The All Progressives Congress, APC, deputy governorship candidate in Benue State, Engr. Benson Abounu interacted with journalists at his Makurdi residence last Tuesday morning. During the session he answered questions on the emergence of Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom as governorship candidate, what the ticket has for Benue people and many other issues. Excerpts:
As an old timer in the All Progressives Congress, APC, how do you see the emergence of Chief Dr. Ortom as governorship candidate of the party?
Let me start by saying Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom has his own sterling leadership qualities as a politician, a philanthropist, a deeply religious person and somebody who is widely accepted across party lines and even within the generality of the populace of Benue State. Having said that I think the main reason for his emergence is the hand of God in the whole process. If you come to think of it, Chief Dr. Ortom was not a member of the APC, he was a member of the PDP but let me also hasten to say that all of us were members of the PDP. I was the one who took PDP to Idoma land but I left because of some of the excesses of some of the members of the leadership. But having said that, Ortom was a member of the PDP until recently when he defected from the PDP to the APC and I say there is the hand of God in this. It is divine intervention to save Benue State and to salvage it from the deep mess it has found itself in. In early November 2014 the party met at a special convention and amended its constitution where it concerns the eligibility of a candidate to contest for any position within the party and with that amendment any Nigerian who is qualified on account of age and educational qualification has the right to join the party and contest election within 24 hours of the election. The primary election of APC for the governorship candidate, the first time it was postponed following a court injunction, it was postponed and rescheduled for another date and on that date it was postponed again and Ortom found his way into the party and by popular acclamation he was made the flag bearer. So you can see that God brought him into this to salvage the situation in Benue.
Why did you accept to be his running mate?
I think the most important consideration I had after discussing it with members of my family was the fact that I’ve had a long and extensive relationship with Dr. Ortom. I know his pedigree, I know his character, I know his ability to work, and he’s a workaholic. I know his steadfastness and above all his belief in God. More than anything else, his fear of the Lord and I think that at this point in time more than any other time in the history of Benue State, we need somebody who has the fear of the Lord in anything that he does. Ortom is a deeply religious person and I know that what he has in mind for Benue State is genuine and with that background I felt that since whoever comes in now to lead Benue State will be on a salvage mission, we will need somebody who has the fear of the Lord behind him and therefore knowing that Ortom will be genuine in whatever he wants to do come May 29th, 2015, I decided that I could partner with him in order to salvage the situation in Benue State.
Some people think the deputy governor of the state ought to have come from elsewhere like the Agatu-Apa axis or the Igede area, what’s your comment on this?
This is a political aspiration and in any situation of political aspiration, people who don’t deserve something would say they would want to have it, they always want to have a go at it otherwise let us look at the history. The same way that the Tivs will say “ya na angbian” we too in Idoma land, in zone C, we have the same principle, you eat and you give your brother too to eat. On the basis of that we have always divided zone C which is Idoma land into three, broadly based on what used to be the old Oju, Okpokwu, and Otukpo local government areas. The old Oju constitutes Obi and Oju, the old Otukpo consists of Otukpo, Ohimini, Apa and Agatu while the old Okpokwu local consists of Okpokwu, Ogbadibo and Ado local government areas. Now look at it this way. The late Engr. Yakubu Agada who was the first Deputy Governor of Benue State of Idoma extraction came from old Okpokwu. The incumbent Deputy Governor of Benue State of Idoma extraction comes from old Okpokwu, meaning that old Okpokwu has done it twice. You go to old Oju they have just two local governments but our principle is never to marginalize anybody and because of that we decided to give them a slot after the first, that is after Yakubu Agada. That slot was occupied by the late Ogiri Ajene. And so if you look at that broad division, the only one that has not done it is old Otukpo and as I said it consists of four local governments presently and that’s where I come from. I think even if you take a look, just a look at what PDP has done, it’s exactly the same thing. PDP too has zoned it and has given it to old Otukpo because that is where Idoma people have zoned it to. So I don’t see how anybody will say that what has happened is a misnomer.
Those people say it should go elsewhere because you come from Otukpo, the same place with the Senate President.
First the position of the Senator in the zone is not zoned to Otukpo. It is a free for all fight for the entire Idoma area, it has been like that since 1999. In 1999 Senator Ameh Ebute contested against David Mark. Mark is from old Otukpo and Senator Ebute is from old Okpokwu. Are you getting what I’m saying? In 2003, and 2007, Young Alhaji contested against Mark who is from Old Otukpo while Young Alhaji is from old Okpokwu. In 2011, General Lawrence Onoja who is from old Otukpo contested against Mark who is also from old Otukpo. So you can see it is not as if people have not been contesting against him, it is not as if it has been zoned to old Otukpo and that is why David Mark has occupied that slot without contest from anybody. Are you getting the point? But having said that, we in APC believing that the Senate seat does not belong to old Otukpo as far as the present dispensation is concerned, we decided to zone it to old Okpokwu, since I’m coming from old Otukpo, we decided to give that slot to old Okpokwu and that is why Daniel Onje is now the flag bearer and Onje comes from old Okpokwu.
