Hon. (Engr.) Tertsua Yarkwan, Caretaker Chairman of Kwande Local Government Area (LGA), in Benue State in this interview bares his mind on some of the challenges he met and solutions he brought to Kwande LG since his appointment by Gov. Samuel Ortom in June 2019.
Can we meet you?
My name is Honourable Engr. Tertsua Yarkwan, I am the Caretaker Chairman of Kwande Local Government Area (LGA), in Benue State. I am married with two daughters. Kwande LG is a peculiar LG because it shares a boundary with the South-South geo-political zone, the North East and also has an international boundary with the Peoples’ Republic of Cameroon. Kwande occupies an enviable position geographically, and politically it is very pragmatic. We are also considered as the most educationally advanced LG in Benue state. We have the highest number of professors and many other thoroughbred professionals. We also have in our domain the ‘Swem Kaa Ragbe Mountain’ where the Tiv people are reputed to have first settled when they reached the Benue Plain. So, we are the custodians of Tiv culture.
What’s your vision as a Caretaker Chairman?
I desire good things generally for my people. But most urgently and importantly, I look at repositioning Kwande. Now, my vision for Kwande LG is that I want to see the LG takes her enviable position in the comity of LG in Benue and Nigeria as a whole. I want to see that Kwande does not just have the highest number of professors, but for every family of twenty, there must be at least two graduates and a professor in every family in the near future. I also look at the economic prosperity of the LG and how we could reposition ourselves to tap from the vast and abundant resources we have in Kwande. And the vehicle we are going to use to attain this height is infrastructural development. It is well known that, for every one percent infrastructural development, you have a corresponding ten percent in economic growth. And if you can achieve two percent, you have about twenty percent. So, if you can just achieve ten percent infrastructural development you will be having almost one hundred percent worth of economic advancement. This is quite critical because over the years there have been successive unprogressive rots in the infrastructural resources of the LG.
Can you highlight some of the infrastructural rots in the LG?
The roads are bad, dilapidated houses here and there. For instance, if you enter the LG secretariat, most buildings have their roof blown off, some have their roof sank in, not because of anything but, because of neglect over the years. Kwande LG was created in 1976 after the creation of Benue state from Benue Plateau and up till now, the secretariat does not have perimeter fencing. We discovered that even the survey maps are non-exiting and the secretariat does not have a certificate of occupancy (CoO), and yet almost every day of the week, the LG issues CoO to individuals and they cannot issue one to themselves. Then you look at the fact that, though the LG is connected to NEPA, the transformers are not there, the transmission network is there but the distribution network is not there. We don’t have electric lines reaching consumers and then the supporting infrastructures like transformers are not available. You will be shocked to discover that, some people donated transformers to communities, but the transformers were only planted and not mounted. They were not connected, because, the communities and the power authorities do not even have the initiative to connect the transformers to the network. When you go to Adikpo market which is the headquarters, there is no single borehole there. As of the time I came into office, there was no functional public toilet in the market, the market was thoroughly unkempt, refuse dumps everywhere and we had to pack all that and that has been one area that the public has commended us; transforming the LG to look neat and habitable. If you go to abattoir, you will weep, it just looks like a dilapidated jungle. It is quite callous to imagine that, meat is being slaughtered there for human consumption. When you look at all these challenges, my vision is that these things must change. To give Kwande a very good environment and a secretariat they can be proud of and take them to the next level educationally.
How do you intend to tackle all these challenges having identified them?
This is beyond the matter of intention but commitment. I did not wait for the conventional means to start. When I came into office, I was told that the meagre internally generated revenue of the LG is called (Atuu ar Chairman), meaning okoro for the chairman’s wife. And I told them that, I don’t eat okoro and my wife does not prepare okoro soup, so the little that is coming in for the chairman’s pocket has to be directed towards alleviating those conditions. I had to remove money from my pocket and pay for the clearing of the LG secretariat because it was overgrown with tall grasses; we cut down the grasses and had to reconnect power back to the secretariat because for two years, they did not pay their bills and were disconnected and nobody bothered about that. We made sure that power was reconnected back to the LG. I cut the bureaucracy short to avoid the situation where some officers ask for their stake before signing official files and delve into doing the little we could to get out of the deadlock. So in all, barely two months of being in office, we have finished six public toilets in Adikpo market, rehabilitation of roads is still ongoing, one borehole in Adikpo market, two in Jato Acka, one council hall in Tondov 1, connected power back to the LG, have relocated the grains market to the main site, intensive sanitation drive in the LG, and so many other humanitarian intervention programs.
How would you assess the level of security in the state?
There have been some crisis issues in the LG, but I have tackled them frontally. Now, everyone can confess that you can sleep in Kwande LG with your two eyes closed. The issue of insecurity in Kwande is beyond the planning stage, we are fully at the implementation stage and I don’t believe in using conventional means to tackle unconventional problems. The issue of security has gone beyond the conventional to unconventional and since insecurity has taken unconventional dimension, security should also take a non-conventional approach to tackle the menace. Because we share borders with Taraba, Cross River and Cameroon, we have a lot of cross-border criminals and bandits crossing into the LG. As I talk to you now; a whole council ward of Moon which has been displaced from their ancestral home and are taking refuge around Jato Acka LG have started returning home. The Government of His Excellency, Samuel Ortom has made a lot of efforts in this regard. The military is involved, the local vigilantes and of course other forces too and we have intelligence at our fingertips to tackle any security threats.
We are also able to restore security in the markets. There were issues in revenue collection; the internally generated revenue was almost near zero. The first week I entered office, only N36, 000 was remitted from two major markets in Kwande LG. So, we went into the markets and drove away the hoodlums. All manners of characters had their tickets and were collecting revenues and pocketing it. The receipt were imaginary, in this LG where there is no industry, they were collecting money from people for toxic waste disposal. Who is disposing any toxic waste in Kwande LG? They were collecting food processing levies from tomatoes sellers mostly women. Nobody is processing these tomatoes, they are selling them fresh. They were about thirty-three different receipts in the LG. I had to drag out those charlatans. I asked Benue Internal Revenue Services (BIRS), to tell us the authentic and gazetted receipts for revenue and that has really transformed the market. It has led to an economic boom in the sense that, people are now confident to come to the market. They were even seizing some of the goods people brought to the market when they failed to pay those bogus levies. This has been one of the strongest oppositions I have faced. They have regrouped and are attacking me from all corners with every weapon at their disposal. Now, I agree with this saying that, once you want to fight corruption, corruption fights back. But I refused to be cowed, and be intimidated. For the first time, traders that came all the way from Port Harcourt said, for the first time in Adikpo market, they have been able to hold their money, because we have restored security in the market. Another challenge is that, for an LG that has existed since 1976, we do not have any banking institution, but I have discussions with a global bank to explore the possibility of establishing one of their branches here. The LG entirely does not have an ATM so you can not withdraw or deposit money within the LG. and yet, there are markets here that traders come from all over the country with millions to buy goods.