Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
There are no fewer than 32 governorship candidates jostling for the governorship of Benue State, which is currently being occupied by Governor Samuel Ortom, formerly of the All Progressives Congress (APC), but now of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Those who have already gotten the endorsements of their parties to contest for the plum job include, Reverend Frederick lkyaan of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), Dr. Stephen Akuma of the National Conscience Party (NCP) and Bishop Jim Okewu of the Action Democratic Party (ADP).
Others are: Dr. Samuel Ortom (PDP), Lady Comfort Angula of the National Rescue Mission (NRM), Emmanuel Jime of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Bishop Sam Zuga of the Nigeria People’s Congress (NPC). Also in the race are: Terhile Ayua of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), Hinga Biem of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), John A’hemba Tseayo of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr. Paul Angya of the Labour Party (LP) as well as Dr. Sam Inalegwu Abah of the United Progressive Party (UPP) among others.
While the battle for who finally occupies the Benue Government House rages on, each of the parties have continued to sell their candidates to the electorate.
But barring any last minutes change, political watchers have insisted that the governorship race is actually between the incumbent governor, Samuel Ortom of the PDP and the Emmanuel Jime who is contesting on the platform of the APC.
Recall that Governor Ortom who won the governorship seat on the platform of the APC in 2015 left the party sometimes in July 2018 after he alleged that the leader of the party in the state, Senator George Akume had given him a red card.
He therefore returned to his former party, the PDP where he had held different appointive and elective positions such as state PDP Secretary, state PDP Deputy Chairman, National Auditor and Minister of State for Trade and Investment as well as supervising Minister of Aviation.
Following Ortom’s exit from the APC, the party’s leadership in the state alleged that the governor left because he could not give account of his stewardship after three years in the saddle. They argued that he was asked to render account after they noticed that he had not really performed well as governor.
In fact, at a recent chat with newsmen, Akume, who is the incumbent Senator representing Benue North West Senatorial District, apologised to the Benue people for giving them Ortom in 2015 whom he said had abysmally performed in office. But Ortom quickly countered the allegation saying the party had on many occasions lauded him for performing creditably well in office and wondered at what point he had suddenly become a non performing governor.
Akume maintained that the governor was just using the Fulani herdsmen incursions into the state as an excuse to cover up for his non performance in office. But Governor Ortom at a meeting with PDP stakeholders from Oju and Obi Local Government Areas at the auditorium of the College of Education in Oju sometimes stated that the major reason he left the APC was that the party could not protect the interest of the people of the state.
Governor Ortom said he came to the conclusion after his cries for the arrest and prosecution of leaders of various Fulani groups including Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore who threatened to invade the state and went on to carry out the threat, fell on deaf ears.
He explained that after he signed the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill into law in May 2017, leaders of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore addressed several press conferences at which they pledged to mobilise their kith and kin across the world to invade the state.
Governor Ortom stated that his petitions to the relevant authorities to pre-empt the invasion were ignored just as his request for the arrest of those who claimed responsibility for the subsequent attacks and killings was not granted.
He said if the issue at stake was grazing alone the establishment of ranches would have provided permanent peace between farmers and herders but that the real agenda was “conquest and occupation.”
The governor stated further that leaders of the APC at the national level with their collaborators in the state have made him a target for elimination on account of the Ranches Law which the people have insisted should not be repealed.
He requested the people to give him a second chance in 2019 as the recession coupled with security challenges hindered him from delivering on most of his campaign promises pointing out that the end of the matter is better than the beginning.
On his part, the APC governorship hopeful, Emmanuel Jime who is currently the Director- General of Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) has challenged Governor Ortom to a public debate on what they can offer the Benue people.
Jime who stated this during the defection ceremony of a former Speaker of the state Assembly, Dr. Stephen Tsav from the PDP to the APC, said such step was necessary so that politicians could depart from politics of propaganda, falsehood, acrimony and name calling and focus on giving good governance to the electorate.
He posited that four years is enough time for him to change the bitter story of Benue, correct the wrongs, reconcile the people, enthrone peace and set the pace for the development of the state.
“Let me ask you, how many years did Aper Aku use to set a foundation for the modern Benue that has today been stagnated by this administration? How many years did Fr. Adasu stay in government house that he was able to set up many sensitive infrastructures?
