Barrister Otor Jane is a former House of Representatives aspirant under the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 election for the Oju/Obi Federal Constituency in Benue State. In this interview with EJIKEME OMENAZU, she reflects on the 2019 general elections. Excerpt:
You were the only female aspirant for the Oju/Obi federal constituency seat. What was your experience before, during and after your party’s primary?
As observed, I was the only female aspirant under the APC platform from Oju/Obi Federal Constituency in Benue State. It was a challenging moment in my life. It was the first time I veered into active participation in politics. It was a welcome development from every nook and cranny of the constituency. I was highly encouraged. I was moved by the challenge of my town and wanted to change the narrative of the political scenario. But, party primaries in Nigeria are usually at the whims and caprices of godfathers. That was how our effort was truncated. Nevertheless, I kept faith with the party. I worked tirelessly to see that my party emerges victoriously, despite the manner in which the primaries were conducted.
What were your plans for the Oju/Obi constituency if you had contested and won the election proper?
I did not come out due to pressure or to show off, but because I was challenged by what I saw. Oju Local Government is above 40 years, and one of the largest local governments in the country. In terms of development, you cannot count it. So, I actually wanted to bring it to the development map in Nigeria in terms of infrastructural development. If you are talking about food security, if you are talking about food basket of the nation, Oju contributes a very high percentage. Yet, there is no rural network, no roads. The level of infrastructural decay is alarming and disappointing. These are the area I would have done something for my constituency.
Would you say your gender affected your performance in the primaries?
Not at all. I cannot say my gender affected me. If it affected me, it was positively, because I received serious encouragement. It was the act of godfatherism – not allowing the conduct of the primaries to be free and fair. It was a handpick thing. So, it wasn’t as if I was not voted in the primaries because of gender. No! If it was allowed, I know I would have beaten my male counterparts.
What was your acceptability rating compared to others?
I was accepted even across party lines. Members of other political parties saw me as an asset. They told me if I could scale through, being the only female and being the first time a woman from the axis could venture into such a game, it was a challenge to them to see that I clinched the seat giving my background as a lawyer. It was part of the merit they saw in me and the fact that I am not just a lawyer, a private legal practitioner for quite some time. So, if given the opportunity, I was going to scale through.
The party primaries of the APC were controversial in almost all the states of the federation. What would you attribute that to?
Simple! godfatherism. Even across the nation, it’s still the same. These are party stalwarts. It is the party stalwarts’ candidate that must go, and not the wishes of the masses, particularly in my constituency. Somebody wanted to hijack the identity of the place. So, it has affected the party’s performance in the general elections, giving room for the candidates of other parties who were unknown to become popular overnight. So, I think it’s a food for thought for us as democracy is government of the people by the people and for the people. So, allow participation of the people if you want a very peaceful atmosphere even in general elections.
Would you like to take another shot at the same or another position in 2013?
It all depends; if zoning favours me, why not? After all President Muhammadu Buhari tried many times. He became the president after four trials. So, I wouldn’t mind if the zoning favours my place because I am still want see things change.
How do you see INEC’s declaration of Benue governorship election as inconclusive?
Whatever has given risen to the inconclusiveness of the election is best known to the electoral umpire, INEC. My advice to all the parties and the candidates is to be calm and await the rerun and accept the outcome. The seat is just one; whether that of the governor or any other. It is one person that must occupy the seat. Becoming desperate or making it a do-or-die gives the impression that you are not coming to serve the people. So, I believe the atmosphere should be relaxed. You don’t count yourself until the umpire declares you winner. If you are dissatisfied, rather than ordering your supporters to go on rampage or destruction of lives and properties, you should take a legal channel to address your grievances.
What is your take on Gov Samuel Ortom’s performance in his first term?
I will make an analysis of his administration. Benue is purely a civil service state. What is paramount is salaries of workers. That is the paramount achievement of any governor in a civil service state being not an industrial state like Lagos where you can find alternatives in business and other things. Any governor who governs in a purely civil service state and who fails to live up to expectation in payment of salaries must be adjudged to be underperformed. It will not be out of place to so rank my governor. I campaigned for him tirelessly in 2015 election, not for any interest. But expected him to beat the person he was taking over from. Unfortunately, while that one was chased out for owing up to four to six months, as I am talking now, some civil servants at the local governments or state are being owed arrears ranging from 10 months, 11 months, and 17 months. So, given this scenario, it will be wrong to say he has performed very well.
Gov. Ortom said he was unable to pay salaries because he was in APC. Do you agree with him?
Anyway he has not told us while he was in APC he wasn’t given allocation from the Federal Government. He has also not denied that while in APC Paris refunds and other bailouts were given to him. Was he denied all these funds? If he wasn’t denied, his defence cannot avail him. He did not deny accessing these funds, then his defence cannot avail him at all because these funds were meant to either develop a state and pay workers’ salaries. Can he account for them? N28 billion or something was given as Paris fund at different installments, what becomes of them? What is the wage bill of Benue State that cannot be offset? We hear contradictions. The former governor still maintains his stance, even in his recent press release, that is Gabriel Suswam, the senator-elect, that up to this moment the wage bill of Benue has not even increased to N3 billion not to talk about the acclaimed N7billion. Something is wrong somewhere. It’s either somebody is using the wage bill to siphon money or something is happening somewhere. So, I believe that, that is not a good defence.
Would you say that Emmanuel Jime of APC would be a better governor than the incumbent Gov Samuel Ortom?
I think so. Given the chance, the opportunity, given every support Governor Ortom has been given, I think Jime will be better.
What is your dream for Benue?
My dream for Benue is to be ranked in the development map of Nigeria. I want Benue to come first in everything we do, social, economical and even educationally because we are all given the opportunity. This idea of seeing ourselves under developed is a shame to us. We should liberate ourselves from that underdevelopment and bring ourselves to competition. What of Ebonyi of yesterday? Look at the rate of development there. What of Nasarawa of yesterday? It was just created in 1991. Benue State was created almost 20 years before Nasarawa. But, the pace of development is not the same. Something is wrong somewhere. Our attitude to governance must be changed if we must go far beyond our level. Until we disabuse our minds from such behavior, we won’t go anywhere. So, I believe Benue can still be better than this under good leadership.
What are your final words?
My people, Benue State, election is not a do-or-die. As we prepare for rerun, nobody should engage any child, any man or woman for thuggery. Election is about people. If you are seeking to lead people, you don’t need to be desperate. I enjoin every Benue indigene to be calm and await the final declaration by the umpire.