By Maurice Tsav
For Benue state governor-elect, Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom of the APC, the long nights of anxiety, sleeplessness and nightmares are far from termination. Frankly, it’s not the end of the game, even as the troubles of electioneering campaigns have partially receded.
Truly, there is no joy recounting the troubling and heart-breaking events at the peak of partisan campaigns. But even the vanquished would readily attest that Ortom and his team contended with acerbic verbal assaults from opposing camps and dodged deadly bullets at campaign fora from supporters of rival political parties. There were glaring instances, when the now governor-elect had to bend backwards to feign meekness in the face of lethal provocations, emanating mainly from malicious campaigns.
We are just barely weeks to another transition of democratic leadership in the state and Nigeria. Obviously, the wild dance of victory for the new lynchpins of power in the state has understandably ebbed. And so, for the main actors, the euphoria is more echoed in hushed tones among soul mates, who proudly boast about real or imaginary escapades in “this corner or that community” during the polls that ensured victory for the victor. But in all these configured or real tales reeled out by party men/women and politicians as well as onlookers, sprout the real nightmare for Ortom.
An English adage says uneasy lies the head that wears the crown and roughly, it can be guessed that these tales from hordes of politicians are not recounted for the sake of it. The inventors are not just masquerades, dancing naked in the market place for nothing. It’s for a price and, they are strategically designed to market their political wares. They plan and scheme to have the juiciest part of the state cake. The political class in the state, like elsewhere in the country, do not only love the game, but have tenaciously clung to this tradition in the last 16 years.
This mindset has thrown up all manner of characters in the political space of Benue. They parade themselves with appellations such as elder statesmen, party chieftains, supporters, activists, “mothers or fathers” of the governor-elect and even association of wives and so forth. It explains why there has been an avalanche of midnight defections from the PDP to the recently empowered APC. To these brethren, their idea of change, as loudly proclaimed by Nigerians in the last national ballot is still the ancient PDP tradition of “na our time to chop”. So, they must re-align, hover in the skies, create all manner of inanities and even curse others in their little minds, where possible, just to grab relevance in the eyes of their benefactor.
So, on this new found passion for the progressives, the hawks have aligned their minds to certain expectations. They are already on breakfast table with sophisticated antics for strategic lobbying for positions. There is nothing wrong with any human being who aspires for anything and steps out to get it. But there is every wrong, with the same characters angling for the same thing, year-in, year out, with scant justification for it, even from their own lips. Prince Ogiri Ajene (of blessed memory), a fine gentleman, who deputized the then governor George Akume for eight years had no justification condescending to the status of a councilor in his local government. This misstep is advertised more clearly upon the realization that his peer in the deputy governors national forum, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, rose to become president of Nigeria.
And the highest political office held by Prof. Yomi Osibanjo, the incoming Vice President of Nigeria was a commissionership under Bola Tinubu administration in Lagos state between 1991-2003. Regrettable, his contemporaries around here are still aspiring for commissionership when they can as well make use of such a link to get engage somewhere else and ease the burden on the state.
Therefore, for Ortom the actual battle to offer good leadership in the state has just began. Those who know would never envy his position because the battle now would assume a sublime dimension, deadlier than the thorns of partisan campaigns. Now, some desperadoes, whose names are only heard at times like this, would go to extremes to influence and cause things done in their favour. Quite sadly too, some of those jostling for these political appointments’ or patronage have been on the scene in the last 16 years or more.
Yet, they resurfaced again, mounting unbearable pressures on the governor-elect to have them re-appointed in the same positions they occupied years back, but made little or no impact. They are doing everything to be retained in government by all means. It is surprising, especially among the Tiv that those who tested power either at state or national levels three decades ago, are the same politicians who are ferociously kicking for attention in today’s government in the state. Meanwhile, they held sway; they never helped themselves or brothers who crawled to them for assistance.
The fallout of this vicious scramble for political appointments in the state is the large retinue of Personal Aides (PAs) to the governor and other senior government appointees, some of whom are hardly identified either by facial looks or name by their employers. To say that some of them have portfolios is like chasing shadows, yet they draw salaries and allowances from government coffers.
Thus, at Benue’s social engagements, one gets to hear near derogative and ridiculous designations such as Personal Assistant (PA) to the PA of the PA to the governor. Even core senior civil servants have PAs these days. This has been the experience right from the days of Senator George Akume as governor to Governor Gabriel Suswam at the moment. Now, Ortom, the governor-elect is assailed in same manner by those who must satanically hold onto the fangs of the state.
