Road to Govt House 2007: Will an Idoma succeed Akume in Benue?
Although the ballot in the 2007 governorship election in Benue State will not say so, the question the electorate across the state would be answering on election day is whether an Idoma or Tiv should take over from Governor George Akume at the expiration of his term on May 29, 2007.
But politics defies conventional logic and what is right in the estimation of the ordinary right thinking member of the public might not seem so in the eyes of political actors, especially the kingmakers.
For if logical reasoning is allowed to come to play in the 2007 race, then nobody, in all the major parties in Benue State would contest the governorship election outside the Idoma nation, for the simple reason that the Tiv, who constitute about 78 per cent of the population have produced all the civilian governors since the state was created on February 3, 1976.
The Idoma, the main minority group and Igede have been reduced to playing the second fiddle to the Tiv, but this could change in 2007, if current thinking among the power elite is allowed to germinate in the run up to the polls. There appears to be a consensus among them that power should shift to Zone C, dominated by the Idoma, but with a sizeable number of minorities like the Igede.
But this is not a done deal yet. Of all the 35 or so aspirants who are believed to be interested in the governor’s seat, 23 are from the Tiv nation and the list is by no means exhausted. The Idoma are also not just folding their arms waiting for power to fall on their laps, 12 of them are in the race and they have been moving around trying to convince the Tiv that in the spirit of fairness and in line with constitutional provisions, they (Idoma) should be given the ticket.
Even if the Tiv agree to this, it still would not guarantee an easy passage for the Idoma. There are so many hurdles for them to clear. One is the fact that Zone C is not all about them alone, other minority groups like the Igede are there, and some among the Tiv are saying that if power must shift to Zone C, then it must go to the Igede and they are quick to point at the incumbent deputy governor, Prince Ogiri Ajene, an Igede man as a good material for governorship.
Another is a perceived arrogance on the part of the Idoma. Anywhere they found themselves in positions of power, especially during the military era, the accusation goes, they wielded it to the exclusion of others, in particular, the Tiv. A particular top military officer of Idoma extraction in the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida was said to have made it difficult for non Idoma in Benue State to either be enlisted in the army or even attend the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA). "Which non Idoma did they help when they had power?" one bitter Tiv man asked Daily Sun.
Such accusation, expectedly, are not good music to the ears an average Idoma politicians who looks forward to power shifting to his people. One told Daily Sun that "some people would like to rake up something where there is nothing. Though we recognize the existence of a minority within the minority, here (zone C) we don’t discriminate. We have had non Idoma occupying the position of Och’Idoma, that is, the paramount ruler in Idomaland before, twice in recent memory. So, we are one here. Regarding the issue of arrogance of power, that is not a character trait of the average Idoma person, and if one or two Idoma sons have exhibited that tendency in the past, that is unfortunate and it is not enough to blame an entire people for that".
These accusations have not, however, dampened the enthusiasm among the Idoma that 2007 could be their year. Afterall in 2003, they voted overwhelmingly for George Akume, the incumbent governor to return for a second term with the understanding that the man would be on their side when the time comes to choose the next governor. Some are even saying there was a pact with Akume to this effect. But the governor flatly denied this in an interview with Daily Sun. No such thing existed he said. "I have no pact with anybody or any power bloc and when the time comes the PDP will decide," he said in a tone of finality. But this might not satisfy the diehard believers in power shift. Though they agree no formal agreement was signed with Akume on power shift, they nonetheless expect that the governor would throw his weight behind their aspiration when the time comes, because they had also given him their total support when he needed it.
This may put Akume in a dilemma as a section of his own Tiv people that has been out of the power loop all this while believe it’s their turn to produce the next governor, being the only power bloc in Tivland that has not tasted the governorship.
As it is in a local chiefdom, Tivland is structured politically along ruling houses or political blocs like the Sankera political bloc in Zone A, which is laying claim to the seat, being the only group among the Tiv that has not been at the Government House before. And if the decision as to where the governorship would be zoned is to be decided democratically, by voting, the Tiv majority might just decide to give it to their brothers in the Sankera group leaving the Idoma in the cold.
