Chief Stephen Lawani is the immediate-past Deputy Governor of Benue State. In this interview, he speaks on the ongoing All Progressives Congress (APC) membership revalidation exercise in the state, appointment of new Service Chiefs and insecurity in the country. CEPHAS IORHEMEN reports
How would you assess the ongoing revalidation and re-registration exercise of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Benue State?
The exercise as you know is still ongoing. It is two weeks from February 9, so we still have more days. But so far we have recorded success across the country than anticipated. In fact, you would have heard that they sent about 100 forms to each polling unit because the organizers didn’t anticipate that more than 100 members will come forward to register. Now we have about 2,000 members registering in some places.
So, what they did was that after finishing the first hundred forms that were sent, polling stations nationwide got back to the organizers asking what to do next. So, we have instructed them to just register members without the forms. Therefore, APC has overshot expectations because more have registered than anticipated. So, in that regard, the exercise is a success.
Those on ground would expect more facilities provided to them that we have provided. But by and large, I think it’s a success because as stakeholders, we are expected to fill up wherever there are shortfalls. In that regard, I think so far, everything is working well.
What would you attribute the success of the revalidation exercise to?
Like you say in religion, evangelism! In this case, the stakeholders have gone out and encouraged members to come out in large numbers to register or that the members themselves, being overly enthusiastic about the exercise themselves, have come out beyond expectations.
You spoke about the revalidation exercise being orderly but we heard that a ward chairman was killed during the exercise here in Benue State as well as crisis in some other states…
I said the exercise is successful, I didn’t say it was orderly. On the question of whether it was orderly or not, a panel has been set up by the party to look into the cause of the death. We, the stakeholders are going to meet on that matter and after hearing from all involved, we will know the next line of action.
A lot of people feel that the registration exercise is uncalled for and that it is probably meant to reduce the influence and power of the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. How true is this?
When you say a lot of people, I ask whether it was a public hearing that led to this conclusion. All I can say is that I don’t know about what you are saying. I am a party man, who takes directive from the party’s headquarters. And by the way, before I registered, Tinubu registered and showed his registration form.
Chief Bisi Akande did the same thing. So, if it is what you are saying, then, they wouldn’t have registered. I think, to the extent that it has some pluses that were least anticipated by even the organizers, and I think we should give credit to what has happened. Whether it was meant to do some other things, we will look at it.
There is no party that has no internal problems but I am hoping that whatever problems we have, we can nip in the bud quickly before the elections. And to all persons, whether PDP which is in opposition and APC which is the ruling party as well as the press and myself, the man on the street; let us put the interest of this country above self and above our individual interest.
We have enough problems already bedeviling us. Our children go to school now for a four-year course and end up doing it in six years. Let’s put the interest of this country forward. And to our leaders who have sworn to rule us properly both at the national and state levels, let them follow the path of office and govern this large country well, knowing that any small thing can really scatter us.
Each time I leave Abuja for Makurdi, it is prayer on my mouth till I arrive because I don’t know whether I’ll be able to reach Makurdi without being stopped on the road. It was never so before. And we have not seen the worst of things yet.
People are not farming again. That means there’s going to be starvation in three to four years’ time because people are afraid of going to their farms. So, we have a lot of problems and we must put the interest of our nation far and above selfish interest.
With the large turnout of APC members for the re-registration and revalidation exercise, do you foresee the party taking over Benue and maintaining dominance at the federal level in 2023?
I am being rationally selfish now because I am an APC member. So, I will want APC to win. I am seeking to contest and when I declare, I am declaring to win. I am not going to come and declare and then play game. I am declaring to win election and I think I can do something. I am running on the platform of the APC, so naturally and logically too, I want the APC to win.
There are already agitations ahead of 2023 and politicians are already networking. At the state level, some people want the governorship to go to Jechira and others are agitating for an Idoma governor. What’s your take on this?
I think we should not vote along ethnic lines. We should rather look at individuals who present themselves for election based on what they think is their ability to govern the state.
They should look at them. The situation where an Idoma man would rather vote for his brother who is bad or who is known to be bad based on ethnic line and vice versa is wrong. So, let’s vote on the ground of merit rather than on ethnic lines; that is the way forward for now.
Would you also say the same for the presidency?
Of course I will, but then I will explain. Certain situations call for certain solutions. Yes, because of the party system we operate, the parties decide who they think is best to make the party win election. But it is wrong to say that certain people are not fit to govern this country.
I mean, the Igbo for instance, over the years have not been allowed to get it. Yes, they led us into the civil war but don’t generalize and say there’s no good person from there, there’s no good person from the West, no good person from the North Central zone and so on.
Your party lost out in Benue State in 2019 and one of the key issues the PDP used against it was the Fulani crisis in the state. The APC was accused of colluding with the presidency against the state, especially on the Fulani invasion. What is your take on that?
Was that accusation right? If APC colluded with the presidency, was the home of the President himself not attacked recently by herdsmen? So, there is no collusion of any kind. It is not true.
Certainly, the governor of Benue State was right in crying out, it is his job, he swore to an oath to protect his people. If he feels that something is going on that is not right, he has a right to cry out and he did it.
As a result of that, he came up with the Anti-open Grazing Law. Today, all states are taking a clue from what he did. So, in a way, he did the right thing.
There have been calls from several quarters that the Anti-open Grazing Law should be repealed. Will you repeal the law if you become the governor of Benue State come 2023?
