Benue State has clearly entered or is about to enter the phase of high stake politics, with Governor Samuel Ortom slapping a N60b libel on Senator George Akume over the latter’s August 30th, 2021 press conference containing allegations of prolificacy, running a local militia and bad governance. The high stake analogy is located in the caliber of shadow parties behind the conflict on both sides. Too many centres of power within and outside Nigeria are involved or keen about the conflict or what it has been largely framed to be. It is thus a Benue State case only in territorial terms but bordering on issues that extend beyond the territory of Benue State.
Of course, the court option could provide a safe landing for both conflict parties by allowing room and time for external intervention. But is that about happening? Someone such as Atiku Abubakar who is not associated with Islamisation and Fulanisation might be able to bring the two parties to some understanding but he is a key player in the PDP which is the governor’s party. There is thus no way that question can be answered yet since no one knows the calibre of lawyers Senator Akume’s coalition might be assembling and if such lawyers are the types that could turn the court against the governor by dramatising their evidences and possibly turning the court against the governor. Similarly, the governor’s lawyers could do same.
Meanwhile, the question on the lips has been that of what is in it for people of Benue state in the tussle between Senator George Akume and the incumbent governor. The question arises from the governor shifting the battle space to the courts in claiming N60b for libel from his distant predecessor.
What that means is that all those salivating for the war of sound bites, graphics, metaphors and, in short, of wits will have to come to terms with the legal version of these. Although no law forbids running commentary on a case in court if we follow the authority of Richard Akinola, ex-ace Judicial Correspondent of the defunct Concord newspapers, it is unlikely that witticism will be the site of the contestation for now. Heavily paid lawyers and their sententious speak will rather be on show proving Ortom’s allegations that Senator Akume’s press conference of August 30th, 2021 scandalized him, was borne out of malice and injured his, (Ortom) person.
It is mainly that which raises the question of what the people will gain in the end. By the time the courts are done with the case, many people would have forgotten what was at stake in the first instance unless the case is granted accelerated hearing for whatever considerations. But will that happen? Only time will tell for now.
Perhaps, like all great breaks in history, the people might benefit ‘accidentally’. This could come from the either the governor deciding to clear the backlog immediately or the big names in the Akume led coalition decide to go rugged: raise and pay the backlog of salaries being owed civil servants in Benue State and which is one of the key issues in the press conference in question. From whichever source it comes, it would have been a popular moment in the history of the moment. But who can tell if any of these would happen?
Obviously, the last has not been heard in this most recent and most sensational elite fragmentation!