Some are, however, saying this can only be so if Governor Akume decides to fold his arms and allow the majority to trample on the minority. "If he throws his weight behind us we stand a good chance of picking the PDP ticket", one optimist of the Idoma cause told Daily Sun.
If it were to be a PDP affair alone, maybe Akume could have his way. Even in PDP, his influence still has to contend with opposition from the likes of Barnabas Gemade, his former godfather who, since he lost out as national chairman of PDP, has lost most of his influence. Currently being rehabilitated politically by President Olusegun Obasanjo at the political reforms conference in Abuja, Gemade is cross with Akume for apparently dumping him for Dr Iyorchia Ayu, the Internal Affairs Minister. So, naturally he would want to do anything to prevent an Akume nominee being installed in 2007.
Outside the PDP, there is a powerful opposition in the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD). The influence of these parties are in their leaders. The stormy petrel of Middle Belt politics, Wantaregh Paul Unongo, another politician being rehabilitated by Obasanjo at the Abuja conference is the leader of the ANPP, while former governor Father Moses Adasu is AD leader in Benue. Between the two of them and together with the likes of Gemade, they can make Benue hot for Akume and whatever his plans are for 2007, but that is if they work together which is very unlikely.
When the chips are down, the governorship race would still be an all PDP affair, except the party disintegrates, which is not unlikely. In a recent interview granted a Lagos based television station, Governor Akume alluded to the fact that the PDP (nationally) as a party could implode if the stakeholders fail to do anything to arrest the drift. He mentioned the recent expulsion from the party of Anambra governor Chris Ngige as an example. If this happens to the self acclaimed largest party in Africa, whether now or after the party primaries, Benue would not be immune to the effect and the aftermath would definitely cause a change in plans as new alliances would be formed. Would this still leave Akume and his group the most powerful in the party and to a large extent the state? Most likely. And where would that lead to? Well, nobody can say now, except to restate the fact that the Akume/Ayu power axis holds all the aces now and is likely to remain so beyond 2007, especially if it is able to install somebody pliable to it to succeed Akume, whether Idoma or Tiv, does not really matter.
With the above settled, what are those factors that are likely to influence the choice of the candidate? One major factor is the often talked about Obasanjo/Atiku face off. Real or imagined, the purported no love lost between the president and his deputy is fast spreading to the states, especially where the PDP is in control. In Benue, it appears President Obasanjo’s influence is waning and Atiku’s on the ascendancy. Akume and Obasanjo are said not to be close pals any longer, especially after the ouster of Chief Audu Ogbeh, a Benue man and Akume’s person as national chairman of the PDP. Obasanjo’s nomination of two anti-Akume politician, Unongo and Gemade into the on-going political reforms conference is seen as a deliberate slap on the governor’s face. And if the rumoured cabinet reshuffle by Obasanjo eventually claims Ayu as being speculated, then the rift would have been widened. But politicians being what they are, they could change things overnight and perceived enemies of today could become pals tomorrow. So, a rapprochement between the two should not be ruled out. But as things are today, being an Obasanjo person is a big stigma in Benue politics. Whether Atiku is cashing in on that is a different thing.
Loyalty to Akume or at least his power bloc is also a strong factor, little wonder then that most of the aspirants are desperately trying to worm their ways into the heart of the governor, struggling to outdo one another to be in his good books. A fact aides say is not lost on the governor himself.
How close the aspirant is to the people at the grassroots may also be an important factor. Against the backdrop of accusations that some of the aspirants showing their faces now have never identified with the ordinary people, especially those termed Abuja politicians, since their election into Senate or House of Representatives, there is a rush back home now to spread the dividend of democracy to the people. But can this swing things in their favour?
At the end of the day, however, the performance sheet of the Akume administration could also affect how people will vote in 2007, especially for the pro-Akume candidates. Some say the administration has performed very well while some are also not satisfied with its performance, but overall, the majority seems to have a positive impression of the government, a crucial factor as the train moves towards 2007. Those who are interested in Akume’s job?
