Mr Emmanuel Jime is the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Benue State. In this interview with Gabriel Atumeyi, he speaks on his vision for the state and the March 3 governorship election.
How are you preparing for the 2019 governorship election in the state?
Your are probably aware that this state has gone through one of the worst periods having the misfortune of going through what it went through and anybody will tell you that the economy of this state has virtually collapsed.
There is no sector of the economy that is working, whether you are looking at the infrastructure, our roads are simply impassable at the moment. Nothing much has been done as far as road infrastructure is concerned in the last three and the half years.
Not even a five-kilometre road has been constructed anywhere in this state. Also, there is nothing that has been done in the area of water supply, it is quite astonishing that in a state where we virtually are sitting on the banks of the Benue that our people still drink from the streams and springs.
I have always remarked that for us to turn around the economic fortune of our state, our agriculture has to be given priority attention that it deserves. Until we can reach that level of sustainability, through the upgrading of our processing capacity and commercialisation, that we can promote the economy of the state. These are the conditions in which we are running this race. We now have the opportunity to provide an alternative model for our state between the choice of progress and retrogressive administration.
I believe with due modesty that I represent the future of this state. Of course no race has any particular modus operandi, every particular race has its own peculiarities. The particular nature of our race in Benue is that we have an incumbent who is running an election based on his performance in office. In an environment where there is nothing to show, the incumbent seems to have resorted to blackmail and has defined its opponents, either as sponsored individuals or representatives of what he called an external factor in our political firmament.
That’s a petty, whereas as I said the next election should be about the performance of the incumbent vis a vis the vision of those of us who are running. We are now forced into an unfortunate situation where you are sometimes forced to defend your own originality as if it is a crime to have mixed parentage in the first place. So, that is the direction this election is moving at the moment.
You are lamenting the retrogressive state of things. What would you do differently?
At the moment, we have five core areas of focus where we want to make a difference. The first, which is top and central, is security. For me the main purpose of government is to provide security and welfare for the people. So if you are able to deliver on security and welfare, every other thing will follow.
At the moment it is fair to say the security situation in our state is challenging. The issue of the Fulani attacks that we have had, this is the problem that has been confronting our state over time. I remember in the National Assembly and in the House of Representatives, I had the first motion to discuss the invasion that we were having at that time, my own family compound in our village was totally brought to ruins.
As I speak right now, almost five years later or more, my own family members are still in IDPs camp, so that is the extent to which I am, personally, touched and affected by this crisis.
I understand that it is very important for us to deal with that issue, I made a proposal in 2011 in a motion where I suggested that ranching was one of the ways that we can, at least, reduce the incident of this crisis that we are facing. I argued also that there is an economic advantage to ranching and that if we could advance that economic argument, then people would understand the benefits that come from introducing such legislation. I think anti- grazing law of the state, which at the moment appears to be the only instrument that can tackle this particular issue.
It is a welcome legislation. I contribute my own little quota to the civil society groups that clamoured for that law. I am someone in our community that believes we need to have this instrument in place. The only challenge that I find is the politicization of that law. It is part of the reason we are having problem with it. By politicization I am referring to the fact that the present administration have decided that law should form the foundation of its argument for re-election, by so doing it has eliminated the discussion and taken it away from the real reason the law was put in place, which is to provide security for our people. What I would do differently is to implement that law and to advance it.
If you put in place a law like the anti-open grazing law in Benue state, with a view to stopping the people from carrying AK 47 in the rural areas, to me it will be difficult to have proper implementation.
So in order to give the law attraction to be helpful to our people, you have to be connected to the center in such a way that the armed forces and the security apparatus of the state can be friendly enough to support its implementation.
So, I believe we need the kind of buy-in that is necessary. Most important we have to argue strongly for a restructuring of the federation. You see if you restructure Nigeria the states will obviously be in a better position to engender the legislative environment for the maintenance of the kind of security that we are looking to get.
The state police would be under the control of the governor who is truly and properly the chief security officer of the state. So I think re-structuring is long overdue, I would want to be one of its strong advocates because I believe in the long term, it would determine our ability to provide security for our people.
I am looking at security in short and medium terms. Ultimately the long term solution will have to be restructuring and I think that the time has now come for us to take that discussion forward so we can have a proper argument about it. Secondly, and most importantly for me is the economy, we have to grow the Benue economy in such a way to raise enough resources to take care of our needs. So, what I am talking here is which area does Benue have the most comparative advantage, agriculture for me is key.
Like I said earlier, until we get to the stage where we are processing, we are only going to be doing sustenance farming and that does not give any serious impetus to the economy of Benue state.
