Continued from last edition
In 1999 when George Akume contested the gubernatorial election and won, there were only three political parties in Nigeria. These parties were Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, All Peoples Party, APP and Alliance for Democracy, AD. But in 2010, when Akume was to leave PDP, there were more than three possible options were he would likely go.
Due to reforms in the electoral process, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had been empowered to register more parties and by 2011, over sixty political parties had been registered.
Since it was PDP which was always winning elections in Benue State since 1999, some opposition political parties were struggling to take away power from PDP. Some of the prominent opposition parties in the state were Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP and Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. The question was which of these political parties would Akume run to as he sought for a platform to actualise his 2011 senatorial re-election ambition?
Before making his next move, Akume consulted his think-tank which constituted of the likes of Chief Joe Abaagu, Targema Takema, Vincent Uji, Emmanuel Viashima, the late Onov Tyuulugh, Titus Zam and so many of his key supporters across the state. He tasked them with the duty to suggest the platform to him.
The ANPP, the longest opposition party then, was a no go area to them, for obvious reasons. It was ruled out. The interests of Akume and most of the defectors would not be adequately captured in the party. Moreso, the party had lost steam in the state with the departure of its leader, Paul Unongo in 2006 and most of its supporters went with Buhari to CPC.
The Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) was a political party founded in 2009 in preparation for the April 2011 elections. It was the 63rd political party to be founded in the country.
CPC which was a break-away faction of the ANPP was the most favoured by members of the platform searching committee that Akume had commissioned. It was a new party which Major General Mohammadu Buhari had registered for the purpose of the 2011 presidential election. Most of the committee members wanted Akume to pitch his tent with CPC but a minority voice made up of the younger people in his camp, prevailed on him to join ACN.
The Action Congress of Nigeria ACN, formerly known as Action Congress AC, was formed via the merger of a faction of Alliance for Democracy, the Justice Party, the Advance Congress of Democrats and several other minor political parties in September 2006.
The leader of ACN was Bola Tinubu who was governor of Lagos State from 1999-2007, at same time, Akume was governor of Benue State. So it was easy for Akume to open discussion with him about his political fate.
Tinubu’s party had a very strong presence in the South Western States of Nigeria, so when Akume reached out to him, a symbiotic political agreement was hurriedly struck. Akume and his supporters had a platform to use for their election, while Tinubu, whose party was seen as a regional party would use Benue State as a spring board to the north.
This relationship was reminiscent of what had existed in the First Republic between Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the then leader of the Yoruba politics and Chief Joseph Sarwuan Tarka, the leader of middle belt.
It should also be noted that, 2011 general election was personal to Akume because he had scores to settle with the then governor, Gabriel Suswam who had sent him out of the PDP in ignominy.
Suswam was seeking a second term and Akume wanted to stop it. But Akume’s first battle was to first and foremost take over the structures of ACN in Benue State. Tinubu had expressly given him control over the party in the state, but Akume knew he had to be tactful to assume its leadership because, since the days of AC, people like Prof David Iornem, Audu Ogbeh and even Dr Iyorchia Ayu had been stakeholders in the party.
Akume took a decision that made things easier for everyone. He decided that he was not changing the Abba Yaro led executive council of the party which had just been recently adopted for another term by stakeholders. Akume was able to hold the party together enough into the 2011 election as a strong force.
In search of strong candidates with electoral value, the ACN primaries were flexible as such that the party became a safe haven for some strong aspirants who had earlier lost in PDP or even ANPP or CPC primaries.
It will be fair to conclude that the ACN that Akume built in 2011 was mostly a conglomeration of people who felt disenchanted with the manner Suswam had handled the PDP, especially towards the primary election preparatory to the 2011 election.
Done with stabilizing the ACN, Akume had to make his biggest political decision that year. This decision was to search for a gubernatorial candidate to challenge Suswam in the general election. At this point, Suswam was already done with who he felt would replace Akume at the senate. He had settled for Rt. Hon. Terngu Tsegba, who had been in to the House of Representatives since 1999.
Akume’s first choice was his former commissioner and a one-time House of Representatives member from Vandeika Local Government, Hon Terhemba Shija. Perhaps, Suswam had got wind of this move and swiftly made Shija campaign director general for his re-election. This was when, the choice of Prof Steven Torkuma Ugbah, a university lecturer, based in the United States of America, came handy.
The anti -Suswam sentiments were so strong that nobody listened to hear Ugbah’s manifesto when he came on the stage. A fitting campaign slogan emerged on the streets to occupy that vacuum. It was simply, “Ugbah nyor, shor chenji” (meaning, Ugbah has entered the race and the show has changed.) I think, the game actually changed for Akume.
As governor from 1999 to 2007 and as senator from 2007 to 2011, the people could barely count his impact, but Ugbah appeared on the stage and changed the game. It also went a long way to establish Akume as the godfather of Benue opposition politics. It was all to his credit and his team, because he had made those careful choices.
The stage was now set for the 2011 elections. It was also a test of might between Akume and Suswam. The winner would emerge the leader of Benue politics. After the election, there was no clear winner , but Akume’s godfathership had been firmly established.
In the presidential re-election, PDP’s candidate, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan defeated ACN’s Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. In Benue State, PDP won two of the three senatorial seats, leaving one to the ACN, which Akume took. ACN also won a few of the House of Representatives seats in the state, prominently being those from Kwande/Ushongo, Buruku and Gboko/Tarka Constituencies. The winners were Hon Benjamin Aboho, Hon Orker Jev and Hon John Dyer.
Suswam also won his gubernatorial re-election against all odds. In addition, he won majority seats of the state House of Assembly leaving out about a few seats to the ACN. Some of the winners were Terkimbi Ikyange, Hon Dorathy Mato , Hon BB Nungwa and Hon Ngunan Adingi.
When merger talks towards the formation of All Progressive Congress, APC began, Akume was one of those in the front! In the senate, he was the Senate minority leader and northern leader of ACN, one of the leading parties in the merger talk.
APC was formed on 6th February 2013. The party was the result of a merger of Nigeria’s then three biggest opposition parties – the Action Congress of Nigeria ACN, the Congress for Progressive Change
CPC, the All Nigeria Peoples Party ANPP, a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance APGA and the new PDP – a faction of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party.
This was the platform that Akume and other opposition elements used to wrestle power out of the hands of PDP. PDP was until then, in power from 1999. For Akume, the year 2015 was very eventful because it firmly established him as a political godfather. Through hindsight, we can say this came by due to his political tact and the tough decisions he made.