He is a close political associate of Prof Steven Ugba, the then ACN governorship candidate that took Benue by storm in 2011. However, four years down the line, Barrister Mike Utsaha, a budding politician is bold enough to tell his political benefactor that the dynamics in Benue politics have changed, which technically knocks off any further governorship ambition by the professor. KENNETH AZAHAN conducted the interview. Excepts :
Why are you venturing into partisan politics considering the fact that by virtue of your working career you have been engaged in advocating for a better society?
I have worked in the Civil Society sector or what people commonly referred to as the NGO sector within the last 12 years or thereabout. What we have done essentially is to agonize on the side-lines. Good governance has eluded us and some of us are saying enough of these lamentations on the side-lines. Is there a way in which we can become active participants in the process and by so doing bring about the much desired change in our society? So this is precisely why I am pushing into politics. Precisely to see that we can do things differently as far as our democratisation process is concerned. So this is primarily the driving force behind my entry into politics.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP has been at the helm of affairs at the federal level and in your state, why did you choose the All Progressives Congress, APC?
My answer is pretty much straight forward, a good number of Nigerians including myself, I guess some of you also, are not happy with the performances of the ruling party whether it is at the national level or at the state level here and elsewhere. A good number of Nigerians, I will say are completely disenchanted with PDP. I am personally not happy with them and there is a saying that birds of the same feather flock together gather.
I have not seen a like mind of substantial people within the PDP. My entry into politics is primarily based on the entry of Prof Steven Ugbah in 2011 to the political process. He had aspired to become the governor of Benue in 2011 on the then Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN and that is what took me into politics. I see more of those I can call bed fellows in the APC so I have joined them; but much more fundamentally is because there is really nothing attractive belonging to the PDP, a number of Nigerians are not happy, you are on the social media, you read reviews online and elsewhere, you hear the comments that Nigerians make about the PDP since it was formed. Indeed it was in 1998 that PDP was registered. Since then, it has not been at its worst like now. This is its worst period, a political party that lost five governors, a political party that is basically struggling to survive, a political party that is demonstrating every day acts of desperation, we have not seen the kind of thing in Nigeria before.
I think we should try something slightly different which is APC, that is to say we do not have issues within the APC itself. Of course, it is a case with every human endeavour that you find problems here and there but what we keep telling Nigerians is that the time is now. Give APC a chance to prove itself. We cannot make an honest assessment of the APC. Remember this started on the 31st of July 2013, so it’s basically a year old, so in terms of age, you cannot compare it to PDP.
Considering the fact that democracy is a game of numbers and then considering also the fact that members of your party APC are reported everyday to defect to the PDP. How do you intend to cope up with this development?
I think the movement, the intra and inter party movements that are being reported are on all sides, today a good number of people have moved from the APC to the PDP and then the next day you will hear that a good number of people have moved from the PDP to the APC but I think, the greatest beneficiary so far has been the APC. Since the history of democracy in Nigeria, I mean particularly in this fourth republic, we have not seen a situation where five governors moved from a particular political party not just particular political party, ruling political party into an opposition political party. We have never seen that in Nigeria, probably we may not see it again at all, so there are intra and inter party movement but the greatest beneficiary really has been APC. Some frontline members of the APC have crossed over to the PDP but so have other frontline members have also crossed over to the APC.
But again for me personally, for a good number of other persons who are into certain positions, there is an American president who is credited with this saying that all politics is local. So I cannot see how movement of Ribadu from the APC to the PDP will affect my aspirations about the State Assembly in Benue or how the movement of Segun Osoba from the APC to different political party, will affect my aspirations to the Benue State House of Assembly, it’s all about local politics, it’s all about me specifically. I mean we are seeing every day, day in day out with a good number of people who are either moving completely to the APC. I am completely disenchanted with the PDP. Indeed as I go round committing friends, colleagues and political associates. It’s something that has come up and sure it is going to be a new lexicon in our political process that “Pa ti ka a sange a bacha ga” in TIv it means it is not alphabets that really matter it is not PDP or APC or PPA or any political party that matters but the aspirant or the candidate presented by the party.
I think this is what we are seeing increasingly every year. So to go direct in answering your question, I am not worried at all about party movements that we have witnessed within the last few months.
You said Professor Steven Ugba , the ACN gubernatorial candidate of the 2011 elections was the person who brought you in active politics, there have been rumours that he is still running for the same election. What do you think about his second coming?
Two responses really, but before then, a background. I have known Professor Ugba for a very long time. I have known him up till now and we are related. His uncle is a very close friend and a political associate. We have known them right from the time that I was a child. So naturally when he came into politics in 2011, I had to pitch tents with him not because of our friendship but because I knew if given the chance or the opportunity, he will make a difference so I pitched my tent with him instantly and we supported him, you are aware of some of the things we did to support his quest to be the governor of Benue state.
Now really I will still support Professor Ugba for governor of Benue because I know if given the opportunity, he will do very well, but politics in Benue and particularly in Tiv land is hinged on this nebulous principle of zoning. Zoning in the sense that political positions rotate across the state, across Tiv land and the general feeling in Tiv land is that it is the time of the sub sect, which is now known as MINDA to produce the next governor of Benue State. So much as Professor Ugba is a qualified candidate, but there is a demerit and the demerit is simply that he is from the same place with the current governor of the state.
What is your take on what they call constituency projects what at the moment most members of the assembly execute to endear themselves to the people?
Well, I will speak from two sides really, the first side says that the whole concept of constituency project is a misnomer carried in our democratization process. It is a misnomer in the sense that the primary responsibilities of the legislator are to represent, to act as a check on the other branches of government and to make laws. As we mature, our people should get to know and be aware of the primary responsibility of a legislator. A legislator is not supposed to engage in what you call constituency projects.