Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Barnabas Gemade recently rejoined the All Progressives Congress (APC), a party he left in 2019 to the Social Democratic Party (SDP). In this interview, the septuagenarian who had left the PDP in 2015 to join the APC gave reasons for his movement across parties among other issues.
Why the movement from one party to the other. Recently, you moved to the APC. First, you started as the pioneer elected chairman of the PDP after taking over from the interim chairman, the late Solomon Lar. In 2015, you moved to the APC and then in 2019, you went to SDP. Why the inconsistency?
Thank you very much for your pregnant and double-barrelled question. Politics is a dynamic game as you know. And in Nigeria, because of the numerous military interventions, no politician can ever say that he is a politician of one political party throughout his political life because if you did not move from one to the other, the military will abrogate the one you have and so, you will join another one or you form another one. And that is what makes politics in Nigeria very dynamic, very much against established democracies like the United States, Britain, India and so on and so forth where people belong to one political party from generation to generation. Apart from that, in Nigeria, the dynamics of politics are such that there are no issues that keep you permanently in one political idea because situations keep changing. You went ahead and appropriated certain reasons for my movement which you said some people are saying they caused my joining APC. Well, I do not work on insinuations, I work on facts. All my life, I’m a factual man, so I work on facts. The fact is that you move in politics based on the interests that present themselves. Yes, those things that you said are also interests but those are not the primary issues that govern someone’s interest. When I left the PDP in 2015, precisely 2014, it was because the party had put a framework on ground to stop me from getting my second term as senator representing my senatorial zone. And I said well, if you have arsenals flying to shoot you down and you foolishly decide to stay there to be shot, then you are not a clever person. That’s why I left the PDP to APC. And I left in good time enough to win my election. And as you know, the incumbent governor of the state at that time contested against me and lost the election. In 2019, similar arsenals were put on line to stop me from seeking my election back into the senate and I, in a similar manner, decided to change camp in order that I can assure an election back into the senate. You know that the practice here in Benue since 1999 was such that the other two zones were being represented almost permanently by single candidates. In Zone C, David Mark had been there five times. In Zone B, Senator George Akume was seeking his fourth term because he had been there three terms. And so, for me, seeking my third term in Zone A was a very mundane issue that was not supposed to attract any form of opposition. But people chose to say it’s their turn and all of that. And then, when I saw that the climate in the APC was not conducive to guarantee that there would be fair contest in my seeking nomination, I decided to leave. Unfortunately, I left too late into SDP that was not a properly organised political party and we could not prosecute the election properly. Now, since after that, the situation in our state has presented itself in a manner which everybody is concerned. It is because of this reason that I felt that SDP is not a political party I can operate in to cause any effect in this state about good leadership, good governance, good representation or even good politicking. So, I decided that I should go back to the party that I joined in 2015 and we made a huge success. That is why I’m back in APC.
There is this insinuation out there that you are planning to contest for governorship in 2023 even as some people say that age is not on your side. Do you have any governorship ambition?
You make it very difficult for me by asking me to comment on rumour but I’m not given to take rumour very seriously or worry about such issues. Whether I’m going to contest election or not is dependent entirely on the way I think and the way I feel. Age is a relative matter to start with. I do not think that a man at 70 is too old to do anything. There are many people who are far younger in politics in Nigeria and in Benue and there are many people who are far older in politics in Nigeria and in Benue. So, there’s no issue about age versus any desire that I have or might eventually have if I do have to stand an election. These issues are not the factors that are important in politics. What is important in politics is the capability and capacity of the individuals; what you are known for and what you can do.
But National Assembly is trying to peg the age of contestants to 60. So, if such thing passes through, what will be your reaction?
I don’t know about what you have said because if they peg the age of contestants at 60, then about two third of them will have to leave the senate because more than two third of them are over 60. So, I can’t see how some people will make a law that catches up with all of them.
How do you see the future of APC in Benue and even in Nigeria?
I can only say it’s very bright. You know since 1999, I have always functioned in parties that won elections. I know when a party is likely to win an election and I know that APC will win the elections in 2023. For sure, I know but don’t ask me how do I know? Look at the history to know; from 1999 to 2011, I was all in the PDP and we won these elections all along. In 2015, I was in APC and we won that election even in the state here. In 2019, I was neither in PDP nor APC. I told you before that I joined the SDP which was a small kind of unorganised party and it was just a few weeks to the elections. So, I can literally say that, apart from my election as senatorial candidate, I did not really take full participation in the election in the state to say which party will win because even the SDP as small as it was, it didn’t even have a governorship candidate until the eve of the election as it kept moving from one person to the other and the people didn’t really know who to vote for. So, I didn’t really have a chance to participate in that election at the level of governorship. But we did not also have a presidential candidate as it was also going back and forth. And at the end, the party itself, dismissed both candidates and when I heard that we should go vote for the incumbent president, that was what we did and as far as I was concerned, the over 30,000 votes which I got in my local government was also what the president (Buhari) got in my local government. I had told them I had no presidential candidate, so they should vote for me and the incumbent president and that was what others did in their respective areas and at the end of it, President Buhari won the election but the governorship went to PDP. Most of the House of Reps and Assemblies went to PDP. It means that there were many people elsewhere who were voting for the President and were not members of his party. So, added to members of his party in various LGAs, he carried the day in Benue.
Are you not worried about the spate of insecurity in the country under the APC-led government?
Insurgency is not a federally controlled event. Insurgency is a series of events in different locations in the country and those who have created bandits are not federal officers or politicians associated with the Federal Government. These are individuals in various corners of this country that are pushing interests which are common to them in those localities. Check in Kaduna and you would see that it’s only one group fighting and killing people in Southern Kaduna. The state government there is APC. In Zamfara State, there is a group that is killing and making banditry all the time and the government there is PDP. You go to North East, the bandits there in three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe started bombarding those areas all along when the Federal Government was PDP and they continued when the Federal Government became APC. The states are ruled by different parties. So, to ask whether I am not worried that there is so much banditry under APC is not an appropriate way to look at it. When I was a member of the Senate under APC, I raised more motions on insurgency in Nigeria than any other senator. It’s on record because I raised personally seven different motions and I joined about 15 others of people raising issues in their own localities about banditry. So, we should be worried about that as a country and think about what should be done to solve this problem. If anybody should tell me that this problem is a political party problem, I will tell you that, that is not true. How do we know the man who is pursuing Boko Haram in Borno State or the group that is pursuing Boko Haram in the North East? How do you know which political party they belong? The bandits in Zamfara State, how do you know the political parties they belong. Those that are doing killings in Southern Taraba, how do we know which political parties they belong because the government in Taraba is a PDP government. And in Nasarawa State, they are killing both in Southern and Western Nasarawa State; the state government there is APC. So, we need to be very much concerned. That’s why I intend to believe this story that, there were external forces involved in this issue of bandits coming into this country because nobody is ready to sit-down and isolate the issue and know exactly what is the reason for this fight. Some people say no, it is a political matter; others said it is a religious matter, other said, it is an economic matter. So, what is it really that is causing this banditry?