Our reception in PDP so far has been very good. We have no problem whatsoever. We have signed a memorandum of understanding with provisions for every single item that was brought on board for discussion
Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Senator representing Benue North East senatorial district, Barnabas Gemade, speaks on some burning national issues ranging from his recent defection from the All Progressives Congress (APC) back to the PDP and efforts being made to ensure that all aggrieved PDP members are reconciled and reunited to form a formidable force in the build up to the 2019 general election. He also debunked claims that he may have stepped down for the former Benue State governor, Gabriel Suswam.
As one heading the negotiation team of the PDP, what reception have you received so far in your reconciliatory effort in the PDP?
Our reception in PDP so far has been very good. We have no problem whatsoever. We have signed a memorandum of understanding with provisions for every single item that was brought on board
for discussion. And that document spelt out everything in great details. So, there is no problem. And I think the individual differences from one state to the other were also reflected in the agreement. So, what is left now is implementation and implementation means bringing leaders from both sides to sit together and agree on how they want the implementation to be done. So, that is the stage where we are and so far, everything is on track.
You are among the founding fathers of PDP, you left probably because you felt your interest was not protected. Now, you are back to the party. How are you sure it will be protected this time?
When I left PDP, I stood my election as senator and I won. That means that the people never lost confidence in me. They still have that confidence in me. So I don’t need to rebuild any confidence. What I need to do is to tell them that what used to happen in the party is no longer happening there. Where we went was worse and therefore, we have ensured that we come back and together join hands to do what is good for our people. And that is what we have come back to do.
At the National Assembly, we are hearing of moves to remove the Speaker and Senate President. Do you think the APC will succeed?
That process ought not to be a fight. It’s statistical process and therefore, you must follow the rules. They have no chance whatsoever. That is why they started through illegal means of barricading state assembly and National Assembly to cause things to be done. All of those have failed and those who were perpetrating this have been sacked from office. So, if you believe that you can carry something through constitutionally, you will not first go too illegality. The simple fact that they want to use force and illegal means meant clearly that they had no chance. And I don’t think they will ever be able to do it.
As far as we are concerned, every senator, every House of Representatives member represents his own people and does not represent the federal government and therefore, we will not carry out what the federal wants. We will carry out what our people want. And our people want a free country where there is liberty, where there is security for everybody, where there is fairness. And if the federal government cannot guarantee safety of life and property, does not guarantee freedom, does not guarantee liberty and is not even helping on the economy, then we are not bound to do their bidding.
Poverty today has become so pervasive that we have 87 million Nigerians that are very, very poor. During the PDP era, the people used to be poor but population of the very poor people never went beyond 50 million. Today, we have overtaken India. India has only 78 million people that are very, very poor. And that is out of a population on 950 million. We are only 160 million people or thereabouts and we have 87 million very poor Nigerians. And these are statistics of World Bank, statistics of UN. You cannot fault these statistics. So, this is what this government has done. So, we in the National Assembly are not there to defend this type of thing.
A few days ago, we heard about the killing by criminal gangs of nine persons in Katsina-Ala town which is under your senatorial district. What is your reaction to this?
I have always condemned these killings and atrocities being committed by armed bandits whatever and whoever they are. You know, during the electioneering in 2015, I wrote three letters to the then
IGP and complained that arms build up was taking place in the Katsina-Ala area and it was very dangerous for election. And close to the election days, there was so much disturbance and upheaval that I again wrote to INEC and demanded that the senatorial election and the House of Representatives elections be collated in Makurdi instead of Katsina-Ala because it was a lawless situation and they heeded this advice and brought those elections to be collated here in Makurdi. The situation has continued because you cannot disarm an area overnight. Just like the build up of arms took a long time, even with amnesty offered by the Governor of Benue State and the extension of that amnesty to everybody who cared to come forward including names of some people they used to call field commanders in that area. This thing has not been totally eliminated.
You know, one day we heard that soldiers went there and even bombarded the area suspected to be hideouts of these people. A current serving Major General was attacked by a group of bandits in his home in Katsina-Ala local government.
So, this is a very serious matter and I believe that everybody who has something to do or to say about this matter should put hands together with the government to ensure that it is eliminated. As far as I know, we need to ensure that these people are apprehended in whatever way and are dealt with according to law to ensure that we make that place safe again. For now, Katsina-Ala remains unsafe and those who were accused of arming these bandits in those areas should please, if they want to be true citizens of Benue and of Nigeria, and these people listen to them, they should go and try and dissuade them from this kind of thing that they are doing. Everyday massive killing of people who are totally innocent in market places, on the streets and so on is not proper. I condemn this in its entirety. And with the forthcoming election, I’m again worried that if that situation persists, we may be back to square one as we were in 2015. God forbid.
What is your take on the alleged freezing and unfreezing of Benue’s security votes’ account by the EFCC?
I’ve already spoken on that matter. If you say that government money is being stolen and you go and freeze the account that contains government money, it makes no sense. I think the account that you should freeze is where you believe government money was taken to, so you can bring it back. The only common denominator that I see in this matter of freezing our account is a governor, the head of the government of Benue leaving the ruling party. And look at that of Akwa Ibom too, a god father of a government in the state leaving his party to go into the ruling party. So, it’s all about defections. This is the only common denominator with these two. But the action itself does not meet any reasonable imagination of any human being. Just like I said, if you are pursuing stolen money, go to where it has been taken to and not from where it was taken. So, I’m not speaking about the facts of what EFCC is claiming because I know nothing about it.
The general speculation everywhere is that you are no longer vying for the senate and that you have decided to leave the seat for former governor, Gabriel Suswam because there are underground negotiations that by 2019, your son will be contesting for governorship. How true is this?
How does my son’s governorship come into a matter like that? My son is not a politician and he is a very close friend of Suswam. They have always been together for a very long time and they were about the same kind of level in life. Suswam became what he became and my son is a civil servant in Abuja at the Ministry of National Planning. He is not even a director and so, he is not considering becoming a politician. That I know very well. As far as stepping down is concerned, I am not surprised about all these postings in the social media or even in print media about my stepping down. I don’t bother about sponsored articles on my stepping down. If you recall in 2015, starting from 2014, there were several publications here some of which even gave results of mock primaries putting me at less than two percent of the votes and my opponent at over 90 percent of the votes. So many things had been posted before and they mean nothing because those postings don’t materialise into any reality.
I have not stepped down and I’m not stepping down. And incumbents are the people who are regarded as owners of the positions. Those who seek those positions come behind them. Whoever wants this senate seat is only canvassing for it and he should therefore do all that is required to canvass for it for the people to support him if they want to. Not to come and say that I have stepped down. I don’t have any senate seat to give to anybody. The one I have belongs to the people. When the people want, then, they will ask me to hand it over to someone else. But it’s not young boys posting things on social media in English language that cannot pass school certificate that I have stepped down. If they have managed to get a phone and know how to send SMS, they should first learn to send it in the correct English before they can begin to write