Just 40 years old, Gabriel Suswan, a member of the House of Representatives, representing Logo/Katsina-Ala/Ukum Federal Constituency has had a meteoric rise in the politics of Benue State. From a man who in 1999 was relatively unknown, Suswan is now a known face in Benue, being talked about in every home in the state and seen as a serious contender for the governorship seat in 2007. Such is his popularity that if elections were held today, Suswan would win outrightly.
But it might not be that simple in reality. Suswan, a Tiv from the Sankera power bloc in Zone A will have to contend not only with the ambitions of other aspirants in his zone, he will also have to deal with the aspirations of the Idoma in Zone C, whose quest for the governorship has energized the entire people for the cause.
He will also have to convince the people that he is not trying to buy his way into the Government House. Very rich, Honourable Suswan has been accused of throwing around his wealth, trying to buy his way ahead of the 2007 election, which pundits say is there for him to win or lose. And with the Tiv internal political arrangement zoning the governorship to Zone A, if for whatever reason, Zone C fail to clinch the ticket in PDP, then it’s almost given that Suswan would have it.
To get his way through, he might have to deploy some of the tactics that saw him rising to the powerful position of Chairman House Committee on Appropriation. From the day he stepped into the chambers of the House of Representatives in 1999, Suswan opened his eyes widely and saw where power was gravitating and pitched his tent with the camp that produced Salisu Buhari as the first speaker of the lower house of the National Assembly. He was a powerful member of that team and that earned him the chairmanship of the House Services committee. When it became apparent that Buhari was falling, Suswan was in the vanguard that produced Ghali Umar Na’aba as next Speaker, and he was rewarded with the chairmanship of the Committee on FCT, and he his profile went up by more notches.
Back in the House for a second term, Suswan picked up where he left in the first term by leading the group that produced Aminu Bello Masari as Speaker. And for a job well done, he got the plum position of chairman Appropriation Committee.
With this rising profile, Suswan, prior to the 2003 elections, Daily Sun gathered, began to look towards the Government House in Makurdi but Akume’s formidable strength convinced him that time was not ripe. He, therefore, threw his weight and wealth behind the campaign for a second term for Akume, while he also pursued his own return to the House of Representatives. Both tasks were accomplished successfully and his supporters are saying it’s pay back time for Akume, who they reason, should back Suswan for the governorship in 2007. Some even call him the anointed candidate of the governor, judging by their close relationship. But he sees things differently.
He told a local magazine in a recent interview: "I don’t think the Governor has anointed any person. We as politicians, it is expected of us to cooperate with the Governor so that we can, from the national level, get the national cake and bring it to Benue…The thing is most people misinterpret my relationship with the Governor. They think that once the people are elected, they should become enemies. I think that is a wrong perception."
This explanation has done little to change peoples’ perception of him as an Akume man if he meant it that way. And the fact that he has not come out to declare his interest has also not translated into the people not believing that he is interested in becoming the governor. His various populist programmes like distribution of desks to schools, scholarship for students in tertiary institutions and provisions of some infrastructure for some communities are also not lost on the people. Suswan is immensely popular in Benue today and remains the man to beat. He also has age and history on his side. Previous civilian governors in the state were elected either in their early or mid-40s. He is maturing at the right age.
What perhaps today stands as a blot on his rising profile so far is the corruption allegation leveled against him and some members of the National Assembly by President Obasanjo. He has some explanations to make on this. He will also have to be very careful about how he throws around his money as critics are quick to point out that money politics is not it in Benue, and could be his downfall. Former governor Father Moses Adasu, they recalled, contested against a moneybag in the SDP/NRC days and he won. Same as Governor Aper Aku before him and just recently, in 1999, Governor George Akume defeated another moneybag. A word they say is enough for the wise.
At 48, Prince Ogiri Ajene, the incumbent deputy governor is ripe to step into the shoes of his boss. A minority among minorities, Ajene comes from the Igede ethnic group in a zone C dominated by Idoma and would face a very stiff challenge from ethnic Idoma who are also interested in the governorship should the seat be zoned to their area.
