I watched on the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, on Monday, July 30, 2018, shortly before the network news at 9 O’clock, a repeat telecast of the press conference addressed by the national chair of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, on the Benue state governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom’s July 25 defection to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The press conference, which took place at the party’s national secretariat on Friday, July 27, 2018, packed in it the force, velocity and magnitude of a grenade. Someone even said it was an atomic bomb, judging by the extent of the collateral damage that it seemingly caused to Ortom’s political rating. Oshiomhole had simply hoisted Ortom with his own petard.
Surely, the governor’s agenda was to destroy the APC platform in Benue. But Oshiomhole had quickly risen to the occasion and turned the table against him. In a tirade of counter narratives, he deconstructed Ortom’s deliberately-choreographed theatrics about people blocking the road and telling him not to go to Abuja to meet with the APC national leadership.
To the APC national chair, the histrionics were aimed at validating and rationalising Ortom’s obvious bad faith and consequent defection. He, however, dismissed them as pieces of comedy probably fit for Nollywood. It was obvious that Ortom had made up his mind to jump ship, for which Oshiomhole expressed relief. Ortom’s alleged non-performance had become a moral burden to the party. Fielding him, notwithstanding his perceived electoral baggage, would have become an albatross to the party.
Besides, that he left, despite assurances by the national leadership of the APC that the party did not have a red but yellow card, was indicative of an under-the-table agenda. In a fit of righteous indignation, Oshiomhole had not only exposed Ortom’s shenanigans but also denied him the electoral values that he claims to have and which he desperately seeks to put to test on the platform of his new party.
Indeed, the Oshiomhole-Ortom showdown is the kind of stuff of which the 2019 electioneering will be made: those seeking re-election will be rewarded and rejected on the basis of their performance and non-performance respectively. Besides, those who are offering themselves afresh for election will be thoroughly interrogated to confirm and reconfirm their capacities to perform and deliver on campaign promises.
In the race for 2019 elections, it would be quite interesting if the parties can draw public attention to the stewardships of their elected officials. There should be cross-party interrogations of performances and capacities anchored on cogent and verifiable facts. Those who seek to govern or represent the people must be made to imbibe the sense of accountability to the people who voted for them.
In this instant case, all gloves were off, yes, there were no more niceties. Ortom had crossed the Rubicon and created the impression that the APC had spurned good faith in its relationship with him. Oshiomhole would not accept that suggestion, knowing full well the specifics of Ortom’s foibles and how they had affected the party’s profile somewhat negatively.
It was like throwing down the gauntlet to the APC and Oshiomhole. Trust Oshiomhole not to fight shy. He confronted the issues. He did not to speak tongue-in-cheek. He said that after the national leadership first met separately with Ortom and the other group, there was need to meet both parties together so they could speak looking into each other’s eyes. The meeting, according to him, was arranged for Wednesday, July 25, 2018, at the behest of Ortom but he decided, instead of coming for the meeting, to engage in the now historic monkeyshines.
Firing from the hips, Oshiomhole said that the APC leaders in Benue alleged that Ortom had not performed and that there was nothing on ground to justify his being given the governorship ticket. Besides, if he must be fielded at all costs, he would have to work for the ticket.
Interestingly, those who watched the repeat telecast of the press conference can attest to the claim by Oshiomhole that Ortom did not deny the fact that he did not have any project on ground to show for the more than three years that he has governed the state. Nothing could be more scandalous against the backdrop of the whopping sums that had been received by the state under his watch.
Perhaps, the report about the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigating the governor in respect of over N20 billion allegedly spent on security issues would give an insight into the scale of alleged misappropriation in Benue. But, Ortom had challenged the EFCC to start the probe of security votes from the presidency.
Sincerely, how can anybody rationalise such humongous expenditure on security and yet the state is not secure? How can anybody justify that kind of mind-boggling and iniquitous expenditure? How can anybody defend the unconscionable leadership in Benue? If it is, indeed, true that no single project had been commissioned in three years of Ortom’s governorship, what greater damage could he have done to himself?
Oshiomhole had damningly put the narrative thus: “There are some of these facts that are in the public domain and we just need to amplify them; that he has not commissioned a single project is not a secret for me to discover. The only issue is his argument that he is spending money on security issues. He did not say that he was sharing the money with party leaders….”
And, he certainly could not have shared the money with party leaders because if he did, that would have even been a good reason for them to give him a return ticket on a guaranteed term. That was Oshiomhole’s argument. If, therefore, he did not share the money with them, what then did he do with the money? Did he pay the salaries of workers? Did he build more roads for the people of Benue with the money that he refused to share? These are logical questions.
Whatever Ortom has done with the Paris club refunds, bailout funds and the states monthly shares of the federation account should be identifiable. It is a challenge to Ortom to dance naked. For once, sentiments, mendacity, and mundaneness should be sidestepped. It should not be about alignment and realignment of forces for the sake of leadership change; it should be about the wellbeing of Benue.
The dialectics of national politics should not be allowed to subsume the issue of performance of government in Benue. Instead of Ortom to use the opportunity of this open challenge to his integrity and credibility to showcase and defend his performance and/or achievements, he has unfortunately become timid, seeking refuge in debased politics of impunity and political rhetoric simply because he enjoys immunity presently.
Moving to the PDP cannot insulate Ortom from the essential indictment by a vast majority of his people, except it is propaganda that he has not been paying workers’ salary and building infrastructure. However, the fear being expressed by leaders and members of the PDP where Ortom has moved to is that the party may pay dearly for it if it gives the governorship ticket to him because the issues that threatened his chances of getting the APC ticket for re-election are existential.
But Ortom has the opportunity to defend himself and redirect the narrative of the political economy of Benue under his watch. If he knows he has performed, this is the time to talk about his projects; if the projects are ongoing, this is the time to quickly complete and commission some. Besides and significantly, this is the time to deal with the issue of payment of outstanding workers’ salaries and allowances of pensioners. Benue is a civil servants’ state and the workers constitute a good percentage of the voting population.
––Ojeifo writes via email@example.com