On March 18, 2023, the people of Benue will be on the march, again, for an encore of what they did on February 25, 2023 when they spoke loud and clearn with their votes in the presidential and National assembly elections.
In those elections, the All Progressives Congress, APC, machine under the able and surefooted leadership of a former governor and current minister of special duties and intergovernmental affairs, Senator George Akume, roared to a consequential victory.
To be sure, the APC not only won the presidential poll, it also posted very significant results in the national assembly polls, winning two out of three Senatorial seats and ten out of eleven House of Representatives seats.
It was a complete sweep by the APC in Benue Northwest and Benue Northeast Senatorial zones. Both the Peoples Democratic Party and the Labour Party were beaten hands down. Benue South produced a redeeming feature for the PDP with the victory of the incumbent Senator, Abba Moro. It was in Moro’s Senatorial District that the PDP also won a seat in the House of Representatives.
Instructively, the APC political tidal waves that swept through Benue consumed Governor Samuel Ortom, who could not win his bid for the Senate (a quarter of the state he has governed in the last eight years). It also upended the hitherto political dominance of a former governor of the state, former House of Representatives member, and incumbent Senator, Gabriel Suswam.
The grounds for the rejection of the PDP at the poll in the majority TIV land were prepared by Governor Ortom. who, according to reports, failed, in his almost eight years in the saddle, to provide inspiring leadership in the state. Ortom’s inability to elevate governance by addressing popular concerns and expectations would appear to be writ large. There are no iconic infrastructure development projects with the imprimatur of Ortom that can be referred to in the nooks and crannies of the state. Not even did he show empathy to workers and pensioners by paying their salaries and gratuities. These are the reports from the people of the state.
Apart from his episodic mantra of Fulani attacks on Benue land with which he curried people’s sympathy up until the people saw through his chicanery and antics, Ortom has not enjoyed approbation by the people on delivery of democracy dividends. I have decided to adumbrate the Ortom failings and foibles to provide the essential context for his existential rejection and defeat in the February 25 poll.
The people’s verdict ramifies through the Benue ecosystem. But the Ortom camp believes it can redeem itself in the March 18 guber and state assembly poll. For instance, the camp explains that Ortom’s decision to galvanise support for Peter Obi of Labour Party in the presidential election and to equally ensure the people vote for the candidates of the PDP in the national assembly poll led to a dissipation of votes that could have gone enbloc into the kitty of the PDP.
In one of such explanatory interventions, Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Nathaniel Ikyur, in a message to me on February 27 via WhatsApp, had provided this post-hoc rationalisation in response to a report by THE CONCLAVE on the celebratory mood in Akume’s APC, to wit: “APC in Benue should not not celebrate. Yes, we ( PDP) messed up by giving our votes to Peter Obi. Two things happened. Our in-fighting caused us the election. The 308,000 plus votes for Obi) were that of PDP. At least we told Atiku and his co- travellers that you can’t take the Tiv for granted. We cannot allow another Fulani man to take over as president now. Now, add up the 130, 00 plus votes that were registered as that of PDP with that of Peter Obi, we still are good to defeat APC in the c governorship if we close our ranks. The other senators fought a cold war against Gov Ortom and took sides with Ariku: at the end of the day, what happened? One lost, the other scrambled to win.”
While on the presidential scale, the Peter Obi effects were undeniable, in the context of local politics, which the governorship and state assembly poll exemplify, it is going to be a different kettle of fish altogether. The March 18 polls are largely and essentially local politics. The people will relate with the candidates they know. That kind of association makes validation and approbation very easy. The people are able to make informed choices among their brothers and sisters who are candidates of the respective political parties.
This is the intersection at which pedigree counts; character, credibility, acceptability help to define the shape, texture, and content of the individual personality who are guber candidates in the March 18 poll.
Interestingly, three candidates are pitching for the votes of Benue people, namely, Reverend Father Hyacinth Alia (Yes Father) on the platform of the APC; Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon Titus Uba on the platform of the PDP and Hon Herma Hembe, who was just on Thursday, March 16, 2023, confirmed by the Supreme Court as the authentic guber candidate for the Labour Party.
Whereas the Peter Obi effects no longer count for anything in tomorrow’s guber poll in Benue, that leaves Father Alia of the APC and Hon Uba as the two frontline candidates in the poll. Interestingly, the contest is, by extension, a grudge fight between Akume and Ortom. Akume is backing Alia with the magnitude of his political goodwill, while Alia has provided a counterpart bank of socio-religious capital to bolster the APC formation. The vast majority of Catholic Tiv people believe in the spiritual leadership of the Church. Significantly, Alia had, over the years, directly ministered to the spiritual needs of the people, one way or another. They believe they owe the father a reciprocal gesture in this election. They also believe that he is an instrument to realise God’s liberation mandate in Benue.
Little surprise, according to reports, that the clarion call of “Yes Father” father vibrates and reverberates through the Benue political ecosystem with the force of a revolution. The decision by Alia to step down from the pulpit to embark on this political voyage is not taken for granted by the people. A father who has lived a selfless life is a potential moral force in the prudent management of the state’s public finance, which had in recent times, been plundered by those who were saddled with the political responsibility of providing leadership.
For Alia, the responsibility he seeks to take on is much more gargantuan. If he wins, and all indices point to that, he steps into both political and spiritual leaderships of the state. The people’s mandate that he will custody represents a sacred mandate that cannot be toyed with for the sake of the Church and for the preservation of the honour of God’s name. Alia is a God’s ambassador who is expected to return to the pulpit after his liberation mission. Therefore, he will not do anything that will encumber that episcopal return journey.
The scenario painted supra makes the Alia candidature very attractive. The groundswell of support it enjoys across Benue State is writ large and incredibly huge. The oppositional elements within the APC and the PDP in particular know this fact. In the APC, Alia’s emergence in the gubernatorial primary polls was challenged such that the party conducted the exercise thrice, and on the three different occasions, Alia won emphatically. There were a series of court cases up to the Supreme Court, where his (Alia’s) candidature was finally validated.
The PDP- with Ortom propping up Speaker Uba as guber candidate- faces the greatest oppositional force in Benue in recent times. It is confronting a Reverend Father without the warchest. Whereas, the PDP government has at its disposal public funds to prosecute its guber battle, reports say that the people are the ones contributing their widow’s mite in support of Reverend Alia. Alia’s acceptance and popularity continue to astound. He is now appropriated by the people on whose back he is poised to ride into the Benue Government House on May 29, 2023.
Ortom and his PDP, from the credible feelers reaching me from Benue, appear electorallly wobbly and irredeemably so set to be consigned to the rubbish heap of defeat on Saturday. Only God knows whether or not PDP, Ortom, Uba, and other candidates for the various House of Assembly seats can survive the Benue liberation Tsunami, which the combination of Akume and Alia’s political and spiritual goodwill typifies just now.
▪Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via [email protected]