, in this interview with EJIKEME JOSEPH and JAMES IBECHI, took a swipe at the state governors in the region for not doing enough to give the people the dividends of democracy as promised during the electioneering campaign, but have continued to cry over lack of funds while the people suffer.
Sir, how do you see the developments in Kogi State since the death of the former governor and the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu?
The case of Kogi election handled by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is a real test of the Nigerian democratic platform. Because the Nigerian democracy is evolving and has not come of age, the development is not healthy. The Nigerian constitution (as amended) is unfortunately not aware of such occurrences where a candidate dies in the course of an election. So, there was no where it addressed such a lacuna. Here are we getting to the river to find that we are not prepared to cross it. No document is perfect, but the current crisis where Benue is now without a deputy governor leaves much to be desired.
Having said that, those at the helm of affairs, the electoral body, should have gone straight to the Supreme Court for interpretation. But the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, who is politically biased hastily made pronouncements to favour his ruling party. To me, I am a supporter of due process of law. It is APC today, tomorrow, it may be another party. Once an established reference is made, not on the basis of political party or who the power rests, the Nigerian state will be better. But now, the situation has been compounded and this is not good for us as a nation.
As a leader and a High Chief in the Middle Belt, I am worried because this problem will linger for a long time and this will impede real development in Kogi State and our people will bear the brunt. The people of Kogi State will suffer this lacuna and it is unfortunate.
When a fire starts little and it can be easily quenched, you do not allow it to go to the roof top where you have to climb the house to quench it. The INEC should have postponed the conclusion of the election when Prince Audu died, and go to the Supreme Court so that it will get a fast hearing to lay to rest all speculations and suggestions from all interested parties. If anyone tells you that Alhaji Yaya Bello will have rest of mind to settle down to work, he must be kidding. So, the mess has not been cleared. The right thing should be done so that Kogi people will witness true democracy. It is not too late.
How would you assess the progress of the Middle Belt states since the current administration took over? So far, would you say the state governors are meeting the people’s expectations?
The current state of the Middle Belt region is still deplorable. I was speaking with someone who works with an arm of government in Benue and he said the change they desire has not come to pass. He stressed that that it seems that the status quo in area of workers’ welfare, neglect of social infrastructure seems to be the order of the day. Even with the bailout, today, salaries of some ministries and parastatals are being owed for months. If this is true, one will wonder where we are heading to and when this hardship on our people will end. The masses voted for change hoping that their welfare and well being will be paramount to government. Now, we can liken the situation to that of from frying pan to fire. I pity them.
The issue of dwindling oil revenue is no longer news. So, it will not be right for the Middle Belt governments to hide under that to perpetrate denial of their staff salaries. Even if they are not embarking on development projects, the recurrent overhead should be properly managed as to not depriving the workers their workers their take home pay. The result of this is a multiplier effect of parents that cannot train their children, those in school will drop out and turn out to be security risk in the nearest future. It is a sad development.
The Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, has continued to cry of lack of fund, blaming the situation on the Gabriel Suswam’s eight-year rule. How do you see these complains of the administration?
If you continue to think about yesterday, you can hardly see today and tomorrow. That argument is not tenable. Ortom came in and assumed duty. He swore by the constitution to find solution to what he thinks are the lingering problems.
Former Minister of the Interior, Abba Moro, and former Governor Gabriel Suswam have continued to be a torn in the flesh of Gov Samuel Ortom. Would you say their attacks on the governor are fair?
For every criticism… if someone says I am not doing well enough, I will check myself. I will try to change. Criticisms are not bad. It will put you on the right pedestal all the time and make one to be on alert and improve oneself for change. Criticisms have nothing to do with inaction.
How would you see the Supreme Court’s ruling validating the election of Gov Samuel Ortom?
I have all along been saying that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate was playing to the gallery. He was anchoring his case on the allegation that Ortom was not properly elected to be the APC flag bearer when he is not a member of APC. Even if you remove Ortom, can he inherit the vote of Ortom? His complaints were misplaced. I was not surprised that the Supreme Court confirmed the verdict of the Appeal Court.
How far has the Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC) gone in its desire to bring the Middle Belt Governors under one umbrella?
We have made some moves in that direction. The MBTC is working hard to actualize her dream in respect of this.
Have the South West governors responded positively to the demands of the MBTC that the Middle Belt indigenes be offered positions in their governments?
