BY RUTH CHOJI
…..Hon Okev Jev represents Buruku federal constituency of Benue State. In this interview with I, the chairman, house committee on rules and business, speaks on trending national issues
Some Northern youths have given the Igbos based in the north three months to vacate the zone. What is your take on this?
I think it is condemnable, the security agents must move in to douse any tension that will arise after that press conference. What is happening across the country, where the embers of disunity and secessionists agitation are spreading all over the country is a serious problem that requires urgent attention of the Federal Government. What this calls for is the development of a strategy to keep talking to each other. It is not a mistake that we are in one country. Every country passes through its own crisis one time or the other. We have even fought a civil war in this country and 50 years after the civil war, some people are taking about sending others out while others are talking about leaving the country. The political leadership must move in quickly whenever such development takes place so that it does not get out of control. Before now the security agencies were trying to manage the situation of Biafra and now, this could further compound the situation.
Does this situation actually question the unity of Nigeria?
We have fought a civil war and yet stayed as one. Even if we reduce Nigeria to 50 countries, you will still have the problems we have today. For example, if you give the South/west their country, they will start talking about Modakeke/Ife issue. I can say that for virtually every region. In Benue State, the Tivs and Idomas will turn on each other. So the important is to develop the capacity to live together in spite of our differences. We must continue to talk to each other.
But we have a faulty federalism?
It is evolving. It is a concept which unfortunately, a lot people don’t understand how it is supposed to work, especially some of us in government. People will talk about federalism yet, we will still be talking about development commissions. Those asking for federalism are the same ones acting as if we are a unitary government. It means we are yet to understand the idea of federalism.
How will you advice the Federal Government on the Biafra?
We need to call the proponents of such ideas to a round table and have a discuss. When some people feel sidelined, they start agitating for such things to attract attention. But why do they think that going out of the federation will solve their problems? However, you discover that that their narrative is if somethings are done, they will remain in Nigeria.
Should the North-central that has been effected by religious and ethnic crises also demand for a development commission like the South-east did recently?
That is a knotty issue. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in plenary when the debate started but I know that it was tumultuous. What goes on in this country is that, once something happens in one area, another area will want it in their area, irrespective of the merits and demerits of issue. The North-central has a legitimate case, if you ask me, because of the consistent attacks of marauders or herdsmen. If the reasons that gave rise to the creation of the North-east development commission is a guide, then we have qualified for such commission because my state used to be the food basket of the nation, but at the onslaught of each planting season, the marauders will come and vandalise the farms. At the harvesting time, they also come and destroy the crops. You can say that for other places like Plateau State. For eight years, it was a killing field between marauders and farmers. So it is something that could be debated. On merit, North-central is most qualified for something like that.
Now that you mention Benue State, the state government recently gave a marching order to the herdsmen to vacate their farmlands. Do you think this is an infringement on the rights of the citizens?
There is a law in place, it was not the governor that said it. The State Assembly passed the law. In the House of Representatives, about four bills on this issue were presented, some tagged them ranching, open air grazing and other names. But it was all to resolve the issue. Going further, it was resolved that the land belongs to the state government through the Land Use Act. So making a law from Abuja to take care of state issue might not work. You cannot change the Land Use Act unless you amend the constitution. Ekiti State did that and I am sure Benue State is taking a cue from that. Cattle rearing you might say is a way of life for some people, but it is a way of earning their income. So others too should be allowed their way of life in order to earn their income. If you want land to graze in Benue State, when you come with your money, you can buy as much land as you can afford and raise your cattle there. This will stop them from going into peoples farms.
But are you comfortable with the way the Federal Government is handling the situation?
What is happening is basically an issue of law and order and the Federal Government is in a good position to handle it. I am not satisfied. You find lots of killings, yet you will never hear where someone was arrested and prosecuted. Killing of people is nothing but a law and order issue. So if you find in a place like Buruku where 20 people were killed, and no one person has been arrested, how can I be satisfied with that kind of scenario? The Benue State caucus in the House of Representative raise a motion and requested the president to setup a task force to disarm this people because sooner than later, if they are not stopped, farmers too will pick up arms to defend themselves and our society will be worse for it.
