Dr Paul Orhii is a former Director General of National Agency for Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). A legal luminary and astute medical practioner, he is contesting to become the governor of Benue State in 2023. In this interview with The Voice’s Editorial Team, he bared his mind on why he is gunning for the plum seat and transformational measures he will employ to turn the fortunes of the rich agrarian state.
You are contesting the governorship of Benue State for the second time, what is your story from the experience so far?
I never ever dreamt I will contest for the governorship any day. I was in the US when I was called to come and serve as the DG of NAFDAC. So when I was there, I discovered that you can actually use the public office to do a lot of things. Things that I could hardly do when I was in US I do them easily when I was here. I could just give a letter and somebody will get a job and easily pay school fees of so many. And when I saw that there was a governorship chance, I felt that with my experience and connections in so many countries, at international level, I thought there are so many things I can bring to bear to make the state to develop. That is why I decided to join the governorship race. When you look from outside, it seems very easy. But I am going there for the second time, it is capital intensive and tricky too. There are so many issues involved. That has been my experience. The last time I ran was on the platform of the PDP when our current governor was in the APC.
You cannot solve a problem without dissecting it. What do you think is the problem of Benue’s underdevelopment?
Some of the problems are not just leadership challenges. Some are followership challenges. The followers are very bad followers so far and some times they complicate issues for the leaders. We also have the issue of huge unemployment and the state has a population that is largely youth. About 70 percent are largely youth who are not employed. The complication is that most of them have degrees so if they want to become criminals, they can be most sophisticated criminals. Another challenge is the underdevelopment of the rural areas. I have decided to focus on the development of the rural areas. I have drawn something that is called the world development concept. Japan and some of the Asian countries had this kind of challenges in early 80s. What happened was, there was poverty in the rural areas and people were moving to the urban areas. And there were no jobs waiting for them and they become criminals. What these countries did was to focus and invest heavily in the rural areas. Create jobs, economic activities and wealth in the rural areas which attracted the young people to go back there. What I plan to do is that about 30-40 percent will go directly to the rural areas. You create a world Development Committee and hand over to them and then divide money into interventions, for example housing. I just need to buy only roofing materials to change those thatched houses that you see. Any body who can build like a three bedroom house you give them roofing materials to build it. It can even add to the beauty such that from the end you can know that this Council stops here and this one ends here. If you do that by 3-4 years, you discover that you have developed the area. Then look at feeder road network by the time you begin to take maybe 4 kilometers of roads from one council ward, you certainly meet another. If you do that you are opening up the areas. Then entrepreneurship training for youths, women. You train these people and give them loans. You can bring improved seedlings and teach them how to farm particular crops. You will have alot of yields and by that you are creating wealth. If our graduates who are elsewhere doing menial jobs, if they know they can come back and work and be earning better on their farms, they can come back to the village. And you can help them generate wealth and begin their own businesses. And when they begin they become passionate defenders of that community. They will be there and animals will even be afraid to come. And that ties into security. It will be provided by your very young people without you knowing. You can even institute inter council ward competitions on this. Crops like cassava are in very high demand in the world. Europe just discovered that the Sina found in cassava, if you give it in low doses and mix it with animal feeds, it prevents mad cow disease that almost wiped out their economy. You know they depend heavily on cows for milk and for the beef and other products too.
So what will be your economic thrust, will it be private or social?
It will be mixed. And my main thrust will be in agriculture because I believe it is the main hanging fruit that will make us come out of the underdevelopment we have now. Let me give you an example, I compare Benue State with the Netherlands. I compare them because they have about the same land mass. Netherlands has 33, 000 square kilometers of lands and Benue has 34,000 thousand square kilometers of land. Benue land is flat, very fertile and arable. Netherlands has more of their land in water but how much do they make in a year in agriculture, 100 billion in dollars in agriculture every year. I am targeting to make just about 1 billion dollars initially for a start because we don’t have infrastructure. That is about 500 billion naira, and currently we are running the state with less than 500 billion naira a year. But imagine that if in a year you make 500billion then, you have enough money to develop education, infrastructure and so in subsequent years, you will be able to generate more than two percent of what Netherlands make . How does Netherlands make the money? This ranching that we are talking about, Netherlands make more than 27billion Euros from cows a year. They produce a lot of milk. One cow in Isreal produces about 12,000 litres of milk per year. European Union cow produces about 7,000 litres of milk per year. They take the milk, extract the butter; this hollandia yughurt that you see in the shops here, they make about four billion Euros from that a year. Then they will extract the hollandia yoghurt and make the hollandia cheese that you buy in all the shops here. All the condensed, powdered milk, then when they slaughter the milk that is just 198 grams they make another money. All together they make more than 20,000 billion Euros. Then if you see the fruits, vegetables, flours, right now as we speak, they just arrived this pawpaw from Accra to Netherlands. So they make a profit of 100billion dollars or more a year from Agriculture.
So will you sell state industries or establish new ones?
