Senator Joseph Waku needs no introduction. Though he has a caustic tongue, he doesn’t speak with both sides of his mouth. No matter whose horse is gored, he would always call a spade a spade. For that reason, many people appreciate his nuisance value. In this interview, the 68-year old Benue-born politician and businessman unfolds the reason why he is interested in the governorship contest, promising to fight the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to a standstill for its alleged imposition of consensus candidate on other aspirants. Excerpts:
Some governorship aspirants, including you, have kicked against the candidate of your party for the 2015 general election. What is your grouse?
Yes, you used the right word. Most of us decide to dissociate ourselves from the so-called consensus candidate because there was no consensus. Even among ourselves, we never sat to decide on a consensus let alone bringing somebody who never participated in the primaries. He is not even a member of our party. The guy did not participate in the APC primaries. He participated in the PDP primaries held on December 8 and lost. Our primary was scheduled for December 4 and shifted to 5. If we had finished our primary in APC by the time he lost out in PDP, he perhaps would have gone for the Labour party or any of the mushroom parties to pick their ticket. So, the issue of being our candidate does not arise. How long has he been in the party? At what point did he buy the form when the screening had already been concluded and sales of form closed. Somebody smuggled him in and that is Senator George Akume. We thought it is not right. We were five; including Akume’s Permanent Secretary who later decided to chicken out because Akume threatened him. So, four of us are on now. We came in to Abuja to lay our complaints because we believe the national secretariat will listen to us to save APC in Bebue State. Otherwise, APC in Benue State will not have a candidate because there is no primary in the state. And the law says a gubernatorial candidate shall emerge through the primaries and in this case there is no primary. If there is going to be a consensus candidate, he must be among ourselves. Even if there is a consensus agreement, there must be an affirmation witnessed by the electoral body, police and the SSS. We can no longer tolerate impunity of one person who claims to be financing the party. This party belongs to all of us. As we speak today, APC has no governorship candidate for Benue State because of court injunction. And when the court injunction is lifted, Senator Akume who called himself the leader of the party frustrated the process of concluding primaries because he had an agenda and his agenda was to sell the party to somebody who was an Acting Minister for Aviation. His impunity led to several defections in the party.
Are you saying that the national headquarters did not listen to your complaints before you went to court?
For some activities of some national officers, we don’t want to trust them. We don’t want to take things for granted. We want to protect the party from being run as a private company of an individual.
Do you realise the enormous of challenges in your hand if you have to govern Benue State because that is a state where salaries of teachers are being owned?
That is why we need somebody who knows the policies and manifestos of our party. That is why we need somebody who is conversant with the thinking and working of the party. There are certain loans that have been taken by the current government. If I am elected as governor of APC, I will not run a one-man government. There will be a committee set up to verify those loans that are taken to determine whether they are really beneficial to the state and the people. Definitely, the state is not going to be strangled because somebody took a very huge loan. We will work on the Internally Generated Revenue so as to cater for some services.
Why do you want executive power instead of legislative experience you are already familiar with?
I agree with you that experience matters in this job. But that is why I can do the two having gained experience from not just being a one-time senator, but also as one time member of the state house of assembly. Again, experience I have acquired as a successful businessman can be transmitted into governance rather than those who have no kitchen to manage and yet they want to govern the state.
If the party leadership suggests idea of consensus candidate, would you accept consensus arrangement?
Genuinely, of course. Whoever they choose, we would have no objection but to support. It is not all about me; it is about the due process and integrity of the people. If I am chosen as a consensus candidate, so be it. If another person’ is chosen, I will fall in line to work for the success of the party. It is not about Senator Waku.
Do you know that age is already becoming a very strong factor in determining who leads a state?
It depends on where you are coming from. You can have a 10-year old person who wants to rule the state. You can have a 100-year old man who wants to rule the state. It depends on age bracket you are talking about.
If you have to put age into consideration, do you think you have all it takes to govern the state?
