It was an exclusive parley between some select journalists and the Action Congress of Nigeria Gubernatorial candidate in Benue State, Prof. Steve Ugbah. He is the foremost opposition to the incumbent Governor, Gabriel Suswam, who is also contesting in a re-election bid. In a down to earth way and without looking at any material, Prof. Ugbah laid bare his mind on several issues including his agenda for the state, godfatherism, his choice of running mate and the violence in Benue State among other issues. Su’eddie Agema who was there presents excerpts:
How do you feel leaving a lecture hall for politics, especially coming from a democratically established country to a country where democracy is not the norm.
“First it is an honour and privilege for me to come back and seek to serve my people. There was no doubt in my mind that one day I would come back and serve in whatever capacity. But it was not my plan or dream to come and aspire to hold the highest office in Benue state. Though the United States of America [where he is coming from] is an exemplar in terms of democratic processes, the country had its challenges. It is true that we have an underdeveloped democratic system in Nigeria but it is also true that we have tremendous opportunities to start to reposition our democratic processes in Nigeria for the better. And it is people like us who are looking at the country or who are coming into the country, through additional lenses. Having grown up here, in Nigeria, and left and studied in the US and worked there to bring a slightly different perspective to governance in Nigeria that insulates one from what you see as deficiencies in the system here. And hopefully, working with people and educating people and leading by example to be able to institute the kind of democracy that we are yearning for where everyone is given an opportunity to serve and everyone’s vote counts. Where we partner with people, where we strengthen our institutions and people have confidence in our institutions. Collectively, we can begin to develop our various communities – be they local, state or even national. So far I am excited about coming back and participating in this process.”
Governor Gabriel Suswam has said that there are puppet masters pulling you here and there and because they have not performed, there is no way you would perform. How do you look at the insinuation that the persons who brought you did not perform and there is no way you can perform even if you emerge victorious?
I find it interesting that the Governor would make that statement but I don’t know who the Governor was referring to. The people who have brought me here are the people of Benue. God brought me and if you go to the streets of Benue, you would see a stark demonstration of the power of the people. So, if the Governor says that the people of Benue have not performed, then it is a pity because they are not the ones governing Benue. He is the one governing Benue. He has not performed and that is why I am here. If he had performed and people were happy with him, there would have been absolutely no need for some of us to inject ourselves into the system. It is because of his lack of performance. I am not knocking him. It is just that sometimes you don’t have the capacity that you are confronted with. He has performed to a certain level, based on his capacity but beyond that he has not demonstrated the capacity to take us to where Benue state actually needs to go. So it is a pity that he made that statement: I am an unknown quantity. I have no idea what he means by unknown quantity. I was born here. I was bred here. I just happened to go and school elsewhere. I just happened to live and work elsewhere to acquire the necessary skills and capabilities to come back here.” He continued that he had people in Gboko and Makurdi who would tell one that he isn’t ‘unknown quantity.’ “And I don’t know how known he was before he became a member of the House of Representatives or how known he was even before he became the Governor of the State. I have a much more established pedigree in terms of knowledge, in terms of involvement in politics than the current sitting Governor of Benue State so I have no clue of what he is referring to. Now, if you mention who he is referring to specifically as puppets that brought me, then I would be able to respond to that. But other than that I will say that the Benue people brought me, the Benue state people are excited about my entry into politics. The Benue state people have accepted the fact that I have injected myself into the system and I am very comfortable with the role I am playing right now and by God’s grace, I will be the next Governor of the state.”
How do you hope to surmount the pressure of godfatherism and what are your plans for Benue state, if elected?
Now, if you say I have a godfather, I have one godfather who born me for baptism. That is my godfather. Other than that, I can tell you that anybody who is naïve to think that you participate in politics without having people endorse you is fooling him/herself. Every single well meaning politician must have backers – small, medium, old, large. And that is what every of them do so as to actualise their own goal of winning elective office. Prof. David Iornem, my Campaign Director and one of the first people to try to appeal to me to come and participate in politics ten years ago. Iyorchia Ayu, is a well known quantity who I consult; George Akume a sitting Senator; Senator J. K. N. Waku who I respect very much. Senator Waku and I have been in politics since the ‘80s and I respect him very much whose perspectives I seek out. My father is Wantaregh Paul Unongu who is an icon not just in Benue state but in Nigeria, whose perspectives I cherish so I talk to him on a regular basis. There were also little people –classmates, schoolmates, business partners who I consult. I have been in the United States for thirty-seven years and not been manipulated, I am not going to be manipulated now.
