EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: There Is No Opposition Party In Taraba State–PDP Chairman

By Ikenga Chronicles June 14, 2017

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: There Is No Opposition Party In Taraba State–PDP Chairman

Honourable Victor Bala Kona is the Chairman, Taraba State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this exclusive interview with Ikenga Chronicles, he talks about the challenges faced by the Taraba State Governor,  Arc. Darius Ishaku, his achievements, the extent of opposition in the state, and his view on “Judicial Politicking”

 Excerpts:

Ikenga: PDP is faced with leadership crisis. Which of the camps do you belong to?

Hon. Kona: No true party member will like to associate himself with any faction. Rather than identify with any of the two factions, he will prefer dialogue so as to harmonize the party to remain as one family. As a bona fide party member and chairman of the party in Taraba State, I am personally not happy with the leadership crisis we have found ourselves in. We lost the presidential election in 2015 after 16 years of being in power. The question of whether I belong to any faction is not the issue. The issue that bothers me most is how we can quickly begin a genuine reconciliation process so that we can have a harmonized and balanced leadership. Crisis does not help matters and I believe that very soon, PDP will resolve its internal crisis. As you can see in Taraba State, we do not have any faction in PDP because we are members of one family. This is so because of the way I conduct and manage the affairs of the party, carrying everybody along and giving everyone a sense of belonging. So, I am not a member of any faction and I believe in dialogue and political solution to the present crisis.

Ikenga: What do you make of the Governor Dickson Seriake committee’s report?

Hon. Kona: You see, that committee has done its job, but we have not been briefed because the Seriake committee was set up by the former President who is the leader of the party. I believe that since they are in court now, by the time they are through with the court processes, things will take their normal shape. This is so because one is insisting that he is still the leader while the other is saying he is the leader. So, with that kind of disagreement, political solution would have been the best option for me. For the fact that they are still in court, nobody can predict the ruling of the court. We have to wait for what the court will say.

Ikenga: We observed that key party stakeholders in Taraba State are not happy with certain happenings in your party. Are you aware of that?

Hon. Kona: Who are these key party stakeholders in the state that are not happy and what is the issue? What are they complaining about?

Ikenga: Some prominent members of your party have decamped to the APC in the southern Senatorial zone, with a sizeable number of supporters. People like Joel Ikenya, Josiah Kente, the former speaker, and DSK who first went to SDP and later to APC. Meanwhile, many of your party chieftains in the state are said to be engaged in a cold war with the party and government. Are you not bothered about all these negative happenings?

Hon. Kona: I truly appreciate your asking this important question. I say important because I now have the opportunity to explain in detail and clear that notion in your mind. A person like Joel Ikenya is not a steady politician. He is used to running from party A, to party B and party C. Whenever he is nursing an ambition for an office and does not realize that ambition, the next thing he does is to decamp to another party. We don’t have opposition in Taraba. Instead, the likes of Joel Ikenya are those that constitute themselves into opposition. Under the PDP, he was elected a member of the State Assembly, House of Representatives and later Senator.

By 2011 he wanted to contest the governorship of the state against former Governor Suntai, but when he saw that it was not feasible, he decamped to pick the ticket of the defunct AC and contested against Governor Suntai. He did not win but came third, not even second. By 2013, he came and begged to return to PDP. We accepted him back and he was later appointed Minister. Before we lost the presidential election, he was with us in the PDP throughout the electioneering campaigns in 2015 and contributed his quota in our fight for the Presidency. But when he saw that we lost the presidential election, he shifted. We understand that some prominent persons in the APC federal government promised him that in the next cabinet reshufflement, the incumbent minister will be removed and he will be made a minister to replace her and that by 2019, he can contest the governorship of the state under the APC. So, that was why he left the PDP for APC. He left because of his personal ambition and not because he was offended by the PDP. Like I said earlier, he has always been like that. He has only repeated what he normally does and I am assuring you that he will return to the party again. Just keep watching and be in touch, even you will say I told you this. The other times he left we told people that he would return but a few believed us. Not long after, he returned begging to be received. What he has gone to look for in APC now, if he fails to get it, you will see him back home. And we are ready to accept him any time he returns. Have you ever disowned your child? Have you ever seen a father closing the family house from any member of his family?

Ikenga: Are you saying Joel Ikenya is a political prodigal child?

