The elections in Benue as in other states may have come and gone, but the ripples continue to reverberate. Benue is a traditional PDP state and this explains the shock when APC won the state in both the presidential and governorship elections. SUNDAY OGLI looks at the factors that nailed the coffin of PDP in the state
The victory of the All Progressives Congress, APC over the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the general elections in Benue State was a bad dream, which many wished was never a reality. The state has been voting PDP since 1999 and left nobody in doubt that it was predominantly a PDP state. However, that jinx was broken on March 28 and April 11 when APC’s ‘tornado’ swept across the state and left with it majority of lawful votes, leaving PDP gasping in disbelief.
Although PDP campaigned vigorously across the length and breadth of the state for votes, the response from the masses were not impressive. In fact, in some local governments, youths merely jeered at the PDP campaign train with brooms, signifying that they were going to vote for APC during the elections.
Some PDP chieftains even believe that the party’s loss in the state was because people had become ‘tired’ of it because it had held sway since 1999 and therefore wished that another party came on board.
Besides, workers in the state were not happy with the state government, which was owing them salaries for about four months. Therefore, convincing civil servants to vote for a party which was owing them salary was like forcing a camel through the eye of a needle.
For most places that the PDP campaign team went, they were confronted with the salary palaver which the APC used against them by promising the electorate that the party and its elected officers would not owe salary when elected to office.
In fact, a lot of people who know the roles civil servants play during elections were worried about the fortunes of PDP and wondered why the governor did not make any move to offset the salaries, even if it meant borrowing from the banks to do that.
But the governor who had increased the wages of workers to an unimaginable peak with a Permanent Secretary earning over N400,000 per month premised the inability of his government to pay on the dwindling allocation from the federation account, which was occasioned by the fall in the oil price.
But the civil servants would have none of such explanation and accused Suswam and his cabinet of embezzling the money meant for their salaries. The situation was even worsened by the handouts allegedly given to some of the workers by Senator Barnabas Gemade, in some local government areas during the campaigns to cushion the pains inflicted on them by the nonpayment of salaries.
“That strategy broke the stranglehold of the PDP and the government over the people as they felt the governor who receives allocation on behalf of the state should have done what Gemade did if not better than that,” said a PDP chieftain who preferred anonymity.
Gemade, former national chairman of the PDP defected to the APC when he perceived that there were plans by Suswam who is the leader of the party in the state and also an aspirant to the Benue North East Senatorial primary to sabotage his chances of picking the senatorial ticket.
His defection was a big blow on the PDP because he did not leave the party alone but with a large chunk of his supporters. Besides, his combination with the Senate Minority Leader, Senator George Akume who has remained a strong political force in the state constituted a major problem for the PDP.
If Gemade’s defection was a big blow, that of Dr Samuel Ortom, who emerged the governor of the state at the gubernatorial turf was the death knell.
From the onset, Ortom who was the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment enjoyed massive support from the people of the state. Conscious of that, the powers that be adopted stratagems to knock him off from the race without success.
One of these was the allusion that the governor could not emerge from the same local government with the Tor Tiv, the paramount ruler of the Tiv people as power will be too concentrated in one area. Both Ortom and the Tor Tiv, His Royal Highness, Alfred Akawe Torkula are from Guma Local Government Area.
Another factor used against Ortom was the campaign of calumny accusing him of being a motor park tout who acquired cut-and-join education instead of attending a conventional university and therefore should never be taken seriously.
However, the underlying factor in the fear of Ortom, political watchers believe was Ortom’s political godfather, Senator Akume. Ortom was greatly favoured when Akume was governor of the state between 1999 and 2007.
It was under Akume that Ortom emerged state secretary and vice chairman of the PDP and later the national auditor of PDP. These positions propelled him for his appointment as minister. Therefore, there was an underlying fear that if Ortom was allowed to emerge as PDP flag bearer and eventually governor, his loyalty would sway in favour of Akume who is in APC instead of Suswam.
Notwithstanding, PDP’s Achilles heels in the state was the treacherous role of some PDP governorship aspirants, most of them Governor Suswam’s allies who got ‘campaign materials’ from him but went to work for APC.
The governor acknowledged this when he said “politics go with treachery and betrayal. I have very close friends who I saddled with responsibility but they turned round to betray me. Politics has no principle,” Suswam stated.
The PDP zonal chairman, Hon. Ibrahim Anor, also confirmed this during one of the campaign rallies of the party’s gubernatorial candidate when he remarked that some of the aspirants are enmeshed in clandestine meetings with the opposition.
“Many of the aspirants who voluntarily withdrew from the governorship race at the venue of the primaries are working against the victory of our flag bearer.
“They did not withdraw wholeheartedly; they are holding meetings with opposition candidates with the aim of selling us out at the polls.”
The aspirants who were disappointed at the way the PDP contrived the guber primary in favour of Terhemen Tarzoor, the defeated PDP guber candidate in the April 11 election discreetly worked hand in hand with APC to deliver Ortom and other APC candidates.
But that is not to say that APC did not work hard for its victory. The party took its campaign to all the nooks and crannies of the state and assured the people the dividends of democracy, particularly prompt payment of salary and provision of jobs for the teeming unemployed masses in the state.