Benue State Governor, Dr Gabriel Suswam (CON), was a member of the President’s delegation to New York for the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. He also attended the 3rd Nigeria Investment Summit at New York Palace hotel. The Governor spoke with journalists on investment in Benue State, state police, and early campaigns for the 2015 general elections among other issues. ABIODUN OLUWAROTIMI was there for LEADERSHIP.
Sir, what will you say about the state of our investment in Nigeria?
The government is trying its best in all ways but I think Nigeria has to reinvest in the non-oil sector especially agriculture in order to further boost the nation’s foreign exchange earnings. When oil came, Nigeria used the money that was made from agriculture to explore the oil and once we discovered the oil, we abandoned the agriculture and now we have a situation that every single person depends on the oil.
I think we need to go back to agriculture and invest a lot of money in it so that the country’s production can meet some international standard to export farm products to other nations and generate more funds for the country. I am using this opportunity to commend the efforts that the Federal government is making in revitalizing the agriculture sector through various programs and incentives to attract foreign investors.
Nigeria has always had a challenge of power supply and this is affecting our investment drive. What is your take on this problem?
Yes, this is another major area that should be addressed quickly because investment cannot move forward as it should in Nigeria if there is no adequate power supply that will enable both local and foreign investors do their business in the country. Investors will not come to any country where there is no regular power supply because they need light to do everything they have to do. If we like, let all of us come to New York, sleep on the street of New York in order to ask foreign investors to come and do their businesses in Nigeria, they will not come if power supply is not good.
My government is encouraging serious foreign investors in Benue state and they have been doing a lot of businesses in the state without any problems. I wish to recall incidents where we had invited foreign investors to come and invest in Benue state. They came and we made everything they needed available to them but they refused to come back as planned and promised when they got back to their countries.
You have always made your strong position known on the issue of state police. Can you throw more light on what you think are the negative effects of this?
This is not a good idea because we have not reached the stage of having state police. I have made my position known on this from the beginning because I know it will create disharmony if allowed. I will never support the establishment of state police until Nigeria becomes more matured to practice it. State police will divide Nigeria because nobody or leader will believe in the rule of law any longer. They will use the operation of state police to bastardise the society.
As a governor, I do not think I will like to have state police. I totally supported President Goodluck Jonathan’s position on the issue of state police because politicians will abuse state police if established by always wanting to be in control and then misuse it. We still need to undergo some processes to enable us practice this successfully. Let us take for instance, I as a governor, I can decide to use state police to chase my opponents if it is established.
With the state police, I can ask the police to arrest or even ensure that whoever I do not like in my state goes to jail. Now you can see that the idea of state police is a very wrong one because Nigeria has not reached that stage. The polity is still stabilising and it could be used to settle political scores. As for me state police works in my favour but we are not supporting it because it will divide the country.
Sir, some politicians have started their campaigns for 2015 and also some Northerners have been agitating that the presidency should be zoned to the region. What can you say about this being a Northerner?
I wish to say that the Northern parts have a constitutional right to agitate for the presidency but I think it is too early now to be discussing an election that will not take place until more than two years from now. Those who have preoccupied themselves with 2015 activities are not doing the right thing and I am against such discussions at this time. Nigerians clamoring for 2015 at this period are only setting the stage for a failed state and the agitators of 2015 politics are those who have nothing to offer in the scheme of things.
I am not against any group, region or party making any agitation, but it is very wrong to start talking about 2015 presidential election when it is clear that the present President of the country has just spent a little above one year in office as a democratically elected president. Anybody talking about 2015 now is a source of distraction because this will not make such a leader concentrate on how to develop his area. I urge all the political office holders to forget about 2015 now and begin to concentrate on how to fulfill all the promises they made to their subjects during their campaigns.
How will someone who has just spent a year plus out of a term of four years be talking of his ambition for 2015? Any agitation or aspiration regarding 2015 at this time is very senseless because there is no way any political office holder will be able to perform very well if he jettisons his primary duty which is to develop his area and begins to talk about an election that will not take place until the next two and half years or so.
Some governors have banned Fulani herdsmen from their states. Do you want to do the same?
I will never ban anybody from my state. If any state governor has done that, I will say that such an idea was wrong. Instead of banning the Fulani herdsmen, the best thing they should have done was engage them so as to make them useful to the growth of their states. Like me now, I see no reason why I should ban Fulani herdsmen from coming into Benue state.
Instead of banning them, my government has always engaged them and they are now useful for my state. They are Nigerians and they have legitimate rights to live in anywhere they choose. So anybody that had banned them had done something significantly wrong.
Recently, Senator Waku was quoted in the media as saying that you were using your office as governor to divide Benue state elders. Can we have your reactions on this?
I have not read the comment but I am sure Senator Waku was not speaking the mind of any elder in the state. How can Senator Waku be saying that I divided Benue elders when he is not even from my party? Nobody expects him to say something good about me when he is a member of the opposition party.
As far as I am concerned, he is just speaking the mind of the very few minorities who call themselves elders in the Action Congress of Nigeria. He is not speaking the mind of the elders of my party or any elder in Benue state because I have not divided them.