Hon. Kona: Yes, he is a political prodigal son. More so, he has benefitted from the PDP. All the profile he has, he acquired in PDP. Minister, Senator, House of Reps member and House of Assembly, he got all from PDP. Now he has gone to APC. We wish him goodluck, but my fear for him is for history not to repeat itself. But all the indications on ground show that history will repeat itself.

As for Josiah Kente, before the 2015 election, he decamped to APC. He did not decamp recently. Immediately after the November 2015 Supreme Court judgement that removed Garba Umar (aka UTC) from office, Josiah Kente decamped to APC. Kente was not with us during the 2015 elections and we did not even feel his absence at all. Josiah was politically insignificant because we won Wukari in a landslide without him. So, I want to correct you, he was not with us before or during the 2015 elections. He was not part of the victory we recorded in 2015.

You also spoke of David Kente. It is the same thing. Immediately David Kente lost out in the governorship nomination battle, he went straight and obtained the SDP ticket and contested against us. So, I don’t see what you are saying as a factor to worry about. By the grace of God PDP will always win elections without their support. But if they are willing to bring in their support, they are welcome. We don’t sack or chase people away, we are accommodating. I see indications that Ikenya will return because what he is eyeing in APC, only the act of God, though I am not God, but he will not realize it.

On the cold war, I want to make it abundantly clear to you that there is nothing like that. Or do you have any record as to that? We don’t have wrangling in the state. However, if some members feel aggrieved, they have not informed me as their state chairman and honestly I am not aware. They have not come out openly to say it. But let me tell you, we daily receive APC members decamping to our party. Two hours ago, I received APC ward chairmen of Ardo-Kola local government back to the party. In Gembu, Sardauna Local Government Area, six months ago the APC chairman and the State secretary decamped to PDP. I mean Sardauna local government where we fought a tough battle in the 2015 election. The governor has graciously appointed him Special Adviser and the other was appointed SSA to the governor on information. You saw the result of the last local government elections. The people of Taraba demonstrated their voluntary preference of the PDP over the APC. They told the whole world that their confidence in the PDP is not something to compromise.

Ikenga: Many members of PDP complain bitterly that the party is not taking care of them as foot soldiers. Some of them even compare Danbaba Suntai with Ishaku. They claim Darius Ishaku does not know if they exist. That their case is made worst whenever the electorate approach them for help and they are unable to assist.

Hon. Kona: (Laughter) I heard your question but I have not heard it from any party member because nobody has said so to me. The idea of governance in a democratic system is to deliver dividends of democracy to the people. Physically, you know Taraba very well and I mean the 16 local governments because you were here during the swearing-in. Now, you saw for yourself the level of development in the state before he assumed office after winning the election. So I believe you must have seen all the things Governor Darius Ishaku has done in the past two years. Consciously or unconsciously, by virtue of what you have seen on ground, you have become one of the witnesses of Governor Ishaku’s achievements especially if you are to honestly report what you saw.

Having said this, let me list a few. Before, if you were coming to Taraba State by air you always landed at Yola airport. Now you can fly directly to Jalingo town thereby saving you the trouble of travelling three hours on that very bad federal road to Jalingo. If you are going to Kaduna on Monday, Wednesday or Friday, you can just drive for 20 minutes from the town to Jalingo Airport. From there you catch your flight to Abuja and from there, under two hours, you can be in the comfort of your home in Kaduna. The flight is facilitated by Governor Darius Ishaku. Two, take a look at the new road networks in the town. See also the progress of work recorded on the Bali–Gashaka–Mambilla Road. Then, also see the Jalingo–Kona Road being dualized by the governor and it is near completion. We now enjoy significant peace in the state. Before now, nobody could sleep with two eyes closed for fear of the unknown. But now people sleep with both eyes closed even snoring in their sleep. He has with the help of God Almighty brought about peace in the state.

From the day he assumed office, he has been preaching peace and working for the attainment of same. His actions indicate that he is a lover of peace. He evaluates his policies and programmes to ensure that they are capable of engendering peace. He repeatedly drummed it into the ears of all traditional rulers and council chairmen that they must ensure that they work for peace. He has warned that any of them who does anything capable of breaching the peace in the state will have himself to blame. He kept saying, “Give me peace and I will give you development”. Tarabans got the message and are now giving him peace so that he could give development.

