ACN WON BENUE GOVERNORSHIP ELECTION - UNONGO
Not afraid of being sanctioned by his party, Second Republic Minister of Steel, Wantaregh Paul Unongo, told newsmen in Makurdi, Benue State capital, that although he was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) won the recent governorship election in the state. The elder statesman also blamed his party for the killing of some youths in the state. He speaks on these and other national issues. Excerpts…
You have been quiet for some time. Why are you breaking your silence?
Today, you have come. I hope I won't disappoint you. What I will do is to tell you why I am relevant in Nigeria and will remain relevant till you people put me in the ground. So, I make comments that allow discussions in the process and also I allow people to ask me my views about what I think. I am only 75 years young. I think that is a good age. I think I have participated in every single thing in Nigeria and I think I have contributed very creditably in the evolution of Nigeria and the Nigerian political system.
I am competent, eminently competent to make statements on its growth and problems and what is happening in it. Many things have happened in this country of late and I always refused to give press conferences because, when people come to me for abrupt press conferences as if I want publicity, I think I have had enough publicity when I was out there with you. But I just want those who are interested in knowing about me and how I am feeling. In fact, I was very happy when I heard you were coming to the village.
I thought you would see what I am doing. I am not one of those retired. I will retire the day I die. So, I am strongly active, enjoying what I am doing in my village. I make relevant questions available to friends and they make relevant questions available to me and I answer them. I thank you very much for giving me the honour of coming to my house for this interactive session.
What is your take on the current development in the political landscape of PDP, the party you belong?
Considering things that have happened in Nigeria, I want to let my views known because I have refused to be in the background by attaching myself to a political party. By wanting to be in the background, I shouldn't have attached myself to a political party. Those of you who know my history, you knew why I came to attach myself to a political party, the 'dominant' party or the party in power, PDP. At the creation of PDP, I believe my brain created it and I registered it also with the then INEC. I was the first to bring that thing about.
Then my younger brothers made some games and tricks that affected the ideological orientation of the very PDP I formed; contradictory to the behaviour of my kids, who came and took the PDP and made it a different thing, so I withdrew from it and didn't go to court. I went and collected my money from INEC and they took their PDP and made it something that had nothing to do today with liberal democracy. I think based on social democracy since we have been crying for a long time that Nigerian political system did not have an ideological orientation. So, I wanted to make that contribution by starting a political party that would have an ideological orientation that can accommodate liberal and social democrats.
Why didn't you correct the ills in the PDP rather than leaving the house you built?
I was quite prepared to entertain modalities of moving the people along the line of manifestos we gave. What is the thing you choose, are you going to be leftist? Are you going to the left or to the right, or centre? Some people would be in the centre or the left, some would be left and some would be absolute left.
So, I discovered that after this thing was split up and the PDP came, it was nothing that we wanted to bring dispute into the Nigerian political practice. So, I went away and remained in approximation of what was, what we had for the people, the NPP metamorphosed through a lot of things to become ANPP. And back home, which is where you are, the schisms and the practice polarized politics to such an extent that a lot of killing could take place. We insisted we would be different and we became like the official and opposition party, and the big parties that were in power didn't like it.
Every time we did an election from the point of view of people watching and seeing the behaviour of the electorate, who are the repository of power, I notices there was resentment with people that came into power both in Nigeria and in the states, they actually assumed sovereignty over the people.
So, I feel I am rejected in that at every election we ended up short-changed. We won, they announced somebody else, and then they started the practice of killing and they killed a lot of people. I was at the centre because I took the simplest way I could handle, but my people love me so much. When I won elections and they were taken from me, the people got so angry that they didn't want to let them go. And, of course, the big people that were running government started getting frightened about my ideas and they were very worried that if I came into power, they believed I was going to pack everybody and send them to jail, especially those who were stealing money, and that I would not allow them to steal. So, they fought and killed people in my local government, Kwande.
In that election, the government in power wanted every thing from every local government and so on, and then they wanted to humiliate everybody, they went there and humiliated them. But they were not satisfied because they couldn't win even a councillorship seat in Kwande. So, they held Kwande people and me responsible and there was a lot of massacre as they raided Kwande. Of course, the Federal Government and the federal troops assisted them and they murdered 1,500 people in my local government just for me.
With all these atrocities committed against your people by the PDP government, why did you still choose not to decamp?
I felt the time had arrived to stop the killings, if indeed the philosophy and assumption is that I love my people and I wanted to serve them. Persistently, in 1983, I won elections, but was not allowed, in 2003 I won election landslide. I am so happy the current governor confirmed that to me and actually volunteered the information. He was the one that actually successfully did the mago mago business for them to be able to tell the people that they won the election, but told me I won. Of course, the boys that did the election also told me.