Some that are not working could be sold. In fact, I was on the transition team when Governor Ortom started the second tenure. I was the Vice Chair of that committee on industries and investments. We looked at some of those industries that they are no longer assets, they are liabilities now. If they tell you how much money they have put into Taraku Mills, even if you try to sell it now, I don’t think anybody will pay what the real value is. Look at Tomato factory at Wannune here; it was started 16 years ago. The factory is just there moribund and maybe every year they want to pay some money to them, we are getting nothing from there. We recommended that may be a private investor can take over and run it, generate employment and be paying taxes to government, it is more beneficial but if there are some industries that government can still establish, it is not everything that can be privatized and is not everything that has to be run by government. We know that generally the private sector is a best manager of industries so it will be mixed. What I think we failed to do was entrepreneurship training before we started building companies. You have to have the entrepreneurial spirit. Train the people on how to run industries before establishment. What I will be doing if I have the opportunity is to have massive training of the youth. If you take two billion naira that is needed to start a company and then train the youths about 1000 and give them about 5million each as loans after training them, you will have a chance that some of them will succeed in doing small businesses. Countries like Italy are the cottage industry that has built them. Because they start with training. But when you just establish a giant government factory and call on somebody to come man it as GM of the factory without entrepreneur training they see it as their share of the cake. He is not even given the opportunity to see how the thing work, all they do is to put demands on him every day. That company cannot succeed. So I believe we should have private-public-partnership to make it work.
What about an establishment likes the Benue Printing and Publishing Corporation?
I don’t understand the workings of this place much but even here I think that private people can come and work with government to make the place more efficient. The private people can inject capital if they see that money can be made here. You know government is a very bad manager of enterprises like this. You privatize this today, you already have some of the best minds in media practice in this country, they will be attracting people from all over and before you know the place will go back to where it is supposed to be. It depends on how the thing is managed and how the Privatization is done. I think it is not a bad idea.
How best do you think the issue of insecurity occasioned by herdsmen attacks will be tackled?
I think Governor Ortom is doing a great job. I feel we have relative peace here considering what we hear from other states. He is already doing a great job and is taking very bold steps. If I have the opportunity I will even add some other things to it. For example, the Vigilante Group that he has started, I will even take that to another level. Because those people are just like the community police. They live in the communities and they know who is a criminal, who is a visitor and who can commit what kind of crime. So I think vigilante group is the right way to go and if you empower them they will know how to nip the crime in the bud. But what I talked about that will seriously help security is the development in the council wards. If you do massive developments in the rural areas, our youth will come back and generate economic activities and wealth in the areas by having investments there and would be zealous defenders of their communities. Of course, if you reduce unemployment insecurity will reduce. When life is tough every body thinks his brother is the enemy and that fuels insecurity.
Do you see the imperativeness for the declaration of state of emergency in Benue State looking at the current security situation?
No. There are places that are far worse than Benue. There is no place that is safe in the country now. So if Buhari wants to declare emergency rule, I think he should do it entirety and leave.
Why should Benue people vote you if you are selected by your party as candidate?
First and foremost, if I am selected, that is the major step. I think they should vote me because I come with a lot of experience both nationally and internationally. When I was at NAFDAC, I was running about one third of Nigeria’s economy. And I believe I did a good job because I was recognized internationally. Even recently the government of Rwanda called me to go and help them establish similar agency like NAFDAC. So I know that I did something right. I come with a lot of experience, training in different areas in different countries. And then I have the passion. You can have the competence but if you don’t have the passion and compassion for the people, you can’t do it. You can be a smart criminal. Passion is very critical and I believe I have the passion for development. The little opportunities I have I gave scholarship, every year I used to give 200 to 300 scholarships across the wards. Because I thought that the people needed it and that education is the way. People like you were exposed to other places because of the sound education that you have. People should vote for me also because I am compassionate. When I had the opportunity any person that I could help I helped. When you have passion and compassion you begin to generate ideas on how you can make things better for your people. And of course people should vote for me because I have shown and known that what I tell them I will do, I am going to do it. I have the international contacts, National contacts that I can make things happen especially when there is indication of no money coming from federation account. We need somebody who can generate wealth. Look at soyabeans. In 2017, America sold soyabeans to China 27 billion dollars. I know who and where to go to. That is why I thought I should come and if I get the opportunity, help Benue to develop.
Do you think the argument on zoning should hold water for you?
I am not a zoning person so if I get nomination on zoning it is just accidental. I believe in competence. I believe that the most competent person no matter where he comes from should be given the opportunity to see how he can transform Benue. I believe that I have something to offer. Zoning to me was supposed to benefit ethnic minorities. The majority if you allow them they will always win and zoning was introduced to help the minorities. If you don’t zone, it will be hard for them to occupy a position. But the way we are practicing is we the majority who are always zoning for ourselves, so I don’t see the value in zoning. I believe in competence. At most, it should be mixed, that is competence and zoning.