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Suswam, Gemade, Orubibi roil Benue for zone ‘A’ senate seat

By Msugh Ityokura, Abuja
20 December 2018   |   3:41 am
One outstanding feature of the forthcoming 2019 general election, especially as it pertains to Benue State, is the nature of alignments and re-alignments among the gladiators. The two major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its rival, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have been carrying on as if the election is all about…

Senator Barnabas

One outstanding feature of the forthcoming 2019 general election, especially as it pertains to Benue State, is the nature of alignments and re-alignments among the gladiators.

The two major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its rival, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have been carrying on as if the election is all about them.

In Benue State, the two parties have been scheming to be in control in the various constituencies to ensure victory for their candidates.

APC, which has been in power for close to four years for the first time since Nigeria’s return of democracy, is not leaving any stone unturned to consolidate its hold on power beyond 2019.

On its part, PDP, which held sway in the preceding 16 years, is making frantic efforts to return to power.

And although the ruling party seems to have penciled down some states it deems critical to determining victory for it in the various geo political zones as a must win, Benue stands out as an odd option.

APC won in the state at the 2015 poll, but through a convergence of political happenstances, including the farmers versus herders crisis, the victory was short-lived when the state governor, Samuel Ortom, retreated to his former party, PDP.

Also, Ortom’s defection followed his disagreements with his erstwhile political godfather, Senator George Akume.

This scenario has set the stage for an explosive electoral contest next year as the campaigns gather momentum.

Ortom’s fire

With the state’s resources at his disposal, Governor Ortom is said to hold both the yam and knife in his kitty, as such how he dispenses favours to earn electoral capital is left to be seen, but it is apparent that the ruling APC is gearing up for battle in the state.

Since 1999, Senator Akume has been at the commanding heights of Benue politics.

So, as the leader of the opposition in the state, Akume does not come across as a push over, especially taking cognizance of the fact that he was a former governor for eight years spanning 1999 through 2007.

Backed with federal might, Akume has been standing up to Ortom and PDP such that undermining him could spell disaster for the state government.

The legendary Presidency cabal is said to have vowed to takeover the state by hook or by crook, following what a source described as the governor’s disrespect to the Commander-in-Chief, President Buhari, specifically regarding the January 1, 2018 killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen which plunged the state into mourning.

The official mass burial of 72 people massacred by the herders in the state earlier in the year stands out as an instance of Ortom’s ‘cheekiness’, which was said to be a source of great embarrassment to the Presidency as well as bringing the Buhari administration to disrepute.

In the anticipated showdown between APC and PDP in the state, it was gathered that a former two-term governor of Benue, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, is giving the ruling party cause for concern, particularly because he is the PDP senatorial candidate for Benue North East Senatorial District, also known as zone “A”.

On account of his political clout, Suswan was said to have been at the receiving end of APC’s intense lobby to join Akume in APC. The ruling party was said to have mounted pressure on him to defect to APC at the build up to the party’s primaries.

However, Suswam’s refusal to pitch tents with the ruling party was said to have earned him the wrath of the Presidency following what was perceived as witch hunt by Federal Government institutions like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Directorate of State Services (DSS).

Suswam was one of the key beacons of PDP during the party’s struggle with Senator Ali Modu Sheriff for the soul of the party.

It would be recalled that Suswam, who craved a return to the National Assembly from the Benue Government House in 2015, narrowly lost out to a former national chairman of PDP, Senator Barnabas Gemade, who emerged victorious on the APC platform, from where he moved over to Social Democratic Party (SDP) to actualize his dream to return to the Red Chambers come 2019.

Battle of Zone A

BASED on the alignments and re-alignments, coupled with cross-carpeting by the gladiators, circumstances have changed as new reasons are being advanced as to who should represent Benue Northeast.

The incumbent, Gemade, had, while canvassing for votes in 2015, promised to ensure the establishment of a Polytechnic in Kwande Local Government Council of the state in addition to assurances of massive infrastructural development across the zone.