The truth is that he is delivering dividends of democracy to the people. Don’t forget that Arc. Darius Ishaku became governor of Taraba at a time the nation is experiencing a recession. He came on the scene when states are getting peanuts as bailouts. If you are indebted to the sum of N100 billion and you are collecting N3.5 billion, that is peanut. The state is indebted to over N100 billion and is getting a bailout package of N3.5 billion. What will N3.5 billion do to a state indebted to the tune of over N100 billion? That amount has only reduced the debt burden of the state, it is not a relief. If you want to give the state a relief, you should be able to give it at least N50 billion. It is only then that you can say the state is relieved of half of its total debt burden. With the N50 billion relief a governor can carry on with the remaining liabilities and still function minimally.

Two, the Paris Club refund release to the governors is the same as the debts. Governor Darius Ishaku only inherited these problems, not that he created them. He inherited these debts from previous administrations in the state. So what magic can he perform especially with the little resources at his disposal? The Internally Generated Revenue of the state is N2 million. So, politicians making such complain should ask themselves, what the Suntai administration’s monthly allocation was and also what the value of the naira to the dollar was. They used to get excess crude releases but today oil prices globally, have drastically fallen. Governor Darius Ishaku only heard of excess crude release but it is not there for him now. Where do they expect him to get money when it is not available? I believe that if Governor Ishaku had been receiving what the Suntai administration was receiving, he would have performed far more than he has.

Notwithstanding the meager resources he is getting, he has been trying to take the state to the Promised Land. People should assess him by the current economic realities on ground and not by what was obtainable during former Governor Suntai’s tenure. People should not pretend as if we do not know that the country is in a recession and if the country is in recession, Taraba State is not an exception. In fact, he deserves commendation. Many states today owe their workers ten to 20 months salaries, but we do not owe workers salary in Taraba and you know this state is mainly a civil servant state without industries. There used to be thousands of ghost workers consuming a greater part of the state’s resources in the Primary Education Board as well as in the Local Governments staff pay roll. How do you ascertain the total number of genuine staff if government did not take the appropriate measure being taken now? With this exercise, a lot of money is being saved. So, those complaints are personal.

Ikenga: What do you mean by the complaints are personal?

Hon. Kona: When you say you are looking for welfare package for yourself, it is a personal complain. But when you say the governor has not provided water for the people or he is not constructing roads, that shows they are talking on behalf of the people and not for themselves as individuals. But they complain because of themselves; yet they are enjoying regular salaries. Those political appointees are enjoying their monthly salaries. And so I want to beg them to understand the difference between yesterday and today.

Ikenga: Some members of your party say the governor means well for the state, but they complain he is too slow; that his snail-pace will create campaign issues for them in 2019 because he would not have achieved much.

Hon. Kona: My brother, slow and steady movement gives rise to victory. I want you to take note of the profile of the governor, his wealth of experience and his age. We do not expect him to make avoidable mistakes at his age after acquiring the experiences he has. If somebody is slow in making commitment, then he is being careful, he is a gentleman. If a leader rushes to make promises, he is no longer a leader because he will definitely make promises beyond his ability to redeem. Once he makes promises he is unable to keep, it makes him lose people’s respect. Whatever decision he wants to make in terms of the provision of infrastructure, for instance, he has to do so taking into consideration the resources he has. He should not just commit the state into projects anyhow which will eventually be abandoned.

I give you an example. He awarded the contract for the rehabilitation of General Hospital, Wukari, in the Southern zone, and he has earmarked Bambur in Karim and Gembu in Sardauna Local Governments Areas in the North and Central zones respectively. He has started Wukari and work is in progress. He has promised that soon he will go to Karim and to Bambur General Hospital. So the snail-pace movement they are accusing him of is their opinion. But any right thinking leader who wants to deliver dividends of democracy to his people and be victorious has to take his time because committing government funds arbitrarily means you are signing your death warrant too.

With his wealth of experience, the governor ought to control many things. It is because he employs the principle of checks that is why people are accusing him of being slow. Has he not been achieving his goal with the snail-pace movement? They should allow him take his time. I will be a happy man if Arc. Darius Ishaku finishes his eight years successfully and is not later invited by any anti-graft agency for any wrong doing.

