Chief Michael Kaase Aondoakaa is Nigeria’s former Attorney General and Minister of Justice. He has indicated the desire to contest the governorship of Benue State come 2015. He speaks with HENRY IYORKASE on his agenda for the state and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
You have indicated the desire to seek gubernatorial ambition come 2015, what is the response of the stakeholders concerning your ambition?
I have been telling the people what I will do for the state and telling them to judge me by what I did when they sent me. They sent me in the sense that any appointment you get is the blessing from your people; so they should judge me based on that. It appears to me reasonably that they are in agreement. But as I tell you, I am a faithful party man, so I am hoping that where there is a transparent party primaries; people are freely allowed to choose among us, Benue will get the best governor. It could be me or could be somebody else and if it is that, the party would also have an overwhelming victory at the polls. So the whole idea to me is I would want as much as many credible aspirants to contest and let the people have the opportunity to select based on what they can offer. After all, my desire to rule the state is based on my conviction that I can deliver and I believe any other person’s desire to rule the state primarily is that he can deliver. He must have seen something that he wants to accomplish for the people.
But the question I would want the people to ask is: show us something you have done for the people before you are saying something; that should be the starting point.
Let us see something that you have done for the people in the past. All the past governors ibecame governors on the ground that they have done something; people saw something in them that they were doing for the people before. Aper Aku was a social mobiliser, corruption fighter and a fighter for justice for this state; people saw it and as a teacher, they went for him and he did it. Moses Adasu came and people thought he was a pure Reverend Father and should give them what they wanted. Of course, he contested against Prof Ayua, in terms of resources and whatever, I don’t think Adasu had a chance coming from the parish to be a governor, but people voted for him. And then when it came to George Akume, people saw him as working for the whole state through the ranks, people saw him as somebody who is easily approachable and they went for him.
When it came to Governor Gabriel Suswam, the way he started building himself and preparing himself and endearing himself to people by doing things across the state, creating an effective representation at the House of Representatives and when the time came, they brought his credentials along with others and people felt he was a better choice. So there are as eminently qualified people who are going into the 2015 contest and I believe that the leadership of our party in the the end will give people the opportunity to look at us and choose who among us can deliver the party.
As a former chief law officer of the nation and considering that zoning is in the PDP constitution, what is your take on the zoning of governorship in Benue State?
No! Zoning is not the issue in PDP constitution. PDP constitution suggests zoning as a gentleman agreement but still with a caveat that if the contestants do not agree, there should be primaries, because the constitution; the organic law do not talk of zoning and so PDP constitution cannot be at variance with the constitution. For you to say somebody should not contest an election, you are denying him of his fundamental human right. PDP constitution is very much aware of it and that is why it says it is a consensus arrangement. That is both of you have opted to wave your rights. But if you do not wave your right, how would that be possible? So if you are talking about consensus or zoning, then you will be talking about which senatorial zone will now have the governor and that would be a different thing and you are suggesting that it is Zone C that is suppose to produce the candidate, which the people from Zone B will say no, they have a constitutional right to contest and if they say so why would you say people in Zone A do not have the constitutional right to contest?
Do you see the involvement of traditional rulers in politics as healthy for the growth of democracy?
I have been talking of the rule of law. If I am a governor, everybody will do his job. The traditional rulers are not politicians and they have very great task of disciplining politicians when they show fairness, unbiasedness. That is where their authority comes; the authority that is not coercive but is obedient. They have the most blessed authority from God. That authority is based on trust. The authority of government is the coercive action of government and the penal action of government. People obey the traditional rulers because their powers come from God; they are the representatives of God on earth. I don’t hear where God discriminate; where God says I don’t like this person and the reason is he has a bad nose so he is not my son, I will prefer this person who is handsome. If God does not discriminate against his children and the traditional rulers are representatives of God on earth, I don’t think they ought to go into partisan politics. If they do, they are damaging the society; themselves and the institution that they represent because they are trying to destroy the very fabric of the foundation of that culture because they are the custodians of cultural values of that particular community. When they abandon that to go into politics, then there is total anarchy; they are inviting anarchy because they are the ones that should call politicians from all political parties to order.
What is your vision for Benue State if eventually given the mandate?
I looked at the economy of countries all over the globe where they don’t have any mineral resources and I found that what they do is open their states to trading; to what is best and favourable to them. The primary responsibility of government is protection of lives and property, that is the formation of government. The current government structure came from Greece and the primary idea was the protection of lives and property; any other thing that the government is doing is secondary responsibility. To me as a governor, a sudden unexplained death of anybody living in the state should be my concern. When I say sudden unexplained death, I mean death not arising from natural cause, like is sickness, accident. But death from communal conflict, death from robbery, suicide, these are things that a governor should be concerned to know and any life lost should be the concern of government to know why it is lost so that steps will be taken to forestall future occurrence of that.
