Chief Ochi Emmanuel Ode is the Chairman of the Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC). In this interview with EJIKEME OMENAZU, he spoke on the recent killings in Plateau State and other parts of the region as well as the state of the region since the advent of the current administration.
After two and half years of change of guards in all the states in the Middle Belt, how do you see governance in the region?
It is disheartening what is happening in Nigeria today. Nigerians did not bargain for this. The issue of the Middle Belt is pathetic because they have given so much to this country, Nigeria. Up till now, they have not seen the effects in terms of Federal Government’s presence or in terms of security care. That is why the citizens of Middle Belt are being killed like fowls on daily basis with nothing being done to safeguard their lives and properties in the region. The governors in the Middle Belt seem not to know what to do. It will also not be right for people to take laws into their hands.
Those saddled with the responsibility to give real and purposeful leadership seem to have failed. It is not worthwhile for the fate of these people to be left in the hands of wicked attackers on daily basis. The governors should wake up on their responsibility of seeking and providing security for the people. That is the essence of governance. The governors in the Middle Belt are not up and doing to provide security. They should protect the people. But, they rather allowed the people to be attacked only for them to shed crocodile tears and two days after, they go to sleep.
Is it not possible for the governors and political leaders in the region to meet and take a stand on the security situation in the area?
It is not about taking a stand. It is about taking responsibility for what is happening. Should there be killings in the first place? What is needed is action by those who are supposed to take the action. The Middle Belt people are peace loving. They do not want to take laws into their hands. They expect people in authority to protect them, take proper action to safeguard their lives. If they cannot do that, they should tell the whole world that they are incapacitated.
How do you see the Anti-Open Grazing Act in Benue State? Do you think this will succeed bearing in mind the opposition against it so far?
The law establishing Anti-Open Grazing Act is put in place to stem or eradicate the issue of the farmers’ and herdsmen attacks that have led to avoidable deaths and destruction of properties. Therefore, anyone or group against the law that has been duly established to protect the people should be seen as the enemy of the state and should be treated as such. There should be security of lives and properties. It is when there is security that there will be co-existence and development. Anybody who is kicking or doing anything to undermine that law should be treated an enemy of the state. They should sound that loud and clear without any element of ambiguity for everybody to adhere to.
Despite the bail-out funds and the Paris Club refunds, some of the states in the region are still owing salaries, some for upwards of six months. Why is this so? What so you think is the solution to this salary issue in these states?
The Federal Government’s anti-corruption agents, especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should probe the bail-out funds. Any governor found culpable should either resign or be impeached. Such a governor is unfit to manage the resources of the state.
But, the state governments want the Federal Government to pay the remaining 50% of the Paris Club Refund, even when they cannot justify what they did with the first tranche as the workers are still being owed. What is your take on this?
The issue of Paris Club refund is a constitutional matter. In the first place, the Federal Government has no legal basis to hold on to the states’ share of the Paris Club refund. But, what is the intention of the state governors that are asking for the balance? Do they want to use it judiciously? They are expected to use it for the benefit of the people, including payment of their workers’ salaries. The money is not meant for them to be undertaking frivolous trips abroad on the excuse that they are looking for investors, during which they squander the money. That is why their requests are questionable.
On the way out, the state governments should be made to have special account for the Paris Club refund. They should keep records of their disbursements on the fund. This will ensure accountability and proper management of the fund. Also the anti-graft agencies should monitor the state governments’ spending and disbursements on the fund. This is an abnormal situation, but the governors do not have interests of the masses at heart.
How successful would you say is the Gov. Samuel Ortom’s agricultural and rural development policy?
There is nothing happening in Benue State in terms of infrastructure or anything tangible. Benue is like a ghost state. The condition of the state is pathetic. Workers are not being paid. The multiplier effect is grievous on the people of the state. There is nothing tangible happening in the areas of agriculture and rural development as the governor promised.
Gov Samuel Ortom recently told people calling on him to declare his second term vision that he would speak on that by the end of the year after waiting on the Lord to give him the leading. Do you think he should go for second term?
People urging him to return are those feeding from the crumbs. Is it the people he has been owing salaries that will vote for him to continue? Let Governor Ortom pray for God to give him money to pay the Benue workers before he prays for his second term vision.
What is your assessment of the Yahaya Bello administration in Kogi State?
Just like the other governors in the Middle Belt, Yahaya Bello has not been doing well. Any governor that is not doing well should not be voted in again. When a team is not winning, it is deserves an automatic change. There will likely be change of guards in all the states in the Middle Belt come 2019.
What is your advice for the Middle Belt people?
The people of the Middle Belt should grapple with the realities on ground and forge a united front. There is no other ripe time than now. The more united they are, the better for them to harness their potentials.