Dr. Cletus Tyokyaa is a former Special Adviser on politics to former Governor Gabriel Suswam. He served as Chairman, Guma Local Government Area, permanent member, Universal Basic Education Board (UBEC) and is currently a member of the Governing Council, Benue State University and Lecturer, Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi. Dr Tyokyaa is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).He spoke to The Voice Politics’ JAMES SHIM and ESTHER AKAA on the diplomatic measures of clinching the 2023 governorship in Benue State.
Your current partisan political participation seems to be at low ebb, what is the matter?
It may be for the fact that, I was the political adviser and everything happening politically could pass through me. Today, I am no more a political adviser and I have gone back to the classroom, lecturing at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi. Above all, a government is now in place and so those people should be allowed to practice and function as government officers but if I have any specific role, I will play.
What would you say you’ve learnt in politics?
I have learnt a lot of things, very many things. Some experiences are good, sweet, some are bad, bitter and some are such a way that one could only remember. The fact remains that if you join politics, you will always remain like a wise person. . But my experience as a politician is that, if politics is really practiced the way it should, there will be improvement in our social lives in the society. There will be great development in all the sectors of our community. There is what we call “PHD,” Pull Him Down syndrome in our political parties in Benue State and those experiences are there. As a matter of fact, I have benefited tremendously in politics and I have known people. I have known characters of people in our society and I have known when there is great development, people who are for development.
You are perceived to be having some grudges with the present Governor of the State, Samuel Ortom. What is the basis for this?
Those people are wrong . I have never had any political grudge with Dr Ortom. We are deeply close, we are good friends except when we had one disagreement in 2014/ 2015 but those disagreements were on principles. Those disagreements where too minor to say somebody is having a grudge with another person. We are close , the elections have come and gone and that is the more reason why I came to serve in his campaign organisation as the secretary. So we are now working together closely and that is the reason why he even gave me an appointment with Benue State University to serve as a Council member.
What principles was the grudge dependent upon?
Well, he came out for governor at the first instance in 2014 and my people also had wished to have the first governor in the MINDA area from the Ihyarev people and himself was standing for the Nongov people. And God gave him the opportunity, and politically if you are looking for an opportunity and God decides for your brother and you are not somebody who is harbouring bitterness, you should give the person support. So as soon as he won, I told my people that God has decided for us and we had no option than to give him support. That was the principle and since God decided for him, I said I can’t be the one to destroy this land, let me give him my maximum support so that he can develop MINDA. And on that principle, I came back to give him that support.
Do you believe in the principle of zoning?
Of course yes. As a practising democrat, I believe in the zoning principle.
How would you assess the practice of zoning in Benue, particularly for governorship?
There is this problem that people have. And I don’t know if you are looking at the part of Idoma or the components of Tiv land. But if you are looking at components in Tiv land. There are six first class chiefs in Tiv Land. But initially Tivland had five components of MINDA, Kwande, Jemgbagh, Jechira and Sankera. The last Tor Tiv created one again, Gwer and Lobi out of MINDA, so MINDA is no longer one in terms of traditional rulership . There is Lobi and Gwer but the fact remains that now that the people are having the governor, it will not be correct for the people of MINDA to insist that the next governor should come from them . As for Tiv and Idoma, at some points, you remember I served as DG for an Idoma Candidate for governorship. In 2006 , That was my candid belief when George Akume had served as governor. After him, we sat at leadership level and decided that I should go as DG. That it was only correct that this thing should flow down to Idoma land because the Tiv People had it for three times. But when there were moves to give Idoma the governorship, Idoma themselves chose to deputise for Tiv candidate in another party. It therefore meant that, if we now chose an Idoma candidate, a large number of Tiv people would have gone for the Tiv person in another party who had already chosen an Idoma from Agatu as his deputy. So, there was this confusion and Tiv leaders said no, it was not correct for Akume to leave office and never had a successor in his own party. That was why the Tiv People got the governorship again. So I always discuss with my Idoma friends that they must be diplomatic in their approach to get this governorship by zoning. If they use some force, some of them use derogatory comments like ‘every Tiv person will think he is superior to the Idoma,’ that is not the issue. The issue is that the Idoma people are much more qualified to become governor in this state but it’s a matter of diplomacy. You see some Tiv people especially some elders think that the Idoma people have over-dominated the Tiv people at the Federal level, at federal level there are no Tiv persons there and if they give out this governorship, there will be some problem where the Tiv ethnic group will be out of governance of our country. So this people are thinking that where they have a population advantage, they won’t give out. Of course, they have good arguments but that doesn’t follow in democracy. They say if they get governorship, it will still be better for the Tiv people because they will have the majority in the House of Assembly. What is happening in Kogi State? Can the Igala people say their majority in the Assembly has helped them?.
Do you see this zoning system producing the best candidate for Benue and indeed Nigeria?
The zoning system anywhere you go you must find a credible person in this country. So to deprive people that they don’t have credible persons is insulting. I don’t believe in that kind of thing . Where are the credible people ? Every ward in this country there are credible people, very heavily trained people who have all the credentials to serve this country in whatever capacity, so it is a matter of privilege. Some people are privileged and so they know all.
