Engineer David Nongo is a former acting Managing Director of the Nigeria Export Promotion Zones Authority (NEPZA). In this interview with JAMES SHIM, he spoke on his commitment to turn Benue into an export promotion hub and his desire to run for the House of Representatives in 2023 on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Excerpts:
The people of Gwer Local Government have singled you out of many sons and daughters to contest for the Gwer/Gwer West House of Representatives seat in 2023, are you ready to run?
I feel so much honored, I am in tears. This is what they do to their children once in a while but at the end of the day, nothing comes out of it. I am only praying to God that if this project is a success, I should make the difference.
What do you think you have done to merit this call?
When they are celebrating I celebrate with them, when they are mourning I mourn with them, when they are crying I am there for them. I am part and parcel of the people 24/7. When I was in the Directorate for Rural Roads, Food and Rural Infrastructure, I opened up culverts for them. I also built a secondary school and gave it to them. Once in a while, when I get opportunity I assist the younger ones to also get employment. If I am in a position of trust where they can also get my assistance through contract awards, I will give them. Presently, we are working on an electricity project that covers the whole of Mbabur. We have gone far but we met some hiccups that are caused by us. So I believe some of the few things that I am doing for them, they believe if I am in a position of trust and authority, they can benefit more. I believe that is why they have beckoned on me to come and represent them in the House of Representatives.
You made an earlier attempt for governorship that didn’t work out, do you think you will not be reducing yourself for House of Representatives seat?
You know in Africa, people look for power for self agrandisement, for selfish reasons. In advanced democracies, you look for power to help people, change people’s lives. When they called on me about two weeks ago, I weighed a lot of options. If I said no, I will not be fair to them. Our representation since 1999 has been nothing but failure. I have very good friends who are at the National Assembly and I know what they have brought to their constituencies, infrastructure wise, employment and other benefits. I told them about one House of Representatives member who spent 1 year only but was able to influence employment for over 289 members of his constituency . From 1999 till date, our constituency has not gotten up to that number of jobs from National Assembly members. I don’t think I am bringing myself too low. I can serve my people in any capacity, especially if I feel what I am going to do is to their benefit. When I was contesting for governorship, I was not going there for selfish interest. I thought I could change the system. I should change this money politics. I thought l have the ideas to transform Benue State. I can make Benue State the richest state in this country.
People count so much about godfather politics, do you have any?
No. The masses are my God father. Just get the youths, the women, the elderly and be responsible to them, they are the God fathers.
But it plays a key role in Benue, how are you prepared to contain that?
Look at the last elections, people are becoming more enlightened. Does it work in Benue State again? People are becoming aware of their rights, those who thought they could manipulate and win, where are they?
You have declared your intention on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which people are saying has failed the masses. What makes you convinced that the party is a good platform for you?
Let me tell you why APC lost elections in Benue State. It lost because people were uncomfortable with a MINDA person starting a fresh term of 4 years. They thought if Jime wins, he will ask for a second term, that is the only reason. It is not about insecurity. Even members of the APC were not comfortable voting Jime into power. I don’t believe PDP is a threat to APC.
The ongoing APC revalidation and registration exercise has made people believe that the party is ailing, what can you say about this?
First, the number of prospective members has overwhelmed the party. Like in our council ward, the people who registered are more than the total number of people who voted in the last elections. The shift in registration is not because there is crisis. It is because most people want to register. It is to give every intending person the opportunity to register.
What do you have in mind to do for your people now that you have joined the race?
First, I want to use that position to transform the lives of my people irrespective of what the state government is doing. A Member of House of Representatives that knows his or her onions can transform his constituency more than what any governor can do. I believe, if I am a Member, I Will empower the youths, create employment, develop the constituency infrastructure wise, assist in rural development. I will assist the youths with federal government employment. We have been short changed. If you look at what has happened in Konshisha, it is because we don’t have Tiv people as army officers, we are nobody. But the constitution says recruitment into the army should be based on federal character. Whenever Benue quota is given, the Idomas take 90% and give the Tiv 10%, and our people don’t talk. Assuming I am elected, I will make sure that Gwer and Gwer West get into the Army.. How I will do it is my strategy. If other constituencies don’t want it, we will get our own fair share. We have about 600 parastatals in this country and every state is supposed to have a minimum of at least 15 chief executives. What do we have in Benue State, nothing. It is our right and not a privilege.
How did you use your tenure at NEPZA for the progress and development of Benue State?
Mr President went to China in 2016, and the President of China told him that if he want Nigeria to develop economically he should establish special economic zones in Nigeria. That is what Chinese did and they are where they are today. Chinese government established free economic zones and allowed the Americans to come in, establish factories, produce in China with cheap labour and export to other countries. After sometime, China learnt the technologies and established factories. When the President came back, he said he want six pilot zones, one per zone. I was there fighting for Benue and luckily when Jime came, it was easy. I got world class consultants for a world class economic zone to be established in North Bank Makurdi. I got renowned architects, quantity surveyors, engineers and we took it to the president, he approved. I had a lot of pressure from Nigerian consultants, saying give it to me I will give you a lot of money but I said I am not interested, I wanted to do something for my people. Those designs were completed. I did everything and was in the process of getting the contract awarded, then I left. They were supposed to approve money for the special economic zone, Makurdi when I left. When I left, there was nobody there to pursue it, the money was removed. This does not mean that the project has been cancelled. You will recall, David Mark passed a bill for university of health sciences before he left the Senate. Five years after, the new government has given the go ahead for that project to run. I am very confident that the Makurdi economic zone will start before 2023 or by 2023 when I will be in the House of Representatives. I will get the project funded. That project will provide jobs to over one hundred thousand Benue youths when completed, it will transform the economy of the state. It will enable us to make a case for River Benue to be dredged so that all the ships coming into the free economic zones from Europe, America, China in the high seas will transport the raw materials to our zone. We will use the same ships to export the finished products outside the country. This same zone will make the government to establish an international airport. I think there is no Benue person in the history of its creation that has attracted a project of this magnitude to the state. I stand to be corrected. By the time we will start, the project will gulp up to N100 billion. I think I have done much for Benue State. I have never been in power politically, is just through my civil service jobs. Some of the big Benue people you see I assist them but I won’t talk.
What do you think will happen if Buhari is no more there as President when you will be in the House of Representatives?
I told you I am a Nigerian. I told you at the age of 13 I went to secondary school. I have a lot of friends. I believe the President is going to be zoned to the South. If is in Igbo land or Yoruba, I might know the president and I will get this project funded. I cannot get this project funded without the president or me in the House of Representatives. I made NEPZA what it is. I got funding for NEPZA. Whether the President is Buhari or not, I can get this project funded. As for my people, with God on my side I will set a standard where other House of Assembly members will come and see what Gwer/Gwer West member is doing. I know what my people deserve, I know how, where to get it. I have the capacity to do it. I just need that political power.