Although it has successfully sent an intimidating signal in terms of the massive turn out for Governor Samuel Ortom’s flag off rally last Sunday, the Benue State branch of the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) is contending with several misfortunes in the past one week that could unmake it. The first ever electioneering activity it organized – Zone C Senatorial District flag off rally ended up being postponed when a mysterious accident involving several vehicles killed party and non-party members. That was on December 28th, 2018. 21 persons have now been confirmed killed, made up of the seven that died instantly, the five that followed and the last batch from the hospitals. Others are still in hospital, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, including opposition All Progressives Congress, (APC) which expressed its condolence. This is not to talk of party big-wigs who turned back after the news filtered to them, leading to postponement of the event and, therefore, the loss of one of the best opportunities for the party to represent itself to the Benue audience.
The party which could be said to have recovered from the set back by the massive crowd at the governor’s flag off rally Sunday in Makurdi, the state capital has, however, had to contend with the setting of the governor’s rice farm on fire by unknown actors. As if this is not enough, the Wadata Market in the state capital went up in flames earlier today, (Wednesday morning). Although Wadata Market is not as big as the Makurdi International Market, the fire may be no less a bad omen in an election year as no candidate can win election around Makurdi area without winning Wadata which is a multi-cultural space. Generally regarded as the cheapest market in the state in terms of fish, grains and textiles, it serves as the centre for breaking bales from Kano, Lagos and Middle Eastern countries. It is a highly populated settlement based on activities in the market and, therefore, the electoral significance of the fire.
Governor Ortom has since dashed to the market for on-the-spot-assessment. It might not take long before Barrister Emmanuel Jime, the APC candidate does so too although whether he is in a position to mobilize N30m for the victims as Ortom did is a different issue. In other words, in an election year as 2019 when the party in power in the state is seriously being challenged by opponents determined to dislodge it, anything can become political.
This is more so that, beyond the APC which has a gubernatorial candidate with considerable mass appeal in himself as well as several other advantages, there are also the Social Democratic Party, (SDP), the People’s Redemption Party, (PRP) but more popularly known as “the party of the Key”, the key being the party’s symbols and, finally, the Labour Party. Each of these parties have a popular name leading it and making waves in the state. While the SDP’s popularity comes from the youngish Dr. Stephen Hwande who made his name earlier through his involvement in the In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) model of baby making across the state, that of the ‘party of the key’ is from Dr. Frederick Ikyan. Although his popularity is territorially limited to areas where the NKST Church holds sway, meaning parts of Tivland, he and his party could cause an electoral earthquake should there be a re-enactment of the Kaduna scenario in 1979 when all other parties united against the then National Party of Nigeria, (NPN) in the Second Republic. That was what produced Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa as governor of Kaduna State in the Second Republic. While no such scenarios are in sight yet, it might not farfetched.
All manner of theories are sprouting to explain the fire outbreaks. Some trace it to herdsmen violence, others are thinking of politically motivated criminality while a third school of thought is hinting that neither the fire on the governor’s farm nor that in the market might have any political motivation beyond a common phenomenon in the dry season when hunters go into full scale hunting. As at the moment, neither the security agencies connected with it nor the Makurdi Traders’ Union have issued any official position on what caused the fire. A senior official of the traders’ union, Mallam Yusuf Abdulahi, merely said on Television that loses have not been ascertained yet.
Coming a few days after what was certainly a successful electioneering outing at the governor’s flag off rally, these disasters are bound to have a political side. At the rally at IBB Square in Makurdi, Senator David Mark in particular, had argued why Governor Ortom should be re-elected, saying that when the state was engulfed in crisis, the governor stood for the state. Interpreting that to mean that Ortom put his people first at the risk of losing his office, Mark thus invested Ortom with being an epitome of peace and security. Without peace and security, there can be no talking of development, argued Mark who started by describing the massive turn out as indication that the PDP had won the election.
How far this argument will go is the question now. Facebook warriors of the APC, for instance, are saying the crowd was rented. Their PDP counterparts have responded by saying they are waiting for the APC to be able to rent such a crowd if it is easy to do so. So, there is a lively exchange bringing fun to the power struggle in the state.
The outcome of the election might, however, depend on factors well beyond these kinds of lively altercations. The reported impending dissolution of the Local Government Councils and appointment of Caretaker Committees might be more decisive than peppery Facebook conversations. When Governor Ortom decamped from the APC to the PDP late last year, about 10 LGC Chairmen are believed to have stayed back. In the event that Ortom carries out the speculated dissolution, all such 10 except those who have retraced their steps back early enough would be swept away and replaced with those that can be trusted or those who can add value to the governor’s electoral fortune.
Benue could turn out a very interesting electoral battle ground in 2019, given its harvest of violent conflicts or developments in the past few years: from flooding in 2017 to unpaid salaries to herdsmen violence and elite splits, closing with a bloody accident and series of fire outbreaks.