“Great, Dark Day in Benue Politics As Ortom Wins @ Appeal Court” may not be such a terrible headline in writing the story of Governor Samuel Ortom’s victory earlier today at the Appeal Court in Abuja, Nigeria in the election petition to that effect by Barrister Emmanuel Jime, his challenger in the March 2019 gubernatorial contest in the state.
It is a great day for all those whose political livelihood is tied to Ortom’s governorship just as it is a dark day for those who have not been paid salaries for as long as a year in that state. Non-payment of salaries in a state such as Benue is a life and death issue in that, unlike a few places like Lagos, Kano, Portharcourt in the current political economy of Nigeria, there is nothing much beyond government service. With the judgment today, both winners and losers have to come to grips with the reality that, until 2023, there is almost nothing that each side can do about Ortom and governorship of Benue State.
Barrister Emmanuel Jime and Sam Odeh, his deputy-governorship mate, have the image of a fascinating combination, the best for the psychology of Benue State of today. Whether the reality would have been very fascinating if they became governor and deputy-governor respectively now rests in speculation. So also resting in speculation is whether they won the last guber election or not. The problem may not be in themselves but in their stars. It seems the judicial component of the Nigerian establishment has decided not to rock the boat as no governor has since fallen by the wayside in any of the election petitions.
But, it is still possible to be leaders without being governor and deputy-governor. Although that can be a mission impossible in a society with too many temptations and distractions for even the most determined, it is still doable. And that is what critical observers would be watching out for.
What a great day in Benue politics for those who have won and what a dark day for those who have lost but greatness and darkness are not inherently the opposite of each other. If the Benue power elite reflect and humble themselves, they can still turn the current hopelessness into a win-win outcome. Such things are always said to be impossible until a Mandela comes around. Does a smaller Mandela lurk somewhere in Benue State?
Depending on how Ortom plays his card, his critics might even be in for a long haul. They might end up seeing more of him well beyond 2023 as far as politics is concerned. The herdsmen crisis has played out in Benue State in such a way that he has smartly emerged as “the defender of the Benue Valley’. That narrative has its potentials because the herdsmen crisis has cut absolutely deep into the psyche of the Benue community. And so that narrative of Ortom is a power resource in itself.
But narratives do not have static meaning and they are not contradiction free either. So, how far would the narrative take an Ortom in Nigerian politics? This is more so if a leader adept at reconciliation and transitional justice were to emerge today. His or her initiatives in that regard could remove the herdsmen crisis, leaving Ortom with no agenda. Achieving reconciliation in the North is nothing difficult or too complex beyond a genuine leader and qualitative governance.
The second threat to Ortom’s plausible emergence has already been mentioned. Almost nobody is rating him even at average in terms of performance. His inability to pay salaries in an economy such as Benue’s and for whatever reasons has undermined him completely. Is he likely to make a dramatic move in cleansing that record and quickly so?
Lastly, is his legacy of politics likely to serve him in the long run? This refers to his shifting cultivation attitude to party politics – moving from the PDP at the last hour to become the APC governorship candidate in 2015 and repeating the same thing in 2019 but in reverse gear. Well, an Atiku Abubakar, for example, can do this and get away with it perhaps because he has been long in politics and has resources but can an Ortom do this and gain from it?
At the end of the day, Mr. Governor might have just arrived at the most dangerous moment in his politics. Even though he is manipulative of the Bible, he is so brilliant at that as to be admirable in terms of the interpretive verve he brings into that. The implication is that he has an edge in verbal or communicative facility, the sort of ingredient that enhanced the late Abubakar Rimi’s political personage. That is missing in many politicians today. Nigerian politics at the national level could benefit from that should Ortom be a factor there beyond 2023. But can that alone save him if performance is just so poor that no decent person will stand for him?
Although Nigerian politics revolves around no values beyond that of power for power sake, a space such as the Middle Belt is in dire need of leaders and leadership. It is specifically and desperately in need of the leadership typified by Joseph Tarka and Solomon Lar. While Tarka’s lens on the problematic concept of Middle Belt is unsurpassable, Lar’s praxis is unbeatable. Notwithstanding Ortom’s limited formal education, a two-term governor should be considered sufficiently educated in the University of Life to replicate either Tarka or a Lar. That may not be genuinely possible if the track record is damned too poor and self-evidently so. It is great that Mister governor has the whole of 2020, 2021 and 2022 to make himself even more legible.