We have not really achieved that. There is every hope that we will achieve this dream. But, all hope is not lost. The platform we are working on is still open for dialogue and we are moving. By the grace of God, e hope to get hearing and support. We are bonafide stakeholders of the Western states. Our voices must be heard. When you want to bring in new ideas into a system that has been there for years, you must know there are bound to be discordant voices against the changes. In Africa and Nigeria, tribalism, nepotism is practiced even at the highest level. Even though we were given some listening ears, doubts still abound. We are not relenting in the push. When we mooted this idea, we know we were going against established norm. we have no reason to pretend that there would not be resistance. We will persist. At the end of the day, our children may be gainfully employed in any area of their expertise in establishments in the states.
February 20, the people of the Benue South Senatorial District will conduct a bye-election to pick their Senator. Some people feel that David Mark has overstayed at the Senate, while others say that his strongest opponent, Daniel Onjeh of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is too young? What is your view?
The issue is not if the APC candidate is young. It is not a matter between the young and old, but quality representation. If the truth must be said, David Mark, despite some of his short comings, should be given his time to complete his tenure, which is the last of its kind in the Senate. To me, Onjeh, in terms of experience and wherewithal, cannot be a match for David Mark. But that is not to say that I am against his candidature. David Mark has not done much for his people. He occupied the position of Number Three man in Nigeria for eight years. It was stated that during his tenure as Senate President, he was indeed the de facto president as being rumoured in certain circles. If that is the case, he has not done much for the Middle Belt, or even his people in Benue. Roads to his senatorial district and Benue State are death traps. The presence of the Federal Government establishments in the state is nothing to write home about. Though leadership is not about selfishness, but it will not be counted as selfishness if he was able to attract several establishments to his state as Number One most powerful man in the Federal Government for eight solid years. Majority of Onjeh’s supporters want to vote against Mark because he did not do much for eight years he was Number Three or Number One henchman of the Federal Government.
In fact, it was an open secret that Mark was very loyal to President Jonathan. While all the major characters were leaving the party for the opposition, he tagged along with him, and attended almost all public functions with him. But, he hoped that Jonathan would have taken the advice of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and other elders that he should not go for second term, but should let the North take the slot. He had hoped that if Jonathan had agreed to step down, the road would have been clear for him to step in as the PDP presidential candidate as he was the most powerful man from the North. He would have been the one Jonathan would have handed over to. But Jonathan insisted to go for second term. Even now, his continued stay at the Senate may be to gather more financial muscle and to remain relevant as a powerful PDP leader so that he can be considered for the presidential ticket come 2019. But the issue of leadership is that of service. The Benue people and indeed Middle Belt need service. The age of bags of rice and salt are gone.
How do see the alleged misuse of funds meant for arms purchase by the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd)?
The Dasukigate…In this country, the man that is caught stealing is the thief. The truth is that since the inception of democracy in Nigeria, the situation has been such that security votes are being mismanaged. Right from the Presidency to the Local Government Chairmen, security votes are not audited and are used according to the whims and caprices of those in power. What has happened has been happening over the years. It is not new in the system. But, it is unfortunate.
Some politicians are mooting the idea of an alliance between the South East and the Middle Belt for the stability of the polity. How would you see such arrangement?
It is better for Nigeria to remain in its original form. The Middle Belt has been providing the checks and balances. It is better for it to remain like that. No political alliance will unseat the role of the Middle Belt in Nigeria. We work for the good of the country and should remain as we are if Nigeria will remain as one nation. In politics, anything can happen. What led to the present situation in Nigeria is the injustice perpetrated by the PDP. The interest in politics is give and take. It is not permanent. Let people not be carried away by the current structure the current structure is a necessity to put Nigeria back on its feet. Such alliance cannot work because you cannot change the political equation in Nigeria now. So, it will never work.
What are your last words? What advice would you proffer to the Federal Government?
My advice is in the area of the fight against corruption. The issue of corruption has to be fought across board. If the government is not doing that, they have not started. By across board, I mean that it should be fought no matter the political leaning. It should not be a PDP affair. Every Nigerian must fight corruption. Fighting corruption must be holistic. So far, it has not been so. People still see the present crusade as being skewed against PDP. I feel that APC ex-governors should also be probed. Petitions have been written against some people. If there are elements of truth in them, they should send them to the to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to vet, and if possible, prosecute such people.