2023: Why I’ll rely more on women to develop Benue – Gov’ship aspirant

Terwase Orbunde, who seeks to govern Benue state as from 2023, tells SHIAONDO JOHN in this interview in Makurdi that he would accord women a special place in his administration; he also bares his mind on Governor Samuel Ortom’s stewardship.

What would you say about Governor Samuel Ortom’s administration in terms of performance?

I want to let you know that I am a part of Ortom’s administration and I am very proud of Governor Ortom as a man; Ortom as governor, Ortom as the head of the government. Looking at the circumstances Ortom found himself in, only a very few people would have done what he did. We have seen in other parts of the country where they failed, but you see Ortom rising up to the occasion. Some of the things that Ortom would have liked to do he could not have done them. For instance, when you hear of IDPs who have been sent off from the most productive lands of the state, Ortom cannot perform magic; he cannot say that farmers must be on their farms when there are attempts to have them killed.

So, I want to say that because of some of the things that confronted Governor Ortom on assumption of office, it was not possible for him to handle them while fighting issues of insecurity. We came into the government not expecting that this thing (insecurity) would degenerate the way it did, but, I’d like to let you know, that Ortom is laying the foundation; most of the things he has done are fundamental. When you talk about the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, it is a foundation which we are going to build on because we are going to show that ranching can be done here.

In summary, the things Ortom needed to do within the space of time that Benue people have, I can say that he did his very best, but no one can solve societal problems all at once. We will address some of the issues during my own time, if God permits. And I want to also underscore the fact that I am also not going to solve all the problems. I’m going to limit myself to certain things that I will do. So, the things that the government of His Excellency, Samuel Ortom, could do, he did them; two recessions are not a small matter. So, under his circumstance, I think he did well.

However, as the governor always says, better is the end of a thing than the beginning. If you go round town now, you will see many road projects springing up in the state capital and across other parts of the state. There are many other achievements in other areas and if we win we will do more and even better.

It is your intention to govern Benue state. What exactly do you want to bring to the table for Benue people?

In 2018, we were in China with His Excellency (Governor Samuel Ortom) on a tour; we sat down and did some analysis. I reminded him that we came to the government saying we would do agriculture-based industrialisation and industries cannot be with generators, there must be a solution on power, but China is not the place. At that time, I had just completed a study in Brazil. We went to see how Brazil had solved their power problem: hydro, solar, therma and even gas powered plants. We came back and the following year, 2020, the governor asked me to go back to Brazil this time to look at funding models. So, I led the second team to Brazil that looked at funding models and we did a case study of one particular hydroelectric power in Osina Polo. These people had generated power, they borrowed money from international agencies, built their power stations and within three years, they repaid the loans that they took. The plant was ten years old, looking brand new and I was encouraged to ask more questions and, therefore, we had to talk with people who do surveys, people who do design construction and distribution and we located five places where we will be generating 300 megawatts of power.

The need of Benue state at this time was about 120 megawatts of power. The whole of the industrial area is looking at about 10 mega watts; so it gives you an idea of what kind of power we have and if you have 300 megawatts of power, it means that it can pay itself. When you have an increase in agricultural productivity, the only way that the market can be sustained is to ensure that there is a market buying because from the supply and demand side, and for prices to be at the constant, you must have a constant buying; that’s why you must industrialise. So, the government must take that initiative, and that’s why long-term multilateral loans become important; loans that are not commercial. They are development loans and the agencies are there. We are talking to some of them. You are given money to organise farmers’ cooperatives and their productivity increases because they are no longer doing subsistence agriculture. Then you have quality seeds and inputs in terms of fertilisers, herbicides and insurance. You have to insure; that way, when a farmer knows that at harvest N15, 000 is going to be the price of 100 Kg of rice and you have given a loan of equivalent of five bags, he knows that when he harvests, he is paying back what he took with the produce because he doesn’t have money.

When there’s a buyer, the farmer will then be free to sell when he is harvesting or sell later. But if a farmer has three hectares and 30 bags of rice per hectare, you are already talking about 90 bags, and if he takes 10 or 20 bags to settle his loans that farmer still has a form of insurance, a form of security. You have people graduating from school consistently. So, what are you going to do? You must find a place where you will put them. Let me use my son as an example; if I want him to go to farm, I must use a gadget that will interest him instead of the normal hoe, if not he will not be interested. He will put on his earphone and be listening to his music, while using equipment to harvest, to plant and all that. That’s the way I’m looking at it so that agriculture, which is our mainstay, our area of comparative advantage, will go that way.

Also, I want to make Benue state the protein hub, if not for the whole of Nigeria, at least in the North-central. That will be in the production of chickens, eggs, pigs, fisheries and then cattle. But we are going to target the production of protein; look at it this way, every three months, three weeks and three days a pig produces. It means that if you have one male and two female pigs, they can give you ten piglets then you are producing twenty and in one year, they are more than double. So, it’s more productive to do that than farming. We are going to encourage the farmer to know that he can plant yam but he can also produce livestock by the side.

What would you do to advance the structures set by Governor Ortom when you eventually become the governor?

