Dr Tivlumun Gabriel Nyitse, a former Permanent Secretary, Government House Administration first contested the governorship ticket of te Peoples Democratic Party in Benue State in 2015. He is back into the race to govern the state in 2019. In this interview with Danusa Ocholi, NYITSE speaks on the politics in Benue state and why he is the best candidate to pick the PDP governorship ticket, and to govern Benue State, among other issues.
So many things are happening in the polity but let’s start from your own state, Benue. What is your reaction to Governor Ortom’s decampment to the PDP?
Thank you. I think in Nigerian politics, anything goes. Our politics is not hinged on any philosophy or ideology so people keep on moving and move to where they think their interest can be served, not because they don’t agree with certain ideology, but when their interest or selfish gain is hampered, they move. The movement of Governor Samuel Ortom from the PDP to the APC is in the same vein. Ortom was a prominent member of the PDP and everything he has got in politics, apart from being the governor, was under PDP. He was a party state secretary; he was a deputy chairman, a national auditor and a minister of state under the PDP. But overnight, he lost the PDP governorship primaries of December 8, 2014 and suddenly became the candidate of the APC without going through the primaries. That process itself was a fraud because he was never a member of the APC. He did not know anything about what APC stands for, he does not understand the ideology of the party but they asked him to come and pick the ticket and run he did. He was not running the governorship because of the people he was more interested in the power of that office. And that was why he was able to go to the APC and the lords in the party then asked him to take the ticket. He went there and those people who have been in the party were shortchanged and Ortom was handed the ticket. He ran there and along the line, things fell apart. He started disagreeing with the same people that made him governor without efforts. The people saw that he did not quite show any skills and did not show any knowledge or sagacity in terms of governance and a lot of things happened. There was disagreement and he had to leave. When he (Ortom) left for APC, he almost destroyed the PDP because everybody that was in the PDP was either taken to one jail or the other for one flimsy excuse on corruption, where there was none. The PDP almost went comatose but a few of us remained there, held it together, spent our resources, mobilised people around and now, the PDP has become a beautiful bride in Nigeria’s politics once again. Without being immodest, Ortom has now jumped ship into the PDP and wants to run on the party’s platform. It is his fundamental right to associate because coming to the PDP is not even a problem. The problem will be when he is seeking for automatic ticket.
Let me borrow this Nigeria expression, what if Ortom ‘buys his way’ from among you aspirants, how will the rest of you take it?
I cannot speak for the generality of Benue people but I can assure you that if Ortom emerges as the candidate of the PDP, I don’t see the party winning the election. The reason is that his performance as governor has been abysmal. For three and half years, Ortom has not commissioned one single project. Makurdi that was once the cleanest city in Nigeria is now the dirtiest. As we speak, you see refuse dumped on the roads with no vehicle to pick them. What has he been doing in the past two and half years? The issue of crisis is just an excuse for underperformance. The failure of the governor to perform is not because he was fighting security issues or insurgency, all these are just facade as far as I’m concerned. Of course there are challenges all over the place and we know what the other state governments are going through, but what are the efforts put in place by Ortom? We should by now be talking about consolidation of projects in Benue and not abandonment or total neglect. We did water projects in Makurdi, Otukpo and Katsina- Ala during the Suswam’s administration. If we are talking about consolidation of projects, Benue is supposed to be in the forefront in terms of projects in Nigeria. There are agencies he (Ortom) can invite and partner with through PPP which will benefit the people. There are still other things that have been left undone and you cannot blame this on insurgency or security issue, that will be running away from the main issue.
Issues that happened in 2015 or the Buhari factor have been demystified in many ways. The Buhari image on which they rode to power in 2015 has waned. Nobody can use that image to climb to power. Ortom cannot come into the PDP, in the same manner, he went to APC and won. He won in APC because of Buhari’s popularity at the time.
For us, we have remained in the PDP over the years and in the last four years, I have used my resources, to run the party and so many of us like that. We have mobilised people to remain in the party and now that the party has picked up and becomes the beautiful bride, someone will not just come back again to reap where he did not sow.