On the issue of plans, the issue is whether we have leadership that would implement anything that we put on the table. Do you have the will to implement? Do you have the will to resist the temptation to amass wealth because you have access to it? The resources of the people of Benue are the resource of the people of Benue. Can you discipline yourself to take what belongs to the people and use it on the people rather than taking it and using it on yourself? Now, for those who want to be romantic about plans, what do you exactly want to do in Benue state but I want to give Benue state leadership, good governance. Get people who can do this job and place in positions where they can do the job, and ensure that they do this job and ensure that they do this job. Anyone that is wanting will be asked to leave, will be relieved of their jobs. Good governance is one of my cardinal programmes, and good governance will lead to ensuring enduring security in this state. I would ensure the rule of law and ensure that there is proper delegation of duties and there would be a clear distinction of all arms of government. Each would be allowed to function without undue interference.
Healthcare: people die due to lack of power in hospitals. The life expectancy of Nigeria is 45-47 years and this should be elevated by treating diseases that in other countries have been forgotten. The resources used by the Executive on overseas trips for health reasons, or vacations would have to channelled into improving health care system. The economic base would have to be revitalised as Benue state does not have the capacity to boast with competing with some local governments in other states of Nigeria. All the factories in Benue state are dead or moribund. The economic life of Benue would have to be revitalised. The agricultural base is still on subsistence level and “we can’t continue to be subsistence farmers. In the global economy, we can’t compete. All that people do in Benue is to see images on the television and marvel at it without being able to see it physically. For God sake, people have conquered the moon. People have gone to other planets. In Benue, we are still sitting down, carrying a hoe and going to farm. How much production can make you to uplift a people’s life and create a strong economic base to transform the state. It is not rocket science. It takes focus, it takes will to be able to make it up. There was a need to revive factories and revitalise the economy and create an enabling environment as businesses would only come to such environments where they would get returns.
Education is the fourth one – quality, accessible education… When you start talking of education, you are talking access to education, quality education, where students can pay their fees or what we are proposing is free education for all students at the primary and secondary education. At the university level, we will make provisions for who will go for free. There is a movement worldwide now in education especially at the higher institutions which we are going to take down to all levels as well. – Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM). This provides a great opportunity for Benue state if we can institutionalise this. We would give scholarships to students who want to study these courses. Above all, our emphasis is on women, girl education. Our girls are floundering. We want to be able to provide them with incentives and to allow them stay in school and to flourish in school and not to be on the streets. So what we are also proposing is to get girls to go to school for free and I believe that we are going to get tremendous support by getting girls to go to school for free to the university who are Benue state indigenes.
These are initiatives that if we only think and focus, you would be able to generate the resources, even the current resources we have to be able to manipulate them as government to afford these services to our people because they are essential. Education is the basic foundation for all economic activities. If you do not have a trained workforce, it is difficult to bring companies to invest. Where I come from, my system [the California university system] provides 75% of the workforce in the economy in California. That is what I want to bring to Benue state. Our institution should be able to provide the workforce and support so accessible education in Benue state is my vision and with the help of the people of Benue state, we would be able to do it.
