By Sufuyan Ojeifo
On Monday, July 16, 2018, Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom, announced that he had been issued a red card by the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. In contemplation of the governor’s claim, three realities readily come to mind.
The first reality is that he had never been in control of the party structure in the state; otherwise, he would not have sounded so defeatist and frustrated, even though he made light of the issue while announcing it at a public function in Makurdi.
The second reality is that for Ortom to have been issued a red card, he must have committed a serious foul tackle in the unfolding 2019 political game. Interestingly, he did not indicate the person he roughly tackled and the organ of the party that took the decision to expel him. It is, therefore, safe to surmise that nobody, in a manner of speaking, sent him out.
He must have decided to egress the party, possibly in the face of unfavourable ramifications of serial violations of political norm of loyalty that is essential in leadership-followership relational paradigm.
The third reality is the governor’s outlandish resort to playing the mind game. He must provide a validating or justifiable reason for leaving the party after his status as a tenant had become writ large. In order to secure a second term without the imprimatur of the so-called Benue APC forces who are the landlords, he must team up, opportunistically, so it seems, with the burgeoning opposition forces that are coalescing to truncate, in the main, President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election bid in 2019.
Ortom’s announcement had a tinge of blackmail in it. Regardless, the APC leadership apparatchik in Abuja had moved in to thaw the ice. The party’s national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, in a swift riposte, described Ortom’s exit from the party as untrue. The deputy national chairman (north), Senator Lawali Shuaibu, summoned a meeting between Ortom and a leader of the party in Benue, Senator George Akume, over the development. Time will tell whether the meeting would be successful.
Significantly, Akume, a two-term governor of the state, who is in his third term in the senate, where he has been representing Benue northwest zone since 2007, in clear indications of his political influence, is the one whose leadership of the party structure has been under attacks by the Ortom-led state government machinery. The former governor’s recent moves about the 2019 governorship race in the state have plunged Ortom in a quandary.
The Ortom’s red card saga raises some issues in the contexts of the three realities highlighted supra. The first issue is that Akume had, as far back as 2010, when it was clear that he was going to be denied the ticket to return to the senate in 2011, parted ways with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on which platform he was governor for eight years and senator for one term. He defected to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) on which platform he retained his senate seat in 2011.
Akume had, single-handed, built the ACN in the state which, in 2014, merged with some other parties to form the APC ahead of the 2015 general election. He paved the way for Ortom, who served as minister in President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, to join the APC where he was given the governorship ticket unopposed after he was denied ticket by the PDP. The grapevine hinted that Akume had invested time, energy and resources to secure and enjoy the people’s goodwill and to become a popular political brand.
Second is that Ortom had moved unsuccessfully to undermine Akume’s political dynasty even though the former governor had not thrown the weight of his influence into obligatory strategic counterpoises. In fact, the story doing the rounds in some quarters is that despite being used by God to actualise Ortom’s governorship, self-effacing and taciturn Akume has been prudent not to play the archetypical godfather. For instance, in the formation and running of the government, Akume is said to have given Ortom a free hand since the buck stops with him.
Unlike other godfathers with huge expectations and who exert pressure on their successors, Akume had reportedly nominated only three of the governor’s eighteen-member cabinet and five of his twenty four special advisers. One of the three commissioners was said to have been dropped midway by Ortom and replaced without reference to Akume. According to the grapevine, he had quietly suffered the indignity of political affronts and personal insults by the governor who recently dissolved his cabinet in order to clear out the vestiges of Akume’s political presence in his government.
As a strategic politician, Akume was not beside himself. He has been biding his time as the APC landlord, certainly waiting for the appropriate time to review the terms of Ortom’s tenancy in the party. He did not ask Ortom to leave. He only served notice that there would be no automatic ticket and endorsement for the governorship race. In other words, the race for the ticket would be thrown open. The implications for Ortom, who had no control of the party structure or enjoy Akume’s endorsement, would be disastrous. Defeat was staring him in the face. That was the summative basis of his red card claim.
There were reports that, at the behest of the governor, the Tor Tiv, Professor James Ayatse, and his chiefs had waded in the matter with a view to resolving it. However, the traditional rulers, according to the grapevine, were reportedly shocked when, at the meeting with Ortom and Akume, they were let into details of how Akume’s political leadership had been grossly undermined by the governor despite his investment in Ortom’s governorship. The governor was reportedly advised by the traditional ruler to revert to the senator as his political leader in the reconstitution of his dissolved cabinet.
The royal intervention fell through under the tension and real fear of pernicious goals and objectives. Ortom’s could no longer trust that his political destiny would be safe in the labyrinth of the internal dynamics of the APC structure with Akume as leader. That, again, reinforced the basis of his red card claim.
Ortom is outside in the cold, looking for redefinition of his trajectory and political accommodation. Will he be able to galvanise the people’s support on a new platform? Already, his popularity has waned on account of perceived non-performance. No single road infrastructure has been built since stepping in the saddle in 2015. Besides, his administration owes eleven months’ worker’s salaries. But, he had somewhat wormed his way into the people’s heart with the anti-open grazing law to stem the tide of Fulani herdsmen’s killings in the state, which the people have continued to see as ethnic cleansing.
Those episodic genocides had united Benue people against the Buhari government. And with a very strong voice of the Catholic Church in disapprobation of the killings, Ortom had cleverly resorted to local political correctness. He is calculative with a sharp instinct for political survival. He knows he cannot get the ticket of the APC in a free and fair primary. He is looking for another platform just as he did in 2014. The PDP is on his mind but he has former governor, Gabriel Suswam, who denied him the ticket in 2014, to contend with.
Ortom is also considering the Social Democratic Party (SDP). But what may be his most preferred gambit is to ride on the contraption of the coalition of forces as a member of the Reformed APC/nPDP to emerge as a consensus governorship candidate in 2019. But his perceived below-the-average performance may discount his popularity as an incumbent in the race.
Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, writes via firstname.lastname@example.org