•Says she was 80% responsible for making Akume governor, Ayu senator
By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Chief (Mrs) Rebecca Apedzan, pioneer Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Benue State, a former federal lawmaker and a Commissioner in the Akume administration, is the Convener of the Benue Women Forum. In this interview, Apedzan, 67, speaks on the killings in Benue, the condition of IDPs in the state and the chances of the APC and PDP in the coming elections.
2019 general elections are around the corner. What are your expectations?
My expectations are very high, but sorry to say that the players are not playing to meet my expectations. We have a Federal Government that is lawless. One would have thought that we would have a level-playing ground. Politics is no war. I think everybody aspiring to offer service to the society should see it that way. Unfortunately politics has been commercialized, it has become war. People who are seeking political offices and their supporters are playing like they are going war.
Government keeps hammering that we are going to have free and fair elections; they said that before Osun and Ekiti elections. But I have not seen that freeness and fairness in all that happened. In the recent primary elections, we all saw what happened. Aspirants are in court, some are protesting with placards. Fortunately, the party I belong to, the PDP, has tried to be fair to the contestants. But the other parties have not.
In Benue State, what is killing politics is lack of party primaries. You sit down in your house and write a list and announce. Meanwhile you asked others to buy forms and they spend huge amounts of money to pick the forms. It is so sad.
And look at the situation we are in Nigeria today, there is poverty everywhere, people are dying. Benue is worse off; minus the issue of (unpaid) salaries, there is no food; we still have people in eight IDP camps. No one is even sure that the IDPs left their homes with their PVCs. Under this situation, people who have nothing to do are ready to commit any crime, because they are idle and they will be used.
So I’m so scared about 2019. But I believe that God will hear my prayers and the prayers of many other people that there shouldn’t be crisis because, when they want to force their will on the people, there will be crisis but I beg that INEC should try and be a neutral umpire.
Where will that take us to if the elections are not free and fair?
It will take us 20 years back and the reason is that politics has been commercialized in this country. You vote somebody into office today and, in another two years, he has built a mansion.
They are talking about ‘not too young to run’ but the young people are also not helping matters. The cost of buying forms alone shows that youths have no room in this arena. Many of the youths have no job; so how do they raise funds to buy forms to start with? Now, they are not in the scheme at all. In all the primaries you hardly find the youths there. What will they do now? They will be used by people who have money as thugs but the children of the rich and powerful politicians are overseas schooling.
Let’s bring it down to Benue. Some say the governorship race is going to be a two-horse race between PDP and APC while some are of the view that the pastor on the PRP platform and Hinga Biam of the SDP should not be ruled out. How do you assess the chances of the governorship candidates in Benue?
Everybody has a chance but it depends on how they package themselves. You don’t become a politician from the day you decide to contest. You must be a politician by your relationship with people, by your lifestyle, where you come from, and your history. You don’t come today because you are qualified and you have the certificate. I’m proud to say that I have made so many successful politicians in Benue and I always go for the best.
I contributed almost 40 percent to make Reverend Father Adasu governor. During Akume’s time, I think I contributed over 80 percent to make him governor. Even Dr. Iorchia Ayu, I contributed to make him a senator. Unfortunately it is Ortom that I did not contribute in making governor. But way back in 1999 when I was the founding Secretary of the PDP, I may have contributed to his political life. After we won the elections and l was made a Commissioner, l asked him to come and be the party Secretary because I believed that slot was for us, maybe that was the only role I played in his life. But he has come a long way. He started as Council Chairman, then he became the state party Secretary, he was Auditor of the party, he was a two-time Minister before becoming governor. And since becoming governor, he has had difficulties running Benue.
But he has accepted that there are difficulties and he is fighting hard to overcome those difficulties despite the attacks coming from left, right and centre and the biggest one being the herdsmen crisis. The National Emergency Management Agency goes to every state where you have disasters. We have eight IDP camps in Benue but the state government is single-handedly managing the camps. All NEMA has done to help is to donate 150 bags of rice.
Right now, it is difficult to pay workers’ salaries, feed the IDPs, do other things and run government. But Governor Ortom is doing his best because he is down to earth. He is relating with the people at the grassroots, briefing them about what is happening, telling them about his difficulties. Civil servants have not gone on strike over unpaid salaries because each time he gets money from Abuja, he puts it on the table and they agree on how it is going to be shared. If civil servants see any trace of embezzlement of government money, there would have been hell in Benue.
People say they want to be governor. I don’t want to be personal but recently l was attacked when I criticised Emmanuel Jime, the APC governorship candidate, and where he is coming from. I’m telling the truth. I’m an old woman of over 67 years, why would I be lying? Jime lost out at the primaries in 2015 and stopped coming to Benue. He was away until he wanted to contest for governor in 2018. I mean, all your supporters had forgotten about you. You had opportunity in the National Assembly, what did you do for your people? Did you even have a house in Makurdi? And you came back because somebody wants to use you to fight the incumbent. This is the difficult situation he is going to face.
As for the pastor who is running on the platform of the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, I didn’t believe he is contesting election until I saw his poster.
He is a very good pastor of the NKST and he is doing a great job there. Suddenly he wants to be governor. If I see a good candidate I know but l don’t think he is.
What about Mr. Hinga Biam of the Social Democratic Party, SDP?
Honestly I have not heard about his campaign or whatever he is doing. I don’t even know the party he belongs to.
So you don’t see the APC giving the PDP a good fight in Benue?
They will give a fight but they will not succeed, not after all that we have gone through in the hands of killer herdsmen and the APC government. We belonged to the APC and we went through hell. If we were in another party and we suffered in the hands of APC, it would have been a different story. But we belonged there, we thought we were one family and they watched us suffer. APC is a joker in Benue. My people say it is a Miyetti Allah party. And of course Miyetti Allah is proving it; they are sending congratulatory messages to the party’s candidates in the state. So tell me how a sane Benue person will vote for that kind of party. We don’t want to suffer again. If not for the Anti-Open Grazing Law, many of us wouldn’t have been here today because militant herdsmen came as close as Agbouhol village which is few kilometres to Makurdi. They also came as close as Genabe, they came as close as Makurdi Industrial Layout.
Everybody at the Federal Government and security heads were just mocking us. Nobody spoke words to console us. It showed very clearly that they were supporting Miyetti Allah. They even claimed that the Benue valley is their God-given land. How many people have been prosecuted since the killings in Benue started? Most of them who were arrested have been released.
Recently there was outrage in the state over the claim that the APC held a campaign rally in one of the IDPs camps in Daudu. What is your reaction?
It’s funny because Jime is from Guma. Most of the people from his village now live in IDP camps. Will any sane politician go to do a rally in an IDP camp? Are you going there to mock them? How much have you contributed to their wellbeing in that camp? There are eight camps. In Guma alone where he comes from, there are about three camps. Why would they go and campaign in an IDP camp? Even by law you are not supposed to hold rally in an IDP camp. I think the only thing you go to such camps to do is to donate relief materials. I condemn it in totality.
Do you see the average Benue person voting the APC in the coming elections?
Any sane Benue person voting for APC is committing suicide given the pains we have gone through. Look, if you are not directly affected, your neighbour is affected; somebody from your village is affected. And Vice President Osinbajo is going all over the country distributing N10, 000 to women. To me, that is vote-buying. And the whistle has not been blown, he is already campaigning. What are you giving people N10, 000 for, who can do good business in this era with that kind of money? Many states have abolished street trading, so if you give a trader N10, 000, what business is that person going to start? Nobody is paying back that loan; it’s all vote-buying.