The immediate past senator that represented Benue North East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Barnabas Gemade, in this interview, speaks on why he did not challenge the victory of his opponent in the February 23 election, Gabriel Suswam, at the tribunal and why it is not time for him to quit politics. CEPHAS IORHEMEN reports
After eight years of representing your people at the Senate, your constituents are celebrating your home coming. What is memorable about the home coming?
There is nothing extraordinary about this particular home coming, but the fact that it marks a watershed in the life of my working career, having completed an eight-year tenure as the senator representing Benue North East Senatorial District at the Red Chamber of the National Assembly. It has become more or less like a ritual for most of the people who worked with me in Benue State to keep organising home coming for me whenever I complete any assignment.
When I finished as minister in 1993 and returned home, I was given a very resounding home coming reception at the Makurdi Airport and I proceeded to the palace of the Tor Tiv to be received there by all the paramount rulers in the state, especially in Tiv land at that time. I think this time too, my friends and colleagues in the journey of representing our zone in the National Assembly felt that my return should be marked by an occasion, which will be preceded by a thanksgiving service at the church. That is what makes it significant. But I am coming home after a successful two-term service at the National Assembly.
What was your experience while serving at the National Assembly?
Well, this is not the first time I am meeting you as journalists, I have always briefed you about my service in the National Assembly. Today, there is nothing more significant than to say that I have gone and I believe that I have conquered in many respects and I am back here with a scorecard that is very tall. I have in the span of eight years in the National Assembly, with the experience of been a party administrator and also been a minister in the executive of government at the federal level and also been a corporate leader in manufacturing and also been a private consultant in the engineering profession. I had a lot of contributions to make in my work of law making and good governance.
Credited to my record, is more than one dozen bills, which I moved in the last eight years. The most significant of which is a law to establish a Federal Polytechnic at Adikpo in Kwande Local Government Area of the state. The school as I speak now is already being constructed because there are contractors on the field working to put up the first building of that institution. The many other bills, which I sponsored, were for good governance, which are contained in the documents of publication which I made along the way.
Also, credit to me are many motions I raised on the floor of the National Assembly to redirect the thinking of executive branch of government on many aspects of governance, to sensitize the peole on happenings in the society, the most significant of which were to do with issues of insurgency in Nigeria, issues of terrorism and issues of banditry. One of those issues led to a complete tour of six states of the North that were most prevalent in the insurgency and killings and the Senate did pass serious resolutions to the executive in order to curb what was happening in that respect.
Also credit to my service was the more than 300 projects scattered in all the local governments of the zone that I represented some of which are published in documents and circulated to the people. There is hardly any council ward out of the 84 wards in the senatorial district that does not have one or two or even three projects either classroom blocks, a maternity clinic, skills acquisition center, a borehole, culverts, a bridge, transformer or solar light to supply electricity to the villages.
Apart from that, more than 200 beneficiaries of scholarships have been registered in schools, colleges and universities marking my eight-year tenure at the National Assembly. There are also many of our citizens that enjoyed employment in many agencies of the government. Today as I speak, there are some that have become captains and majors in the Nigerian Armed Forces, following my intervention in their recruitment. There are superintendents and inspectors in the Police also following my intervention in their recruitment. There are officers in Prisons, Civil Defence, Immigration and so on all because of the work I did in the last eight years, so there are considerable amount of issues to talk about if there is need.
Your home coming has finally put to rest speculations that you are going to the tribunal to challenge the outcome of the 2019 esenatorial lection, which former Governor Gabriel Suswam won. Why did you decide not to go ahead to challenge his victory?
I don’t think it is my home coming that should put a seal on my decision not to go to the tribunal. I think after an election, you have 14 days within which to file your own petition at the tribunal if you are going there and since that time, everybody would have known that I am not one of those contestants that was going to the tribunal. The reason why I didn’t go to tribunal is that I do not need a court to compel my people to accept me as their representative. If there are other means by which people become representatives of a people, and is acceptable to them, let them have it even if the election was rigged or even if it was by robbery.
