From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom has said Nigerians will return the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) to power, because the All Progressives Congress(APC)-led administration has ran the country aground. Ortom, in an interview with select journalists, in Abuja, said Nigerians, having experienced the PDP and APC administrations, now know better which of the two political parties is committed to their welfare.
The Benue governor also spoke on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill passed recently by the National Assembly amongst other issues.
Many Nigerians, who support your party, the PDP had expected that former Senate President, David Mark would have been chosen as the national chairman of the party but Senator Iyorchia Ayu emerged, of course with your support. What tilted the position in favour of Ayu?
It was David Mark that said it should be Ayu. He is an older person and so he felt that his younger brother should be the chairman; it is still the same thing. Ayu and David Mark are very good brothers and good friends. So, the same thing that Nigerians wanted from David Mark will be done through Ayu.
Do you think someone like Ayu will give an edge to your party as the main opposition party in the country to position it to regain power in 2023?
Our people say that if you marry only one wife, you will not appreciate whether that wife was doing well or not; until you marry a second wife, then you can have a test of a second wife and then you can judge whether that your first wife was doing well or not.
Nigerians felt that the PDP did not do well in 2015; they changed to what we have today. Nigeria, Nigerians are in the position to judge between PDP and APC. But let me say this, how much was a $1 when you talk about the economy in 2015 when APC took over? It was N180. But now it is how much? I think it is close to N600 to the dollar. How many industries are working today? Definitely from 2015 till date, several industries have shut down.
What was the unemployment percentage in 2015? Today, we cannot even talk about the percentage that we have in this country, because so many industries have shut down. Government institutions are not working. No more employment at local state and federal level and unemployment has increased to a level that we cannot contain now.
The employment we have now is unknown employment, like bandits, like criminals, like kidnappers and others. Look at our educational institution, what is happening.
The deposed emir of Kano said that Nigeria has been taken back 40years instead of moving ahead, we have been taken back 40 years. So, that is the challenge that we have. Talk about key issues, corruption, where are we? Are we fighting corruption? If we are fighting corruption, should some people who have been accused, still remain in their offices?
If you talk about security, where are we? We don’t even know, the Federal Government has lost control. Nigerians are suffering, Nigerians have become IDPs. Every Nigerian is suffering, is under siege.
Talk about education. Go to our higher institution. Talk about agriculture that is supposed to be a support to the oil economy of this country; Where are we? We are just paying lip services.
I know that Mr President intended well when he came in 2015, but some cabals have taken over this country and they are driving this country to the mud. I am not sure Mr President is aware of what is happening. If he were aware, I believed that he would rise to the responsibility and take steps that we will correct what is happening in our country.
Hausa has a saying that the fall of one is the rise of another. The fall of PDP in 2015 was the rise of APC. But now APC has proven that they cannot offer anything. They have failed in all sectors, whether economy, security, empowerment, job creation, they have failed all round. It is an opportunity for PDP today.
The PDP governors, we agreed that we will work together to rescue Nigeria, and that was why we agreed that our chairman, most of the officials of our party, will be by consensus. And I tell you, more than 90 per cent of what we did was through consensus; only three positions out of 21 were contested. But yet we showed free and fair and transparent process and you can see that there was no appeal; the appeal panel for the national convention had no job because we ensured free, fair and transparent process and I believe that, that is what we’re going to do.
As we march to 2023, we are going to adopt that system of ensuring first of all having consensus candidates for all elective offices; but where we cannot reach a consensus, we are going to allow a free process.
I can tell you that what the National Assembly did, obviously it is not in the best interest of this country because political parties would have been allowed to evolve a system that helped them bring out candidates of their various political parties. And allowing direct primaries alone will bring up a lot of issues. One, it is more expensive, it is more disorganized about dealing with the people.
I still want to appeal to Mr. President, to reconsider that bill and send it back to National Assembly, to allow political parties to decide whether to use direct or indirect primaries depending on what the people want. This will help encourage democratic norms, because even the indirect primaries, it is the same people that elect those people. Here in the electoral college, everybody is in one roof. So, issues of transparency, fairness and equity; it is easy at that level.
