Leaders of the All Progressives Congress in Benue State led by Governor Samuel Ortom are in search of a new political platform ahead of the 2019 general election following threats from Abuja that Ortom could be denied the party’s ticket for hosting a mass burial for victims of herdsmen attack, THISDAY has learnt.
A deadly attack launched by herdsmen on New Year’s Day had claimed 73 lives in Guma and Logo local government areas of Benue, plunging the state into grief. The state government later announced its plans to hold mass burial for all the victims in the state capital.
Worried by the security implication of holding such mass burial and the negative publicity it could generate for the Buhari administration, THISDAY gathered that the presidency dispatched top security chiefs and political advisers to the state to persuade the governor to shelve the idea with a warning that conducting such a burial could lead to reprisal attacks in other parts of the country. A few of his governor colleagues were also mandated to convince him to heed the plea of the presidency.
But Ortom, who had accused the federal government of failing the Benue people by not providing security despite his warnings of an impending attack, with the support of the leaders of the state, proceeded with the burial to national and international acclaim.
Images of the mass burial held at IBB Square in Makurdi showed trucks conveying the remains of the victims to the venue with the grisly sight of sobbing relatives and mourners trending on the social media for days. This sent signals of the unspoken calamity of the herdsmen attack and brought the reality to scores.
The presidency, THISDAY learnt, was jolted by the refusal of Governor Ortom to heed its appeal to shelve plans to hold the mass burial for the victims of the deadly attacks.
Other remarks credited to the governor on how the attack could have been averted were also said to have unsettled APC leaders in Abuja.
Governor Ortom had during a visit to the state by a delegation from the National Assembly said that he alerted President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris to the plot to launch attacks on the state over the promulgation of an anti-open grazing law.
Vice President Osinbajo was forced by the claim to issue a statement denying being told by the governor about any impending attack on any specific part of the state.
Though a party delegation was led to the mass burial by the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, THISDAY gathered that hawks within the presidency and the party had resolved to deny the governor the party’s ticket in 2019 governorship election.
Ortom, a first term governor, is expected to seek reelection. Party primaries are due to hold later this year.
A close friend of the governor, who pleaded not to be named, said Ortom had been under serious threat since the mass burial was held for the victims of the attack.
The source however said that the governor was unperturbed by the threat as leaders of the party in the state were behind him in every step he took on the deadly incident.
The governor and the leaders of the party in the state are however not leaving things to chance as they are already searching for alternative political platform should Abuja make good its threat to deny the governor ticket.
What the governor also has going for him is that the attacks have now united the Benue people, irrespective of political persuasion.
“Ortom has been under threat from Abuja since he hosted the mass burial, but I can tell you that he has said he would not betray his people for any ticket,” the governor’s friend said.
“The governor has sent a message to Abuja that they should realise that nobody has won the presidency in Nigeria without Benue State since the election of Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
“He reminded them that where Benue goes, is where Nigeria goes as far as election into the presidency is concerned”, the source said.
President Buhari is also believed to be interested in seeking re-election, although he has not made his intentions known officially.