Development in whatever sense understood will continue to elude 44 year old Benue State of Nigeria unless and until the leadership recruitment pattern in that state is changed. This is what Dr Tivlumum Nyitse, a former Permanent Secretary, (Government House) turned academic is saying. The declaration which was not elaborated upon came at an extended conversation with Intervention last Sunday, the first time the interviewer, (Adagbo Onoja) and the interviewee would sit down to compare notes since each took a different direction from The Benue Community Concord where they both worked together in the late eighties. While the interviewee remained in Benue State, the interviewee moved to Jigawa State through a stint in Foreign Affairs.
Over well prepared Tuna salad and water for one and coffee for the other in an Abuja hotel Sunday, a long conversation ensured, the first part of which is published below while a second part follows in a day or so. In the longer part ahead, Dr Nyitse not only bares his mind on a select list of Benue leaders, he also comments on journalism in Nigeria today, the course he teaches at Bingham University in Karu, near Abuja. These are amongst other topical issues. Read on!
You just turned 60. How does it feel to be 60?
I feel good at 60. Most men at 60 have one debilitating ailment or the other. I had a surgery but I am fine. Everything God wanted for me I got them before I was 60. So, it has been wonderful
How has it been moving from journalism to the civil service and now to academia?
It has also been a wonderful experience. While growing up as a young boy, I aspired to just two things. First was being a university teacher while the second was to be a journalist. I loved the media world – reading the stuff. I started as a teacher, then a journalist. I had the best, from Community Concord to being General Editor in Concord before I was 30, a position in which I was covering seven states and I had no godfather in Concord Press. From the Concord Press, I was made Editor of The Sunday Voice and then to editing The Voice itself. You were there at Community Concord and the vision we all had about working for the people. In The Voice, that was also the vision of journalism I carried there, not journalism of ‘he said, he said’. I tried to take stories from the point of service to the people. I wasn’t editing The Voice as a Government newspaper and this was what got me into trouble.
What were the troubles?
We did a number of stories. One of them as far as I can remember was on Fertiliser. The government bought fertiliser but, in its wisdom, decided to give to the commissioners to distribute it. But most commissioners sold the fertilizers. I got the details, some of the receipts they issued, and we ran the story. After that, I was summoned along with the GM of the publishing company who is late now. He said I was not listening to him. I said I was not supposed to listen to him but to get what I needed from him to function. I think he panicked but Reverend Fr. Adasu who was then the governor asked , did this thing happen? I said yes and nobody could tell him it didn’t happen. So, he said what is the problem then? They couldn’t answer. I also got additional support from Sabastian Agbinda who was very powerful in Adasu’s government. He said anybody who has reservations about such stories should go and confront the editors and the editors would be punished only if the story was false.
There was another one that became a problem too and it was also on fertiliser. It had to do with Mrs Patricia Agada, the wife of the Deputy-Governor at the time who was also the First Lady because the governor had no wife. The First Lady’s Press Secretary sold the fertiliser given to her boss to distribute. She could not have done that without the nod but anyway, they sold the fertiliser. We wrote and published the story. Obviously following the instruction of the governor, the DG to the First Lady came to the office to protest but they could not go far.
There are some other such stories. I think at the end of the day, they decided to remove me. I wasn’t dismissed but posted as Managing Editor, (South). I refused to go to Lagos unless they gave me a house and a car. As they were not obliging that, I remained in Makurdi because going to Lagos would have meant doing so without accommodation.
I then decided to return to Concord. I spoke with Nsikak Essien who was the Editor and he was in approval of it. As I was preparing to do that, the Abacha coup occurred and I was invited to be the Chief Press Secretary to the military administrator who came to Benue State. I went on to become Caretaker Chairman of Gwer West Local Government Are, handing over in 1999, returned to the civil service, went back to school for graduate studies. While that was going on, I was appointed a Permanent Secretary until my retirement in 2014.
