Hon Benjamin Bem Mngutyo, is a two time member of the Benue State House of Assembly, representing Tarka State Constituency. He is also the Minority Leader in the House. The one time Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Benue State Chapter spoke to The Voice Politics on the state of the All Progressives Congress, APC, experience in the assembly and contributions to his constituency. Excerpts as captured by James Shim.
You belong to the opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the House, what is your experience so far as an opposition legislator?
As you know to be a Rt Hon means you must have spent at least a term of 4 years and beyond. I came into the House under the platform of ACN. Towards the end of that term there was a switch over, the Governor who was in the same party with us switched over to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Then, I became opposition. I was made the Minority Leader and by implication, I am the leader of all the opposition political parties within the assembly. And as you know once in the assembly politicking is over. There the business of governance begins. The business of law making, business of oversighting, business of policy making and checkmating and appropriating funds commences. So, once you are there, you cease to politic on the floor of the house. You begin to look at Benue as an entity, how to make Benue work, to project Benue. As an opposition, yes, our duty is not to oppose government policies and programmes the way people expect it, no. The role of opposition party is to make sure government remains on her toes. And drawing from the experience some of us have, we can always advice them to have things in place the way they are supposed to be, after all these names are just acronyms. They are just platforms that we use to get to assembly, they can change tomorrow. As an opposition party you can support the government in bringing development to the people. But object when they go against the programmes they have set out to do.
Political parties have ideologies, haven’t you seen anything contrary to what your party stands for?
No. The role of the legislature in a democracy word wide is to make laws and checkmate government. So far, I cannot tell categorically that they have gone against the ideology of the APC. We are operating like a family. Before we go to any session we hold the executive session that encompasses all the parties. If government brings any programme that we feel is going to be detrimental to the people, we trash it so that it does not go to plenary where you have the press and the whole world is watching. We clean everything and make sure we tidy it in the executive session to make sure that we are presenting what the public will benefit from.
So what is the importance of plenary debate if issues are determined in executive sessions?
We debate objectively, don’t forget that even members from the majority sometimes debate against something from the executive. If you are looking at the Benue project and the executive brings something, even though you are from the same party, that is not good for the people you object to it. That is the irony of it. I have had cause to kick against programmes of the federal government that is not ruled by the PDP as a Minority Leader. When I look at it and have cause to believe that it will be detrimental to government and people of Benue State, I kick against it.
What are such bills?
For instance, when the federal government introduced a bill to collect all the water ways I kicked against it. When I saw the river banks of river Benue and the fact that our people are predominantly an agrarian state I knew that they were saying our people should not farm again. That fishermen should lose their jobs and all that. And then you are allowing herdsmen who have been a thorn in our flesh to encroach on our land and exterminate Benue State. That bill was opposed by me as the minority leader even though it came from my party. When the federal government attempted to take away the military institute in North Bank, Army School of Military Engineering and relocate it to Maiduguri, I opposed it on the floor. As a matter of fact, I was the one that seconded the motion kicking against it. But federal might was brought to bear and we lost out. These are some of the cases. It does not mean that because you are from the same party you accept everything that comes hook line and sinker. That is not what the debate is about.
You are of the opposition party in the house looking for an opportunity to take leadership, what would you say about the performance of the ruling party in the state?
Average, average, average. I give them average because I feel if it were my party we would have done better.
So what is your hope in the 2023 election?
Certainly victory, we are going to win. We are going to have a change of guard to take Benue to the next level.
Currently the APC is on a revalidation /registration exercise, and people seem to be grumbling about the seriousness of the party as it is difficult to know where the exercise is being conducted in the state, how would you react to this?
It is e in every polling unit. I am just from my village where I revalidated my membership and everything is going on well. The officials are there, materials are there and the prospective members are there. So except you are not in tune, otherwise, the exercise is going on smoothly.
When did the exercise actually commence in Benue?
It started February 9th. That was the day the leader of the party flagged it off in Tarka local government. But I did my own on the 10th of February. Don’t forget there were some skirmishes in Gboko where a life was lost but the security agencies have taken over and everything is moving smoothly.
It is reported that there are factions and divisions in the APC?
