Politics is war in Nigeria. Perhaps, that is what it is everywhere. As war is the ultimate emergency, it makes no sense to expect the combatants to be able to think through their actions. Storm and storming, therefore, becomes natural to politics and politicians in Nigeria. Take Samuel Ortom who has been governor of Benue State since May 29th, 2015 as an example.
Storm Number One: how he even became the candidate of the APC. Some aspirants were already well heeled there before he arrived. Somehow, through a classic godfather operation, he got the ticket. It was considered a good move by the godfather for two reasons. One, Benue State has rarely been governed by a rich or well located politician. The late Aper Aku was a radical in his own right. How else might someone who found himself in Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone in those days and who ended up swearing affidavit in an anti-corruption cross-fire be called? Aku, therefore, wasn’t an establishment person and the developmental height he took the state in just four years is evidence of that. Is it not interesting that nobody has beaten his record yet? Secondly, Ortom’s background recommended him. By his own testimony, he rose from grass to grace in the most classical version possible. Such a person, it was reasoned, would be very conscious and sympathetic to the most painful aspects of the life of the commoners in a desolate place such as Benue. So, all eyes were on him.
Storm Number Two: the N38b cargo airport he planned to build. That was the first shocker. It was the big national controversy in the first week of November 2016. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, the retired Colonel and Kaduna based critic appear to sum up national scepticism about the project when he said then: “I read a report in The Guardian newspaper of 31st October that the Benue State Government is planning to construct a cargo airport at a staggering cost of N38billion. And what is the cargo? Agricultural produce! And the only agricultural produce we know being produced in Benue are maize, cassava, yams and oranges. One cannot understand what type of cargo are being produced in Benue State other than these…There is nowhere in the world that farm produce of this nature are transported by air”. The idea might still be alive as any traveler into or out of Makurdi can see the site earmarked for the project but it is not in sight yet.
Storm Number Three: Non-payment of salaries. In a state where non-payment of salaries is the graveyard of every governor, this might have been Ortom’s gravest challenge. There is yet to emerge a theory to explain the conditions favourable or unfavourable to payment or non-payment of salaries in Benue State, including under Ortom. The initial whatsapp stuff that circulated is that some godfather has consumed everything. But the godfather has frontally challenged that narrative in another explosive whatsapp stuff. All that leaves Ortom in a very threatening storm. Without the salaries, the governor awaits a fatal electoral verdict in 2019 even if his current manoeuvres are productive.
Storm Number Four: the Benue killings. This had the paradoxical outcome of helping to subsume all other controversies as the national mood was in his favour. But, even then, it was temporary relief, just waiting for something to overtake it.
While storm Number Three might be a threatening one, storm Number Five, the latest, came with a force powerful enough to uproot the governor completely and to send him back to exactly where he came from – the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP). It is still an unfolding drama and some settlement might be negotiated. In other words, those who think Ortom is finished might find him in a cosy, secure ground too soon. It is, therefore, a waiting game!
It is just that as the Benue version of the war called politics in Nigeria goes on, the part of Nigeria that ought to have the most modern fruit juice factories end up with nothing more than nature itself. One most striking manifestation of that must be the ubiquitous orange markets that dot the highway between Aliade and Makurdi. That is for travelers from the East of Nigeria. When might this be seen as embarrassing by any category of actors in the Nigerian political economy; Northern Nigeria; the Middle Belt and Benue State?