By Peter Duru, Makurdi
The race for who occupies the Benue State Government House come May 29 has gained momentum as the main political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, and their governorship candidates crisscross the state seeking the support and votes of the electorate.
Governor Samuel Ortom, the candidate of the PDP, who commenced his re-election campaign much earlier than his main rival, Emmanuel Jime of the APC, has gone round the 23 local government areas of the state where, at every point, he was welcomed by enthusiastic crowds.
Jime, on the other hand, is yet to cover half of the state but feelers from the outing of both parties so far have succinctly given inkling as to what may happen at the end of the polls.
It is clear that it will be a two-horse race between Ortom and Jime and where the pendulum may swing, without taking anything away from the contenders, is unfolding by the day.
To start with, Ortom is going into the race with the obvious backing of major players in Benue politics including a PDP senatorial hopeful, former Governor Gabriel Suswam, and his associates who led the governor through his campaign in Benue North East.
In Benue North West, Ortom’s train was led by former Senate President, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, and a host of others, including Mr. Orker Jev, who is in the senatorial race on the platform of the PDP with the backing of majority of the youths of the district to dislodge Senator George Akume from his seat.
In Benue South, former Senate President, Senator David Mark, and his political godson and former Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, led the way to give Ortom a smooth landing in the district that, overtime, has produced the swing votes that determined who governs Benue.
At every gathering in the hinterlands of the state, the message of the PDP stalwarts had been “it is time to reward a man who gave his all to stand with a people who lost loved ones to herdsmen incursions when the federal authorities chose to look the other way.”
In fact, there is no gainsaying that the PDP campaigns in Benue have been an eye opener to the fact that the people are not ready to forgive the federal government for its indifference to their nightmarish experience with armed herdsmen who sacked Benue communities in the quest to occupy the Benue valley.
In one of the PDP outings, Suswam warned, “The coming elections are not about the APC or the PDP and neither are they going to be a contest between Governor Ortom and other aspirants but about the survival of Benue people who must at this time stand with the governor.
“If we fail to support and vote Ortom and the PDP in the coming elections, after the governor had taken the bullet for the people, nobody will ever give his all in the future to defend the people of the state”.
Ayu, on his part, was of the view that Benue would have been an occupied territory if Ortom had abdicated his responsibilities to the people and selfishly succumbed to the dictates of those who wanted to occupy the Benue valley.
Also speaking, David Mark made it clear that “Governor Ortom’s only crime that has earned him persecution by the federal government is that he has stood firmly in defence of the people of the state”.
The former Senate President noted that Ortom had demonstrated uncommon courage, resilience and determination to defend his people by putting his life on the line to achieve that, stressing that all the attacks against him were because he stood for the truth.
Moro said, “Governor Ortom’s deft move back to the PDP at the behest of the people of the state was enough indication that Benue has rejected APC.
“Since Governor Ortom dumped the APC and reunited with his original family in the PDP, he has ensured regular payment of salaries to workers and also been executing projects.
“He is no more under any pressure whatsoever from those who claimed they made him governor whenever allocation comes to the state. That is why workers have been receiving their salaries on regular basis. He will continue to do it because that is a priority of a PDP government and even the outstanding incurred during the APC era will be paid in no distant time.
“Undoubtedly, PDP is a party of the people and for the people which is rooted on the principles of equity and embedded firmly on the premise of ensuring the total wellbeing and security of the ordinary man and all Nigerians.
“That is why PDP remains the option for Nigerians to choose at all levels in the coming elections to get our country working again”.
On the other hand, the APC gubernatorial candidate is being led on his campaign by Akume who represents Benue North West in the Senate and doubles as the leader of the party in the state.
Perhaps Akume remains the only heavyweight in the state on whose political strength the APC hopes to capture Benue.
Meanwhile, the people now perceive Akume, who, at a time was loved by the people, as an ally of the enemies of the state. His alleged recent outburst in Abuja where he purportedly claimed that the killings in Benue were carried out by the people themselves and not herdsmen has left a deep scare in the hearts of the people and, from all indications, the statement has created a big thumbs down for the once formidable Akume political machine.
The sign of disapproval of the APC in the state has reflected in the not too impressive turnout at APC rallies in parts of Benue which could be an indication of what to come at the general elections even as the party tries so hard to convince the people to give it a chance.
Also, findings indicated that Benue people have taken exception to a campaign song of the APC in the state which tended to mock Ortom but its lyrics inadvertently ridicules the people over the herdsmen incursions and killings in the state.
Rather innocuously, while the APC faithful enjoy its content and drumbeats, it sadly reminds the people of their indignation and resentful moments and also reopens the wounds of the near genocide in Benue which has obviously counted negatively against the party.
While the APC hopes to take the race down to the wire, but the majority of the clergy and paramount rulers in the state seem to have already taken positions on their preferred choice in the coming elections and indications from the consultations they all held with the governor in the 23 local government areas of Benue point to that fact.
No doubt Benue people are still bitter with the APC led federal government over the manner the 2018 killings in the state were handled by the Buhari administration and this has almost certainly rubbed off on virtually all the party’s candidates and their chances in the elections.
Speaking on unfolding political drama in the state, Convener of the Middle Belt Movement for Justice and Peace, MBMJP, Comrade Joe Bukka, said, “It will take a miracle for the APC and Akume to make any impact in Benue in the coming elections.
“Like I have always said, the elections will avail the Benue people ample opportunity to express their displeasure and anger over the way the APC led federal government maltreated them after the killings.
“It’s payback time. APC will suffer its worst defeat in Benue and I can confidently tell you that Benue is PDP. Though Governor Ortom might not have met all the expectations of the people, which is normal in human nature, he remains the hero of his people which obviously gives PDP and its candidates the edge at the polls.”