To make matters worse, these desperadoes who are bent on railroading themselves into the system may sit on the front rows of church day and night, but at such auspicious times as now, they surreptitiously visit marabouts to acquire charms and amulets, which have become part of their daily garbs to political outings.
They have no patience for the state leader to independently assess the competencies of people around him to make meritorious appointments that can assist him in the arduous task of governing the state. These values are really strange to the state. It is therefore surprising how cherished virtues of Benue people have eroded irredeemably.
Chief Mrs. Lucy Aluor, the septuagenarian matriarch of the Gondo Aluor family revealed in a recent an interview that she never lobbied for any federal appointment, but only heard of her appointment under the Shagari regime as Minister for Education on NTA network news at 9pm. Ma Aluor was picked from the classroom, as secondary teacher and later principal, for her painstaking contributions to the educational sector in her state.
But in today’s Benue, the story is different. Yes, the state suffers from a high degree of unemployment and the desperation for white collar jobs is understandably high. However, what remains annoying is the realization that even those pushed unto the national level have relapsed back to the state. In their estimation, the colour of fortune is only rooted in their state. With this conviction, they have unrepentantly consecrated themselves into state heroes, Moreso, even when they are pushed or dragged to the national level to play national politics with their peers, they still drop from such heights back to the state.
The pains are felt deeply upon the realization that respected Benue sons like former Senate President, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu created NSCDC as Minister of Internal Affairs, but left out his people in the cold. But just within four years of Comrade Abba Moro’s headship of the Ministry, NSCDC headquarters in Abuja and its command anywhere in Nigeria appear like the traditional headquarters of Idoma people. No one is blaming him for his penchant to help his people, but it is a content lacking in people like Ayu and many others in the state.
That’s why the likes of Senator JKN Waku remain a different Tiv man. After failing to return to the Senate in 2003, Waku has continued to hibernate at the national level and until, recently, he was an official of the Arewa Consultative Forum. He does not only seek, but also explores national opportunities for himself and his people back home. In his class are also a few other young Benue people who have chosen to be different like Chief Godwin Obla, who left the state after his sojourn as council chairman. He is now an EFCC lawyer based in Abuja. It’s not on record what he has sought from the state since then.
But in contrast, are some distinguished scholars and politicians who have been everything and indeed, have occupied every conceivable position within reach in the last two decades. Some have been senators, ministers, ambassadors and so forth. Yet, some have returned home to accept to play roles that reduces them in the estimation of sane people.
In his group are the likes of Senator Jack Gyado and a lot more, who have presently relocated to Ortom’s Judges Quarters home. They have been grabbing state appointments and contracts so mindlessly as far back as memory can recollect. But they are not prepared to quit yet. Jack Gyado once chaired the board of directors of the Kaduna Refinery, a rare opportunity others could exploit to permanently enlist themselves into the oil business, but it’s doubtful whether Jack has a filling station anywhere and so it is the duty of the state to keep servicing his likes. So, this cancer has infested all parts of the state, with the Tiv leading the Idoma, Igede, Etulo to Nyifon and the rest.
Again, there are categories of Benue people who have risen to positions of national relevance in their chosen careers or professions, but have suddenly abandoned such positions for political adventures. They do this against strong convictions and advice, as visibly explained by either zoning formula or verifiable realities. They resign such lucrative positions for a miscalculated political foray. It often ends up in them losing in both ways. The likes of Engr. Dondo Ahire and Hon. Terry Hons are the latest victims of such destructive outings. But this epidemic predates the duo. The late Paul Belabo was at the verge of becoming the governor of CBN when he accepted to be hoodwinked and resigned to contest the governorship polls against the late Aper Aku. He never won the elections and also, lost his juicy job at the CBN, which he could have used to advance the cause of his people.
In essence, the governor- elect must look beyond the veneer, as he forms his government. His must watch out for perpetual commissioners, ministers, PAs and so forth. People should be encouraged to decongest the state, by exploring national frontiers. It is the only way to gradually ease the state of this mess.
And the task before the new government is to comprehend how Benue people, reputed for hard work and industriousness condescended to such undignified posturing. By 2006 population census, Benue had a population of over four million people. It must have appreciated by now, notwithstanding the years of violent clashes and deaths. In practical terms, no state government of whatever size and resources can engage or reward all of this massive population with government appointments. It underscores the need for decongesting the state as done elsewhere.
But regrettably, people of the state have rejected, renounced or simply abused such avenues elevation to the national level and instead, have chosen the dishourable path of consistently revolving within the state and feasting on its meager resources. This trend must be discouraged.