‘Nigeria’s security architecture made state governors puppets’
Senator Emmanuel Yisa Orker Jev is the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Legal Matters and Human Rights. In this interview with LEO SOBECHI he says there is a limit to legislation in curbing insecurity, including inter-communal cum border clashes. He lamented that Nigeria’s security architecture rendered state governors as puppets, stressing that unless certain sections of the nation’s constitution were altered the situation would remain the same.
• Benue, Taraba States’ battle weary, ready for truce, says Jev:
Would you say democracy has yielded positive dividends for the country?
There was a point in the history of this country; if you recall in 1983, I think December 31; when the military took over power. There was wild jubilation across the land. If you read the newspapers, people talked about soldiers, saying that the military should take over.
Even though things may not be going smoothly as people expect, I do not think that Nigerians are out there canvassing for military take over, which means that somehow we are beginning to accept that this kind of government is better suited for the people.
They can abuse me for instance, if they feel I am not doing well, especially in this age of ICT (Information and Communication Technology), when the social media is accessible to everybody. They can even abuse the President.
So, even that ventilation will make you feel like a better human being. You cannot ventilate under a military dictatorship.
We are talking to each other, airing our views and the government cannot ignore that when they know that this is what the majority of the people want. So for me, it is a step forward; we have not gotten there, but the path is not as rocky as we had it under military dictatorship.
Do you think the current debate over the issue of cost of governance that rising cost is enough to support calls to abolish the legislature?
If you can do without the legislators, let the soldiers take over. Corruption is the issue. There is no way you will have legislators and not pay them. There is no way you will get people elected and not pay them. In fact, if anything, that will encourage corruption the more.
What we should do is to put in more structures; for instance, one of the areas that have lots of corruption is the area of procurement. Let me give you an example. If a local government is constructing a building block like this, maybe they will tell you N10million; they will build it comfortably to standard. But if the State Government is putting up the same building, they will quote N25 million, the same standard as the local government.
If it is the Federal Government, they may tell you N100 or N200 million. So, it is about corruption. If you eliminate corruption you will see that people will not bother so much about who is taking this pay or that much.
You see, Abuja is largely owned by civil servants not even politicians. A politician will build a house; tomorrow he sells it and becomes a pauper. But you will see a civil servant bidding and giving him N10million; yet he has N1billion worth of estate somewhere.
It is corruption that is the bane of our development not the pay that people talk about. The whole budget of the National Assembly used to be N150billion, but it came down to N130billion the last time and that is not for legislators. It is not like that, you have the administrators, and you have over 3000 aides there.
But you will discover that somebody alone will take N1billion, N2billion somewhere within the administration. So our biggest problem is corruption, which we should be fighting.
In the 8th National Assembly, some of your colleagues, I think 70 of them; advocated for a change from Presidential to parliamentary system. What do you make of that?
These are mere appellations. Like I said earlier, whether we go back, we have tried that before. In 1978, some people for some reasons, suggested Presidential system, we have tried the parliamentary system and some people now want us to go back to it.
The same arguments were there, which made us leave the parliamentary system. We had very wise men, who sat together and after studying the systems, going to England, America and other places; came and recommended the presidential system. It is not about systems, it is about how we operate them ourselves.
Within the last two years the incidence of farmer/herdsman clash gained currency in Benue State, how do you think this has gone to define politics and relationships in the state?
The constitution in Section 12, sub-section 2b, says that the primary responsibility of any government is the welfare and security of the people. And, going by the security architecture of Nigeria, the governors are puppets, because even the commissioner of police will not take orders from the governor, not to talk of the army.
Even though they are sitting together in a security meeting with the governor presiding, the Commissioner of Police will, for instance, step 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 (security matters) rests squarely on the Presidency, the Federal Government, to protect people across Nigeria. Until we alter things in the constitution, the situation may not change.
Some people have been calling for state police and until we allow that, by whatever appellation, whether you call it neighbourhood watch or community policing, the situation will remain.
Until you have that you cannot hold a state governor, 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 like the farmers/herders clash. They are basically invasions and the invasions have subsided because of the security officials that have been sent to contain it. But it is not yet ‘Uhuru’.