Most governors today have cases with anti-graft agencies because they succumbed to peoples’ pressure and hastily took many decisions without proper evaluation and lack of observance of due procedure. Just imagine what happened to Bala Ngilari, the former governor of Adamawa State. He did not commit any fraud, but only violated the Procurement Act. Now, see where it landed him. Is that what they want Arc. Ishaku to do so that after leaving office those mistakes will be counted against him? I think the idea of good governance is that when he might have left office after eight years, he should retire home and live peacefully with his family. I am advising my governor to do what he believes is good to stay out of trouble tomorrow.

Ikenga: It is generally believed that there exists poor relationship between the governor and members of the National Assembly. Some are even fingering you for fueling the crisis. What is your response to that?

Hon. Kona: I am not aware of any soured relationship between the governor and members of the National Assembly from the state. Recently, they were here and they accompanied him to Kaduna to condole the family of late Chanchangi. None of them has granted interview to the press to say that they have soured relationship with the governor. How will I know that such exists? So disregard that as rumour coming from the figment of people’s imagination.

Ikenga: So you are simply saying that you have no hand in the crisis?

Hon. Kona: When the problem is not even there and the governor is an adult and a focused leader, do you think anybody will influence him negatively? What I know about the governor is that he is a good man. If your hands are clean, you will be on the same page with him. If you are loyal, you will be on the same page with him. He does not like deceit and mischief. But if you are mischievous and disloyal, you cannot be on the same page with the governor. So that is all I can tell you. I want to tell you that I am not aware of any poor relationship between the governor and members of the National Assembly from the state.

Ikenga: What is your view of the opposition in Taraba State?

There is no opposition in Taraba State. I told you earlier that the only opposition we have in Taraba State involves members of the PDP who feel aggrieved for not getting what they wanted from the PDP and believe that if they go to the APC, they will be settled there. I can count for you the number of opposition we have had from 1999 to date.

Engr. Ahmed Yusuf left PDP and took the ticket of ACN because he wanted to be governor, but he lost. He repeated same in 2011 and lost just like Ikenya. Senator Aisha Alhassan took our mandate to APC. I told you in an interview before the election that all our stolen mandates that were taken to the APC will be restored. In the 2015 senatorial election, APC lost in the Northern zone. That zone, and indeed the entire state, has been consistently PDP since 1999. This is a traditional PDP state. She contested the governorship of the state and lost.

Meanwhile, we reclaimed our mandate by electing the former acting governor, Senator Sani Abubakar Danladi. The same thing happened with Senator Tutare of the Central zone who for whatever reason took our mandate to another party but we reclaimed it in 2015 with the election of Senator Bashir Marafa although we unfortunately lost it in the court. But let me quickly add here that I personally don’t regard any person who wins election cases at the tribunal as victory coming from the people. I don’t consider it a mandate freely given by the people. This is because many election cases won in the court are won on technical grounds and not because the winner in court was truly elected by the people. Court does not allocate votes but only settles dispute and gives justice to who it is due.

Ikenga: What do you mean here by justice?

Hon. Kona: What is the name of the court? Court is a temple of justice.

Ikenga: So was it not justice that Senator Yusuf A. Yusuf got over your members?

Hon. Kona: Politically, if you did not win in the field, you lost. If somebody won, was sworn-in and later you went to the election tribunal to get the mandate using the court, that is no longer politics but judicial politicking. Probably his lawyer did not make his presentation well in the court and your lawyer took advantage of that technically. You cannot tell me you have the peoples’ mandate. You know it yourself that the people of the Senatorial zone did not give you their mandate to represent them. That his lawyer could not adequately discharge his legal duties does not remove the fact that he actually won the election. Politically you are not the original holder of the mandate freely given by the people.

For instance, imagine the sad thing that would have happened to our state and the governor. Our governor won the election here but Senator Aisha took him to the Election Petition Tribunal. The tribunal in its judgement said PDP actually won that election but that it was all wasted votes because according to the tribunal, PDP went to the election without a candidate. Thank God that the Nigerian judicial system provides for appellate trials else the Election Petition Tribunal would have imposed on the people of Taraba a governor they did not elect. That is the picture I am trying to paint. The Appeal Court said to the judges at the Election Petition Tribunal that they were wrong and that they were either naïve or acted in mischief. They set aside the ruling. How could the Election Petition Tribunal members say the mandate people of Taraba freely gave Arc. Darius Ishaku was all wasted and then proceeded to award the office of the governor to the APC gubernatorial candidate? If not for the intervention of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, only God knows what would have befallen this state as a result of that mischievous ruling.

