Mr Maxwell Loko, the Managing Director of NTA-TV Enterprises, a subsidiary of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) is one of those being pressured by the Idoma people of Benue State to contest the forthcoming gubernatorial election in the state.
In this interview with Caleb Abah, Loko speaks on the push for power by Idoma people, among other issues.
You are among prominent Idoma sons from Benue South Senatorial District eyeing the governorship seat of the state in 2023. What is the motivating factor?
Before I answer your question, let me correct you. Yes, people say and I believe that at my level today in society, I am a prominent son of Benue State. However, it is not true that I am eyeing the governorship in 2023.
So, the issue of a motivating factor does not arise. People are merely speculating about any such thing. If there is anything remotely linking me with the governorship of Benue state in 2023, it must be coming from wellwishers who consider me qualified, suitable and worthy to serve my state in that capacity.
As a matter of fact, a number of such well-wishers have approached me, trying to persuade me to contest for the Office of Governor of Benue State in the forthcoming general election. Although I am not nursing any such ambition for now, I consider such actions complimentary and normal.
For one, at my age, I am not too young to run, to quote the slogan of the agitating Nigerian youths a few years back. For another, there is a strong agitation from the Benue South Senatorial District to be considered by Benue people to be elected the next governor of Benue State.
As, a result, those who are optimistic that somebody from that part of the state can actually become governor are scouting for suitable people to field or support when the time comes. I believe it is that search that is leading some people to me; those who believe I can do the job.
And I also believe it is people in that category who are generating and fueling the speculation that I am eyeing the governorship. But, to be frank with you, it is not true that I’m nursing any such ambition.
Do you think that a governor of Benue extraction is realizable given that the area has not occupied the position since the creation of the state?
Yes, I strongly believe that it is possible for a Benue person from Zone C (Benue South) can become governor. You see, it is true that politics is a game of numbers whereby the minority are free to have their say, while the majority would have their way.
But the majority position is not necessarily always right. In many cases, the majority could be wrong. If the wrong persons continue to prevail on the strength of majority voice or votes, it negates the whole essence of democracy which is supposed to be premised on fairness, equity and justice.
When the majority uses their advantage to deny the minority their rights, to oppress the minority, it results into what is termed the tyranny of the majority. And you know from the history of nations and societies that oppression and tyranny cannot be tolerated for long.
Sooner than later, the minority will put up resistance through various forms of engagement, sometimes through unpleasant means which impede or stagnate development. The agitation that is taking place in Benue State is in line with that historical process. Since the creation of the state in 1976, nobody from Benue Zone C (Idoma and Igede), military or civilian, has ruled as governor of the state.
On the contrary, Benue North-East and Benue North-West or Zones A and B, (the Tiv) have been alternating each other in producing five elected governors who have served for a total of about 28 years since Aper Aku in 1979. All attempts by Zone C in the past to be considered in the rotation of the governorship had proved abortive. Now, as the 2023 elections approach some political stakeholders in Zone A still don’t have Zone C in their contemplation for governorship yet again.
Rather, those in this category are arguing over which ruling house of the Tiv should take the next turn or which of their former elected sons served full terms or not. So, to answer your question, my take is that it is possible, but not going to be easy for zone C to be governor in 2023.
It will be a challenge because the other two zones combined (the Tiv) who constitute up to two-thirds majority of the population, registered voters and local government areas will not willingly surrender their political control of the state. This is to agree with the popular axiom that power is taken by those who desire it and not given on a platter of gold by those who hold it.
However, I believe it is possible for three reasons. One, the people of Zone C have taken a common position this time and have formed a formidable movement to engage their brothers from zones A and B, by appealing to their conscience to support Zone C to become governor. That movement, led by the Benue Rebirth Movement (BRM), has been holding consultations with political, traditional and other leaders of thought across all the zones.
They are also carrying out massive internal mobilization activities. This effort appears to be better planned and coordinated than previous agitations that were, at best, halfhearted and disjointed. This gives me hope that, all things being equal, Zone C will succeed this time. Second, I believe that a lot of our brothers in zones A and B are people of conscience, who heed the cry for justice and persuade others who are bent on perpetuating the rule of the majority, that it is time to let their brothers in Zone C to also partake in governance, so that everybody can sleep well at night.
I feel encouraged by the responses and advice the BRM has been getting from political leaders and elder statesmen that have been visited. Third, I feel Zone C can produce the next governor of Benue State because similar power shifts from majority to minority ethnic groups or between senatorial districts have occurred in many other states. Some of these include Kogi, Plateau, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, among others. If it can happen there in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds, it can also happen in Benue State.
If an Idoma man emerges governor after Samuel Ortom, will your people agree to cede the Senate position to the Igede people who also forms part of Zone C where you come from?
Let me reframe your question this way, even though the answer will be the same. The question should be, since the Idoma are agitating for the governorship, are they willing to cede the Senate position to the Igede? I will put my answer in a simple question: why not? As lawyers usually say, those who seek equity must come with clean hands. The Holy Bible also says do unto others as you would want them to do to you. Let me use a cartoon illustration of a cover story on oppression published last December by Masterpiece Magazine to explain.