As you know, 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 IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons’) camps. These are people who cannot go back to their farms, especially those who are along 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.
And so, these people are not set to go back to the villages. We have another time bomb of hunger on our hands. 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. They 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.
One novel initiative of Benue State Government was the anti-open grazing legislation. Knowing that state governors do not own prisons or the police, how can such laws be executed in such circumstances?
I spoke with the governor on that and he said the Police have been cooperating. 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 totally eliminated, but it has largely subsided. As such, the law is not a waste of time and the results are there for all to see that that piece of legislation has brought a ray of hope for the farming community.
From the point of view of legislation, how do you think inter-communal and border clashes could be arrested?
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 the President. The way everybody sounded, because I was there, they were battle weary. You cannot resolve these things by continuing to slug it out on the battlefield.
So that is the best way to approach it, 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 among 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; so I think we should not overemphasize legislation in every conflict that faces us as a nation.
It is alleged that failure by lawmakers to undertake constant constituency consultations make some of these simmering issues to conflagrate, how do you react to that?
I always like to answer my father’s name, when it comes to matters like that. I cannot say that every legislator goes back to do what is expected of him. But on my part, I endeavour to do that. Everybody should be encouraged because every legislator is supposed to be in touch with his or her constituents, otherwise what are you representing? If you do not know what your people stand for, what they are going through, what their aspirations are, then are you are wasting your time.
It should not be only during elections that you go to them and begin to sweet talk. I can only appeal for those who do not do so, but like I said, I try to engage in constant constituency consultations and it is part of my staying power.
When people know you are in touch with them, they would even your inadequacies as well, so they do not assume a lot of things. If they do not know, they would assume a lot of things like he bought a jet in Abuja, he has bought a house in South Africa but when you go home and you interact with them; they know exactly what you stand for, most of those things will be eliminated.
Federal legislators face two challenges, the relationship between National Assembly and the Presidency on one hand and relationship with their governors on the other. How can they ensure harmony with the Presidency and their governors?
Let me start by saying that the legislature is the most misunderstood arm of government largely because, like I constantly say, the soldiers who were 30 years, when they took over, eliminated the legislature and government carried on. And up until now, some people still have the impression that even without the legislature, you could still run the government.
What they forget is that if you take out the legislature, there will be no democracy and your freedom will be curtailed and primed by the dictators. So people need to understand the workings of the legislator.
Even though we are in a different arm of government, we are supposed to check and balance the other arms. Yet we are not a government unto ourselves, we need to find that balance.
We oversee, check and balance the executive arm of government at the federal level. But back home if you are in complete harmony with your state, it will aid what you are doing. This is because there are certain things you cannot do on your own and may need to fall back on the governor, who may have better influence in certain areas.
There are certain things a governor cannot reach, but as a legislator, the governor would run to you and you can take it up at the national level. So, such interdependence should be there both in the state and at the national level and between the legislative and executive arms of government.
Yours was a tortuous journey from the Green Chamber to the Red chamber, what was the experience like?
Tortuous is the correct word you used. It has never been a straightforward journey at all. A year before the election; 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’s political life; 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, right from the year 2007 was supposed to come from my own area by the zoning arrangement, but Senator George Akume, who was by then the incumbent governor of Benue State, came and asked for it as a loan, if you like, to come to the Senate. Normally, you know almost every governor would like to come to the Senate.
Recently, one of the former governors in the Senate said it (the Senate) is a place for cooling off for governors, I will not name him; it is in the public domain. So Akume wanted to come and cool off. The people acknowledged him as our son, and said, we will give it to you.
Normally, that was not expected to have gone beyond eight years. But somehow, it lasted for 12 years and at a point, the people said no, give back what belongs to us and they felt I was the most prepared for that assignment. He never wanted to relinquish it, but at the end of the day I got it.
Like I said, zoning is taken very seriously. This is just a summary of the process and it has been very tortuous; it has not been a straightforward fight.
Given the nature of politics in Benue North West, especially in APC, former governor Akume is seen as the alter ego of the party and 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 and to that extent, you are 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. They are tasking those of us sent to represent them more than ever before and that is the challenge that all of us face.
Don’t 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.