Last point, targeted infrastructural development. I hear the incumbent Governor has a reputation for being ‘Mr. Infrastructure.’ Great. What does that mean? Is it just roads for the sake of building roads or are the roads you are building tied strategically to your economic initiatives? What roads have we built? Our roads are death traps all over the place. I thought that by now, people would not die on our roads needlessly. Accidents will happen but we don’t want needless deaths. My father and my mother died because of road accidents lots of years ago. Other families are also experiencing the same thing on the roads of Benue today. Have we being able to connect our communities, our local governments? What have we done with our Federal roads? Have we maintained them since they were constructed? If not, what has been the role of the State government? After all, we want to belong to the ruling party so that we can have access but if we have roads constructed by the Federal Government and we cannot get them to rehabilitate and people continue to die on that road? We used to have rail services that passed through Makurdi, no more. I don’t know the last time a Makurdi resident heard the sound of a train but the tracks are still there. What does it take to open it up, even if it is within Benue so that we can relieve the pressure by transporting bulky items? We have an asset called the River Benue. I don’t know how many of you have gone on boat rides on River Benue or done anything economic. Apart from fisher men catching fish and coming to sell to you, what else have we done with River Benue? Can we develop River Benue into an economic asset? The answer is yes, we can. If you have a vision for it. You don’t have to be overwhelmed. I come from San Francisco and I am sure all of you have heard of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. It is one of the wonders of the world. Who built it? Human beings built it which means human beings can do something in Benue if we set our mind to it. Can we have a water transport system with drive ports to Buruku all the way to Kastina-ala connecting to Ibi and moving all the way to Lokoja? The answer is yes we can. But you have to have a vision and convince yourself that it is possible to do it. It also relieves pressure on our roads.
Lights, we don’t have lights. We have huge coal deposits in Benue. We have not been able to exploit coal for the use of light and diversifying energy sources. We have to take advantage of that as well. The rest of the world is doing it – solar, wind, water, coal. We can do it. We have solid minerals in Benue that we can also exploit with appropriate partnering from the Federal Government and partnering with overseas firms. Water, we are begging for water right now. We have an uncertain situation in Benue state where we are destitute in our own state. Now, who in their right senses would come to Benue and want to set up anything when you can’t even go to the toilets and flush it. You have to run to the bush and go to the toilet because there is no water to flush your toilet and then you depend on going to a water board to buy water. That is how we are going to support our industries, by tankers going to the water board to buy water, come back and feed your industries? And the water is as red as this table (signifies a very brownish red table).
I don’t know, perhaps your differences are different. After all, I am not from here (general laughter).
Those are the five areas, just in a nutshell that we want to focus on but those things would not happen if we don’t have the will to do it. We can give all kinds of excuses. If we don’t have the will to do it, it would never happen. That is what I bring to the table. That is why I am running for Governor and that is why I believe the Benue people have seen and appreciated, and are supporting us totally to transform this state.
What’s your take on the Christian-Muslim ticket especially in a state that is predominantly Christian? Secondly, considering ya-na-wangbian (eat-I-eat) system. The Jemgba ate (power i.e. ruled) for eight years. It has gone to Sankera and he has eaten one part of it. By May 29th hopefully, he would have finished.
(cuts in) “He would finish by May 29th. (general laughter)
Another Sankera man is waiting in the wind to take over, denying…
(cuts in) No, it is not denying…
The issue is you eat for eight years and you give to another because our Idoma brothers have been ostracised – that is our own understanding. So, you have eight years. You are now waiting in the wind coming. The Minda people want to take over in 2015. Now, the thinking is that if you give it to Ugbah, Ugbah is going to have eight years, so automatically it is going to deny us who have been waiting.
Let me get it straight. Are you referring to ya-na-wan gbian or are you referring to me chopping and giving it over to Minda and also giving it to Idoma? Which one is it?
What I am saying is that Jemgba had it for eight years. It has been thrown to the Sankera people, who also have a slot for eight years…
Let me deal with that aspect first, then we would talk about the Minda and the Idoma. You see, look at governance. When you are playing a game – I will use this analogy. When you are playing a game, there is something called substitution, right? You are allowed to substitute during a football game. If somebody is not playing up to par, right? You are allowed to substitute. You don’t leave that person there and lose the game. That is what is happening in Sankera. The person who is there now playing the game is weak. So, maybe he ran too much. Maybe he did not eat enough or maybe he ate too much. So, when he came to the field, he became very sluggish so he has to be substituted. So, what I am doing is substituting so that I can finish the game. Is there anything wrong with that?
So, what you are saying in essence is that you are only running for one term.
