Sesugh Akume an Abuja based public policy analyst is contesting under the ADC to represent the people of Katsina-Ala/ Ukum/ Logo Federal Constituency of Benue State. Akume, who ran in 2019 but lost, has busied himself with critically analysing public policy and government spending since the last election . According to him, the interventions he has taken in ensuring that Nigerians, especially the people of Benue State aren’t short-changed through dubious budgeting has endeared him to his constituents. “I have been engaged in up to 20 public interest litigations to fix anomalies in our system, including challenging obnoxious provisions in our laws at the federal and state levels. My orientation and approach is to get the system to work, and also to organise citizens citizens to wake up and play their role in building a society that works for us all”, he said of his antecedents. The ADC candidate for the House of Reps for Sankera speaks on a number of issues in this interview with Frontline News Online . Excerpts:
What is your unique selling point? Why should your constituency vote for you?
My understanding and approach to issues. Our campaign website, sesughakume.com, says it all. What I have on offer, what I will do, what I won’t do, and why. It also has a brief of my track record, etc. Nobody I know in my constituency running for the office has a manifesto written down of what they offer, I’m not even talking about a website. I mean, something as mundane as that. I have stated that for my constituency, in the end, I want to be assessed by how close we are to attaining the SDGs and how much the quality of life has improved. I also reference 23 ways quality of life can be measured.
It means, it is beneath me to for instance take pictures of classroom blocks, bore holes, etc and share as ‘achievements’.
What special legislative needs does Benue state stand in need of?
My Sankera (Katsina-Ala, Ukum, Logo) constituency (Benue) is the largest yam producer in the world, which is an established and verifiable fact. However, there’s the obnoxious Export (Prohibition) Act 1989 which makes yam export punishable by life imprisonment! Can you believe that? Since when have yams become cocaine.
Then we face insecurity by Tiv terrorists harassing our people, Fulani terrorists (whom are referred to in the media as ‘herdsmen’) and even from the military. These are issues that need to be addressed and put an end to once and for all.
There are also opportunities that have been passing us by. For instance, can you imagine that the African Development Bank (AfDB) set up the Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones (SAPZ) at $520 million and Benue is not among the 9 beneficiary states! You know that is unconscionable. And so many issues that need fair representation over.
What do you think are the federal legislative encumbrances that you are coming to address?
I have sued the National Assembly before over issues of budgeting for agencies of government that don’t have any legislative backing, voice votes as against electronic voting, NASS websites without all Nigerian laws on them, absenteeism, etc. I have advocated against the pay which I think makes no meaning as it is too high. where on earth is a legislator paid more than the MD of a bank?…. absenteeism, poor oversight, etc.
I think the National Assembly can do better. And itself needs to look inwards. It is the symbol of democracy anywhere and must simply do better.
What grey areas are you looking to address?
If you look at our campaign website, you’d notice we have two broad themes: the constituency, and national agenda.
For my constituency, I wish to first and foremost address the issue of security and safety; then agribusiness, infrastructure, integration, opportunities (local and international), fair representation, and quality of life.
Nationally, I wish to concentrate on the National Assembly itself, the electoral process, justice/injustices, correcting bad laws that are affecting us presently and enacting good ones that touch lives directly. Then addressing issues pertaining to institutions and the public service, minority rights, and deepening democracy.
All 15 areas to be addressed through law-making, representation ie bringing the issues to the attention of whoever is concerned to resolve them, supervising and overseeing the affairs of the government to ensure it’s doing its work and well, appropriating funds adequately for the work to get done. Then lobbying, advocacy, and litigation. Any or a combination of these will be deployed.
Benue is predominantly a PDP state with the APC being the strongest opposition. What are your chances running on the platform of a smaller party?
Our system has evolved, the people are wiser and smarter now. They aren’t voting parties but persons. I know PDP members voting candidates in other parties and vice versa. In fact, the Benue governor, himself a PDP senatorial candidate is publicly canvassing votes for Peter Obi, who is in Labour Party.
It tells you voting will be across party lines. Labour Party falls under the so-called smaller parties but you can see.
Many APC and PDP people are not only going to vote for me, they are currently organising towards it. They helped collect th names, phone numbers, etc of polling agents for their respective polling units, and helping in many ways.
With respect, the candidates of the other parties you mentioned have nothing new to offer and inspire no hope. I’m seen as the alternative and so it is.
How responsive have your constituents been during your campaigns and interactions with them?
Very. The work is doing itself. Many heard about me before knowing I was running for office. I didn’t know that my intervention on public policy and the public interest litigations against the Benue governor, the Benue government, CBN, Supreme Court, etc had gotten that much attention. Even the efforts to have the Makurdi and Katsina-Ala-Ala bridges, the Makurdi–Gboko road, unravelling the lies about the nonexistent Buruku bridge had gotten that much attention. So they are happy being part of this effort. The least we all can do is to try.
How are you going to deal with the issue of money politics which is a major factor up until the election day where vote-buying is the order of the day?*
First, our own campaign is 100% crowdfunded. People who believe in the cause are donating to it, as should, for which I’m grateful.
This quite a simple one. The people understand that elections won’t be stolen this time with the new Electoral Act. They also see the desperation of the status quo politicians and see that it is true. The only way those ones can succeed is by buying votes. Now it’s up to those selling. To either collect and do what is in their minds to do, not collect at all, or sell their birthright for misery. The choice is theirs. It’s what we tell them and they know.
Democracy is about choices. If it’s their choice to suffer hopelessness and rank incompetence, so be it.
This is your second time of contesting, what gives you the confidence that you will win?
I now understand the people better. I understand the system better, and everybody attests to the fact that this outing has been notches better.
In the last 4 years too I’ve had a track record that speaks for itself. For instance, I ended the practice of appointing caretaker/transitional local government administrations in Benue, and forced them to hold local government elections during the COVID-19 lockdown in May 2020, and again local government elections were held in May 2022, the very first time since 1999, whereby one elected government handed over to another elected administration. They know.
They’ve seen capacity and tangible results which could only be imagined 4 years ago. The Benue governor, Samuel Ortom instituted a lawsuit against me in a Benue state high court and lost, and it made the people see me as one who knows both what he is saying and doing.
Mirror this with rank what is usually available and you see the difference between day and night.
You are clear with your support for the LP presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, how do you marry this with your being House of Representatives candidate in another party? Are you also supporting the LP governorship candidate in Benue, Hon. Herman Hembe?
Peter Obi has a track record that speaks for itself. His words match his actions and, therefore, believable. Though generally of the usually political class, he is a departure from the other 2 with baggage nobody can manage. I think most reasonable people across party lines see him as the opportunity for a fresh start.
And like I said earlier, it’s not about party but competence, about patriotism, about Nigeria. Why would I vote someone less, due to party affiliation? One of my top donors is himself a Labour Party candidate in the South East. I just can’t imagine being in the House without me, a long-time friend and ally, and the support is mutual. I can’t imagine the House without him.
And so it is with like-minded compatriots in SDP and others parties across the I’ve been working with. The more we focus on individuals than the SPVs we call parties, we aren’t ready yet.