As governorship primaries of the parties slated for October draw nearer, the aspirants are talking tough. In this interview, former Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, David Iorhemba exudes confidence that he is the candidate to beat at the primaries. He also dismissed with the wave of the hand a mock election conducted by the Tiv Tradition Area Council for aspirants from MINDA vying for the governorship seat as ‘done in bad fate, maintaining he is not deterred by that act in his ambition to emerge as the Peoples Democratic Party flag bearer. Our correspondent Uche Nnorom sends in excerpts of the interview.
Why are you contesting for the governorship seat of the state?
First and foremost, let me say that am eminently qualified to govern the state come 2015 for these reasons. One, I consider myself very versatile in the affairs of the state. I have cut across the three arms of government, the executive, legislature and the judiciary. I have an institutional experience taken from the Benue State judiciary. I have worked for the Benue State judiciary for a period of 21 years in different capacities as clerk, clerical staff and Area Court judge terminating as a magistrate. I resigned as a chief magistrate sitting in Court 3 Gboko. I later went into private law practice. I practiced for a little time before being appointed as senior special assistant to Governor Gabriel Suswam on Legal Matters. After serving the executive in that position for a short time, I went and contested a bye- election in Guma state constituency to fill the vacuum created as a result of the demise of my brother Ken. I served my first term and came back a second time in 2011 and rose to become the speaker of the State assembly. This vast experience I have had over this period of time has exposed to me to the problems of the state. I have also served in different parts of the state as court registrar, area court judge and magistrate. I served at the area court in Agasha, Abinsi, I was court registrar in Udei, area 1 in Naka, Gwer West local government area, Aliade, Gwer LGA, came back to Makurdi at the court in Modern Market. I served in the area court in Korinja, Konshsha LGA, came back and worked in Ihugh, Vandeikya LGA , was a court member at Lessel, Ushongo LG, worked in Kyado, Ukum LGA, court member in Amaafu, also in Ukum LGA, was a area court judge in Mbatsav, Gboko LGA, served as inspector of area court in Adikpo, Kwande LGA, then as a magistrate in Vandeikya LGA and later transferred to Gboko where I resigned as a magistrate.
What would be your government’s program if you emerge as Governor?
In all the places I have served, I worked with the people and shared their experiences. I observed that the problem with Benue is basically rural development. My focus will be on rural development. In all the terrain I traversed, I discovered that there are no good roads in our rural areas. So, it is very difficult to access the local government areas. Look at Guma local government area, I can say that Gbajimba is the only area in the state that does not have a tarred leading to the area. Both from Makurdi through University of Agriculture and from Daudu to Gbajimba, there are no good roads and even within the LGA. I will contribute my quota to development of the state by providing good roads at least to the standard I feel is fair for the state. At least if they are not tarred, we should have roads that are graded and lateritic so that the farmers can take their farm produce to the market throughout the season and if this is done, you have addressed other sectors of our economy too. You would have addressed the educational sector; security challenges that abound in the state would also have been addressed. Those of us living at the border with Nasawara State are usually exposed to so many security challenges such that at every given time, mercenaries come from there using motorcycles to harass our people. Even when information is given to the police, they find it extremely difficult to come on time because even with a Hilux van, you cannot access my village Yogbo, it will take you up to 7 hours for a journey of just 7 Km. So, it is really disheartening that we are in this state of affairs in Benue. In the educational sector, some of the primary schools that were set up during the Universal Basic Education era in 1976, there are structures as those who are awarded contracts to build them were unable to access the area due to bad road. So, they go back to the Universal Basic authority to re- award contracts to them where there are accessible roads If elected as governor I will create an agency that will ensure the maintenance of rural roads. I will decentralize the ministry for rural development which has been unable to supervise rural roads and work with the local governments in the construction of rural roads. We will ensure that there is an earth moving machine in each LGA; we will take a loan to supply them and then, deduct money from the LGA to pay for them. By providing good roads, we would have addressed the agricultural sector too. Farmers no longer have value for their farm produce because they cannot access the market. If elected as governor in 2015, I will make sure there is a law establishing the Benue Produce Marketing Board to regulate the sale and purchase of farm produce. We will eliminate the middlemen syndrome where farmers produce are collected and they do not know for how much it is sold. I will also establish cottage industries that will turn produce like tomatoes which most times are wasted into finished products. I appreciate that the state government established a tomatoes industry in Wannune, Tarka LGA but until today, it is still comatose and has not come to limelight, the structures and machines are there just laying wasted. Since government was unable to manage the fruit Juice company, it was better to have leased it out to a competent company that could put it to use and so, we will lease it out and it will generate employment for the people and government will have value for the structure. Benue farmers do not have value for their product because of no storage facilities and no pricing regulation.
