The war of zones in Benue

Scheming for Governor Gabriel Suswam’s job in Benue is turning out to be a war of brothers, as two senatorial districts in the state lock horns and deploy various strategies to out-do each other for the ticket, writes JOHNSON BABAJIDE.

Like in most states across the country, the political climate of Benue State is charged, as the political actors in the state dispense huge doses of horse-trading and intrigue in the race to emerge successor to Governor Gabriel Suswam. Although it is not clear yet from what part of the state Suswam’s successor will emerge in deference to the god of zoning, the high-wired politicking in the state has brought about a season of alignments and coalition among the gladiators in a bid to out-do one another.

Speculations, however, have it that the governor might have thrown his weight behind a geo-political axis within Tiv nation to produce the next governor, at the expense of the Benue South Senatorial district popularly known as Zone C, comprising Idoma and Igede nations, which has been agitating for the state’s number political seat. The zone had predicated its argument on the premise that it had never taken a shot at the seat since the creation of the state. The battle began about a year when the Zone B also launched out for the governorship ticket.

The two zones have since been employing a mix of deft moves and propaganda to whip up sentiment in the direction of their aspiration. The lower part of Zone B axis, which comprises four local governments-Guma, Gwer East, Gwer West and Makurdi-has continued to drum into their Tiv brothers and daughters beats of perceived marginalisation in the political affairs of the state. But the entire Zone C has anchored itsargument on power shift to the zone, since both zone A and B have at one time or the other mounted the coveted seat.

The governor was reported to have hinged his preference for the Minda axis on the grounds that the traumatic experience the area went through during the Fulani insurgency was devastating, hence the need to give the axis the governorship in 2015 to rehabilitate the damage done to the people of the area.

Though politicians from Zone C have dismissed this position, stating that some partof the zone, the like of Agatu Local Government Area, was also traumatised by the insurgent, while a few other council areas in the zone also had bitter pill of the insurgency.

As the arguments and battle of wits rage, Governor Suswam, according to some sources, seems to be helpless. He was said to have thus resolved to allow a level-playing ground for the aspirants during the governorship primary slated for November. One of the sources said governor had decided to allow “the people of Benue have opportunity to elect their candidate, hence, as things stand now, he will allow a level-playing ground for all the aspirants jostling for the soul of Benue.”

As a result of this development and not wanting to be caught in political summersault, the two axes- Minda and Zone C- have formulated their political arithmetic that could give each of the axes an edge during the forthcoming governorship primary in the state.

Both axes haveresorted in pruning down the number of aspirants in their areas to increase their chances of clinching the ticket. For instance, in the Minda axis, the PDP elders’ forum has ratified the decision of Tiv traditional council by anointing four aspirants among about 18 persons that have signified their interest in the governorship race.

Some of the aspirants include the immediate past Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Chief Samuel Ortom; a former Speaker of the state house of assembly, Honourable TehemeenTarzoor; a frontline journalist and one-time permanent secretary, TivlumunNyitse; a former commissioner for environment and urban development, Dr Eugene Aliegba; a former permanent secretary in the ministry of internal affairs, Mr HingagBiam; a former attorney general and commissioner for Justice, Alex Adum, incumbent state chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Chief Simon Anchaver; and a former Vice Chancellor Benue State University, Professor David Ker, among others.

At the PDP elders’ meeting last Friday, it was reliably gathered that the caucus meeting led by Honourable Cletus Ukpan had concluded on four of the aspirants, namely Chief Ortom; Honourable Tarzoor; a former registrar of Council for Regulation of Engineers (COFREN), Felix Atume; and Adum.

A similar ticket-winning strategy was said to have been recommended to the aspirants from Zone C, where four persons have signified their interest in the plum seat. They are: the deputy governor of the state, Chief Steven Lawani;a former minister of state Niger/Delta, Honourable Sam Ode;a former Chief Medical Director of Federal Medical Center, Makurdi, Dr Matthias Oyigeya; and Paul Harris Ogbole.

While the exercise in Minda axis has been endorsed by the stakeholders, the one in zone C has been mired in controversy, with no platform upon which the self- acclaimed consensus candidate hinged his nomination.For instance, the Tiv traditional rulers had displayed transparency in the selection of the four who represent each of the local government councils that make up of the socio- political group called Minda, while for the second time, PDP elders from Minda met to ratify the selection of the traditional rulers.

But in Zone C, the party caucus leader, General Geoffrey Ejiga (retd) had suggested to the four aspirants from the zone to meet within themselves and come out with a consensus candidate.It was gathered that, on two occasions, the meeting was convened but was stalemateddue to the death of the father of one of the aspirants, Justice Ogbole. But while the aspirants were, proposing another meeting, the name of deputy governor found its way to airwaves as the consensus candidate for the zone.General Ejiga who was credited to have presided over the meeting where the deputy governor emerged has since denied selecting Lawaniand faulted the entire process said to have thrown him up.

One of the aspirants, Ode, put the matter thus: “I want to say there were two different meetings. At the 6p.m. meeting, we engaged in strategies to enable us clinch the governorship seat of the state and this was devoid of rancor. The meeting was presided over by the caucus chairman with the zonal chairman in attendance. Other prominent members of the caucus like Dr. Jerry Agada were also in attendance. It was agreed that, we the aspirants should meet and fashion out a strategy to achieve that objective. I was the first of the aspirants to respond and I thanked the caucus chairman for giving the aspirants the opportunity to agree amongst themselves and the meeting came to a close.”

“As soon as we stepped out of the meeting, the deputy governor Chief Lawani suggested that we should meet on Tuesday 30tb September,2014. We were to meet on that said day, but the deputy governor called me to say that the meeting could not hold because one of us, Ogbole was supposed to have a court sitting at Abuja. So, we picked another date of Thursday 3 October,2014.”

“Again, the meeting could not hold because Paul Harris Ogbole lost his dad late Justice Ogbole and for us, it was a moment of depression. So, the subsequent meeting we met at the guest house of the deputy governor and during the meeting, I, on behalf of the aspirants, called and condoled with Harris on the passage of his father. We also called GeneralEjiga and told him that because of the circumstances, we could not report to him. Then I travelled to the UK on a Saturday after taking permission from the deputy, since I do not want to miss any meeting.”

“I arrived the UK on Sunday and on that day, it was already in the media space that the caucus met and the former minister and DrMathias Oyigeya were asked to step down and the people left were Paul Ogbole, Roseline Ada Chenge and the deputy governor. The caucus never met. For it to meet, it is not a one- day affair because people would have to come from Abuja and other parts. I landed in Abuja on Thursday and read in the Guardian that the caucus chairman disclaimed the publication as untrue,” he submitted.

The pruning down exercise from both axes has created a big gulf among the aspirants, particularly, the dropped aspirants who described the exercise as “null and void.” According to HingahBiem, whose camp went into wild in jubilation when his name initially appeared as a shortlisted aspirant before it disappeared last Friday,the selection is fraught with problems.

At the moment, mistrust, betrayal, maneuvering and political back-stabbing pervade the political space and the camps. The governorship hopefuls dropped have vowed not to be dampened by the development and have promised to go ahead with their consultations and subtle campaigns.

Observers opine that one thing that may possibly help in the pruning the aspirants is the exorbitant fee charged as nomination forms, which, it is argued, will help distinguish the pretenders from contenders. As of the time of filing this report, only the former minister of state for Niger/Delta, Ode has bought his expression of interest and nomination forms, while Ortom told the Nigerian Tribune on Friday that he was on his way to obtaining his own.

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