In the first and second political attempts at democracy Benue state was at the centre of national politics and consideration of policies that formed laws and the very fabric of the nation’s leadership. The nation witnessed the advent of North Central’s biggest political collosus ever- Joseph Sarwuan Tarkaa, who played significant roles in the political history of the nation and is nationally acclaimed for his leadership of not only the state but the region and nation entirely.
JS Tarka alongside the Solomon Lars of the time set the Nigerian agenda from their little considered Middle Belt Zone which became the most valued bride it now is, due to their decision to play national politics in relevant ways and project the region’s interest.
Benue state is largely considered the engine room of northern politics in Nigeria. This notion is largely adduced from the level of political consciousness found in the state. The state severally produced political actors who have risen to national limelight and played important roles in the political scene.
Benue state alone has produced several ministers, political party chairmen, Ambassadors, Speaker of House of Representatives, Senate presidents and many more very relevant positions of decision taking in Nigeria.
With the above record of influential positions held and served, the state is nearly nowhere when national politics is discussed as it lacks players who go to the national league to represent the state and also maintain relevance back home(Benue); she lacks a leader who will proudly say ” my people, the people of Benue state say this!” and such decision is actually the Benue position.
During the glorious Tarkaa days, he was feared and reverred by his better educated counterparts from other regions which even led to the first attempt by a Benue indigene to contest for presidency. This legend even formed a regional political party, sought after by all political and ethnic blocs by mobilising the “Southern Northern Nigeria”. He even rose to higher relevance by becoming the face of all ethnic minorities, not just the North Central. Tarkaa was greater than today’s Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, who not only controls Lagos state but has been able to mobilise and direct the whole South West politically, remaining the most important single political entity in the nation even when there is a president in place.
It is rather unsavoury to hear that there has been no follow up to this solid foundation laid by this legend. With the early heads up given the state by Tarkaa we are yet to fill this vaccum, even when there are better educated Benue people who have risen to positions of national relevance but slumped back into local Benue and clannish politics allowing their counterparts from other regions glide into national relevance .
In the first republic Benue made a significant impact producing a Speaker of the House of Representatives, in the person of Rt. Hon. Benjamin Chaha Biam. This early political leader was unfortunately not even remembered in the history of the House he once led. It had to take efforts of a parliamentarian from the state to remind it of the existence of such a character as he has relapsed into local politics taken the position of market head of the famous Zaki Biam yam market while his contemporaries dine and wine with presidents to forge a future for the nation.
Chief Barnabas Gemade, inarguably the politician with the biggest Curriculum Vitae from the state, having served as Minister; Political party Chairman, twice; Chairman Joint political parties in Nigeria; contested for president of Nigeria; Board of Trustee member of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and presently a serving senator. However with this verbose record Gemade is yet to assume even leadership of his political bloc in the state not to talk of national leadership.
Dr. Iorchia Ayu is yet another high profile politician from the state. A former Senate President, three time minister who decided many issues in the nation especially while Atiku Abubakar was in-charge (he was even rumoured to be the brain behind all Atiku’s success). Unfortunately, Ayu has also towed the line of leaders before him by abandoning his national toga, returning to fight for clannish leadership, relegating himself to politics of his local “ipav” clan where he is contesting leadership with political neophytes.
Chief Ameh Ebutte, also a former Senate president who ran to his Adoka village of Otukpo immediately after the close and pack up of the Assembly while his counterparts remained out there to garner relevance. Until recently Chief Ebutte was not known outside Otukpo save for Sen. David Mark’s salvaging attempt.
Benue has also seen the “rise to oblivion” of another political brainiac, Chief Audu Innocent Ogbeh, two time minister and former national chairman of the PDP. Ogbeh who was loud during the Action Congress of Nigeria era nationwide, without a single follower or political clout back home not even in his Efugo council ward, has all of a sudden disappeared from even the political limelight when his party has began to take a national outlook- the right time for him to make himself relevant. Many fear Ogbeh may have decided to recoil to his home like he did after his sojourn as minister during the Shagari era, only to be rebrushed and given a chance by Ayu and Akume in their fight to unseat Gemade as PDP chairman.
