The House of Representatives member representing the Vandeikya and Konshisha constituency of Benue State, who is also Labour Party governorship candidate in the state, Herman Hembe, speaks about his reasons for leaving the All Progressives Congress for the LP in this interview with JOHN CHARLES
You’ve been a House of Representatives member since 2007. What difference have you made to motivate you to take on more responsibilities?
Many people did not anticipate that I would be able to transform my constituency’s circumstances in such a short period of time as I have. For instance, in terms of infrastructure, when I was elected in 2007 the only electrical poles that could be found in my local area (Konshisha) were those that ran from outside of Awajir to Aliade, but now there is lighting in every council ward in the LG. Some people have access to energy in multiple locations, and when I was elected, the Vandeikya LG had a light coming to the council from Obudu that would occasionally turn on once per month, which I disconnected and brought electricity through another place to most council wards in the LG. Also, we have a minimum of a block of classrooms per council ward that we have built and in some places there are more. We also provided computer centres, laboratories for sciences.
These are the reasons I’ve been able to win elections in three different political parties four times. People voted for me because I could provide them with what they required. We have empowered so many people through our empowerment programme, and we have provided free health care through our multiple health care programmes, including major surgeries for indigent people.
You have been characterised as a serial political defector switching from the Peoples Democratic Party, to then Action Congress of Nigeria (now the All Progressives Congress), to All Progressive Grand Alliance, to the APC again and now currently in the Labour party. Why do you enjoy switching parties?
Presently, it is not individual matter, political parties are controlled by cabals and big people who use people for all kinds of purposes, like the APC in Benue State. It has become virtually a family business where they share tickets to people who have money to buy. They use it to do all manner of things and will not allow you to fly the party nomination except you must also guarantee you will be subservient to the godfather and godmother in this case who must have assurances from you that they will survive on the state at the time you are there.
Could this be the reason you requested the APC to stop using your name in its operations?
I left the APC and wrote to the national chairman of APC on May 26, informing him that I had pulled out of their governorship primary and also wrote to my APC ward chairman that I had left the party because I knew that the primary would be a sham.
Alternatively, I went to Kwankwaso’s New Nigeria Peoples Party, but the party’s governorship ticket had already been awarded, so I ended up in the Labour Party. The entire process of leaving the APC and joining the Labour Party took approximately 13 days. When the APC held its rerun primary election, they still listed my name on the ballot in the rerun, indicating that if a rerun took place, they would know I was no longer with them because the party in the state opted for a direct primary, which required all contestants to have agents bearing your poster, and if I left the party on May 26 and you had a rerun on June 9, it means they didn’t do anything, they only allocated figure to me.
I have taken them to court asking for damages of N500m m and also asking the Independent National Electoral Commission not to recognise any results of the APC that carried my name.
Do you believe you can win the governor’s race in Benue State with the Labour Party, which lacks local structures?
I won the last election in APGA which is not strong in the state. What I have to do to contest the election is to have a platform because Nigeria does not have an independent candidate yet, so, if you want to be on the ballot paper you should be with a credible party. I think APC is a credible platform and so is PDP but the parties are not the problems but the people who corrupt the practices and personalise them.
The Labour Party gives me an accommodating platform that indeed agrees with my ideologies. I had been in trenches fighting for democracy in Nigeria as a student and graduated shortly after the enthronement of democracy. I want people to see me with what I have done and to trust me that I can deliver, so when you talk of structure it is the old ways when big names collect ballot papers, thumb print and give results. With the advent of one man, one vote, I am confident that people in Benue will vote for me because they know what I can do.
What aspect of your ambition in the state has the current Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi’s momentum aided?
People know who I am and know what I am capable of; hence, the relationship is mutual as we can both add values to each other. When I hear Obi talk, I see that we belong to the same class. I have been basically someone who survives on the pedigree of performance. That is my strength and it is what I always put forward in the past to win elections.
The Obi momentum will be able to help us in the state but our momentum is of the people who performed in the past. Others that are running on the platform of the party will also add value to Obi and at the end of the day it will be symbiotic, he will add value to us in some levels and we would also add value to him.
I also think the idea of a power transfer from the North to the South is relevant, and we also need to keep in mind that we are a multi-religious country. You cannot keep it moving in one direction alone, so we should switch from the Muslim North to the Christian South. For us to manage a good country, if a Muslim has it for a while, then the Christian must also have it.
What is your stance on the anti-open grazing law, which has become a key campaign issue in the state?
I am fully in support of it, this country must be a place for all sections of people. If you see what happened in Okpokwu, Benue State where herdsmen were reported to have killed the people and the reason why we always have such a crisis between herders and farmers is that they allow them graze their cattle openly and in the process of moving from one point to another they stray on people farm destroy their crops. The only way to go is for the herders to ranch their animals and they should do it at their cost.
It is unheard of to say you should be given a route to graze your cattle, let them keep their animal in a place so that others can do their business without interference.
People in the state, particularly your ethnic group, the Tiv, prefer their first lady to be one of them; do you believe your marriage to a Yoruba woman will be detrimental to your ambition?
I don’t think so, because the people have gone beyond that, my wife has been with me and I have been winning elections. If I become the governor she will be a wonderful first lady. She won’t be the first first-lady whose origin is not from the state. The former governor, Gabriel Suswam’s wife is not a Tiv woman but a Yoruba woman. She supported and worked with him and they succeeded.
She is already a Tiv woman once she married one. I am sure that when you marry from a tribe you become part of them. We cannot discriminate against women based on marriage. She already has children there, what do you say about those who don’t have wife?
You were the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Markets when the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Arunma Oteh, accused you of accepting a bribe of N44m. Don’t you think this could jeopardise your ambition if the opposition cashes in on it?
Opposition cannot use it to prevent my ambition. Ms Oteh was under investigation. I was asked to step aside because of the allegation, a committee was set up and it indicted the woman but Nigerians don’t pay attention to that. The committee recommended her removal but she was not removed immediately but she was eventually removed.
I was not charged to court over a bribery allegation because it was false and spurious, unfortunately, the media were just talking of bribes but they only took me to court to explain why I got a ticket and refused to travel and I explained that and was exonerated in court.
I have the judgment of the court which also said that what the EFCC had done to Hembe was not prosecution but persecution. Unfortunately, the judgment was not given adequate publicity; only a few papers carried it.