In the cartoon, the powerful oppressor at the top is seen marching his big boot on the back of the less powerful man below him. That one, in turn, marches his boot on the next less powerful person below, who also marches the least powerful.
The lesson in this illustration is that oppression or marginalisation occurs in layers; from the so-called three major ethnic groups – the Hausa/Fulani, the Yoruba and the Igbo at the federal level down the line to the major groups, geopolitical zones, states, senatorial districts, local governments and wards. While, for instance, the Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba have produced a military head of state or civilian president of Nigeria since the end of the civil war in 1970, the Igbo have produced none, hence the recurring and strident agitation to produce an elected president.
It is the same scenario that has been playing out everywhere across the country, including Benue State. The point I’m trying to make is, if oppression or marginalization cascades down the line, eliminating it should also follow the same pattern. If the Idoma who are majority at the lower level of Benue South Senatorial District want to end the Tiv majority domination of the governorship at the state level, they too should heed the agitation of the Igede minority in the district to end Idoma domination of the senatorial seat. Now, let me make one clarification.
Both positions of governor and Senate are open to contest by everybody in Zone C, including Igede and Idoma. For fairness, my take is that if either of them clinches one position, whichever comes first, the other position should go to the other group.
What do you have to offer to the people of the state if elected governor to succeed Governor Ortom?
I told you earlier that I am not eyeing the governorship as it is being speculated. It is people who are coming to ask me to join the race. So, the question of what to offer Benue people as Governor Ortom’s successor does not arise. But that is not to say that I have no contributions to make to the development of the state and its people. What my contributions will be can only be determined by time and the capacity in which I’m called upon to serve.
Benue is going through security challenges, including herdsmen attacks. What do you think is the solution?
The security challenges in Benue State are part of the national security challenges that have been with us for a while now. The solution or solutions in respect of the Benue case would depend on the magnitude or peculiarities of the challenge. Take the issue of the herdsmen attacks which you mentioned; the attacks are not peculiar to Benue State but the magnitude and frequency of attacks in the state were overwhelming a few years back. This necessitated the enactment by the state government of a law providing for the establishment of ranches and prohibition of open grazing in the state.
This law has, in my opinion has gone to the root cause of herders’ clashes with farmers and communities. Ranching has become the international best practice in livestock farming and the state government has done well in pioneering the provision of the legal instrument for establishing it.
What remains to be done is its strict enforcement through properly equipping the State Livestock Guard, the body set up by the law to enforce compliance. Our neighbouring states should be encouraged to enact a similar law to minimize violations from across state boundaries. And this brings to mind the Amotekun joint-security agency of the south western states recently set up by legislation.
It is important to monitor and study its effectiveness or otherwise, so that neighbouring states or other geopolitical zones can model their security architecture after it to check other security challenge such as kidnapping, armed robbery and boundary/communal clashes. Intervention in our pastoralist ecosystem requires a delicate balance and not as straight forward as it seems. On one hand, ranching has a weakness of being seen as anti social and needing high initial capital which most states shy away from.
The introduction of ranching emphasizes economic contribution of the livestock, while relegating the multiple functions and non economic uses of the livestock; that is animal as self-producing wealth and symbol of prestige, among others, which is more important to the Fulani. On the other hand, modernity has overtaken the old system of open-range culture of grazing over wide swaths of territories, resulting in farmers/herders clash.
It is unthinkable to contemplate that open grazing can be sustained in a 21st century. However, for ranching with all its obvious benefits to be sustained, requires a holistic approach. That is, the buy-in of both the state government and the herders, both of which must accept that the benefits more than outweighs the shortcomings.
So far, how would you assess the administration of Governor Ortom?
Governor Ortom is into his sixth year of his eight-year two-term administration. l can only assess the environment or circumstances under which he has operated and leave posterity to judge him on performance. During his first term which began in 2015, Governor Ortom was elected on the platform of APC, the ruling party at the centre. But in Benue State, the PDP had a slim majority in the House of Assembly which posed a challenge of getting bills to pass through.
After the initial face-off between the two parties over the control of the leadership of the House, the legislative and the executive arms of government settled down to business. But hardly did the government begin to take shape than Fulani herdsmen attacks overwhelmed the government and the state at large. Ortom’s efforts to deal with the security challenge pitched him against the APC led Federal administration and before you know, another election time was approaching and the governor had to battle for his political life. He defected to the opposition PDP and won reelection in 2019.
He was less than a year into his second term when the Coronavirus pandemic broke out worldwide, forcing economic and social lockdown for several months. It resulted in economic recession worldwide, Nigeria and Benue State not exempted. All these security, political and health challenges, I guess took their toll on governance generally and government revenues in particular.
Although payment of salaries to civil servants are now up-to-date, as I learnt, arrears of six months still remain unpaid while pensioners continue to groan under the weight of huge arrears of pensions and other benefits.
All these I think, took a hit on infrastructural development, youth unemployment continues to be a big concern, while ease of doing business in the state remains a challenge. Governor Ortom still has more than two years to go and that means more time to still do a lot of things. It is at the end of his tenure that a more objective assessment of his administration’s performance can be made.