By James Ibechi
“Ortom is Good To Go.” This was a headline of the recent edition of The Voice Newspaper published by the Benue State Government. Although the tabloid referred to victory it claimed awaited Governor Samuel Ortom in the March 9 poll, readers insist that it was a prophetic declaration of his sack from Government House to Gbajimba, his ancestral home.
The Tiv born Ortom was elected governor of Nigeria’s Benue State after defeating his kinsman and former legislator, Terhemen Tarzor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in 2015. He climbed the broad shoulders of the senator representing Benue North West in the National Assembly, George Akume to win as governor.
Akume, a leader of the All Progressives Congress(APC), denied a former parliamentarian, Emmanuel Jime the party’s ticket and transfered it to Ortom in a controversial primary that enabled Ortom to contest election using the APC platform after defecting from PDP.
A frosty relationship with Akume later climaxed in Ortom’s return to PDP in 2018. Today, the godfather and his son are at daggers drawn with the latter orchestrating the loss of the former in the recent senatorial election. Akume was upbeat of a fourth appearance in senate and losing the election to PDP’s Orker Jev was affront he is least disposed to forgive.
The victory of Gabriel Suswam as senator for Benue North East is expected to dim Ortom’s chance of a second term as governor. Ortom who succeeded Suswam as governor, dragged the latter before the anti graft government agency, EFCC shortly after inauguration in 2015. Suswam is a major political influence in Benue North East as Akume is in the Benue North West. A synergy between Akume and Suswam will build a brick wall against Ortom’s reelection in the March 9 poll.
Political permutations indicate that Ortom may leverage on the popularity of PDP in the Benue State especially, the influence of David Mark to win. This claim is discountenanced by the outcome of the February 23 presidential race which showed a slim margin between PDP and APC despite the former winning all three senatorial seats in the state.
Ortom’s reliance on David Mark is further threatened by the loss of the former senate president of his polling unit in the last presidential election and APC’s victory in Otukpo Local Government despite Mark and Ortom’s deputy, Benson Abounu being from Otukpo.
With the governorship election less than one week, analysts believe that Ortom’s non performance in office is the issue to focus on and how he would fare at the poll depends on his public rating in a credible exercise. Governor Samuel Ortom is among Nigeria’s least performing governors. His promise to develop Benue State on assumption of office is yet to be seen after four years and the agrarian state remains the most underdeveloped in Nigeria.
Although the score card of his achievements reveals the provision of rural roads and bridges in some parts of the state, his failure to pay salary and pension resulting to accumulated arrears for civil servants and pensioners has intensified hatred for him and his crash to be imminent. During his campaign, Ortom reportedly told the Benue public that the APC was responsible for the arrears of salary and pension and the bemused public had promised to vote him out so as to usher in an APC government.
The duo of Emmanuel Jime and Samuel Ode of APC is challenging Ortom and Abounu of PDP in the Saturday, March 9, 2019 Benue governorship election. Close watchers of Benue politics believe that APC will coast to victory but must trade with caution as PDP can pull a surprise. They cited the recent presidential election APC lost to PDP in the state as evidence of what could result if APC is noncommittal.
In Benue South, the Idoma wife of the APC candidate becoming First Lady is an excitement the people are committed to. Aside from this, Samuel Ode’s popularity is a major strength that can compliment Jime’s tact and sagacity to take the party to victory in next Saturday’s election.
But Ortom has all the local government chairmen in the state at his beck and call and this can result in a night mare for APC. Why APC won ten out of twenty three local government areas in the last presidential election in the state against thirteen of PDP is partly on account of this. Also, a subsisting sentiment explains that the governorship position favours the Benue North West where both Ortom and Jime come from and this will lapse in 2023.
This argument is said to have the ears of many Tiv elite and if allowed to spread can convince the electorate to support the reelection of Ortom unless Jime’s promise to stick with one tenure if elected makes meaning to the Benue public.
While attention is focused on APC and PDP, the Labour Party led by Dr. Paul Angya is believed to be making inroads into APC and PDP territories. According to the state chairman of the party, Ogebe Ochai, Angya is the surprise in waiting.
Among thirty two governorship candidates billed for the Saturday election in Benue State is a roll call of personalities who are not in the major league. They include Reverend Frederick Ikyaan of Peoples Redemption Party(PRP); Steven Akuma of National Conscience Party(NCP); Hingh Biem of Social Democratic Party(SDP); Samuel Abah of United Progressives Party( UPP) and who is believed to have originated the Anti Open Grazing bill among others.