[Interview] Why power should shift to Benue South in 2023 – Abba Moro

March 8, 2021
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Comrade Patrick Abba Moro, an educationist turned politician, is the Senator representing Benue South Senatorial District (otherwise known as Zone C), in the Senate. Moro, a one-time Local Council Chairman and erstwhile Minister of Interior, has been a very potent voice for the people of Benue South since he was sworn in as a senator on June 11, 2019 to represent the zone. He is at the moment leading the agitation for power to shift to Benue South in 2023. In this interview, Moro contended that after over forty-five years of the existence of Benue State, the time has indeed come for the two other senatorial zones of the state to allow someone from Benue South to be governor.

Excerpts:

You are one of those in the frontline advocating for power to shift in 2023 to Benue South (Zone C) believed not to have been given the opportunity to govern Benue State since the creation of the state. How has the agitation been?

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Well, so far so good. We are moving in the right direction. We have requested for support for power to shift to Zone C of Benue State, popularly known as Benue South, this time around. And as you rightly pointed out, I fired the first shot at the state congress of the PDP in 2020. I pleaded with our brothers and sisters in Zones A and B to support a candidate of Benue South extraction. It resonated with some people. It didn’t resonate with some people. And it is in tandem with my promise to my people, the electorate, when I was campaigning to become their senator that I was going to be their spokesperson; that I was going to be their messenger. And that I was going to advocate for them; that I was going to push their aspirations and expectations in the National Assembly and in Nigeria. And so, I will continue to do that.

Part of the fallout of the agitation is the springing up of various platforms – Benue South for Governor, Benue Rebirth Movement, Benue South Caucus and Benue South Elders. Many of them like that are advocating for a power shift and quite frankly some of them have even led movements to communities and individuals that are critical stakeholders in Benue politics. And personally too, I have gone round some critical stakeholders advocating for power shift, not necessarily a power shift to Abba Moro. No! That is not what I am asking for. I am speaking for my people. I am speaking for the people that I represent in the National Assembly. And I have convinced myself that this is the right time for Benue people to support somebody from Zone C to become the governor against the backdrop of the fact that since the creation of Benue State no person from that side had become governor. And apparently all the kindred houses in the Tiv speaking area in zones A and B have become governor. One person in each of the kindred – five of them – have become governor. So, in 2023 we expect that if we believe sincerely in the corporate existence of Benue State somebody from Benue South should be supported to become governor.

We are not all made up of mediocres. We have meritable people. We have people who have the intelligence, the educational qualification, the acumen, all the qualities that the governor should possess. Therefore, this time around we are insisting that we should be supported. And I am saying personally that this time around we must talk. The people of Benue must talk. We must debate. We must negotiate. And if somebody from Benue South is not going to be governor, I will insist that our brothers should give us reasons why, because we are part and parcel of Benue State.

We have been supporting our brothers from Zones A and B to become governors without questions. In the last election for instance, nobody from Benue South contested against the governor for his second term. And so, I think that the message is sinking. The advocacy is becoming more intense and aggressive because the awareness is there already that this is the time – like an idea whose time has come. I will continue to talk to our brothers and sisters and other stakeholders too will continue to talk. And at the end of the day, we expect that the people of Benue will see reason to support a candidate from Zone C.

What level of response are you getting from the people of the other two senatorial districts – the zones you are pleading with to allow Benue South govern the state?

Frankly, and to be fair to them, sizeable number of persons in Zones A and B agreed that this is the time to shift power to Benue South. Even within Zones A and B, there are advocacy groups now that are springing up – The Benue Patriot, for instance. The Benue patriot is made up essentially of very prominent Benue sons and daughters – former House of Reps members, former House of Assembly members, former Commissioners, former advisers, former special assistants to the government of Benue State – all of them are there from across the three zones of Benue. That is to tell you the level of acceptance or resonation that has taken place since the advocacy started.

So, this is a Benue project. It is not just about Zone C. Power shift to Zone C, Benue South is now a Benue project embraced by a sizeable number of Benue citizens. Even current members of the National Assembly, majority of them are in agreement in principle that this is the right thing to do in 2023. And in the Benue State House of Assembly you can find a sizeable number of them. Therefore, I think that the agitation for power shift to Benue South is on course. And as the Senator representing the Benue South people, I am in the forefront.

Benue State has been in existence for over 45 years. What could have been responsible for the marginalisation, the inability of Benue South to produce a governor all these years? Could it be based on the mathematics of numbers that these other two zones have been having the grip of power over the Benue South zone?

