August 29, (THEWILL) – Prof Terhemba Shija is a governorship aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Benue State. In this interview with AUSTINE JOR, he speaks on his ambition to govern the state. Excerpts:
You are aspiring to govern Benue State. How prepared are you for this job?
I am prepared. There is no doubt about it. I have been running two careers in my life. I finished from the university in 1985. I came out as the best graduating student in my department. And I was to start my academic career immediately, but I went on to study for a Master’s degree and finished in 1988. Instead of starting an academic career, I came back to start a career in the civil service here. Within a year, I was discovered as a good writer. The then Military Governor appointed me, without solicitation, as his Special Assistant on Speech Writing. I worked for less than two years, then it was time to start politics. So, I got attracted to it. I helped a governorship candidate. He didn’t win, but he encouraged me to run for the House of Representatives. So, I ran.
By 1992, when I was 32 years-old, I got elected into the Federal House of Representatives. I had a career in mind. I wanted to go into academics, but circumstance made me to end up in politics. The politics of that time was highly experimental because the transition between the military and civilians was in phases. Rev. Fr. Moses Adasu was the Governor of Benue State at the time. Shortly afterwards, there were elections into the Senate and House of Reps and I got elected. One year down the line, there was a military coup and we were thrown out. That was after the June 12 debacle. We went back again to the wider society. I was lucky. I was appointed the Director-General of the Benue State Liaison office in Lagos. Then, all liaison activities were in Lagos, not Abuja. So, I was the person that was mandated to move the Benue office from Lagos to Abuja. Afterwards, it was time again to start another round of politicking.
By 1998, I came in and I wanted to be governor of Benue. But then Jechira people took a decision that we should concede that position to Jemgbagh and I was unanimously chosen to be the Director-General of George Akume’s campaign in 1998. By December of that year, elections were held and we won. Akume was sworn in on May 29, 1999. Two months later, my name was announced as Commissioner. So, I became his Commissioner for Information and Culture. One year and a half afterwards, I became the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. By the time his tenure was coming to an end in 2003. I resigned and then went and completed my PhD. I finished my PhD in April 2005 and went back to my first love, which is academics.
For 16 years, I have been teaching at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi. I began from the scratch as Lecturer II, moved to Lecturer I, moved to Senior Lecturer, moved to Associate Professor and full Professor. I didn’t cut corners. I don’t believe in cutting corners. In my chosen career – academics – I am a thorough -bred professional. I am published both nationally and internationally. Having reached that level and in the course of doing my academics, I have been popping in and out of politics. I served, as I told you, as the DG of the re-election of Governor Gabriel Suswam. And I even nursed the ambition of becoming a senator. But then, I was overruled by the then governor. So I had to go back.
Why do you want to be Governor in 2023?
I have always loved to serve. I know that anybody who loves this state must think about the state first before himself. I agree that we haven’t got the best yet. I am going to run for one reason: Having been involved in the Benue project, I know what the people want.
Is it true that the state has no agenda?
I listen to people when they write on Facebook or other social media platforms. I listen to Tiv elite, Idoma elite, Igede elite when we meet in various places. People say Benue people have no agenda; Tiv people have no agenda. They say the fact that we don’t have an agenda is the reason why we are holding ourselves back. That is not true! We have always had an agenda. We are failing because of leadership.
The agenda of the Benue person person; the Tiv, Idoma and others, has always been “let’s have our own place and develop our own people.” That was the basis upon which the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) was formed. JS Tarka at that time said, “Look, everybody has his own place. The Sardauna of Sokoto has sat in Kaduna and he has put his feet on the stool of the Middle Belt people. Let us grab that stool and have our own place.” His own aspiration was to be the Prime Minister of Middle Belt State or Middle Belt Region. The people of Edo and Delta got their own Midwest State, from the West. We were unable to get it from the First Republic. But thank God, there was a military coup in 1966 and by 1967, we started getting our own place. We got Benue-Plateau State. Later on, in 1976, we got Benue State. So, if we have got our own place, it means we are going somewhere.
Why were we looking for our own state? We want a state that we will be proud of. A state where there will be another ABU, where there will be sky scrapers, good roads, potable water; where you can sit and say this is my place. But all along, we have pushed in the kind of leadership that has not given us that assurance. All along, we have looked at Benue with great disappointment. We are ashamed of calling this place our own. Why is it so? It is because most of the people who were opportune to be part of the leadership didn’t have this vision. Now, they think that to make a state like this great is first to make themselves great. This is western capitalist philosophy. People will come to your gate and you will give them peanuts: that is a capitalist philosophy. So, there is a wide gap of difference. The rich continue to be rich. The Yoruba can afford to do that because their terrain allowed their forefathers to plant cocoa, oil palms, rubber, and for generations they are reaping the money.
The leadership of the state has been unable to use the free oil money that comes here to establish the Benue of our dream. Rather, they use this money for themselves, believing that it will come again. Policies are not done in such a way that you will be empowered. Are you surprised that if there were any industries at all in the 45 year-old history of Benue State, there is none now? Are you surprised, that if there was any industry at all in the name of Benue State, it now belongs to someone else? There is something wrong. Somebody has missed the vision somewhere, to get all for himself.
Sometimes you look at it and you don’t want to blame them so much because the society is getting more and more complex. So, it takes a bit of intelligence to know what is going on in society. It takes some understanding to know that this society is not as simplistic as it used to be. Before now, the society was straight forward. It was either federal troops against the Igbo or other clear cut battle lines. Today, there is no clear cut battle line. Are you fighting the Fulani herdsmen? Are you fighting bandits? Are you fighting Boko Haram? It is jumbled up. It is a much more complex society.
It takes somebody with brains to go beyond these complexities to know how to solve the problems. Are you surprised that our governor has been isolated, even though he is not the only person who has been bombarded by the herdsmen? The others are smart enough; they are fighting in groups: South-East governors; South-South governors; North-East governors. They have a strategy. Now, they push you to go and talk and then you are isolated and your state is being punished. And they are busy clapping for you – that is our saviour. It takes some intelligence to know the complex nature of this society. And if you comment, they tell you that you are being sponsored by Fulani people. It doesn’t make sense. We have to move and for us to move, we have to think. It’s a more complex society; it is now a cosmopolitan society. We are living with 35 other states and a federal capital territory. If you become a pariah state, 35 states are going ahead and they will leave you behind.