How would you rate the Ortom administration, compared to the previous one?
There is no basis for comparison. The last PDP government is far better than what we are witnessing now. It is like comparing the river with the ocean, they are far apart.
A lot has been said about farmers-herders crises, who is to blame?
There are three ways to look at the issue. The political angle, the religious angle and the economic angle. The religious angle is that these people who are coming down, the herders, are predominantly Muslims. The thing is that they want to come, settle here (Benue) and appoint their leaders in the course of settling down and took charge. It is an expansionist kind of policy of the Fulani.
The Fulani that we know in Tiv land, that we grew up to meet, were not these type who come with their cattle and machine guns to conquer the people. The Fulani that we knew would come with their wives and settled at the back of our houses. We played with their children, we used our dry cassava or corn to exchange for nono or mashanu and all that. Once a cow strayed into somebody’s farm and ate the crops, they came back with their leaders to settle issues amicably without any problem. They paid a token and everybody moved on. Sometimes, when they slaughtered their sick cows, they gave meat to our parents based on their religious belief that they don’t eat meat from dead animals. We have been friendly with the Fulani and during the dry season where there was no more green vegetation, they came to play with us. It will interest you to know that some of them speak Tiv language fluently and even sing with it and drink with us. These are the Fulanis that we knew. But now they come with machine guns and in their numbers, on motorcycles, firing and killing people especially the villagers who are the direct casualties of the Fulani invasion. The first time it happened in 2013, two of my houses were destroyed in Guma Local Government. My place is at the boundary between Nasarawa and Benue States. And of course, they came through Nasarawa State and nobody can hide that fact.
I cannot say the government is behind it but that is their route. It is worrisome because the killings have assumed the level of genocide. I believe this assertion because in a normal war, you spare old people, women and children. When you go to a place, kill a pregnant woman, slice the stomach, bring out the unborn baby and slaughter, it does not make any sense at all. The motive to us is purely to conquer and spread their religion but the two religions that we know preach peace. The political aspect is that when you take over the people and conquer them, you rule over them. It is expected that by human nature they will resist. Economically, half of Tiv economy has been destroyed because people have not been in their farms in the last one year. I have hired about five houses in Makurdi where my family members are accommodated. I am paying the rent and supplying them foodstuff. My wife and I have been doing a lot for these people who have turned emergency IDPs overnight. If they are in their original habitat, they will take care of themselves, pluck their vegetables, cook and feed well. They are tired now because they are not happy living in the cities, they are used to their environment. It is an understatement to say that the economy of these people has been destroyed completely because their means of livelihood no longer exists. We have been taken back by more than 20 years. There is also the contentious issue of managing the crisis. Government should have managed the issue better than they did. We had issues under Suswam administration but it didn’t get to this level and it’s because of the way it was managed. The government of the day did not manage it well and that is why it got escalated and became a political issue. The force the state has cannot match the force of the Federal Government. If you think the Federal Government is persecuting you, you don’t have the power to challenge the Federal Government force to force. What you need to do is to go into serious negotiation and lobbying to see how you can penetrate the system. One, the federal government controls the Police and all the security apparatus. The issue of police in the state as it is being clamoured for is theoretical. It now depends on your deftness and political sagacity that you can navigate the process. However, the FG has failed to read the situation and navigate it. It happened during Suswam’s government but he understands the system very well. I cannot remember the number of times the Sultan of Sokoto came to hold meetings in Benue. There was a committee that was set up which comprised Northern Emirs where the Sultan of Sokoto was the chairman, the Emir of Gombe was the alternate chairman and the Tor Tiv was the secretary and through that process, the crisis was nipped in the bud. The lesson from this is that you cannot fight the federal government and win. The issue of the anti-grazing law is the creation of the people not the Benue government. The government refused to sign that bill until the people protested. Once the government made the first bill, the people reacted by saying that it was watery. The NGOs, the CBOs in Benue State were against the bill and it was quashed and people now wrote a bill, marched to the state assembly and made sure the bill was passed. For the governor to now assent to this bill, it took another protest. So you cannot say it was the enactment of the anti-grazing law, he was just a beneficiary of the outcome of that bill that he signed. It is not a matter of y saying you will die with the people, you are supposed to work with them and not to die with them.