The second son of the late Och’Idoma, Chief (Dr.) Ajene Okpabi, Prince Ogiri Ajene, born on 12 February 1957 at Otukpo, has age on his side as previous occupiers of the governor’s seat were voted into office at about this age.
Though he is yet to declare his interest in the seat, if and when he does, analysts expect him to be able to count on the support of his boss, Governor George Akume, but this should not be taken for granted. Maybe if the governorship is eventually zoned to Zone C where he comes from, it might be easier to get Akume’s blessings, since Ajene would then, only, be battling with others from the zone.
Though critics say he is brash, Ajene’s strong point is harmonious relationship with his boss, which has seen him weather the storm without any noise heard about any quarrel or disagreement, since the tag team began work on May 29, 1999. This is a record in our six-year-old democracy where it is commonplace for deputy governors to clash with their principal even in public. And for being a loyal and obedient follower, Ajene no doubt must have learnt the tricks of governance from Akume, which might come in handy when a successor to the governor is to be chosen.
His loyalty might also be rewarded by the majority Tiv tribe who would definitely have a big say in who becomes the next governor. If they agree that power must shift to Zone C, then they are likely to remember their long association with Ajene and his loyalty to their son, Akume, and might just give the seat to him instead of an Idoma, whom they are still not comfortable with.
Apart from having learnt at the feet of Akume, Prince Ajene also has some political experience to his credit. In 1992, under Babangida’s contrived political transition programme, he was elected member of the Federal House of Representatives, under the banner of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), representing Oju federal constituency. And when that arrangement collapsed, he became a Resource Person to the National Constitutional Conference of the Abacha era and also participated in the politics of that era by being a foundation member of the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP). Of course, like a pack of cards, that era collapsed, and when General Abdulsalami Abubakar brought about the present dispensation, Ogiri Ajene teamed up with others to found the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He was elected deputy governor of Benue State on same ticket with Governor Akume in 1999, and the two were re-elected in 2003. A 1978 graduate of Political Science from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Ajene also has a Master of Science degree in International Relations and Strategic Studies.
One of the leading lights in the campaign to get power to shift to Zone C, Comrade Abba Morro is presently chairman of Okpokwu local government and current chairman Association of Local Government Chairmen in Nigeria (ALGON), Benue State chapter.
I have no pact with any power bloc – Akume
What kind of person would you want to take over from you when your term expires?
The person who is appointed by God.
He should be very patriotic, he must love the people of Benue State, he must be a bridge builder, must be a performer and above all should learn to accept all shades of opinion. He must also learn to be humble and he must be patient. Through a combination of these we would get a wonderful successor.
Pact with Idomas in 2003 to support them for governorship in 2007?
There is no pact between me and any power bloc, but when the occasion arises, PDP would do the right thing guided by justice and fairness.
Nigerian politicians don’t seem to have a mind of their own as they always claim to be answering the call of their people whenever they come out to contest elections. If your people say Abba Morro, you have done well in this local government please come and rule Benue State. What would be your reaction to that?
Let me tell you as a person, as a political scientist in government, I don’t believe in this people that say their people say that they should come and run, they should come and lead them. Between me and you, from experience you know it never happens. I think I want to sit in my room, I want to reflect, I have been chairman three times, one by appointment, twice by election by the people. I have done some jobs in the local Government. As a chairman of Association of Local Governments in Benue State, I have also extended my experience to the other local governments in the state. At the appropriate time, I should be able to within myself, convince myself that I have the capacity to lead Benue State, especially in the line of the person who has created this governance awareness in Benue State, George Akume.
If I find myself capable of doing the job that he has done or doing more than he has done for the good of Benue people, I would present myself and I would ask my people to support me in that bid. My people would now be in a position to judge whether I am capable by my antecedents to lead Benue State, having led Okpokwu local government for five, six, seven years and together we would agree on what to do with ourselves and for Benue State. I do not believe, sincerely speaking, that one day the people of the state would come and say hey, Abba Morro is hiding somewhere in Okpokwu and he has done marvelously well and therefore he is the person that is qualified to come and lead Benue. No. I can tell you that such unwilling politicians have never been good governors and I do not intend to fall into that category. I intend to judge myself first of all as to whether I am capable of doing a job and then I present myself to the people and the people would now be in a position, having seen my antecedents in governance to pick me and support me. That is exactly what I intend to do at the appropriate time.