So, after the 2004 massacre, I turned back and told people in public that I was sick and don't want to be governor of dead people. I didn't want to rule dead people. So, I said I would stop. People told me I shouldn't stop, that what would benefit our people in Benue would be to forget my pride and join PDP. So, I made it public, it took me sometime, about four years, I made a public declaration at a public square after a lot of consultations with my people and they gave me conditions. To leave, our party would literally be killed because ANPP was killing it by going into the PDP fellowship. I had very serious discussions with the then Obasanjo government, who assured me that there would be no more killing, so I joined the PDP.
The principal reason I gave at the public arena was that I wanted peace, I wanted the Tiv people to know that politics in Nigeria is not played the way they play politics, and that I had studied the politics of Nigeria and what we were doing was going to pull us back. And the likes of Obasanjo and then Yar'Adua were so happy that their problem in Benue was over now that the only opposition man had made up his mind to work for peace.
Would you say Obasanjo and his group fooled you?
I didn't understand them, but I laughed and came back hoping there would be no more killings of our people. I want to repeat, I didn't leave ANPP because somebody gave me money. Please, it has been for a long time, do all the investigations you want, I left ANPP because my people said the reasons I gave them, the primitive politics we were playing, were killing my people whom I wanted to serve. That is why they said wherever I went they would go with me. So, we all moved into PDP, which we did not recognise again. It was not the original PDP that I formed. It had no form; no ideology. Perhaps, the only ideology it had, something that bound the big men in it together, was the possibility of sharing money, and they were always doing that.
Any regrets joining the Governor Suswam-led PDP in Benue?
Yes, when everybody assured me that if I went into PDP they would stop killing my people, they would stop killing young men and cutting their lives short, they would have dialogue, and do good elections. I participated in writing all the constitutions being used in this country today. And I know I presented papers, I presented two major papers on electoral reforms in which I advocated strongly for the introduction of electronic voting system, which I said was the only thing that would stop the killing of my people. I don't know what happened everywhere, but in my place, the only thing that would stop killing my people, which is the basis for which I continue in politics with the 'biggest party' in Africa, as they always say, was free and fair election. I thought God would help us to have an electoral reform that would produce an election that is within the limits of man's capacity and almost fair, devoid of mass thumb-printing, snatching of ballot boxes and stuffing.
Now, I had the shock of my life, I told myself that I had withdrawn from all elections and I remember how they talked to me and the things they promised me, they said be there as our father. If we do something you think is wrong, you should let us know. And, of course, that ought to be my role at 75. And I have done so and I noticed that young men don't like old men that would look them in the face and tell them this thing you are doing is wrong. So, people try to relegate me to the background.
I want you to remember that I am still in PDP, I am not an ACN member, but I will tell my party, in this and that cases you are wrong. This funny empty-headed people that hang around those in authority would say, you cannot insult 'tuhwa' governor like that. Is that 'tuhwa', you Tiv people? If you are talking to a younger person you are infinitely better qualified than him, and you've done this all your life for over 40 years, and the young man is 40, are they crazy?
They expect me to be afraid of saying something because somebody will not give me food?
All these funny things I see in papers that they are removing you as chairman of this, chairman of that, how do you remove me from being 75, if you are not mad? How do you remove me from being the father of politics in Benue, if you are not mad? How do you stop me from being the leader in my village called Kwande? Then you say you want to disgrace and humiliate me, you go and bring nonentities and say here is money, go and give people let them not vote for him. We will show people that he doesn't have control in his village.
I didn't go out. You don't do it with me in Kwande. You can't do it because I have been there with them for over 50 years and they have not been taken money from anybody, yet they are living. Small kids come here with their big loud speakers and make noise. They say this one is the killer of people, that one is a beater of people, this one is this and that and they ride big cars and go and say, don't worry Suswam, we are going to deliver this place to you. So, to deliver, you have to kill?
How do you react to the recent killing of former Benue State council Chairman of the NUJ and Media Assistant to ACN governorship candidate, Charles Ayede?
We have entered a very dangerous era, the media should please, help us. If they give you money, take it and spend it, but please, print the truth about Benue. Our people have suffered to a level that some of us will not allow small children God had entrusted us with the responsibility of being leaders in government to them weapons to kill our people. They invited me to join PDP saying that killing would stop. I want you to tell me why you brought me to this part of the world again and lie to me that you are going to stop killing. What is this? I want to know, since you came to my house, I am not looking for publicity; I am not looking for anything. Tell me young man, this is the country we fought for and went to jail for you to come and look after me in my old age, this is barbaric destruction of human life, this horrible murder perpetrated in the name of politics.