The first thing I want us to look at is the issue of security. Starting from the Northern boundary of the state will be to do resettlement patterns, cluster settlements. This is because as it is today, you will find out that the attacks that are coming are not organised in a way that you will know. They (armed herdsmen) go to small villages, small compounds and get a family killed. We need to encourage new settlement patterns because we need to open up our land in a way that agriculture will be done at a mechanised level. So, we are opening up kilometres of land from December to April every year; that’s what we will be doing. As you resettle people, you free the land; you are opening up land for the communities and you want them to enhance their productivity by having bigger areas that tractors can come in and work. I have combined these because security cannot stand alone; if communities resettle and you have spaces, trees are removed, lands are prepared and they are going to farm, then they are going to be protected as such. I hold the view that it is not grazing that is the issue; it is the issue of taking our land. It didn’t start in Benue; most lands have been taken. So, I know that it’s not a thing that will go away suddenly; micro-defence systems will be created, just like we have Community Volunteer Guards now.

In my opinion, communities must have their own security; every community should have a volunteer guard because they are people in the communities; that is why it is voluntary and they will be encouraged to have local defence systems. That way, the conventional security system will be assisted because the conventional security system cannot be trusted to be everywhere, even if they want to be. So, the local communities are the first line of defence before reinforcement comes. The second part is that there has to be early warning systems. For instance, if you have the capacity to detect movement 20 miles away, you can prepare. That’s why three months ago, I had to go for a meeting in Ghana with some of my Israeli friends; we are working on this firstly, for the purpose of agriculture because that’s what we are known for, but the main issue will be defence; heat seeking drones will be deployed and if you have an open area, you will be able to detect movement and you have facilities where people are sitting down and are monitoring on the computer system. There are some that cover about six kilometers and it will detect any movement within six kilometers and with a GPS, it can tell you that this person or animal is three kilometers away. Then you have detectors, some of them are fixed, some of them are mobile so you are able to detect movement both day and night. So, we are working on systems that will give us early warning arrangements and early warning signs.

What plans have you to return the over 1.5 million IDPs to their homes and invariably, their farms?

Nobody wants to live in the IDPs camps. So, if you move them to organised settings that are planned and protected, that is a way to solve the IDPs problem. You must first of all decide where they will go to, design it, do layouts and allocate to people, help families to move even if it’s in tents.

To start with, let them move with their tents. In the camps, you have a clinic, a school and other basic amenities and as you are organising it, you are solving a specific problem. There are organisations and institutions now that if you show them that this is the way you want to move, they will assist you. I’m not coming into the government like a stranger and I have been over the world on behalf of this government. So, there are institutions, people and places I have been that I know that we only need to re-engage; Brazil is one example. The general thrust of my government will be to use security that is a disadvantage to us as a raw way of doing the economy.

Benue state is a civil service state and most civil servants who have not reached the climax of their retirement are already retiring from the Service due to the lack of motivation. How do you intend to stop this trend if you become the governor?

I want to tell you that Benue state was not born to be a civil service state; so, it can be changed. We must take off from where we are and move forward. People must be encouraged; so there will be re-training and promotions. We will make sure that we encourage promotions based on seniority and encourage people to get properly grounded in what they are doing. So, when I am governor, I will make sure the civil servant is encouraged, his environment enhanced, promotions are done properly. Human history has shown that for any society to go forward, among other things, there must be a just and a fair reward system; give people opportunities, open up places and people will flourish. Anywhere on earth these things are in place, you don’t need to beg somebody; history does not stop it, geography does not stop it, politics does not stop it.

How would you tackle the issue of workers’ salaries and ghost workers?

As it is now, we don’t have the best that we would have had in the civil service. But, don’t forget that Benue state has the highest wage bill in the entire Northern Nigeria and that salaries increase every year. So, part of the reason the salaries may not go down as we expect is that promotions are coming in every year. But I believe that there is still more work that needs to be done to check the issue of ghost workers and the like.

You have narrated these beautiful and lofty ideas, but the problem which still remains is that of funding. So, if you come in, how would you tackle this issue?

Anybody who wants to develop Benue state with federal allocation has failed before starting. The first track for me is the aid track and counterpart funding which I want to supervise myself. The second track is to cost all Benue state government assets; put value on each of them; reorganise BIPC (Benue Investment and Property Company). BIPC is a limited liability company; it’s not a federal allocation.

When we are going to ask for a hundred million, we are going to bring collateral to take care of it, but the money that we will take is going to be spent on things that will pay. I’m aware of where we are as a state right now, that’s why my mind has moved away from federal allocation to alternative ways to raise funds.

How would you encourage women participation in politics as governor?

Incidentally, my wife happens to be a development worker and she has headed both local and international NGOs, targeting women and youth development. The way to move society forward is to encourage women. Today, credit to women is more successful than credit to men. When women take money that they want to do business, they are more likely to do it better than men. As we move towards new settlement patterns and increased levels of productivity women are going to be at the heart of it.

I don’t want to direct our minds to appointments because no matter what you do, there are 23 local government areas and so the best you need to do is to give some to women, like commissioners. However, there is a limit to which you can go, but the normal average woman will be involved in productivity. So, we will have to help them to be part of the production process by having access to land, money and that way they are going to be more valuable.