One of the accusations against the Idomas is arrogance of power. Also, they’ve been accused of not giving other people equal chance when they were in charge, especially in the armed forces where Idomas are accused of shutting other indigenes of Benue out of recruitment and even the Defence Academy. How would you react to these?
Well let me say this. I have said this before in another area that when it suits people they put forward arguments that border on sentiments and which at the point in time would be sellable. When the Idoma person is accused for instance of power arrogance and of shutting people especially in the military from going for military training and stuffs like that, I find it a laughable matter, I found it not certainly sincere. Come to look at it. Look at the history of the Nigerian military. Which Idoma person has been Chief of Army Staff before? Which Idoma person has been close to any leadership position in the Army or in the Navy generally speaking when you talk about it.
The role that an Idoma person has played most of the time has been that of a middle level situation. The Idoma person has never been in the Army for instance in any serious leadership position. Of course I am not defending the Idoma persons that have been in the military because I do not know the dynamics that have been at work in the military. I have not been a military man before. But as far as I am concerned, nobody, the Idoma person, the Tiv person, the Yoruba person or the Hausa person or the Ibo man for that matter, has complete monopoly of badness and goodness.
And within every community, individuals manifest themselves in their own characters, and so there is no doubt that some Idoma persons may exhibit these tendency for exclusion, there is no doubt about it, but as I said, it is not an exclusive tendency among the Idoma people alone. I don’t think I want to believe an average Idoma person has arrogance in power or power arrogance so to speak. If anything, I think that Nigerians who have worked with the Idoma people in positions of authority would acknowledge the fact that the Idoma person is a determined person, the Idoma person is a very hard working person, the Idoma person is transparent and assiduous when it comes to work. In fact, the Idoma person would want to do best what he knows how to do in position of authority and that is the character the Idoma person is made of.
Of course individuals within Idoma could be good or could be bad and what we are saying here is that Benue people, Nigeria people should pick the best, by their own judgment, of the Idoma person to lead Benue this time around.
If the Tivs should use their numerical strength again and make one of their own the governor in 2007, what would be the reaction of those of you calling for power shift to Zone C?
In life there is no absolutism, you know. Of course, I agree with you, in case. There is a possibility in human situation. In case the unlikely happens, the Idoma person is not picked as the candidate of the PDP, and doesn’t get elected, the natural course of action for some of us that have followed the politics of Benue and have worked assiduously towards creating this situation would be that of disappointment. There is no doubt about it.
The average Idoma person that has followed the politics of Benue State, that has worked for the new politics of Benue State would be disappointed. But again that is not the end of life. But let me hasten to say this, that today, the spirit of new Benue that George Akume has nurtured provides for fairness, justice and equity. And for four, five years the governor has worked to create a new spirit of Benue State that is anchored on these three principles. And the average Benue person has come to imbibe this spirit that in every public discourse today, Benue people are talking about new Benue, we are no longer talking of Benue of the old.
The general awareness and which is not only unique to Benue State is that of power shift, is that of allowing everybody to have a sense of belonging by being allowed and being supported to have a taste of the leadership of the state. In Bayelsa, the spirit is the same. In Kwara the spirit is the same. In Kogi the spirit is the same. Everywhere in Nigeria. And so there is a kind of silent revolution that is going on now and Benue State is not an exception.
But I can tell you that the average Tiv person by my own association with them over time. I have been a lecturer for 14 years where I worked with Tiv people, either as workers or students. And I have been in the politics of Benue State for upwards of a decade now and I do know that the thinking generally is that we all are Benue people irrespective of our tribes or ethnic leanings. And so generally, I want to think that the average Tiv person is not intending today to use their majority to inflict that indelible mark on the psyche of the Idoma people. I can assure you that even though a deviation from this tendency is a possibility in human situation, I can tell you that the general thinking now is that the Idoma people actually deserve to become governor of Benue State in 2007 and everybody is working towards that, and that includes the Tiv people too. I can tell you this because I have so many friends of them, I have so many political associates among them. I have so many…come to think about it, the youths, the women, the old, and the young. Everybody thinks in the direction of allowing or supporting the Idoma person to become governor.
