Dr Jonah Ogbaji is a medical practitioner based in Makurdi, the Benue State capital. He is an active politician and community mobilizer, a one-time ex-officio member of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, North Central. Now an elder who participates in decision making, is currently the chairman, Steering Committee of the Igede, 2023 and member of the Benue Rebirth Movement. He spoke with The Voice Political Desk on current political agitation ahead of 2023 elections.
Can you briefly assess the Nigerian democracy in the over two decades of practice?
Democracy is supposed to be a beautiful method of administering governance. The success however remains largely on the people. And the big question is, how Democratic are Nigerians? We still have things that are stopping democracy in Nigeria from a full blossom democratic process. And that is greed, and our inability to look at society as a basis for our political actions. So at the moment, democracy is not thriving as a result of many factors. We are practicing, we are struggling, we are trying to improve but I must say we are not yet there. The process of our electioneering and the desperation with which people win elections is throwing a lot of questions as to the ideal democracy that we expect. We are struggling but we still have a long way.
How far about the Benue Rebirth Movement?
Benue Rebirth Movement basically is an aspiration of the people of Zone C to participate in power sharing. Understanding the fact that Benue as a State was created 44years ago, and for administrative convenience, Benue state was divided into three zones – A, B, and C. And so far, we have had positions of leadership of the State from Zones A and B alone, leaving Zone C out all this while. So Zone C feels that there is no equity in the administration of the state. Political positions or leadership positions are synonymous with developments in Nigeria and Benue is not an exception. So when leadership is coming from one side of the state, the chances are that development will be lopsided. This is the feeling of Zone C people and they believe that they need to talk to their brothers in Zones A and B, to allow power to rotate so that they can also have a sense of belonging and a sense of participation in the administration of the state. There are a lot of advantages to this. And one of the outstanding reasons is that if Benue in 44years has done very well I wonder if people of zone C could beat their chest in contributing to that success. But if they haven’t done very well, the people of Zone C can equally say we did not participate in the failure of the state in 44years. So participatory democracy where power rotates from one place to another makes people to share their failures and successes. This is the thinking of the people of Zone C.
So far what would you say is the disposition of the Tiv Brothers toward the Benue Rebirth Movement agenda?
Amazingly it is receiving a lot of support from Zones A and B. People believe strongly that equity and justice is the only way a society could be controlled. When injustice is allowed to move in a state freely resistance becomes a duty. And we would like to come together as a people to move the state forward. So if there is any element of feeling of injustice, then, of course we will be fighting the very efforts that will move the state forward.
What exactly do you think will be the benefit of the Igede people in this power shift?
The Benue Rebirth Movement is the aspirations of the people of Zone C and is their collective resolve that they will negotiate and allow power to shift to Zone C. They are also interested in being governor. They have the capacity and the ability to rule this state. At this stage we are not interested in who takes the power now. What we are interested is a power rotation to Zone C and once it gets to ZoneC everybody in Zone C will be qualified to contest. It will not be limited to a particular geo- political section of Zone C.
A member of the Benue Rebirth Movement is reported to have issued threats in the event of failure to shift power to Zone C, is this healthy for democracy?
Democracy in the traditional sense is a game of numbers. Deeper than that, democracy is also a game of negotiation, is a game of convincing people to see your point of view from the point of equity and justice. In that case number is irrelevant. Democracy is not intimidation, democracy is not threats, democracy is not force. So people could have wrong notions of the Zone C movement, the movement is devoid of any intimidation, force or threats. We expect that by negotiation, by convincing the people of zone A and B to allow power to shift, we expect them to also participate in selecting the individual that will be their governor. That individual will not be Governor of Zone C, will be Governor of Benue State.
And Benue State geographically consists of the three zones that I have mentioned. So we don’t believe in intimidation, threat or boycotting election as a result of inability to achieve the ambition, but believe that it is an argument that is tenable, reasonable and it is an argument that most people will like to identify with.
How are you involving the various political parties in this agenda?
The Benue Rebirth Movement is a highly organized group. They have various groups and committees to handle different aspects of their activities. One of them that is relevant to your question is the inter party relations, a committee that has the responsibility of working between the political parties that we have in Benue State with the sole belief of not fighting irrespective of which ever political platform that emerges as Governor. We are also negotiating and advising political parties to consider choosing their candidates from where Zone C is expecting the governorship to come from. If they all choose their candidates from Zone C, it makes the work a lot easier for us. But that can only come with a mutual understanding of people of Zone A, B and C.
Right now there are agitations from the other zones for the governorship, do you fore see any sincerity in the resolve for power shift?
Like I said the word negotiation and cooperation is very key. Is not in the last day that people will show their interest in contesting governorship election. They are allowed to tell people of their interests but at the end of the day when decisions are taken, the popular opinion will carry the day. Iam sure these candidates in zones A and B, if they have a reason to cede power to Zone C, it will not cause any trauma. Power rotation simply means power is going to a particular place or area and after 4years,maximum 8,it will move to another section. It will provide equity, sense of participation and confidence in administration of the affairs of the state.
Can you assess our democratic governance under the PDP and APC in the state?
I think PDP achieved a lot. If you go back to Jonathan up to the time Governor Samuel Ortom returned to the party, they have made tremendous strides but Nigeria as a whole tend to be fickle minded, they forget very easily. When Jonathan was defeated in the election everybody thought he was the worst president. Now the feeling is different because we have grounds for comparison. So one will say that the PDP in real calculation has done far more than the APC government. And the spectacular achievement of Governor Ortom has to do with the law that is protecting our people against external aggression. As a matter of fact, for a Governor to be able to do that, it is a plus. Every other thing is enveloped in the fact that the people of Benue State feel more secured particularly the farmers. The food basket of the nation is dwindling because of the insecurity that exist in Benue State prior to Governor Samuel Ortom ‘s enactment of the law. The anti open grazing law, it has not eliminated but it has reduced considerably the menace of the Fulani attacks on our farmers. So when you are talking about achievement, we have to look at the relevance of what the government has done to the people be it negative or positive. If you look at the issue of salary arrears, it is difficult to pin down on a particular government because it looks like a revolving problem. Salary issue has been lingering from Akume time to Suswam and Ortom. So if you have been following trends, it is difficult for you to say that the salary arrears is peculiar this administration, it is not. There are some weaknesses of this administration. I think the electoral process with which people could express their opinions is very very scanty in this administration. The method used in appointing local government chairmen rather than contesting election to these positions does not allow people to choose their leaders. When leadership is chosen from the people, that person becomes accountable to the people.
So who would you blame?
I blame the administration of this kind of method of democracy. Democracy is about the People’s choice. Democracy is not the government choice.
From this perspective, do you see PDP consolidating its holds unto power in 2023 in Benue State?
I think so with the colossal failure of the APC government in all spheres. PDP should take advantage and build on their gains. Nigerians have the opportunity of comparing what the PDP did in many years and what the APC has done in many years. So they have a very big opportunity to make a choice. The current chairmen in Benue State were elected through consensus, is part of Electoral process of electing leaders but in a consensus environment we must be able to support statistics of those who are satisfied with the process. I think this was not available.