At the moment we are lamenting the fact that all our fruits are being wasted. Is it the mangoes, is it the oranges, all of which can be turned into fruit juice. So it is clear to me why there is so much poverty in Benue state, which has a comparative advantage in agriculture
Government is not a good business man. So, I take the view that the private sector should drive the economy. This is one area we would stop paying lips service, I think what has happened, especially, in the last thirty years is that we haven’t taken our agriculture seriously. Does it make sense that a state like Kebbi located in the desert of Nigeria is producing rice far in excess of what Benue state is producing? But a local government in Benue state has the capacity to produce rice that can feed the whole country. Kebbi state seems to have a clever governor who was thinking outside of the box, thus creating a partnership with Lagos that has the resources and Kebbi has the land and that partnership was useful. So, these are the clear headed approaches to agriculture, that is the kind of novel approach that I intend to bring, we want to do new things as far as our agriculture is concerned.
Also, our health care system is in turmoil, go to secondary health care facility, which is the university hospital, it is an eye sore, nobody in their right senses would like to take their sick ones to that hospital. When it started it was a beautiful place to go, but the decay in that infrastructure is heart wrecking. I think one of the things we have to do is to bring back that hospital, to put it in a state where it can actually deliver quality secondary services that it is meant to do.
There is no reason people should be dying of malaria, I thought that the world had overcome that. What is happening in Benue state is because there is so much neglect of our health sector. Health insurance is something that we need to look into, the various insurance schemes that are available even at the national level, I believe, need to get to a point where Benue state should key into.
My prayer is that all children below the age of five should be able to get health care that is free and also free ante-natal care for pregnant women including the elderly in retirement, having worked for the state they should be retiring into comfort.
The education sector is one area that we need to be really focused on. The manifesto of our party guarantees that we should have free education, at least at the primary level. That is one thing that I believe we should, as a state and as a government, be able to provide for our people. Other states have done it, Imo state is doing it, we intend to take a cue from places like Imo state, to do what they have done and I believe that if we can grow the other sectors of our economy, then we would be able to provide that sort of social service, because for me , every Benue child deserves to be given the opportunity to have access to education.
I have the benefit of going to a public primary school and look how we have turned out to be, but right now I don’t think anyone of us will want to send his or her kids to a public primary school, we just have to change that narratives.
I pity those operating private primary school because when we are done with the plans I have for education in our state, I don’t think it will be profitable for them, but I am not saying the private sector should not be involved in education, I just think that this should be the social responsibility of the state to provide for the education of younger ones.
Of course, what goes together with it is the quality of training available to our teachers, salaries and welfare, and retraining, these are things that I believe must be put in place because the quality of teaching in our public school is nothing to write home about.
There are some people who adjudge you as aloof and arrogant. What do you have to say?
First and foremost, let’s do a little mathematics here before I answer this question. I got elected to the State House of Assembly when I was barely thirty years. I became Speaker in 1992/93, I have been elected twice to the House of Representatives and so I served Makurdi/Guma in the House for eight years, when I came to run for governorship in 2014, the level of support that I had was astonishing. I wasn’t defeated in the APC primary, but some sort of political shenanigan took place and again it wasn’t my time as a matter of fact.
For me, I think that is the simple mathematical answer to that question but that being said I am willing all the time to accept criticism because in a democracy, when you are criticized, especially, when it is constructive, what you do is a self introspection and re-examination, and try to apply yourself in different ways. I am a public servant and every time I have been in office or have done my best to live up to the faith and the mandate that I have been given by my constituents.
I believe with all due sense of responsibility and modesty that I have done fairly well in all the public offices that I have held.
When I was in the House of Representatives, most of the people who assisted me to discharge my duties were not members of my constituency, I brought them from all over the places, some of them were not even from Benue state, at the end, the quality of advice that I got from those people was what made me to stand out.
Again, as a member of the House for eight years, if you believe in yourself, and you are firm, and you have the courage and conviction, sometimes it will be interpreted in certain quarters as arrogance. If that is arrogance, then it will be difficult for me to apologise for that. I just want to be the best that I can every time when I have an opportunity to offer public service.
Some say George Akume sponsored former governors Gabriel Suswam and Samuel Ortom. Is he also your godfather?
Let me simply take the view that sometimes God decides to use you as a tool so as to perform the work of his hands. What I am saying in effect is that when I ran my election as of 1992, who was my Godfather when I got elected into the House of Representatives, my Godfather was the God upstairs that I worship. In 2007 when I went again to the House, who was my godfather?. By godfather, I refer to the fact that in
party politics, when you want to run for election, you must consult with people. I mean there are people who hold a lot of influence in our political party system. So you consult with them, but to be honest, I believe that at the end of the day, your godfathers are the electorate, the constituent that put you in office.
