21st February, 2022
BROTHERS FM: You are gunning for the Governorship of Benue State, what really informed your decision?
MKA: First, is the fact that the state needs to be practically developed. I see the shortfall in development and I see the shortfall in our social interaction as a State with outside states and other components of Nigeria to create a conducive atmosphere for transformation of the state. My zeal is to make the state prosperous, people should be able to create wealth, especially in the local communities.
When I came back from service in 2010, when I was sacked as Attorney General for the stand I took. I was the first cabinet member to be dropped when I insisted that the late Yar’adua must die before the issue of handover must be. I stood my ground.
When I came back, I said to myself let me do something for my people, I set up a rice mill to create rice value chain and I saw the effectiveness of that single thing I did. It may not be much but at the time it was one of the four ground breaking rice Mills in Nigeria. The idea was trying to lesson importation and create direct wealth in communities.
When I created the value chain successfully and it has been there for the past 10years, the zeal is that since we are an agricultural state, if I replicate that at the state level, not just on rice but other products, in such a way that Benue becomes the hub for agricultural produce, then I must have achieved my targets and I can’t do that by not being in government. That’s why I am aspiring to become the next governor of Benue state by the grace of God.
BROTHERS FM: You were at the heart of the Federal Executive Council as Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, how did you use that position to positively impact the Benue people you are now aspiring to lead?
MKA: I used my position to create for Benue people a place of service. First, I tried to lobby the Federal government, especially the presidency, to ensure that Benue people got jobs at high power level, middle class level and junior officers’ level. I am proud to tell you that I was able to this in major regulatory agencies. During my time, these agencies were headed by Benue sons – NAFDAC, EFCC, NEXIM Bank, the bank that stimulates export and import promotion, I was able to get a Benue son to head it…even in the EFCC, I was able to bring a young guy, who was less than 36years, Harris Ogbole, I made him a commissioner in the EFCC.
I was doing all that, thinking that an effective collaboration between the State and Federal Government will push our educated people up. At the middle class level, I was able to get 498 people,proven names into the civil service – Immigration, Customs and others. So, within the short period, mind you, I stayed in office for only 2years, 7months but I was able to achieve a lot for my people.
For Prisons decongestion I did. I made sure that every lawyer,I mean every lawyer because I called the then Attorney General, Chive Kaave to give me the list of all the lawyers in Benue,I mean all lawyers and I gave all the lawyers that were submitted to me briefs, so that they could participate in the ongoing Federal government prison decongestion. This brought a lot of income to alleviate some of their problems. I was able to assist others who were not lawyers but could introduce lawyers to me so that I could also support them in those areas to beef up their income.
BROTHERS FM: Like all other Governorship aspirants, you have a manifesto encapsulating all your programmes of action for Benue. Yours is christened “the Benue Project”, what are the high points of your blue print?
MKA: I have in my mind that I can aggregate my participation as the next governor under 7 headings: to create wealth and engage the youth; to provide security so that farmers can go back to farm because without security the farmer can’t work…to ensure that people in IDPs camps go back and engage in productive ventures; to create a robust education that we can export talents, to be able to feed our sister states in the north that they have jobs for; to tackle the issue of pension reforms by increasing attention to the reforms and act so that our retirees find a permanent solution to their problems. My concern about them is that the age they retire, their productive years, like 65years for a high court judge, the productive years of his life is gone but the society owes you a duty to programme your life to 90years or more if your benefits are regularly paid for you to get your basic medications. When this is not done most of them have no where else to go, they can’t go to farm.
The next issue is rehabilitation, reconstruction and restructuring of public institutions. What I mean is that we have various public institutions that have been created and have direct impact by the past administrations, but those institutions have been abandoned. There is need to look at them; those who have direct impact must be revived and I will give you examples. We have almost 23 general hospitals in each of the 23 LGAs. Our people have no business coming to treat malaria in the teaching hospital if those hospitals are optimally functioning. I appreciate past governments for setting up these institutions, my duty is to revive them. I will revive them to the standard that everybody would aspire to access them. I will revive the health centres that are near collapsing. These are just the few public institutions I have mentioned.
Then, I will give full judicial implementation of local government autonomy. For local government autonomy, there must be internal domestic socialization effectively, to ensure that every aspect is working. What do I mean by domestic socialization of the local government? You allow them to operate effectively and independently themselves, so that they socialize with local communities, where government can carve out and contract few things they can carry out to stimulate growth in rural areas.
