By Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
It’s been ten years since Rev Jolly Nyame left office as the governor of Taraba state. But he has remained very active in the political arena both at the state and National scene. In this interview, he shares his personal experience of the last ten years and also bares his mind on the current political structure, state of the economy and political developments in the state and the country at large.
Tell us about your experience in the last ten years after serving as the Taraba state governor?
The last ten years or thereabout have been a mixture of experience- you have the good, the bad and even the ugly. I have faced a lot of travail from the federal government through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC, and no one can imagine what I’ve been through in the last ten years or so, going to court. As it stands now, it is difficult to say where my case stands with the EFCC. All I know is that the challenges form part of God’s plan for my life. I don’t take it personal.
As you are aware, I have not received my entitlement since leaving office. All the governments that came after me are aware of my predicament but I don’t know what the problem is. In fact, I contemplated going to the Industrial court this year to seek their intervention but they said there is no need as the government is working on it. I wrote a letter to the government through the SSG and I understand that it is been given serious attention. So hopefully, this administration would pay me.
What is the reason for the nonpayment of your benefits ten years after?
It is pathetic and I can only speculate as they have not given me any reasons. We’ve had other governors and or acting governors and deputies who have left office and are enjoying their benefits. Some even paid themselves before leaving the office but I was been a gentleman and felt paying myself my entitlement before leaving office was not gentlemanly. I wanted someone else to pay me like every other pensioner. I never knew I was cheating myself.
What’s your take on the current wave of defections in the PDP to the APC especially in Taraba state?
It is very pathetic. When you have top PDP members defecting to the now ruling APC, then it calls for stock taking. It is even more worrisome that some people still seat in their offices as party officials and government functionaries and just wave it aside, as nothing. It is a very bad thing for the party, I can tell you that. I’m most touched by the recent defection of the immediate past minister of labour, Senator Joel Ikyena because I worked with him and I know what political weight he has got. He is someone that has his way politically. He is a force you can always count on for results. You know he came from the very bottom of the ladder to the top and that makes him a core grassroots politician. So for him to defect to the APC and you have people in position try to make it look as if nothing has happened, is pitiable. In the last elections, the PDP got a chunk of its votes from his homestead of Wukari, even when someone from the same Wukari was also vying for governorship. I know there must be a reason for his defection and I don’t want to hold brief for him but I passed through the same thing too. For instance, party congresses were held in this state last year up to the zonal congress and no one informed me about it. So when you have people that are not mature enough, they would feel slighted and would simply opt to move on.
In as much as I am not comfortable with the development, I think the PDP needs to move out of her cocoon and do a post mortem of the developments leading to the last general election and up till this time. If that is not done, I can assure you that there is no future for the PDP anywhere. Look at what is happening in the state now preparatory to the council elections. If you cannot organize primaries for local government elections, then there is problem. The issue of consensus candidate is wrong. People are not happy about it. It is as a result of this same issue that the governor is still battling for his mandate at the Supreme Court. Allow internal democracy to prevail. I however believe that the party would put its head together and correct some of these mistakes soon.
What is your take on new Mega party and its implications for the PDP?
Well, the APC itself came up as a mega party. It was a merger of political parties who felt dissatisfied with the way PDP was handling the affairs of this country. In the end we all saw what happened. So this is the same thing that is about to happen. It is no longer something new. That however, is not a guarantee that they would come and take over leadership as the APC did. It would of course provide for vibrant opposition which is healthy for any democracy globally. And like I said, the PDP would also learn her lessons and step up the game to meet the challenges hopefully.
As the longest serving governor of Taraba state and the political leader, you were accused of been silent while things were going wrong in the state. Is that correct?
Well, people who say that may do so based on their level of knowledge. I have been doing a lot just that I am not militant about it. But if my disposition to this position as an elder statesman is taken as cowardice, I may soon become militant about it. A lot of things happen in Taraba awkwardly. The entire money we got in eight years as a government is what Suntai got within a year. Subsequent governments after him too got a lot of funds. Unfortunately, the structures we put on ground before leaving office are still what you see around.
No government has been able to build one more hospital, or any viable project. Some of the projects we started and could not complete before leaving are still there. The structures we put in place are very fast decaying for lack of maintenance. I’ve always asked people to be patient with those in government but there is a limit to what they can take. People must also understand that my influence is to the extent that they are willing to listen and take corrections. There are times you would make efforts to reach out and nobody would listen to you. You can’t force yourself on the people, you know. And even when you see them and give them your advice, they are not obliged to take it. Of course as someone who ruled the state for about ten years, I should know the state well enough to give viable solutions to those in government and I have been trying my best. Whether they take my advice or not is not within my power. But I’m sure time is going to come when all these would change.
Some of the major structures in the state are suffering serious decay. The Stadium, Motel, Specialist Hospital and several others. How do you feel when you see these projects?
It pains me. I weep each time I see these structures in their current shape. When we built these things, we used the best of everything that was available at the time. Look at the motel for instance, it was furnished with the best furniture we could get at the time but today, things have fallen apart. You have grasses growing in some of the rooms. I was there to visit a guest recently and the main door to his room was not working. I mean, it is a mess.
