2019: FACTS AND FEARS OF BENUE GOVERNORSHIP RACE

By James Ibechi

Nigeria’s rescheduled governorship election is 48 hours away, March 9. Across the country, political parties and their supporters are in desperate move to gain poll advantage. In Benue State, falsehoods are bandied as truth as the fear of losing election upstage decency in the crowded, multiparty poll.

With a countdown to election, voters are busy sifting the chaff from the grain and sharing facts of incompetencies and reliability. The problem is not the lack of who to vote as governor among thirty two candidates but who will win between the incumbent, Samuel Ortom of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and Emmanuel Jime of the All Progressives Congress(APC).

More than a competition between PDP and APC, 2019 Benue governorship tussle is a war between Governor Samuel Ortom and civil servants. He boasted he would win without workers who in turn have dared him. Many workers are therefore, rooting for Jime. But the electorate is a mix of workers and non-workers and Jime has to work hard despite workers’ perceived support.

In 2015 Jime’s emergence as APC governorship candidate was rudely intruded upon by the Benue leader of the party and senator representing Benue North West, George Akume. Ortom from the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) profited from the intrusion and became governorship candidate of APC on the verge of the 2015 elections in a manner that defied acceptable political logic.

Ortom proceeded and became governor while Jime explored legal possibilities to sack him. The presidency intervened and Jime sheathed his sword. During his campaign, Ortom drew the sympathy of the electorate when he wept in churches over the impoverishment of the Benue worker. He vowed to address workers plight and to best the performance of the outgoing chief executive, Gabriel Suswam who left four months of unpaid workers salary.

Although Ortom swore with his life in churches that he would rather die than fail as governor, the checklist of his achievements after four years reveal a contrary reality critics interpret as monumental failure. Indeed, subsisting argument is that Benue state under Ortom has retrogressed and is experiencing the worst economic situation since creation in 1976.

The opposition cited the lack of infrastructure as well as five months of unpaid salary of state civil servants as proof of Ortom’s failure. Added to this was one year of unpaid pension and eleven months salary arrears for primary school teachers and local government staff.

While it is misleading to paint Ortom with the brush of a lameduck and a chief executive who has achieved nothing in office, it is convenient to aver that the uncertainty over his re election is chiefly on account of his poor reception to workers and pensioners coupled with a minimal attention to infrastructural development amidst his burgeoning business empire.

Indeed, he waxed notoriety and persistently shunned workers  salary in 2017 despite lifelines from the federal government through tranches from the Paris Club refund and bailouts. He went unscathed because his godfather, Akume shielded him from public rebuke.

Ortom and Akume parted ways last year and the feather concealing his ugly underside has yielded to the wind. Spitting fire and fury in a tirade exchange with Ortom, Akume promised to replace him with Jime at this Saturday’s poll.

Ortom claimed invincibility and insisted that he would retire Akume from politics, a promise believed to have been fulfilled with Akume’s loss to the PDP candidate, Orker Jev in the recent senatorial election. This has emboldened Ortom and renewed his hope of a reelection.

Notwithstanding, Ortom is walking on tight rope as the opposition accesses new strategies to defeat him, part of which is a renewed relationship between Akume and Suswam. On assumption of office in 2015, Ortom constituted a judiciàl panel of enquiry into the stewardship of his predecessor, Suswam, found him guilty and invited the antigraft agency, EFCC.

At the time, Ortom was in APC. His love lost with Akume later chased him back to PDP. Suswam who controlled Benue PDP, rebuffed Ortom’s overture but pressure from Wadata plaza, Abuja later made him to concede. Suswam gave up his discrimination of Ortom and he emerged as PDP governorship candidate. However,  Suswam concealed a plot to retaliate and have Ortom grilled by EFCC the way Ortom did to him.

Before his election on February 23 for the Benue North East senatorial position, Suswam kept a hdistance from Akume. Now elected, he freely visits Akume in a suspected synergy to unseat Ortom on Saturday. Suswam is a major political influence in the state and with Akume, Ortom may be holding the short end of the stick.

Benue politics is driven by primordial sentiments and Ortom may be rescued from the disaster to come based on a set of outcomes. First is the theory of Ortom from a Tiv political axis that is marginalized and is testing the governorship of the state for the first time. The Minda, an amalgam of masev, ihiarev and nongov clans of Tiv extract, is the axis both Ortom and Jime come from.

The minda political class is vehement on retaining the governorship position for eight years. One of the leading politicians from minda, the late senator JKN Waku was a strong advocate of this. His insistence that Ortom deserved a second term on account of this found listening ears across the state.

Other parts of the Tiv political divide hold no objection to an eight year tenure for minda but not more.This can be guaranteed only with Ortom as Jime may invoke the constitution to ask for eight years if he becomes governor despite his promise to the contrary. This will concede a total of twelve years to minda, a thing the larger political class, especially, parts of the state looking forward to 2023 to succeed minda, is obviously averse to. For them, Ortom is a lesser evil and should be reelected.

This sentiment is gaining ground in Benue North East and Benue South and is hope rising for Ortom. However, the prospect of Idoma becoming the first lady of the state with Jime’s victory, is a historic feat currently increasing the chance of APC in the governorship election.

Jime’s wife, Comfort is a native of Otukpo and her chance as the Benue first lady has opened a new vista in the Idoma political corridor APC can profit from. Added to this is news of ethnic discrimination purportedly credited to Ortom’s wife, Eunice against Comfort. Eunice disowned the news that reported her as campaigning that Comfort is Idoma and should not become first lady. She did not convince Idoma that she was better than their daughter and it is easy to discern how the pendulum will swing.

Brightening the chance of APC further is Jime’s running mate, Sam Ode. The former minister of state for Niger Delta is a reasonable influence in Benue South and APC can hope for victory. Ode has a Tiv maternal background in addition to being a scion of Gabriel Suswam and APC is upbeat of coasting to victory at the Saturday poll.

Despite the seeming advantage, APC needs to work hard as PDP can be unpredictable with two former senate presidents, Iorchia Ayu and David Mark and the former minister of Interior now senator elect, Abba Moro, perfecting  strategies to keep PDP in power.

Uncertainty is a major ingredient of the chess political game. The candidate of Labour Party, Paul Angya and that of the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, Frederick Ikyaan therefore, easily creeps into discourses on the likely outcome of the Saturday Benue governorship poll. According to analysts, Angya and Ikyaan remain the surprise that await the Benue public despite their gross inadequacies and infantile political decision.

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