The governorship race in Benue State is shifting dramatically from a struggle for power essentially between the APC and the PDP. There is now a Dr Stephen Hwande factor in the equation. Dr Hwande, a consultant Obstetrics and Gynaecologist replaced Mr Hinga Biem as the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party, (SDP) recently and those who are closely connected with the dynamics of Benue politics are saying the race is now more complicated than either Emmanuel Jime of APC and Gov. Samuel Ortom of the PDP.
The observed complication is traced to a rather funny antecedent of Dr Hwande who has been good in the In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) model of baby making across the state. The voters who have given Dr Hwande local names and titles across the state before now appear to be saying not too loudly that he is the right guy. In fact, if the claims about his popularity are anything to go by, he might as well not need to campaign again. His case is comparable to one of the success factors for the late Father Moses Adasu in the 1991 governorship race. In that election, Adasu won partly because he was recognised by all those he administered the baptismal rites many years before he entered politics. As Adasu did not need to campaign to win with children whom he baptised but who had grown into voting age and couples he wedded, so might Dr Hwande not need to campaign to families he made it possible for them to get children through IVF. Whether the more established candidates such as Barrister Emmanuel Jime of the APC and incumbent governor can beat this unusual record is the question in Benue politics now.
To make matters worse for the established candidates, Dr Hwande appears to enjoy the support of the foreign experts with whom he accomplishes the IVF approach. It is more so that he has been doing this long before his entry into politics. To his advantage is the logical inference that if he could be that great deliverer of people from childlessness, then he would be an even greater performer if he becomes the governor. How far this antecedent takes Dr Hwande is open to question but Intervention was told that, so far, all those who should take note have taken note of his entrance into the race. This is more so that age is very much on his side and he is not poor either.
Before now, it was a straight fight between APC and PDP. While APC has the advantage of a quality governorship material in terms of Barrister Emmanuel Jime’s elementary populism, education, exposure/experience and potential to perform, the PDP’s Gov Samuel Ortom has the advantage of incumbency as well as the support of a crack team of political players – Gabriel Suswam, David Mark, Iyorchia Ayu, Margareth Ichen and so on. On the deficit sides are the protestations within the APC in respect of the choice of the deputy-governorship to Emmanuel Jime’s candidature. Mr Dickson Akor of the Peace Corps fame is particularly feared to be set to decamp to APGA any moment from now as a result of being by-passed in the choice of deputy-governor. The fear is that his departure could affect the fortunes of the APC because Akor is rated high in the eyes of the youth who see him as a job creator, with particular reference to his peace corp project. While that can be sorted out within the APC, there is the additional matter of Jime’s mother Fulani identity, a big matter in Benue politics now where there is a substantial anti-Fulani sentiment arising from recent herdsmen violence across the state. In politics, such sentiments can be turned into a weapon of delegitimation of a candidate. In weaponising Jime’s mother’s identity, nobody will stop to consider any other extenuating circumstances such as the common expression that he, (Jime) has the interest of the people at heart. At least, this statement has been heard from several quarters, including opposition quarters as well as quarters that have nothing to do with partisan politics.
But even then, Jime’s greatest problem might still not be mischief makers weaponising his mother’s identity against him but the logic of Tiv politics in Benue State. Zone A Senatorial District which is in Tivland is calculating collecting back the governorship in 2023. The only way that would happen is if Governor Ortom wins and exhausts his Second term. Ortom come from Zone B, the same zone as Emmanuel Jime. If the Tiv calculus of retaining the governorship is to hold, then it follows that they would prefer that Ortom is allowed to exhaust Zone B quota so that power can return to Zone A rather than go to Zone C, (Idomaland) in 2023. This cannot happen if Jime were to win in 2019 since he would normally want to do the two terms allowed by the constitution.
This calculus would, however, work out only if Gov Ortom can still overcome the disadvantage of not having paid salaries for so long. Although it is understood that the PDP establishment has asked the governor to ensure clearing the wage bill, the question is if he can accomplish the clearance and restore himself in people’s mind before the elections. That is additional to the fact that those he fought in the APC before he quit the party to return to the PDP a few months ago might want to deny him a Second term in office. Of course, as an incumbent and as one individual who has remained a permanent star in government for a long time – from Local Government Chairperson to party official to being a minister – Ortom might know one or two tricks about retaining power which the APC might not know.
Whatever calculations Jime and Ortom were relying upon, they now have to rework them to accommodate the Dr Hwande factor which they had not anticipated at all until the surprising replacement of Mr Hinga Biem with Dr Hwande. Meanwhile, Mr Biem has headed to the court to seek justice, introducing another dimension of the complexity of contemporary Benue politics.