I didn’t say I am running for one term or two terms or three terms. You see, the problem with people is that you look too far ahead. That is what blinds you because as soon as you come into office, they start plotting for a second term. I am not interested in plotting for a second term. I am coming here to play a game that lasts for four years and I want to make my maximum impact in four years or less to show people there is a difference in what used to be. Whatever happens after that, I have no control over it. My idea is not to sit here and tell you ‘Oh, I am going to run for eight years.’ I am running to substitute the incumbent Governor right now. Now, whether or not, I finish four years and the thing goes to Minda. That is for you to decide. Whether or not, it goes to Idoma, that is for you to decide. But what the present administration is doing is saying ‘Minda, don’t support Steve Ugbah because if he wins, he would go for eight years and rob you of the opportunity to field a candidate in 2015. Idoma, don’t support Steve Ugbah because you will get a shot at 2015 so which one is it? Is it Minda is it Idoma? That is not something that I want to waste my energy thinking of. I am focused on wresting power from PDP. If I cannot make an impression on this state in four years, you are the one who would decide. So, my idea is not to come here and tell you I am going to run for eight years. That is not my idea. I want to make a maximum impact in four years or less in government to show Benue that there is something that can be done about our situation that is different, much more progressive and obtainable.
Now, about your first question on the Christian-Muslim ticket. I am a proud Catholic. My running mate is a proud Muslim who also is a resident and bona fide citizen of Benue state. I am supposed to enjoy the rights of every single citizen in this state but I am told that I do not qualify to run for office. I am told that I don’t deserve to run. That other people have the God given right to run and rule the state. I am also told that I am a Catholic and therefore, I am not qualified to run. So, if you tell me that I am a Catholic and I am not qualified to run, you must have a preferred candidate or a preferred religion that you wish to run the state. You also want to tell me that as long as a Benue state indigene is a Muslim, then that Benue state indigene must never aspire to the highest office in the state. I am coming from a country where a black man has just been elected President against all odds. In my entire life, I never dreamt that Obama or a black person would emerge an elected President of the United States but it has happened. What we bring to Benue is to bridge differences. We have a ticket that happens to be a formidable ticket. Do not forget that my running mate, Young Alhaji [Usman Abubakar] ran for election twice in Idoma land and won in spite of the fact that he was a Muslim. Not only that, this person that people say is a Muslim [and] therefore, if he comes into power, would convert the whole of Benue state into an Islamic state. That means that you must also subscribe to the notion that Steve Ugbah is so weak that the so-called godfathers, the so-called puppets that you think are pulling the strings would also include my running mate who is Young Alhaji. So, my puppets would pull over here, Young Alhaji would pull over here. I don’t know what state we would end up creating. But this is the same person who has established a bank – it is not an Islamic bank. This is the same person that has established foundations across the state where Tiv, Idoma, Igede, Hausa, Yoruba, you name it, are benefitting from. This is the same person who has given countless Benue state indigenes scholarships. This is the person who has chosen his businesses to support what is happening in Benue state as an individual. Now, because he is a Muslim, I should simply decount him and say ‘You have done all this for your people, regardless of where they come from in the state. You are still not qualified to aspire to anything because somebody would wake up one day and say ‘You would Islamise Benue state’? Aper Aku had a Muslim as a running mate. Aper Aku of blessed memory had a Muslim as a running mate and he performed wonders in this state. The person everyone including the incumbent Governor, wants us to support has a Muslim as a running mate. If you are following logic, even before he became President, we had a Muslim President who Jonathan Goodluck was Vice President to and I can see that Nigeria became a Muslim state. When President Jonathan came into power then he converted Nigeria back to [a Christian state]. You see, these are people’s fears that we want to debunk in this state. We must be able to, we must embrace diversity. We must embrace tolerance in this state. If our institutions are not strong enough to withstand wholesale conversions that may be detrimental to our own lifestyles, then, let the transformations take place. But I think that we are strong enough to withstand detrimental transformation of this state. Working together we will build Benue state. People looking at us as working together for progress deemphasising religion – people working together coming from different ethnic groups. The Igedes are not talking to the Idomas. The Tiv people are suspicious of the Idomas. The Idomas are suspicious of the Tiv people. Idomas are suspicious of the Igedes and so on and so forth. We are trying to bridge those differences.
I come from a Catholic-Christian background. He comes from a Muslim background but do you know what my running mate original name was? John. And he knows the bible more than most Pastors and can recite those verses and chapters without referring to the bible. So, I have no anxieties over my running mate and I urge the Benue people to have no anxieties whatsoever about my running mate because he is an honourable man, a very hardworking man. He would work in the best interest of Benue and not in the best interest of Islam.
