By James Ibechi and Ejikeme Omenazu
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Sunday announced Governor Samuel Ortom, the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as the winner of the governorship election in Benue State.
Ortom, the incumbent governor, was declared winner after the supplementary governorship election that was held in the state on Saturday, March 23, 2019, throwing his party’s camp into frenzy at Government House, Makurdi.
The supplementary election was held by INEC after the initial exercise was declared inconclusive while Ortom was still leading.
Prof. Sebastian Maimako, INEC’s returning officer for the election, disclosed this while announcing the total result of the governorship election.
He said that Ortom polled 434, 473 votes, while Emmanuel Jime of the All Progressives Congress (APC) scored 345, 155 votes. Ortom beat Jime with a margin of 89, 318 votes.
Maimako said: “Samuel Ortom has satisfied the relevant sections of the law and secured the highest votes cast, and is thereby declared winner of the governorship election in the state.”
Addressing the people after his re-election, Ortom said expressed commitment to the return of peace to the state. He said he would set up a ‘Peace, Truth And Reconciliation Committee’.
While expressing gratitude to God, he said that he and his deputy, Benson Abounu accept the second mandate of Benue people, as expressed through the concluded ‘inconclusive’ elections, describing the outcome of the election as “sweet victory”.
Going spiritual, Ortom said: “In the Bible, King David said in the Psalms: ‘Some boast of chariots, and some of horses but I boast in the name of the Lord my God.’ Having dedicated the state to God, I invite all the people of Benue to become more committed in obeying and serving God as it is instructed in Job 36:11 that ‘If they obey and serve Him they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in pleasures.
“I dedicate this victory to God, who assured me long ago that there will be giants on the way to hinder, but He will surely grant me victory. I also dedicate this victory to the good people of Benue State and especially all members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.”
Ortom maintained that the victory was for all, even as he called on his co-contestants to join him “so that together we shall build the Benue of our collective dream.”
He stressed: “As we celebrate, let us engage in behaviour that will promote peace and reconciliation. Avoid use of hurtful and insultive political and folk songs. By the grace of God, I will set up a Peace, Truth and Reconciliation Committee. This will enable us to find ways to truly forgive one another, reconcile and usher in peace and development in Benue State.”
Ortom admitted that in his first term, mistakes were made, but he added that some lessons were also learnt. But, he added: “By the grace of God, mistakes will be corrected and our new mandate will be greater than the first in delivering dividends of democracy to our people. Our days in the wilderness are over. The Bible assures us that ‘better is the end of a matter than the beginning’.
“I wish to deeply appreciate the entire people of the state and the various sacrifices they have made during this election. We appreciate INEC staff, security personnel, election observers, and Benue voters who have worked for the success of the elections.
”I specially appreciate my lovely wife, Dr. Mrs. Eunice Ortom, for her support and staying power throughout the campaigns. I also appreciate the state chairman of our great party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Sir John Ngbede, and all members of the State Working Committee, our party leaders, Senators David Mark and Iyorchia Ayu, Senators elect, Rt. Hon. Dr. Gabriel Suswam, Rt. Hon. Orker Jev, and Comrade Abba Moro, as well as all our newly elected leaders at all levels for their great roles in our collective victory.
“I equally appreciate the DG and members of our campaign team, our canvassers, our party members and supporters for the great job they have done. They gave their all. I thank all members of the State Executive and Security Councils for their roles in this victory.”
Jime Rejects Outcome
Meanwhile, Jime, his arch-rival and candidate of APC, in his reaction, rejected the outcome, even as he indicated that he would be heading for the tribunal, claiming that his mandate was stolen.
He alleged that a lot of votes secured by Ortom were in clear violation of the Electoral Act, stressing that only votes captured by the card reader should have been allowed.
Okwu Hails Ortom
In a related development, Rt. Hon Samson Okwu, the presumed winner of the 2019 contest for the House of Representatives seat of Oju/Obi federal constituency, hailed Ortom over his victory.
Okwu, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Air Force described Ortom’s re-election as victory for all the people of Benue State, especially the PDP supporters who believed Ortom and the party for good governance.
In a statement he personally signed a copy of which he gave to newsmen, Okwu, regarded as the political leader of Igede nation, said the collective will of Benue people as expressed through the ballot had prevailed, urging the opposition to eschew bitterness and support Ortom to propel the state from what he termed “the scaffold domination of godfatherism.”
Okwu added: “There is great work to do to speed up development of the state in all ramification of the word and the job is not Ortom’s alone to do,” assuring the governor of maximum cooperation at all times.
Onjeh Weeps For Benue
However, as the PDP camp rejoiced over Ortom’s victory, Daniel Onjeh, former President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), maintained that there was nothing to celebrate about the re-election.
Onjeh, who was challenger to Senator David Mark in 2015, reportedly burst into tears on Sunday soon after INEC declared Ortom winner of the 2019 governorship election.
Onjeh, who reportedly wept at his home town in Ogbadibo, stated that he was weeping for Benue people. He said he did not know how Benue people would endure what he termed “another four years of torture and deprivation under Ortom.”
Onjeh said he was not sure if President Muhammadu Buhari would release more bailout funds and Paris Club refunds to Benue State in the next four years since, according to him, the ones released before had not been accounted for.
He also said he wept for Benue workers, pensioners and their families because they went out en mass to vote out Ortom for nonpayment of salaries and pensions.
Onjeh, the Board Chairman, Project Development Agency (PDA), said: “How long will the children of workers and pensioners in Benue be out of school for lack of financial support from their incapacitated and oppressed parents?
“How long will Benue workers and pensioners endure this hunger and denial as a result of nonpayment of their wages?
“The painful side is that the same resources the workers and pensioners were denied were the same Ortom used to buy votes.”
Onjeh expressed surprise at the way PDP big shots in Benue, who condemned Ortom’s governance style while he was in APC, made a u-turn to support the same man they condemned.
According to him, “I’m surprised at how David Mark, who accused Ortom of distribution of wheelbarrows to Benue youths as the only project he has done, could turn around and support the same Ortom to win second term in office.
“Suswam also accused Ortom of ballooning the wage bill when Ortom was in APC, but turned around to support him to win a second term in office.
“Abba Moro also condemned Ortom and said that he failed woefully as such, does not deserve a second term but turned around to support him because he defected to their party.
“This flip-flap politicians’ behaviour shows that they are only working for their own selfish purpose and not for the common good of the masses as always portrayed.”
Onjeh encouraged Jime not to give up on the fight for his mandate. He urged Jime to head to the tribunal, pointing out that he had good grounds to do so since, according to him, there were so many irregularities of rigging and electoral malpractices in the conduct of the election.
He added: “I expected INEC to have cancelled the places where the use of card readers was even disregarded. The places are Guma, Logo, Buruku, Ukum and Vandeikya local government areas.”