Mr. Dickson Tarkighir represents Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives and a member of the Appropriation Committee. In this interview, he spoke on some issues including the padding controversy, the controversy over open grazing of cattle and issues about Benue politics. Excerpts:
By Peter Duru
What informed your decision to leave the People’s Democratic Party, PDP at the time you left in 2015 to contest the election on the platform of the APC?
I think a time came when our people were so dissatisfied with what the PDP as a party in government was doing at the time. Yes, I was in the PDP though at the lower rung of the party. I was not in any decision-making position or organ of the government or party.
A time came when my governor at the moment who had worked at every level of the PDP said it was time to move. My leader, Senator George Akume had already left, and there was need for us also to leave, and the country was tired of that party.
At the time I left, I moved to a level where I can influence policy. That was the time to move, and everybody was moving anyway. I’m fulfilled because I moved to a level where I can influence policy and interact with people to influence democracy dividends to my people.
What are your plans for your constituency?
As we all know, the National Assembly is a law making body, but at the same time, we influence things through synergy.
Aspects of infrastructure
At the federal level, I have tried so much this year to see that certain aspects of infrastructure are in this year’s budget. I have my share of the budget to be able to place classrooms rural and township roads, healthcare centres in Guma local government.
Your party is in charge of the state for over one year now, are you satisfied with the progress recorded so far?
I’m satisfied with the progress so far recorded in the state. The governor has done so much in a short time in a very difficult time. Remember that we came in when the past government was owing civil servants and pensioners about seven months’ salary arrears.
Now the governor has been able to manage the situation. He has managed to reduce that to four months from seven, and his priority is to ensure that salaries are paid. He is somebody who had worked at the lower rung of government before becoming governor, so he knows the importance of paying people their wages.
What has been the experience at the National Assembly thus far?
It’s been exciting and challenging at the same time. We came in at the time the economy of Nigeria was sliding, but of course, I had the mandate of my constituency to go to the National Assembly to make laws that would reflect positively on my people and probably if I can, lobby my colleagues for important projects that would benefit them.
So far like I said it’s been challenging, the economy has been terrible. Despite that, I’ve been able to sponsor a couple of bills that have passed various stages of reading. These are bills that I think when passed will tremendously benefit my people. One of which is the bill on grazing. Shortly after my election, I travelled to Bulgaria and Brazil, even before I was elected, to look at their laws as regards ranching.
Remember Brazil is one of the biggest exporters of beef. They ranch their cattle. I went there to see what laws and the kind of infrastructure they have in place for the development they have in place for their beef industry. When I came back, I was able to put together a bill which has passed first reading, and the reason was simple. The issue of farmers and herdsmen has been with us for a very long time, and I was a victim in 2014; herdsmen destroyed my house in the village and my community and killed a lot of people.
Remember we are an agrarian people and state. Our people are farmers. Hence we needed our fields and farmland to be able to contribute positively to the economic development of this country.
At what stage is the bill and do you see it sailing through?
The Bill has passed first reading and a colleague of mine from Adamawa State also brought a bill on grazing. So the House decided that we should consolidate the two bills and then go back and harmonise them so that we can come out with a clean copy that is acceptable to everyone, that is the stage we are. We are hoping that by the time we resume we should be able to sit down with those of my colleagues who think that grazing is the way to go and then put our arguments out there and to Nigerians so that we can see the havoc herdsmen have caused in communities across the country. Criminal elements have also joined the herdsmen in causing havoc in the affected communities. And I don’t think that in 2016, people should say we should have open grazing in Nigeria.
Recently we had the issue of budget padding rocking the National Assembly, was there actually anything like that at the Assembly?
I’m a member of the Appropriation Committee and I represent Benue caucus on the Appropriation Committee so I know exactly what went on in the 2016 budget and I can tell you there was nothing like padding in the budget. First and foremost Nigerians must understand that the National Assembly constitutionally is the only body saddled with the responsibilities of making the budget.