Looking back to the journey so far, will you say you are satisfied with what you have done for the people as their governor?
I set off perfectly but, I won’t say I have met those targets the way I had wanted it. But, on a second thought, before I came, there were a lot of things that were not in place. Our attitude generally, for instance, has been a shift paradigm. When I started the roads in Makurdi, the question was whether people were going to eat the roads; the attitude was wrong. They didn’t appreciate the fact that people needed to operate in a decent environment.
I almost lost my election because they said I was not sharing money. There is no part of Benue that you will go that there are no rural roads or electricity. These are things people never believed can be done. For instance, the electricity in Oju started in 1979, they never saw electricity until I became governor. Ditto for Igbo. So, the only way I could change the negative attitude of our people was to say things and do them. There was no single block at the Makurdi water works. My predecessor had dug a hole there but I have built the water project from the scratch and it is ready for reticulation. I said I would build a water project in Otukpo, I have successfully done so. Ditto for Katsina Ala. I have also put up a befitting government house so that a governor can at least sleep and wake up to think properly.
I have also done very well in the area of security. We don’t have a situation where we are at war with our neighbours in Nasarawa, Taraba, Kogi, Cross River and Ebonyi states. So, I might not have been very satisfied that I have achieved completely what I wanted, but there is a paradigm shift. There is a solid foundation which can be used to judge others. School’s infrastructure that were dilapidated have been fixed. I have shown the Benue people that the government can make a difference. So, if a new governor comes and does not build on what I have put in place, then you will know there is a problem.
So, what were your challenges all these years in office?
My greatest challenges have been that of money and people who wish to be destructive no matter the efforts. I never complained when there was money. Now, we are talking about salaries and the monies to apply on these projects are no longer there. And if you are paying salary, everything will decay and collapse.
The rural economy has greatly improved and this was made possible by the electricity and rural roads we did. So, I will say I have tried from where we are coming, but because of the challenges of funding, we have been unable to reach our targets. Again, there is the issue of bad attitude. Look at our street lights, which were meant to beautify the city, especially at night, and as well provide security. Do you know that people were unscrewing and dropping them? Those are not my lights; it is meant to improve the security situation. That is the kind of negative attitude we have. Just because you don’t like me and I won election, you think the street lights don’t belong to Benue, but they are Suswam’s light, so let’s destroy it. But, we have moved and I’m happy that our attitude is changing.
On the issue of security, this has continued to be a challenge. Recently, a group of Fulani boys raped two girls of about 14 and 18 years old and the one that survived is 19. They raped the two and killed them. One escaped with machete cuts. Now, the young man I put as the chairman of task force among the Fulani was able to trace and arrest one of them with about 200 cows. We brought the Fulani boy to Makurdi, but he insisted that he was alone. But, the girl, who escaped, said they were three. Of course, it is difficult for one man to rape three women. It is almost impossible. Now, if the Fulani people are insisting that there must be crisis, we must be cautious of what the issues really are. Those girls were not stopping them from grazing. There wasn’t any land in dispute, so why would they rape two girls and kill them?
We have another instance, where the Fulani people went and burnt down houses in Gboko unprovoked. I’m beginning to think that there is another agenda other than what we know about. Otherwise, I have done everything that is humanly possible to make sure that between us and the Fulani, we live in peace. But, there are some criminal minded ones who are bent on ensuring that we must be thrown into crisis. So, it is totally unacceptable to me. It’s a situation that should worry people and I’m very worried because if these people decide to go on a reprisal attack, then there would be problem. I have invited the president of Miyetti Allah to discuss, so that he can help to control his people. I have made sure that the people do not retaliate. I have been very proactive on the issue of security. We want to urge our people not to continually engage in conflicts, because I want to leave behind a peaceful state.
You stated recently that you are planning to create new local governments in the state. Will this happen before the 2015 election?
Not before the elections. We will do it. But, I’m not sure we will finish it before the elections. I have just inaugurated a panel of seven men, who will be going round to receive memoranda and suggestions on how to do it. We are creating 12 more local governments and we are going to make sure they do a good job.
Last week, it was reported that Benue has put up its 20 billion unit of its shares in Dangote cement company for sales. Why is state government selling its shares and what do you want the money for?
I am looking for money and I wished that I even had enough shares to sell and apply the money to solve some of the problems that we have but unfortunately, we don’t have. The shares we have in Benue Cement are a little over 43 million units. No one is in the market. So, it’s a good thing they have decided to give them out. Jokes apart, the Benue Investment Property Company (BIPC), which is in charge of business portfolios of the government, are supposed to trade in shares if they have them. That is why they are set up.