As you provide infrastructure in rural areas by the local government, wealth is generated and it is also distributed at the local area. I have no business trying to be a super human being to control the local government. I will follow the Constitution that gives the local government Independence. I know that this had been experienced because during the government of Sen. Dr. George Akume, LGs were independent; during the government of Rev. Adasu, LGs were independent; during the government of Aper Aku, LGs were independent, and mind you, he was a Chairman of LG, sponsoring people abroad from LG funds. They were allowed to put LG into proper functions. There may be temptations to control them because of certain recklessness but it is better you allow them, but be in the position to supervise them and where they are erring, the House of Assembly will take action so that development at the local level spreads quickly, for people to realize that you mustn’t come to the centre before you get something.
BROTHERS FM: Talking specifically about a sector like agriculture, can you expatiate on your specific agricultural road map for the state?
MKA: You have to transit people from subsistence farming to mechanized farming and try to make them see agriculture as a business. I have demonstrated that in my own private sector, by making the rice farmers know that agriculture is a business. What I did was to get effective training for the rice farmers by bringing USAID and GIZ. These are international agencies, to train them on how to improve yields per hectare and make their farming meaningful. It is not about having the luxury of lands. Imagine that a person will farm rice on a hectare and have two bags of rice, it means he is farming at a loss. But you could also have per hectare make up to 8tonnes and we have achieved that in Gbajimba. The person who makes 8tonnes per hectare has no business going near government because he is already a rich man. How do we do that? You make fertizer affordable to them by decentralizing the distribution. By this you are having the LG operate independently to be able to purchase fertilizer for their people. You only have to regulate their purchase of fertilizer, but they buy directly to distribute fertilizer per ward before the rain come.
Second thing is to supply the farmers with improved seeds because the seeds they are using is germinating seeds; they are not improved seeds. Germinating seeds are seeds that every time you harvest, you keep, you harvest, you keep…every time you do this, they are no longer seeds but just germinating seeds that are used and every season it diminishes the return. Farmers ought to be supplied seeds for every season like rice, beans and others.
Another thing is to stimulate them to attract export. There is a common product Spain uses which generates money for them, they don’t have oil – water melon. Water melon is produced in Benue and it’s one of the best in Nigeria. It is an exportable crop that generates the main income in Spain. You have to make our people realize that they can achieve a lot with any crop. If you go to railway market, you will find out people selling Benue watermelon, they no longer come from Jos alone. We can start by capturing the domestic market i.e Nigeria.
Then the issue of export, export can only be possible when you teach them basic hygiene. You can’t export your agric product when you are doing open defecation. This is one area I will recruit young boys – adhoc recruitment to educate the people against open defecation…they will go for inspection and advise, to ensure everything we produce is exportable.
In terms of mechanized farming, it should be available, centred in our institutions of learning. For instance, we have an agricultural-based institution, a college, now upgraded to a Polytechnic at Yandev. We have federal centres here, some in zone ‘C’, they need to be equipped with tractors for hiring. Of course, if you leave the local government alone, they have enough income, they have the extension services department. Allow them also to handle the issue of tractors because they are the best people. The state government can’t be talking about tractor hiring services to people who are going to farm in the villages. So, you allow LG to handle that and you only supervise. The Commissioner should have an agric council, where he is interacting with LG heads of agric and evaluating the yield per year until we get to where we are suppose to be, where a farmer gets value for his product. We must have to encourage our people to participate aggressively in cereal production, of products that are easily exportable like rice, sesame seeds and other products that are not easily perishable, so that storage will not be a problem.We have to teach them prosperous harvest
BROTHERS FM: Let’s look at your education road map. We know that education is the foundation of everything we are saying. What do you intend to do differently?
MKA: I must appreciate the fact that past governments have done a lot by investing in education. I must take off from there. We must make sure that we bring programmes in our education curriculum for self-sufficiency. While waiting for white-collar jobs, they should be able to engage in productive areas. This is very key.
Benue is rated very high in education. We have also exported educational talents to places like Katsina, where University education commenced, to beef them up and Gombe. We have done much in education, but what we need now is the quality of education, especially in public secondary and primary schools. We have to ensure also the quality of teachers themselves through training and retraining, so that what comes out of Benue is first class. Of course, any where you take a Benue graduate, he demonstrates capacity. I would want to be on top of that, to ensure that those coming from public primary schools are at the same level with those who are trained elsewhere.
BROTHERS FM: You earlier mentioned something about health, but what else can you bring to change the narrative in this sector?