In politics and in democracy we call it the tyranny of the majority. Elections are about numbers. As I speak to you Zones A and B made up essentially of the Tiv speaking people constitute about 70-80% of the voting population of Benue State. And so for as long as they decide to continue to support one of their own for that long they can continue to be governor. As a matter of fact, as I am speaking to you, they can afford to be the governorship candidate and the deputy governorship candidate and still win the election. That is the truth about it and politics and democracy in Benue State and Nigeria. So, I actually ordinarily will not subscribe to the theory of marginalization. It is all about democracy and the game of numbers. Majority always carries the votes. And so, I think that is what is playing out. The dynamics of politics that is playing out in Benue State. But, Benue people are people of conscience.

In the past, because elections are about numbers and the Zones A and B have the numbers to always win elections, one Chief Godwin Daboh of blessed memory, had postulated that a person or persons of the Benue South Senatorial District will only be supported to become governor after the five kindred houses, royal houses, ruling houses of the Tiv speaking area become governor. And like I said in my first advocacy, at that time some of us felt it was eternity. Some of us felt that it was too long away. And it was never going to come. But it has come. A current governor of Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom is from the last ruling house of the Tiv speaking people to become governor. And that is why we find it auspicious at this time to ask to be supported to become governor. Because the five houses that have been the basis for not supporting a person from the Benue South have produced governor. And so, we are saying that we can as well become the sixth ruling house in Benue and be supported to become governor. That is exactly what we are asking for and I think we have every justification. We have every reason to demand that and we expect that our brothers and sisters in the Tiv speaking area will this time around understand with us and support somebody from Benue South to become governor.

What strategic approach are you applying in this agitation so as to get the desired result?

Well, let me say that the chameleon says that what he uses to survive to live his life is mistake and in his mind. At this point in time, I will wish that I remain silent on our strategic approach towards ensuring that we achieve the desired result. We will continue the advocacy. We will continue the contact arrangement approach. We will continue to rely on the appeal approach for now. But I can assure you that now more than ever before a person from the Benue South Senatorial District is determined to ensure that fairness, justice and equity play out in 2023. But of course, we’re putting together a strategic committee that will work out the final onslaught in our advocacy for producing the next governor of Benue State.

Even though there is no constitutional provision for power rotation, some states have been able to reach a kind of logical understanding that allows power to rotate among the three senatorial districts in the state to entrench peace. Why was it difficult for such an understanding to have been reached in your state?

The reality of it is that all of us have different approaches to life. In some states like you have said, minorities have produced governors for the states. But that is not the case for Benue. And it is because it is not the case that we are now advocating formally. Otherwise, ordinarily it’s part of the dynamics of politics for stakeholders to work out the arrangements for producing the best from all the sectors and sections of the state. But let me hasten to state here that it has dawn on us that framers of the 1999 constitution as amended didn’t take into cognizance the possibility of the tyranny of the majority in our present democracy. And that is why even though the PDP for instance advocates for zoning in terms of its elective and appointive positions, it was not entrenched in the constitution. Right now, I am telling you that because of the reality on ground of a section of the country or a section of the state monopolizing power, we have proposed for power rotation to be formally and constitutionally entrenched such that the governorship seat in states will rotate between the senatorial districts.

That was going to be my next question that what are you doing as a lawmaker in the highest legislative body for power rotation to be embedded in Nigeria’s constitution?

Yes, it is part of the proposals that have been made to the constitution review committee and we are following it up, especially those of us from the minority communities in Nigeria. And of course there is also a proposal for independent candidacy. I don’t know how far that can go. But the reality is that there are people of minority status in their various states that are popular enough to be able to garner support from all the sectors of the states to become governors of their states. And so if you provide for an independent platform that is unattached to any political party, those with such muscle to come out as independent candidate, will be supported by people who are also concerned about the political survival and development of the state. Thus, I think that either way – by power rotation or by independent candidacy, if not now later somebody from the Benue South Senatorial District can become governor.

There are those who have argued against power rotation insisting that what should be paramount is getting a citizen of the state that can govern the state and give the people the true dividends of democracy regardless of his zone. Don’t you think they are making sense in their argument?

Yes, of course, they made a lot of sense. But power rotation is not an invitation to mediocrity. Power rotation is not any insistence on getting anyhow person to become governor of a state. For the Benue South Senatorial District for instance and our advocacy we are saying that in the over one million people or so in the Benue South Senatorial District, we have an abundance of people that have the requisite qualifications to govern and develop Benue State. That is what we are saying. On the balance of all permutation, we also insist that from wherever the governorship candidate is emerging he should be somebody who can govern the state with the fear of God in his heart and concern for the generality of the people of Benue State.

