Senator Barnabas Gemade represents Benue North East in the Senate and is a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. A former national chairman of the PDP, former Secretary of Works in the Ernest Shonekan Interim National Government, ING, he is presently chairman of the Senate Committee on National Planning, Economic Affairs and Poverty Alleviation. In this interview, he reviews the struggle between him and Governor Gabriel Suswam for the Benue North Senate seat and contemporary national issues. Excerpts:
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
HOW do you see the current state of the nation?
I think it is simply a manifestation of what has become of the Nigerian nation state where greed has overtaken normal reasoning in consideration of people in the face of hard times, those who are working too hard to ensure that they continue to have at the expense of the society, at the expense of every individual who is docile, who is not so vicious and vehement in his fight to control resources in this nation.
I believe that my going to Senate ought to be a concessional issue, having served this nation to the extent that I did in taking just a floor member seat in the Senate is the least that I expect this country to do for me.
And the fact that my people in my constituency are extremely happy with my representation and overwhelmingly voted me, I ought to have simple two terms in that Senate without problem, but greed is what is causing those who are working so hard to throw me out, it is an issue which has become so pervasive in the nation and we must attempt to address it, otherwise, the crop of executives that are being bred in this nation, running government and controlling public funds are developing a tendency which is becoming rather uncontrollable and it is a shame because they are bringing bad names to a few of their colleagues who are still trying very hard to maintain decency in governance and maintain good governance by serving the people rather than serving themselves.
It is a very big shame. I don’t want to open issues with governors generally because it is not all governors that are trying to push me out, it is only one that is trying to push me out of the Senate for no reason whatsoever because in my constituency, the Senate seat has not been zoned to his area, it has not been zoned to his people, but he wants to grab it by force because he has money and it is not all the time that money can buy everything.
Money can buy some things and it cannot buy others and this is one thing unfortunately that money cannot buy.
Is there any zoning arrangement in your state, and if there is, does it favour your area?
Of course yes. We have zoning in my state. By nature, in Tiv land we always have this adage that says you have to eat and give your brother.
For the fact that I have done one term in the Senate is a clear indication that my side ought to have that seat for more than just one term and after which it will go to the other side and at this particular time, anybody who wants it that is not from my side, is doing so because he believes that he has some kind of advantage which he employs, whether such advantage is normal or crooked is the issue that I am referring to.
It is alleged that you had promised to serve for one term. Is it true?
It is not true at all, it is a blatant lie. In the first place, when you make agreement with people, they are people that have agreed to reason with you, but when people don’t reason with you, how could you have reached agreement with them? The governor’s camp is the one that has accused me of trying to go two times when I said I will go once! Where did I promise them I will go once because the governor sponsored a candidate against me from my own local government and funded that candidate heavily, used government machinery against my election at the primaries, fought very hard but when I defeated this candidate, he still went ahead and sponsored the candidate in another party which was the ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) against me in the general election.
We fought that vehemently even though I was campaigning for, fighting for him to be elected governor, he was there fighting for an ACN senatorial candidate to be elected.
So how could I ever have entered agreement with that kind of person who is very, very untrustworthy? I looked the other way because I was not working for him, I was working for my party. And as a founding member of this party who also became the national chairman, my allegiance is first to the party and if somebody by the grace of God was able to get a position, which he has decided to misuse, the repercussions of misuse of such position is on his head and not on my head.
So, the bad governance the governor has exhibited in my state over the period he has been governor, is not my problem. I know nothing about his government, I never played any part in it, I’m excluded in practically every issue, I don’t mind. But as far as the party is concerned, he doesn’t own it, he was not in the position to contribute or invest anything in this party when we formed it in 1998 or 1999.
Beneficiaries of this party by way of appointment as commissioners or council chairmen, or members of assemblies in 1999 were simply very lucky beneficiaries because people did not believe that democracy was really going to thrive because each time there was democracy, it was broken by the military and this time they thought well, let us see whether it is going to work.
So, so many of those who came were emergency politicians that came and took positions. And once they got in, and started to enjoy it and because they have this element of greed are able to put their hands in all kinds of monies and amass so much money that they think that nothing will stop them in doing whatever they like to do, these are the issues here. I could never have entered a pact with people who were against me.
Your governor has promised to go to the Senate on the platform of the PDP. Are you not really threatened?
I am not threatened in any way at all. The reason is that, that boast is based on the current situation in this country today where falsehood and impropriety is not being addressed.
You know there are so many things that happen in this nation that are talked about by the public in so many ways and at the end of the day, even when there is an attempt to investigate and know the truth, such things just die a natural death, so it has come to a point where people are not afraid to do wrong, they have no fear especially if you have a good office. There is no difference between personal funds of a governor and his private funds today.
