Senator Joel Ikenya is a former state and federal lawmaker. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the former Minister of Labour and Productivity states that in spite of the rancorous APC primaries in Taraba and other states, the party is still the party to beat come 2019 elections.
Most people in Taraba state thought you will emerge as the APC gubernatorial candidate in the just concluded primaries. What actually played out?
I didn’t lost out. There was a manipulation, it was a daylight robbery and steps have been taken to make things right. The national secretariat sent us the presiding officer in the name of Senator Emmanuel Dangana. He assured us of a level playing ground, but later in the night, we heard that he didn’t issue us the original result sheets, that he gave us a photocopy endorsed by him. Innocently, our people went out for the primaries and in the southern part of Taraba, where we have Ibi, Takum, Usa and the rest except for Donga, where there was no primaries, the primaries were conducted. Results were taken to Jalingo even though there was lot of crises in the northern part of the state during the primaries, but the results were brought to the state capital. In a normal circumstance, the returning officer is supposed to call all the security men and aspirants’ agents to do the collation but unfortunately that was not done. Instead he did it in his bedroom, he will come out from his bedroom and call whoever he wants to see and refused to see those who were not part of the deal. In my zone, especially Gashaka and Kurmi, I won in those places overwhelmingly. I precisely had 30,000 votes, which all my agents saw and collated but the next morning we were informed that the whole state had only 11,000 votes. Even the presiding officers that were posted by the party were also shocked. My agents gave me the result of various local governments and most of these officers are credible men who have integrity.
Have you reported your observations to the APC secretariat?
Yes I have done that. I wrote a petition and told them of the danger the rigging portend for the party in Taraba state and the former acting governor, who is desperate and thinks money is everything. I believe you can play decent politics even though money is necessary. The good thing is that the national chairman has set up a national appeal panel, which consist of credible people and I am sure justice will be served. These things have to be resolved not just in my favour alone but so that the party can move ahead. The people sent to us were wearing sheep cloths but they were actually lions, sent there to destroy the party. I am beginning to think they were PDP agents sent to destabilize the APC in the state so that PDP can have an easy ride else no right thinking party faithful will do what they did. The same thing played out during the House of Assembly primary elections. Before the agents could arrived at the collation center, the returning officers have left the state, nobody collected the result. The man Senator Dangana has destroyed APC in Taraba state. The national leadership must act fast to save the party or else we will lose the state again to PDP.
With what happened at the primaries, do you still have faith in the APC as a party?
I have faith in APC. I have left PDP for good and it was because of impunity. I want to be in a party that is fair and transparent. I also believe the National Working Committee has the capacity to resolve these problems.
There are cases of injustice in some states too and there are fears that this could affect the chances of the party in the general elections. Do you share such view?
Party issues are local and it can be solved locally. The national level can also resolve the crises like the case in Taraba state, which is a case of desperation. Everybody knows APC is the party to beat. Eleven of us bought forms including Aisha Alhassan, who left. If the primaries were done in a transparent manner and everybody given a level playing ground, we won’t have these problem. So other states have their peculiar problems that is not the same like our own.
Not a few now believe that the APC has started the trend of impunity, rigging and imposition of candidates, which was what cost the PDP the elections in 2015. Do you share this view?
In 2015 elections, APC had transparent elections and what is happening now is normal. It happened during the PDP days where two days to the elections, your name will be removed and another replaced with it. I was a victim. I won the primaries and my name was removed. I took the party to court and I was even expelled for taking the party to court but I got my mandate back. So what is happening now in APC is not new to us. The unfortunate thing is that, it is happening close to the elections. These issues need to be tackled decisively. Some of these people causing these crises in Taraba cannot win elections in their wards. So the ticket given to them is like Zimbabwe Dollars that has no value. If we are not careful, it will affect the chances of the party in some states. The good thing is that, there are many parties that one can join.
It’s a common knowledge that Taraba state is divided along ethnic and religious lines. Do you think this has anything to do with the outcome of the primaries?
Taraba has more than fifty tribe and truly religious has been a factor but zoning has been playing a vital role to stabilize leadership in the state. NYAME won in 1992 and when democracy was restored in 1999, Nyame won again and he stayed for 8years. It means the northern part of the state has done 10years and that is where this desperado, sani Danladi is coming from today. Danbaba took over because he was from the central and did 8years. In2007, some people from the southern zone run against him but lost because it was zone to the central. In 2011, I decide to run against the zoning agreement and lost because the state adhere strictly to it. So zoning has been entrenched in Taraba. The southern side is on it first term and that is why I contested because I am from that zone.
PDP has been in control of the state since 1999. What are the chances of the APC in the forthcoming elections?
That is one of the factors that we want people to understand. Since the creation of Taraba and return to democracy in 1999, the PDP has been in control and to remove them, you must do the right thing else your ticket won’t have any value. In the southern part of Taraba state, given the opportunity, the people will chose the best. I want us to take the advantage of the things the Buhari administration has done for the state and vote for the APC. The Mambilla hydro power project, which has been on the table of every successive government has been kick started. And this is because of the political will of the president else it would have been there for years.
Taraba state is one of those effected by suspected herdsmen attacks and communal clashes. What is the main cause of these killings?
The killing are unnecessary and some of these Fulani are not the real Fulani we know. Some of us grew up with them and know the real ones from the fake ones. So these ones Killing people are not the ones we used to know. They are mercenaries brought into the state to do that. I think the Federal Government should take drastic action. This is not about grazing because we have ranching in the state. In places like the Mambilla, you will see the herdsmen grazing in particular places but for some to come and attack communities is not normal. We have to stop the killings and restrict cattle movement. Cattle rearing and faming are both commercial ventures. These things have been politicalized, we need to look at it critically and tackle it as a major problem. Some of the people are talking about the lands. Government must secure these lands and ensure that both Fulani and farmers are protected. We know security is the responsibly of everybody but government must have the political will to do the right thing.
Coming back to you, if the primaries’ crisis is not resolved in your favour, will you still remained in the APC?
I want to say that, I will remain in APC, but I won’t pre-empt the party leadership’s decision because I am confident that they will work things out to favour all of us. Besides, it is not about me, I cannot just take any decision alone because I have people that are supporting me, people who asked me to represent them. So I will have to consult them to know our next move. Everyone hates injustice.
Taraba state is close to former Vice President Abubakar Atiku. Don’t you think that his emergence as the PDP presidential flag bearer could change the narrative in your state?
Yes, and I think it is something the APC leadership must take into consideration. Atiku has always contributed to whoever emerged as governor in Taraba state and if the APC does not do the right thing, I am afraid that PDP will have a very easy ride again.
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