By Barrister Manni Ochugboju
The following narration is the first part of an abridged account of Senator George Akume’s last two days on the 2019 electioneering campaign to retain his Benue South West (Zone B) Senatorial seat. This first part captures the campaign’s itinerary, the inexhaustible energy and enterprising spirit of the Senator but, above all, the mesmerising enthusiasm of the wonderful people of Benue South West who continue to support and vote for the Senator emasse.
The second part of this narration will follow under a separate heading to be published at a later date, optimistically titled, “Senator Akume’s 2019 Winning Pitch”. The second part will attempt to situate the account of the last days of the 2019 campaign, within its thunderous political electioneering setting, recounting Akume’s message, arguments and rebuttals on issues relating to Governor Ortom’s defection to PDP, Ortom’s failure to pay workers salaries, pensions and gratuities. Revealing Ortom’s political and economic exploitation of the violent Fulani Herders incursions and asserting why Emmanuel Jime and Sam Ode would be a more progressive alternative, and why Akume’s PDP opponent Orker Jev is a lightweight nonstarter.
On Tuesday, February 12th, 2019, I joined the convoy of the Distinguished Senator, the leader of the APC in Benue State, to travel the next day from Abuja to Makurdi. He was on a last ditch campaign trail to retain his seat for the fourth term, to recapture the governorship position lost to the opposition PDP when Governor Samuel Ortom defected in July 2018. And as the National Vice Chairman for the North Central of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, to further promote the electoral prospects of President Muhammadu Buhari in Benue State and the middle belt region.
By 7 am on Wednesday, February 13th, 2019, a large team of supporters had already gathered at the Senator’s Abuja residence as usual. Some supporters arrived as early as 6.30am. After attending to each of the groups and individuals, we had breakfast, and left for Makurdi a few minutes after 9.00am.
By 1.00pm, we arrived Makurdi and were welcomed by a tumultuous crowd of cheering supporters and APC activists from across the length and breath of Benue State. The Makurdi residence of the APC leader was like a sports stadium, every available space, inside the massive mansion, the surrounding garden, three large outdoor shelters, the car park, the adjoining streets, were all filled to capacity with thousands of well wishers, community leaders, grass roots operatives, women, youths and an array of socio-political associations. It was a rousing rally in its own right. Spending about two hours attending to the various groups, individuals, and others, in Makurdi, the Senator, asked us on his convoy to get ready for more rallies.
By 3.pm or so soon thereafter, we set out for a campaign rally at Naka town, the headquarters of the densely populated Gwer East Local Government Area. On our way to Naka, the attorney in the vehicle with me, Wembeh Shima Esquire, drew my attention to the moribund Benue State Industrial Layout which Senator George Akume tried to revive when he was the Governor of Benue State from 1999 to 2007. And how Governor Ortom has now cheery picked the assets of the estate and surreptitiously purchased some of them as his private property. As we drove further down the Makurdi – Naka road, passing the industrial layout, Mr Shima showed me some abandoned building estates that were deserted partly because of the recurrent herders violence but which have now all been purchased by Governor Samuel Ortom. Thus, as communities were being internally displaced in Benue State, and the Governor was frantically shedding crocodile tears in public, he was privately buying up their abandoned building estates and farmlands for his rice plantations, and laughing all the way to the bank.
At Naka, the Senator met with the traditional leaders and communal elders of the LGA as well as with pensioners and organized unions, including NLC, TUC, NUT and finally with the masses and political activists in a rally. The crowd at the rally was tremendous. Even the podium was shaking and creaking under the weight of those that mounted it. It was past 5.pm in the evening, the crowd have been waiting for their beloved Senator to address them. Speaker after speaker roused the morale of the massive crowd. The crowd chanted their appreciative response. As it was getting dark, and the restive crowd gradually inching closer and closer into the large arena, surrounding the podium, the Senator started delivering his message. He has not come to make promises but to narrate a verifiable account of his performance in the last sixteen years in the Senate and to consolidate thereon. He recalled the various community empowerment projects: from supporting the farmers, providing tractors, storage facilities, specialised haulage tricycles, renovation of schools, churches, primary health care provisions, water projects, community and skills acquisition centres, etc., etc. Then he told the crowd about the electricity Transformer for the community that he had successfully lobbied to be purchased and would be installed very soon. The crowd roared in screams of appreciation.
Furthermore, Senator Akume assured the community that contract for the construction of the Makurdi – Naka – Adoka highway has now been awarded and the contractor will be mobilised to site shortly. The crowd went ecstatic, with clapping, shouts of joy and jubilation. I joined the celebration too. My home town Adoka in Otukpo LGA will also tremendously benefit from the construction of the Naka road, reducing our journey time from Adoka to Makurdi by nearly one hour, as the tedious detour from Adoka to Otukpo and Aliade to Makurdi would become unnecessary.
By 7.30pm in the evening, we hurriedly took off for Aliade town, headquarters of Gwer West Local Government Area. As it was nearly 9.pm when we were approaching Aliade town, I asked Mr Shima if we have not arrived too late? He told me, “you have seen nothing yet”. That he has attended political rallies with the Senator as late as 11.pm and he was astonished to find the massive crowd of admirers waiting patiently. I thought it was incredible but I was careful not to argue with a colleague that has been in the trenches with the Senator for over fifteen years. When by 9.pm, we arrived Aliade town, our convoy first drove to the town centre to meet with the Civil Service union, Bikers union, NURTW, Teachers union, Pensioners union and others. This was where the Senator addressed the large crowd. From there we drove to the traditional leaders meeting where they had all been waiting patiently for the Senator. The large turnout of traditional leaders and community elders was impressive. They sat patiently and had a very lively dialogue with the Senator. From the traditional elders meeting, the Senator’s convoy went to actually commission an electricity Transformer that has already been installed in Aliade town. The teeming crowd that stormed Transformer celebrated and expressed their appreciation.
