By Peter Duru, Makurdi
In Benue State, leaders of APC were left in shock on Tuesday when Governor Samuel Ortom publicly announced his defection to the PDP.
The governor, who unexpectedly made the disclosure before 13 elected local government council chairmen in the state and 276 councillors, who defected with him, said he arrived at the decision after consulting widely.
The announcement was greeted with a standing ovation in the Benue State Multi-purpose Banquet Hall, reverberating across the state and arousing wild celebrations among Ortom’s ardent supporters and majority of the members of the PDP who welcomed their new catch with fanfare.
Meanwhile, the APC was left in despair and short of words and, till date, no formal statement has been made by the party in Benue on the issue.
While the PDP savors the euphoric moment, it was reliably gathered that the APC has returned to the trenches preparatory to launching an onslaught to reclaim the coveted seat of power in the state in 2019.
Speculation is rife that the embattled party has put the machinery in motion to field Mr. Emmanuel Jime, Managing Director of Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority, NEPZA, as its candidate in the 2019 governership election.
Jime, a former federal lawmaker, is a renowned politician whose candidacy will, no doubt, give Ortom and the PDP a tough challenge in the race for the Benue Government House depending on the number of political heavy weights who would be willing to queue behind his candidacy.
But he also has the incumbent governor, who is equally a high-flying political enigma, and whose support base and cult-like followership even before the 2015 elections was somewhat astonishing, to contend with.
Moreover, if the current realignment of political forces in the state is anything to go by, the prospect of having such high profile politicians, like Senators David Mark and Barnabas Gemade, former Governor Gabriel Suswam, Comrade Abba Moro, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu and about 75 per cent of members of the House of Representatives from the state and a host of others, in the PDP should be a source of worry for anyone eyeing the Benue number one seat.
Perhaps the greatest challenge the APC might be confronted with in today’s Benue could be the party’s popularity rating in the state which obviously took a nosedive following the mindless massacre of rural defenseless farmers by armed herdsmen.
The perceived reluctance of the Federal Government to arrest and prosecute those who allegedly issued threats to resist the Benue grazing law, which supposedly was the basis for the armed invasion of the state, has left a sour taste in the mouths of not a few who are of the strong view that the APC led Federal Government was probably complicit in the orgy of killings in the state.
Majority of Benue people hold firm to this perception and that has rubbed off rather negatively on the APC with the generality of the people living with the impression that another vote for the party could be a direct endorsement of the pogrom and a blank cheque for further invasion and killings in the Benue valley.
This, in fact, remains the foremost Herculean challenge the party and all of its candidates must assiduously strive to overcome if they nurse any glimmer of hope of uprooting Ortom and his reunited team of political warlords.
Besides, it is common knowledge that the Benue political office sharing formula, especially as it affects the governorship position, entails that a sitting governor must be allowed two terms in office to allow for the rotation of the position to another zone to avert the acrimonious dispute that trails an untoward decision to allow another candidate from the same zone as the incumbent to succeed him after a single term, thereby creating an opening for the successor gunning for a second term and wittingly resting the governorship position in a particular zone for over eight years.
That is where the APC may have to do a lot to convince the people that the party and its candidate would ungrudgingly, and of its own volition, enter into a bond with the people of other zones of the state consenting and affirming that its new candidate would spend a single term in office to complete the eight years tenure started by Ortom and at the end of which power would wholeheartedly shift to the next beneficiary zone.
Until the aforementioned is achieved, the APC might run into troubled waters in Benue given the verifiable facts which indicated that the tide is indubitably moving against its fortunes.
Even as the hitherto ruling but now opposition party makes hay to boost its chances in the state, the chances of the PDP emerging victorious in the governorship election may be threatened if concerted efforts are not made to offset a substantial amount of the backlog of salaries owed workers in the state.
Though it has been argued in several quarters that most of the state governors in the country are facing similar challenge of unpaid wages, the development portends a major challenge to their second term bid.
Speaking on the unfolding drama and how the battle of 2019 will go in the state, the President of Benue Youths Forum, BYF, Terrence Kuanum, said, “For sure, the ruling APC will not have a chance to achieve any electoral victory in Benue again because our people are aware of the manner the government has protected our killers which has given them the audacity to kill and mock us.
“Benue has mobilised across party lines to stand with Governor Ortom wherever he goes to enable him win election for another four years to sustain the road map of protecting our people and our ancestral homes and also continue to lay the necessary foundations to enable government function at the best possible level as it is done globally.”
On his part, the President of Tiv Youths Organisation, TYO, Mr Hembaor, said, “APC is a dead party in Benue because the party produced a presidency that has clearly shown indifference to the massacre in the Middle Belt and Benue in particular.
“So we are coordinating with like-minds and responsible Nigerians to ensure that APC is voted out in the coming elections.
“More importantly, we reliably gathered that the person the Presidency wants to project as the APC governorship candidate in Benue is with the intent to come and perpetuate what they have been doing in order to take over the Benue valley. We are aware of that and our people are already mobilizing to resist that candidate through our votes”.