What is your take on the Tiv Traditional Council trimming down the number of aspirants in MINDA to just four?
The exercise has not in any way deterred me from going about my aspiration. I feel that the Tiv Traditional Area Council coming in at this stage is rather too early. The process that led to the trimming is not a proper one. This is because the Tor Tiv and other chiefs who constitute the panel is a father to all of us and after interacting with us, should have allowed us time to interact with one another more so that we are aspiring to get nomination under the party platform even when the party has not released it guidelines. It could be that those they have chosen may even be cut up with the guidelines. They would have allowed the process to go gradually to a level that the party primaries would be conducted without skirmishes. The party guidelines may even turn out to disqualify some of those aspirants who have gotten the backing of the Tiv Traditional Area Council, TTAC. So, to me it will not deter me or affect my chances. Recall that in 2007,when the governorship was narrowed down to the Sankera axis, Prof. Iorwuese Hagher from Katsina- Ala, late Engr. Bisibi Ati from Logo and Prof. Mvendaga Jibo from Ukum local government were nominated but none of them won, it was Suswam who eventually emerged as governor. So, I feel that the exercise was not done in good fate at all. It has been discarded and we are still campaigning feeling strong that nothing has happened at all.
How do you intend to raise the poor internally generated revenue of the state in the face of dwindling federal allocation to carry out your programs?
I appreciate that there has been a shortfall in the federation account and we need to supplement with the internal generated revenue. There is lots of revenue that are untapped in the state. If by God’s grace I become the governor of the state, I will bring consultants to take an inventory of houses in Benue. We will provide a template whereby all houses will be numbered and all house owners must pay ground rent. The template will provide how you acquired the land whether by customary title, deed on agreement, purchase or allocation if you have COO or ROO so that we will know that these are the house owners on the street. Then we will go ahead and create accounts for them to pay ground rent. People do not pay ground rent because we have not been able to identify house owners. Many undeveloped plots are laying fallow because the owners do not pay ground rent so they are not bothered to develop them for next hundred years. We will create an account with the Urban Development Bank so that all ground rents will be pooled into the account. We take a loan to develop all the streets in Makurdi. The citizen will have up live up their responsibility. Banks and other companies operating in the state are not living up to their social responsibilities; we will ensure that they do so. IGR in terms of motor vehicles, I took my time to observe the number of unregistered motorcycles in the state and noted that they are more than the registered ones. I will make a law and create Benue Transport Agency that will take charge of all the roads. Their responsibility will be to ensure maintenance of the roads as well as ensure all vehicles and motorcycles plying the state are registered and by so doing revenue would be generated for the state government. We will create motor parks even in market and people will pay certain amount of money to park their vehicles there. We will ensure that people pay their taxes and those operating businesses pay their taxes. There are lots of unemployed youths in the state; my government will create an agency Benue Direct Labor Agency to ensure that potholes on the roads are properly taken off. Those who have erected billboards will also pay for them. When the House went through the laws of the Benue Internal Revenue Board we discovered that there are lots of loopholes in it. Areas that were supposed to be captioned as revenue base were left out.
What intension do you have for the master plan of the state capital?
I intend to change the face of the state capital, Makurdi by opening up more streets and if this is done it would ease traffic. I raised a motion in 2010 urging the state government to construct an overhead bridge at Wurukum. Motion was taken and resolution passed to the state government. If I become Governor in 2015, I will ensure that Julius Berger where the state has a lot of shares, I will impress on them to construct the first overhead fly over in Wurukum to reduce traffic congestion in the area. As the state continues to develop, we will impress on the Urban Development Board to create some layouts to change the master plan of the state which was not envisaged by the initial planners of the state. There is high vehicular movement that is not commensurate with roads. So, we will open the roads; tar them to reduce traffic congestion on the major roads. This will be replicated in other major towns in the state.