By Peter Duru, Makurdi
As Benue people look forward to the inauguration of Governor Samuel Ortom for a second term in office on May 29, the last may not have been heard of the March gubernatorial election in the state as the defeated candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC, Mr. Emmanuel Jime, has approached the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal in Makurdi to upturn the victory of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate.
That election, which went down to the wire after being held on March 9 and the follow-up supplementary poll of March 23, saw Ortom polling 434,473 votes to defeat Jime who garnered 345,155 votes.
A major feature of that election was that it was fought, won and lost in the Tiv speaking areas of Benue unlike what obtained in the past when the Idoma speaking South Zone usually produced the swing votes to determine who becomes the governor.
Perhaps, apart from Agatu and Okpowu local government areas, which tasted the cold-blooded brute force of militant herdsmen, Ortom lost in other seven local government areas that make up the zone though marginally.
However, in the Tiv speaking areas, he recorded a clean sweep of the polls aside Tarka, Katsina/Ala and Makurdi where he lost also marginally.
Interestingly, most of the local government areas where he won had, at one time or the order, tasted the bitter pill of the marauding herdsmen who left thousands of children and women orphaned and widowed in gruesome manner.
That appears to have accounted for the resolve of the Benue people to back the governor’s re-election bid despite the vigorous campaign mounted by the opposition over five months of unpaid wages and pension arrears.
Analysts believe that the governor won that election, fair and square, through massive votes from Benue people in show of appreciation for the manner he tackled the herdsmen challenge despite obvious threat to his life and that of his family members.
Today, in virtually all the communities of the state, the people simply believe that their continued existence was made possible by Ortom’s sincerity of purpose and avowed commitment to ensure their safety and wellbeing in the face of the excruciating pains visited on them by well armed herdsmen who turned the Benue valley into a theatre of war where thousands were murdered while about half a million people were displaced for no fault of theirs.
Strangely, the opposition failed to realize the mindset of the people concerning the governorship race early enough but went a step further to worsen their fortune in that election with the unguarded utterances of the some bigwigs of the party who, at different times, blamed the repeated Benue bloodbath on the people themselves rather than the invading armed herdsmen.
That obviously drew the ire of the people who went all out to teach the APC a lesson based on the assumption that, if allowed to take over the state from the incumbent, the much celebrated Benue Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law could be repealed and herdsmen allowed to flood the state with its attendant consequences on the safety of lives and property as it happened in the past.
Ortom, who is pivotal to the struggle and also upheld by the vast majority of the people as their bastion of hope all through the agonizing challenge induced by the ceaseless herdsmen attacks, almost abdicated that enormous responsibility when he nursed the idea of not running for a second term in office midway into his first term when he felt the challenges confronting the state and the bruised populace was spewed on social media in such a manner that blames were falsely heaped on all for political gains.
Speaking on the issue, the governor said, “I am really indebted to the Almighty God because it has not been easy. In fact, at a point in 2017, I decided that I was not going contest again because of what was happening around, the security issues, the funding issues, the non-payment of salaries and the arrears of pension and gratuity and others.
“And I seemed to have been helpless then and nobody wanted to hear any kind of explanation largely because of the blackmail on social media and other forms of falsehood that were being spread against me for political reasons.
“I was really overwhelmed and I decided that I wasn’t going to contest again, let me be a one term governor but have my peace because I could not stand the pains that people felt that I brought on them. But I quickly remembered that there was need to consult God.
“I took time to pray and, at the end of my prayers, He said that ‘it’s the pain of leadership, you should be willing to accommodate all that’, that it is part of training and, as long as I am doing the right thing and I am convinced in my heart that I am not deceiving the people and God, I resolved to stay focused.
“He made it clear that, just like in the Bible where Moses was leading the children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land, it wasn’t an easy task leading them. He had his pains and even though he was talking to God directly, the kind of castigation and insults that he received were massive.
“But at the end, God demonstrated that He is God because all the challenges that he encountered on the way to the Promised Land, God helped him to overcome them. So, God encouraged me to be focused, that He is the beginning and the end, that anything He starts He ends.
“He made it clear to me that the tenure of a governor by the Constitution is two terms of four years each. So, God assured me that He was going to complete that process Himself.
“And in the just concluded election, I saw the demonstration and the testimony that God gave. The same people who were against me rose up in my defence. They were able to identify my failures and also identified my successes and said ‘look, we must stand behind you; we cannot abandon you’.
“In the course of the journey, I had to swing from the platform that was, the APC, to the PDP and when I came to the PDP, the support was also overwhelming.”
Speaking on what played out in the Benue governorship election, Convener of the Middle Belt Movement for Justice and Peace, MBMJP, Comrade Joe Bukka, was quick to say, “I am convinced that what happened in Benue in that governorship election was a clear manifestation of what God can do in the life of a people.
“The gang-up to remove the incumbent was massive. In fact, at a point, some of us lost hope because of the way information was flying all over the place about the deployment of ‘federal might’ to undo the incumbent governor but God perfected His promise to the governor and people of the state.
“Today, that victory is being challenged at the tribunal but, honestly, if you seek my opinion on the matter, I would advise the APC candidate to withdraw the suit and work with his brother offering constructive advice and criticisms to help him excel.
“Like I told you before the election, I said that Benue people would massively vote Ortom not because he performed better than his predecessors but for the singular fact that he did not sell out during the crisis but resiliently stood with the people.
“With no iota of doubt, that election was payback time for those who stood aloof and watched the people suffer annihilation and shamelessly turned around to blame them for the killings as against those who rallied support and stood with the people through thick and thin”.