Was the triumph or your electoral victory more out of the fact that you are a giant killer or because of the public denunciation of the 12 years already spent by Akume?
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 in the past, but I am the first person that was successful. So, at least I should be given a little credit, despite the other inherent issues. As such, 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. Before, people presented themselves, but they were knocked out and this time it was different.
In your legislative agenda, what critical issues do you want to canvass as a contrast to the past 12 years?
If you go to the House of Representatives website for the 12 years 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 Representative for almost 12 years, is to almost 99 per cent a rural setting; even the local government is a rural environment. So, it made sense to talk largely about it. Benue North West is a metropolitan environment, the state capital is there and the headquarters of the Tiv nation, Gboko is also there. So, if you continue with rural development only, you are alienating a chunk of the population.
I know that youth unemployment is a time bomb, and every day I wake up I am reminded, even sometimes by the pressure of the youths, who will ordinarily engage themselves in more productive things if they were employed.
But because they are not, sometimes, I take a lot of pity. I tell myself, can you blame them. Not that I am rationalising or supporting or endorsing unsocial behaviour, but I think that will be my priority; trying to get these youths gainfully engaged. Yet, let us not forget that I am a legislator and not the executive.
In the executive, if I decide to sign a contract for tomorrow it will be done and if I decide that tomorrow money will be allocated here, the project will start immediately, it can be done. But as legislators, 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 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 as follow-up for them to see. They will say ‘na bill we go chop’? So, you have to balance that. We have to balance by partnering other agencies of government to see that we attract projects. Not just those directly allocated to us as our constituency projects, but in terms of bonding with people.
But youth unemployment is a ticking time bomb and I think, every day that I wake up, I am reminded that even if it is a little quota, I can contribute to bring it down. You cannot eradicate or eliminate youth unemployment. No society has an economy that is completely free from youth unemployment.
Of course, as a legislator, you are expected to face all issues that come up, but in terms of priority, those are the areas with the preference to rural development. You are not just representing your immediate constituency, but representing all.
Talking about youth unemployment, how did you feel when some young people attacked one of your colleagues in Germany?
I do not think that matter is as straightforward as expected. Some of the issues I read about him not supporting Biafra and all of that. We cannot hide under youth unemployment and begin to do all sorts of things, for me, that is not justifiable, especially for people who are supposed to be enlightened, who have gone to other climes.
If you have a cause, no matter how justifiable the cause is, you have to pursue it in a refined manner, not physically assaulting somebody. For me they lost whatever argument they had, they lost it by physically attacking the senator.
Your constituency is made up of predominantly farmers and food producers, what strategies would you advocate to wean young people back to the farm?
That can be done largely through advocacy. If you go for burials and at social events, anywhere you go as an elected person, the youths will crowd up that place. So any opportunity I try to talk to them I use it.
And just because the environment is not too conducive does not mean you will waste your life in riotous living. Use whatever opportunity available to do something profitable. I mean it is by convincing them, talking to them, trying to persuade them and over time some of them have started reasoning with us. I know some of those so-called thugs that were following us and now when you ask them, where are you, they will start asking about some little help for farm inputs, such as fertilizer and so on. I know that the message is gaining currency.
From your own perspective, how do you think the country can move forward in unity and progress and where do you think the fortune of Benue State is better preserved?
Let me start with the one that concerns Benue State. As it is, Benue State had clearly abandoned the PDP in 2015, to the extent that even the then governor lost his senatorial bid.
So Benue State had clearly rejected PDP, 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 way, 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 of the Constitution is the welfare and security of the people.
Benue people have the right to feel disappointed. And so the PDP became the beautiful bride and that is why you see in the last election, in the whole of the National Assembly, the 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. As such for now, our fortunes are better preserved with the PDP and that is how democracy is always. 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 though you started well, you have deviated, they will try the other party they rejected earlier.
So, it is not something that is restricted to our environment in Benue State or even in Nigeria, because the argument I brought could also be adopted in the larger society, because PDP was rejected even at the federal level.
As for the Federal Government, I think you mentioned the word unity. Unity should not have partisan political coloration. The problems that face us are not based on partisan inclination, because they exist irrespective of your party affiliation 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 is the 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. For me, I think that is it.
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