By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Perhaps Governor Samuel Ortom may have once again caught his political groove since defecting from the All Progressives Congress, APC, to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, few weeks back.
Ortom had hinged his decision to dump the APC on the fact that he was treated as an outsider who had no say or stake in the affairs of the party haven spent over three years in the fold of the ruling party.
The Governor also asserted that his decision was influenced by the people of the state who felt alienated by the APC led federal government despite their outcry and plea for help and support in the face of ceaseless bloody attacks on several Benue communities by marauding herdsmen.
Since pitching tent with his former party, the PDP, the Benue political space has lightened up with not a few notable politicians in the state following suit even as thousands of APC members in the urban and rural communities are voluntarily joining the PDP train.
The Governor at the time of his defection moved into the PDP with 13 elected local government council chairmen of the state, 276 elected councilors, one Senator and four House of Representatives members.
A fallout of that deft political move has galvanized the PDP and out of 11 House of Representatives members, eight are of the PDP while out of three senators two are of the PDP.
The exit of Governor Ortom and his ambiance with new party no doubt has left the APC devastated but the party has also moved to pick up the bits and pieces of whatever remains of its structure to put up a brave fight against the PDP in the coming general elections.
But the fate of the party was made worst by the recent endorsement of the Governor by the kinsmen of his arch rival and estranged political benefactor, Senator George Akume from the Jemgbagh extraction comprising Gboko, Buruku and Tarka local government areas who thronged the Benue government house in their hundreds to pledge their unalloyed support for the Governor ahead of the 2019 elections.
At that occasion, leaders of the delegation who came on the auspices of Jemgbagh Elders Forum of the PDP which also had most of the political heavy weights from the area in attendance, Mr. Sam Tsumba said the visit was to enable them register their solidarity with the Governor and to welcome him back to his former party.
Tsumba said “We have come to express the determination of Jemgbah to stand behind you our Governor owing to your laudable performance in office and appointment of many of our sons into key positions including Professor Anthony Ijohor as SSG and the acting Chairman, Board of Internal Revenue Service, Mr Terzunwe Atser which would garner support for you in our area.”
Others who spoke including elders Tarhule Nev, Ikyume Yongu and Mbakorlumun Chia for Buruku, Gboko and Tarka respectively said they were solidly behind the Governor to continue providing purposeful leadership for Benue people.
On his part, a chieftain of the PDP in the state, Prince Yandev Amaabai said “PDP is lucky to have a ‘prodigal son’ who was pushed out of his father’s house empty handed only to return with much wealth.”
They also acknowledged that the Open Grazing Prohibition Law of the state was a landmark that had helped in no small measure in reducing the activities of militant herdsmen in the state
The elders vowed to recall any of their representatives in the State Assembly who was involved in the illegal impeachment move against Governor Ortom.
That visit to the Governor by the Jemgbagh leaders was followed by that of the Jechira block comprising Konshisha and Vandeikya who also endorsed the governor for the 2019 gubernatorial election and pledged their loyalty to him.
Leader of the delegation and senator representing Benue North East district, Senator Barnabas Gemade said Jechira remained committed to the reelection bid of the governor in next year’s elections after which the mantle would move to the area in 2023.
According to Gemade, “Governor Ortom has risked his life for the sake of Benue people and what he deserved was reciprocation and not gang up by self seeking power mongers.”
Speaker for the State House of Assembly, Speaker of the House, Mr. Titus Uba and council Chairman of Konshisha, Mrs. Mwuese Ubebe, said the people of Jechira were unanimous in support of the Governor’s reelection, stressing that if he wanted, he would have mortgaged the future of Benue for his personal grains.
Other speakers including elders David Gbologidi, Namtsav Pever, Clement Azuanongo, Samuel Angya and Samuel Weghsha, all promised bloc votes for the Governor Ortom in 2019, saying they would be the first to reject any evil that stood in the way of the state.
Mrs. Rachael Yange and Rachael Negba who paid glowing tributes to wife of the Governor, Dr. Eunice Ortom, said Jechira women had resolved to follow in the foot steps of their husbands.
Mrs. Negba particularly noted that “Governor Ortom had uplifted so many women through appointments and elective positions more than any other state in the country, his commitment to empowering women is in line with one of the Millennium Development Goals.”
In his separate responses Governor Ortom expressed appreciation to the people of Jemgbagh and Jechira for declaring their support for him, saying he was part of them and would continue to work in the interest of the Benue people.
The Governor stated that he was persecuted because he left the APC as demanded by the people of the state noting that all petitions against him by his former party and traducers would end up in the dustbin.
Highpoint of the visits was the presentation of an award of Hero of Democracy to Governor Ortom by Prof. Dennis Ityavyar Vanguard for Ortom 2019 for his landmark achievements in the face of financial constraints and insecurity.
Reacting to the unfolding political drama and realignment of political forces in the state, Convener of the Middle Belt Movement for Justice and Peace, MBMJP, Comrade Joe Bukka said it was expected.
Bukka said, “I recall vividly that I told you in our last discussion that Benue would witness what you see playing out today.
“Like I said before now, Governor Ortom is a political enigma who despite his shortcomings like every other human being, enjoys a cult like followership across the state and many of this people were eager to have him return to the PDP because of the kind of treatment meted to him in the APC.
“My only advise is that he has to carry former governor Gabriel Suswam, Senator David Mark, Comrade Abba Moro, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu and the PDP state chairman, Sir John Ngbede along because these are the people who are indispensable.
“They wield a lot of influence, including members of the party occupying various elective positions at the state and national levels. If he does that, I can assure you that the PDP and Ortom are good to go in 2019.
“I must also add that he has to engage the various governorship aspirants on the PDP platform who held forth while he sojourned in APC because they remain an integral part of PDP and also have their followership and may not be happy with his return to the party, though we know that Ortom gave his all during his PDP days to build the party.”
“But I must also point out that every second term bid of any serving governor in Benue state has never come easy. Ortom will not find it easy as usual but at the end of the day, the people would give it to him to enable him complete the turn of his zone to allow other zones also have their turn in full. That is Benue politics for you.
“You and I know that Ortom is the oldest living political tactician occupying political office in Benue today but many do not know this fact. Benue election must be free and fair because any attempt to manipulate the process would be resisted even by the people you see in the IDPs camps because they would be the first people who would pour into the streets to resist that attempt.”
On his part, the Chief Press Secretary, CPS, to the Governor, Terver Akase said, “It is absolutely correct to say that the return of Governor Ortom to PDP has been greeted with a loud ovation by majority of members of the party and other Benue people.
“The general applause trailing the Governor’s defecting from APC also goes to show the disappointment of the people in the APC government which has failed to protect them.
“The gale of defections from APC to PDP by many top Benue politicians both elected and appointed following the Governor’s move is also indicative of the current political direction in the state. Benue people are happy with their Governor and they have vowed to stand behind him. Benue is now PDP,” Akase added.
However on his part, the Director of Publicity of the APC in Benue state, Peterhut Apeh dismissed the chances of the PDP and Governor Ortom in the coming elections.
Apeh said, “the various endorsement for the governor is not genuine, the governor is only trying to attract sympathy to himself. The highest they can do is media propaganda.
“When it comes to voting, the APC will come out victorious. Our chances are very bright especially now that Governor Ortom has left us. We are surely working towards another victory,” Apeh added.