By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Finally Governor Samuel Ortom has taken over the drivers seat of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Benue state, probably preparatory to his emergence as the flag bearer of the party in the coming elections.
It would be recalled that the Governor before his exit from the party in 2015, had been a top-notcher of the party, contributing his all to build the party.
He, in fact, rose to the position of National Auditor and later Minister of State, Industry Trade and Investment with concurrent responsibilities as Minister of Aviation in a PDP administration.
However, following differences with the party over the 2015 governorship primaries he left and won the ticket in the All progressives Congress, APC, and eventually won that election.
But few months ago he cried out that he had been given a ‘red card’ by the leadership of the APC in the state after powerful forces moved against his emergence as the party’s flag bearer in the coming election over his persistent cry about the herdsmen killings in Benue state and the perceived failure of the APC led federal government to come to the rescue of the tormented Benue people.
He was at the time considered a marked man for his perceived refusal to keep quiet over the Benue pogrom which started at the beginning of 2018 but which turned out his unassailable selling point.
And in the face of the herdsmen crisis, the state descended into one of its worst humanitarian and economic crises as its main economic stay which is agriculture went into comatose with over 500,000 farmers fleeing their ancestral homes and deserting their farmland that were equally destroyed by the invading armed militant herdsmen.
Irked by the perceived obvious indifference of the APC led federal government to their plight, the people of the state in unison rose up against the APC and compelled the Governor to dump the party warning that if he failed to do their bidding he would be standing alone.
No doubt Ortom has obviously caught his political groove in PDP and that deft move has earned him the support of two out of the three senators from the state, nine House of Representatives members out of 11, local government council chairmen and councillors.
Indeed, the Governor was welcomed back home just like a prodigal son but in his own case, he left the PDP fold with nothing but returned home as governor with retinue of new supporters to his old political family.
It was therefore with much delight that the elders and stakeholders of the PDP few days ago bestowed on the Governor, the position of leader of the party in the state and thereafter garnished his new position with a reorganization of the party’s leadership structure in order to fully accommodate his interest in the party’s secretariat.
In fact the decision to have Ortom take full control as leader of the PDP was arrived at after series of reconciliation meetings by the elders of the party including Senators David Mark, Barnabas Gemade, Former Governor Gabriel Suswam, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, all the federal and state lawmakers of the PDP family and leaders of the party at the state, local and ward levels.
The resolve of the party was made known by the state chairman of the party, Sir. John Ngbede at an expanded caucus of the party where he said “today Governor Ortom is now the leader of the party with all assets and liabilities of the party under his care. We must all sacrifice and support him to ensure our victory in the next general elections.”
Also Speaking at the gathering, former Senate President, David Mark, announced that with the change of guard, elders of the party also approved the restructuring of the party structure in the state to effectively accommodate the interest of the new leader, the Governor.
Mark said, “Governor Ortom is now the official leader of the PDP in Benue state. With the development we have also decided that we do some restructuring of the party so that those who are returning home will be accommodated fully and also have a say.
“We have set up an integration committee that will work round the clock in all the wards and local government councils and the essence is to welcome back home all the returnees and harmonize the house so that we do not have factions in order to win our elections overwhelmingly.”
On his part, former Governor Gabriel Suswam said the leaders of the party had met severally in Abuja and Makurdi and resolved that the Governor and leader of the party had to be made comfortable in the state secretariat which was constituted when he was still in the APC.
“Pursuant to that, the positions of Secretary, Organizing Secretary, Treasurer, Youth Leader, Deputy Legal Adviser, Deputy Organising Secretary, Financial Secretary and one Ex-offio have been ceded to those appointed by the Governor while those relinquishing their positions would on the other hand be handed political appointments.”
Governor Ortom in his speech expressed appreciation to the leaders and the state executive committee for reposing confidence in him, adding that to whom much was given, much was also expected.
Ortom also dispelled the fears of other governorship aspirants on the PDP platform that his new position had conferred undue advantage on him assuring a level playing ground for all in the coming congresses of the party.
Reacting to the development, Senator Joseph Waku said, “the decision is that Ortom was not given an automatic ticket but a leader of the party. In America as sitting president you get first choice of refusal. Is that different from Nigeria? The party never said they gave Ortom an automatic ticket. But I know that Ortom is able and amiable to go into contest with anybody.
“Don’t forget that I’m not PDP but I’m going to vote for Ortom if he gets the PDP ticket. And no man born of a woman in this world will stop me from doing what I need to do because I am supporting him.
“I’m not supporting PDP, I’m not against APC but I’m supporting Ortom. He is a governor in waiting for a second term I know that. And Ortom is not looking for the candidature of the governorship of Benue. Ortom is already a governor he is looking for a second term.
“These are two different things. He is looking for a second term and it has been an unwritten order, unwritten constitution that every person that becomes governor of Benue state without suffering military intervention, that persons earns his second term and Ortom cannot be an exception to that rule in Benue and that is why I’m supporting him today, tomorrow and until the election is over.
“I’m not begging anybody and I’m not taking any suggestion from anybody. That is my position, I need not to consult with a marabout.
On whether Governor Ortom’s emergence as leader of the party could gravitate into an implosion because other aspirants nurse the fear that he could pick the party’s ticket, Senator Waku said, “they are scared because they have nothing to offer. If they have something to offer they should face the contest at the primaries.
“Even me if they had given Ortom an automatic ticket I would have protested, if I belonged to that party. But they said he is the leader of the party. He enjoys the right of first refusal, it is there. Let those who want to run for that office also come forward through the electoral process, they can even defeat him through a contest if they are popular enough.
On his part, former Senate President, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu noted that Ortom’s new position was in line with the dictates of the party’s constitution and would not confer on him any undue advantage over other governorship aspirants on the party’s platform.
Dr. Ayu said, “the party has a chairman and other leaders and if you are going for state congresses, those who conduct the congresses are sent from the headquarters in Abuja so we are going to have a level playing field for everybody. Nobody should express any fears. There is going to be a very transparent, fair and democratic process.
“Whoever emerges as our candidate at the congress, we shall work very hard to ensure that the party gets victory. We have no doubt at all. We have the machinery and the capacity to talk to our people and persuade them to vote for the party.
Also speaking, former Minister of State for Education, Prof. Jerry Agada said, “I must refer to what the governor said during the caucus meeting, he said, let nobody say because he is contesting and taking over the leadership therefore the other contestants would be relegated to the background.
“But the fact is that Ortom deserves a second term because whether you like it or not experience is the best teacher. Ortom has undergone the tutelage of leadership, having garnered some experiences, what is left for him is to build on what he has on ground.
“The argument of saying somebody has not done well and the need to start from beginning does not hold water, do we continue to start from beginning every time? So why don’t we build on what we have? As far as i’m concerned Ortom is in the best position to forge ahead.
Also speaking, one of the close to 10 PDP governorship aspirants, Mr. Dave Iorhemba who dismissed the fear that the Governor would enjoy undue advantage over other aspirants by reason of his new designation as leader of the party, said it would not effect the primary election process.
Iorhemba, a former National Legal Adviser of the PDP said,”Ortom’s designation cannot be a source of worry to me, I have purchased my forms and I’m in the race because I know that I have traversed the state meeting the people and campaigning so I’m confident that I’ll defeat the Governor in the primaries.”