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2019: Nigeria needs a modern president – Iyorchia Ayu

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Lecturer, activist-turned politician, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu has served as Senate President, minister of several ministries and is today one of the elders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

A close political associate of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Dr. Ayu, in this interview, speaks on the rebranding of the PDP, the role of godfathers in the political space, the expectations of the Benue political class from Atiku and his unsavoury departure from President Olusegun Obasanjo’s cabinet during the first term. Excerpts:

By Peter Duru

When PDP members talk about the rebranded PDP, what do they mean?

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No imposition of candidates, elections to be conducted transparently, level playing field, everybody should be happy after an election, the people’s will should prevail and votes should count. So the people should choose the candidate of their choice, that is the new rebranded PDP.

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Iyorchia Ayu
Iyorchia Ayu

How does that relate to the politics of godfathers especially in Benue where you are regarded as one of the godfathers?

I don’t understand this thing about godfatherism, you see, when you are supporting a candidate, sometimes who is weak, nobody complains about it, either you use your network, your influence, sometimes even your financial resource to help a candidate nobody complains. When the candidate is in office and people think, oh he is now controlling state resources, suddenly everybody sees you as a godfather.

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The truth of the matter is that governors are always their own men. If you are not your own man, you are not worth being a governor. You cannot be a governor and somebody is tele-guiding you. I believe that whoever is elected into public office should manage himself as his own person.

Are you saying that godfatherism does not exist?

There is positive and negative godfatherism. If I advise you to do things that are in the public good that is positive godfatherism.

So there are positive ways people who have influence can influence leaders. But if I sit there and say, hack state money and come and give me every day; that is negative godfatherism. And if the governor does it, to me the fault is that of the governor. He should have refused. If somebody tells you what is wrong you should say no.

And I have always believed in public service, real service to the people of Benue. And most of the advise I gave was in the direction of policies that would help the people of Benue. So it is inevitable that people will say negative things about you. If you are a leader, do not worry about the negative things. There is no leader in history who doesn’t have negative things said about him.

Even Aper Aku who we are celebrating today, when he was building Benue Breweries, Benue people said they would not drink Aper Aku’s urine. When Aper Aku died he became the greatest leader ever. Maybe when I leave the scene the people of Benue will celebrate me.

So why do we normally have the rift between godfather and son as the one that is playing out in Lagos between Governor Ambode and his perceived godfather, Asiwaju Tinubu?

I cannot generalize, there are individual differences. I don’t know what went wrong between Ambode and my friend Tinubu. But there are different situations, so sometimes it’s just an issue of power, sometimes it’s ego; sometimes there are clashes over so many different issues. So it is difficult to say this is why people disagree but it is common for people who hold power or who aspire to hold power to begin to assert themselves or to begin to have differences and if you don’t manage those differences then they can escalate into the public domain. And most of the time the public is the worst for it.

In all my life I have tried to manage my differences with other leaders, whether those above me or those below me. I manage it in such a way that they do not explode into the public sphere and that is why sometimes people say I don’t talk because if you have a governor for example, no matter how a leader you think you are you must respect him. He is your leader, you are the follower.

Iyorchia Ayu cannot be the leader of Benue, David Mark is not the leader of Benue. Today Governor Ortom takes precedence over us. No matter how old or experienced we are, the leader of Benue must be respected by us. We are the first to respect him so that others will follow us. If we disrespect him, it then means we are inviting other people to disrespect the head of government of Benue. So the governor is the leader and for me I will never disrespect whoever is the leader.

I did it with Akume, I did it with Suswam and I will do it with Ortom, he is the leader. I can only advise him privately.

In private I can tell him anything I want to tell him but I won’t do it in public. I won’t disrespect him publicly.

What will Benue stand to gain from having Atiku as the president of this country?

First of all, Benue has important challenges, we in Benue are consulting to put together our own demands. We will vote Atiku Abubakar, he is our friend. For some of us who are his personal friends for over 20 to 30 years.

I think the number one issue for us in Benue is security. We cannot have President who allows people to come killing our people all over the place. We will make it clear to Atiku, we are not voting him on sentiments, we are voting on concrete issues. We want him to stop the killings in Benue to allow our people live in peace, to allow our people manage their economic situation and possibly move out of poverty. We are farmers.

We have to go ahead to modernize our farming but we cannot do that when we have criminals all over the place carrying AK-47 slaughtering our people including priests.

Atiku Abubakar has to make sure that this is completely stopped. That will be our number one priority, other things will follow. We are not going to vote because Atiku Abubakar is Iyorchia Ayu’s friend, no. He has to tell us specifically what he is going to do. Some of us have already interacted with him, he has told us exactly what he intends to do to stop these killings to make Benue a peaceful place, to help Benue to develop its agriculture, some of the mineral deposits that we have, process them, create jobs.

