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Jev: Benue tried APC, but PDP became beautiful bride

Senator Orker Emmanuel Yisa Jev is the Senator representing Benue North West. In this interview with LEO SOBECHI, he speaks on the challenge of defeating former governor of Benue

Our Politics Is Still One Of Patronage
• Anti-open Grazing Bill Has Worked For Benue State

Senator Orker Emmanuel Yisa Jev is the Senator representing Benue North West. In this interview with LEO SOBECHI, he speaks on the challenge of defeating former governor of Benue State and political leader of All Progressives Congress (APC) Senator George Akume, stressing that the farmers/herders crises posed serious danger for food production.

Your journey from the Green to the Red Chamber was a tortuous one can you relieve the experience?
TORTUOUS is the correct word you used. It has never been a straightforward journey at all. A year before the election took place; if anyone had told me I was going to become the next Senator of Benue North West, I would have called him a joker, because I never set out to contest.

You know in Benue State, particularly amongst the Tiv people, zoning is taken very seriously. It can mar or make somebody; no matter how good you are, if you come from the wrong zone, it could create a whole set of problems for you. This senate seat was supposed to come from my own area since 2007, going by the zoning arrangement. But Senator Akume, who then was sitting as the governor of Benue State came and asked that it should be loaned to him, so he can come to the Senate.

You know almost every governor would like to come to the Senate. Recently, in the course of a debate, one former governor in the Senate said it was a place for cooling-off for the governors. So, he (Akume) wanted to come and cool off. The people said ‘since you are our son, we will give it to you’. Normally, that was not expected to go beyond eight years. But somehow, it lasted for 12 years and at a point, the people said, ‘give back what belongs to us’. And they felt I was the most prepared for that assignment and he fought, he never wanted to relinquish it. At the end of the day, I got it. As I said, zoning is taken very seriously. This is just a summary; it has been very tortuous; it has not been a straightforward

From the nature of politics in Benue North West, most people, especially in APC see the former governor, as the alter ego of the party and as a political godfather, is that assertion real?

Not many politicians in Benue State are as blessed as him. You know he has been governor for eight years, he has been a Senator and rose to be minority leader, in the process he has touched a lot of people and you cannot take that away from him.

Our politics here is politics of patronage if you have held position and touched peoples’ lives; you have a lot of advantages. To that extent, you will be right to call him that. I think with social media, people are getting more enlightened and they are demanding more beyond personal patronages. People are asking more fundamental questions now more than ever before, with that they are tasking those of us sent to represent them more than ever before and that is the challenge that all of us face. Do not think that you can come home and do “amala” politics and people will be clapping. The younger generation would want to discuss more fundamental issues than just mere survival.

Is your electoral victory more of the fact that you are a giant killer or as a result of people’s rejection of Senator Akume’s 12 years in the Senate?
Am I the best person to answer that question? At the risk of sounding immodest, I think I have paid my dues. I am not the first person that challenged him, he has been challenged before in the past, but I am the first person that was successful.
At least, I should be given a little credit despite the other inherent issues.

So whether it is an indictment or not is not for me to say. What I know is that I presented myself and for once, people preferred me over and above him. Some people presented themselves before, but they were knocked out. This time it was different.

The incidences of farmer/herdsman clashes gained currency in Benue State. How far has it gone to defining the politics and relationships in the state?
The Constitution in Section 12 sub-section 2(b) says the primary responsibility of any government is the welfare and security of the people. If you look at the security architecture of Nigeria, the governors are like puppets, because even the commissioner of police will not take orders from the governor, not to talk of the army. Even though they sit in the Security Council, the commissioner of police will, for instance, get out and call his bosses at Abuja and get confirmation before they act on the directives of the Chief Security Officer of the state.

So to that extent, it rests squarely on the Presidency and the Federal Government to protect people across Nigeria, until we alter things as some people have been calling for state police, neighbourhood watch or community policing.

Until you have that, you cannot hold any governor, not just Benue State governor, responsible for serious security breakdown. Let me give the President his due on the matter of the attacks. I do not as the farmers/herders’ clash. They are basically invasions and the invasions have subsided because of the security outfit that has been sent to contain it, but it is not yet in Ohuru.

Benue State is known as the food basket of the nation. A large chunk of the population is engaged in agriculture, but just as you enter Makurdi, dotting the landscape, you will see IDP camps. These are people who cannot go back to their farms, especially those who are in the border communities, if they go back, these people are now engaging in guerrilla tactics, as it were, they will come and attack and retreat.

So these people are not set to go back to the villages. We have another time bomb of hunger on our land. If they cannot even feed themselves and they are relying on charity to feed themselves, how will they even feed the nation? This is a state that is supposed to be feeding other parts of the country and they will have to come up with better strategies to ensure that these people get back and are resettled in their homelands, otherwise we will still have issues.