Furthermore, we are much more concerned for the development of Benue State. Benue State is just one out of the 36 states in Nigeria. And definitely there should be some level of competition of ideas among the states and we should get people who are concerned about properly situating Benue State such that Benue State should occupy its rightful place in the politics of Nigeria. Benue State is regarded generally as the food basket of Nigeria. So, if that is what we are best at doing, then, let’s aspire to feed Nigeria and the world. And only good governance can produce that.

Are you also looking at the option of state creation that is, demanding for the carving out of Benue South to stand as a state on its own? Former Senate President, Senator David Mark, your predecessor made a lot of efforts in that area.

Certainly, and we are making much more efforts. Don’t forget that I told you in the beginning that I was going to continue from where the former Senate President, Senator David Mark stopped. That is exactly what we are doing. The agitation for the creation of Apa State is still on the front burner of national discourse. And as I am talking to you it is one of the proposals before the constitutional review conference – the creation of Apa State. Not necessarily because of our experience in Benue State, but because of the reason of self-determination – that a community of people want to take their own destinies in their hands. So, I can assure you that at every turn of events, until we realise our dream for Apa State, the agitation will continue. And I hope that one day we will achieve our dream of having our state.

As one of those championing the cause for power shift to Benue South, what specific advice will you give to the people of Benue South such that at the end of the day, the goal will be achieved in a peaceful way?

That is exactly what we have started – peaceful means of achieving our aim. For the people of the Benue South Senatorial District I will advise them not to give up. That in the face of daunting challenges and odds in the struggle, it is possible and realizable for the Benue South Senatorial District to produce the governor of Benue State. They must therefore continue the advocacy. They must continue the consultations with critical stakeholders across Benue State especially from the Zones A and B. They must continue to extend the olive branch. They must continue to assure our Tiv brothers and sisters that the person that is coming from the Benue South Senatorial District to govern Benue State is not on a mission of vendetta, is not on a mission of revenge because there is nothing to revenge.

All we are asking for which should be paramount in the minds of everybody that is agitating for power shift, is that we should be given a chance as a people to contribute our own quota to the development of Benue State. And so for the people of Benue State I want to say that the time has come to demonstrate to the world that we can also be our own brother’s keeper. To demonstrate to the world that in Nigeria we are one – one people with a common destiny, and a common purpose. And therefore we must accept not just to live together, we must accept to live together because it is when we work together that we can achieve extraordinary results for the development of our people. And that is my advocacy.

In Benue South, though the Idomas are the majority, we also have the Igedes.  What is the level of cooperation between the Idomas and Igedes in terms of having a common front in this battle?

Well, it is just a matter of semantics when it comes to issues of differences. Of course, the Igedes are a distinct community in the Idoma nation – just like the Akweyas of Otukpo Local Government and the Uffia in Ado Local Government. They are a distinct community.  But, we are all Idomas. Of course, modernity has thrown up some spanners in the cordial relationship and existence of the Idoma people such that the Igedes or some Igedes think that they are distinct and they are not Idomas. Very unfortunate indeed because the irony of it is that for over 30 years an Igede person, Ajene Okpabi, was the paramount ruler of the Idoma nation. And so, we cannot wake up and rewrite history that we are not one. However, in this drive towards achieving the common purpose of producing the governor of Benue State, we are one.

We have advised ourselves to de-emphasise those things that divide us and emphasise only those things that unite us. And that is the message to the people of Benue State at this critical moment, at this defining moment of our life. We must agree to only emphasize those things that unite us as a people because it is not by accident that God has put us together as one people in one state. Therefore, we must do God’s bidding by accepting to live together, to work together for the common good of our people.

There are indications that by virtue of your leading role in the current struggle for power shift to Benue South, some persons are pressurizing you to join the race for the governorship seat in 2023 if eventually Zone C is given the chance to produce the governor. Are you going to yield to such pressure?

I am a politician and in politics anything is possible. But quite frankly at this moment I am a Senator representing the good people of Benue South Senatorial District. I have not spent up to two years yet. I am privileged to be in custody of the collective mandate for the people of the Benue South Senatorial District to be their Senator. And so, all my advocacy of power shift is essentially in tandem with my mandate to speak for the people, to espouse their collective expectations and aspirations. That is exactly what I am doing right now. If it becomes necessary that I contest to become governor, I should be able to at that time tell my people when and if I am contesting to become governor.

But right now, I am the Senator representing the people and I speak for the people. For now, who should become the governor shouldn’t be on the front burner. What should be in the front burner should be the advocacy and agitation for power to shift to Benue South Senatorial District. And I know that when the time comes there are many qualified citizens of Benue South that can become governor and perform very well.  

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