The new Governor of Benue State, Samuel Loraer Ortom, may not have cause yet for celebration over the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the April 11, 2015, governorship election. This is not unconnected with the rising protests and agitations that he was not the authentic governorship candidate of the party but was imposed on the people of the state and APC members by Senator George Akume and his clique, There have been vehement agitations that Ortom’s election was a democratic fraud that defied the principles of change the APC is projecting, basic values of the workings of internal democracy as well as negation of the Electoral Act. Several stakeholders in Benue State including include woman, youths and other non-state actors, in addition to political actors, have vowed to resist the imposition of Ortom in the governorship election.
In protest letter to the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bala Ahmed Tinubu, Comrade Tor Gowon Yaro, Chairman, Forum for justice and Democracy, an advocacy group in the APC, complained of the illegal selection of Ortom as APC governorship candidate in Benue State and the associated crisis it was generating, He argued that imposition of Ortom defied internal democracy and the rule of law, and “portends a great danger for the electoral success recorded by the APC and the image of the Party.”
Gowon Yoro, in the letter dated May 8, 2015, reminded the APC National Leader of his earlier intervention on the looming crisis and the resolutions at a stakeholders meeting which had in attendance the APC National Chairman, John Oyegun, Benue governorship aspirants and other party leaders, which held at the Lagos House, Abuja on January 11, 2015. He noted that the resolutions adopted at the meeting include: that Emmanuel Jime was adopted as the APC consensus governorship candidate in Benue State; the APC National Secretariat may wish to forward the name of JIme to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the party’s governorship candidates for the April 11 election which was rescheduled from February 28.
Gowon Yaro admonished that the failure to implement the resolutions, the resort to manipulation the electoral process and imposing Ortom “Constitute a grave risk to our party’s chances in Benue State, notwithstanding a favourable outcome of the gubernatorial elections.”
Our investigations revealed that Ortom’s as bizarre history of APC membership; that his governorship candidacy of the party wouldn’t have gone without dictatorial imposition by an APC leader and the scuttling of known democratic processes. Ortom even on the date of the governorship election in the state was still an official member of the People Democratic party (PDP) in Nzorov Council ward of Guma Local Government Area, Benue State. His name was still number one on page one of the register of PDP member in the state.
Ortom participated in the December 8, 2014, of the PDP governorship primary election. He lost the PDP ticket to Right Honourable Prince Terhement Larzoor, placing third in the contest for the PDP ticket. Ortom, thereafter, changed his party loyalty to the APC on December 9, 2014, a day after the PDP primary. The APC, in a waiting game, rescheduled its governorship primary on December 9, 2014 to December 10 and 11, 2014 after Ortom abandoned the PDP and a letter to the effect was sent to the Commissioner of Police, Resident Electoral Commissioner in Benue State by the APC National Secretary, Mai Mala Buni.
Ortom applied for waiver on December 9, 2014, the same day he joined the APC, to contest in the rescheduled governorship primary in his waiver application, Ortom declared, “I am duly registered member of the APC, having registered at my Council ward the Nzorov Council ward of Benue State.” At the same time, Ortom was still a member of the PDP the same day he applied for the waiver. The APC national leadership granted Ortom automatic waiver on December 9, 2014, to contest in the governorship election; the same day he joined the party Two days after joining the APC, Ortom was careened, cleared and certified on December 11’ 2014, to contest in the governorship primary election of the party: the primary was conducted that same day he was cleared and Ortom won the party’s ticket.
Our investigations further indicated that all the political machination that lubricated Ortom’s acquisition of APC governorship ticket within 72 years of joining the party from the PDP were facilitated by Senator George Akume who sponsored him for the election. It was also revealed that Ortom, through Akume, allegedly disbursed huge fund to the sum of about N2.5 billion to induce APC leaders, both in the state and the National Secretariat, Abuja, to urgently concede the party’s governorship ticket in Benue State to Ortom within three days of changing his party membership from PDP to APC.
There are indications that APC leaders in Benue State might have contaminated the democratic process contrary to the CHANGE the party has declared in the contest to control the contry’s politics. The rescheduled governorship primary was manipulated in such ways to ensure that the 72-hours-Ortom protect was realized. The primary was held at the Lawn Tennis Court in Senator George Akume’s Country home in the absence of other governorship aspirants in the state except Ortom. All other aspirants were in Lagos attending the national convention opf the party to elect the presidential candidate while the Akume team was doing their illegal business to give APC governorship ticket to Ortom at Akume’s private residence. The new Benue Governor had claimed to have been elected by majority delegates on December 11.2014, claiming to be the consensus candidate of the party.
APC state Chairman in Boune Comrade Abba Yaro, has explained that after the rescheduling of the governorship primary in the state from December 8, 2014 to December 10 11 2014, the party was under pressure to meet INEC deadline in submission of candidate names for the governorship poll. According to Abba Yaro “instead of allowing the process of the primary election to take place so as to meet the deadline by INEC that all primary elections for office of Governor must be concluded on December 11, 2014, two of the aspirants… wrote to the Benue State APC Gubernatorial Primaries Election Committee, asking that the said primaries be stopped.”
Mike Lordye Campaign Organization had on December 11, 2014, written to the Committee Chairman protesting that the organization had the rumour that the committee intend to conduct primary Election that day but that there was no communication to their principal that it was holding. The organization protested; “since the postponement of the election on December 5, a new date has not been officially communicated to us.” The group also observed; “majority of the delegates who are to participate in the primary election are currently taking part in the national convention holding in Lagos. This includes our aspirant. Mike Lordye.” The organization, therefore appealed that “the committee should deem it fit to publicize/communicate the new date for the election and allow enough time for aspirants and party faithful s to convey/mobilize their delegates to the state capital…”
Akange Audu Campaign Organization also on the same December 11, 2014 wrote to the Chairman of the Gubernatorial Election Committee protesting that “more than half the party’s delegates and other stakeholders in the state have gone to Lagos for the Presidential Primaries Slated for the 10th of December 2014;” adding; “more importantly, our own candidate in the gubernatorial race, Chief Akange Audu, has also gone to Lagos for the Presidential organization insisted that the conduction of the governorship primary in the absence of other aspirants, except Ortom, was done in bad faith.