The civil service was not the career I sought but a matter of fate. In fact, before joining Community Concord, I was employed as Information Officer in 1987 but I declined because, on that job, you are somehow an appendage of someone permanently. It is therefore only a matter of providence that I ended up in the civil service.
Did it overwhelm you or the other way round?
I think my reportorial orientation helped me. The idea of deadline was helpful. I wasn’t bureaucratic. Files did not pile up on my desk and this idea that everything is impossible was not something anyone could link to me in my years there.
So, why is Benue State so underdeveloped, so much a shadow, especially when compared to a few others?
I think we lost it after Aper Aku and mainly because the civil service which is the key driver of development was neglected. Nobody can drive a leader’s ambition more than the civil service but, today, the civil service is like the state itself – it has dried up. Aku’s roadmap is still there but there is no civil service to drive it unlike under Aku when Toryima Orga, one individual civil servant drove the vision – the industries and all that which Aku was able to put in place. Aku never played politics with the civil service on any disturbing scale. Promotions were properly done and there wasn’t patronage and sidelining and all that.
There must be a grand explanation for this
Well, that is true. I think that, apart from the military governors who came from nowhere as it were, I mean nobody outside the military influenced their appointment or posting, the leadership recruitment pattern in Benue State is faulty. Unless and until that is changed, nothing will happen. Until this is sorted out, development will elude Benue.
Can you break this argument down?
You see, I worked closely with many governors. As a reporter, I covered most of the military governors. I toured Benue State with all these people. Then I was press secretary and I left as Permanent Secretary, Government House. I was there for seven years. So, I can claim to know what is wrong. I am not putting any individual on the spot but it was after seeing all these that I decided to seek the opportunity of governing Benue because I could see that I would have done things differently with the blueprint that I had already developed on the basis of what I had been opportune to see.
What is the number one item on your blueprint by which you might have remade Benue State?
Vocational and technical education!
How would that have worked out?
The problem in Benue State is to reduce the high degree of dependency. If we can empower certain category of people to do things by themselves, we would have struck the chord. If you are talking about giving them loans, it is a waste of time and money, a ruse. Rather than doing that, let those who may not necessarily go to the university acquire vocational and technical education and be in a position to be doing things by themselves. Many in that category would not even strive to go to the university if there are befitting centres for that category of training. And through that kind of training, you would have genuinely addressed unemployment, empowered the real youths, you would have achieved income stability at that level and you would have laid the foundation for innovation and industrialisation.
But this strategy was not Aku’s strategy, Aku whom you praised
Aku’s own has worked and we have seen what he achieved. Mine has not got the opportunity to work. So, you can’t say that yet.
Yea but why did the governors who came after Aku neither replicated Aku nor bring up anything novel to be known for?
That is why I said I am not putting anyone on the spot. Each one who came had his own vision. Each person tried to pursue his own vision. This is the vision I had if I got the opportunity.
Where do you put leadership, qualitative leadership in the explanation of Benue’s backwardness when matched onto the Aku model?
I put Aku up because he has become the standard, the one to beat or the one no one has been able to beat in terms of quality governance.
Would an Idoma governor of Benue State resolve the leadership recruitment crisis you are talking about?
If an Idoma governor of Benue State comes the way others have come, it will resolve nothing. For me, it is not even about Idoma or Tiv governor. I am talking about a governor of Benue State who should be able to say this is what this particular place in the state needs, what that particular place needs. This is not to say I do not reckon with the Idoma governor issue. If the Idoma want to produce a governor of the state, they will produce one although I am not sure it is something they can do by being angry or accusing others. It is an achievable objective but not through advocacy. It can only come through persuasion and negotiation because of the way we are which is the numerical imbalance. In a game of numbers, if you are seeking to extract a concession, then you have to convince people. You have to bring out people , capable people which they have. But back to the main issue you raised, the problem of pattern of leadership recruitment will not be resolved by the ethnic identity of the governor.