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The path to Benue revival


Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom

In my column of about a month ago, Think, Benue leaders, think, (May 18, 2018), I urged our political godfathers to spare some serious thoughts on the current parlous state of the state that had a mind to make a difference in its developmental paradigm at its creation in 1976.

I pointed out that the late Mr. Aper Aku understood this holy ambition of the people and took steps to make Benue State a source of our collective pride.

I listed some of those steps that more or less died with him.


One of his most important infrastructural projects, the uncompleted and neglected multi-storey hotel in Makurdi, is a metaphor for a grand vision brought low by men who undermine strategic thinking.

It cannot but worry all of us that today the state has been brought down from the height to which Aku took it before the generals returned to the political turf at the end of 1983 and scuttled whatever promise democracy held for us.

The fate of our state is in the hands of our current political godfathers who make and mar political, social and economic fortunes.

I believe it is time for them to rise above themselves and from seeing politics as nothing more than a game of power for its own sake and become statesmen who see political power as an instrument for doing the greatest good to the greatest number of people.

In line with this, I offer some suggestions here for their consideration. I do so against this unsettling background. Benue is a wreck.

It has a government but it is not governed.

Our schools, the one industry we were verily proud of, has collapsed, thus making the future of our children uncertain. And this, in the 21st century? Yep.

Since January this year, the state and its people have been traumatised by mass killings by Fulani herdsmen.


Think of the thousands of men, women and children who have become refugees in their own state and are merely surviving at the mercy of government in camps for internally displaced persons.

The mass killings have affected what is left of our agriculture and emptied the food basket of the nation.

The consequence is the impoverishment of our peasant farmers. When the people live daily with their hearts in their mouths, they cannot plan for their future.

Our political godfathers must appreciate the challenges before them, to wit, to make the state safe and make it rise again from its wreckage and its trauma.

For that, they need to give a thought to how they have exercised political power since our return to civil rule in 1999.

I suggest that they should see the 2019 general elections as a referendum on their commitment to Benue on the rise again.

If they let things continue as they are, it would not take rocket science to see that the state could only become more deprived and the people more wretched.

In the circumstances, at least two steps are critical to rescuing the state.

As a temporary measure, the first step is to ditch zoning in favour of getting the best hands and brains at all levels.

Zoning was muted by the NPN in the second republic. The party did not survive to implement it as it affected the president in 1984.


Zoning was conceived as a means of ensuring that politics as a game of numbers must necessarily make concessions to tribes with unimpressive records in the labour wards.

The variants of this with the same fundamental objective are rotation and federal character. But zoning died on arrival in Benue State in 1979.

In the run up to the general elections that year, the state NPN zoned the top political positions, in descending order of numbers, as follows: governor, Tiv; deputy governor, Igala; speaker of the state house of assembly, Idoma.

However, after the elections were won, the Tiv threw out this sensible arrangement, grabbed the speakership and relegated the Idoma to deputy speaker.

It has remained so ever since. With the de-coupling of the former Igala division back to the former Kabba province to form Kogi State in 1991, the Idoma are ensconced in deputyship: deputy governor and deputy speaker.

Today, the governorship rotates only between Zone A and Zone B, both senatorial districts in Tiv land. Zone C is not in the reckoning.

This means that whether we like it or not, whoever comes from either zone is anointed with the right to rule.

This cynical manipulation of numbers is deleterious to our political health as a people and as a state.

It denies us the right to search for the best hands who can and are willing to be the sources of our collective aspirations.

I am not primarily making a plea for Zone C here.

The point is that even in the two zones with a firm grip on power in the state, there is such a monopoly of political power that some groups within them are marginalised and can only smell power at the behest of their bigger brothers.


The world believes Benue is made up of two tribes – Tiv and Idoma. This is actually erroneous.

There are four distinct tribes in Idoma land, namely, Idoma, Igedde, Akweya and Uffia. And there are three distinct tribes in Tiv land: Tiv, Ugah and Etulo.

Zoning, as it is practised in Benue State, has taken us nowhere beyond concentrating power in the hands of political moguls who appear to think less of the state and more in their unholy and detrimental exercise of power.

And we are far from the Promised Land. Because of the way zoning is entrenched and practised in the state, the concept of participatory democracy is a sham.

We vote but we do not participate.

The second step should follow from the first, to wit, to shatter the glass ceiling of zoning and the concentration of power in the hands of the movers and shakers of the state and give the state back to the people.

Let them have the right to decide who rules them and not merely rubber stamp individuals anointed by the godfathers.

We need to see educated men who have paid their dues with demonstrable antecedents as competent managers of human and material/natural resources.

We need to see thinking men, men who can look far beyond the panoply of power and offer strategic thinking on how to make the state realise its immense human and natural resource potentials.

We need to see men who have big dreams about making Benue great again.


And the godfathers must end the imposition of unknown but malleable quantities on the people.

In this search for the ideal men (and women, I hope), our choice of a political party should be based entirely, all things being equal, on the right man thrown up by a particular political party.

In other words, our political support should be a matter of pragmatism, not sentiments.

We should demand from all those who aspire to rule us to give us a blue print detailing their thinking on those issues that matter to us most – the revival of our agriculture and agro-allied industries; rescuing our education and giving our children the right to expect a better tomorrow; ending the killings and getting the displaced persons back home to pick up the pieces of their lives again; ending the endemic starvation of our civil servants and pensioners; making the N3 billion monthly allocation from the federation account count; raising our internal revenue profile such that the state does not depend totally on the pittance from the federation; putting an end to corruption; making infrastructure the cornerstone of a shift in our developmental paradigm and making the state the food basket of the nation once again, among other challenges.

I am not asking for the impossible. Yes, I am campaigning for a greater Benue State because I know we can realise our dreams for it – if the godfathers permit.

I am asking our political leaders to think.

Thinking is the foundation of human development and progress. So, let me say it again, think, Benue leaders, think.

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