The election was taken, that was what God has allowed at that particular material time and there is no reason why I should waste my time to go and challenge such kind of action. Not because challenging it will lead to nothing, challenging it will lead to a lot, but at this level of service and at my age, I don’t think I should be involved in all these kind of frivolities, especially with people who are much younger than me.
Even those who do not do politics, in simple life, they always said that polygamists know better, who is the best wife. If you just marry only one, you are stuck with her, but if you marry more, then you know the difference. Let them have more senators, so that they can know the difference. May be, even the ones they had before me did not teach them enough on what a senator should be and they keep searching. So, let them search and may be they will find a senator who is acceptable to represent them at an appropriate time.
What lesson should this be to upcoming politicians, especially in Benue State?
It is very difficult to advice upcoming politicians because the younger the new entrants become, the higher level of greed that you see. It’s really shameful that we never knew this kind of greed that we see among politicians today when the older politicians were there. Take the First Republic for example, when the coup took place in 1966, none of those people had a home to which they could park their luggage into. Many of them had nothing whatsoever. In fact, even at the level of premiership, some people did not own a car. But in the Second Republic, so many people went to prison for embezzlement even though at the end of it all, we learnt that some people were just accused of embezzling public funds.
In the Third Republic, we begin to hear of theft in millions and then then the bombshell came when we begin to hear about embezzlement in billions. So, it’s a big shame for this country that the greed element in younger people is alarming. I keep wondering what we can tell them because glamour is becoming very attractive and the more glamorous somebody is in office, the more, younger people follow such person and say I want to be like that.
We have seen several examples where someone goes into an office without a car and in a few months, owns two or three, or somebody goes into an office without a single house, before they finish four years, or if they are lucky to have eight years, they have fleet of cars and scores of houses not only in their home towns and in the cities, but abroad and are very proud to say that they are rich men. What were you when you entered office?
I keep saying that I opted to be a business man when I left school and by the time I began to make my attempts to the first political office, I already had built my homes.
Now that you have returned home, do you intend to quit politics and what would you devote your time for in the years to come?
First of all, there is no politician that ever quits politics, so I am not going to quit. If you are not an active practicing politician, you can be a passive politician advising those who are active, especially here in Benue State, where politics has all kinds of colours. If someone like me quits, who will do the things that are needed to be done?
Today, those who scrambled to be anything joined the biggest parties, the party with the largest number of people. You call it Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Congress (APC) and others. None of those parties came to life without my involvement and nobody has brought any other one that I did not get involved that has become big enough to win anything here.
So, if I stop, what will happen to politics? I cannot stop because they will still need me. When 2023 comes and the shape of the new party that is going to win begin to evolve, you will see them looking for me wherever I am to come and play a part. When Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) came here, it did not win. It was when I brought a faction of the PDP into the other group and joined with the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and ACN that became APC that it won.
When PDP came here, I was the one that brought it and it won. When Congress for National Consensus (CNC) came here in 1997, I was the one that brought it and it won several seats here. So, nobody has brought any party in this state that won anything significant enough to control the state. So, if I quit, who is going to do it? Never mind that nobody calls me master or leader of anything, but when you come right down to it everybody knows who is in charge.
While in the National Assembly we were aware of your several interventions, especially when the Anti-open Grazing Law was enacted. But recently, the Miyetti Allah took Benue State government to court and the judgement was in favour of the state. What is the implication of the judgement to the people?
Why don’t you ask people who said nothing about it what their reaction will be? Go and ask the people who did not say anything about it? I raised the bill in the National Assembly about anti-grazing law except for the fact that the constitution vests land possession of the people in the hands of the governors, which makes it difficult for the National Assembly to adjudicate and make laws on issues of land management.
That it was thrown to the states and it is not out of place to know that if it is me that raised the bill at the National Assembly and my state was therefore the one that promulgated the law first among the states. That should tell you something.