This is perhaps the first time when picking a deputy-governorship candidate is proving more complex than picking the governorship itself. Somehow, APC bigwigs in Benue have been able to beat swords into plowshare, overcome internal division substantially and pick Barrister Emmanuel Jime, the gangling former federal legislator turned technocrat. With good education, some populism original to him and exposure to how Abuja works, he was a ‘natural’ choice in an election in which the party plans to rout an incumbent governor. What they are finding difficult to do is picking the deputy-governorship.
The problem is not that the position is no longer zoned to Zone C, the elegant name for Idomaland in Nigerian politics. The position still remains in that zone. The snag is which part of Idomaland should produce the next deputy-governor for the APC ticket. Like in Ali Mazrui’s “We are all Africans”, so it is with Idomaland. They are all Idoma until there is a pie to be shared.
Engineer Benson Abounu, the current Deputy-Governor, comes from Otukpo Local Government Area. Otukpo is the hegemon in Idoma politics. It has cultural, locational, infrastructural and political advantages over and above all other parts with the possible exception of Ugbokolo which is already a more qualitative, emergent urban centre than Otukpo that doesn’t have functional internet centres, even at its top rate hotels.
In 2015 when Abounu was chosen, it was Senator George Akume’s handiwork. Akume was in need of someone who could, among other reasons, make life politically uncomfortable for Senator David Mark. In the current shuffling, Abounu has crossed over to the PDP along with Governor Samuel Ortom in the aftermath of a fallout within the Benue APC establishment, leaving the APC to having to pick a new governorship material. His position Emmanuel Jime has taken. The question now is who deputises Jime? Or, who is that candidate whose selection as deputy-governor will not only neutralize existing electoral disadvantages of the APC in 2019 but also make the party consolidate whatever advantages it already has?
This is the question everyone is waiting for the APC to resolve. Even PDP governor, Samuel Ortom, is also interested in how it is resolved, according to those who spoke to Intervention, saying he is praying and hoping that the APC will make a faulty move regarding the choice of deputy- governor. What might be a faulty move in this context?
As Intervention came to understand, a faulty move now is picking any of the major candidates who have advanced to be recognized as possible deputy-governorship material. So far, the most prominent of the names are Sam Odeh, former Minister of State for Niger Delta and who is rated as educated, very generous and, above all, preferred by a powerful operator in Benue APC; Dickson Akor who has the positive image of a job creator but who is said to be facing opposition from some quarters within national APC; Ralph Igbago, a former deputy-speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly who is, however, said not to be a crowd puller; Daniel Onjeh, the student leader who challenged Senator David Mark in 2015 but who is said to have rubbed many party elders on the wrong side; Nelson Alapa, the highly reserved but unchallenged star of democracy in Idomaland who only lost his seat in the federal legislature to the might of a defunct power broker in Idomaland.
As qualified as any and every of these politicians and as admired as those like Odeh and Alapa, they all, however, come from Otukpo LGA. Taking any of them as the deputy-governor in this contest means that, should the APC form the next government in Benue State, then the governor’s wife as well as the deputy-governor would all be natives of Otukpo, the same Otukpo that has held the Idoma Senate seat for 20 years in the person of David Mark. In the popular imagination, this is overconcentration of power in Otukpo. In fact, the fear is that should the deputy be taken from Otukpo, the rest of Idomaland may revolt by scurrying to the PDP.
This is the basis of the words of caution flying from both insiders and outsiders on the deputy-governorship decision. There is no doubt about it that a groundswell exists for the APC in the state. Apart from the Jime political personality, the prolonged non-payment of salaries by the Ortom administration would appear to have done an irreparable damage. This is aggravated by division in Tivland between Governor Ortom and Senator Akume as well as the fact that both Ortom and Jime come from the same area in Tivland, (Zone B). This leaves Ortom hanging on two main political lifelines. One is Jime annoying Idomaland by his choice of a deputy while the second is the bandwagon effect of Atiku Abubakar beating President Buhari in the February presidential contest. The implication is that Ortom might be high and dry if none of these happens.
Although Engineer Abounu, Ortom’s deputy who never used to see eye-to-eye with David Mark has gone to beg and explain how wrong he was to take on Mark, it remains unclear if that will make Zone C, (Idomaland) to leave Jime who is married to an Idoma lady and vote for Ortom. The Ortom administration has dealt a devastating blow on the Buhari administration through powerful propaganda and it is open to speculation whether the APC establishment will allow him return to power, bandwagon or no bandwagon. This leaves the PDP and Governor Ortom with only the advantage of powerful politicians such as Senator David Mark; Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, Mr Gabriel Suswam, Mrs Margret Chen and so on. These are men who have wielded power and have one idea or the other about how to use it although they still risk being scattered far and wide were Jime to transform into an all-consuming populist hurricane.
The argument on current share of power in Idoma land in some quarters is that Otukpo has been well served and that the Senate seat is moving from Otukpo to Idoma West (because Abba Moro who is contesting this position with Chief Steven Lawani is perceived to be unlikely to survive the two well-connected forces within PDP and two other mighty forces from outside PDP fighting him, not to talk of whether the Idoma elders club would be as comfortable with him as with Chief Steven Lawani who is one of their own). For those who are thinking this way, the right thing to do is to cede the deputy governorship to either Apa or Agatu or Ado segments of Idomaland. Each of these areas is a huge voting population and is remote from the rest of Idomaland. How this will or will not play out now rests squarely on the party leaders of the APC in Benue State. Intervention learnt authoritatively that, as at Friday night, November 9th, 2018, this decision had not been taken although supporters of each of the strong contenders for the position have been posting congratulatory messages on their Facebook walls.
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom is reconstituting and repositioning his cabinet preparatory to the electoral battle of his life. While no one seems to be quarreling with appointing new commissioners to replace those he dismissed recently, the governor’s critics are calling the process an entertaining exercise in governance. Intervention was told that the kind of materials being brought forward by some of those the governor extended the privilege to do so does not fit the bill of any game changing politics. In fact, Governor Ortom has had to turn down one particular nomination, saying the woman brought forward is not only too old, she has absolutely no chance of adding any value whatsoever to governance. There is, however, no guarantee the replacement would be anything better in terms of pedigree because governance has, in the words of a Benue State University academic, been reduced to where notables send their minions and messengers who cannot do anything without reference to their godfathers.
Ortom’s crisis is being made worse by the series of stories of tragedy emanating from the state in the last one month. If it was not the disorienting story of Ochanya Ogbanje, then it must be the story of a 61 year old impregnating a 14 year old girl at Otukpo just about the same time Ochanya’s case was raging. Or it must be where a woman killed her husband, three children and herself with a pestle or the case of 73 year old professor at the University of Agriculture, Makurdi who drugged himself to death in spite a hefty bank account of N80m. That is where it is not the case of two women who stole a 2 year old baby in Makurdi to sell for N250, 000 at Aba, accomplishing it neatly but only to be arrested later because the novice of the two could no longer contain her conscience. These chilling occurrences speak to an ungoverned space, a very bad testimonial for leadership and power in Benue State although the situation is not much better elsewhere across the country.
The question now is who, between Ortom and Emmanuel Jime, is going to change this sorry story in favour of that elusive thing called Benue Exceptionalism that Aper Aku, the first democratically elected governor, inaugurated through comparatively qualitative governance between 1979 and 1983?