Benue State’s governorship election was a major contest between allied forces in the state and agents of the federal government, writes George Okoh
The gubernatorial election in Benue State has come and gone, but the ripple effects of the intrigues, propaganda and subterfuge are still being felt across the state and particularly, the manner and ways the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) forces in the state led by Governor Samuel Ortom defeated the much avowed federal might.
In the run-up to the March 9 governorship and house of assembly elections, palpable fear and apprehension was the order of the day as the state government had raised the alarm that the federal government had planned to deliver the state to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The reasons for the fears were not far-fetched. Ortom, who was elected governor on the APC platform in 2015, had left the party due to some irreconcilable differences between the governor and his erstwhile godfather, Senator George Akume.
A reliable source told THISDAY that Ortom had fallen out with top notch members of the APC at the state and federal level due to his altercation with the federal government over the implementation of a law banning open grazing by herdsmen in Benue State.
The state government had implemented the law following incessant killings attributed to killer herdsmen. The herdsmen union led by the Miyeti Allah had kicked and resisted the law, stating that it was too extreme.
The federal government was perceived by Ortom and a majority of Benue people to have sided with the herdesmen following their inability to curtail the killings.
The APC, on the other hand, felt the resistance put up by the governor was a ploy to de-market the party and federal government in the state. The governor and the APC eventually parted ways, with Ortom joining the PDP.
His decision irked the leadership of the APC led by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who threw caution to the wind, levying several allegations of corruption and embezzlement of funds against Ortom. He equally accused the governor of being behind the killings in the state, using militias and livestock guards. Ortom has since dragged Oshiomhole to court over his allegations.
With Ortom dumping the APC, the party handed over its ticket to Emmanuel Jime, who was viewed as a reputable and serious challenger to displace Ortom.
Armed with what has become a sing-song in the state known as the federal might, Jime, a two-time member of the House of Representatives and current Chief Executive of Nigeria Export Promotion Zone Authority (NEPZA), boasted a rather solid team.
With a running mate in the person of a former minister of state for Niger Delta, Dr. Sam Ode; Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe; former deputy governor of Benue State, Chief Steven Lawani; Chief Jack Tilly Gyado; Nigeria’s Ambassador to Russia, Professor Steve Ugba; former speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, Terhemen Tarzoor; retired Generals Lawrence Onoja, Indir Garba and Steve Adah – all led by Akume, nothing was spared in the onslaught against Ortom.
The team went round the state preaching the mantra of change. They accused Ortom of over-dramatising the herdsmen crises with songs mocking the governor. They also hinged their campaign on the inability of the governor to clear outstanding salaries owed workers and pensioners.
However, the most potent of the APC plans to capture the state, according to the PDP, was the alleged use of federal might. Supporters and some bigwigs of the APC had bragged that Buhari and Abuja would subdue the PDP and ensure victory was delivered to the party.
Some even alleged that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the police and the military had been put on standby to work and deliver the APC. Also, the PDP at several fora gave credence to the allegation before the March 9 and March 23 supplementary elections.
But Ortom had insisted that the APC was only delaying the evil day against them by trying to use federal might in the state.
The governor was however miffed when nine commissioners of police were deployed to the state for security purposes for the election.
Eventually, when the elections were shifted by two weeks, the governor condemned the INEC for the postponements, saying whether they shifted it or not, the Benue People and Nigerians would still reject them at the polls.
He stated that the postponement was planned as evidenced in the statement credited to the leader of the APC in the state, Akume that they would cause the election to be postponed and write results. The governor described the development as unfortunate, saying for the INEC to postpone the election it took more than three years to plan few hours to the commencement of voting when people had travelled from far places to exercise their franchise was a rape of democracy.
He stated that the action was a grand plan by the APC-led federal government to rig the election, noting however that Benue State and the North Central in general was vigilant and would not allow any form of rigging during the polls.
He added that the people of North Central Zone were prepared for a free, fair, credible and transparent election that would usher in leaders, who will anchor the Nigerian democracy based on the rule of law compared to the APC, where there is no regard for the rule of law.
