Benue State political ambience is in frenzy, suspense and anxiety has enveloped the state in the run-off to the general elections in 2015. In this piece, our correspondent Uche Nnorom, examines the intrigues as well as the chances of the frontline parties and their candidates in next year’s election.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primaries of December 8, 2014 saw the emergence of Prince Terhemen Tarzoor as its flag bearer.
Tarzoor, erstwhile speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly picked the ticket by scoring 517 votes to beat his closest rival Chief Steven Lawani who got 311 votes. His emergence up till this moment came as a huge surprise to many Benue people. This is because; he was not in the fore front of aspirants to clinch the party’s flag.
Hitherto, in the primaries, the likes of former Minister of State Trade, Industries and Investment Dr. Samuel Ortom, Mr. Hingah Biem, former Permanent Secretary Internal Affairs, Dr. Eugene Aliegba, former Commissioner for Environment and Housing and Engr. Felix Atume, former Registrar of Council for the Regulation of Engineers in Nigeria, COREN were clearly tipped to emerge as the party’s choice.
Recall that several meetings were held between the Tiv Area Traditional Council, TATC and the aspirants as well as another with MINDA PDP elders’ and the names of these persons featured prominently.
Others aspirants led by the Chairman of MINDA governorship forum, Dr. David Ker who were not favored by the ratings, had at those instances, out rightly condemned the ranking and vowed not to step down for the so called preferred aspirants.
However, events took a turn around when at the last ranking conducted by the same MINDA PDP Elders’ Forum, the name of Tarzoor suddenly appeared, said to have even been written in ordinary pen. From that moment, the horse-trading and intrigues commenced.
Governor Suswam had all the while hid under the clout of ‘giving equal opportunity’ to all the aspirants as he maintained on several occasions that he had no preferred candidate. But as a good chess player, he kept his moves close to his chest. His joker card which meant so much to him, he hid from his opponent until the last play and then, his aces did the magic.
The governor spared nothing in ensuring that Tarzoor got the ticket. He wooed delegates especially from the Sankera axis where he held sway, convinced some of the aspirants before the primaries to step down for Tarzoor. While the other aspirants had to be persuaded on the day of the primaries during long hours of meeting held at the Government House, Makurdi to withdraw from the race. The rest is now history as they announced their withdrawal from the race at the venue of the primaries held at the Aper Aku Stadium and their action enabled Tarzoor coast home to victory.
Aftermath of the primaries was visibly seen in the immediate defection of Dr. Ortom to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Recall that Ortom had before the primaries, raised alarm that the process would be far from been free and fair but went ahead to contest following assurances given to him by the party leadership in the state and national body that the process would be transparent. Note that he finished third at the primaries.
The state deputy governor, Chief Steven Lawani who had high hopes of succeeding his boss even as he gave a good fight but for the stepping down of other aspirants at the last minute, he would have picked the ticket and made record as the first Idoma man to govern the statel. Lawani was said to have felt aggrieved at the intervention of his boss to lure other Tiv aspirants to step down for his preferred candidate, alluding that he has kept faith with him, work assiduously and remained loyal to Suswam in their almost eight years of the administration.
But then, many Benue people had argued that it would be an act of greed on the part of Lawani considering that he had served for 8 years as deputy governor as well as his age to want to govern the state. So, his boss preferred a younger man to succeed him. Rumors had filtered in the state that Lawani had planned to defect to another party but this was aptly dispersed by him through his media secretary Mr. Ejembi Ogwuche.
Suswam’s preference for a younger man who is the same age of 42 with him when he assumed the mantle of leadership of the state stemmed from the fact that he always believed that power should be held by the youth who would expend all their energies as well as exhibit their experience and prowess to achieve results.
Hear him, “I have always maintained that power should be given to the youth. I came as a young man at the age of 42 and was able to develop the state. So, another young man should take over from me”.
Only early this week, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state announced its running mate to Tarzoor. Hon. John Ngbede was picked after several weeks of horse-trading between Governor Gabriel Suswam, his deputy, Chief Steven Lawani and Senate President, David Mark over who should be presented as deputy to Tarzoor.
While Suswam had preferred former minister of state, Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Sam Ode, the Senate President was said to have supported NTA board chairman Mr. Patrick Ogbu with the deputy governor Chief Lawani throwing his weight behind the Commissioner for Works and Transport, Mr. John Ngbede.
It was later learnt that the decision of the PDP in the state to settle for Chief Lawani’s choice was to compensate him for his failure to secure the governorship ticket during the December 8 primaries of the party during which he polled 311 votes to place second to Mr. Terhemen Tarzoor who emerged as candidate.
Mr. Ngbede who hails from Agatu local government area of the state came to political limelight during the George Akume administration where he served as Special Adviser on Assembly Matters and later was appointed as Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment as well as for Works and Transport all in the Governor Gabriel Suswam’s administration.
Tarzoor has since hit the ground working as he has embarked on a statewide appreciation tour of the entire state.
On the part of the main opposition party the APC in the state, it failed to hold its primaries to elect a governorship candidate. An attempt was made on the 4th December, 2015 to hold the congress but it was aborted following a court injunction obtained by Prof. Steven Ugbah from a Makurdi High Court presided over by Justice Ada Onum. Ugbah in the suit alleged plot by the party to exclude him from the contest even after the national secretariat of the party had duly screened him to contest the primaries.
The party’s hierarchy has obstinately gone ahead to conduct the primaries but when it seemed obvious that their preferred candidate then, Akange Audu was losing out to Hon. Emmanuel Jime, the party had to quickly throw in the towel and relied on the court injunction to stop the process.
The primaries had to be rescheduled for the next day December 5, 2015 and were to hold at HAF Haven Hotel amidst tight security. Even then, controversy took over. It was alleged that the state party chairman, Comrade Abba Yaro chased away delegates who had been duly accredited to vote at the primaries and till date, the primaries have not held.
The deliberate refusal of the party’s leadership to conduct the primaries has resulted in some skirmishes within the party. Sen. George Akume who is the leader of the party in the state had been accused of imposing a candidate in Samuel Ortom on the party; an act which other aggrieved aspirants like Jime, JKN Waku, Ugbah and Iordye have vowed to resist. They argued vehemently that while they had gone through the rigorous process of been screened by the national body of the party to contest the primaries which failed to hold, the body is breaching its constitution to impose a candidate who did not go through the same process.
To further seek redress, the four aspirants have instituted a court case in an Abuja Federal High court requesting for interpretation of the constitution of Electoral Act and the APC constitution as well as asked the court to restrain Ortom from parading himself as the party’s flag bearer.
Meanwhile, Ortom has insisted that he is the party’s sole candidate as endorsed by the national body of the party and also ratified by the state leadership.
The governorship election is just few months away. It is expected that in the New Year, the parties would commence serious campaigns across the nooks and crannies of the state. Both candidates of the PDP and APC wield a lot of influence in the political sphere of the state. Thus, the contest is expected to be really fierce and dicey.
Tarzoor and the party would really have to work extra hard to beat Ortom who is well vast in the politics of the state. Perhaps, the strength and fortune of the party would rest in the hands of the Idoma area where the opposition had not made a good inroad but then one cannot rule out the possibility of anything happening in the course of the campaigns.
Ortom on his part has traversed though the murky politics of the state having served as secretary of the PDP. He has also been local government chairman of Guma so he is abreast with grass root politicking unlike Tarzoor who only came into political limelight under this administration. It is just a matter of time to know who will govern the state in 2015.