There are no divisions. These are just internal squabbles that happen anywhere. Don’t forget that APC is the party in power and then, there are some people who lost out and are creating problems. But we are gearing towards our primaries where we will elect new officials. So, certainly you should know that you are going to have problems here and there.
So what modalities have you put in place to ensure that this does not snow ball into serious crisis?
We are discussing internally and the party is in control. Even the situation in Gboko the party has waded in and they are discussing. They have invited me for a meeting on Thursday to iron out issues. We will talk to the elders to make sure that this does not escalate. I believe everything is under control and it is unfortunate over the life that was lost in Gboko.
You are representing the people of Tarka in the assembly. Having spent some time there, what would you say you have done to impress your people?
So many things. I have floated an annual scholarship scheme for indigenes of Tarka in tertiary institutions. Iam proud to say that I am doing that for the sixth year running. I brought electricity to Uku community. In the whole of Tarka local government it was the only settlement without electricity. I brought a transformer and electricity there. I provided a mini bridge in Mbacoughul community. I have sunk boreholes, one is ongoing in Tarhembe, Mbaigba council ward. I have sunk in Mbachaverkyondo council ward. I am in the process of installing a transformer in Chia community. I was of assistance to my people when herdsmen attacked and ravished them. I gave succour by providing relief materials to them. I have supplied fertilizer and farm implements to them. I have provided sundry assistance to them. Iam in close touch with my people in the belief that they gave me a trust and the mandate to represent them. And the little benefits that I derive from the job I do on their behalf, I make sure I reach out to them.
What efforts have you made in terms of sponsorship of bills that will impact on their lives?
I may not tell you that on a personal level I have presented bills but I have supported bills. The idea is for you to contribute your quota so that effective laws are made for the good of our people. Bills have come from the executive, we have amended some and passed some. Bills have come from the private sector, we have looked at those that are worthwhile and passed into law. Bills that emanate from the assembly as an entity are worked upon and passed into law.
Journalists see you as their ambassador in the assembly, how would you say you are representing them?
I am proud to tell people that I am a journalist because I came to the assembly on that platform. The profession of journalism gave me the platform to rise to the position I am today. Don’t forget that at a point I was Chairman of the NUJ in Benue State. So I have transferred the knowledge and experience into the assembly. And all my colleagues are benefitting from that. I believe I have kept the flag of my profession flying. I believe that after my sojourn in the assembly I will still go back to my people. I have a newspaper myself.
APC popularity seems to be diminishing in Benue?
No, APC is still the party to beat in the state. Yes, we are not in power so you cannot be hearing of the party as PDP which is in power. But if any election is conducted now, APC will come top. We were only rigged out in the last election by power play and who controlled resources. In terms of voting strength, till date APC has it in Benue.
And people are saying the 9th assembly is muzzled?
Is that why you in opposition cannot speak out?
Who told you we are not speaking? We are just 7 out of 23,we are doing our best. Among our colleagues we are even the ones speaking, they are afraid. We speak but don’t forget I told you that the majority would always have their way. But they are affected too.
You will agree with me that governance is a collective responsibility, how are opposition members trying to proffer solutions to these problems in the state like the salary and pension issues?
What else do you want us to do when we cried loud while we were in APC, they gave us bailouts but was not judiciously used. We have complained all to no avail. Let alone now that we are in minority. No matter how we talk now, those in the majority will not allow us. They want to protect the image of their party.
What is your expectations on the on going registration and revalidation exercise of your party in the state?
That more people will come to register in APC, this is the opportunity and I call on everybody in love with APC to come and join us now. Very soon we shall be going to elections to elect people who will represent the party at all levels, so this is the time for those who would want to be elected and those who would want to elect.
The issue now is zoning of governorship in Benue, what is the thinking of the APC?
God will decide because we shall allow a level ground for all comers to prove their popularity, maintain touch with the people, appeal to their consciences and where the pendulum swings that is where the governorship will go.
So are you saying that there is no zoning in APC?
For now that is what I am telling you, a candidate can come from Zone A, B or C. Whoever the people deem to be most qualified to represent them in Government House, I believe that is the way it is going to go.
As a person what plans do you have for 2023?
The people will decide, they can assess me by what I have been able to do for them. Then if they can send me on a higher level, fine. But the ultimate is God. For now I am trying to see that I am providing the dividends of democracy to them.