With the governorship primary elections of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Nigeria’s North Central state of Benue concluded, the coast is clear for objective postulations on who becomes the state governor in 2019.
The primary elections have produced standard bearers for the two parties; Governor Samuel Ortom for PDP and Emmanuel Jime for APC. Also, there are Dr. Paul Angya of Labour Party (LP) and Hingah Biem of Social Democratic Party (SDP). Analysts see the fight as between Ortom and Jime, since they are from the two main political parties.
Between Ortom and Jime, who gets the day will depend on a number of factors, prominent of which are their pedigrees, sagacity, political platforms, and the power of incumbency which is in Ortom’s favour.
It would be recalled that after a futile attempt to secure the PDP governorship ticket in 2014, Ortom, with the assistance of the APC leader and senator from Benue North West, George Akume, secured the PDP ticket, and defeated former Assembly Speaker, Terhemen Tarzoor to emerge Benue’s fifth elected governor in 2015.
Today, Ortom has fallen out with Akume and has returned to the PDP, his former party, which has also given him the 2019 governorship ticket. APC leaders are now sparing no effort to disgrace him at the poll.
However, Ortom having called the Akume bluff, plans to coast to victory, being a grassroots politician that is not easily cowed, being the first to lead the opposition to victory in the state since the dawn of democracy.
If Ortom could defeat a ruling party in 2015 when he was not in power, he would not like to lose as a sitting governor, more so as Akume’s influence has been waning.
It would be recalled that in 1999, Akume secured the PDP governorship ticket against Mike Mku and won the election against mounting opposition of the rival All Peoples Party (APP). After eight years as governor, Akume produced Gabriel Suswam as his successor and went to the senate. Suswam’s bid in 2011 to stop Akume’s second term in senate met brickwall. Suswam made Akume to leave PDP for the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and won his election.
The merger of ACN with other political parties in 2014 resulted in the birth of APC and Akume assumed its leadership in Benue State. He offered former national chairman of PDP, Barnabas Gemade, a shoulder to lean on when Suswam turned against him in 2014. Gemade had to pursue his second term dream in senate under the APC through Akume’s support. But, today, Gemade, a former presidential aspirant, is in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) seeking a third term in the senate.
The Tarka-born Akume, the avowed political leader of the Jemgbah ethno-political axis of the state, is highly revered. His towering personality in the state made him the undisputed political leader, who many politicians in the three senatorial districts bow to. But, Ortom, emboldened by his power of incumbency, has challenged his exalted position as the battle for survival takes a tough dimension.on the other hand, Akume now wants to support Jime to defeat Ortom to redress the 2014 wrongs done to him. Thus, he has now invested his energy through campaigns and strategies to actualise Jime’s victory in 2019.
But, having become a master of the game, Ortom is no push over and is bent on retaining his position. His major advantage is his unwavering defence of Benue people against the Fulani herdsmen invasion the promulgation of the controversial Anti-Open Grazing Law, which the agrarian people consider as key to their livelihood.
Ortom, from Nongov strand of MINDA ethno-political divide of the state, has the sympathy of his people. As Senator Joseph K.N. Waku puts it, “Ortom deserves a second term and the people of MINDA shall resist attempts to undermine this constitutional right of the governor.”
However, Ortom’s challenge is how to defend what people see as his poor performance, which he attributed to the “deficit treasury” he inherited. This is in addition to the unpaid workers’ salaries and pensions. These may tilt the people’s votes towards Jime.
Both Ortom and Jime are members of the Masev, Ihierav, Nongov Development Association (MINDA) with the latter from the larger Ihierav block. Together with Jemgbah, MINDA forms the Benue North West senatorial district, which Akume represents in the senate. The combined influence of Akume and Jime seems in the zone seems to favour APC.
However, Ortom may count on the influence of the Jemgbha born House of Representatives member and PDP senatorial hopeful, Orker Jev to split the Jemgbah votes with Akume. Also, Ortom’s wife, Eunice, an Ihierav, will likely garner a chunk of the votes in that axis for her husband.
Watchers of Benue politics explain that APC’s lack of a strong base in Benue North East may rob it of victory in the zone. Gemade, the senator from the zone, having defected to SDP, has made this more difficult for APC. With the growing rapport between Ortom and Suswam, the governor may indeed reap a bountiful harvest for PDP to ride back to the Lugard House. In 2014 Akume undermined Suswam’s influence and returned Gemade to senate.
In Benue politics, the Southern senatorial district (Zone C) has been seen as the proverbial kingmaker who never becomes king. Hence, no governorship aspirant has emerged from both APC and PDP. However, the zone has always decided who wins governorship elections in the state. Ortom, with this knowledge, has extended a hand of friendship to the people of the zone through his political decisions.
It is to Ortom’s credit that the first Idoma Chief Judge of the state was appointed under his administration. Ortom ushered Justice Adam Onum into the apex judicial office early this year, thereby ending an age-long discrimination against Idoma. In 2006, Akume missed a date with history when he withheld Ejembi Eko’s appointment into the position. Providence later intervened and elevated Eko to the Court of Appeal and later, the Supreme Court.
David Mark, former Senate President, resisted APC in 2014 and retained the zone for PDP, where Ortom is presently. Also, Ortom has a marital relationship with Otukpo through his son. This may make a difference for him. This is as the PDP leaders are believed to have endorsed Agatu-born John Ngbede as Ortom’s running mate in the 2019 election against the incumbent Benson Abounu. This may help to secure victory for Ortom due to the vantage role of Agatu in the zone’s politics and Ngbede’s prominence in the area. Also, prominent politicians in Agatu are in PDP. This may result in victory for the party.
Agatu has been base of Fulani attacks since 2016, during which Ortom was seen as being aloof to the people’s plight. But, a lot has changed since then since the enactment of the Anti-Open Grazing Law. Ortom has to redouble his effort to win the people’s favour, beginning with the payment of arrears of salaries and pensions..
Fate of Benue workers under Ortom seems to be an advantage to Jime. His wife, being an Idoma increases his chance of victory. Idoma’s first opportunity of having a First Lady through Jime’s victory, coupled with the deputy governorship, which also favours Idoma, are too tempting to ignore. But, it is believed that Jime’s chance would be brighter if he chooses his deputy from an area outside of his wife’s maiden local government area of Otukpo. How he picks his running mate may decide his fate in 2019, going for someone from Otukpo may provoke anger and apathy from other parts of Idoma which are concerned over Otukpo’s monopoly of political positions in the zone since 1999.
For instance, Mark, the incumbent deputy governor, Benson Abounu, former Minister (State) for Niger Delta, Sam Ode, are all from Otukpo, while areas such as Ado and Agatu which wield more electoral influence, are neglected.
However, some critics see Jime’s purported Fulani background through his mother as a drawback to his governorship ambition due to recent herdsmen aggression in the state. However, gradual restoration of peace and emerging political reality in the state are believed to have diffused the people’s anger against the Fulani ethnic group, which may be in Jime’s favour.
However, due to past experiences of Benue in the hands of what people regard as “selfish leadership” and under development, the state is in dire need of a servant-leader. There is need for new visions, new ideas and a new political reality. Can this come from any of the minor political parties? The impoverished mass of Benue population may decide to go that direction at the expense of APC and PDP. Against this backdrop, it may be difficult to say who Benue’s next governor will be.