Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, is faced with several hurdles in his bid for a second term, but his defection from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may be his saving grace given the way he has been handed control of the party’s structure in the state, CEPHAS IORHEMEN reports
Apart from the unsolved problem of non-payment of the backlog of salaries owed workers and pensioners in Benue State, the killings in the state by suspected Fulani herdsmen appears to be another challenge confronting the Governor Samuel Ortom ledadministration. It is a fact that the Ortom administration inherited four months of unpaid salaries from his predecessor, Dr. Gabriel Suswam, who according to the governor also left a debt burden of N90 billion for him.
This enormous challenge compelled the governor to convene series of meetings with stakeholders comprising top political class in the state including his now estranged political godfather, Senator George Akume; former Minister of Steel in the Second Republic, Chief Paul Unongo, the clergy, legal luminaries, traditional rulers and the youth, among several other groups to keep them abreast with the situation on ground.
Prominent among those who spoke at such meetings were Senator Akume, who poured encomiums on the governor for doing well despite the odds and urged the people to understand the situation he was then faced with and support his administration.
Senator Akume at a time also hailed the governor for initiating the Anti-Open Grazing Bill, and sending same to the state House of Assembly for passage into law as a way of ending the intractable attack and killing of innocent people of the state by herdsmen.
But shortly after the take off of the law which was validly passed by the state Assembly, the sounds of the drums changed as Senator Akume who felt his 2019 political interest was not protected, launched a strong opposition to it.
The nexus between Akume and Ortom changed. But these are politicians that nobody predicted that they would ever part ways.
The cold war, which has blossomed to a full scale battle was however triggered by several factors, one of which is the governor’s successful appointment of the current Tor Tiv, Prof. James Ayatse against Akume’s anointed candidate, Justice Maurice Ahemba Ikpambese, a High Court judge.
Ortom’s choice of Prof. Ayatse was because he wanted a paramount ruler who would swear by the Holy Bible and after he (Ayatse) was coronated, Akume felt it was a big challenge to him. Another factor was the Anti-Open Grazing Law.
Akume has been one of those opposed to its enactment. He had on the day the bill was passed the state House of Assembly, scolded the governor, saying it would trigger a backlash from Abuja and that since President Muhammadu Buhari is of the Fulani extraction, the state was bound to be confronted with negative consequences when imlemented, more so that other powerful forces close to the presidency would not only oppose it, but come after him.
But Ortom at one of the elaborate stakeholders meeting at the Government House, Makurdi rejected Akume’s advice, saying if he fails to sign the law, people of the state will stone him. Interestingly too, the senator is also reported to be angry with his estranged political godson for installing and presenting staff of office to 10 first class traditional rulers in the state as he had openly scolded the governor to be careful with the way he handling affairs of the state without consulting with him.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was Akume’s discountenance to Ortom’s move to reconcile his political misunderstanding with his predecessor, Suswam, who some top politicians in the state are said to be instrumental to his probe. Ortom’s eventual break away from Akume raised so much dust and issues resulting to his exit from the ruling APC to his former party, the PDP.
The governor’s move to enable him secure a second term against Akume’s anointed candidate for the 2019 governorship election, Barr. Emmanuel Jime, who is the current Managing Director of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA).
While powerful forces both within and outside the state are bent on stopping Ortom from running for a second term in office over his decision to stand with the Benue people to end the killings by herdsmen through the enactment of the open grazing prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, some of the people including a chieftain of the APC, now gunning for State Assembly seat come 2019, who pleaded anonymity described as unacceptable the move to stop the law.
“As a young man aspiring for be a lawmaker in the state, I am particularly disappointed with the senator, who some of us are looking up to as a leader of the party for turning against the governor because he stood firm with his people and I am saying that this is not fair and unacceptable. I am happy the way things are going because, this is the time to know who is who and as well differentiate between the goat and sheep,” he siad.
Also corroborating the view, a PDP supporter who also did not want his name in print, said the whole drama started from the fact that the governor assented to the bill on open grazing prohibition and had insisted that the law would not be repealed when they asked him to do so.
“Today, they are bent on frustrating Ortom’s second term bid. Some are using the issue of salaries, others are talking about the antigrazing law to gang up against the man. I want to describe the senator (Akume) as a selfish senator with selfish interest,” the PDP supporter said.
The governor’s decision to defect to PDP alongside 10 out of the 17 state lawmakers elected on the platform of the APC as well as the 23 local government chairmen 276 councillors in the state was indeed the beginning of another round of his political calculation to return in 2019 to ensure that the law is fully implemented and provide the needed dividends of democracy to people of the state.
He said that he ditched the APC because it had continued to launch attacks on him despite the intervention of the party’s leadership.
Since his defection, the governor has been enjoying the support of staunch members of the PDP in the state including Suswam; two former Senate President, David Mark and Iyorchia Ayu as well as the party’s former national chairman, Chief Barnabas Gemade, among others who recently handed over the structures of the PDP to him.
Ortom’s return to his former party, which he was its National Auditor before his appointment as Minister of State for Trade, Industry and Investment as well as the Supervising Minister of Aviation, has, however led to the exit of some governorship aspirants on the platform of the party.
While many have expressed concern of this development, some political observers in the state are of the view that the exit of these aspirants will not affect the chances of Governor Ortom. The decision to confer the governor leader of the party was taken after a marathon meeting of Benue PDP chieftains held at the Presidential Wing of the government house, Makurdi.
The state chairman of the party, Sir John Ngbede, saidwith the development, the party had been fused into one indivisible entity without factions.
Former Senate President, Senator David Mark, who also spoke at the event, stated that the leaders also mandated the governor to restructure the party in order to accommodate all interests, particularly those who recently defected to it. Senator Mark stated that they have resolved to work together with Governor Ortom, so as to win the forthcoming elections at all levels.
Analysts, who spoke on the development, said with his defection into the PDP, Governor Ortom’s chances of bouncing back in 2019, are clear, especially with Senator Mark holding sway in Benue South senatorial district where the APC will find it absolutely difficult to penetrate.
They added that issue of nonpayment of salaries of civil servants, which is likely to come up as Ortom hits the road for his reelection campaign, may also be addressed to enable him sail successfully at the poll as he has assured the people of his administration’s readiness to clear the backlog.
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