JONATHAN AJA IJI, grassroots mobiliser whose centerpiece of development has remained Igedeland since growing up is in the race to become Oju LG chairman. In this interview with he says he will forgo his salaries to have Awajir-Oju road reconstructed. He also speaks on his plans for the LG, among other issues.
You are in the race to be chairman of Oju LGC. Why do you want to be the chairman?
The zoning favours me. Besides, I am a grassroots politician and I believe I have something to give my people to move us forward to add value to the efforts of His Excellency the Governor of Benue State and also to enable my people see the dividends of democracy in our land.
On which party platform are you contesting?
Am contesting on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
You are from Ainu Council Ward. Your own brother, Austine Okwoche, has just resigned from being a sole administrator of the LG to enable him contest for the same seat of chman, how have you assessed his performance in office? And why do you want to contest against him?
When we talk of elective position, it has to do with zoning. We have been practising that for a very long time in our land. If you go to Ainu, the clan has two divisions – that’s the Okeke and Oguda. We have seven traditional vilages in Ainu. Zoning in the place revolves around the vilages. The ex-sole administrator’s interest to is not bad as an individual, but I think we are going to have understanding at the end because his own brother, Hon. Jonah Okwuche, was elected to the state House of Assembly. So the LG seat is another political elective post and it is coming to Okeke this time around. So if we talk of Okeke axis of Ainu, we are talking about Obotu, Obi and Itikpala. Obi has had its slot already. So the battle is supposed to be between the Obotu and Itikpala people. That is how we do our own local zoning arrangement in the entire Ainu.
Are you saying you are from Itikpala?
No, I am from Obotu, which is the most senior clan of Okeke and second in command in Ainu.
In the current edition of the CongressVoice, the ex-sole administrator reportedly performed below expectations. Is it also one of the reasons you want to contest against him?
Well, am coming out necessarily because of the zoning. I don’t know how much had been given to him in terms of allocation or other grants. So I won’t judge whether he had performed well or not.
But it beats our sensibility if as an aspirant you do not have an idea of what goes into the local government coffers as allocation or revenue?
I met with Hon. Okwoche on several occasions and advised him to go on with little projects; one project or the other and also enable the party sit up. Then to also convince the general public that at least the party is on ground. But I am hearing some complaints that the money is not there, so that is the only complaint I have heard from him. Supposing he had the money he would perform, according to him. That is why I can’t judge.
The general economic depression is still biting harder at the local government and the state level. Now local government elsewhere in the federation are looking outside the box. So if you are elected the chairman of Oju Local Government Council, how do you intend to generate revenue and not rely on what will come from the federal allocation?
I am trying to work on the Oyongo Waterworks so that we will be able to generate revenue from there. Oyongo Waterworks will generate lot of employments and revenue to the local government. The same way we have been planning for our own university, by the time I mobilise our stakeholders to actualise that dream. The economy of that area will be able to generate useful revenue that can take the local government to another level.
Are you saying that the proposed Agba University will be established by the local government or by private hands?
It’s going to be established by private hands but as far as I am concerned if I am elected as a chairman I will mobilise the facilitators to actualize the dream.
How will the entire council benefit from the university if it eventually comes through?
Yes, it will boost the economy of that area and also we will be having our revenue from the workers, the institution itself and also the market women around the place will be able to generate one or two naira to see that our revenue is in the increase.
You are a youth and it has come to disturb the entire populace in Oju that youth performance as local government administrators in the recent past has not been very commendable to the extent that people are now looking at it that they won’t allow youth to be at the herm of affair in the local government, so how are you going to be different?
I am a different youth, a youth with ambition, vision. So I am not going there to make money, I am going there to save my people. I have plan and agenda. I have the call to serve. If I get there my time will be different from other youths that you have seen in the system in the past.
What do you have as your own assessment of the current administration of Governor Samuel Ortom especially as it relates to the local government development?
Well, we all know that Nigeria as a state is facing economic crises at the moment. To my assessment he is trying to put more things together. It is not easy to just get the power and then do what you wish to do, no. The former administration owed a lot of money before the advent of this government and there is that need for him to clear all the arrears before he thinks of how to move forward. I give him kudos for most of his projects that are ongoing in the state. The international airport is ongoing, it is also a cargo airline that will boost the economy of this state. We have so many roads which construction are ongoing, if you go to Oju now many road projects are ongoing and I also believe that in a short time from now other things will follow. The Oju-Achoho road will be constructed by His Excellency because I heard him promise that he will do that.
When was the promise to repair Oju-Achoho road made?
That was at the funeral of Prof. Dave Ikoni’s mother. He said he would look into it and I know that is the governor that has the people in his mind.
If you are elected the local government chairman, and I know that the road you meant to say, Awajir-Oju, is one of the areas that distorting to Oju people because of the extent of its dilapidation. How will you remind the governor or make sure he acts out his promise?
That is one of the things that will be my major discussion with him on daily basis, even if it means I am not paid my salaries and the road is put in order I will be satisfied. That road is the only major road that we have in Igede land and it is the only road that people pass on daily basis to the state headquarter.
So if I am elected as a chairman I will disturb the governor to ensure it is done.
Apart from your outlined revenue policies, can you tell us how else you intend to drive or yield revenue to the local government? What else are your plans in specific terms?
Prompt payment of salaries to the workers by the grace and there will be a lot of rural road construction. I will think of how to remordernise Oju in particular and if possible we will look into the market, put the structure in order.We will if possible have access to potable water directly in our homes, because this borehole does not help us. It causes all sorts of diseases such as typhoid and others. So there will be very good and potable water if I am elected as the chairman.
Let us move to current issues of the selection of traditional rulers especially in Zone C. What is your assessment of the ongoing selection process and how do you think that if you come in, you can add value?
Personally, if I get there as a chairman before the election is conducted my impulse will be there. It will be free and fair.
If am also elected, I will build a palace for first class chief before the coronation, it is one of my major projects. I have been saying it and thanks to God that the dream is coming to pass even before I get there. I will put a very good befitting structure in place. I will cooperate with the first class-chief. I will cooperate with the chairman from Obi local government to see that the befitting house is built for the first class chief.
So where do you really earmarked for the palace?
Until I get there.
Finally, again, why do you think that you are the candidate and the right person to beat in the forthcoming local government election?
I have contested for state assembly sometimes ago and I had to drop because of the rezoning that favoured Idede at the rerun of Obotu constituency. I obeyed my people and I withdrew from the race. This time, around the zoning has now come to my place and if you want to follow the true zoning it is supposed to come directly to my own clan, Obotu of Ainu council ward. This time around I believe that I should have good support to make me win.