Can Buhari’s Intervention End Benue Guber Electoral Debacle?

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The legal fireworks and political maneuverings on who is actually supposed to rule the agrarian Benue State remains like an unending clash of the titans. SOLOMON AYADO in this report, dissects the interposing intervention of President Mohammadu Buhari, the controversies and intrigues of the governorship candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Terhemen Tarzoor, and other gladiators against the incumbent Governor Samuel Ortom of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who is not ready to give up the juicy seat.

Even before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the gubernatorial poll and formally declared Governor Samuel Ortom the winner for the governorship seat in Benue State, the battle for who emerged the leader of the state was a fight of hard punches and near throat cutting between the political giants especially aspirants that entered the race.

Immediately after the national electoral body announced Ortom of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the April, 2015 governorship election in the state, fireworks began quickly and political maneuverings to unseat the winning governor jumped into play, intensified after the inauguration of the governor and it is raging till now, even as President Muhammadu Buhari has intervened to mediate between the parties with a view to reconciling the differences.

How It All Started

Before the political campaigns of the governorship race of the agrarian state by varied political parties began, the battle of wit and the clever tricks, dispositions of the aspirants to out-smart one another took the centre stage. None of them was ready to pave way for another even as they employed obvious deceptive techniques and coordinated movement of dexterity to outsmart one another in order to move to the end.

Two major political parties, the then ruling PDP and the former opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) were the contending political folds that registered serious candidates to run the race. It was difficult at that time to predict what party could eventually produce the governor but because the PDP was on the saddle, many political watchers were forced to imagine that it could forge its way into producing it.

Within the then ruling PDP, about 30 aspirants including serving commissioners, former political leaders and ministers, high profile businessmen and captains of industries went into the race. In the fold of the opposition APC, about five aspirants had set grounds to make it to the polls. Few other opposition political parties only nurtured a candidate each to just show that the party was on ground.

On the side of the PDP, the battle for which candidate to feature, who was qualified with requisite experience and eminent economic might, to be sold to the electorate by the party became a thug of war. The situation almost overwhelmed the then governor and leader of the party in the state, Gabriel Suswam, who cleverly never wanted to soil his hands to anoint any aspirant.

The battle for how many aspirants among the scores that indicated interest to run the race and win the PDP ticket had raised a dirty dust within the then ruling political circle and the matter was later drawn to the traditional institutions to intervene. While the Tor Tiv, Alfred Akawe Torkula streamlined the aspirants to four, the Ochi Idoma, Elias Obekpa had no much to prune hence not up to five sons and daughters of the Idoma land showed up for the race.

During the pruning process, the Tor Tiv’s alleged selected four candidates were the former minister of state for trade and investment, Samuel Ortom; a retired permanent secretary, Hingah Biem; former registrar of the Council for Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Engr. Felix Atume, and former speaker of the Benue state House of Assembly, Terhemen Tarzoor, the youngest among all of them. But this selection and anointing by the Tor Tiv caused ripples which nearly resulted into a fight among the contenders, especially those that were not picked by the traditional institution. Even within the selected four, Ortom was not the favorite.

At the opposition divide, the APC was busy battling to sort out their onions since the battle for the party’s ticket was among some well experienced political gladiators including Emmanuel Jime who was then a member of the House of Representatives for Makurdi/Guma federal constituency; a former challenger of former Governor Suswam in the 2011 governorship race, Prof. Steven Ugba, also joined the race with perceived support of the then senate minority leader, George Akume. Other candidates including a retired permanent secretary, Akange Audu and former head of service Mike Iordye, as well as JKN Waku were top racers too.

But the contention was actually within the then ruling PDP, hence the divided interests and loyalty factor that posed at that time. Former Governor Suswam, took over the matter along the line and just before the primaries it became obvious that Suswam, who initially had at varied political gatherings declared that he would not render political support for any of the aspirants suddenly became an interested party, because of alleged presidential directive fueled by the wife of the former president, Dame Patience Jonathan.