The next thing is how are you going to do this? When I say protection of lives it looks vague. Already, this is where I say the role of the traditional institution is very key. Even though they do not have the coercive powers, they have powers of making people listen to them. They are next to the people at the grassroots.
Then there must be a functional local government system as part of the security team. Of course, the governor will be the chief security officer of the state but when you have twenty three assistant chief security officers staying at their domains, it is better. Having a functional local government system and tackling the issue of security headlong will be better. One of the key things is knowing the areas that are likely to cause security breach. You may be thinking it is the Fulani crisis and it may not, it may be the large volume of unemployed youths; people who cannot have a meal on their table a whole day. They are the most security risk so we must try to bring preventive measures; engage them in areas that are productive so that they will not become nuisance and become fuel for security breaches. Youths must be engaged in employment, massive infrastructure, when you have massive infrastructure development going on, youths get engaged. But above all, agriculture will be done in the way that it will absorb 50 per cent of these youths while the other per cent will go into trading and other things.
In specific terms, what would you do in the area of agriculture?
When I say my strategic direction is to jump start an economic revolution in Benue State, I am saying that because I have in mind that agriculture is the only thing that we can leverage on. I will do that in partnership with local and international organisation on mutual-beneficial interest. Let me give you a short example, if we capture Benue’s agricultural potentials, which require talented potential managers and entrepreneurs who can attract capital, apply their technical know-how and reap the economic benefit for the state. That is the manner in which we should look at agriculture in this state.
Agriculture has a Gross Domestic Product of 42 per cent for the country, employ 60 per cent of the country’s labour and if you come to Benue, agriculture seems to be employing 80 per cent of our labour, but we must also do something that will turn this agriculture that provide 80 per cent employment into wealth creation. For now, this 80 per cent is just there for subsistence living; doing agriculture just to feed themselves and live not doing agriculture for the purpose of creating wealth and that is where I said we can create an economic revolution. And I have gone back to the economic blue print of my uncle, Aku, on agriculture in the state.
There are three things or more; you have to lay agriculture in a systematic manner. First, you have to do t training and research, you have to create a value chain and other priority areas like crops that can create wealth for the people and the one people can use for subsistence so that you have to identify high priority value crops. The Ministry of Agriculture will sit up, identify the high value crops. Then, we have to connect our farmers to markets because if they produce abundantly and they don’t sell, they cannot produce again. We have to have an agricultural value chain financing. For farmers to do this, there must be finance to produce. Then we have to have provision for targeted infrastructure for agriculture; that is the key we would use.
But how do you do this? I told you, you have to go back to the basics. In my agricultural policy, I am not going to bring anything new. My desire is that what my uncle laid down on agriculture, I will reactivate it. First, I will make research and training the key so that the farm training centre at Otobi, the farm training centre at Mbatie, the College of Agriculture Yandev and there will be active collaboration with University of Agriculture for training of ad-hoc manpower for agriculture to mobilize our youths from using hoe to mechanized farming. We will take five from each ward and send them for three months training on use of tractor, herbicides, fertilizer for the purpose of enhanced agricultural development.
How would the Benue economy under your watch look like?
Well, it will be robust. I don’t know the debt profile of Benue State but there should be some debt services. Even up to the time Aku borrowed money, such debts are still hanging. So certainly there would be debt burden on the finances of the state, but at the same time, we can introduce financial discipline to manage ourselves out of it.
We will stimulate growth of individual holders’ economy by boosting agriculture, creating markets for them. We can also as a government reduce cost of governance. For instance, when I talk of cost of governance, I am thinking about the entire manner in which we even award contracts; we have to review it because we must have a transparent process that will reduce waste. Most of the infrastructure has been created by successive governments, so why would you want to award contract for social services? You must award contracts for something that will have a direct impact on the well being of people of Benue State, not just contracts for the purpose of that it is desirable or a friend of mine think that it can be done and money would be paid. We must do things that are of priority; we must sit down as a people at look at our priorities through the think tank or the general assembly of the people. We will discuss ourselves and know what the priorities are; what Benue people need.
How would you generate money to run your government?
Through productivity. Even when you lower taxes, I am not saying that I am going to phase out taxes but returns on investment. When there is higher production, there will be more taxes; not the quantum of tax. The taxes will be less but because there is higher income of people, the volume of tax will be higher.
That is one aspect and the second aspect is the inflow of investment. When people come inside to invest, they will attract revenue through PAYE.
When there is security, when everything is good, when there are social amenities people come in to invest but by law, their staff must pay tax.
