By Tordue Salem
THE issue of zoning which is presently at the centre of national discourse was presciently brought to mention almost thirty years ago by erstwhile governor of Benue State, Mr. Aper Aku. Aku’s prognosis on the imperative of zoning was against the background of the multifarious ethnic groups in Benue State. Vanguard Politics posits Mr. Aku’s zoning recommendations with the realities of his native Benue State today.
“It is my wish that if that state(Benue) is going to be intact, power should rotate within these Zones, particularly the Governorship, just as I would like to see the Presidency rotate within the various zones of the Country”, Mr. Aper Aku, the first civilian Governor of Benue State, declared on August 4, 1982 at a lecture delivered at the Institute of Administration , Ahmadu Bello University , Zaria.
The lecture was presciently titled “Zoning and Political Stability”.
Though zoning was the policy of the National Party of Nigeria(NPN), Aku may have been the first politician to seek its constitutional devolution to states to the extent that the smallest unit in every state in Nigeria would have a shot at the biggest office in any tier of government.
During his four year stay in Government (from 1979_83), Governor tried to institutionalize an equitable zoning principle in Benue State.
Appointments that where otherwise considered the traditional preserve of the dominant Tiv population were passed on to the minorities. He equally scattered big projects across Tiv, Idoma, Bassa, Abakwa strongholds and appointed Alhaji Abubakar Audu from the minority Igala population in the old Benue State as the first civilian Commissioner of Finance in the State. Audu was to climb upon that platform to become the first civilian governor of Kogi State.
After Aku’s regime was truncated by the military coup of 1983 the equitable character principle was left in the periphery. Several political and demographic theories were advanced to justify the continued domination of the polity by the majority Tiv population.
Despite the political realities of demography, instability as predicted by the first civilian Governor continued forcing one of the Military Governors, the then Group Captain Jonah Jang to read a riot act during an address to stakeholders sometimes during his administration of the State.
Tagged, the “Gboko Declaration”, the Jang address launched a searing attack on the divisive politics being played in the State, and petty suspicions of Jang’s Government.
“I would like to say here that, for goodness sake, let us tell the truth. Benue has suffered enough and enough is enough. Jang is not the first Military Governor of this State and Jang will not be the last. I will come and go and leave Benue State as we found it,” he said.
“Whether people like it or not, we will develop Benue to the best of our ability and for the period we remained here until we are re_assigned”, Jang stated.
The Military Governor in the spirit of Aku before him added that “I would therefore like to plead with the entire Tiv people of Benue State that this Benue belongs to all of us. Benue State does not belong to the Igalas, the Idomas, to the Etulos, the Bassas or to the Tiv alone. It is for all of us. Our children have great stake in the future of Benue . We could feel satisfied as we are today, but what of our children? What do we intend to leave as a legacy for them? I can assre you that our children will curse our bones in our graves if we pass the poverty we inherited to them”.
Unfortunately, succeeding military regimes could not pick up from where Jang left off and the politics of self_gratification returned unabated until the brief return of civilian politics in 1992 when the radical Catholic Priest, Moses Orshio Adasu reigned as Governor.
Adasu’s regime was not so much about a deliberate policy to rotate power. He was more interested in returning the state to the path of sanity, embarking on an aggressive developmental plan, and rebuilding the state.
Adasu’s regime was, however, cut short by the coup staged by General Sani Abacha against the semi_military regime co_piloted by Chief Ernest Shonenkan and Abacha.
Chief George Akume Dajoh, a high_ranking civil servant got his turn in 1999 to again govern the State.. He was disposed to carrying all parts of the state along, but the suffocating realities of poverty got the better part of his administration and he was forced to adopt a welfarist approach to governance.
In his reckoning, the grinding poverty that had plagued the communities in the State had to be tackled along side other plans for development and he was as such consumed by a well of demands.
Following him was the former federal legislator, Mr Gabriel Suswam a prototype grass_to_grace politician.
He quickly picked the loose ends left behind by his mentor, Akume and built a formidable team of Benue minorities around him. The head of that team was reportedly Mr. Sam Odeh, who is of mixed Tiv_Idoma parentage.
The closeness of the Governor to Odeh, has endeared Suswam to many Idoma and Igede people, who see the hope that Aku’s dream of justice for all groups in the state, might come to pass someday perhaps with Odeh becoming the State’s number one citizen.
The spirit of conviviality between the Tiv and Idoma populations in Benue is aptly demonstrated by the mutual respect between Suswam who is Tiv and the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark who is Idoma.
Mark as Senate President ably cleared the way for Odeh to have a smooth screening after he was nominated as the sole representative of Benue State to the Federal Executive Council.
With the widely celebrated emergence of an Idoma as a sole Minister from Benue State after several decades, it seems the future is here. It appears Benue has come full circle, and can only get better.
That is unarguably in tandem with the vision originally conceived by Aku nearly thirty years ago.