Prof. Daniel Saror, this soft spoken former minority leader, was a very visible and vibrant opposition leader in the senate while he held sway even though a stammerer in speech. He even maitained a high followership within the state as an opposition arrow head leading the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) to glorious, heated political outings in the state. However the political old horse seems to have gassed out due to financial and age variables and is scarcely mentioned in national discourse any longer.
Present Senate Minority leader, Sen. George Akume, a two term former governor of the state and presently serving a second term at the senate, is another politician whose meteoric rise to national limelight is “Tarkaaish” in nature; rising from his humble civil servant background to the position of opposition leader makes him another potential Tarkaa. However watchers have recently noticed his gradual adjustment into the known Benue political stereo type of becoming more interested in local clannish politics and abandoning national issues as is with those before him.
He is alleged to be more interested in being part of every decision taken in his Jemgbah Clan even when it calls for delegation of a croony and negates national issues, a situation many believe is making him loose grip of his national relevance. Once touted to be tipped for presidency to run alongside Tinubu who would have been his running mate, Akume is never mentioned in such matters even as his recent birthday celebration lacked presence of national leaders of his party and even principal leaders in the senate where he leads the minority caucus. He undoubtedly has a large followership in the state but might loose this too like his predecessors if not equalled with a national relevant appearance, since he will not be differentiated with the common local player whom he usually competes, while enveloping himself with a retinue of aides drawn from his clan, rather than play in the big league.
Barr. Kaase Aondoakaa, a political neophyte whose ascend to national limelight is a grass to grace story, after failing in attempts to become Local Government Chairman of his Ushongo Local government, was appointed minister of Justice, in a manner still shrouded in mystery and even once rumoured to be the defacto president during the nation’s dark period of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s illness. Unfortunately, Aondoakaa after his exit from the National Executive council, relapsed into his shell abhoring politics and concentrating on his rice production businness. Many believed this was a tact to divert the percieved heat directed at him by the Goodluck Government however even after the alledged reconciliation between the duo and his return to politics, Aondoakaa has decided to remain in the local league. Only recently the former minister whom many have tipped as favourite for the senatorial seat of his senatorial district where he would have had another shot at national policy formation has decided to for fear of facing Governor Gabriel Suswam in the race declared his intention to instead contest for governor even as many believe he does not suit this position considering the fact that his political bloc is not favoured for this position. He is believed to be using this as a spring board to poltical relevance, which many believe is the wrong rung of the ladder as he may not scale through the selection stages of the election and thus recoil back to his local enclave where he contested for chairman with his wife already serving as deputy chairman.
Gen. David Mark, is unarguably the biggest Benue export in this political attempt. Serving four terms at the senate; two of these as the senate president while cutting himself an image of the longest serving senate president ever produced in Nigeria. Mark is no doubt ingrained in the policy formation of the nation, present in every decision making meet. He has variously been tipped to take over from Goodluck Jonathan as president of Nigeria, however the retired military tactician has never hidden his first desire- to be in total control of the Benue-South Senatorial district, a feat he has successfuly achieved so far. Many expect that he takes a walk out of this zonal leadership to fill the vaccum of leadership in Benue and even the North Central region entirely. However pundits observe that Mark has remained resolute and content to carving an empire out of his senatorial district where he truely is the sole determinant.
Gabriel Suswam though a political novice when placed beside the above mentioned players, has never hidden his desire to play in the big leagues. A two time member of the House of Representatives and currently governor of the state, in his seventh year, is also touted to be eyeing a place in the senate like his predecessor. In as much as he seems to be the most media mentioned governor in the nation (until the advent of Amaechi and his version of “Patitio’s gang), he is also feared to be loosing home relevance due to his constant absence from the state. Like many before him loosing relevance back home is the first step to loosing general leadership and thus also is on such a verge.
Looking at the above mentioned fortunate Benue indigenes who have variously had (and still have) the opportunity to bring back Benue and NorthCentral’s hay days, it is pertinent to querry, why it is impossible for our leaders to coordinate the local and national fronts successfuly as J.S Tarkaa of old did or even their contemporaries from other parts of the country?
Till this feat is achieved Benue might not produce another Joseph Sarwuan Tarkaa.