So in my own calculation so far, unless the unlikely happens, I do not contemplate a situation where the Idoma people would be disappointed midstream.
Is it true that Governor George Akume had a pact with Idomas in 2003 that if you vote for me now for a second term I will back you in 2007?
Well, people talk about agreement and all that. I want to say that I have been a long supporter of George Akume and I keep doing so. I have my 100 per cent loyalty for the man because of what he is and what he represents. I do not know that at any point in time there was this formal agreement as to vote for me I would support you in 2007. Rather what was on the ground by those of us who are apostles of power shift was that George was an incumbent governor in 2003, the constitution of 1999 allowed him as a sitting governor to recontest. And by our own political arithmetic, we had discussed, consulted and concluded that the best option for the Idoma people, unarguably the minority group in Benue State today, was to support an incumbent governor from a majority tribe so that at the appropriate time we can now ask him, please we did this for you, do this for us. And we felt that he has some levels of moral obligation to support us. That even at the end of the day for whatever reason he doesn’t support us, I know he wouldn’t fight us.
And so rather than George having any formal agreement with an Idoma person or Idoma people, it was the other way round. The Idoma people felt in their wisdom that it was only appropriate to support George in 2003 so that in 2007 we can ask him, please our friend, we did this for you what can you do for us in 2007? And that is exactly what we are holding on to.
How would you describe the politics of Benue State?
Well, the politics in Benue is a beautiful one like every other part of Nigeria. What is permanent, what is overriding in the politics of Benue State is permanent interest. Everybody has a thinking for tomorrow and has his own idea of how to go about it. And we also know that, just like a third world situation, politics in Benue like every other part of Nigeria is practically ethnic based. And even though we belong to the same political parties, there is this general tendency that when the chips are down , everybody inclines towards his tribe or where he comes from, there is no doubt about it. And that is why some of us feel so happy, so proud to associate with Mr. George Akume because he has tried to create a Benue situation where everybody feels a sense of belonging. And in that type of situation, there would be a de-emphasis of the tribe, of the ethnic grouping. And so generally, if you find Tiv people and Idoma people in meetings, in discussions and the rest of them, you would never think they belong to different tribes. The feeling generally is that we are Benue people. That is the spirit that George has engendered in Benue State, he has nurtured and it has come to stay. That is why we are saying that the person who is going to come after George must be that person who is going to continue that legacy, because he must have that spirit to be able to develop Benue state, for Benue to grow. If not, a situation of acrimony, of mutual suspicion certainly would create problem of instability and government would not be able to perform and therefore Benue people would not be able to enjoy the dividends of democracy and Benue would not be able to grow. But with that spirit of oneness, of one people one destiny, Benue state would grow certainly.
Shall we start by a brief introduction of yourself and what you are doing at the moment?
My name is Comrade Abba Patrick Morro, I am the executive chairman of Okpokwu local government council in Benue State and by the grace of God and the will of my colleagues, I am the state chairman of the Association of Local Governments in Nigeria (ALGON), Benue State chapter and the National Vice President of ALGON. My job essentially now is coordinating the activities of local councils in Benue State and of course overseeing the affairs of Okpokwu local government also in Benue State.
That (chairmanship of ALGON) gives you a statewide character as somebody who knows more about the state beyond your local government. What kind of a leader do you expect after Akume?
As you rightly said, in addition to being chairman of my local government, I am the chairman of association of local governments and of course that provides me an opportunity to have an insight into the politics of the state. But apart from that, in the first dispensation I was the executive chairman 1999 to 2000 and the caretaker committee chairman from August 2003 to February 2004 and of course got re-elected as chairman at the moment.
And apart from that, I am a foundation member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in my state and I have followed assiduously the goings on within the party and the government of Benue State, being one of the anchors of the arrangement that brought the incumbent governor to power.