“Dictatorship and nepotism among others were major characteristic of the present APC-led government at the centre, where the constitution of the country is no longer respected”, Ortom said, saying the party was just delaying the evil day against them.
According to the governor, the APC which has the resources and claims to be fighting corruption is the worst culprit of corruption in the history of Nigeria, saying it was insensitive to postpone an election the way and manner the umpire body had done.
He noted that he was ready to sacrifice the last drop of his blood to ensure democracy thrives in Nigeria, pointing out that democracy remains the only option that could give liberty to Nigerians and add value to the development of the country.
Ortom urged President Muhammadu Buhari to remember the words of the late elder statesman, Maitama Sule, who told him when he went to congratulate him on his victory in 2015 that he should ensure his leadership was anchored on the rule of law, truthfulness and integrity, where the interest of Nigerians would be protected far and above personal interest.
The PDP also alleged that the APC had planned to use security forces to rig the election.
“It has become necessary to alert Nigerians particularly, the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Security agencies as well as Local and International Observers on plans hatched by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to rig the March 9, 2019 Governorship and State Assembly elections in Benue State.”
THISDAY learnt that defeated Akume had told his supporters during an exclusive meeting that he had requested for military personnel from the federal government to enable the party rig the coming elections in its favour.
Part of the plot, THISDAY learnt, was to use the military to disrupt the elections, chase away voters in areas considered to be strongholds of PDP and allow rigging by APC. Akume allegedly boasted during the meeting that there would be no voting in the state on March 9 as the APC would ensure that the party got massive votes through alternative means.
He allegedly repeatedly stated that the party would not allow free and fair elections in the state, anchoring his ‘confidence’ on what he and his supporters called “federal might”.
They believed that the APC-controlled federal government would send security operatives to help them subvert the electoral process in Benue State, and that if PDP felt aggrieved the party would go to court in the worst case scenario,” Spokesman of the PDP, Mr Bemgba Iyortium, said.
Armed with these evidence that the federal might could be real, the governor allegedly reached out to his lieutenants and PDP stalwarts such as Senator David Mark, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, Dr. Gabriel Suswam, Abah Moro, Oker Jev, retinue of aides and his media team to carry out a well-tailored campaign that bordered on exposing the federal government and its allies.
They went to the nooks and crannies of the state, preaching and acknowledging governor Ortom as a defender of the Benue valley from the marauding herdsmen. The governor and his team met with civil servants and pensioner, promising to pay all outstanding salaries and pension owed them.
He also reached out to the religious groups, which often offered prayers for his success. The traditional institutions were not left out. The governor and his team reached out to whoever could be reached with promises of a better Benue if re-elected.
Luckily for the governor, some factors played out in his favour. First, two of the senatorial zones within the PDP – the Benue North east and the Benue South west – were of the opinion that the governorship position would get to them easily in 2023 if governor Ortom was re-elected rather than allow Jime, who might seek another term after 2019.
As such, the people of Benue North east came out massively to vote for Ortom. In Benue South west, the governor was neck and neck with the APC, which won the majority votes in majority of the 9 local governments. In the Benue North central, Ortom dominated, winning in Guma, Gwer, Buruku and Gboko.
At the end of the elections, PDP won the presidential election by a margin of over ten thousand votes, and also won all the three (3) Senatorial seats, as well as six (6) out of the 11 House of Reptresenttive seats in the State, while APC won only one.
At the Governorship and State Assembly elections, Ortom was in clear lead with 410,576 over his closest rival Emmanuel Jime of the APC, who scored 329,022 votes, before INEC declared the election inconclusive and ordered a supplementary election for March 23. The margin between Ortom and Jime stood at 81,554 votes. And out of 30 state assembly seats, PDP won 26.
The PDP and Ortom however triumphed at the poll and the clear defeat of the federal might indicated that either the state APC failed to use the might available to it or the grand work by Ortom and his men was rather too much for the APC to undo.