Benue APC is like a family business, tickets are given to submissive individuals – Hembe, LP government candidate
Member of House of Representatives representing Vandeikya and Konshisha Constituency of Benue State who is also a candidate for Labor Party Governor in the State, Herman Hembe talks about his reasons for quitting Congress of all progressives for the LP in this interview with JEAN CHARLES
You have has been a member of the House of Representatives since 2007. What have you done to motivate yourself to take on more responsibility?
Many people did not expect me to be able to transform the situation in my constituency in such a short time. For example, in terms of infrastructure, when I was elected in 2007, the only power poles that could be found in my local government area (Konshisha) were those that went from outside Awajir to Aliade , but now there is lighting in every quarter of the board in the LG. Some people have access to power in several places, and when I was elected, the Vandeikya LG had a light coming from the Obudu council that came on occasionally once a month, which I disconnected and brought the electricity by another location to most council quarters in the LG. Additionally, we have a minimum of one classroom block per municipal ward we have built and in some places there are more. We have also provided computer centres, laboratories for the sciences.
These are the reasons why I was able to win elections four times in three different political parties. People voted for me because I could provide what they needed. We have empowered so many people through our empowerment program, and we have provided free health care through our multiple health care programs, including major surgeries for indigent people.
You have been characterized as a serial political defector moving from the People’s Democratic Party, then to the Action Congress of Nigeria (now the Congress of All Progressives), to the Progressive Grand Alliance, to the APC again and now currently to the Labour Party. Why do you like to change parties?
Currently, it is not an individual affair, political parties are controlled by cabals and bigwigs who use people for all sorts of purposes like the APC in Benue State. It’s practically become a family business where they share tickets with people who have money to buy. They use it to do all sorts of things and won’t allow you to steal the party nomination except you also have to guarantee that you will be subject to the godfather and godmother in this case who must have assurances from you that ‘they will survive on the state at the time you are there.
Could this be the reason why you asked the APC to stop using your name in its operations?
I left the APC and wrote to the APC National President on May 26 informing him that I had withdrawn from their gubernatorial primary and I also wrote to my APC Ward President that I had left the party because I knew the primary would be a fake.
Alternatively, I went to the New Nigeria Peoples Party in Kwankwaso, but the party governor’s ticket had already been awarded, so I ended up in the Labor Party. The whole process of leaving the APC and joining the Labor Party took about 13 days. When the APC held its new primary election, they always put my name on the ballot during the replay, indicating that if a replay took place, they would know that I was no longer with them because the party of the state had opted for a direct primary, which required all candidates to have agents carrying your poster, and if I left the party on May 26 and you had a replay on June 9, that means that they didn’t do anything, they just gave me a number.
I took them to court to seek damages of 500 million naira and also to ask the Independent National Electoral Commission not to recognize any results from the APC that bore my name.
Do you think you can win the gubernatorial race in Benue State with the Labor Party, which lacks local structures?
I won the last election in the APGA, which is not strong in the state. What I need to do to contest the election is have a platform because Nigeria doesn’t have an independent candidate yet so if you want to be on the ballot you have to be with a party credible. I think APC is a credible platform, as is PDP, but the parties are not the issues but the people who corrupt the practices and personalize them.
Labor gives me an accommodating platform that actually agrees with my ideologies. I had been in the trenches fighting for democracy in Nigeria as a student and graduated soon after democracy was enthroned. I want people to see me with what I’ve done and trust me in what I can deliver so when you talk about structure it’s the old way when big names collect report cards vote, print the fingerprints and give the results. With the advent of one man, one vote, I am confident that the people of Benue will vote for me because they know what I can do.
What aspect of your ambition in the state has the current Labor presidential candidate, the momentum of Peter Obi, helped?
People know who I am and know what I’m capable of; therefore, the relationship is mutual as we both can add values to each other. When I hear Obi speak, I see that we belong to the same class. I was basically someone who survived on performance pedigree. This is my strength and this is what I have always put forward in the past to win elections.
The Obi momentum may help us in the state but our momentum is that of people who have performed in the past. Others who work on the party platform will also add value to Obi and ultimately it will be symbiotic, he will add value to us at certain levels and we will add value to him as well.
I also think that the idea of a transfer of power from North to South is relevant, and we must also keep in mind that we are a multi-religious country. You can’t move it in one direction, so we should move from the Muslim North to the Christian South. For us to run a good country, if a Muslim has it for a while, then the Christian must have it too.
What is your position on the anti-open grazing law, which has become a key campaign issue in the state?
I fully support him, this country must be a place for all layers of the population. If you see what happened in Okpokwu in Benue state where herdsmen allegedly killed people and the reason why we always have such a crisis between herders and farmers is that they allow them to graze their cattle openly and in the process of moving from one point to another, they stray onto people’s farms and destroy their crops. The only solution is for ranchers to ranch their animals and do it at their own expense.
It is unheard of to say that you should be given a route to graze your cattle, let them keep their animal in a place where others can do their business without interference.
The people of the state, especially your ethnic group, the Tiv, prefer their first lady to be one of them; do you think your marriage to a Yoruba woman will be detrimental to your ambition?
I don’t think so, because people went beyond that, my wife was with me and I won elections. If I become governor, she will be a wonderful first lady. She will not be the first first lady whose origin is not state. The ex-governor, wife of Gabriel Suswam is not a Tiv woman but a Yoruba woman. She supported him and worked with him and they succeeded.
She is already a Tiv woman once she marries one. I’m sure when you marry into a tribe, you’re part of it. We cannot discriminate against women on the basis of marriage. She already has children there, what about those who don’t have a wife?
You were Chairman of the House of Representatives Capital Markets Committee when Securities and Exchange Commission Director General Arunma Oteh accused you of accepting a 44 million naira bribe. Don’t you think that could jeopardize your ambition if the opposition takes advantage of it?
The opposition cannot use it to prevent my ambition. Ms. Oteh was under investigation. I was asked to stand down because of the allegation, a committee was set up and they charged the woman but the Nigerians are not paying attention. The committee recommended her dismissal but she was not fired immediately but she was eventually fired.
I was not charged in court for a bribery allegation because it was false and misleading unfortunately the media was only talking about bribes but they only took me to court to explain why I had obtained a ticket and refused to travel and I explained this and was exonerated in court.
I have the court judgment which also said that what the EFCC did to Hembe was not prosecution but persecution. Unfortunately, the judgment did not receive adequate publicity; only a few newspapers carried it.