Sen. George Akume is the senator representing Benue Northwest senatorial district. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the Senate minority leader opens up on some state and national issues.
What issues would you like the incoming administration to look at?
The primary purpose of government is to protect and preserve lives and property. These are the primary purposes of government and these issues are clearly enshrined in the constitution. Therefore, I expect the incoming government to first of all address the problems of this country. This country has been dislocated. It has been disintegrated along primordial, regional and religious lines. This government has worked assiduously to ensure that the North-South divide is prominent, and it is expected to continue as long as it serves interests.
Secondly, there must be massive investment in infrastructure. There is no power in this country having spent about N16bn. The estimation by the government indicates that it was supposed to generate six million watts, we have not been able to produce anything except lack of power. Having spent so much, we are still hovering between 3,000 and 4,000 megawatts. So, it is a critical area we have to involve ourselves in. Another one is insecurity; the major purpose of government is security, it has taken a large segment of the governance of this country.
Are you happy with the way INEC has prepared for this election?
INEC is an independent body created by the constitution, charged with the responsibility of conducting elections. This is not the first time that such a body has been created. We have seen the performance of INEC in the past. Even when we were not satisfied in 2011 with the preparedness of INEC, they are now fully prepared; they have told us that the PVCs have been distributed and card readers would be used for the elections. About 80 per cent have collected their PVCs and INEC said they want to use the card readers because they want to ensure the credibility of the elections. They said that every one must come together from both sides of the divide and help to conduct a free, fair and credible elections. We all have a role to play in educating the people not to resort to violence. INEC has said that they want Nigeria to be part of the civilised world by using the card reader; we want to move towards becoming part of the civilised world that has done it. If Senegal did it, South Africa and Mali did it, why can’t Nigeria – the giant of Africa in terms of human and natural resources? Prof Jega is ready and those who want him removed are enemies of democracy…
Yes, I was going to bring that up because there has been allegations of Prof Jega being sympathetic towards the APC. What is your take on this?
Prof Jega was not appointed by APC, he was appointed by the president who is a PDP member. Prior to 2011, Prof Jega had always been in their good books but today, because Jega says, “based on your trust in me, I want to move further and ensure that we apply certain fundamentals that will ensure that a much more credible elections is held,” we expect them to celebrate Jega more. I said this on the floor of the Senate that we are not afraid of card readers, only rogue politicians are afraid of the card reader. There is a lot of sponsorship on part of government to discredit Jega and the application of card readers.
They should leave Jega alone. So many of them are bringing so many things on Jega, Nigeria belongs to all of us and nobody can take it away from us. We have left and built huge opposition that nobody can take us for granted. Jega must be allowed to do his job. Nigerians have nothing against Jega, those who are against Jega are criminals and crooks who rig elections.
You were accused of imposing Chief Ortom on the APC and this has led to division in the party. Are you not guilty of this?
There is nothing like imposition, everything followed due process. Some people went to court to challenge the APC for not fielding him (Steve Ugba) as our candidate in 2011. The court issued an injunction, restraining the APC from conducting the primaries. Senator Joseph Waku too took us to the court because at that material time, Waku was in Lagos. For you to understand what happened, Prof Steve Ugba was living in the United States and I brought him in 2011 to contest elections and he defeated Gabriel Suswam. But because of the Nigerian factor, he was stopped from getting the seat. When that court order was discharged, Waku was in Lagos and he went to court. We rushed to Makurdi and a meeting was organised to ensure that, in line with the constitution, we had a new primaries and what we did was subjected to the congress and we abided by the outcome. APC is not divided in Benue, I built what is called APC in Benue State. We defeated Suswam before Gemade and Ortom came in. So, who are the divided people? Is it Waku and Jime? I was the one who sent Jime to the House of Reps in 2007. I don’t want to sing my praises. In 2011, he lost, we know what took place before he was returned to the House as a Reps member. I respect people but they should not take their issues too far. How many of them can deliver their ward? I laugh because at my stage, I shouldn’t be talking about things like this but I don’t like it when people are not honest. There is no division in APC in Benue State.
Benue is regarded as a PDP stronghold. What would the APC do to win the gubernatorial seat?
There is nothing like Benue being a stronghold of the PDP. We know those who always lose elections but only imposed themselves on the people. Our people now want change. In 2011, we won and now, what will stop us from winning? Suswam knows that he is on his way out. In a basically civil servant state, civil servants have not been paid for over six months, teachers are being owed for over one year and six months. The state has been getting more money than any other time, instead they keep borrowing more.
But don’t you think this is an indictment on your part considering that, you were the one who brought him to power?
You can take the horse to the river but you cannot force it to drink the water. Even if you put your son, he can go against you. Mine is to advise. Let me give you an example. An ambassador to the United States who was then stationed in Arabia during the Gulf War which was regarded as reckless and which destabilised their whole system, George Bush senior, the father of the then president met the ambassador and told him to advise his friend, that the war was unnecessary, that he should stop it. The ambassador told him that, “but he is your son, why don’t you advise him,” however the father said, “I don’t want to undermine his presidency.”
So, yes, I brought Suswam but the most I could do was to advise, I cannot shoot him, besides I don’t have a gun. When you give someone power, all you can do is advise him.
Some parts of Benue have been under attack for some time now. What is the situation presently?
That is a question for Gabriel Suswam, he is the chief security officer of the state. The Fulanis we know are not destructive. I drank ‘nunu’ for the first time when I was young with the Fulanis. They would come and my father would give them a place to stay. So, the Fulanis attacking the people are being sponsored.
What have you done for your people since you came to the Senate that is making you seek for a third term?
I have instituted scholarship for students because the state government doesn’t pay student their allowances. I have created so many things as a legislator. I have brought boreholes, build primary schools, gotten jobs for people and many other things that might be too numerous to mention on the pages of newspaper.
You led the argument against Obanikoro’s clearance as a minister. Tell us what transpired.
The first time he was brought in as an ambassador and later as minister, he was cleared because he was a senator but he misused the opportunity. Therefore, when he came the second time, we decided that his conduct outside the Senate was not in tandem with the constitution. We also have a rule that where two senators from his state disagree, the nominee stands rejected but it wasn’t applied here. David Mark in his wisdom as a very partisan legislator and presiding officer accorded that respect to the senators from Taraba when they objected to Obadiah. Everybody knows the role Obanikoro played in the Ekiti State elections. His name shouldn’t have cropped up in the ministerial list in the first place.