<<< By Terpase Jeiyol >>>
Professor Dennis Ityavyar is a seasoned academic in the Department of Sociology of the University of Jos who has palpable passion for the development of his home state, Benue. He is also founder and Chief Executive Officer of Inter-Gender Development Centre, a Jos-based non-governmental organization. On account of his versatile experience and love for development, Benue State governorship aspirant and former Minister, Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom appointed him to chair his Policy and Strategy Committee. Professor Ityavyar bares his mind on why he accepted the responsibility, the nature of the assignment and what has been done so far. He also gives insight into what Benue State would look like if Chief Dr Ortom becomes the governor and implements the recommendations of the committee. Excerpts:
Who is Professor Ityavyar?
I’m Dennis Ityavyar from Mbaakon, Vandeikya Local Government Area of Benue State. I graduated in the late seventies at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaira. I obtained a PhD from the University of Toronto in Canada in 1985. I returned and since then, I’ve been in the University of Jos where I’ve risen to be Professor of Sociology. I’m married with four children, two boys and two girls. My first son got married recently; he and his wife live in Canada.
What do you teach?
I teach Sociology of Development, Sociological Theory, Political Sociology and Sociology of Health and Medicine. I also teach Methodology and African Societies.
How conversant are you with Benue politics?
As a scholar, I’m conversant with politics of my state from the Aper Aku era down through the military regimes and the current democratic dispensation. I’ve not really been in partisan politics. At the same time as a university don, I work closely with politicians as an intellectual ideologue. I provide strategic inputs for those who vie for key political offices. I’ve also been a critic of the politics that goes on in Benue State and other parts of the country in general. This will be the first or second time that I’m getting more involved in partisan politics. I campaigned for Abiola under the Social Democratic Party, SDP, when I worked as Senator Iyorchia Ayu’s aide. I’m deeply involved now because of the passion and desire to ensure that Benue State becomes a model state in terms of development, practice of politics and status of people in Benue State.
Why did you accept to chair the 140-member Ortom Governorship policy and strategy committee?
I’ve known Dr. Ortom for a very long time even before he became the chairman of Guma local government area. About the time I graduated from the University, he was a young person around Gboko where I lived and when he became a Christian, we shared common fellowship. Coming to my involvement in his campaign, it is more of a passion. I think one would say like Gen T.Y Danjuma said during the time Chief Obasanjo was contesting election for presidency, that if people like Chief Dr. Ortom fail to become governor, one would rather go on exile from Benue State. The Bible says that when the righteous rule, the people are happy. Chief Dr Ortom is a good man; he is loved by the majority of Benue people. He is the kind of person who has impeccable integrity. He is also a brilliant and industrious person and a rare example in terms of modesty, humility and personal solid achievements. So when you have a person with a combination of these attributes, you want him to come into the Benue State Government House. His Excellency, Rt. Hon Dr. Gabriel Suswam has tried to build very well on what Senator Dr George Akume started. And if someone like Chief Dr Ortom comes in, he will push Benue forward. Chief Dr Ortom comes with credibility and integrity. In politics like in business integrity is a big asset. Integrity is very important because it attracts goodwill and investors and allows everyone to contribute to the development of the state. He also comes with a lot of experience in terms of industrialization, the kind of experience that will be good in job creation. And I think that he will be a good Governor because of his potential to reconcile Benue elites who are daggers drawn with one another. You will notice that most of the Tiv and Idoma elites don’t see eye to eye. I would like to tell you that Chief Dr. Ortom relates very well with all the elites in Benue State. He relates very well with Governor Gabriel Suswam, the Senate President David Mark, distinguished Senator Barnabas Gemade, with former Senate President Dr Iyorchia Ayu, and many others. This also is Chief Dr Ortom’s asset because the unending quarrels among our elites are slowing down development in our state. That is a very good omen for Benue because when you relate with these people you will become a bridge builder, you will also reconcile them. And in unity there is strength. When all the people of Benue State, the elites and leaders are united, we will be far ahead of where we are now. I tell you that Chief Dr Ortom has the capacity to unite the elites in Benue State. The gain of such unity will increase in federal appointments, industrialization, and food production and so on and so forth. Chief Dr Ortom is one person who is very accessible to the people even as a minister and a governorship aspirant. The phone number which he was using before becoming the National Auditor of his party and minister, he is still using it. He is so accessible that when you phone him and he is busy in a meeting, he will later call you before going to bed at the end of the day. Everybody has access to him. We want a governor that will be truly the man of the people, a governor who is humble enough to take a call from a farmer, driver and anybody. There are people who have been in these positions and have been inaccessible. But here is a person who is that humble. The benefit of it is that whoever has useful information will pass same to him. I can write a full book on the good qualities of Chief Dr Ortom. In Benue State, the newspapers and the social media have made Chief Dr Ortom the topic of Benue State Governorship in 2015. Of the nearly 30 candidates aspiring to be in Government House in 2015, the name of Ortom is mentioned five times more often than any other candidate. Those who like him say it and those who have other candidates say if not my candidate let it be Ortom. It is Chief Dr Ortom versus the rest of the candidates. You cannot ignore him and so he has become the real project for 2015. He is the real candidate. You as journalists are quite aware that contestants, observers, elite, king makers, traditional rulers, Benue voters, Idoma, Igede and Tiv voters all know that Chief Dr Ortom is an issue, and that he is a good candidate to beat in the next election. I have said it before that he is an excellent product and he is easy to sell. That is why I’m really very passionate about him. And I think that many people are buying into his popularity.