There are few that are trying to make sure that they rule their states in a very decent manner and especially those who are genuine politicians who suffered along with us when we were forming this party under the military like Sule Lamido of Jigawa State for example, a foundation member and those who were part of G-9 and G-18, they understand what it means to fight for freedom.
But emergency politicians who just joined as Commissioners in 1998, today, have grown to become governors are so proud of buying jets and running up and down and say oh in my state, I can do whatever I like, oh, I am the one that has put this money, it is my money, oh, it is my government.
But today they are so proud and arrogant about their money. Where did your father produce a farthing for you to come and say that you are a billionaire? You keep saying ‘I run the party’, yes you run the party, but anyone who runs the party with public funds cannot appropriate that party to become his own?
So, today, when the party is deciding that they will go and do delegate election where delegates will be elected, they corner the thing and say, this is my party, it has to be done the way I want, go to Government House and write a list of those who will elect people and after you have written that list, you will be boasting that I will defeat my opponent, like my governor says ‘I will defeat Gemade’, he will not even get up to five votes. Yes, anybody who wrote the list of delegates in his house will boast that he can defeat you. If they are popular, why don’t they come to the field and meet us there so that we can compete and have delegates and know who has actually got more delegates than the other, but they will never do that. I challenge such people to come out there to the field and do the election. The bane of this problem is that, the party itself is sometimes being intimidated to a point where they just accept some of these things.
Unfortunately, if a party is intimidated to accept delegates which the governor has made in his house for an election, yes, they will use it to win primaries but they can never win the elections.
In my state for example, when Senator George Akume left the party, our vote dropped by one-third, that is the PDP votes for the state dropped by one-third and it was because primaries were being rigged against him and if primaries are rigged against another Senator, you can imagine the amount of drop that will be.
I don’t want to predict these matters, the party itself knows and the ball is in their court to make decisions, if they decide otherwise, the repercussion will not be on the head of members, it will be on their own heads as leaders of the party.
When Senator Akume was allegedly rigged out of the party, he decided to dump the party, assuming it happens to you, will you also leave the party?
I will not allow anybody to rig me out because I am a foundation member. Akume also was one of those that we picked as governors in 1999, his stake to this party is not as heavy as mine.
I was one of those who struggled with Solomon Lar and Ekwueme and others right from day one in the national steering committee to form PDP and we funded it with our hard earned resources and today those who are funding the party, feeling proud, are funding it with public funds, they had nothing to invest in the party at that time, we invested, I will not run away from this party on account of someone using public fund to throw me out, he is the one that will be thrown out.
Are your constituents in support of your re-election, how have you been carrying them along?
Absolutely hundred percent! You needed to follow me in my sensitization tours in my seven local governments including the local government of the governor the number of people that came out and the enthusiasm with which they showed which is the reason why he was afraid to come to the congresses in the ward because he will be defeated.
That is why he decided that he will use the machinery of his government to snatch and corner and divert all the materials for congresses and go and write delegates in his house.
Today, so many feeble minded people are cowed into joining his list but the real populace who have nothing to lose are calling the bluff, they are going to stand firmly behind me and they will vote for me at the appropriate time.
A former Minister in this country, Chief Don Etiebet recently said that governors have become one of the greatest problems the country is having, what is your take on this?
Well, I don’t want to categorically say that it is all governors that are doing this because there are some states where governors are very decent people and making a sweeping statement that covers all governors is not very fair to that group of people. But certainly, there are few governors that have shown extreme irresponsibility as we can see and the noisiest of them all in this nation. So, Don is right in a way but to generalize completely, may not be appropriate.
The National Assembly was under siege on Thursday last week, do you think that what happened was good for the growth of democracy in the country?
It is very unfortunate. It is very unfortunate that the incident took place, ever took place because watching from television and listening to first account by those who were directly affected because I was in the National Assembly but went in early as I always do and I was already seated in the chamber of the Senate when this commotion took place outside.
Barricading the gate
But from what I heard, those who were coming very late, were barricaded by police and not allowed to come in, it is unfortunate.
Whatever reason they give for what they did, the action cannot be justified because it is easy to know who is a member of the National Assembly and who is not. So, if you barricade the gate, you try to protect the National Assembly by invaders, you should be able to know who is a member and allow him to come in, not to let them climb gate as if they are intruders because I saw members of the National Assembly climbing the gate to come in and if they are not barred from coming in, why did they refuse to open the gate, it is very unfortunate, I don’t think this kind of thing will augur well for the polity and anybody who was responsible, should ensure that such a thing did not happen again.