By Ati Kenneth Kengkeng
If not for the postponement of the election by six weeks I wouldn’t have had the luxury of writing this article. Thanks to Jega and by extension, the service chiefs. Ordinarily, one would have preferred to steer clear of this terrain completely, reason being that, of the duo of Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom and Rt. Hon. Terhemen Tarzoor, none, in my opinion, has the capacity to stimulate and/or jumpstart Benue to the required height, especially after this ugly outing by Dr. Gabriel Suswam. They both have something to offer, no doubt, but in a lesser quantity and quality.
Having attended the gubernatorial debate organized by Tivnet, I’m confident that I’ve not made a mistake narrowing down to these two candidates. I wish I had a third in person of Rev. Samuel Gar in the fold but it’s rather unfortunate that inspite of his grasp of issues, zeal and temerity to proffer workable solutions, he is running on an unpopular and greatly disadvantaged platform the SDP.
At the end of the primaries in the ruling PDP, I was taken aback by the emergence of Tarzoor. I thought common sense will advise, guide and engineer the process such that a tested and trusted hand will emerge, but No; that was not going to happen. It was politics as usual and whoever better served the ego and other sundry interests of the incumbent took the day, else, I kept wondering; How does a Tarzoor emerge winner in a contest that includes the likes of Engr. Felix Atume, Dr. James Mbachiantim, Peter Chieshe and Prof. David Ker? These are professionals, technocrats and people whose entire lives revolve virtually around excellence and hardwork. They have hit the top with personal commitment, proven integrity and dedication to service. On the other hand, little can be said of Tarzoor. Where was he? What does he do? What can he do? What has he done? These questions will leave you with almost no encouraging or satisfactory answers which are in no way comparable to the curriculum vitae of the above mentioned personalities. This is an effort to establish without any iota of doubt that character, content, conscience and competence were relegated for other trivial and derogatory factors in the determination of the candidate, hence the emergence of “The man wey sabi”. It will be wrong to derive that Tarzoor is a bad man. That is not the message. He might be a great person but Benue has been short-changed knowing that there were greater persons, people with outstanding credentials and unbeatable pedigree in the fold where he stood tall.
The story in the APC is loaded with intrigues. The most popular candidate lost out due to political acrobatics with the leadership of the party. Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Jime was heading for a landslide at the primaries. The golden child of 2011 Prof. Steve Ugba was also in the race. It is he that delayed the process with a court injunction over his exclusion from the primaries. The following day, the injunction was vacated but the National Convention of the party was to hold in two days. This finally put paid to the hope of a primary election. Former Minister, Industrialist and Entrepreneur Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom who had just lost to Tarzoor in the PDP found a loophole in the APC constitution and cross-carpeted to join the fold of aspirants in disarray. Since the primaries could not hold, the onus was on the leadership of the party to produce a candidate. The stone that was rejected in PDP became the corner stone in APC. It was Ortom. This couldn’t have happened without the blessing and endorsement of his pal, erstwhile boss and leader of the party Sen. Dr. George Akume. Tempers flared especially by those who think, feel and demanded that Jime, having labored so hard, should’ve clinched the ticket but that was not to happen. Jime headed for the court while Ortom hit the road consulting and campaigning. For the APC leadership, the killer move was to hand the ticket to Ortom probably because he is more experienced, has longer hands, deeper pockets and will dare or scare the PDP more than any other candidate. This decision did not come without consequences. Today, many party faithfuls have either ditched the party or remained adamant over the short-changing of delegates and the high-handedness of the leader Sen. Dr. George Akume.
As it stands today, a more politically exposed and experienced Samuel Ortom will square up against the young and exuberant Terhemen Tarzoor in the April 11 showdown. While little might be known of Tarzoor, Ortom has been consistent on the scene for a long time. He was the Executive Chairman of Guma Local Government in 1992 and when democracy returned to Nigeria in 1999, he rose through the ranks in the PDP from the State level to the National level where he was National Auditor of the party before becoming cabinet minister, a position from which he resigned to contest the Governorship of Benue State. Over the years, he enlarged his coast by building several fledging business outfits across the state employing over 400 youths.
It is common knowledge that Ortom has been the architect of a lot of mischief in various capacities in Benue State over the years. As Chairman of Guma Local Government, he was reported to have won a lot of awards both locally and internationally through propaganda and not performance that can be felt or measured. At the inception of the present democratic experiment, he played so many key roles in the administration of the then Governor George Akume. Ortom was akin to “Mr. Fix it”. There was hardly a political knot in the polity that he could not untie. Since 2003, election votes from Guma Local Government have been reportedly higher in number than those of Makurdi Local Government, the homestead of the State capital. This is something quite difficult to understand owing to the numerical strength of the voting population. Ordinarily, one would expect that Makurdi would have a higher number of voters which actually is the case but the political magic wand of Ortom has always carried the day. He was the ultimate electoral miracle worker. What is most worrisome is the difficulty to itemize the things that have been translated to his people in the rural areas in relation to the high and mighty offices he has occupied. The road to his hometown is not motorable, his people are the worst hit by Fulani marauders, the agro-allied activities are retrogressively at its lowest and a lot more. One would have loved to see the quality of Ortom’s personality emphasized in conquering these challenges in tandem with the litany of offices he has occupied and the political power he commands.