So that is why I personally do not regard anybody who claims to hold an electoral mandate given to him by the court as a true winner of a contest. As for the House of Reps election which was won by a member of APGA, it was a protest vote by my PDP members who felt aggrieved and decided to give the APGA candidate the win. APGA is a party that has no structure or office in Taraba State, but it won as a result of protest votes. In Taraba we have a family structure in PDP. If in this Taraba PDP family structure we decide to vote for party XYZ, that party will win because since 1999 we have been PDP all the way. We have only one PDP family structure in this state. If you deviate from the family structure and go anywhere, you will not make it. This is because if the family structure says it won’t vote a particular candidate like they did in the case of the Ibi/Wukari federal constituency, you won’t win. Have you ever seen a child that disowned his family succeed?

The opposition you are seeing, Aisha, AA Ibrahim, Ikenya and the rest are beneficiaries of the PDP tradition. How can a son leave his family and decide to stage a war against his family and still expect to win? That is why I emphatically said there is no opposition in Taraba State. All the opposition in Taraba are members of the PDP family who often feel aggrieved because they did not get what they want even after benefitting earlier from the PDP. We thank God because they have been failing and losing their war against the big family which made them who they are presently. They often leave with the family curse, whether pronounced or not that is why they fail and they will continue to fail.

Ikenga: How would you respond to allegations that despite the over N60 billion allocations the state has so far received, there is nothing happening in the state?

Hon. Kona: I am not in government and by that I mean I am not a government functionary so I don’t know how much the government earns. But I know that story is baseless. Whoever is making that allegation should provide records to back up his story. I know that the government is performing creditably. The government has and it shall continue to deliver dividends of democracy to the people. I told you from the beginning to take a careful look at the development the government is providing in the state despite the meager resources at the disposal of the governor. Where will he get that kind of money? We are in recession. Anybody saying that is wrong.

I think when they say N60 billion, they must be talking cumulatively.

If the person saying that is a civil servant, a pensioner or a business man cumulatively how much is he earning? It is baseless. If you are saying the government got N60 billion, what was the budget of the state in the last two years? To me that is a baseless accusation. You should disregard it. These are all the works of a few mischief makers and blackmailers who do not wish the state well. They tell their cheap lies to the gullible and if you were one of the cheap journalists in town, you will fall for it and just carry the story without verifying. Thank God you are not like that, you came to verify.

An overwhelming majority of the masses of Taraba State reposed their confidence in Arc. Darius Dickson Ishaku and therefore gave him their mandate freely to govern them. I want to assure you that the confidence has not been eroded and Governor Ishaku is working hard to sustain it. We are proud, my party is proud to have given him our ticket. I make bold to tell you that if the ticket was given to any other person, we would have lost the state or by now we certainly would have been terribly disappointed especially in times of recession such as this.

Ikenga: What appeal would you make to the people of Taraba concerning this administration?

Hon. Kona: I want to appeal to Tarabans to be patient. Let us also be appreciative of the governor’s honest efforts at developing the state given the meager resources at his disposal. We should appreciate his judicious management and deployment of scarce resources to priority projects. We should thank God for giving us a governor who loves peace and is genuinely working for it. We know what is happening in other states of the federation, particularly in the north, where governors are not at peace with citizens and they don’t pay salaries regularly. Our governor is governor to all the people of Taraba State. Irrespective of whether you are PDP, APC, AGPA or SDP he does not show preferential treatment, he treats us equally as citizens. And he is not religiously biased. That is the type of leader Nigeria needs. Let me conclude this way. Any governor that does not serve out two terms in office, you hardly can assess or fault him. Tarabans should assess and fault Governor Darius Ishaku after six years in office.

Ikenga: Normally you assess the performance of a governor or president on how he has performed in his first term before you give him another term. Is that not how it should be?

Hon. Kona: I agree with you, but you can imagine the litigation and distractions he faced and the huge debt burden he inherited. There is also the issue of the meager resources the state receives, the poor internal revenue base of the state and the complex security challenges he inherited. Today, peace has returned to the state. He has been consistent in the payment of staff salaries. Also the governor is blocking all the leakages, paying off the debts he inherited, and is providing citizens with dividends of democracy. The truth is that he deserves commendation. That is why I am begging the people of Taraba State to appreciate, understand and vote for him in 2019, so that he can continue with the good work he is doing. I know he will do better especially when the situation improves.

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