MKA: First of all, I want to focus on the Primary Health Care (PHC), to ensure that each of the 276 council wards has a PHC. Where a faith-based organization has a health care centre, we can support as an existing one, so that there will not be a duplication. The view of upgrading our a health care centres to a robust level, takes care of our farming activities because you have lifesaving drugs at the PHC level like hypertension, HIV, diabetes and other minor drugs that people die for lack of access.
People must not leave rural communities to Makurdi to get drugs. Health centres at that level should be working. To demonstrate that, issues that are above these health centres will go to the secondary care i.e all the 23 LG general hospitals. We will rehabilitate them and renovate them with basic facilities and commodities for them to be able to function well. Their environment must be conducive and must have good nurses, and doctors, so that a sick person, who is taken there will survive. We will renovate them, rehabilitate them to make them attractive and affordable.
We will make the teaching hospital become the centre of excellence for complicated ailments and ensure that two additional teaching hospitals are effectively operational in Benue. I will support the Federal government’s initiatives in health services at the Federal University of Health Sciences in Otukpo, to ensure that they have a functional teaching hospital for the benefit of the people of Benue State. And I will support the NKST hospital at Mkar because they have a university there. With a collaboration with government, they can have a teaching hospital because already, the NKST has done much; they have a university, have a hospital that has been there since 1960, it has not collapsed. It has a school of nursing, school of midwifery, has health technology, has auxiliary nurses and other things you can get in health training. What is needed is to produce doctors. After all, the best university in the world is private-owned, so government will provide support to them like Senator Akume provided 50Million seed support that was required at that time. Government must begin to look at that University as our own. Not just NKST, Faith-based organizations like the Methodist, Catholic Church are doing much and we must support them. Government has to support them like giving them grants, so that they can lower their prices.
BROTHERS FM: One of your agenda is wealth creation, youth empowerment. Can you tell us how you intend to bring this about?
MKA: There is something which is interwoven. We must imbibe external socialization. What I mean by this is that Benue as an entity has to interact to find jobs outside Benue. You cannot do that unless there is a conducive atmosphere.
First, I will try to create a better perception about us. You may be right by sitting in your house to assume that people are the ones abusing you, and if you are on top of your voice everyday, complaining, certain people may think you are the aggressor. I will do my best to make sure that people think that we are not the aggressors. At the same time, I will make the people Know that we are not cheap, we have strength. We can negotiate in the point of strength for there to be peace and harmony. And again, I will tackle the issue at the Federal Government level to create an inflow of infrastructural investment for the state to benefit.
If you as the governor of Benue state appears not to be in smooth relationship with the Federal government, the agencies of government, because of their mischief, they will withdraw things that are legally due for Benue. I will make sacrifices even when we are the victim for the benefit of Benue. I will make sacrifices to ensure that what is ours we must get.
I checked like rural construction, everything is being awarded in Benue. Gboko road had been awarded over six years, Otukpo, Naka roads have been awarded. What then is the problem that releases are not being done? My belief is that some people are taking advantage because of the strained relationship with Federal government to divert funds to other places. I will not allow that to happen because of Benue. I will be firm, I will be a diplomat and at the same time, I will try to put Benue back to ensure that youths get benefit of the mutual relationship of governments. I will make sure that people understand that we are peace loving people, but at the same time I will make people understand that we don’t take nonsense, after we have done all that is required for people to know that we are peace-loving. That is how I can be able to open up the state.
And then, before you can easily open up the state, Benue must own its own airport. Nobody can bring foreign investment into this state without an airport. The world has gone beyond where people can use roads with potholes and a lot of bandits on it. We must have our airport and I have already identified the airport because the University of Agriculture, now JOSTUM has a master plan with an airstrip. Under land development, Benue state will collaborate with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that the original plan of that University has an airstrip, so that we have air transport. We are not expecting 777 planes to land there, our basic plane cannot be more than 737. We will have a modest airport, where we can say, this is our airport, for people to come in and have their investments. We have that environment for people to come in to invest but we don’t have the facilities. Because of the nature of society we have, I will ensure external socialization for people to see us a peace-loving. When the agencies that are suppose to open up funds for you, see you at war with the presidency, they will take advantage. I will be Chief Public Relations officer to ensure nobody takes advantage of our people. Anywhere they are doing employment, Aondoakaa is there; anywhere they are sharing monies to states, Aondoakaa is there for the state to be a partaker.