He has emphasized the issue of job creation. We have huge pool of unemployed youths in Benue, we are worried about that, and Atiku has consistently said he is going to put emphasis on job creation. So production in different areas whether in agriculture, industrialization and so forth. I think those are the areas but our number one concern will be the security issue.

Has he in your interactions given you a template or programme on how he intends to handle the herdsmen crisis and issues relating to the anti-grazing law?

Two things, the United Nations and even the UN security agencies have come out clearly to declare that the so called herdsmen are one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world. They don’t just look at it as herdsmen clashing with farmers. They have identified them as terrorists most of them closely linked to what you call ISIS. Atiku is not in any way connected to that movement. Atiku is a modern industrialist, Atiku believes in ranching hence he has companies that produce animal feeds.

You cannot benefit as a company that is producing animal feeds if cattle are moving all over the world. Atiku believes that ranching by private individuals who are involved in cattle business will also help to promote his own personal business which is the production of animal feeds. He has two factories involved in animal feeds.

Secondly, Atiku has in recent times advocated restructuring. Restructuring also implies that states would be allowed to have their own Police because in a true federation, you cannot have only one Police force all over. So that states would be able to protect their own communities not question of the IGP would be sent to Benue and he stops in Nasarawa, no. In a restructured Nigeria, Benue will have its own IGP with its own police force and therefore be able to tackle any terrorist that comes to Benue.

From my discussions with Atiku I believe strongly that some of these critical issues would be addressed fundamentally and it is only when they are addressed that Benue will be able to reorganize its own security including community police. So the issue of arming Live Stock Guards will not be there, we will have a Police with arms and whoever attacks us the Police will deal with them. This will be legitimately done because we will be working with the National Assembly. Of course we are not the only ones facing this problem.

Zamfara, Sokoto, Plateau, Bornu, Adamawa, Taraba, Kogi, many of these states are confronted by the same problem of terrorists harassing and killing people all over the place and you cannot live peacefully in Nigeria. No civilized President will allow its citizens to be slaughtered as it has happened under President Buhari in the last three years. And I believe Atiku will be a modern day President, somebody who believes in restructuring, somebody who believes that he himself can benefit by ranching. He will sell his animal feeds, his factory will produce feeds which will be selling.

I believe that the direction to go is to have a modern President, nobody is saying that every Fulani man is a terrorist, I have many friends who are Fulani who are totally opposed to what is going on today. They even feel that the Fulani race is being criminalized. When people see them, they think they also support it but they are very much opposed to it.

So Gen. Buhari since he left office as Head of State in 1985, he is a man who nobody knows whether he has established a school, who nobody knows whether he has read a book, who nobody knows whether he has written one paper, nobody knows whether he has established one company to help Nigerians. All we know is about cattle. Talking about cattle, people in Benue are being killed you tell them go and settle with your brothers. And on the other hand you tell us that the people killing us are from Libya. How are Libyans our brothers? I think these are issues the next government would tackle.

What exactly was your role in the privatization of Benue Cement Company, BCC?

Well, many of the comments I read on social media come from very young persons some of who either were not born or were like 10 years at the time BCC was privatized and they didn’t know the details but because of political propaganda, they make wrong comments because they don’t have the right information.

First of all as the then Minister of Industry I was in the privatization council chaired by Atiku as Vice President. Then we had a technical committee which reviewed all those who applied to buy the cement company. When the bid was opened, to the best of my knowledge Lafarge had the best bid. Lafarge is the second biggest company in the world operating in 65 countries. I personally believed that selling the company to Lafarge would have helped Benue people more.

They also made promises of certain associated companies, which would create more jobs. So my position was that I strongly supported Lafarge and not Dangote Cement. Atiku Abubakar had his own instructions from the then President Olusegun Obasanjo that the company should be sold to an indigenous firm, hence the choice of Dangote.

As the Minister and somebody who came from Benue State I was strongly opposed to it. It put me into conflict with the then President Obasanjo and it is what led to my dismissal from the cabinet. My opposition to the sale of the company to Dangote, because I preferred Lafarge which is a French company; the second biggest company in the world which had promised to help industrialize Benue. And therefore when Obasanjo tried to persuade me I didn’t agree, he dismissed me from the government.

In fact I had surgery, I was in the National Hospital Abuja on a Tuesday and I was not yet discharged when Obasanjo sacked me from the cabinet on Thursday because of my opposition to the sale of Benue Cement. So when people make ill informed comments about my role in Benue Cement I don’t comment. As a public figure you cannot respond to everything people say about you.

But this is the truth. Obasanjo insisted that it should go to an indigenous company and this indigenous company was not the one that won the bid, technically the winners of the bid were Lafarge and I supported that it should go to Lafarge. But because of the role I had played in his campaign in 1999, to make up with me he brought me back into the cabinet because he felt what he did was wrong. That is how I came back in 2003 as Minister of Interior.

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