If Benue PDP throws the governorship contest open, what happens to your ambition to contest?
Of course, I am running and I will buy my form. My friends will buy the form for me and that is the goodwill I enjoy from my people. I don’t have the resources but I have friends who want to help me.
You started as a journalist but somewhere along the line, you left the profession. Can you tell us the difference between the world of journalism and where you are today?
I give God all the glory for the journalism profession. I could never have asked for any profession than being in the media. My dreams as a young man were for two jobs; to be a journalist and to be a teacher. I tried to be a teacher post NYSC. I was a teacher during my NYSC for one year. I started teaching in October 1986 and in October 1987, I moved to the Concord Newspaper. I was a pioneer staff of the Daily Community Concord and I distinguished myself there. Those of us who were outstanding were posted as state correspondents and I became a state chief correspondent in Kwara. And from Kwara, I was promoted to zonal editor supervising seven states. I was based in Jos as a very young man of 28 years with a car attached. I moved round states like Borno, Bauchi, Benue, Niger and so on. At the time we came into journalism, there was dearth of graduates in the profession. My first degree was in English but we had courses in University of Ilorin in the final year, four courses in journalism, which is part of the English programme. These courses prepared me for the profession and it helped me a great deal. I was versatile in creative writing. Apart from news stories that I wrote, I still wrote features out of them. Even when I covered football matches in those days, I filed in reports and still did post-match analysis which I sent to Lagos. With my versatility, I was feeding all the National Concord titles; the daily, Sunday, Saturday and the African Concord Magazine. Fortunately, Concord had a good reward system which I don’t think any paper in Nigeria has today. In Concord, you could earn three promotions in a year because in every quarter, you were assessed and the top three would be promoted and this was based on output. There was an ombudsman in Lagos who gave points for front page lead stories (10 points), second lead (8 points), features articles (10 points), opinion and so on. Being very versatile, I didn’t have any problem climbing the ladder and every three months, I got promoted. I remember when I was in Kwara in 1991 as state correspondent, the next month I was promoted and next I was promoted editor and sent to Jos. I didn’t have any godfather in Concord but I was the darling of all the editors, Nsikak Essie , Tunji Bello, etc. The present MD of The Nation was my colleague, Victor Ifijeh, he was on the political desk. Sam Omatseye, who is the present Editorial Board chairman of The Nation was also a colleague. I would do a story and follow it up with a feature or an opinion straight away. That was how we were trained and then Concord used to organise in-house trainings. I went for a course in financial reporting organised by the Commonwealth Journalists Association. There was also a training for Concord staff organised by the Thompson Foundation who were also foreign consultants to Concord. When Reverend Father Moses Adasu became Benue governor in 1992, he wanted to revive The Voice so some of us who were in other newspapers outside the state were invited to come and help in repositioning the paper. I came in and we revived The Sunday Voice. We were able to get back to the level where The Voice could compare to any other newspaper in quality. We brought in graduates, brilliant people even the present Ortom’s adviser on media, Tahav Agerzua, was an assistant news editor under me. He later left and went to Champion. Your publisher Cletus Akwaya was with us as a reporter covering the Benue Government House. We had brilliant young people who came to join us. We had graduates who made The Voice bubbling. I edited many titles and I disagreed with the government of the day. Some fifth columnists in the government who wanted to pocket the paper pitched me against the government. We said no and told them that we were given the mandate by the governor. Governor Adasu had told us to report and say whatever we thought was fair, not minding who was involved. We were doing that and some politicians felt that we were being paid to run them down. Thrice, I was marched before the Benue State executive council meeting with our boss who denounced me before them. The governor would ask me what happened and I told him I was doing as he mandated us. Let me give you this example. Government bought fertilizers and gave one-third of it to the commissioners and directors general to go and share to their constituents but they sold the fertilizers in Makurdi. I was in New Garage in Makurdi then and I got a scoop from one mechanic who gave the full gist of what happened to me. I got all the details of what transpired and later sent my reporter there who filed in the story and it made the front page. There was another story which had to do with the deputy governor’s wife and it was also on fertilizer. They collected money from farmers but they were not given the fertilizers and the farmers were becoming impatient and time was running out. I sent my reporter, a very brilliant lady, to get the story. She filed in a very good report, brought receipts of how much they paid for the fertilizers which were not given to them. There was another story we did on the Teaching Service Board where the then chairman of the board was taking money to promote principals. I sent a reporter to him but he said he couldn’t talk to a reporter. We brought him to our office (The Voice), interviewed him. I told him I was a citizen journalist who will always be with the people and I asked him how can you be promoting those on level 12 above those on level 14 and you want peace in the school. It was a matter of who brought what to him to curry favour. We did the story and it brought me in conflict with the government. It was a genuine story, some people did not like it but I didn’t mind at all. It led to my leaving my position as editor. Unfortunately, the governor was not around, he went to Jos for a burial.