Apart from that also, government will save cost, as I told you earlier through appropriate pricing and priorities. Already you know that agriculture being my priority; my contracts will be agric inclined. That means the issue of opening of feudal roads and associated infrastructure that will boost agriculture will be priorities. You must have roads to evacuate produces and if you make the state a free agricultural produce zone, then people who come from outside should be able to move freely into our hinterlands to evacuate their goods and save the farmers the burden of conveying their goods to the market.
If I am to buy tractors for people, there must be appropriate pricing and there must be service agreement because if I am buying such magnitude of tractors then also the people supplying must come and build the service centre here and must also train people from each local government to pick up as service engineers and technicians.
One of the greatest challenges of governance in Africa and, indeed, Nigeria is corruption. How would you tackle this challenge?
The first thing I am considering is security, law and order. And if there is security, law and order, there can’t be corruption. National productivity has set the target for contract that it should not be more than 25 per cent profit. Have we bothered about this? Of course, the first thing I will do as governor is to replicate the Public Procurement Act here. Everything will be transparent, jobs will be advertised. Anybody who thinks he can do it will go through the tenders process and the tenders will be open. And the person with the highest bid or the most attractive, because the highest bid may not be the most attractive bid because sometimes somebody bids very, very high but he does not have the technical know-how. So there must be experts who will evaluate these bids. We must also make sure that the ministry has the expertise to supervise these jobs.
The transparent bid gives you the opportunity to know whether the contractor can do the job or not. These are things that we will replicate and we will be able to move the state forward. I can tell you that there is no way the Federal Government can award contract and the contractor would get more than 25 per cent; it’s not possible under President Goodluck Jonathan because under the Public Procurement Law that I know, there is no way profit margin can exceed 25 per cent and that is what will be replicated in the state.
The local government is viewed today as a component of the state government but no longer as a tier of government. What would be the fate of local governments under your watch?
Well, I am not aware of that happening in this state, but I will talk about that the way I look at it. I think local government still exist in this state. The framers of the constitution at the time of the first republic recognised that local government is a tier of government that will bring development and if you look back at history, since 1960 the local government has been on the forefront of provision of services in Benue State. That means local government had a reasonable and constitutional recognition to operate independently.
The existent of the state government is not to be a complement of the Federal Government but to see development in all areas and that is why you can see development is gradually evolving in all the states of the federation. If you have a broad mind and allow the local government to work, development will become competitive among the local government.
Aper Aku got the mind of the people when he became the best performing local government chairman in the entire Benue State which had Igala land then as part of the state; he was adjudged the best performing local government chairman by the state government because the state government set up a committee which went round and saw the things he did from education to agriculture, health services and they adjudged him the best local government chairman.
For me I support the good governance structure where local government exist and operate in the manner they were operating before. I believe if there is going to be a supervisory role, that role should be knowing what the local governments are doing and ensuring that what they say they will do is done. I do not think local government should operate different from what they were doing before. I will stick to the rule of law and the supervisory powers will be given to the local government legislatures.
If the chairman presents budget to them and that budget is passed by them and is rectified by the ministry for records that this is what we did and at the end of the day if the chairman got the money and does not use it then the local government chairman would be in trouble because certainly, the role of the Ministry for Local Government would be facilitate investigation. If it is brought before the State Executive Council, I will request the state House of Assembly to look into that quickly and suspend the chairman for further investigation because there will be no room to waste time. Because this is the monies that comes to you from the federation account, this is your budget that had been approved for you by your legislative house, you brought it to the ministry, it is verified then you got the money and pocket the money, you cannot escape. The long arm of the law must catch up with you.
Your opponents are alleging that you want to use your wealth to buy delegates and corner the PDP ticket, despite that your ambition is not supported by the zoning arrangement, how true is this insinuation and how do you plan to win the ticket?
First, let me dismiss that notion. It is cheap blackmail on me. You know I don’t have anything. In Abuja, when I was the Minister of Justice, the Ministry of Justice never awarded any contract and does not award contracts. They are just afraid of competition. It was not money that I was giving Benue people, it was effective representation.
Are they saying that when I was putting Benue people in strategic positions in Abuja, was I buying it? So they should not use that to confuse people. Some of them have always been in Abuja, let them show the people what they have done for the state. It has nothing to do with money and I believe that history is going to be made. People, who are dreaming and thinking that they will use money for this congress, will get a shocker. People are becoming more informed, people are yearning to have basic things in place in Benue State.
They will get a shocker! Mike Aondoakaa is not giving one dime. Merit is not money; merit is somebody who can deliver. If you look at this factory and access me based on this factory then you are wrong. There was commercial agric scheme and I took money from it and build the factory because I wanted to create a value chain that will add to the economy of the state. If you punish me for that by refusing to give me the ticket, then that will be sorry. It should be based on what the person can do.