How would you raise the standard of politicking without encroaching on some of the powers and rights of the President because it is normal to find Governors who don’t stay in their states but sit in Abuja. How would you operate despite these obstacles?
I don’t look at it as obstacles. We have a constitution. Going to the issue of religion, some states declared that they would be guided by Sharia law. I am sure they looked at the provisions of the constitution and looked at whatever constitution they had in their own state that they gave them the authority to say that they are going to operate Sharia in governance. The constitution has roles for all the tiers of government. Clearly, a Governor cannot function in isolation. Cannot extricate him/herself from the Federal Government in toto. The problem in Benue is that we are totally dependent on the Federal Government and that is why we keep running to Abuja all the time. Hopefully, what we hope to do is to be able to revitalise our economy to the extent that we don’t have to make all those frequent trips to Abuja so we can generate our revenue internally. Now, are we going to refuse help from the Federal Government? Absolutely not. We must approach the Federal Government to provide goods and services to the people of Benue as statutorily stipulated. That is our job. What is statutorily ours, we must go and get it. Our elected officials that go to Abuja must perform their jobs because they represent the people of Benue. So they must be seen as bringing the goods back to Benue as other people do.
One day we would look at our constitution and see how we can best make this state completely autonomous. But even in the model that we are using in the United States, states cannot by themselves say we are not going to deal with the Federal Government. You refuse to deal with the Federal Government at a cost to you. You see, ours is a weak system whereby we don’t have adequate facilities in the state to generate our own revenue so we have to depend completely on the Federal Government. If you are able to do that, we now start reducing the dependence on the Federal Government. In the [United] States, let me tell you what happens: The Federal Government would give you money but the Governor can say I don’t want to take your money because your stipulations that come with that money are too much for me and I don’t to implement them. And the Federal Government would say ‘Okay, since you refuse to implement our stipulations, we would withhold the money or we give you money and we told you these are the things we wanted you to do. We came, we evaluated it and we saw that you didn’t do and therefore we going to take the money away. They have done that several times. They have done it consistently. By the same token, you go to the Federal Government and say ‘This is a highway that leads from Point A to Point B, that is driving the whole economic drive of that area. You must participate in the development of that area. But it will take a strong presence. It will take a strong Governor or a group of Governors to make that happen. Have we been able in our little zone to do that? The Niger-Delta folks have done that quite effectively. Have we in the Middle Belt for instance been able to do it, to say for instance that the road leading from Ogoja all the way down, all the way up to Jalingo, we need to have it developed because it drives certain goods and people or coming from Nsukka, Otukpo all the way up through Makurdi going to Abuja. Have we been able to do something about that road because it is a very important road? Makurdi is a gateway, okay? It is a connector between the South, the North…It occupies a very unique position. The Federal Government has to realise that so are we in a position to advocate for this area? Are we in a position to partner with neighbouring states using the provisions of the constitution to drive Federal presence in this place? That is the function of the Chief Executive. So, the constitution is there for us to use. The constitution is there for us to exploit but you have to remain focused to be able to exploit the constitution or else you throw your hands in the air [and cry] ‘Oh, it is the constitution.’ Who wrote the constitution? We wrote the constitution. Who is going to review the constitution? We would review the constitution. Who is going to interpret the constitution? We are going to use aspects of the constitution, the stipulation of the constitution to do the things we do and if we feel that the constitution is not doing the thing for us. If we feel that people are misinterpreting what the constitution is saying, we would go to the Supreme Court. Let the Supreme Court then decide the constitutionality of what it is we are doing. But the due process, you have to be prepared to follow the due process and question the provisions of the constitution. It is a living document. So, the function of a Chief Executive is not something to fold his/her hands and say: ‘The constitution is so this or so that is why I am prevented from doing this.’ It is for us to find ways to make the constitution work for us. I am here to serve the people of Benue. I am here to help find every single opportunity to help solve our problems on the ground, using the constitution, using means that are constitutional, but may not be specifically outlined in the constitution. We have lawyers who would tell us the constitutionality of what it is we are doing. As long as everything we are doing is geared towards uplifting our people. If we have to challenge the constitution, we would challenge the constitution or the constitutionality of what it is we are doing. So, we are not afraid of challenging the constitution. We are not afraid of being bold, with the way that we go about trying to develop this state. We are not afraid of having a vision that most people cannot relate to – who are only interested in chopping money.