How far has the committee gone with its assignment?
The committee is supposed to prepare a blueprint which he will implement when he becomes Governor. This blueprint is very carefully done. It has drawn from the efforts of His Excellency, Senator Dr George Akume, from the work of His Excellency, Dr Gabriel Suswam and it has drawn intellectuals from all corners of Benue. And we like to do a very practical blueprint. We have done research and identified the key issues that are the central problems of Benue State. The blueprint is not just that normal blueprint; it is a problem solving approach; one that starts from the bottom up. We look at the people at the grassroots, what their needs are and how government can help them so that they will be better citizens of Benue and so they can help themselves to improve their economy and so on and so forth. We have identified some seventeen areas that there will be very much intervention in. We have also identified some areas where it will not just be government of Chief Dr Ortom but all the people of Benue State will have inputs in governance, because governance is not a one man show. He will only provide qualitative leadership. So we have a draft which will be finalized after he is elected. By the time he is sworn-in, it will be the major material that will be used for Benue State. It will be a very revolutionary document, it will be different and it will be a development Bible for Benue state.
From your research how have the Benue people reacted to Chief Dr Ortom’s aspiration?
Obviously, the people love him. The church is in full support of him, people who don’t go to church are also in full support of him. Students love him. Market women link with him and his wife well. Poor people love him, those who are rich like him. Those who are enemies all unite and reconcile around his candidacy. So you have a candidate here who is loved by a cross section of the people in the state. When you go to the rural areas, people say Chief Dr Ortom is their choice. Those people who are pensioners are looking up to Chief Dr Ortom that when he comes on board, their pension arrears will be paid. Those people who are teachers are looking at him that when he comes, they will be promoted. Those being owed salaries also look up to him to tackle the challenge when he comes in. Farmers count him as one of their own. The Chambers of Commerce and Industries are at home with him. Those people who are civil servants think they will have better opportunities. Those who are politicians say Chief Dr Ortom is the person to be trusted that when he says something, he does it. He has a very long political experience as a party man and party leader, he is very loving to the poor, he is very educated, and he has experience as a minister. That is why those of us who work for him are very relaxed. One other good thing about Chief Dr Ortom which I hear people say which I agree with is that he is not controversial. He doesn’t talk about other candidates in bad light. He doesn’t even talk about other candidates. He talks about what he can do; the kind of development that he will bring to bear on Benue. His campaign has been issue driven. So there is no problem of conflict in terms of abusing anybody which is also one of the good things we can notice in him. So I know that people generally perceive him as a man of peace, integrity, a Godly person and someone who always does whatever he says. These kinds of attributes make him to be endeared to people.
Have Chief Dr Ortom’s antecedents as attested to by the electorate made your task easier?
Our task cannot be easy. Voting him is an easier task because of who he is but our own task especially in the policy and strategy committee is very tough because Benue has a lot of resources which are yet to be tapped. So we have to think of how we can tap the resources and convert them to development and welfare of the Benue people. Bill Clinton once said that the wealth of nations is now in our heads. We need to think soundly and bring out ideas that will be turned into wealth and prosperity for Benue. That is hard work and Ortom has the best team that Benue can possibly have. But when the resources are obtained, in what way will they be first applied in such that there will be maximum benefit to all? In what way will they be applied in such a way that there will be no corruption? So we are doing a plan that will be very tight, that will be very good. We are thinking of Benue people as number one target, Benue people as number two, Benue people as number three because the Benue people are the very essence of why Chief Dr. Ortom wants to be governor.
What would Benue State look like if Chief Dr Ortom’s dream of becoming the governor is realized and he implements your blueprint?
With Chief Dr Ortom as governor Benue State will be a model. We want Benue to become the center of Nigeria. Benue State is in the Middle Belt and we say it is in North Central Nigeria but during Chief Dr Ortom’s governorship, we want it to be truly the centre of Nigeria in terms of industries, hospitality, and food and tourist attraction. Everybody will want to visit Benue, basic infrastructure will be provided and Benue will become the indisputable centre of the Middle Belt states of Nigeria. We want it to be a model state which will be a reference state. Right now, you can see that Governor Suswam is trying to do his best for Benue State. We talk of Lagos State, everybody says ooh, Lagos, ooh, Akwa Ibom, and we want the Benue State governorship of Dr. Ortom to surpass what Governor Babatunde Fashola has done in Lagos. We want it to surpass what Godswill Akpabio has done in Akwa Ibom State. So it will become a reference state such that all other people will be saying do it like Benue State, do it like Benue State. I think Governor Babatunde Fashola and Governor Akpabio of Akwa Ibom are very happy when they hear these reference achievements that have been recorded in their own favour. Fortunately, most of the basic infrastructure is being provided by Governor Suswam’s regime. The Ortom administration shall leverage on that and move the state to a higher level.