The APC government just celebrated two years in office, will you say they are on track?
I sometimes imagined what this country would have looked like if APC had not come in the way it did. The stupendous amounts of money we are hearing, that were voted for arms that went into private pocket like ATM machine, it would have continued till date if this government hadn’t taken over. I am wondering the rate of inflation and unemployment that we would have had. This administration came and took us away from such recklessness. That in itself is worth celebrating. There are a lot of things people know you can’t do. The Treasury Single Account (TSA) has saved the country lots of funds that ordinarily would have been in different accounts under the signature of heads of such organizations. Everybody has noticed how the fight against corruption is going even though some people are trying to dilute the potency of it. The truth is that, everybody knows that you can’t do things the way they used to be done. This government has brought the issue of diversification, away from oil. At a point, oil was being sold above a $100 and we had lots of money but nothing was done with it. Suddenly when this government took over, it crashed to less than $40 per barrel even though it is picking up. The moment Niger-delta goes into conflagration, it will nose-dive again. So if we don’t have an alternative source of earning money to fund our budget, we will get into trouble. Of course things will be a little hard considering the years of neglect and corruption but things will change for the better. People expect things to happen overnight but it doesn’t work like that.
Despite the monies recovered by TSA people are still suffering with no money to spend?
The idea of TSA was to save these money from corruption. I don’t think the idea is to gather them somewhere to fester. The whole idea, to my understanding is, ensure that a system where an organization which has many accounts and one person controlling it is checked. As such all those accounts are properly monitored so that once anybody goes there to take anything, the whole system will know that somebody has touched the money.
There were reports that the Federal Government is planning to concession some of our airports, will you subscribe to that?
I believe it has become clear that government cannot manage businesses. We used to have a Nigerian airline that was functional. Sometimes the whole plane will carry passengers that will not pay anything because it is a government airline. Look at Ethiopian airport and our airports? It is embarrassing. Recently, we were returning from a foreign trip and immediately we landed at our airport, the light went off. For me, it wasn’t surprising but I was looking at the foreigners among us. It was so embarrassing. But my problem with concession is that, sometimes, there are no rules and after it is done, one person will come out and say that, let’s go back to the way we were doing things. So people sometimes are now very conscious of investing lots of money into such businesses because the idea behind a concession is for people to come and invest their money and after sometime, give it back to government because the government retains the ownership. I think the unions have been against concession because their fear is that there will be loss of jobs. But that is part of what should go into a concession. In the past six years, government has spent over N12bn in salaries to Ajaokuta workers when nothing is coming out of that. So imagine what you can do with N12bn. The NNPC will not tell you how much they are earning no matter what you do, but if it is concessioned, you will know what is due to government. It becomes certain and it will be better managed.
The Federal Government still has not accented to the budget, does this bother you?
Supposing the budget was still with the National Assembly, people would have been shouting. Let what needs to be done be done so that we can move forward.
The acting president has sent a letter to the National Assembly, requesting permission on behalf of some states to source for $1.5bn loan. Do you think Nigeria need this at this time?
First they are asking for loan because 10 states have indicated that they need money…
But should states be giving funds again when they have not justified the previous ones given to them?
Each case should be treated on its merit because what state A is asking for might be different from state B. some states are making giant strides, yet many more cannot even pay salaries. If a serious state identifies a project that will further the development of infrastructure, then it should be looked at based on its merit.
Did the rumor of a planned coup bother you?
Considering that it came from the chief of army staff, then it should be taken seriously. If I had heard it from mere gathering or newspapers, I would have dismissed it. But I doubt if any serious minded soldier will think of a coup now. The worst civilian regime is better than the best military regime because people can criticize government in a civilian regime. The era we live in is such that, people don’t see the military as saviours in governance. They only trust them to protect our borders but,when it comes to governance, they have proven that they cannot do it. I am happy that the response of Nigerians in spite of present challenges has been that of condemnation.