Mr. Joseph Okponya Okanga, member, Benue State House of Assembly and House Committee Chairman on Health and Human Services, is representing Oju 11 state constituency of Benue State. In this interview with SIMPLE IKEM, he spoke on development of his constituency and Governor Samuel Ortom’s second term administration, among other issues.
TNE: How do you feel being the representative of Oju 2 Constituency of the 9th Benue House of Assembly?
I feel highly excited and humbled. I also feel a sense of responsibility giving to me by my constituents. I hope by the special grace of God, I will not let them down.
TNE: What are the problems of your constituents that made you vie for the seat?
Oju 2 State Constituency is backward. The problems are manifold, ranging from insecurity, infrastructural decay, poverty and unemployment.There is also the issue of abandoned projects by the government. These issues touch my heart.
TNE: How would you address these challenges?
As the representative of my people in Benue State House of Assembly, I am their voice.
Having itemised the challenges, in dealing with the challenges, we have set the ball rolling by the move to reviving the Oyongo Water Works. We are also working to make sure that we reduce unemployment drastically and I will make sure the constituency is brought in the limelight.
TNE: Could you tell us about the funding of Oyongo Water Works? Would it be by the World Bank or the state government?
Leadership is all about sacrifice. Our main agenda is selfless service to the people. The state governor has declared the state of emergency in water supply in Benue State and we are into that line. First, we need to know how much is involved in the project which I have provided in support from the team of engineers from water works and I have been to the site.
They have taken their estimates and they are working on it. As soon as the report is ready, there are several avenues to implement the project. First, it is to impute it into the budget of 2020. If it doesn’t go that way, I will use my constituency allowance to implement it because water is life and the people in my constituency need it.
TNE: What are the major challenges you discovered in the Oyongo Water Works?
From the report submitted so far from the team of engineers that went for the inspection of the project, we have a lot of damage from the destruction of pipelines due to the construction of Oju-Obusa-Ado-Utonkon road and then the tanks have rusted as well as several other forms of vandalisation because the project has been abandoned for a long period; the machineries, the mechanical or the electrical aspect – servicing are the major areas of the damages.
TNE: What does your recent visit to the National Social Investment Scheme office hold for the beneficiaries, particularly the food vendors and primary school pupils in the state?
I want to use this platform to appreciate the scheme. Specifically, we were there with other members to have an interface with the Focal Person, to know the reasons why there are challenges and complaints from the vendors and the public. In the course of the interface, we discover that an independent team from the Federal Government came to Benue State and conducted an inspection, which was not managed properly. In their report, they decided to capture only schools in the urban areas. Acting on the report, about 1,750 schools were delisted from the 2,950 schools captured earlier. When we interfaced with the focal person, we prevailed on him to make sure that the Federal Government reverts to the school and add more so that the quota on ground can cater for the need of the people in Benue State.
TNE: Would you think the home grown school feeding programme has failed?
Not at all, at this point, what I can say is that there is a little challenge in that programme, which I can also assure you that all hands are on deck to resolve it.
TNE: In your view, do you think Gov. Samuel Ortom has the capacity to do better in this second term?
We may not be participant in the first tenure, but we were also part of the government as citizens of Benue. I will assure you that the governor will do well and continue to do better in this particular term. Even at his first term, he rescued Benue State from the hands of the Fulani herdsmen that had been killing people and the security of lives and properties is one of the major achievements of His Excellency during his first term. Coming towards his second term, if you see his first steps you will know definitely that he means business. He has assembled a team of technocrats as his cabinet members which is different from the usual association of politicians. So, we are very much expectant that the second term must be far better than the first as he is building on early achievements
TNE: Talking about technocrats, how do you see the team that the governor is trying to assemble? Do you think they can bring in the desired change?
Yes, they will, very well. From the issue of Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, the governor came in immediately and changed the chairman of BIRS and he brought in an experienced person who has been in that office and has done excellently well before. He came back to also revive that and by being in that office I am sure that the IGR of Benue State will go higher.
TNE: How do you see the emergence of Senator George Akume as a minister in the second term cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari?
I am using this opportinuty to appreciate the President for considering Benue; the Benue son in his cabinet. I congratulate the Benue son, Senator George Akume. He has served this state in different capacities. I wish him well in this new position. Yet, leadership is not all about having that big influence, but by giving what the people need to them. We are talking about this appointment as Benue citizens. So, irrespective of party lines, I have to congratulate my amiable senator, a good son of the state.
TNE: How has it been so far in the state House of Assembly? There are complaints from the House of lack of fund. How would you carry out your programmes?
At this point, I want us to know that when we say there is no money, it is the duty of the leadership to look for money. There is no money in Benue State, but we are going to deploy our creative wisdom to create wealth for our people which we have actually started. The team of expert that came to my constituency concerning the agricultural project which we signed the Memorandum of understanding, MoU, on has not received a dime from us and the community is very willing to donate land to them and they are willing to invest. All we need is to provide the enabled environment. Investors will come to create wealth for our people and the money will flow.
TNE: On the issue of herdsmen/farmers clashes, especially in Benue State, are there any solutions being put in place by the State Assembly or the National Assembly to check the lingering issue?
I will like to let you know that I am not a critic, but an advocate of the way forward. I congratulate the 8th Assembly for passing the bill for anti-grazing law in Benue State. The governor has signed that into law, but we can only do better when we accept new ideas. We have been going through open grazing for decades since independence and we are still importing milk to this country. I think agricultural mechanisation deserves better options which the law supports very well. Very soon, Benue will have a good ranch in exporting and cattle business.
TNE: What is your take on Oju/Awajir Road which has been in very bad shape which contract was signed before the elections?
All I want to say right now is to assure the people that the contract will be properly captured in the 2020 budget and before the end of the year 2020 Oju people will smoothly drive to their homes and smile well.
TNE: Do you have agenda for the youths in your constituency, especially in terms of agricultural development?
Yes, at this stage of leadership and the mandate given to me, I see it as a collective responsibility of the youth of this age. So, it is a team work. They are all on board and specifically when it comes to issue of agriculture, we are going into agricultural revolution in Oju 2, specifically when the cassava processing factory kicks off we will have good farmers or good youths that will go into the farming of cassava using improved seeds and we also encourage mechanised farming and from there we’ll empower the youths. We also have schemes to encourage youths to go into education and any other avenue that is available to employ our teeming youths of that constituency. We will deploy all our strength to make sure they are well employed.