Even those who were against the Anti-open Grazing Law are today all singing in praise of it. The only way to solve these marauding cows is to put them in one place and ranching is the answer. In fact, I give credit to our governor for setting the pace.
Nigeria seems to be at the edge at the moment. What do you think can be done to salvage the country from disintegration?
We are all worried; there is no question about that and it has nothing to do with a particular party. Today we have the army and police controlling affairs. If there is breakdown of security and hoodlums take over the roads and start shooting, they don’t ask you whether you are APC, PDP, Yoruba, Hausa, Idoma or Tiv.
So, it is something that we are worried about and you can see governors from all parties moving from one part of the country to another.
But I think more need to.be done. I have spoken about this before that if this insecurity situation is not arrested, worse implication is yet to come. If people cannot go to their farms to farm, there is going to be starvation in time to come and that will lead to more trouble.
So, the implication of insecurity is enormous. Therefore, government must do something quickly. That is why I personally will say that if the Nigerian government cannot arrest the situation and requires help from outside, let it do it. After all, we have in the past aided countries that had similar challenges.
If we are not capable of arresting this situation, let us also seek assistance from outside.
Some prominent Nigerians are now advocating that responsible Nigerians should be allowed to bear arms to confront these criminal elements too. Do you support that idea?
I am one of those who said so but I have changed my mind because the implications are enormous.
Even in the United States, where people are allowed to carry arms, it has not stopped crime. Here that intelligence is at its lowest, and where there are no records, if people are allowed to carry arms, there will be problem. In America or Britain, you require a license to bear arms and government can always follow-up if there is anything wrong. Here in Nigeria, if we say arms for all, I think it’s not good.
What would you suggest as the way out?
That is why I am saying that if this government has done its best and it cannot arrest the situation, let it seek external aid. That’s my own view. And by external aid, you know what I mean.
Nigeria seems to be divided along ethnic, religious and party lines these days. I mean what divides us is becoming greater than what binds us together. What solution can you proffer to this quagmire?
Well, I love my country and I have held positions of responsibilities in this country, one of which is as deputy governor of Benue State. I’m not going to come here and sit down and tell you that all is well with Nigeria.
All is certainly not well. I personally have spoken against what is happening and it is my desire that the government would put its ear to the ground and listen to what people are saying. In recent times, it had to do with, perhaps, things like appointment of people from certain parts of the country.
Now, it has to do with other factors; so many things too numerous to name. They can be solved. It has to do with the recent #EndSARS protest. A lot of things have been enumerated; it is now up to those in authority to sit down and address these issues.
The parties, both the major parties, including the ruling party have their solutions. It is time that we move fast, sit down and address these issues to save further chaos in the country. That’s all I can say for now. I’m not disagreeing with you. If I did, I will be lying and even my age doesn’t allow that. We as a country do have problems and they must be addressed.
The presidency recently listened to the cries of Nigerians by changing the service chiefs. Do you think the new service chiefs have what it takes to take Nigeria out of this problem of insecurity?
I have not looked at the CVs of the new service chiefs but I think even that one too, has it met with satisfaction in parts of the country? The answer is no.
The problems are numerous but I will appeal for patience on the part of Nigerians including myself. While we are appealing for patience, the people who have power to do these things should rise up to the situation.
The National Assembly should, the presidency should, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum should, and of course, you and I should. It is time all of those who have the power to solve the security situation of this country to rise up. It is not beyond salvaging. We all have responsibility towards solving this problem, let us do it.
With all that are happening right now, don’t you think it is time we all went out different ways as some people are advocating?
There are so many suggestions including what you are saying but will that be the answer to our problems? Let’s perfect the system that we have because this is a system we borrowed from outside and it is working where we borrowed it from and it can work here too.
When there’s a problem and you bring five French men, there will be seven solutions. Is that what we should do here? I think we should try and perfect what we have here.
For instance, I believe one of the problems we have in this country is that there are too many powerful individuals, while the system is very weak. It should be the other way round. So, let’s have a perfect system. Let the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) do its job, let the police do its job and so on.
You get somebody arrested and he’s detained in the police station, before one hour a phone call goes to the commissioner of Police that they should release him. Powerful individuals, weak institutions!
That’s the problem. Somebody steals public money and he’s detained but before you know it, he’s out of detention. A small man like me; if I steal money, within two weeks they will arrest and jail me.
Some people steal much more than that, their cases are still in court for over six years. Is that correct? We have very weak institutions and too powerful individuals.
Are you implying that you are dissatisfied with the Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari?
I didn’t say so. I said I am dissatisfied with even the media; I’m dissatisfied with so many things. So, it not just the Federal Government alone.
Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar recently warned that anarchy and disintegration loom in this country. What is your take on that?
I’m happy to hear General Abdulsalami Abubakar say so. I’m happy to hear former President Olusegun Obasanjo say that but we have the National Council of State. When they call the National Council of State meeting, let them all attend and bare out their minds and be courageous to say it but some of them don’t attend. I agree with what General Abubakar said but he should say it at the appropriate place
. I’m not a Nigerian leader today but I’ve had the privilege of being in that position before and I’m aspiring to be in position again because I’m not tired. If you talk to the press and play to the gallery, it is one thing. If you call a proper meeting, it is another thing. If all the former Heads of State come together and genuinely meet with the current President and discuss, I believe it would be better.