September 16, 2018

“If you didn’t stop Sharia law in Zamfara, you cannot stop anti-open grazing law in Benue”

Senator JKN Waku

Senator JKN Waku

Senator Waku takes on Defence Minister Mansur Dan Ali

By Peter Duru, Makurdi

 Senator Joseph Waku is a native of Benue State where conflicts between local farmers and herdsmen have claimed scores of lives since the beginning of the year. In this interview, Waku speaks on the thinking in some quarters that the Federal Government has done very little to end the crisis in the state and his fears for the country ahead of the 2019 general elections. Excerpts:

Senator JKN Waku

Senator JKN Waku

Benue State is bedevilled by lingering farmers/herdsmen conflicts since the beginning of the year. Are you impressed with the measures put in place so far by the Federal Government to bring normalcy?

As I speak to you, my country home has been brought down to ground zero, so when I speak about the herdsmen crisis, I speak with emotion. The Federal Government, for some strange reasons, has not done enough to alleviate the pains and sufferings of the masses affected by the crisis.

You know that Governor Samuel Ortom is also directly involved. If not for the efforts of the governor as a person, by now, we probably wouldn’t have any home to call our own.

If you listened to the governor of Zamfara State, in one of his pronouncements on the killings in his state, he said, as governor, the title of chief security officer of a state is merely symbolic.

So a governor is handicapped to ensure security in his state because he does not control the police, the army and indeed other security agencies. The little he can do, as a governor, is to ensure provision of relief materials for victims whenever any crisis happens in his state, which Ortom has been doing for the over 180,000 Internally Displaced Persons, who are taking refuge in the eight camps established by his government since the farmers confrontation with the killer herdsmen began early in the year.

I must say that I’m impressed with the manner Governor Ortom rose up in defense of the people of Benue and the way he cried out over the matter. But if that has earned him enemies, especially with the powers-that-be, that is their business.

We must not forget that Ortom is the people’s representative and if his people are being killed and he cried out and somebody else is not happy, that is their business. Do you complain for those who are happy? Those who are happy on the issue are heartless. It is the Benue people who elected Ortom as governor and he has every right and justification to speak and cry over the matter and if that is the reason for his persecution, well, God is watching.

Don’t you think that the Benue anti-open grazing law could have been the reason for the killings in the state as claimed by the Minister of Defence, General Mansur Dan Ali?

For God’s sake, states Houses of Assembly are empowered to make laws for the good of the states and their peoples, don’t they?

I do not subscribe to that irresponsible pronouncement by the Minister of Defence. There was Sharia law in Zamfara State, was it not obeyed by those residing in the state?

Those who felt that they could not obey the Sharia law looked for other areas where they could stay to avoid running foul of the law.

We are in the same country, what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. There was Sharia law in Zamfara and were all Nigerians happy with the law? No, but it was obeyed.

In fact, many Moslems themselves were not happy with the law but they had to live with it. So what are we talking about?

Moreover the Federal Government gave its full support to the implementation of that law. How can you know resort to selective protection when it concerns Benue?

And, any case, what makes anyone think that it was because of the grazing law that the killings in Benue started. In 2012, was there any grazing law when our communities were attacked massively by these same herdsmen?

There was no grazing law. In fact they have not told us what they want yet. Today, parts of Guma have been sacked by these people.

As one of those affected by the herdsmen crisis, would you say the state government, particularly the governor, has done well in tackling the issue?

Nobody had the courage to tackle the herdsmen crisis the way Ortom has done. He has done perfectly well and he deserves the commendation of all Benue people.

Could it be the reason he was pushed out of the All Progressives Congress, APC?

That I do not know but I am talking about what he has done well in the face of adversity.

Looking at the unfolding political developments in Benue State, the general elections are fast approaching. Who do you think would be the right person to govern Benue come 2019?

As I speak to you, none of the aspirants for governor has approached and told me of his ambition. It is only those who told me of their ambition that I can speak on and the only person who has done that is Governor Ortom.

And you think he is the right person for the job?

I don’t think, I know that he is the right person for the job in 2019. He will serve the interest of Benue better and he will do well despite the challenges he is facing. I can put my money on that.

What is your take on the decision of the elders and stakeholders of PDP in Benue State to cede the position of leader of the party to Governor Ortom which some of the governorship aspirants in the PDP feel would give him undue advantage over others with same ambition?

The decision was that Ortom does not hold an automatic ticket but he was made the leader of the party. In the United States of America where we took our brand of democracy from, when you are President and you are running for a second term, as sitting President, you get the first choice of refusal. Is that different from Nigeria? The party never said they gave Ortom an automatic ticket. But I know that Ortom is able and amiable to go into contest with anybody.

Don’t forget that I’m not a member of the PDP, but I’m going to vote for Ortom if he gets the PDP ticket. And no man born of a woman in this world will stop me from doing what I need to do because I am supporting him, full stop.

I’m not supporting PDP, I’m not against APC but I’m supporting Ortom. He is a governor-in-waiting for a second term, I know that.

Moreover Ortom is not just bidding for the governorship of Benue. Ortom is already a governor, he is only looking for a second term.

These are two different things. He is looking for a second term and it has been an unwritten order, unwritten guideline in Benue State that every person that becomes governor of Benue, without suffering military intervention, that person earns his second term and Ortom cannot be an exception to that rule and that is why I’m supporting him today, tomorrow and until the election is over.

I’m not begging anybody and I’m not taking any suggestion from anybody. That is my position; I need not consult with a native doctor over that.

Some of the aspirants are already nursing the fear that he could pick the party’s ticket given his position as leader of the PDP in the state. Doesn’t that portend danger for the party?

They are scared because they have nothing to offer. If they have something to offer, they should face Ortom squarely at the primary election.

The party leaders did not say Ortom is the candidate of the party, they pronounced him the leader of the party. It was within the party’s hierarchy that it was decided. It is a norm the world over that the governor is the leader of the party.

Even me, if they had given Ortom an automatic ticket I would have protested, if I belonged to that party. But they said he is the leader of the party. He enjoys the right of first refusal, it is there as a right. Let those who want to run for that office also come forward through the electoral process, they can even defeat him through a contest if they are popular enough.

But the circumstance that led powerful forces to push Governor Ortom out of APC also got a lot of people worried because, at a point, it was gathered that these forces didn’t want him in the party because of his stance on the grazing law. Are you not bothered about that issue?

Those who did that are not God. And that is why I congratulated the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for going ahead to register multiple political parties to give room to Nigerians who are being denied the opportunity to render services within their communities.

And that will also checkmate the so-called drunken leaders in some of the political parties. You now have a choice of other parties to move into in order to serve your people who crave for your leadership just like the Ortom scenario.

What are your hopes and fears as the 2019 general elections approach given the growing political tension in the country?

Well, I pray that nothing negative happens. Nigerian is one country that manages its affairs very well.

My advice to politicians is that, firstly, there should be freedom of association, freedom of movement and freedom of contestation but all I know is that several persons will indicate interest and buy forms to run for the position of President of the country or governor of a state and all that, but just one person will be appointed by God and, when that happens, we must learn to cooperate and work with whoever emerges for the good of the masses and greater unity of our country.