The race for the governorship of Benue State in 2015 looks disorganised, as no one seems able to pin down the choice of the major stakeholders, even though everyone agrees zoning is a key factor. George Okoh, in Makurdi, reports
To the casual observer, it may seem too early to begin any discussion on the 2015 governorship election in Benue State. But a lot of behind-the-scenes politicking is on among aspirants, especially in the main political parties. Stakeholders are working anxiously to lay the groundwork for the contest to succeed Governor Gabriel Suswam in 2015.
There is an ongoing debate in the state on which zone should produce the next governor after Suswam’s second term. The thinking in some quarters is that since Suswam is from Benue North East region of Zone A, and having taken over from Senator George Akume from Benue North Central area of Zone B, the next governor should come from the Idoma-speaking South West region of Zone C.
However, a section of the people of Zone B, comprising Guma, Makurdi, Gwer East and Gwer West Local Government Areas, popularly called MINDA, have argued that power should shift to the zone. This zone produced Akume in 1999 and he did two terms of four years each, leaving office in 2003. But Akume is from the part of Zone B referred to as Jemgba, which is made up of Gboko, Buruku, and Tarka Local Government Areas.
The argument of the Zone B protagonists is primarily based on the unwritten traditional arrangement within the two Tiv speaking zones of A and B, whereby the governorship is rotated between the five Tiv lineages. This arrangement has been followed strictly, as Kwande, Jehchira, Jemgba, and Sankera have sequentially produced the last four democratically elected governors since 1979. Going by this arrangement, given the fact that all the five families, with the exception of MINDA, have produced a governor of the state, then MINDA should have the next turn.
But some in Zone A, where Suswam comes from, and which comprises Kwande and Jehchira, have argued that on the two occasions they had occupied the governorship position, military intervention had truncated the democratic process. They, thus, seek to be given a chance to complete the zone’s tenure.
The Zone A elements also argue that since the paramount ruler of the Tiv nation is from MINDA, the area should have no right to contest the governorship position, as it would be unfair for a lineage to have both the Tor Tiv stool and the governorship post. They cite an incident in 1979, when Kwande zone was denied the Tor Tiv because they were to be supported for the governorship. This account is, however, denied by the MINDA elders’ forum.
Whatever the arguments, it seems increasingly clear that the race for Government House, Makurdi, in 2015 would follow past patterns, especially in 2007, when the race was thrown open to all the zones. Then, it was a strong fight between zones A and C, as Akume from zone B was just rounding off.
This point was stressed by Suswam at a reception in his honour by prominent MINDA sons and daughters in Aliede earlier this year, when he told the people of MINDA that even though their agitation was reasonable they should expect that people from other zones will show interest in the race, “Just as the Idomas did in 2007.”
There are other factors that would determine who succeeds Suswam. There has been a steady generational shift in Benue politics since the inception of democratic rule in the state. Successive governors have always been younger.
Other factors such as maturity, political experience, educational qualification, charisma, sincerity, toughness and ability to deliver would also likely play a role in determining the next governor of Benue State.
Hopefuls and Jokers
Over 40 people have indicated interest in the governorship race. But some appear to be in the race just for other reasons, such as getting appointments and party patronage. Those widely considered to be serious contenders include former Minister of State for Niger Delta, Dr. Sam Odeh; Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Dr. Samuel Ortom; former Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, Prince Terhemen Tazoor; former commissioner with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Barrister Paul Harris Ogbole; chairman, Nigerian Labour Congress, Benue State, Comrade Simon Anchaver; former Commissioner for Lands and Survey, Mr. John Tondo; Mr. Philip Atume; and Mr. Akange Audu.
Others likely to also contest Director General of National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control, Dr. Paul Orhi; former Vice Chancellor, Benue State University, Professor David Ker; Permanent Secretary, Government House, Dr. Tivlumun Nyitse; Minister of Interior, Comrade Abah Moro; and Dr. Terhemba Shija.
Dr. Sam Odeh
If there is any Idoma man the Tiv people can trust to support for the governorship, it is Sam Odeh. Odeh, 45, is the son of a former military administrator. He hails from Oturkpo, the hometown of Senate President David Mark.
Odeh has the unique advantage of having a Tiv mother from the JS Tarka family in Zone B. Very popular within the political class for his generosity, he came to limelight when he was appointed special assistant to the former governor, Akume, and was later appointed caretaker chairman of Otukpo Local Government Area by the same government. He is reputed to be a member of Suswam’s think-tank.
Odeh worked vigorously for the governor’s success in both 2007 and 2011elections. He was appointed Special Adviser, Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affair, by the present government and was later made Minister of State for Niger Delta by the federal government. He is currently into private business.