We hear that there have been pockets of protests, what do you think is the genesis of this?
It’s a normal development in a democratic dispensation. It’s all about political aspiration. Of course I wasn’t the only one that was being considered to be given this position although I never aspired for it, I sat where I sat, I never lobbied for it. And don’t forget, the prerogative of choosing or nominating or picking a running mate is that of the governorship candidate. Dr. Ortom looked at all of us and after due consultation with the leadership of the party across the entire state, because the deputy governor of course, remember he is going to serve the entire state. And so he consulted with leaders in zone A, leaders in zone B and particularly leaders in zone C since the slot is coming from zone C and they felt unanimously that it should be me. However, you know some people who aspired for it, some people who lobbied for it felt it would have been them and you know Nigerians are bad losers. I mean after the governorship candidate has already picked his running mate, I honestly don’t understand the reason why people will go to media houses and say they don’t want this person, they want that person. However, like I said, it’s a healthy development because in any political situation, you cannot have 100% political agreement. We have it on good authority that the few people were agitating because they felt somebody else would have occupied the position.
I think this ticket is a well grounded ticket, a ticket with two people who have a lot of experience, a ticket with two people who have the fear of the Lord behind them, a ticket with two people who have no connections at all whatsoever with the underworld, a ticket with two people who are genuine in what they want to do, and people who have the interest of Benue State at heart. As it is you can see what is happening. Benue is in a deep mess, in a very deep mess. Here is a state that had been waxing very strong, a state that has a lot of educated human beings, a state that ordinarily will pass for one of the best in the country. But as of today, we are having a lot of challenges in the state. You can see that there is general poverty in the land, general poverty because there is no money circulating even though the state gets similar allocation as most other states in the federation, what most other states in the federation are able to achieve today, we don’t have in Benue. Salaries are not being paid to workers, pensions have not been paid to pensioners, and salaries have not been paid to teachers that should constitute the bedrock of the future of the state. There is no water either in the state capital or the two major cities, Gboko and Otukpo. There is general helplessness in the land. Politics is about the standard of living of the people and currently the standard of living of the people in Benue State is at its lowest ebb and we feel we need a team that will come in and salvage the situation; a team that will bring prosperity back to the land. Ortom has a lot of experience. He has been a local government chairman, he is a philanthropist, he is a big time business man, he has been Minister of the Federal Republic, and he is a wonderful human relations expert. He is somebody who relates very well with everybody in spite of religion, ethnicity and whatever and age. I think Ortom has what it takes to bring the state back from the brink of poverty to prosperity. Well, my humble self I think I’ve also gone through the mill. I’ve had an extensive career in the private sector; I was manager, I was general manager, I was executive director, I was managing director of federal parastatals and I’ve been chairman of one business organization or the other. I’m a principal partner in an engineering consulting firm. I’ve been commissioner in the state for two tenures, I’ve been special adviser to the governor of the state, I’ve been chairman of the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, and I also think I’ve acquired enough experience to help and partner with my governor in order that the state will prosper again.
What are the prospects of the APC winning at the national, state and then particularly in the Benue-South Senatorial District?
As far as the federal is concerned, I would give Buhari 80% chance of winning the election. One, the man has wide acceptance from the North of the country to the South of the country because of his anti-corruption stand. Nigeria has been bedeviled with the worst kind of corruption this country has ever experienced within this administration. Stealing is no longer in millions, it is in billions and when people steal, they steal with impunity. You’ll discover that even when somebody has been caught stealing, no action is taken against him or her and this has brought Nigeria to the brink of collapse, somethingher is needed urgently to be done and that was why Buhari offered himself. They were using religion against him but Nigerians have since discovered now that it was just a farce because governance is not about religion. After all when people say that Goodluck Jonathan is a Christian therefore we should vote for him, is his Vice a Christian? His Vice is a Muslim, but does that Islamize his administration? So it’s all about political gimmick by some people who want to retain power by all means and Nigerians have found this out. They have discovered that it is a useless thing to think about and as a result of that Nigerians have accepted Buhari and they are willing to vote for change and so I believe that Buhari is going to win the election before two o’clock on the 14th of February. Coming to Benue State, like I said before Benue is in a deep mess and Benue indigenes have since realized this and they are willing to work for straight forward, clean persons and they have discovered that Dr. Ortom is the man who can save the situation in Benue. So I will put our victory at the very minimum, 80% chance of winning. Coming to the Benue-South Senatorial District, you know it has been an all PDP affair all these 15 years plus but then people are tired. People are tired because they’ve not been receiving dividends of democracy because what has been happening at the state level and which has been enveloping them, they’ve discovered that they can no longer tolerate what has been on ground; and as a result they’ve made up their minds and they’re now ready for change and I believe therefore that we have a bright chance of winning Zone C for the first time since this dispensation started.