George Akume could give me support to emerge as a candidate in the APC, but that I am going to be governor is down to the Benue electorate, if they decide not to elect me, a thousand Akumes can’t put me in office. So, we have got to understand that the relationship that I think I share with the Benue electorate is far more fundamental, therefore my loyalty in all of my public service as always to the people, that’s what I have demonstrated over time and it is not going to change now.
There is the insinuation that you are being sponsored by Miyetti Allah, what is the input of Fulani herders in this your political outing?
I think I have laid the foundation in answering that question earlier, which is when I said because Ortom has failed to govern and he wants to be re-elected desperately, so instead of running on his successes or failure, he has decided that the best way he can run is to blackmail and define me as somebody who is sponsored by someone else. My answer has been that I have ran for offices since 1992 until now, I have won some, I have lost some. Who has sponsoring me in all of these times that I have been running my elections. Who sponsored me in 1992, in 2007, in 2014?
The first time I actually heard the word Miyetti Allah is from Ortom’s mouth, and that was when the people of Agatu were murdered in their hundreds in 2016 and I say this with full sense of responsibility, Ortom went to Agatu with Al-Makura standing side by side with him and told the people of Agatu to learn to leave peaceful with the indigenous Fulani people, that was the first time I heard that. So let’s understand this very clearly, it is not about Miyetti Allah sponsoring Jimen , it is simply that Ortom has nothing else than to blackmail this man, call him a name that is not. But we will force him to discuss Benue and once he does that it will become clear to Benue people that this man is empty.
You have some laudable programmes. What strategies do you have in place to boost the finances of the state?
First thing you have to understand is fraud is going on in this state. I intend to look at it and deal with it. When this administration came into office in 2015, the salary bill of the state was under N3 billion and that was reported widely and I believe the governor and his spokespersons actually reported, and his predecessor, Suswan also made the point that at the time of his departure, the wage bill was less than N3 billion, three and the half years down the road. No new employment in the system and the salary bill has increased from N2.73 billion to almost N7 billion plus.
There is a magic that is going on here, I call it fraud and I think that we need to deal with it and once you can do that we will begin to free our state from some of the resources that are going into the servicing of what is called” ghost workers”.
I believe that is one thing we need to have to do, but beyond that lets also appreciate the growth to the economy that I alluded to. It is also part and parcel of the internal revenue that we will also have to grow. When you have more companies doing business in Benue and our agriculture is performing at the level that it should, let me also use this interview to announce the fact that in less than one year as the managing director of Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA) I was able to get Mr President to accept to locate a zone in Makurdi, feasibility studies were conducted and approved under the 2017 budget, in 2018 some funds have already been allocated for commencement of construction work, a site has been found, it is located in north bank around the army engineering school, that is the site for the location of that free zone, that is something that is fundamental, people don’t really understand what is the impact of a project like that, I will just advice, go and goggle Calabar free trade zone or Kano free trade zone and that will begin to give you an idea of the real significance of that particular project will bring to bear on the Benue economy
Therefore, I have decided we will have to do co-financing; there are a lot of international development funds that are all over the place whether it is from the World Bank where you can get facilities, sometimes at low digits interest. You also have the African development bank and a few other international development partners that we need to work with.
So whatever dreams that we have, we are not just dreaming in vacuum, we are dreaming because we have where we can plug to because none of us will be able to raise the resources that we need for development.
What do you think is your major challenge?
I don’t have any challenge connecting with the people, as a matter of fact we have done fairly well enough as far as connecting with the people, but it is an ongoing process, we still have until March, so we will have to keep working very hard, and we are under no illusion, this is going to be a walk over, it is going to be one of the most difficult elections. This is an election we will have to win because the issues are in our favour, the environment is also in our favour, we have an incumbent who hasn’t performed, so we are going to ensure this election is a referendum on his non-performance. Once we have been able to achieve that we would win. We are not like the South South states where money is all that is important to our people, there is poverty in our land, yes, but our people are also hard working people. If you are coming with good ideas for their development and they see through it they will support you regardless of whether you have huge funding or not.
As a matter of fact, in Benue, sometimes I think when you bring to much money that in itself becomes a problem to the people because they think you are coming to buy them. Benue people don’t like people who come to buy them. So, I doubt if vote buying is going to work, because given the electoral law and the new system of voting, I don’t think it will work. I think our electoral system is defined, we are moving away gradually from very crude old ways of doing elections. The system is getting more sophisticated, so money is not a big deal we are going to do the necessary hard work and connect with our people in a way that the message that we have, really goes into the grassroots