“Let me tell you, it is all about preparation and mindset. Once you are prepared for governance and above all, you have the mindset for development, four years may even be too much and I can convincingly tell you that I am well prepared for the job,” Jime stated.
Speaking on the development, Ortom’s Adviser on Media and ICT, Tahav Agerzua , also stressed the need for the people of Benue North West to retire Senator Akume in 2019.
Agerzua who stated this in a chat with newsmen in his country home, Akerior, Utange, said it was high time the people of the state retires Akume who had been in the political firmament since 1999.
The Media Adviser who maintained that if Ortom has not performed, Akume should also be held responsible said the people of the state should know the toughest people in Ortom’s government were nominees of Senator Akume.
“Performance has nothing to do with the criticism of Governor Ortom by the APC, Akume and his cohorts. The toughest people in Ortom’s government were Akume’s appointees. So, if Ortom has not performed, Akume was culpable because he nominated into the government and kept quiet while the romance lasted.
“Akume’s accusation that Ortom has not performed has nothing to do with performance. Akume is strangulating the entire system. We left the APC because we were finding it difficult to tell the Benue people to vote in Buhari again after all that happened in the state and he has not said anything.”
Agerzua posited that things were virtually in a state of chaos as the political and economic weather was very bad at the time the governor came into office and that that was why the people clamoured for change in 2015.
“Things were not normal when Ortom came in and this reflected on the performance of the administration. Nevertheless, you are witness to the major milestones that the governor recorded in the health sector, education sector and so on.”
He also expressed the assurance that given Ortom’s love for the people, the people of the state will willingly cast their votes for him again in 2019.
However, as the clock ticks towards the forthcoming election, it is clear that the governorship election would be a tough and keenly contested one. But it is not yet clear who or which party will carry the day.
The presidential poll
In 2015, the people of Benue State voted massively for the APC during the presidential election which had Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as its standard bearer.
The people voted against the then ruling PDP because they were tired of the way and manner the party was conducting its affairs and they yearned for a change.
On the day of that election, the palpable anger of the people was so hot that it could almost be felt with the touch of the palm as many irrespective of class, profession or religion went all out to cast their votes to push out the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
Another factor that also enhanced the votes of the APC in that election was the fact that the Benue workers who were being owed three months salary at that time had rejected the PDP and had settled for the APC. Little wonder, Benue was reputed as one of the states that gave President Buhari the highest votes in that election.
But three years down the line, the music seemed to have changed, as the centre can no longer hold for the ruling APC in the state. This current state of affairs is largely due to the invasion of Benue land by suspected Fulani herdsmen which left hundreds of Benue people dead and thousands displaced from their ancestral homes.
Many Benue indigenes are not happy with the way and manner the Federal Government under President Buhari handled the Fulani invasion of the state.
Initially, when the pogrom began, this group of Benue people felt the president should have out rightly condemned the attacks and ordered for the arrest of the perpetrators of the dastardly act.
But rather than toe that line of action, all the Benue people got from the president was a loud silence and a plethora of accusations by close aides of the president including the Minister of Defence and the then Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris.
Another factor counting against President Buhari in Benue is his silence over the implementation of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law.
The people felt that since the law was enacted by the state, it was the responsibility of the president to direct security agencies to ensure its full implementation but he didn’t do that. Instead, the people were left in the cold while the invaders hacked them down on every side, killing, maiming and destroying all they had.
Aside these, many Benue people also complain of hunger in the land as many could not feed and could not pay their rents or school fees for their children. Businesses are not also thriving because there is no money as workers were before now, being owed several months’ salary arrears.
It is for these reasons that most average Benue persons, armed with their Permanent Voter’s Card appear to have made up their minds to vote out Buhari as they are likely to vote for Atiku Abubakar.
A lot of Benue people believe that no matter how bad Atiku may appear, he will most likely still be better than Buhari even though both of them are Fulani.
However, there are some Benue people who still believe in the Buhari project and are bent on ensuring that he wins the election in the state.
This category of people are working round the clock and deploying all arsenals to ensure his victory in next month’s presidential election. But on the whole, if what played out in Ekiti and Ondo elections repeat itself in Benue, Buhari might likely carry the day.