He does appear to have the wherewithal to run for the position, but he is also capable of drawing huge financial support from his contacts.
However, Odeh might find it difficult to get votes from zones A and B. These zones may not be convinced to vote any Idoma candidate as governor.
Besides, Odeh’s relationship with the senate president does not seem to be very cordial. Mark is expected to play a key role in determining the success of any aspirant from Zone C.
Dr. Samuel Ortom
A seasoned politician who rose through the ranks, Ortom came into political prominence when he was chairman of Guma Local Government Area. He later became the secretary of the PDP in the state and was later nominated as National Auditor of the party, before his appointment as Minister of State for Trade and Investment.
A successful businessman with interests in printing, agriculture, and production, the 52-year-old politician is regarded as one of the leading aspirants for the governorship position. Highly connected and with appreciable war chest to run for the seat, his major strength is his deep knowledge of the political environment in the state. He is a strong party man and has a good structure within the party to back him. He is well connected within the PDP national leadership and has a warm and friendly disposition.
If the majority Tiv speaking people of the state decide to concede the governorship to MINDA, Ortom might just be the candidate to beat.
But the generational debate does not seem to favour Ortom. There seems to be a general belief that Suswam may want to hand over to someone younger than himself, which has been the trend in the state. With that, Ortom may not get the governor’s backing, which is key in the race.
Prince Terhemen Tarzoor
A former Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, Tarzoor is the son of a famous traditional ruler from Makurdi Local Government Area. He is the dark horse in the race, but he is expected to pull a surprise.
Tarzoor is young, intelligent and experienced. He is seen as having performed excellently in his short stint as Speaker of the state’s Assembly.
A strong Catholic who had his secondary education at the famous Mount Saint Gabriel Secondary School, Makurdi, Tarzoor is in his early 40s. He started his working career with the Catholic Information System where he became very popular before going into politics. He is popular among the past and present members of the Assembly who are likely to work for him, being the only state Assembly legislator to go into the governorship race.
Tarzoor is currently running a Doctorate Degree at the Benue State University where he also did his first and second degrees in Economics. He is currently engaged in private business in Bayelsa State and he is reported to be close to some power brokers there. He is financially able to run the race.
However, it does appear Tarzoor may not get the backing of the party hierarchy.
Mr. Paul Harris Ogbole
Harris Ogbole is a lawyer based in Abuja. He once ran a law chambers with Suswam in the 90s.
Ogbole, from Otukpo local government, is the son of a retired judge. He was a caretaker chairman of Otukpo Local Government Area and was until recently a commissioner with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. He is very popular in the PDP and enjoys a large followership.
Ogbole, however, may not have the financial wherewithal to run the race.
Comrade Simon Anchaver
Anchaver is the chairman of Nigerian Labour Congress in Benue State and was also recently elected national president of Agricultural and Allied Union of Nigeria. The labour leader, who is in his fifties, is from Gwer. He is popular among workers in the state following his ability to negotiate a new minimum wage for workers.
But Anchaver does not seem to have a clear party platform yet. He would be seen as a stranger in PDP, and Labour Party, which may be his best choice, is not popular in Benue State.
Mr. John Tondo
A surveyor and town planner by profession, Tondo is the immediate past Commissioner for Lands and Survey. He hails from Guma and is likely to be the youngest aspirant in the governorship race. He was born in 1974.
Tondo ran a successful private business, with focus on telecommunications and estate development, before he was appointed commissioner. He is popular among the youth in the state. Tondo is regarded as a giver who has been taking care of many less privileged kids in the state. Some of his friends are strategically placed to deliver their zones to him.
Tondo has a good war chest to fund his campaign.
But he is perceived as too young to govern the state in many quarters.
Felix Atume, Secretary General of the Federation of African Organisations of Engineers, is a member of the Anti-Corruption Standing Committee of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, Registrar of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, and a Senior Lecturer in Highways Engineering and Transportation. He was chairman of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Makurdi branch, Executive Secretary of the NSE, Director of Benue State Rural Development Agency, and Commissioner for Works.
Atume, who is in his 50s, is from Gwer West. He is just going into partisan politics. Atume, however, does not seem to have a strong structure within the PDP.
A retired Permanent Secretary, Audu has served in both the Akume and Suswam governments. He is a successful farmer with huge grassroots support. Audu is likely to run on the platform of the opposition merger, All Progressives Congress. He is from Makurdi Local Government Area and an associate of Akume. If APC is registered, then he is likely to pick the party’s governorship ticket.
But APC may find it difficult to win in the state. And if Audu decides to contest in PDP he may not get the necessary acceptance.