So, we are not interested in chopping money. We are interested in making people have money. We don’t want to build up a Governor who is the richest man in Benue because that is not the function of the Governor. That is not why you are there as a Governor. We don’t want you to be the most influential person in Benue. We want you to be able to create the enabling environment where ordinary people see hope, uplift their lives; can put more money in their pocket; can be something; can aspire to hold the highest office in the land; can be the richest man in Nigeria; can be the richest woman in Nigeria. That is the function of government. That is the function of a Governor but when you reduce it to ‘I am going to be Governor because I want to carry all the money and I don’t want anyone else to write a cheque for one million naira, you’ve missed the boat completely. So, that is why I left what I was doing in the United States and came back home to make a difference. I want to serve my people. I don’t want my people to serve me. I want to serve them and as long as God gives me any breath, in me, and any ounce of energy in me. I would use it to serve my people in Benue. That is why I am here. That is why I am running for office.
How would you tackle the problem of climate change and environmental degradation that is affecting not just Benue but the world? Secondly, literature has helped to take several Nigerians to great heights. In Benue, we have not gotten patronage from our government and several of our writers – we have great writers here – have had their talent die [unnoticed]. So, if you are eventually elected…
Not if, when I’m elected. I know I am going to be elected. (laughter)
What programmes or what would you do to take the Benue writer not just to the national level but to the world level?
That is a very interesting question. Ours would be a holistic approach. Even though in education, I was talking about STEM and trying to get people to move into our schools, revamp our schools, create new structures that would accommodate our teeming students. We are highly interested in maintaining and developing our culture. Our culture is very important. Now, you are talking about writers. Is it writing institutes? We would have programmes that would enable people to write if you want to write. You see, you don’t have writing institutes if you have writers who want to write, they write on their own because they have not extricated themselves from the day-to-day satisfaction of needs to be able to think straight and write. If you create that environment that would enable someone to be able to go to the waterside and write; if you want to go to school, you want to use that as your own basis to write – that is where you want to go. But to say that we are going to create a writing institute, that is something that we are going to have to think about if those are the kind of things that we need to do. But if you create an environment that would extricate people from the day-to-day running [of] looking for food, looking for shelter, that encourages people to pursue their various dreams but we would promote culture. We would promote people to use their God-given talent to pursue whatever it is they want to pursue. We would create a middle class. We would create entertainment centres or help create entertainment centres where you don’t have to be roaming the streets all the time. If you want to watch a good movie, you can go to a movie house and watch a good movie. If you want to watch a good play – I don’t know how many times you have watched a [standard] play in Makurdi – I don’t know how many places you can go to watch a play in Makurdi. I don’t know how many places you can take your children to go and play in Makurdi. If you brought a friend from Abuja with the family, where would you take them to and leave the kids run around while you take a snooze. So, promoting writers or promoting other types of activities is something that would have to be holistic in approach. So, the infrastructure that we create would also create the opportunity for such things to happen.
