BY PETER DURU, MAKURDI
In what appears to be a rehearsal of the 2019 governorship election in Benue, the state has, in the last few months, witnessed increasing behind-the-scenes activities and high powered consultations among political stakeholders.
The race for who occupies the Benue People’s House, the seat of power, has taken off in earnest and the major gladiators are deploying their war chests ahead of the clash.
While youths and elders may have settled for Governor Samuel Ortom of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to be in power till 2023, the opposition People Democratic Party, PDP, sees it as a move that must be halted.
The opposition party, like in the last general elections, has oiled its political war machine to oust the ruling party while about 12 aspirants have indicated interest to run on the platform of the party.
Indeed, the battle for the soul of Benue in 2019 promises to be a fierce one.
While the PDP may be grappling with the choice of candidate to field in that election as was the case in the 2015 contest, Ortom seems to be enjoying the confidence of elders and youths across the state who, in the last few months, have been falling heads over heels to have him re-contest in 2019.
Some weeks ago, at a stakeholders meeting in Makurdi, notable natives made their interest known in the race.
Speaking during the occasion, Second Republic Senator Jacob Gyado poured encomiums on the governor which turned out an indirect endorsement of Ortom for second term.
Gyado said, “Governor Ortom’s humility, doggedness and respect for elders as well as his determination to correct mistakes of the past have earned him such wide acceptability especially among elders most of whom, despite their health challenges, made out time to attend the forum.”
While urging the governor to beat his chest for achieving such feat, he called on critics of the administration to exercise patience as programmes being rolled out to actualise the five-point agenda of the government were indicative of noble plans for the people.
Speaker after speaker, including a former Principal Private Secretary to the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, Major Gen. Larence Onoja (retd), also endorsed Ortom for second term, calling on the people to support his quest to transform the state despite daunting challenges.
Senator George Akume was not left out in the endorsement of the governor.
Akume, who is the leader of the ruling party in the state, during a meeting with youths from his constituency, stated that the APC was not shopping for another candidate to run on the platform of the party in 2019.
“We do not have any intention to replace the sitting governor in the 2019 election. He remains our candidate”, the former governor said.
Meanwhile, the wish of Benue elders to return Ortom to office in 2019 came to the fore during a ceremony to welcome a chieftain of the PDP, Chief Ekpe Ogbu, to the ruling APC in Utonkon, Ado local government area of the state.
During that occasion, the Deputy Governor in the last administration, Chief Stephen Lawani, described the governor as a focused leader, saying, “In spite of distractions, he still had the courage to hold local government elections when many other governors could not do so”.
Lawani noted that the decamping of Ogbu, who was special adviser on public utilities in the last administration, would go a long way to put Ortom in a good position to face the challenges ahead.
Ogbu, who decamped with his teeming supporters, described the governor as a God-given leader, stressing that his administration had demonstrated commitment to the social, economic and political development of the state and should be supported to achieve a second term ambition.
Shortly after that ceremony, thousands of youths marched to the seat of government in Makurdi where they called on the governor to run for second term.
The youths, who wore T-shirts with the inscription, ‘Benue Youths endorse Ortom for 2019’, alluded to what they described as “impressive performance of the governor” in the last two years.
Anthony Adah, Dan Nyikwagh and Sunny Nyio, who spoke on behalf of the youths from the three senatorial districts of Benue, said the call became necessary for to encourage Ortom to run for second term given his humane disposition and achievements in office despite obvious challenges.
Adah, a notable youth leader in the state, said, “We are here to compel Governor Ortom to run for second term because he has given hope to Benue youths and he has led a government that is anchored on transparency, equity, accountability, prudence and frugal management of scare resources of our state.”
Ortom, who responded to their call through Mr. Titus Zam, his Special Adviser Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, vowed to continue to provide democracy dividends.
Just few days ago during a meeting of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, in Makurdi, elder statesman and convener of the forum, Wantaregh Paul Unongo, eulogized the governor whom he described as a son of immense political knowledge who should be supported to fully actualise his dreams for the state.
Unongo said, “My governor is my son and a visionary politician who keeps his words and his determination to transforms Benue is legendary and he should be given a chance and support to excel in the task of transforming the state.”
In the same vein, the Igede Positive Youths for Ortom 2019, in their hundreds, besieged Makurdi with a declaration to support the re-election of Ortom in 2019.
Leaders and elders from the two Igede speaking local governments of the state noted that they took the decision after consulting with all leaders of Igede land.
In her speech on that occasion, a Commissioner at the National Population Commission, NPC, Patricia Kuchi, said, “We are going to repeat what we did in 2015 in 2019 to ensure that Governor Ortom wins the governorship election in Benue.”
On his part, elder statesman and retired Permanent Secretary, Edwin Omerigbe, urged the governor to heed the clarion call of the people by contesting the 2019 election.
While political leaders in the state in unison declared their support for second for Ortom, the man seems to have taken the development in his strides and has refused to make a categorical statement about his future ambition.
Speaking shortly after being endorsed by Igede youths, he said his decision to contest the 2019 election would be made public early next year, assuring that the decision would be influenced by the voice of the people and God’s direction.
He said he would not act outside the dictates of God on the matter despite the immense pressure being mounted on him to seek re-election in 2019.
He said “I have said repeatedly that I will pray about it and I’ve not even started praying. But I think I will start praying towards the end of the year. So by the beginning of next year, if God answers me, I will tell Benue people yes or no.
“And because the Bible says greater is the end of a thing than the beginning, I can assure you that, at the end of four years, Benue people would have every reason to celebrate the accomplishments of this administration.”
Speaking on the chances of the governor if he re-contests, the President General of Onmiyi Igede, Chief Ode Enyi, said, “Every second term bid in Benue is always tough if we go by the history of our political developments, but, at the end the day, the incumbent comes out victorious because we always maintain our zoning arrangements.
“I want to tell you that Governor Ortom will win his second term because we the Benue people ensure that every governor does his second term so that power can move to another zone without issues. It is our unwritten agreement.
“If we don’t do that, we could end up with a zone doing more than eight years; moreover we are living witnesses to the challenge this government is confronted with and the sincere and honest disposition of the governor to tackle them headlong.
“And I know that two years is a long time for these challenges to be addressed given the determination of the governor to have them permanently addressed.
In his reaction however, Benue State Deputy Chairman of the opposition PDP, Dr. Tertim Ayagwer, noted that the ruling APC and Governor Ortom would be woefully defeated in 2019.
Ayagwer said, “There is no doubt that we will take over Benue in 2019 because it is there for everyone to see that the two years of the APC administration is a monumental failure and waste.
“Benue people cannot afford to have this government beyond 2019 because of the suffering they have inflicted on the people. That issue is a forgone conclusion.”