We are the people who died, we are the people who went to jail, and we said we have children; we will take everything so that our children will be safe. What is this? What is this murderous thing that people want? Jesus! Is this what I went to jail for? So that you small boys would come and kill yourselves and other decent people, for what? Kill my son, Steve Davis Ugbah, for what? What is this? You wanted to be governor, the people allowed you, you asked to be a member of the Federal House, I allowed you, and they allowed you. I was with my political party, but I assisted you. You were there for eight years, God lifted and brought you to be governor for four years.
For God's sake, if the electorate of Benue freely, and they are the sovereign people of Benue in whose laps God's power is deposited, they are the repository of God's own power on earth, and they say they want to change the government, what is the killing? What are these murders? Young men just going about town being seized and given thorough beating, this one, it was in front of my house in Gboko, he calls himself Crucial, these are your modern names; if you don't like him calling himself Crucial, call him Abua. Do you have to kill him because he is not in your political party? And I say this kind of behaviour is not good. Could this society survive with the type of pictures you people are seeing, can we bless you?
Talking about political crisis or violence, whichever you choose, what's your comment on the role of the traditional institution in Benue State?
That stupid boy called Alfred Torkula, Tor Tiv says he is the one who curses people. Is this the type of curse he has been bringing upon us? Can he curse? I can curse. Can he talk and refuse this type of carnage? Even the Hausa people that pretend, those of them that pretend to be radical Muslims, when their stupid man loses an election, they kill only Christians and burn churches. Benue people, what are you that you kill your own? They kill you up there. The ones that escape and come here, you kill them, for what? Who likes you?
That boy has a wife, that boy has children. How can you kill a human being like that and then get around and threaten old men like me, my God! As long as the Lord lives, I will not do that, this is a cry, crying out for help and I am praying not to have vengeance, but for justice; may the people who won the election, God Almighty, may He return your mandate ACN. We can't continue like this. This is not what I fought for. This is not what I went to jail for and nobody has the power to stop you from eating. Stop abusing yourself, stop abusing your God, stand up for your right for God's sake.
As a statesman, what efforts have you made to address this rather worrisome situation beyond the political boundaries of Benue?
If Nigeria is watching what is happening in Benue as a joke, I called Obasanjo and I want to be quoted. I called Obasanjo three days to the election and I said arrange for you, Jonathan Goodluck and me to talk; there is a change in Benue, and if we try to suppress that change we shall have a security problem. I teach intelligence at the university.
I had the opportunity under Babangida to create what was called the security apparatus of this country. So, I know what I am talking about. And I said we need this meeting before this election. I want to expose to you what we PDP are going to do that would destabilize Nigeria, because if there is destabilization, serious ones from among the Tiv of Benue, Nigeria will shake, and we kept giving ourselves appointments three times, we didn't make the appointments.
And when this thing started. I said please, we must meet. Two days ago, I called Obasanjo, I said you are PDP's Chairman of Board of Trustees, I told you that something is wrong in Benue.
Let us discuss and stop this thing about your daughter who stood elections for Senate, it's not war, ACN beat her. You told me you were going to let them have it; you were president four times for God's sake. Why would such small young men in my state, because they have tasted power and money, the sovereign people of Benue State have decided they are going to change their own leaders, why should you stop them? And when they were stopped, they called him a winner; they call them winners, why are they killing people in this bogus way? Why? I am a card-carrying member of PDP. Is Tor Tiv, Alfred Torkula, a card-carrying member of the PDP? It is because of his encouragements that these boys have gone mad.
But he is your paramount ruler, isn't it?
I will never call him Tor Tiv again, he was made Tor Tiv in my village, the Unongo village, and I know what happened, which is why I am not going to call him Tor Tiv again. Where was he when they were butchering this boy, and why must it be Kwande always? This thing cannot be tolerated. This thing will not be accepted. This thing will not be allowed to repeat itself except the powers that be in Nigeria don't care what we Benue people do to ourselves. If that is the case, I will be one of the people and you better quote me, I will be one of the people that would go round and tell my people to defend ourselves.
What is your reaction to the results of the general election declared by INEC?
ACN won the election; they won it. I am in PDP, we lost it, and it's not a matter of life and death. Those who are killing people don't represent all of us in PDP. They don't represent the President and I know they don't represent even the soldier.
What is the way forward?
I think the case has been made for ACN. I told ACN members that were making noise, rushing around my house and telling me they have won the election and so on. Before they started, I said well, you don't know what we in PDP will do. I said you go ahead and win your election, we shall seize what we shall, go and announce ourselves, and they were laughing at me.