From Uche Nnorom, Makurdi
The dominant issue in Benue State political landscape is that of the governorship race. Over 35 aspirants from the two leading parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC) are jostling for the number one seat of the state.
The primaries of both parties are just around the corner and Benue electorates are anxiously waiting to know who would be the flag bearers for them so that they would know who and what party to file behind.
But beyond the governorship contest which is expected to be highly competitive, is the tussle for the Benue North-East senatorial district seat.
The position which is presently occupied by the former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party and a member of the Board of Trustee of the party, Chief Barnabas Gemade is been challenged by the incumbent governor Dr. Gabriel Suswam.
It would not be out of context to describe the tussle as that between David and Goliath. In this case, Sen. Gemade is the David and Suswam Goliath.
It should be noted that the seat that is contested by both persons is supposed to be zoned to Kwande and Ushongo.
In the last dispensation, the people of Kwande/Ushongo loaned the seat to Konshisha people where Gemade hails from. This was to enable him complete a second term for his younger brother Sen. Joseph Akaargerger who only enjoyed one term at the senate.
Sen. Gemade had to battle really hard to get nomination against a not-to-popular political middle weight and also, his younger brother from the same local government Dr. Mathias Byuan.
Byuan enjoyed the support of Governor Suswam then to upstage Gemade with the permutation that he (Byuan) would serve a term and then relinquish the seat to him in 2015. However, the table turned against both of them and Gemade scaled through.
Gemade has always desired to be in the senate and was once quoted as saying that “even if it means representing the people of Benue North-East senatorial district for just a term, I would be a fulfilled person”.
But that seems not be the case this time as he has made a u-turn and wants a second term from his constituents.
As one of the founding members of the PDP in the country, Sen. Gemade is regarded as a political giant and maestro who know how to play the game well. He has the record of been one of the best national chairman of the party since its formation. He always applies his political acumen in succeeding in whatever he does. This gives him an edge over other politicians in the State. He sure knows his way around the corridor of power at the presidency that has high respect for him.
Only recently, on Harvest FM phone-in program he was quoted as saying “I will retire from politics at the age of 70. So, I appeal to the younger politicians who still have many years on earth eying this seat to be patient until the end of my second term then I will pass the baton to the younger ones even though there are people who are more than 70 years at the senate. However, I am willing to negotiate with Kwande people who leased the seat to me and have no business with any aspirant from Sankera divide”.
The Zone A district which comprises 7 local government area is subdivided into Sankera axis where governor Suswam hails from with the highest number of local government areas of 3 including Logo, Katsina-Ala and Ukum, Jechira Gemade’s axis with 2 local governments of Konshisha and Vandeikya while Kwande/ Ushongo completes the circle.
Realizing that the seat should naturally be zoned to Kwande/Ushongo axis, Governor Suswam had some time ago during his formal declaration for the senatorial seat, accompanied by a high powered delegation of stakeholders from Sankera axis which included his elder brother Terkura Suswam, Chief Abu King Shuluwa, Chief Atoza Ihindan amongst others passionately appealed to the people to loan the seat to him in 2015.
The people though accepted his plea to represent them but placed so many items on the negotiation table which he must do for them. Some of the demands are construction of Adikpo-Ikyogen road, establishment of campus of the Benue State University in the area, appointment of a minister from the area at the expiration of Dr. Samuel Ortom’s tenure, recall of their son Andrew Ayabam as Chairman of the Benue State Revenue Board amongst several others.
The governor doled out millions of naira to the stakeholders from the two local government areas including traditional chiefs who were also not left out in the endorsement exercise all in a bid to woo them to his side.
But no sooner had the elders and chiefs endorsed the governor than a group known as Kwande/Ushongo Youth Solidarity Movement came up with an advertorial in some dailies, castigating the endorsement. They took a swipe at the elders of the party in the area accusing them of mortgaging their future.
However, in a twist of event, the same youth group denounced their stand at a press conference in Makurdi held at the NUJ house and gave their unflinching support to the governor’s ambition. There were also claims by some of the youths that money meant for them was diverted by some prominent individuals from Kwande and Ushongo which infuriate them to carry such action.
Governor Suswam as a former lawmaker who served for two terms in the House of Representative heading sensitive position as chairman of Appropriation, he is familiar with the terrain. He would equally be banking seriously on the power of incumbency to outwit Sen. Gemade. Suswam also realizes that Kwande/ Ushongo hold the ace to him getting the nomination ticket of the party since the Sankera axis is intact for him. While for Gemade, it would indeed be a Herculean task to penetrate the Sankera axis and convince the people to support him against their son in whom they are well pleased.