Bar of brinkmanship raised for 2011 in Benue
Chief John Ochoga moved the motion for the endorsement and Chief Benson Abounu, traditional prime minister of Idoma nation and secretary general of the movement for the Creation of Apa State seconded it. Gen. Lawrence Onoja, Mark’s archrival in Idoma politics, made the announcement. It is speculated that Onoja is nursing the ambition to run for the Benue South Senatorial seat against Mark. He lost in the primaries of 2006 to Mark, despite the backing of former Governor George Akume.
Last week, Suswam rushed from an important meeting in Abuja to be at the special congress of Benue South PDP elders. It turned out to be a masterstroke after months of negotiation between the two dominant power lines in Benue South politics.
It was a surprise when the news was aired on the state-owned radio that the two political factions found a common ground in the adoption of Suswam for a second term.
Mark made it clear from 2007 that he would establish a working synergy with the governor. He always joked that in Benue, he knew who his boss was. But outside Benue, the Senate President is the Number Three man in the federation.
Mark has been able to influence 90 per cent of appointments to politicians of Benue South since 2007. For the first time, politicians from the district have featured in national appointments. Even when the zone lost the ministerial slot, Mark found Dr Jerry Agada another federal appointment.
Onoja is the arrowhead of the opposition to Mark in the Benue South PDP. An ally of Akume, he runs the second most notable political structure in Idoma nation. Since his loss to Mark in the PDP primaries, Onoja has been working with Akume and Suswam.
During the birthday thanksgiving of Suswam, an exchange with his predecessor brought to fore the growing animosity between them. Akume complained that the governor did not invite him for the celebration. But Suswam told how he extended invitation to his predecessor for the birthday. He admitted that he could not place a personal call to Akume, probably because of the Senate Retreat, at Enugu.
Akume understands the tactics of dethroning a political benefactor. He became governor, using the Barnabas Gemade political structure. Shortly after, he moved against Gemade. And from being a national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), Gemade struggled for the political structure of his council, Konshisha. Akume propped up Gemade’s political prot?g?, Dr Joseph Akaagerger against Gemade. Akume’s supporters insist that Suswam is using that same tactic.
However, the recent face-off between Akume and Suswam meant that the Onoja led opposition against Mark had to reappraise its position if it is to extract anything from the fire raging in the state.
The meaning is to find a common ground with the Mark group, which has gained a strong lead in the politics of the area, since Mark became Senate President. The first common ground was in the movement for creation of Apa state, which Mark campaigned with in 2007 and which has been accepted in Benue South. Following the acceptance of the movement, members of the opposition to Mark retreated and sought to join the movement. Their joining was sealed at a meeting at Otukpo, where the message of unity was preached. However, they have been confined to fringe roles as the principal structure of the movement under the leadership of Enyi Obande, Mark’s Director General in 2007 and Benson Abounu, another Mark’s strongman remained firm.
Both groups have little option but to cooperate with Suswam. The relationship is symbiotic because politics in the two other senatorial districts occupied by the Tiv appear not to be too clear for Suswam, hence the haste to wrap up Benue South, which constitutes over 35 per cent of the state and was instrumental to Akume’s re-election in 2003.
For Mark’s group, the hope in the endorsement of Suswam stems from the belief that soon, the same gesture would be extended to Mark. This was the same scenario that played out in 2003; Mark and Akume were penciled to continue in office. This was what pushed Onoja and others to join the UNPP then to actualise their ambitions. And when it did not materialise, they returned to the PDP.
It is uncertain what the implications would be for Suswam if he were to turn his back on Mark in view of the battle between his supporters and those of Akume. For the opposition in the PDP in Benue South, the lure to endorse Suswam is in the plea that they have contributed to his re-election and therefore they should enjoy a wider political space within the PDP, despite the over-bearing presence of Mark. Most people from this camp have complained of being left out in the political patronage being dished by Mark, hence they have supported Suswam’s early endorsement to improve their bargaining power.