At the moment, the preparation for 2007 in the state is on and everybody is haggling for the ticket. Very many people are out haggling for the ticket to fly the flag of the Peoples Democratic Party, the ruling party in the state. But generally the feeling in the state now among the majority of people is that power should shift.
Essentially there are two components of the state at the moment, the Tiv speaking people and the Idoma speaking people. And since the creation of the state, the Tiv speaking people that comprise two zones, A and B have been in the saddle of the leadership as governors. In the first dispensation it was Aper Aku who got re-elected in 1983 but short-lived by the coup of December 1983, and then Governor Moses Adasu came on board and became the governor before the collapse of that system. And today we have His Excellency the governor of Benue State, George Akume who is running a second term and also of Tiv extraction.
So, the feeling generally is that the first two persons, His Excellency Governor Aper Aku, His Excellency Reverend Father Moses Adasu are from Zone A. George Akume, a Tiv man is also from Zone B and so that leaves out, in the power equation, Zone C to produce the governor of the state, and so the people of Zone C, the Idoma speaking people are saying that they should be supported to produce the next governor. And that is the general feeling among the majority of Benue people, Idoma people\and Tiv people inclusive. So, the preparations are based on this thinking and it is hoped that at the end of the day an Idoma person would likely emerge as the next governor of the state.
But let me add this, because like I said majority of the people feel this way, but a sizeable number of people also feel that power shift and rotation or whatever concept you use to describe it, in this situation would produce some level of mediocrity and all that, in the sense that if you restrict competition the best may not come. But I want to say that the clamour for an Idoma governor for Benue State is not basically an exclusive arrangement. It is not saying that other persons that are competent and feel that they can contest would not come on board and contest, it is just that people are suggesting that for now somebody should be supported from Zone C to be governor of the state, not necessarily precluding other persons that think they are competent to contest. Even in the years gone by when the Tiv person was supported to become the governor, other persons were free to contest.
So, generally, therefore, some of us think that nobody is barred from contesting , but that the Benue south senatorial district, Zone C, so to say the Idoma speaking people, should be supported to produce the next governor. That is basically the clamour now. I want to say that in the process, every other persons certainly, that is bona fide Benue indigene, is qualified to contest the election.
I can say also that within the Idoma speaking area, Zone C so to say, we have very competent persons that can hold their own given the opportunity. And so generally we think that the best for Benue State should be picked and supported from Zone C this time around. That is the point we are making.
Zone C itself is not 100 per cent Idoma, the Igedes where the incumbent deputy governor comes from are there. Some are saying that if it must go to Zone C, perhaps it should be given to the Igedes. But beyond this, whichever zone the next governor comes from, what are those qualities you expect from him or her?
Let me answer your first question on the issue of Zone C not strictly being Idoma speaking and all that. Of course when it suits people they bring out a lot of arguments to becloud the real thing on the ground, the reality on the ground. Of course, I agree with you completely that Zone C strictly speaking are not all Idoma speaking. But that happens in every community. Even within the Tiv community that we are talking about today. It is not all persons that are in Zone A or Zone B that are Tiv speaking. You have the Tulus and the Ifons and other minority groups that are in the Tiv speaking area. And here in the Idoma speaking area, like you rightly pointed out, you also have the Igedes, the Uchias and the Akwais and all that; the Ankpa people and the Tongon, yes that is correct.
But let me hasten to say that even at that, generally speaking, when it comes to political discussions and selection and the rest of them, no considerations are really given to minorities or majorities within the minority so to say, because I can say for 35 years, an Igede man, Ajena Ukpabi of blessed memory, who is of Igede extraction was the Ochidoma and the paramount ruler of the Idoma speaking people for 35 years. So, at that point in time nobody minded whether he was Igede or he was Akwai or whatever. and when the Ochidoma, the paramount ruler died, the person who succeeded him was of the Uchia extraction. He was not necessarily an Idoma speaking person so to say. But geopolitically, the enclave called Zone C today is a conglomeration of all these people that I am talking about. And so literally speaking, all of us are Idomas, even though we may not speak the same dialect. There is no distinction at all except that today it suits certain groups within the state to begin to give colourations to the nature of the persons that constitute Zone C today. In our own evolution, we do not give consideration to whether you are a minority or not, once you are found competent to occupy a position you are given, just like the Ochidoma II was of Igede extraction. The Ochidoma III was of Uchia extraction and the Ochidoma I was of strict Idoma speaking people of Adoka. And so, we don’t have such distinctions. But of course like I said, when it suits people they begin to give colourations to men and dialects and the rest of them
But be that as it may, just like I said, when we say an Idoma person should be supported to become governor, we are not precluding contest from other people, even from the zones A and B that are Tiv speaking. And so the Igede person, the Uchia person, the Akwai people and the rest of them are competent and qualified by every standard to contest the election.