I did these things because I thought we would have subsequent governments with a maintenance culture. And for everything, we even had the spares in place. There were reserves of all the equipment on ground. The specialist hospital was fully equipped with spare equipment in place. Those spares were all sold. There are no more there. Those on ground are poorly maintained. Look at the stadium, we had hoped that these projects would boost the economic viability of the state and make it attractive to investors. The state government does not have to benefit from it directly. We hoped that they would be handed over to someone with the ability to manage them effectively to run and keep them afloat.
Why didn’t you put in place measures for sustainable maintenance of these structures after you left office, since your successor was seen as just a continuation of your administration?
What happened were my fears. And I was correct when I was afraid to do certain things. Like you said, Danbaba’s administration was supposed to be a continuation of my administration but remember he set up a commission to probe me. So if I had done certain things that one would think it was to my advantage, it wouldn’t have just been a commission that he would have set to probe me. It is the same Danbaba that put me in this mess I’ve been in for the past years since leaving office. So like I said, people may not understand me but all my decisions are based on conviction. I was certain that if I paid a contractor at that time to continue with the maintenance of these things, I would be charged of having interest in it. I paid a contractor N1million for the Jalingo airport through the office of the SSG, and Danbaba was the SSG then, but that is one of the reasons I was taken to EFCC. I have to answer for it. The same airport was done elsewhere costing billions. So I knew that with the kind of mentality we had, if I did some of these things, somebody would come after me. Now that I even avoided these things, I’m been accused.
Your younger brother, Godwin is warming up to contest the governorship of the state in 2019. Are you aware and what your take?
Sure, I am aware of it. He is a mature person and is of age enough to take his decisions. He is my blood brother as you know and my younger brother for that matter. But as far as I am concerned, he is a man and can take his own decisions. For instance, I am in the PDP while he is in the APC. I can’t stop him if that is what he wants. Of course, in this case, I may not support him because he is in the opposition party and I cannot support another party to win my party. But like I said about people defecting from the PDP, you ordinarily wouldn’t want to leave the house you have built and furnished well to go and start a new one, but when you are forced to, you would have no choice. I know that if it comes to it and I am left with no choice, I would go.
If I am going to decamp to the APC, nobody would stop me. I want you to understand that people don’t just decamp to other parties. When Danbaba made it unbearable for us in the PDP we decamped to ACN. There we contested the governorship fronting Joel Ikyena. Danbaba may not be there now to tell you anything but his deputy Sani Danladi is there. For now, I’m in PDP and I am still working for the PDP but if my hands are tied, there is nothing I can do. Just as we were forced out of the PDP then by Danbaba, if we are forced out now, we still may leave, at their own detriment.
Are you now saying that Joel Ikyena’s defection is such a big blow to the PDP?
It is not good for the party. It is not good at all. Some novice may say that his exit means nothing thinking that there are other people on ground to do the magic but I’m afraid they are wrong. Like I said, I worked with Joel Ikyena so I know what he is made of. You can’t find his kind in the whole area. If there is any, they should come out and let’s see them. There is none. Remember Ikyena started from the bottom to the very top. His exit is bad for the party, very bad. And I don’t think anyone should be comfortable with this
There is suffering across the country and this current administration is still blaming the last administration. Where do you see this leading us to?
I think the blame game is over now. From what I have gathered, the 2017 budget would propel us out of recession and from my little experience as a village economist, the more you encourage people to produce, the better for the economy. People have to go more into production. Small, medium and big industries have to be put in place to herald a sustainable growth for the economy. We found ourselves in a recessed economy because we have just been buying without producing anything. So basically, this hardship should be over soon. Don’t forget that, now, more than ever, everyone is looking for ways of earning a living outside the government. Most people have returned to the farm and other sectors of the economy. This is good for us. I just hope that we would come out it stronger than we ever were.
What is your take on the current agitations for secession and the call to restructure the country?
To be honest, I would never support secession for any reason. I know that people from various zones have their reason to fight the fights they are fighting, but I want to encourage one Nigeria. Federal government should be sensitive to the yearning of the people across boards. Then, there should be decentralisation of power from the federal to the component states. Of course, there should be a certain remittance to the Federal Government but the states should be made more viable. They should be able to do some things on their own. They should have some level of control over their resources. This would help every state to seat up. There is no state in this country that does not have enough resources to survive very well. They all do but these things are grossly underutilized. Take Taraba for example, just last week, I got a huge lump of stone here. We took it somewhere and they said it is lead, and one of the best qualities. So in Taraba alone, there are so many resources that if the state government is allowed to exploit, they’ll be able to do a lot and still remit to the federal government. What is happening in the South- South and South- East is pathetic. The people have to be taken care of. But I still believe that if we take a referendum now, most of the Igbo would not support it. We have to be one Nigeria but the current structure has to be done away with and the government has to be sensitive to the plights of their people.