The protests by the two aspirants established that the APC leaders kept the conduct of the governorship primary in Benue out of the knowledge of other aspirants, and assumed Ortom’s election at secret meet at Akume’s private home.
The State Chairman in Benue Comrade Abba Yaro, however, maintained that because the state APC needed to beat INEC’s stipulated deadline for submission of names of candidates for elections of names of candidates for elections in the state, party leaders in Benue “agreed to sit together and explore the option of having a consensus candidate.”
He disclosed that the meeting, not State Congress, was witnessed by the National Election Committee members, Barrister Baba Dala and Dr. Aminu Ahmed. Abba Yaro also said that “even though all the aspirants were invited, only Mike lordye and one Akange Audu attended the meeting which took place at the Lawn Tennis Court of the Residence of Senator George Akume in Makurdi.
The State Chairman also acknowledged; “at the time of this meeting, many of the 4,313 delegates who had come to participate in the primary election had left, but 3,015 of them were still there and they later voluntarily, on becoming aware of the consensus arrangement, moved to the Lawn Tennis Court of the Residence of Senator George Akume in Makurdi, where they voted to endorse the candidature of Samuel Ortom.” He added that “Engineer Benson Ocholuye Abounu was subsequently nominated by Samuel Ortom as the running mate…” However, it was discovered from the attendance register at the meeting that Akange Audu was State Chairman but his name was squeezed into the second page with a signature claiming to be a representative of the aspirant.
The State Chairman declared that “the meeting resolved to forward the namen of Samuel I. Ortom to the INEC as the APC consensus candidate for Benue State in the Governorship election.” Abba Yaro also admitted that through INEC official was present but refused to sign the resolution.
Abba Yaro contented that “the APC may end up not having a candidate in the governorship election as the timetable for the nomination of candidates stipulated by the INEC has closed that opportunity.” He added that having sought legal advice, he was convinced that “it is too late in the day to conduct fresh primaries, as there are constitutional limits to when such exercise must be concluded.”
The Benue Gubernatorial Primaries Committee in its report dated December 13, 2014, indicated that the committee met in the morning of December 10, 2014, where they, in conjunction with APC State Chairman, State Organizing Secretary and State Legal Adviser, assessed the situation in the state. The Report revealed that party leaders at the meeting admitted that “most party leaders, aspirants and delegates are already in Lagos for the National Convention to the party. That it was impracticable to conduct the election on 10th December, 2014.”
The Primary Election Committee Report also indicated that the Committee scheduled a meeting with governorship aspirants to assure them of the commitment to conduct free and fair governorship primary election but that only two aspirants attended Professor Steve Ugbah and Emmanuel Jime while Akange Audu. (who the State Chairman earlier claimed was at the election meeting) and Mike lordye sent apologies that they were in Lagos for the National Convention.
The report stated the “the committee gave a clear mandate to the State Chairman to liaise with his Executive Committee and fix a venue for the gubernatorial primaries which should be notified to all the aspirants and also advertised in the State media for information to all delegates in the State.” The Report indicated that “the State Chairman later confirmed to the committee that HAV HEAVEN HOTEL located at the city centre was chosen by the State Executive of the party and accordingly broadcasted to the general public.”
The Committee Report clearly contradicted the State Chairman’s explanations: the contradictions also revealed that APC did not conduct governorship primary in Benue to elect a candidate for the rescheduled April 11 election. Investigation revealed that APC leaders deliberately scuttled the governorship primary election in Benue which would have been concluded within INEC stipulated time because Akume wanted the governorship ticket for Ortom within 72 hours of his membership of APC.
It was, however, gathered that Ortom’s tenure may not go beyond October 2015. A sources revealed that national leaders of the party were aware of the scandalous arrangement but calmed down because the elections were very close. They allowed Ortom to be used as a political robot so as not to allow PDP have its way. President Muhammadu Buhari was said to have told a senator in Benue State that Ortom’s election cannot stand because it defied the party’s rules for state primary and also contravenes the Electoral Act..
At a dinner in Sokoto, a former Senator from Benue and a rights activist of Benue origin raised the issue before Buhari, presenting the Abba Yaro’s defence to him. The President expressed total disappointment over the defence which was self-inductive and scandalous, regretting: “we will end up working for PDP.” He appealed to APC stakeholders in Benue to calm down, promising that the right thing will be done as soon as the new government settles down.
The five APC governorship aspirants in Benue who were shut out of the party primary include Professor Steve Toekuma Ugbah, Joseph K.N Waku, Emmanuel Jime, Mike lordye and Akange Audu.
Meanwhile, the PDP had gone to the Benue State Governorship Election Tribunal to challenge Ortom’s election, contending that the PDP contested the governorship election with the APC, beside others, which had no candidate in the race. Gowon Yaro also in his petition to APC leaders argued that, ‘ no court will close its eyes to the overwhelming evidence establishing the fact that no gubernatorial primary election held in Benue State as Stipulated by Section 87 (1), (2), (3) and (4) (b) of the Amended Electoral Act 2011.
In line with The ICON investigative journalism practice, our reporter contacted the executive Governor through his Special Adviser on media, Mr. Tahav Agerzua but there was no response as at press time.