Those promises remain what they are: Promises. Add to that, Gemade’s defection to rebirth SDP, which is yet to gain ground in the state, as well as his elitist comportment that his constituents point to and accuse him of being inaccessible, constitute factors weighing down his chances in the 2019 poll.

With no single industry in the state much less a foundation that would give support to the less privileged among his constituents, Senator Gemade has an uphill task ahead convincing the voters for his re-election.

Compounding Gemade’s plight is the fact that most of his staunch supporters have either remained in APC or PDP given the unpopularity of his romance with SDP.

Perhaps buoyed by the vacuum, the APC Senatorial candidate in the zone, Mimi Orubibi, considered to be a novice in Benue politics, emerged on the scene shortly after the party’s 2015 victory.

She was appointed Chairman of Benue Internal Revenue Service (BIRS), only to be later relieved of the position.

And given the socio-political and ethnic considerations in Benue politics, Mrs. Orubibi is perceived as merely filing a vacuum in search of popularity.

Orubibi hails from Kwande, which, by zoning arrangement, is the rightful custodians of the Senate seat, but which they leased out in 2015. The former BIR chairman feels she could reclaim it.

Leasing out elective positions is a norm in Tiv politics, particularly when the designated custodians are not ready yet.

This explains Orubibi’s quest to be in the ninth Senate. However, traditional values seem to be working against her schemes due to her marriage to a Rivers State’s citizen.

In line with Tiv cultural observances, once married a lady has no share of any inheritance, and by extension, the right to seek an elective position in the land.

Custodians of Tiv culture and tradition consider these traditional values sacred and it has never been violated. Would Mrs. Orubibi be the first to override the traditional stipulation?

There is nothing to support such a possibility because, in terms of resources as well as presence of well-grounded grassroot’s politics Orubibi is no where near visibility.

In the end, whatever little sympathy votes she may garner during the would be too little to take her anywhere near her ambition.

In the emerging scenario and given the alliance with Ortom, PDP candidate, Suswam, might swim in favourable streams of public opinion because the governor and his entire cabinet from the zone are in support of Suswam for Senate campaign.

The traditional institution is not left out. And this singular factor shows that even with federal might, APC might not be having it easy.

Traditional rulers’ support for the PDP senatorial candidate was manifested recently, when in Jato Aka, known to be a sacred place for the preservation of Tiv cultural myths, a masquerade, referred to in local parlance as Nyamtsuam, believed to be imbued with ancestral powers was ushered to receive and entertain Suswam and his supporters at a rally.

Also, Suswam’s edge over the incumbent is not defined by Gemade’s defection from APC alone.

The native sentiment against the massacre of innocent Benue citizens is driving a welter of Tiv nationalism and all those who sided with the purported enemies of the people are facing the backlash.

Unlike the incumbent, while he held sway at the House of Representatives from 1999 through 2007, Suswam initiated a scholarship scheme that cut across the various parts of the state. His constituency projects were also spread across the state.

This was, however, seen by many as a deliberate ploy to woo support for his subsequent governorship quest which he eventually clinched in 2007.

Apart from the numerous capital projects Suswam embarked upon across the state during his stint as governor, huge premium is being placed on human capital development in the state and the PDP candidate has been giving it priority mention.

Senator Gemade’s campaigns are based on assurances of fulfilling his earlier promises if voted in again, but the people are showing preference to native solidarity and evidence of performance and antecedents in various positions held in the past.

Some observers allege that Senator Akume’s decision to settle for Mrs. Orubibi was to spite Gemade for defecting from APC, thereby unwittingly making the road to the Senate smooth for Suswam.

Yet, Akume, who handed over to Suswam in 2007, is said to have a soft spot for the later despite their political differences at a time.

Senator Akume was actually quoted by a close source as expressing his preference for Suswam, his protégé whom he prefers to have with him in the Senate instead of Gemade, whom he handed a red card in APC.

It is not easy to say whether Akume’s posture is a subtle demonstration of growing native solidarity or part of the emerging proxy wars in the state.