The party primaries finally came. Suswam, in connived support of former Senate President David Mark drafted the graph to scheme the process to deliver on the earlier alleged instituted presidential directive. Talk less of the numerous aspirants, the game was narrowed to the four contenders that were earlier selected and backed by the Tiv traditional institution. At the eve of the primaries, Suswam summoned a crucial meeting of all PDP aspirants and personally supervised it. Among all the contenders, only Ortom deliberately refused to attend the assembly because, according to him, he suspected a foul play and that he had also a vision that he (Ortom) would not be picked as sole candidate. Terhemen Tarzoor was then opted and all other aspirants were lured to vote him as the party’s flagbearer.

As the PDP went into the primaries, more than 10 contenders under the auspices of MINDA aspirants withdrew from the race to pave way for Tarzoor. Surprising however, Ortom refused to step down alongside the former deputy governor, Steven Lawani, as well as former attorney general and minister of justice, Mike Aondoakaa and former MD of Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority, Ada Chenge. They went into the race with Tarzoor but unfortunately, they all lost out woefully and Tarzoor, fondly referred to as ‘The Man Wey Sabi’ emerged the flag bearer of the PDP.

How Ortom Defected To APC

Convinced by the conduct of the primaries, the rest of PDP aspirants conceded defeat but apparently not satisfied with it, Ortom opposed to it and alleged that the electoral process was marred by irregularities. This is was coupled with his premonition to become the next governor and succeed Suswam.

Ortom swiftly decamped from the ruling PDP to the then opposition APC. The PDP ward chairman of Nzorov ward in Guma LGA, Hon. Felix Agbaka received Ortom’s resignation letter from the PDP on 9th December, 2014.

Also, Adikpe Ukuremo Ezekiel, APC Nzorov ward chairman, immediately registered Ortom on the same date and issued him a membership card. That is how Ortom picked the governorship nomination form to contest the primaries of the APC. Before then, other APC aspirants including Emmanuel Jime were busy warming up to enter the primaries which was already slated.

Maybe, because it was predestined that Ortom would become governor, something not just surprising but unexpected happened on the day of the first APC primaries that was scheduled in the state. Holding at the IBB Square, the primaries had already commenced before a court injunction stopping the conduct of the primaries was served. The INEC immediately halted the primaries.The injunction was over the petition filed by Prof. Steven Ugba, challenging the conduct of the primaries.

Fortunately, the stoppage of the APC primaries by INEC paved way for a fresh schedule in date for a new primaries which, in between the time, Ortom joined the race. He later became the consensus candidate, hence a fresh primaries was not yet conducted and the party had also preferred Ortom’s candidature against the other aspirants.

Victory And Defeat

It was a contentious governorship contest that drew the attention of the entire international community due to the complexities that were perceived, especially on the viewed battle between the ruling and opposition parties. The INEC conducted the poll in all designated polling units across the 23 local government areas.

Candidates of other political parties including APGA, ACPN, APA, LP, NNPP and SDP contested the governorship seat in the agrarian state. However, the APC won in 14 LGAs while PDP got victory in 9 local government areas respectively.

Ortom was declared winner by INEC, defeating the candidate of the PDP), Tarzoor.

The returning officer of the governorship election in the state, Prof. Hayford Babale Mafuyai announced Ortom as the winner in the state having scored the highest total number of votes in the governorship contest. Ortom (APC) polled a total votes of 422, 932 to defeat Tarzoor (PDP) who scored 313, 878 with a wide margin of 109, 054.

However, in the spirit of sportsmanship and with evident posture that he conceded defeat, Tarzoor (PDP) had immediately after declaration of results, on April 13, 2015 congratulated the governor-elect, Chief Samuel Ortom of the APC for his emergence as governor. Former Governor Suswam had same time, called Ortom by telephone to congratulate him at about 10.56 am.

Tarzoor said his loss in the race did not in anyway mean he was rejected by the people but rather, he stated that Ortom’s victory was a new wind of change that was blowing through the nation. A statement issued by the Director General of Tarzoor/Ngbede campaign organization, Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher said “Tarzoor had earlier called Ortom by telephone to salute him over the victory well deserved.”

