Chief Mrs. Rebecca Apedzana served as a commissioner during the George Akume administration and was a pioneer Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Benue State. She speaks with journalists in Makurdi about the killings in Benue and the politics of the state. JOHNSON BABAJIDE brings the excerpt:
WHAT are your expectations of the forthcoming election?
My expectations are very high, but sorry to say this, the players are not playing towards meeting my expectations. We have a Federal Government that is very lawless, completely lawless. One would have believed that we would have a level playing field, because politics is not a war. I think everybody aspiring to be in office, aspiring to work for the society, to offer service to the society should see it that way. Unfortunately, now that politics has been commercialised, it has become a war.
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So, I’m so scared about 2019. But I’m always prayerful, because I believe that God will hear my prayers and prayers of many other people that there shouldn’t be crisis. When or where they want to force their will on the people, there will be crisis in Nigeria but I beg that INEC [Independent National Electoral Commission] should play safe. INEC should try and be a neutral umpire; that will be the only saving grace, because from what is happening now, indications from all over the place have not shown that we are going to have a free and fair election in 2019.
Where do you think that will take the country if elections are not free and fair?
It will take us 20 years back; it will take us farther back and the reason is that politics has been commercialised in the country. You vote somebody into office today and in another two years he has built a mansion; he has done this and that. They are talking about not too young to run, but the young people are also not helping matters.
They promised them, they went and signed one fake law about not too young to rule. But the cost of buying the forms alone shows that the youths have no room in this arena. Many of the youths have no jobs; they are not doing anything. Where do they raise funds to buy those forms to start with?
What is your view on the governorship race in Benue?
Everybody has a chance; all of them have good chances, but it depends on how they package themselves. Look, I keep telling young people and politicians that you don’t become a candidate, a leader or politician from the day you decide to contest.
You must be a politician way back by your relationship with people, by your life style. Where you come from and your history make you a good leader; you don’t come today and say because I am qualified and I have the certificate, I can be a leader. No. You must come from somewhere. But this is what politicians forget easily. Politicians are made, you don’t make yourself.
But you see, people come in and say I want to be there, I want to be governor. Look, I don’t want to be so personal because recently when I mentioned Emmanuel Jime, the APC governorship candidate and where he is coming from, I saw hell from people who were calling me from everywhere that I was criticising him. But I’m telling the truth. I’m an old woman of over 67 years, why would I be lying. Jime lost elections in 2015; he lost out at the primaries and since then he did not come back to Benue again.
He was away until he wanted to contest for governor again. I mean, all your supporters have lost touch; they have forgotten about you, did not know whether you existed, whatever you were doing, nobody knew. You had opportunity in the National Assembly, what did you do for your people? Do you even have a house in Makurdi? And you want to lead them? And you come back here because somebody wants to be vindictive on another person and he drags you to come and help them do the fight? This is the difficult the situation he is going to face.
So from your assessment, you don’t see the APC giving the PDP a good fight in Benue?
They will give a fight but they will not succeed. Not in Benue state. Not after all we have gone through in the hands of killer herdsmen and the APC government.
Look, we belonged to APC and we went through that hell. If we were in another party and we suffered in the hands of APC, it would have been a different story. But we belonged there, we thought we were one family and they watched us suffer. They did not only watch us suffer, they contributed to our suffering in this state and we are still suffering. How would you belong to that kind of family? How? Not Benue state; APC is a joker in Benue State.
So, tell me how a sane Benue person will vote for that kind of party. We don’t want to suffer again. If not for the Anti-Open Grazing Law, many of us wouldn’t have been here today, because the militant herdsmen came as close as Agbouhol village, which is just few kilometres to Makurdi main town. They also came as close as Genabe, they came as close as Makurdi Industrial Layout. If not for that law, I don’t know where we would have been by today.
In essence, you are saying that no Benue person will vote for the APC in the coming elections?
It’s near impossible; it is near impossible. Any sane Benue person voting for APC is committing suicide given the pains we have gone through. Look, if you are not directly affected, your neighbour is affected; somebody from your village is affected. As I told people from Vandeikya that I was discussing with recently, I told them, look so many people from Vandeikya lived in Yelwata, which was attacked.
People from Konshisha lived in Yelwata, people from other local government areas lived in Yelwata; even if the killers did not come to your village, they have touched your people elsewhere where they are staying and they are suffering. There are some people squatting with you and there are some out there that you don’t know. If the Federal Government was sincere in helping us, we would have seen them going about finding ways to assuage our sufferings, especially trying to settle the people in their homes. That is all we are asking for. We want the people settled back in their homes.
Like I told you, this government is a lawless government; if I speak they would say Mrs. Apedzana is talking again. Recently the vice-president is going about from state to state in market places distributing 10,000 Naira to people. To me, it is vote buying; the whistle has not been blown and he is going on campaign. What are you giving people 10,000 Naira for? Who would trade with that amount in this era?
Many states have abolished street-trading, so if you give a trader with 10,000 Naira, what business is that person going to start? And where they are going to buy vegetable to sell; they have to take a transport to buy the vegetable and come back and sell with that amount and pay back the loan.
Nobody is paying back that loan, it’s all vote buying. And the vice-president is jumping the gun; he is going about on campaign in the states already. When he goes to the markets he goes to see the elders and chiefs and goes everywhere; it’s simply votes buying, to me.
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