Do you have a message for the Benue people?
The message is a simple one; that for the first time they should think about good conscience before God and man when they want to cast their vote. For the first time they should shun and forget about sharing rice and salt, they should forget about sharing N200 per person in order to cast votes for a party that does not mean well for the state. For the first time they should think about change, change from the terrible situation they have found themselves in. You go to the modern market; nobody is buying anything because the money is not there. You go to the hospitals, the clinics; people are not there even though they’re sick because they don’t have money to treat themselves. You come to the township and there is no water to drink. People must think about their children’s future, the current inability to even pay school fees, they must think about all these and therefore the major thing that they should think about is service to the people by the government and not service to the pockets of office holders of the government. They should therefore think about change and vote for APC. Vote for Dr. Ortom in order that Benue State will regain the stature that it had before.
Can you give us an insight into your family?
I have a very simple family. I have a wife, Mary by name who is a High Court Judge in Benue State. We have five children, two boys and three girls. Our first son is a medical doctor in London; the other ones are still schooling especially one that is about graduating. We live a very simple Christian life. My wife is deeply religious. She has held all kinds of positions including lay president of our church and we are a closely knit family that lives according to the ways of the Lord.
What are your hobbies?
I do a lot of running around; I do a lot of exercising. I play as you can see, badminton, I play lawn tennis and basketball, I play table tennis and like I said I do a lot of exercises. Once in a while I go out with my peers to have a little drink, I don’t take too much of alcohol but I go out once in a while to have a little drink and chat with friends.
What’s your travel exposure like?
I’ve been to many continents in the world. I studied in England, I’ve been to the United States of America, I’ve been to the Middle East, I’ve been to the Indian sub-continent and I’ve done a lot of travels within the African sub-region.
MEET ENGR BENSON ABOUNU, BENUE APC DEPUTY GOVERNORSHIP CANDIDATE
Engineer Benson Abounu who was born on 3rd July, 1949, attended the Methodist Primary School, Upu-Icho in Otukpo, his birthplace, from 1957 to 1963.
He proceeded to Government College, Makurdi, where he had a brief stint, between 1964 and 1966.
Engr. Abounu transferred to Government Technical College, Ilorin in 1967 and completed the O’levels in 1969.
From 1971 to 1975, he studied at the Kaduna Polytechnic, Kaduna before leaving for the United Kingdom where he attended the Canfield University, Bedford, England between 1976 and 1978.
Between 1980 and 1984 he was at the University of Ibadan before proceeding to the Ashridge Management College in England for post graduate studies in 1989.
From these academic pursuits, Engr. Abounu obtained Diploma in Electrical/Mechanical Engineering and Higher National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering; Master of Science in Industrial Engineering and Administration as well as Master of Business Administration, MBA, Finance and Operations Management.
His membership of professional bodies include corporate membership of the Institution of Production Engineers, London; Chartered Engineer, London, and Management Consultant.
Engr. Abounu’s experience spans both the private and public sectors.
From 1975 to 1976, he worked with John Holt Group where he rose from Manager-in- training to Production Manager before switching over to Nigeria Breweries, Lagos where he was Technical Manager from 1979 to 1980.
At the Okin Bottling Company Ltd, Kaduna, he was General Manager from 1982 to 1988.
Thereafter, he served as Director, NAL Merchant Bank PLC, Lagos between 1986 and 1990 at the end of which he became Principal Partner, Abounu Benson and Company, Chartered Engineers and Management Consultants.
In early 1990, Engr. Abounu was appointed Sole Administrator and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Mining Corporation, Jos, from where he moved to be an Executive Director at the Nigeria Coal Corporation, Enugu between late 1990 and the whole of 1991.
He came to public limelight in Benue State when he contested for governor on the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and thereafter served as Special Adviser to Governor Moses Adasu from 1992 to 1993.
Engr. Abounu was appointed Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment by Governor George Akume in 1999; re-appointed and assigned to the Ministry of Solid Minerals where he served from August 2003 to June, 2005.
He chaired the board of the Nigerian Television Authority between 2009 and 2011.
Married to Justice Mary Abounu, a High Court Judge in the Benue State Judiciary, and blessed with five children, Engr. Abounu is a widely travelled man whose hobbies include Badminton and Lawn Tennis.