It said, “Rt. Terhemen Tarzor sends his congratulations to Chief Samuel Ortom and the APC over the victory at the polls. He wishes Ortom and his wife, Eunice as Governor of Benue state and FirstLady respectively.It further said “Tarzoor has reservations concerning the conduct of the elections by INEC commissioner, Istafanus Dafwang the consider. But in the spirit of the greater Benue state we prefer to move forward.”

Electoral Petitions, Tribunal

When Ortom was declared governor, about five aspirants of the APC including Emmanuel Jime, Akange Audu, JKN Waku, Prof. Steven Ugba, and Mike Lordye had allegedly filed a petition to challenge the eligibility of Ortom as consensus candidate of the party.

But dramatically, three of the petitioners, except Jime and Waku had swiftly filed a counter petition, stating that they were not party to the earlier petition challenging Ortom’s consensus candidate eligibility. According to them, their signatures were forged and categorically, they withdrew from the arrangement. In the build up, Prof. Ugba, one of the alleged petitioners, to demonstrate his non-involvement in the petition took an appointment as the Director General of Ortom campaign organization.

On the PDP side, Tarzoor, after he conceded defeat and congratulated the governor for a “well deserved victory”, several weeks after went ahead to petition him at the tribunal. Before the petition, the PDP-led by Suswam had instituted that no member of the party should petition Ortom. The party even withdrew its earlier filed suit at the federal High Court challenging the defection and party membership of Ortom. Equally, Suswam demonstrated the actuality of the ‘no petition’ directive and announced his withdrawal of the case against Senator Barnabas Gemade, his co-contestant for the Benue North East senatorial district.

As it is, Tarzoor has defiled his party’s earlier directive of ‘no petition’ and is committed to pursuing the matter. He is challenging the election of Ortom, alleging that the governor did not contest the APC party primaries and is not qualified to be elected under the platform of the party.

APC’s Buhari Intervention

At the moment, President Muhammadu Buhari and the national leadership of the ruling APC have waded into the battle for the party’s consensus candidate in the state among Senator JKN Waku, Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Jime, and Governor Samuel Ortom.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, represented the president at the reconciliation ceremony held in the conference hall of the APC National Secretariat in Abuja, where the parties of Waku and Jime had unanimously agreed to withdraw their suit challenging the nomination of Ortom. They embraced themselves to signify peace and unity to further enhance the over all development of the agrarian state.

The Speaker said President Buhari took the initiative with the objective of healing wounds within the ranks of the party and positioning it to deliver quality service to the people of Benue State. He noted that the President lamented the hardship inflicted on Benue people by the last administration and the need for the APC government to redress the situation as soon as possible.

Any End in Sight For The Raging Controversy?

As both the PDP and APC are going for each other’s throat, many political watchers have viewed the legal action of Tarzoor against Ortom as an exercise in futility. They argue that for PDP Tarzoor to challenge the APC candidature of Ortom is like “crying more than the bereaved, reaping where he did not sow and apparently becoming more catholic than the Pope” because, according them, he is not a member of the party and he does not in anyway have the audacity to question anything in it.

But alongside, Tarzoor and his teaming ardent supporters are jostling, believing that the case at the tribunal will finally creep to their favour. They have related their matter with the case in a Kogi state House of assembly seat, a judgement delivered by the Court of Appeal on the 6th August, 2015 in a suit between Sike Eric Olarunjuwon and PDP, versus INEC, Obaro Abayomi Sunday Pedro and the APC. They have argued, with connection to this judgment that a candidate of a particular political party has the liberty to challenge the nomination of a candidate in another party, however hoping that the tribunal will enable Tarzoor coast to victory.

At the moment, it appears the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari has brokered permanent mediation and there is nothing agitating over the governorship of Ortom, but it remains to be seen if the governor will surrender or whether Tarzoor will relinquish, and in whose favour the governorship election petition tribunal will deliver judgment. Only time shall tell.

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