2023: Echoes from Benue political horizon

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By Elvis Ogenyi

There is no political season as such in Nigeria. Rather, politicians look out for opportunities to ply their trade and assert their public relevance. The covid-19 outbreak prompted such a political moment and politicians with eyes on 2023 commenced clandestine lobbying across the country in kits and palliatives distribution to the public.

In Benue state, the frenzy of kits distribution against the pandemic cuts across the three senatorial zones. Both old and new politicians are involved. Who will take the day is not the motive of the politicians but securing the goodwill of the public. At this stage, a recognition for a charitable cause is more important to the politician than other matters.

There are many elective offices but the governorship and National Assembly positions hold the most attraction in Benue state. The National Assembly positions comprise of the senatorial and House of Representatives seats.There is no constitutional inhibition limiting the tenure of a legislator and the incumbent can perpetuate in power untill defeated at the poll by a challenger or declines a contest.

In Benue North East, former governor Gabriel Suswam is the incumbent senator while Senator Orker Jev represents Benue North West and former Interior Minister, Abba Moro is the senator representing Benue South; each of them is in the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP).

The camps of the senators are quiet at the moment but unfolding events are expected to revive a rancourous time, especially, as different aspirants declare their interests before the 2023 polls. Analysts contend that all three senators being ‘first timers,’ have a bright chance of securing a second tenure unless the political dynamics of 2023 work against them.

In the House of Representatives, a handful individuals are in consultation and reaching out to the public in crucial foundation laying likely to confer a poll advantage on them when the time comes. But watchers of Benue politics argue that early starters are vulnerable and can hardly sustain the tempo at the peak of politics.

There is no single brush to paint all of the aspirants and some of them are exempted from this rule. This includes Mrs. Comfort Bassey, a front line aspirant for Oju/Obi federal constituency. Entering the contest with a financial warchest, Bassey does not appear vulnerable to atrophy and fatigue. The oil magnet is exploring philanthropy to win the hearts of her people and she is succeeding. She may well be the one to beat at the poll if the current reality is not altered by events of 2023.

Apart from her personal effort, the Oju born Bassey is favoured by zoning unlike the incumbent, Samson Okwu who is from Obi and is disenfranchised. Okwu was elected in 2011 and almost conceded to David Ogewu in the 2019 exercise. Ogewu on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance(APGA), explored desperate options to win the poll but the electoral tribunal and appellate court reached for justice in favour of Okwu.

If the Oju born Ogewu decides to try his luck in 2023, he would contend with the rising profile of Bassey. However, Bassey has a marital root in Akwa Ibom state and this may well constitute a cog in her wheel in a community with a heavy influence of tradition. Besides, the House of Representatives ticket has been conceded to Obi for several years and is expected to attract a flood of aspirants from Oju resulting in a keen contest in 2023.

It is too early to be definitive on all the federal constituencies in the state but it suffices to assert that the preparation for 2023 is the outlook of a crucial encounter ahead. At the moment, the governorship position gets the most attention in the state and politicians of both Tiv and Idoma extractions are in loud agitations for it.

A difficult situation is envisaged as Idoma is determined to break Tiv monopoly and be enthroned as governor in 2023. The Idoma are insisting on zoning and they appear determined to turn down an offer for deputy governorship if their argument that they deserve nothing short of the governorship position can be trusted.

Analysts observe that Idoma’s insistence on zoning may fail and there is a need for a proactive and more effective approach, especially, with the mounting pressure from Benue North East. The recent resignation from PDP of the 2015 governorship aspirant and university don, Prof. Terhemba Shija cannot be glossed over but should be viewed as a strategic step towards his governorship ambition.

Shija is from Benue North East, a zone joined with Benue South to ask for the zoning right of the governorship in 2023. Benue North East was the first zone to occupy the position in the state. The late Mr. Aper Aku from Ushongo Local Government was the first civilian governor of the state. His elections in 1979 and 1983 left a milestone in the political trajectory of the state.

Benue North East yet occupied the position with the elections of the late Rev. Father Moses Adasu in 1992 and Barr. Gabriel Suswam in 2007. It was the turn of Benue North West when George Akume won election in 1999. The zone was beckoned to power with the election of Governor Samuel Ortom in 2015.

It is evident, therefore, that Benue South is left out and fairness demands its consideration for the position in 2023.However,fairness is rare in politics in this clime and may be missed in the permutation for the position in 2023. Realizing the dream of a Benue governor of Idoma extraction is a herculian task with nothing disenfranchising aspirants from other senatorial zones who stand a better chance of victory at the poll due to population advantage.

Like other parts of the country, politics in Benue state is influenced by ethnic and religious factors and an Idoma aspirant pitted against a Tiv aspirant in a contest is a lost battle for the former under a normal political ambience. This fact has inspired aspirants from Benue North and many of them are likely to throw their hats into the ring of contest at their chosen time.

Right now the 2015 governorship aspirant and university don, Prof. Terhemba Shija is the one to watch in the North East. While Shija is yet to make his intention public, his recent resignation from PDP is considered a critical step towards this cause. Feelers indicate that he is leaving nothing to chance and his early farewell to PDP is vantage.

But Governor Ortom will not gloss over the choice of his successor and may want to anoint who inherits his shoes. If Ortom succeeds in anointing his successor after eight years as governor, he will be counted among his predecessors who have achieved such feat in the political history of the state. His anointed candidate may be a current cabinet member or his aide and many eyes are already searching the corridors of his chief of staff, Terwase Orbunde and the commissioner for Education, Professor Ityavyar.

Both Orbunde and Ityavyar are from the Benue North East and none of them has made public his intention. No aspirant from Benue South has publicly declared for the position either but the former minister(state) for Niger Delta affairs, Sam Ode is in the hearts of many. Likewise the former House of Representatives member, Bernard Ochepa and the state chairman of PDP, John Ngbede.

Both Ode and Ochepa are in All Progressives Congress(APC). If party membership will decide the fate of who succeeds Ortom as governor in 2023, APC may have to work hard to avoid a nightmare. What may playout is a contest among candidates of Tiv, Idoma and Igede origins with business mogul, Francis Alochu from Oju, leading aspirants of Igede extraction.

Scanning the horizon, it is safe to conclude that any of the aspirants could end up as deputy governor in 2023. In lieu of governorship, an Igede person would ask for the deputy governorship slot. Should this happen, Alochu is a likely beneficiary since he has paid his dues in philantrophy and welfarist programmes for his people to warrant their support.

An Igede person as deputy governor would give room for the emergence of Idoma as either governor or Secretary to State Government with the former most unlikely. Yet, an Idoma candidate emerging as deputy governor cannot be foreclosed as Ngbede, Ochepa and Ode are waiting in the wings.

Ngbede paired up with Terhemen Tarzor against Ortom and Benson Abounu(APC) in 2015 while Ode and Emmanuel Jime(APC) squared up against Ortom and Abounu in 2019. Ochepa lost the APC deputy governorship bid to Ode on the ground of zoning in 2019 and may be considered in 2023 to run against the opposition. If APC will make an impression in the 2023 Benue governorship contest, a politician like Ochepa cannot be ignored.

Watchers of politics in Nigeria suspect party mortality, alliances and realignments in 2023 and some registered parties going into oblivion. At the moment, who the cap fits is a mere conjecture and what is certain is the aspiration of politicians from the three senatorial zones with Governor Samuel Ortom, the minister for Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, George Akume and former senate president, David Mark constituting an umpire deciding how the political pendulum swings.

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