The sad story is that Benue state is not recognized as one of the rice producing states. Grant was given and Benue state was excluded. It will never happen under me. We produce rice more than Ebonyi. Aondoakaa will be there to lobby and have the state as beneficiary that is connected as primary agricultural producing state, to get benefits directly from agencies that support Agriculture.
PHONE-IN QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
CALLER ONE: We have river Benue but people a suffering because of water challenge. How can you solve the problem of water?
MKA: The challenge of water is very much and we have done an extensive study on this issue. First, we got a 300million dollars loan to solve the problem of water from World Bank, the state particularly. Unfortunately, we expended only 100million dollars on the creation of the dam which was also to support water. The 300million World Bank loan was meant for the state, you know money from World Bank is not easily diverted and cannot be diverted. The 200million remaining is still domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Finance there waiting. I had said we need to activate our diplomacy with the Federal government. We can get the World Bank, at least we have gotten the Great Water Works done. All we need is reticulation of water round, the money laying there can serve for that same purpose. To have water in Agatu, people are able to take water from Agatu river to Otukpo. All these things require you having a harmonious relationship.
As for the issue of dredging river Benue, I don’t know what happened. But when I was in the Federal Executive Council, Benue was on phase II for dredging. Phase I was river Niger and was completed. Next was Benue River but of course, Yar’adua died and the programme died. Aondoakaa was also flushed out there. So I can’t talk about what I do not know. To say the contract was awarded, I will not talk about that because I do not know.
CALLER TWO: We are still talking about paucity of funds in the state, with all these projects you have mentioned, how will you do them? Also, the major problem we have in Benue state is payment of salaries which has generated a lot of controversies. How will you resolve this?
MKA: On the issue of paucity of funds, I am not in government, yes! You should talk to the people that talk about paucity of funds. But I know that other state governments are doing projects. I have seen projects done in Gombe. I have seen projects done in Borno state and other states. Since I am not in government, that question should be directed to those who say there is paucity of funds. But Aondoakaa will use available resources to develop the state.
From the beginning of this programme, I said that I will allow LG use their funds. If they have their funds, why would they not be able to do their things? Why would they not be able to pay their salaries?
CALLER THREE: Should diplomacy override the interest of the state because you spoke about IDPs, how will you resettle IDPs??
MKA: When I say diplomacy, you don’t hear something one stage and leave. I said, I will engage diplomacy, but at the same time I will negotiate with them in the position of strength. I did not say that I will be a weak person, but I will engage diplomacy. I will negotiate in the position of strength and provide security for the IDPs to return back to their homes. They cannot live forever in camps, in those areas. If you go to that place, I have visited the place several times and I made a promise to God that, I will visit them but I will never allow anyone to take a picture of myself because if you go there with some ‘indomie’ and you are advertising, I think you are crazy. If you know what they are going through, then you will not go there with few cartons of indomie and be advertising yourself in the pages of newspaper. Nobody in those camps wants to stay there one minute less than necessary. It is better to give them peace, find a way to make peace and take them back home.
CALLER FOUR: We are always depending on the Federal Government. How can the state survive on its own if at all the Federal Government doesn’t release money?
MKA: if you listened to my interview very well, you will know that I talked on the ways of generating income. I talked about export of our agricultural products. I spoke on the issues that make us find it difficult to export – open defecation. If you’re exporting, then you get taxes. If a marketing board is in place and you go to look for market from exporters of Sesame seeds for instance, government benefits. If you allow inflow of people to come and buy agric products, you collect taxes from people who are coming to buy, not from peasant farmers.
We can raise taxes but there is no way in the world that a state government stays independently of the Federal government. It is not done any where. You may be daydreaming because even in US, when the COVID-19 came, states called on the Trump to support with ventilators for survival in their states. There is no where in the world that I have heard that you can become independent. Even when you are independent, you must depend on other people. America that is very powerful; the most powerful country but doesn’t go to war without allies, its six allies.
I am not talking flowerly. I didn’t come here with documents of manifesto. I am talking facts on where monies are hidden that could be revived. Like the instance of 300million dollars loan I mentioned that was provided for services for Benue state, we only accessed 100million with 200 laying there. Money is available to develop the state. You can’t jump to taxes if your productivity does not increase. How do you create taxes? You must first increase the productivity of farmers because predominantly what we have in Benue is farming. So, taxes come from farming and the few companies that exist in Benue but there must be productivity, if it is low you can’t get the taxes. You will only be overtaxing the people in the manner that they are complaining now.