It was now nearly 9.30pm in a dark night at Aliade town, we drove into the main arena of the rally. As our vehicle headlights beamed on the crowd, the sheer staggering seize of the thousands of people cheering, jubilating and welcoming us was even frightening. I felt uncomfortable getting out of the vehicle. As it turned out, the massive cheering crowd conducted themselves in a disciplined manner, listened attentively, thanked the Senator, showed him tremendous support and appreciation that was simply spectacular. Even at 10.00pm, it was exceedingly difficult to drive out of the arena as the cheering, clapping, chanting and celebrating would not ebb. Yeah, I know politicians do conjure up or rent a crowd, but hey, at 10.pm? That “black magic” is unheard of other than the extraordinary charisma of a truly beloved leader. You don’t pull thousands of a happy-clappy crowd at 10pm in a dark night in Nigeria as a serving Senator if you have not actually make a positive impact on the lives of those coming to chant your praises.
Though the crowd at 10pm in Aliade town astonished and even frightened me, there was even more mesmerising rallies ahead of us. When our convoy left the arena at Aliade and instead of going back to Makurdi, it was heading towards Gboko, I asked Mr Shima why we seemed to be going the wrong way? He replied, that the traditional leaders, unions leaders, women and youth leaders, party activists and supporters at Buruku Local Government Area have been waiting all day and have inundated the Senator with calls to visit them tonight. I was stunned into silence. I asked him how many hours drive it is from Aliade town to Buruku town. He said about two hours because of the bad road and poor visibility at night. Would there be anyone at Buruku to meet the Senator by 12 mid night when we would get there? Mr Shima said, “wait and see”.
As we approached Gboko by 11pm, there was a massive welcoming party at virtually every hamlet and settlement welcoming the Senator with signing and dancing. At the entrance of Gboko town by the New Road, the scene was simply unbelievable. I decided to get down from the vehicle to observe the crowd, the cheering, clapping and celebrating. To my utter surprise, there were even more elderly women in the massive crowd than youths. I had to wonder where the youths were. But I was to see them in their numbers much later.
Then at 12.00am or a few minutes thereafter, we arrived Bukuru town. As our convoy was meandering into the town, spontaneous crowds started trooping happily towards the twirling blazing blue and red lights of the escort vehicle in front of us. The blue and red lights were like a magnetic beacon, pulling crowds from the darkness like a Nollywood movie scene. The welcoming crowd slowed our entry into the town as the Senator slowed down the convoy to acknowledge their support and love. It was early morning Valentine’s day anyway, at 12 mid night the wonderful people of Buruku, including their elders, and traditional leaders turned out en masse to welcome Senator Akume as if it was a carnival, with signing, drumming and dancing.
I was galvanised by the Bukuru people’s show of love. I kept looking at my wristwatch, pinching myself, making sure I was not dreaming. I experienced a cognitive dissonanceL Is this the Benue State we are told APC is not so popular? Is this the Senator Akume we are told the elites of Benue State have now conspired to defeat him? Is this the Buruku that’s the hometown of Akume’s PDP opponent? It was Wednesday mid night, going into Thursday morning, not a weekend that folks tend to hang out late at night. The thousands of people that turned out were clearly jubilant, profusely expressing their love and support. And that continued till 3.15am when the Senator decided it was time to return to Makurdi, to allow the supporters go and rest.
On our way back, from Buruku, as we passed from Gboko, into Tarka local government area, around 4.20am in the morning, You heard me right, 4.20am, when I thought I have seen enough extraordinary razzmatazz support for Senator Akume, the youths that I did not see in their numbers earlier, staged welcoming parties along the hamlets and villages as we travelled back to Makurdi. The convoy slowed down to a crawl for the Senator to reciprocate the appreciation at every village the supporters trooped out or were waiting to salute Akume.
We arrived Makurdi 5.00am, and had breakfast by 6.00am. Which is exactly 24 hours when Senator Akume’s day started at Abuja the previous day. That’s just a profile of the last days of his 2019 blitzkrieg re-election campaign bid. Which continued the next day to Gboko, Guma, Tarka, various local communities, towns and villages within his Benue North West Senatorial District, with the same intensity, pizazz, and mesmerising mass enthusiasm.
Incredible as it were, those events got me critically reassessing the concrete impact Senator Akume has actually made on the masses of his constituency to evoke such enduring support. And to further review the perceived notion that APC is not so popular in Benue State on account of the politicisation of the bloody issue of herders conflict in the state. It is evident there are some misconceptions, warped analysis, contentious issues, distorted opposition propaganda still beclouding popular consciousness. On the weight of the enduring popularity of Senator Akume that I have witnessed and those twisted notions notwithstanding, it would be a delight analysing his message, legislative agenda and some of the political issues that presently preoccupy his attention such as the Benue State gubernatorial race and the re-election of President Buhari in our subsequent write up.
In summary, my biggest applause is to the wonderful people of Benue South West Senatorial district that continue to support Senator Akume. To the PDP and other nay sayers, I say, yeah, lets not be like the spiritually misguided in the Bible that have eyes but they see not, have ears but they hear not. Senator Akume has justifiably earned his epaulet as a towering successful General, promoting and protecting the best interest of our people under very difficult bumpy socio-political terrain. By February 23rd, 2019, the great people of Benue South West shall vote their hero for a fourth term.