I don’t know what age you are referring to. Is it 80, 90 or 100?
You know your age; I don’t know.
At 68, I will govern the state with the fear of God. I will govern the state with less anxiety. I will govern the state without the desire to be this or to be that. I have done all those things. All I want is to render service at the tail end of my journey. What do I need now that I have not got? If I have not built house at my age, then God has made it impossible for me to have a house. I can’t be struggling to build a new house now at this age. Where am I taking it to? This is the correct age to govern a state. I will not have time to go to disco dancing all night. I have done all the travels in my life. So, I will concentrate to make a difference. You can see the difference in the states being controlled by advanced age people except a few states where the younger generation leads well.
How did Benue State find itself in the state it found itself today not being able to pay salaries of teachers and civil servants?
If you bring somebody who is well experienced with age advantage, he will not allow his children to be suffering while he flies in and out of the country without bothering about what is happening to the people. Benue is such an unfortunate state and that is why I offered myself to serve and I know I will do better. I also know that if I am denied to serve my people, it is my people that will regret, not me.
Don’t you think that if this situation is not well managed, APC may not achieve the objective of bringing about the change you are talking about?
From the look of things, if the national secretariat does not intervene in this matter, we may end up not having a candidate. So, the end may be jeopardized because from what we found out, George Akume is the biggest saboteur of APC in Benue State. He is sabotaging the party for reasons best known to him. In fact, we are made to believe that he is working against the party.
But that is left to the national secretariat of the party to take the necessary disciplinary action so as to save the situation.
And do you think APC has enough strong hold in Benue to win governorship election?
If there is genuine and acceptable candidate, it is a walk over. In 2011 when we just brought ACN for three months, nobody can say our performance was abysmal, let alone now that we have seen too many lapses of the ruling PDP administration in the state. Civil servants are not paid, teachers are on strike for several months, children have not gone back to school, hospitals are just mere consulting centres, nobody sleeps at home well because of security, no water to drink even though we have River Benue around us, no industries. Everything is in our favour, it is a matter of management of the party. We must ensure that a dictator in the party in the state is checked.
Are you mindful of the power of incumbency?
I have heard so much about the power of incumbency. Was there no power of incumbency in Imo State, in Nassarawa State, my next neighbor? This again depends on who you choose.
Gen Muhammadu Buhari has emerged the presidential candidate of your party, where do you go from here?
We are going for the election. He told everybody that he didn’t have money and that even if he had he won’t bribe anybody, Nigerians were happy and they clapped for him and gave him the ticket. Atiku spent 14 million dollars in one night. He gave each of the 7000 delegates 2000 dollars, he didn’t get it. This, of course, does not include accommodation, feeding and the aircraft he hired or chartered. He visited all state secretariats of the party donating this and that, yet he lost because it was a collective resolve of the people to say no.
The slogan of your party now is change.
(Cuts in). A positive change and also a counter change within the change. If a leader misbehaves, we will change him. So, change does not really mean chasing Goodluck away and sacking the PDP. Even within APC, change may become necessary. It is change for whoever is an impediment for good governance.
Looking at the enormity of the challenges confronting the nation, where do you see Nigeria after 2015 if the change you’ve so much talked about doesn’t come true?
Then, Nigeria is doomed. You will wake up one morning and you will not be happy to call yourself a Nigerian because we have a daft and Nigerians decide to keep a daft in government. Of course, they will pay a price.
How do you think Buhari will be able to tackle corruption even with the enormous goodwill and integrity he is bringing on board bearing in mind that the people surrounding him too also have their own innate tendencies?
When the head is rotten, the shoulder will not hold. Corruption is from leadership. If a leader corrupts himself, he has given absolute permit to the followership to be corrupt. When a leader is upright, there will be sanity. Petty stealing may continue, but massive corruption can no longer be there. Buhari was one time oil minister, he has no filling station let alone oil bloc. As we speak, Buhari has no plot in Abuja. That is integrity of a leader.