By Peter Duru, Makurdi
There is no gainsaying that a political tsunami is currently sweeping through Benue state arising from the rift between Governor Samuel Ortom and Senator George Akume, a former governor of the state.
The obvious crack in the relationship between the two political gladiators has no doubt generated political tension of unimaginable proportion leading to a sudden alignment and realignment of political forces in the state.
A signal of what awaits the political terrain of the state arising from the debacle, ahead of the 2019 elections, was the stunning decision of Governor Ortom to kick out all Akume’s loyalists in his cabinet while retaining four commissioners and seven Advisers who were not known to be in any way linked to the former governor.
The action of the Governor no doubt generated much anxiety among the political class even as it aroused unutterable celebration among the populace who had over time craved and anticipated the move.
As if that action was not enough, the Governor in less than 48 hours after the dissolution unleashed yet another masterstroke by firing the Executive Chairman of the Benue Internal Revenue Service, BIRS, Mrs. Mimi Adzape-Orubibi and his Urban Development Board counterpart, Richard Agwa who are known close associates of the former governor.
While pundits savour the unfolding power play and actions of the Governor, indications also emerged from government quarters that far reaching sweeping changes would soon be launched by the administration to weed out all Akume’s loyalists from the government to tie up all loose ends in the battle for political supremacy.
Observers of the unfolding political melee are however at a loss as to how and why the long time robust relationship between Ortom and Akume suddenly and unexpectedly went sour when the next general elections is just around the corner.
While all government functionaries have opted to keep sealed lips over the matter, a very close associate of the two gladiators confidentially gave an insight into issues that led to the sudden twist of events and the brouhaha between the duo whose close affinity dates about 18 years back or more.
According to him, “the sore point in their relationship cannot be far from several issues but top amongst them was the enactment and implementation of the open grazing prohibition law by the Ortom led administration.
“I think that the fundamental issue is that Senator Akume wants to ingratiate himself to the presidency while Governor Ortom wants to maintain the support of Benue people. This is the fundamental thing that has led to their falling apart.
“They also had their disagreement over the recent selection and appointment of the Tor Tiv, the paramount ruler of the Tiv tribe.
“Senator Akume had a candidate for the position and when Governor Ortom called the people of the state for prayers over the selection he stated clearly that he preferred a Tor Tiv who would swear by the Bible.
“The fact is that Senator Akume has not forgiven Ortom because he felt that the Governor beat him on choice of the current Tor Tiv, and he is not happy about it.
“Another reason is the anti open grazing law. Akume allegedly told Ortom on the day of the signing of the bill that he should not sign it because there would be backlash from Abuja because the Fulanis were powerful and they could come after him.
“Well, he may be justified but at that point Ortom told him that if he didn’t sign the bill the people of Benue would stone him and that is the truth, so he went ahead and signed it.
“So, Akume has been bending backwards reaching out to people in Abuja, allegedly telling them that Ortom was stubborn, that he advised him against the law but he went ahead to sign it and that was why there was crisis in the state.
“Then, for Akume to justify his position to be in the good books of the presidency, he was also alleged to have told them that Ortom had a militia which he sponsored and that Alhaji Aliu Teshaku ( who is now in detention) was the head of the militia.
“Then, there are reports that Akume allegedly told the presidency that of those 73 caskets bearing the remains of the victims of the New Year’s Day massacre in Logo and Guma local government areas of the state, there were only 20 dead bodies inside them while in actual fact over 100 were killed.
“Moreover we all know that the names and pictures of those killed were all displayed. And nobody has gone out to debunk that, because all the human beings who were killed were in those caskets.
“These are some of the things, and then in his alleged efforts to demonize Ortom, he also reported him to so many people especially at quarters where the Governor could not defend himself.
“So anytime Ortom demanded that they should come together to discuss and resolve their difference before the people he had reported him to the Senator would refuse.
“If you also recall, when Governor Ortom was to present staff of office to the recently appointed First Class Chiefs in the state, here in Makurdi, the time Ortom was called to deliver his speech and present staff of office to the chiefs was the same time Senator Akume came to the arena.
“When he came in he started pointing at Ortom saying ‘you should be careful with me, you were nothing, I picked you from nowhere’ and all that” So things got to a point when the Governor complained bitterly that since he was born he had not seen the kind of pressure Senator Akume brought to bear on him.
“Ortom said that things had got to the extent that he could no longer bear it that even if you have a son and that son had grown up, at least you give the son some level of independence and respect.
“He also went further to declare among his friends that if Akume had governorship in his pocket like an handkerchief he should give it to whoever he wanted, that he Ortom was not interested. He stated clearly that it was impossible for them to work together again.
“Governor Ortom also lamented that since Akume used to report him to so many people, and in order to state his own side of the issue, he called their political allies and narrated the issues to them. They all agreed to meet and speak with Senator Akume and get back to the Governor. Unfortunately when they went and spoke with Senator Akume he was said to have ended up insulting everybody.
“So the truth is that the Governor thinks that the time God allotted to both of them to work together has elapsed and there is nothing anyone can do to bring them together again.
“These are most of the issues that have led to the sudden quake in the relationship between the two hitherto close political associates whose relationship suddenly went sour.”
Reacting to the development, former Lagos state Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav said he foresaw the crisis.
Tsav said, “I saw the crisis coming, I have said this long ago that our so called political leaders in Benue are swollen headed and not ready to take advise and once you are not a rich man and you are not in their caucus whatever you say amounts to an insult. I said this severally and I remember that there was a time I also wrote in a document.
“Governor Ortom was supposed to use that to say what he is now saying because what I said then is what is happening right now. I was very vocal and outspoken but people were abusing and calling me names. I like the development and I’m watching. I’m very happy because maybe this situation will be able to rid Benue state of all its irregularities and maybe after this the state will grow and develop.”
On his part, the Convener of the Middle Belt Movement for Justice and Peace, MBMJP, Comrade Joe Bukka said, “You don’t toy with a man who went into politics before you, with over 33 years of experience in the game and think he would chicken out easily as a weakling. At the centre of it all is a struggle for political supremacy, but I liken it to an individual ignorantly mistaking a lion for a cat. He foolishly dared to touch the tail of the gentle lion and the roar that followed quaked the entire state.”
Also reacting, the National President of Benue Youths Forum, BYF, Comrade Terrence Kuanum said, “the rift between the Governor and the Senator is an unfortunate situation that will affect the unity the state needs at this critical time. In another dimension we still see another angle to the war we are fighting in Benue against our invaders bringing in political issues to divide our people for them to achieve their motive,” Kuanum added.