Since 2010, we heard and have witnessed a transformed or better still, the born again version of Samuel Ortom. He is reportedly a converted man and now an elder of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. His speeches have changed, his fire spitting persona diminished for a softer man and a less aggressive politician. It is known today that he is a man of God. His love for God has become an open secret and is demonstrated on any platform he is opportuned to express himself. Apart from his vast business and political connection paving way for him, the church in Benue State is loud, open and dogged about his candidature. Indications from religious quarters show clearly that he is favoured by the leadership of the Church in the State. It is commonplace to come by the clergy (particularly the Pentecostal clergy) who will conscientise you about the prospects of an Ortom Governorship. With over 25 years committed to the political system, Ortom should to have the upper hand except that in this era, the determinants are beyond experience.
On the other hand, an obscure Tarzoor who was mostly known in 2011 was a second term legislator in the House of Assembly. Most of what is known of him is that he was Speaker of the house for about 7 months before he was sacked by the court. It was an all time low for him after he lost out and he instantly returned to obscurity. As a political watcher, I knew with utmost certainty that he neither had the financial resources nor the political capital to bulldoze his way through heavy weights like the Deputy Governor Chief Steven Lawani, Former Ministers Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom and Hon. Sam Ode and others. For a fact, Tarzoor was not on ground. Call it fate, providence or trial and error, Tarzoor was never to be anywhere near the PDP ticket for the Government House of Benue State if not for the overwhelming fear of displeasing the incumbent. The Suswam factor was the ultimate decider of the primaries where other aspirants were convinced, cajoled or threatened to drop their ambition in support of Tarzoor or face the unforeseen consequences of their refusal. Many withdrew, declared their support for Tarzoor and also pointed to him as the man whom delegates loyal to them should vote. All the aspirants in this category did not leave the party but rather have donated their campaign offices and structures in support of Tarzoor. This has proven to be a great booster for the PDP as most of the aspirants have towed the line. Another thing worth mentioning is that, of all the aspirants who lost at the primaries, only Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom cross-carpeted to the opposition unlike what is obtainable in other states. This is a demonstration of their commitment towards ensuring that PDP wins the governorship of the State. That notwithstanding, Tarzoor has all the attributes of a man with maximum appetite for the cares of life. I’ve heard various testimonies of his capacity to entertain opposing views, give a listening ear and also learn. The singular opportunity I had to listen to him was at the Tivnet Gubernatorial Debate but unfortunately, of all the 8 aspirants in the race, he was the only one who turned down the debate and didn’t attend. Reasons have been given for that but all, in my opinion, point to a calculated effort at escaping a pubic engagement in a perfect societal mix like that which obtained at the debate. This speaks of a deficiency or a seeming inability to drive the process that will lead to the emancipation of the people.
While Ortom might have a name/image to redeem, wrongs to right and an economy to build, I think Tarzoor does not have an adequate understanding of where we are and where we are supposed to be. This is occasioned by his choice of activities in the form of the yuletide show organized at IBB Square where over 25 million of naira was ferried to Lagos to hire artistes to perform for the people of Benue. The major benefit of the show is a short-lived excitement that has no economic or spiritual value. This concentration on activities that have tangential effect on lives of the people suggests that Benue in the hands of Tarzoor will avail us only crumbs. The landing cost of a tomato paste machine is less than 6 million naira. With the structure, power, logistics, running cost and other requirements, one can have one “Tin Tomato Factory” with less than 18 million naira. The Lagos based artistes are gone. They will smile to the bank while the youngman displaced by Fulani will go back to his cubicle, jobless, homeless and helpless. But what are we to expect when his benefactor has been doing same? What disturbs me most is that the youth endorse, encourage and actually demand these. Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Jime did same in 2013 and I berated him in like manner. Benue youths are not tools to achieveing or satisfying the desires of the elite. This is why I doff my hat for an Ortom who prefers to and has established industries, employed young graduates and is empowering them.
I cannot forget to mention that the choice of Deputy Governorship candidates is a determinant of the chances of both parties. For the PDP, Hon. John Ngbede is one politician who has consistently been on the scene since 1999 and holds the aces in Agatu where he comes from. His political spread cuts across the state owing to his perpetual stay in Government. It is rather unfortunate that the APC chose a less popular candidate to deputize Ortom in person of Hon. Benson Abounu. With Benue Southwest (Zone C) in the firm grip of Sen. David Mark who is obviously behind Ngbede, it is only a matter of time before the true weight of Abounu and the APC in the zone is exposed.
As the elections beckon on us, the last is yet to be seen of both camps. The PDP has approached the court challenging the eligibility of Ortom to contest the governorship election under the platform of APC. This, Ortom says is an attempt to distract him because the PDP is afraid of the massive support base of the APC and as a law abiding citizen, will avail himself and see the litigation through. One ugly trend that surfaced recently is the threat to life and the destruction of campaign materials of both parties by her faithful. There have been allegations and counter allegations as to who started the destruction. Both aspirants have condemned the act and called their supporters to order. Unfortunately, the APC is still counting her losses as the attacks have continued. This must be stopped. There is also a likelihood that the outcome of the Presidential election will affect the chances of both parties at the Governorship elections. Majority of the folks supporting the PDP are angling and spreading word that Buhari should be voted for President. The unforeseen consequences of a Buhari win is likely to be a massive turnout for the Ortom/Abounu APC ticket as Benue is known to always play ball with the party at the centre. Should Buhari win the Presidential election as expected, Samuel Ortom will receive a big boost and the urge to vote in Ortom by all and sundry will be almost irresistible. One thing that is sacrosanct is that President Jonathan is a hard sell to the Benue electorate. This is one scenario that cannot be ruled out whatsoever. In the coming weeks, the people will decide ultimately who takes over the mantle of leadership for the next four years, hoping that it will be better and people oriented unlike the abysmal display of corruption and self-centered leadership experienced under Gabriel Torwua Suswam.