On the general terms, therefore, when we are talking about the Idoma people or Zone C, we are talking about everybody including the Igedes, the Uchias and the Akwai people.
But coming from that, for the past four, five years George Akume has been the governor of Benue State. Support for George Akume to become governor cut across virtually all political parties and all ethnic groups. And it is because of the qualities that appear inherent in him that he has displayed that everybody supports him till tomorrow. Virtually everybody. Of course there are a few persons who don’t support him, there is no doubt about it. In politics you don’t have 100 per cent support. But George has brought into governance in Benue State humility, responsibility, responsiveness and respectable leadership. And within the few years that he has stayed in the saddle of the leadership of the state, people have come to know that there is real government, because George, His Excellency the governor of Benue State has brought government to the door steps of every person in Benue state. You are either benefiting from the infrastructural revolution that is taking place by way of construction of roads, applying the ecological funds judiciously to reach every nook and cranny of the state or by way of scholarship to indigent children of the state that can not afford school fees to go to school or providing medical services by way of some free medical services to people who are indigent enough not to have access to treatment or giving monies to people to go to hospital to save lives. In all its ramifications George has touched the lives of everybody in Benue State.
And so when we are talking about a replacement, therefore, for his kind of leadership, we are saying that the person who is going to succeed His Excellency must be of necessity a replica of that character, because to do otherwise would be some kind of denigration from what people have come to associate with governance already in the state. So, we expect that the person who is going to be a replacement for George Akume in Government House come 2007, should be humane, should be responsible, should be transparent and responsive to the needs of the people.
Among those showing interest in the governorship now, have you seen somebody that fits that character or are you one of them?
I think that for now it would be too early to single one or two persons out to say that they represent the character of His Excellency, the governor that the people of Benue expect in 2007, because at the moment, because of the little distance, two years away, people have been very subtle about bringing out their total force in canvassing for support. People have been going paying nocturnal visits, visiting leaders, canvassing for support, soliciting for support and the rest of them. And in that type of situation, it would be difficult to define who is doing what, because even at times they would tell you that this person is angling to be governor and you confront the person and he says no, I am not doing that, people are just speculating. So, there is this feeling that if you show up too early somebody is going to say ha it is too early. This has kept people a little away from public pronouncement about their intensions.
At the moment, some of us that are protagonists of power shift are working assiduously towards sensitizing people towards ensuring that an awareness is created amongst the people that there is the need for Benue people especially in PDP to support a candidate from Zone C. I have had occasions to tell people that when the chips are down, people certainly would manifest their intentions by open declarations and at that point in time we would be in a position to x-ray all the gladiators in the field and of course at the appropriate time, just like by divine intervention and wise counseling of the people George was picked out of the lot to lead Benue State and he has proved his worth. We expect that at the appropriate time the right person would be assessed by Benue people and that person would be picked.
As for me as an individual, of course I come from the geopolitical area called Zone C and by all standards I think I am qualified to contest elections, if it becomes apparent that I should contest. But I keep saying that everybody is making consultations, everybody is testing the waters, you are trying to size yourself, size the people in the field and find out whether, like I said, the qualities that Benue people want, you posses. Once you adjudge yourself possessing those qualities, then at the appropriate time you are going to tell Benue people, please I am here. But for the moment I want to believe that you don’t cross the bridge until you get to the river and so we keep our fingers crossed and watch what would unfold in the next few years.