What are we worried about climate change in Benue? I can tell you about the aspect that actually peeves me. It is when I am riding on the streets in Makurdi and the soot that comes out, that I am inhaling that proves a health hazard. That is of more concern to me than if we are depleting the O-zone layer because we don’t have any industries that are contributing to climate change in Benue. Now, the other thing that also concerns me is the rampant bush burning to pursue rats especially in Tiv land (laughter). Now, we have to think creatively in terms of how to discourage people from doing that. Maybe, there are advantages but we would have to consult with our scientists to find out the extent of damage to our environment by bush burning. But to prevent your people from burning bush, to chase after little rats, we can create rat farms if you want (Laughter) as an economic activity. Because when you burn bush, you burn people’s houses, you burn people’s homes. When you burn bush, depending on how NEPA laid its cables, you may even burn some of those cables and when you don’t have electricity, it is more wahala. But we have to do something about the soot, the carbon monoxide, the carbon-di-oxide that is on the streets of Makurdi. Graduates are riding cheap okadas as a business in Makurdi. When you drive to Nasarawa, it is even worse. There are certain spots on your way to Abuja, in Nasarawa, where you have to wear a mask before you go. So, I am less worried about climate change in Benue. That is a more global issue. Perhaps, in the South, yes, because they have lots of factories that are shooting things in the air and disrupting our planet. In Benue, what do we have? Is it Benue Cement? So, if or when we are placed in a position where we have to discuss climate change, I am sure we would have a adequate response to what Benue state is doing to contribute to the degradation of the environment. But one more thing, environmental degradation, apart from polluting the air, we have a factory that is perhaps the only factory running in this state, the BCC [Benue Cement Company]. I don’t know if the government of Benue has done any environmental impact analysis of that factory. I am worried because that factory is shooting something in the air and it is affecting the communities there. We will look at the impact of that factory on the health of the community in that area. I don’t know how many of you have gone behind the factory itself to see where the limestone is being dug or being mined. It is a very pleasant sight, right? (No). So, those are issues that one has to look at. What is the long term impact of continuous digging of limestone out of that place? Shall we simply just sit and watch until something erupts in that place? How will that affect our community? So, these are burning issues that one has to look at very carefully.
Now, I have my manifesto which you can pull down [download] on the web. I have a website, I don’t know many of you have visited it but if you Google it, the manifesto is there. It is http://stuforgovernor.org. We have more specific things in all of these areas except for my running mate’s issue. It’s all in the manifesto but I just want to state in very clear terms so that nobody misunderstands me, my running mate is a man of honour, is a hardworking man and is a man who would help us put Benue on the map. And that is why we chose him as a running mate and not because he was Muslim.
On the Ter Kwande’s burial, and violence in general…
As a little kid, my father, Wantaregh Paul Unongu when he came back from Canada spent a lot of time with the Ter Kwande, James Adzape. Our houses were very close in Gboko. So, he wasn’t just any other person. He was like my father but the PDP led by the Governor and his Local Government Chairman, Kwande, prevented me from going to the burial. Arms are being shipped into this state by PDP operatives. PDP as a party, the party hierarchy is planning violence as a way to win elections because they know they are losing. The sentiments of the people are with us, ACN, in the state. They know it, we know it. So, the only way PDP, particularly, the incumbent administration wishes to win is by using excessive overwhelming violence at each polling booth in the state using the machinery of government. We want to serve notice to PDP that we would monitor every single thing they are doing. We would not start or encourage the fights but we would defend ourselves if the law enforcement institutions don’t interfere. I abhor violence, I don’t want violence but we would defend ourselves against violence.
One more thing. We also know that to actualise PDP brand plan to win elections in Benue at all costs, they are buying voter cards which is against the electoral laws. They have provided fake uniforms – military uniforms, military mufti, fake police uniforms to be deployed just before the election to pose as either military folk, military people or police men all around the state in addition to the guns so we are calling on the Inspector General of Police to please investigate. We are calling on INEC to once again pronounce, stipulate what constitutes a crime as far as electoral process is concerned and for them to take note that PDP in Benue state is buying voter registration cards and destroying them so that people would be disenfranchised on the day of the election. The Police must investigate and must be alert of fake uniforms being distributed in Benue state for the purposes of the election by PDP. We want a free and a fair election. We want people to express their will through the ballot box. We would not be intimidated. That is what we want to say to Nigeria, to the people of and Benue state, protect your vote, don’t sell your vote because it is against the law. The real power you have is your vote. So, protect your vote. Cast your vote for ACN.
The Governor said he searched your name on the internet as a Special Adviser to the California Governor and found nothing…
I don’t know if the Governor reads. I know he went to school but I don’t know if he reads because if I make any statement, I want the Governor to contravene it. I am not in the business of defending what everybody says so if you find anything I have said, that is coming from my mouth, please let me know and I will defend it. Or [anything] that I have written. But I am not in the business of going to defend anything and everything that people say about me. You have my CV, look at my CV and if there is anything, come and tell me…I don’t even want to glorify because it is a very useless and baseless assertion.
(Makurdi: March 17th, 2011)