OVERCOMING GODFATHERISM IN BENUE: THE ORTOM MODEL

HARD BALL

tttWhether it is in its ordinary parlance or in the Nigerian context, the term ‘Godfatherism’ can be discerned to mean a symbiotic relationship between two persons namely, the godfather and the godson, whereby the godfather uses his political power and wealth to secure political position for the godson, who upon ascension into power, pays gratification to his mentor in kind or in cash.

In the first republic, godfatherism produced notable figures in the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo, among others.

Undoubtedly, godfatherism has become a norm in Nigeria’s political environment, such that without a godfather it is hard for an individual to secure a political position.

In the present republic, godfatherism has assumed a ludicrous dimension in the Benue State polity in particular and Nigeria’s in general.

Do we talk of Sen. George Akume, Gabriel Suswam and Samuel Ortom’s battle of godfather-godsons in the North Central or do we talk of Jim Nwobodo and Nnamani’s saga or Chris Ngige and Chris Uba’s crisis, Bola Tinubu-Ambode, amongst others?

In whichever case you can cite, the masses of Nigerians are the ones that become the victims of the combustible conflict between godfathers and godsons.

Where does this leave our youths who are employed as agents to carry out godfathers’ evil biddings?

What is the future of aspiring politicians with vision like Ambode of Lagos or James Ibechi, who have the people’s interest at heart?

In Benue, however, without sounding like it is a wisecrack, there is an ongoing hostility that is aimed at taming godfatherism.

And what would be the gains of the battle? Watchers of events in the state believe that godfathers who have been in circulation from 1999 will be sent into oblivion for good statesmen to come in. The state will be freed from the shackles of the evils of godfatherism too.

Battling godfatherism

Just because of the political divides some people belong to, they will not view it that the influence of godfatherism in the governance of Benue state must have been greatly whittled down by the singular bold action that Governor Samuel Ortom took on Sunday, July 8, 2018, when he dissolved the state cabinet, one-year to the end of his first term.

Yet, in the opinion of many watchers of political event in the state, the governor’s action is seen as the beginning of the battle to destroy godfatherism and up the ante of governance in the state.

Either so or whatever that has remained to be called the vestige of godfather factor in the state’s body polity that had hitherto constituted a serious stranglehold on governance is thought to have been overly destroyed in the political tsunami that recently enveloped the state House of Assembly wherein godfathers’ lieutenants like the cat with nine lives remained.

But there is no gainsaying the fact that in the Ortom’s rated bold action in point, the governor, wielding an uncommon clout and  in a fashion that seems to face down the devil himself, or that looks him directly in the face and say ‘hey, no more to your stranglehold on the state’,  or better still , tell the devil to his face that the state cannot continue to lick his foot, sacked  the state executive council with immediate effect, and by the time the full implication of the action was grasped by the public, the admixture of commissioners and special advisers who were regarded as Sen. George  Akume loyalists was yanked off from Governor Ortom’s administration.

On the other hand, a handful of special advisers mixed with some key commissioners believably not connected to the senator in any way – either by loyalty or allegiance – were retained.

The retained cabinet members believe in what Ortom represents. They are in tune with his philosophy of governance. They stood and are still standing by him. They have never been perceived to be working at cross-purposes with the governor whom they know as their real and only employer. These ones are regarded as core Ortom’s loyalists.

Whereas, it is understandable that the sacked members of the cabinet, even though they appeared to be serving Governor Ortom, their first allegiance was believably to Sen. Akume.

For the sake of the readers who may not know, former Gov. Akume is the senator representing Benue North West at the Upper Chamber of the Nigerian National Assembly. He is the adjudged leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Benue state.

Held in esteem as the godfather in the state politics, Sen. Akume’s palpable overbearing influence on the running of the state had once pitched him against former Governor Gabriel Suswam to the extent that Suswam had ditched him when push came to shove. Suswam had to do what he did to his then godfather believably to enable him take full charge of his governorship of the state.

It followed thus that Akume’s defection to the APC ahead of the 2015 general elections was not unconnected with his lost face-off with Suswam over who controlled the soul of the state when Suswam was the governor. It was to be gleaned too that the senator’s defection from PDP to join his like godfathers such as the Jagaban Lagos, Sen. Bola Tinubu in APC, all tapered down to the fallout of his supremacy battle with Suswam.

The tale of Akume’s obsessive lust for the control of Benue did not all start and end at his lost squabble with Suswam.