But direct primaries that INEC are going to monitor, INEC does not have the capacity. In my state for instance, 276 council wards, INEC does not have the capacity to send people to monitor them.
And the political parties do not have the resources to be able to take care of those large number of people who are going to be involved in conducting this primaries.
People are saying that the lawmakers introduced direct primaries to checkmate the enormous powers of the governors, especially in influencing nomination of party candidates.
I am not sure that is what they said. The direct primaries will even give the governors more powers if they so wish. But for me, I believe in equity, fairness and justice and transparency in any primary that will be conducted. But honestly, if any governor wants to manipulate the system, the direct primaries will be easier than indirect primaries because in indirect primaries, everybody is there with the governor, but direct primaries, not everyone will be there. And the governor can find a way of sending those electoral officers at the party level who will conduct the primaries.
But when it is in direct primaries, those who are elected by the people from their various council wards as the statutory delegates, they converge in the Electoral College and everybody is there.
So, if there are any form of injustice that has been meted, and the people will be there to defend it, they will resist it right there in the presence of the governor. But in direct primaries, the governor has access to the whole system and no one can stop him.
You advised the President to return the bill to the National Assembly, will that not jeopardize the entire electoral reforms vis-a-vis that we have over 14months to the next general elections and the National Assembly has barely a month to sit before they go on their Christmas holiday.
You have said that they still have up to 30 days. The whole thing that we are talking about, the president returning the bill to the National Assembly and the National Assembly doing the necessary amendment, this is not the first time that the president will be returning a bill to the National Assembly. It can be done within one week. It doesn’t take time and that can be corrected. The point I am making is that the law should allow for political parties to decide on direct or indirect primaries.
You have been accused of double speaking on the issue of ranching, how would you react to that?
Let me use this opportunity to clear the air of Benue playing double side. Right from the beginning, from 2016 we have fought for ranching and that is what we stand for. We fought against RUGA. We fought against cattle colony. We fought against open grazing, because we do not have lands for such.
I was a member of the committee that was established by the National Economic Council and we came out with a resolution at the end of the day. That let us deal with states depending on their peculiarities. Those who want open grazing, let them do it in their state. Those who want ranching; let them do it. In the case of Benue State, we opted for ranching and our mode of ranching included pigs, goats. And so it was very clear.
And we were told that the Federal Government will support, development partners from outside the country will support and we stood with that. The unfortunate thing, something that I cannot explain, I am surprised that we that started promoting ranching were not included in the first batch of the ranching programme that the Federal Government is doing. And I think that is victimization against us for standing for the truth, for what Nigerians have accepted.
We have never deviated from fighting for the ranching programme that we initiated in 2016; because we knew that is the only way we can solve this problem; Nigeria with a population of over 200million people.
In 1950s, we had less than 40million people, today we are over 200million and the land still remains the same. So, it is impossible to allow open grazing to continue in this country without crisis.
Like I keep saying and I want to repeat again, those who are promoting open grazing in Nigeria; it is not for the sake of rearing cattle; it is because they want to take over our lands, dominate this people and Fulanize Nigeria, that is it. Nobody should deceive me, that is their game plan.
I am not against Islam and I am not against any Fulani man in this country. But I am against domination, because Nigeria is a secular country. Everybody should live to practise his or her culture and religion. The Tiv man should live. The Yoruba man should live. The Igbo man should live. Everybody should live and be free. And this is the point we are saying and so we have not deviated from that. We are still committed to the ranching programme, which we have enacted a law and we stand by that law.
The recent talk about farm settlements that the federal is doing, it is the same way of trying to Islamize the country. Another one, water bill, to annex the river banks, it is same Fulanisation of Nigeria by this people and I say no to both and I have the support of my people, who elected me as governor and I stand with them, not going back on that.
Every Fulani man, every Hausa man, every Igbo man, every Yoruba man, all ethnic groups over 250 of them are free to reside in Benue and do legitimate business according to the law.