The anti-open grazing bill was greeted with public acquiescence when it was introduced. But since state governors do not own prisons or police to enforce it, how can the law be made effective?
I spoke with the governor on that and so let us give them their dues, they have to some extent been cooperating. A lot of arrests had been made. At the time the governor was speaking, over 300 suspects had been arrested and a few had been convicted and sentenced. So to that extent, we cannot be denying everything, the law has been working and the number of people or herders trooping into our territory has not been eliminated, but largely subsided. So, the law has not been a waste of time. The results are there for all to see that that piece of legislation has brought some ray of hope for the farming community.

Concerning border/land disputes, how do you think inter-communal clashes and border clashes can be averted?
I do not think everything can be resolved by legislation. For instance, regarding the Benue/Taraba crisis, both governors are not resting on their oars. If you recall, three weeks or a month back another meeting was held. That one was at the behest of President Muhammadu Buhari. The way everybody sounded because I was there, it is clear that they were tired of fighting.

You cannot resolve these things by continuing to slug it out on the battlefield, because no matter how good a piece of legislation is, if it is ignored, it is ignored; the matter has not been resolved. But when you talk amongst yourselves, even the world wars were never won alone on the battlefield. You fight and you come back and talk and you still have to be talking as you fight. I think we should not overemphasize the place of legislation in every conflict that faces us as a nation.

Benue State has tried two parties, APC and PDP, where do you think the fortune of the state is better preserved?
As it was, Benue State clearly abandoned the PDP in 2015. Even the then governor (Gabriel Suswan) lost his Senatorial bid. But along the way, we all believed that the APC under President Muhammadu Buhari was the best thing for Nigeria.
Unfortunately when he took over, along the line, we came under severe attacks. And clearly, the people of Benue State had the impression that they were not well treated by this government and so it became a matter of survival.

Like I pointed out earlier, the whole essence of any government by Section 12: 2b is the welfare and security of the people. They are right to feel disappointed and so the PDP became the beautiful bride, that was why in the last election, in the whole of the National Assembly positions, APC has only one member from nearly 10 in 2015, ditto for the State Assembly, they have five or six out of 30. So, clearly the people have rejected the APC because they have not protected them.

So, for now, our fortunes are better preserved with the PDP and that is how democracy always is. If you go to America, people will vote for Republican, if after four years they discover their misgivings, they will try the other party and if after some time, they discover that you started well, but you have deviated, they will try the other party they rejected earlier.

It is not restricted to our environment in Benue State or even in Nigeria, because the argument I brought could also be applied in the larger society as PDP was rejected even at the federal level.

As for the Federal Government, I think unity should have no political coloration; the problems that we face are not based on partisanship. They are there irrespective of party affiliations or even whether you are apolitical. If the bandits see you on the road, sometimes they shoot without asking questions, they do not care whether you belong to PDP or APC. So the problems that face us, even though there could be partisan element, but largely, we all need to be united on certain things. We need unity in this country, we need security and other things that will make everybody realise their true-life ambitions.

What critical issues would bring positive contrast to the past 12 years in Benue North West senatorial district?
If you go to the House of Representatives website for the 12 years that I was there, on my page, my legislative preferences were rural development and youth empowerment, that was then. Buruku, which I represented in the House of Representatives for almost 12 years, is almost 99 per cent rural setting even the local government is a rural environment.

So it made sense to talk largely about it. If you come to Benue North West, it is a metropolitan environment, the state capital and the headquarters of the Tiv nation, Gboko, are there. So if we continue with rural development alone, we are alienating a big chunk of the population.

I know that youth unemployment is a time bomb and every day I wake up I am reminded sometimes by the pressure of the youths, who will ordinarily engage themselves in more productive activities if they were employed. But because they are not, I tell myself, you can’t blame them. I think trying to get these youths gainfully engaged will be my priority.

But I always say, let us not forget that I am a legislator and not the executive. If I was in the executive and decide to sign a contract for tomorrow it will be done and if I decide that tomorrow’s money will be allocated here, the project will start immediately, it can be done.

As a legislator, you are hamstrung by the fact that you have a limit to what you can do. Basically, the constitution in Section 4 says ours is law making, oversight, and representation. Even the idea of the constituency project is controversial. Some people oppose it and they say that a legislator has no business doing infrastructure.

Yet if you go back home the people will not be impressed if you tell them that you sponsored 100 bills without any infrastructure for them to see, they will say ‘na bill we go chop?’ So we have to balance that by partnering with other agencies of government to see that we attract projects, not just those directly allocated to us as our constituency projects.