This happened on the 5 June, 1993. On June 7, very early in the morning, by 8 O’clock, I started moving my personal effects from the office and people started crying and I told them once you hear it by 5 O’clock on Radio Benue, you will understand. My sports editor, Sam Ameh, was crying like a baby. They didn’t sack me, I stayed at home they removed me as the editor and gave me one big title as the Managing Editor (South). I was supposed to be in Lagos and I told the chairman of the board when they called me and said I don’t mind going to Lagos but they should provide me with accommodation and a car because the office in Lagos was not befitting, it was under the staircase of the regional office and I told them I cannot go there. Meanwhile, I was posted to Lagos already and called Nsikak who was editor there. He was editor at Concord and welcomed me and I was supposed to resume by January 4, 1994. But by November 1993 on the 17th, Abacha coup against the Interim National Government (ING) of Ernest Shonekan-he was toppled. In the midst of this, a new military administrator was appointed in Benue and I was invited to the Government House to become the Chief Press Secretary but politely turned it down, saying I want to leave Benue State. I told the administrator what had transpired and that I didn’t want to be humiliated again because once bitten, twice shy. I let him know that I was an editor with The Voice but was forced out for no reason. I told him that I don’t want to stay except he made me chairman of a board so I can become a rich man too. He laughed and we dragged on for two days, then on the 23rd of December, 1993, I was appointed the Director of Press in charge of Government House. I discussed with the SSG then and the governor himself. The three of us sat down and decided on what my schedule should be and we agreed. So, I don’t have business with any civil servant or any permanent secretary or Director General. I was dealing directly with the governor. After that, I became the chairman of a local government for 10 months and actually handed over to the incoming civilian government in 1999. What I’m saying is that destiny has a way of playing on us. I refused to join the civil service because of the boring nature but I ended up being one through circumstance. When I left NYSC, they gave me a job to work as a liaison officer but I declined. I took one of my school mates in Ilorin who is still in the service now, went to the permanent secretary, civil service commission, and asked him to give the job to my friend which he did.
I later came back to The Voice and I experienced a lot of antagonism when I came back as a director. The people that were there refused to absorb me into the mainstream civil service. We had worked together before in the Government House and we were always fighting, so they felt threatened. I went back to the University and picked a Masters degree and immediately after that, I was appointed a permanent secretary now at a higher level and above the same people. As a permanent secretary, I enrolled for my PhD in 2004 and finished in 2012. I defended my thesis on the 19th of April, 2012 and had a convocation on the 8th of December 2012.
I went to school properly and that is why today, I’m teaching. After two years of staying idle, I decided to get an appointment with Bingham University but people are saying why not Benue State University (BSU)? There is great politics in BSU and I don’t want to be involved. The university environment should not be a place for politics but rather for professionalism where you conduct your research and hit a foreign grant that can sustain yourself. I don’t want to have issues and that is why I’m where I am. I am where they needed me teaching and imparting knowledge to future generations. But I am going into this election with all sincerity and humility and I know that if it is left open, it will be a huge fight among us the aspirants and it cannot be a walkover for anybody.