The senator’s “insatiable” taste to be in perpetual control of the affairs of the state also pitched him against Iyorchia Ayu, JKN Waku, Sen. Benabas Gemade as well as the sitting Governor, Ortom.

So, it is to be believed by pundits that the current running battle Governor Ortom is having with Akume, which has pushed the governor to dump the APC for PDP, a fight which spiralled to the state Assembly back-and-forth and escalating to the judiciary, with the EFCC , the police and the presidency taking sides against the governor, does not come to many as a surprise, knowing the senator’s antecedent of ‘it should be me in control of the soul of Benue or there will be no peace.’

It was, however, to be seen that the acclaimed godfather of Benue politics was undeterred even after losing out with Suswam, as he would later deem the emergence of Governor Ortom in 2015 when Suswam’s era had ended as his re-capture of the state that he once lost to Suswam’s control.

Such is the expression that is etched in the minds of the people inasmuch as Akume, it was, who drafted Ortom to his party the APC to become the governor that he is.

The manner in which the godfather has acted like the Lord of the Manor over the affairs of the state, in the last three years of Ortom administration, definitely lends credence to the governor’s outcry later that he was tired of APC’s one-man show, a statement he made in tacit reference to Akume’s lordship over the affairs of the APC and by extension the entire state.

Having recaptured the state from Suswam, the full effect of Akume’s lordship began to manifest. Until the recent cabinet dissolution by Ortom, it would be seen that appointments into virtually all ministries, parastatals and boards bore the imprimatur of the godfather when his lordship manifested. In the dissolved state exco, almost all the members, with the exception of a few loyalists of Ortom – were there on the godfather’s say-so.

Benue State Internal Revenue Service (BIRS),  the area which in other states, is the second largest revenue earner to the government,  was until the shake up by Ortom recently, was occupied by one of Akume’s  eggheads, Mrs. Mimi Adzape-Orubibi. So, it goes without saying that this area too was the godfather’s fiefdom.

In the area of the leadership of the APC, Akume’s lordship over the affairs of the party is evident.

In the Akume led APC, you have a situation where a powerful individual hijacks every structure of the party to the exclusion of all other stakeholders including senators and key party members.

This grisly situation negates the principle of party internal democracy.

” It was not possible for Ortom  to contain Akume;  nobody has the capacity. It is impossible to cohabit with Akume politically for long.  Ask the likes of Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, Terhemba Shija, his former campaign director general.

“Is it Senator Gemade? Is it Senator David Mark? Is it Gabriel Suswam?”

That is what one of Ortom’s media aides says of Akume’s godfatherism while explaining reasons Ortom had to quit APC, which provides an insight into Akume’s godfatherism in the state.

The full import of the labour to provide this background report thus far is in the establishment of the reality of the overbearing influence of Sen. George Akume’s godfatherism over the state’s affairs in such a way that his grip on the state appears to frustrate development.

The second facet of this effort has been in stating that the Governor Ortom’s dissolution of the cabinet in which the Akume’s eggheads in the exco were weeded out of government as well as the governor’s defection from “the one-man-show-party”, has been the beginning of the road to overcoming the evils of godfatherism in Benue.

Although the traducers of Governor Ortom might not view it so, yet many opine that if the governor is able to sustain the battle to a successful end, regardless of the persecution he is perceived to be facing from the Presidency on account of his ditching his godfather and the APC, the state will not only be free from the clutches of godfatherism, the godfather’s alleged demonic tendencies will be checked.

Since 1999 the godfather of Benue politics has remained in circulation and the state is believed to be the worse for it. Overcoming godfatherism will see the godfather in oblivion, for other fresh blood to come in.

Interestingly, the governor’s efforts at overcoming godfatherism has already started bringing the divided state together in the way in which the likes of  the former Senate President David Mark is appearing on the stage to brace up with Ortom on pulling out the state from the woods. The PDP is also resurrecting as the result of the fight against the common enemy of the state – godfatherism.

But if the governor’s actions to end the era of godfatherism in Benue did not completely destroy it, then the ongoing battle at the State House of Assembly whereby the former speaker of the House, Terkimbi Ikyange, was impeached and subsequently suspended by 22 of the 30-member Assembly, would be seen and supported by spirited members of the public as a good development to totally end it and free the state.

It could only get better with overcoming godfatherism, as anything to the contrary will keep the agrarian state in perpetual doom.

 

 

 

 

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