Do you see Benue State growing politically alongside other nationalities in Nigeria?
Well, we have all the potentials but the problem we still have is the PHD syndrome that we have in our land. The Tiv people in particular. They would not want the next Tiv man to be somewhere. If you see people criticising the government of Benue, even when the government is doing well, it is Tiv that are doing it. Today, you will see Ortom’s outspoken position on security in this country, some people, Tiv people, trained people for that matter, civilised and literate people for that matter believe that Ortom is talking too much. Why should you say he shouldn’t talk? When he is talking, it is helping. So until Tiv people, and indeed Benue people agree that we will allow our own brother to contribute positively for our own development, you will not get us moving up there. So until they start thinking together. Benue has every potential to grow but this cankerworm of political hatred or enmity is the problem we have.
Don’t you think the defections from PDP to APC going on in some states will affect PDP in 2023 elections?
Well, that is not happening in Benue state but on a general note, I don’t think that is a problem. People are going to APC now because they think it is the last chance to go and benefit from the government of APC. It is not about development, it is not about working for the government because there is nothing in that party. The truth is that those people are thinking that if you are with Buhari, you will enjoy yourself but if you are with PDP, you will not get anything. For those who had served before think that if you go with PDP, the federal government will witch-hunt you. So those are the issues. The kind of security problems we have now, I am afraid for Nigeria. People say this government is trying, trying what? When we can’t even move and there is no good relationship between the Igbo man and a Youruba man, between the Igbo and Hausa, between the Tiv man and the Alago that we are close here. People are afraid to even go to their brothers’ houses. What kind of a country is this?
There should be freedom of expression , freedom of interaction, freedom of relationship . The Tiv man was the best of friends in this country. If a Tiv man saw a fulani man then the Fulani man will say the Tiv man is his slave and the Tiv man will laugh. They used to crack jokes but now, if you crack that little joke, there will be trouble. So I cannot understand what kind of country we have found ourselves in now.
How would you asses improvements in the conduct of elections by INEC so far?
That is another problem that we have in this country. Yes, INEC is trying but INEC is like any other state electoral Commission. Where elections are conducted by states electoral Commissions, obviously the state government party is going to win 100%. Is that election? When INEC is conducting election, you will discover that this election would be guarded by security agents . Look, during national elections in Benue here, that was when I was arrested and the police man told me that they were under instructions to take me off that election, and I asked what was the meaning of that? My wife was in the hospital, they refused me having contact with my wife, they ceased all my phones and that they were from the Inspector General of Police .When I was released finally and I took the matter to court , the judge said the police had no knowledge of what I was talking about. So I said with all the available evidences that I presented they were exonerating the police and no policeman was called to be questioned. So that was high level conspiracy. Well, if the National Assembly can do some work on the electoral laws that will block all these lapses that are inherent in it, then we will be free. But if the National Assembly can be so patriotic in ensuring that the lapses found in the electoral laws are corrected, then we will have good elections in this country. At least when they bring in electronic voting, that will reduce a lot of problems. To some extent, when very good processes are adopted like electronic voting, like announcing elections as soon as they are done, then every vote will count and when every vote counts, you will know whether somebody has won or lost.
You are popularly known as the PDP Bishop. How did it come about and what do you think about it as a Christian?
The name doesn’t stop me from being a Christian. You see, there are ways you can sensitise our people politically. You can do sensitisation through publicity. You can do it through flyers, you can do it through drama. My being the PDP Bishop was the role I was playing as the greatest revival and reconciliator of political acrimonies in this country. What happened was that, when people had defected from their parties to PDP, we felt that they had filthiness and there was somebody that will purify them to give the party. So I was doing the role of purification of people who had hitherto entangled with filthiness and they were coming into our party. So it was like drama in our party. It was like a way of reconciling people, a way of polishing and bringing people back to newness and clean political practice. That was why they called me political Bishop, it does not conflict with my Christianity. As a Christian, I am a member of the Knight of Saint John in the Catholic faith and as a knight, my role is also to defend the church and give full respect to church authorities.
How do you think government can ensure sanity and foster unity in the country?
I want to appeal to Nigerian government to please note that our forefathers have suffered to put this country together. Let us ensure that their intentions are not destroyed. Let them revive this country and ensure that there is a new Nigeria where everybody will be proud of. Let us have a country where there is absolute security. Let us have a country where any Igbo man can go to any Hausa man and sleep freely. Let us have a country where the jokes that the Tiv man use to have with the Fulani man are rebuilt. Let us restructure this country so that everybody will have a sense of belonging. That is my advice to the government in power at the federal level. And of course the Tiv people who are my people, let them stop this idea of destruction of their fellow Tiv people. Nigeria is up to 60 years now and Benue State is about 45 years. It is time we start thinking on how we can forge ahead and develop our state rather than fight each other unnecessarily. Let us do politics without rancour, politics without bitterness, politics where if you win we support you, if you lose, support the other person. That will help this state and the country and we shall live better in it.