Another beneficiary of the endorsement is the deputy governor, Steven Lawani, who hails from Benue South. Of recent, there have been speculations that leaders of area, especially the emerging youthful political class wants him dropped in 2011 because he has not been politically active and refuses to reach out to politicians within his sphere of influence. They want him replaced to pave way for a more proactive Idoma politician, who would drive the power shift agenda in 2015 should the creation of Apa State fail. The name of the Special Adviser to Suswam on Local Government Affairs and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr Sam Ode has been linked with this plan.
Meanwhile Mr Terngu Tsegba, a member of the House of Representatives serving his third term for Gboko/Tarka Federal Constituency has declared his intention to replace Akume at the Senate for the Benue North West Seat. Tsegba used to be close with Akume, but has always being a personal friend of Suswam, with whom he served eight years at the House of Representatives. He is one of Suswam’s associates and has always defended the governor.
Tsegba’s declaration for Akume’s seat has charged the political climate especially the Benue North West District. It is alleged that the Suswam group is further using Tsegba against Akume because Akume threatened his seat as a member of the House of Representatives when he started fronting Mr John Dye as Tsegba’s replacement. Dye served as a major contractor during Akume’s administration and hails from Gboko council. Dye is another loyal associate of Akume.
The Idoma Peoples Congress (IPC), declared that the people of Benue South Senatorial District cannot afford the luxury of a first time senator at this time of its history, stating that the only plausible option is to support Mark for re-election.
In a communiqu? signed by the president of IPC, Alex Ineke and the secretary, Boniface Adah, the group stated: “The IPC notes that the Idoma people cannot afford the luxury of a first time senator at this crucial moment of our struggle and therefore urges our royal fathers and all well meaning sons and daughters of Idoma to take the centre-stage now and discourage office seekers who may be warming up to muddle the political waters of Idoma nation.”
According to the group, any person or group that clamour for the replacement of Mark in 2011 does not mean well for the people. The group noted that the Senate President was working with his colleagues on the review of the 1999 Constitution that would lead to state creation.
“In the nine councils visited by the national leadership, IPC members were unanimous in their resolve that until the dream for the creation of Apa State is actualised, the Senate President should be allowed to complete the assignment the people of his constituency has saddled him with,” the Idoma leaders stated.
The IPC also threw its weight behind the endorsement of Suswam, saying that he should be allowed a second term to consolidate on his achievements so far.
Another group that has endorsed Suswam and Mark is the PDP group in Orokam. The group under the leadership of former Minister of State, Education, Dr Agada believes that it is in the interest of the state if Suswam and Mark are re-elected in 2011.
Sule Audu, Special Adviser to Suswam on Legislative Matters, said that the endorsement of the governor by the PDP caucus of Benue South was an indication of the confidence the people have in his ability to continue on his people oriented projects. He said leaders of Benue South weighed their options and concluded that only Suswam was better positioned to drive the development process beyond 2011.
According to him: “The governor’s endorsement was in the interest of the people and we believe that we stand to gain more with Suswam and Lawani continuing on the saddle. The unity displayed by the Idoma leaders in the endorsement of Suswam testifies to that.”
On the endorsement of Mark by the IPC, Audu noted that Mark has performed beyond the expectations, hence the show of support for him to continue.
“What Mark has done for the people of Benue South in the last 30 months cannot be quantified and that is why the nine councils believe that he should continue. This endorsement extended to Suswam is well deserved. The National Open University Campus built by Mark, the stabilisation of the Senate and his disposition in national politics makes him the choice in the Benue South. Like IPC said, this is not a time to bring a new senator and it is great the leading socio-cultural group in our district has realised it.”
A lot of horsetrading and compromises by political leaders heading towards 2011 are expected. Beyond the positions of governor and senator for Benue South, there are other key electoral offices like House of Representatives and House of Assembly. Many politicians are angling for these positions, especially the elective positions in the area with most of the non-performing office holders who cling to the big two to remain relevant.
Beside the key positions, a second term is rare to come by for office holders in the lower rungs of the ladder in the polity of the state. For Benue South, it is becoming difficult for some politicians to have an independent playing turf. Everything about their political existence as it were revolve round endorsing the big politicians who are their benefactors or otherwise lose out in the deadly game political game that all but discourage independent minded young politicians.