In this report, George Okoh writes that the race to succeed the Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswan, has intensified following the increase in the number of aspirants in the state
Despite the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) embargo on political campaigns, with just few months to the primaries of political parties in Nigeria, serious aspirants seeking elective positions have intensified their underground consultations with relevant stakeholders in different parts of the country that their political aspiration cover, to position themselves for victory in their primaries.
Benue State is no different. There have been anticipations and assumptions over who is likely to succeed Governor Gabriel Suswam in 2015 and the intrigues around it is already reaching a point of frenzy as aspirants contend over which zone is to succeed the outgoing governor. Several arguments have been brought forward by the people, based on which side of the divide they speak from.
The three zones; Benue North-east, the Benue North-west and the Benue South-west have all had aspirants indicating interest in the race.
However the Benue Southern zone has made a strong demand that power should shift to the zone following the fact that it has never had the opportunity to govern the state since its creation in 1976.
But for now, five aspirants have indicated interest in the race; former Minister of State for Niger Delta, Dr. Sam Ode; former Commissioner in the EFCC, Mr. Paul Harris Ogbole; Dr. Mathias Oyigheya, Dr. Mrs. Ada Chenge and the incumbent deputy governor, Chief Steven Lawani.
The last few days have witnessed intensive consultations and lobbying by the five aspirants from the zone as well as pressure groups of the Southern extraction.
They have all been busy crisscrossing the entire state, engaging in high level consultations with political stakeholders, royal fathers and the clergy in order to drum up support for their aspiration.
Many believe that the determination by the predominantly speaking Idoma Southern zone to govern the state will be stiffly met by the Minda axis of the Benue North-west who are equally determined to govern the state for the first time. Though Benue North-west had govern the state from 1999 to 2007 when Senator George Akume held sway, the Minda people had argued that it is the Jemgber axis of the five Tiv family that did so.
So, to show their intent, traditional rulers of the Tiv speaking areas have lend support for the Minda extraction by pruning down over 19 aspirants who indicated interest in the race to the quartet of the Minister of State Trade and Investment Dr. Samuel Ortom; former Speaker, Benue State House of Assembly, Prince Terhemem Tarzoor, Dr. Hinga Biem and Mr. Felix Atume.
The action of the Tiv traditional institution, though very popular with the electorate in the state, its intervention was rejected by aspirants who failed to make the mark.
On his part, Governor Suswam has continued to play his card very close to his chest for obvious reasons, thereby refusing to give anyone an inclination of who his preferred candidate or successor could be among the aspirants.
Though the incumbent at a recent function clearly stated that he did not know who would eventually clinch the plump job, he was also quick to add that he certainly knew those that would not succeed him.
Despite the position of the Minda people, the Southern zone has continued to agitate that the governorship of the state be zoned to aspirant from the area.
Recently women under the umbrella of Benue Southern Women in Politics (BSWP), while addressing the state chairman of the People Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Emmanuel Agbo, at the party secretariat in Makurdi, called on the party to zone the governorship position to the Southern zone.
According to Mrs. Susan Adoba and Mrs. Mary Akut who spoke on behalf of the women, the PDP since the current democratic dispensation had won governorship elections in the state through George Akume from Zone B between 1999 and 2007 and the incumbent, Governor Suswam from Zone A who took over in 2007 and is expected to quit by next year.
“Since creation of Benue in 1976, zone C had never produced a governor for the state. There is need for power to shift to zone C, premised on the principles of equity, Justice, fairness and good governance as enshrined in the constitution of PDP and of the federal republic of Nigeria,” she said.
Adoba added that it would only be logical for the power to rotate to Zone C in the forthcoming election because they have never been elected governor.
“The PDP constitution which is its paramount law recognises the principle of zoning. Section 7.2 (C) of the party constitution suffices. Today, other PDP controlled states have zoned the governorship position to areas that have not had the opportunity. For instance, Akwa Ibom have zoned to Eket Zone; Enugu, to Enugu North; Cross River, to Cross River North and Adamawa, to Adamawa Central. So why is Benue different?” he queried.
Responding, Dr. Agbo thanked the women for taking the lead and advised them to articulate their position diplomatically to win the favour of the other two zones as 14 local governments belonging to the Tiv people are more than just nine councils area of the zone C.
Another group, the Opiatoha K’Idoma also demanded that power should shift to the Southern senatorial Zone. In a statement signed by its spokesman, Adoka Adaji, the group called on the political class to borrow a leaf from Adamawa State where the governorship position was zoned to the Adamawa central who hitherto had never ruled the state.
However, another effort by leaders from the Southern zone to streamline the aspirants from the zone, which came out with a single choice generated heated disagreements as some of the elders were routing for the aspiration of the Benue State deputy governor while other stakeholders were backing Dr. Sam Ode and Mr. Paul Ogbole.
Even as both the Idoma and the Mindas continue to argue over who should take the first shot, some silent factors according to a source show that in the political history of the state no democratically elected governor has ever supported or handed over to a successor older than him; and Governor Suswam is seen as one who could toe the same line. But some other people have contended that a more experienced and older aspirant should as well succeed Suswam.
These groups of stakeholders are of the opinion that Suswam did not performed expectedly due to his youthfulness when he came in and would rather prefer an elderly governor.
But against the background of arguments presented by both Minda and the largely Idoma speaking Southern senatorial zone and the statistic that all past governors of the state handed over to younger successors in their forties, then three aspirants stands out in the race to occupy the government house.
He is a gentle workaholic who has been involved in politics for over two decades.
He started politics at a very young age and has continued to grow. He was onetime Minister of State for Niger Delta under President Goodluck Jonathan. He is very popular across the state for the jobs he did while he was Special Adviser to the state governor on the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affair.
Under his stewardship, he embarked on local government reform which uphill date remains one of the best achievements of the local governments under Suswam’s administration. His admirers view his candidacy as the best option for the state as he is seen as a cross between the Tiv and the Idoma. His father is from Oturkpo local government area while the mother is from Ushongu local government area. He is 45 years old. He is from the Benue South extraction.
He is a former Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly. He won elections twice into the state House of Assembly representing Makurdi North constituency. His tenure as Speaker is acknowledged as the best period in the assembly.
Of all the aspirants jostling for the position, he is the youngest at 42. He is a firebrand politician that does not give anything to chance. He is one of the first aspirants that started statewide consultation and has gained a lot of acceptance among the electorate. He is an economics by training and has said that his focus will be on agriculture, job creation and empowerment .He is from Minda.
He is a highly intelligent Lawyer from the Adoka divide of Otukpo LGA who is also a son of a famous Jurist in the state. He has just completed his tenure as a commissioner in the EFCC. He is regarded for his humane disposition and truthfulness. He is in touch with almost all the blocks in the state with very important friends cutting across the state. He is also involved in private practice as he partners a chamber with Governor Suswam. He is from the Southern zone too.