By Peter Duru, Makurdi
The just concluded 2023 general elections may have come and gone but the outcome of the polls in parts of the country like Benue state would continue to generate reactions along various lines.
Before the polls, Benue was predominantly a Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, state, with three Senators, nine House of Representatives members, 26 State Assembly members and 23 Local Government Council Chairmen.
The domination of the PDP, no doubt was overwhelming and the party was expected to sustain that supremacy during the elections, given the depth of its grip of the political space.
However, that was not to be. Before the elections, Governor Samuel Ortom and other members of the G-5 Governors had insisted that positions should be equitably distributed in the party at the national level to represent a national spread. That agitation culminated in a crisis that saw the aggrieved Governors canvassing vote for the presidential candidates of other political parties other than their party, PDP.
In Benue state, Governor Ortom opted for the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, LP, Mr Peter Obi and toed that path at the detriment of his own senatorial ambition.
While he was able to convince many stakeholders to support the LP candidate, the three Senators from the state, Abba Moro, Orker Jev and Gabriel Suswam stuck with the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
The implication was that the party went into that election a divided house, the PDP lost, Benue, LP recorded massive votes in the state but the All Progressives Congress, APC, snatched the state, taking two senatorial and 10 House of Representatives seats.
However, Governor Ortom while Commissioning some completed projects in the state capital shortly after the first round of polls of February 25 reacted to the outcome, saying ”the election was rigged clinically, electronically, scientifically and otherwise.
“However, I am not angry at anyone who may not have voted for me in the election. But I want to let you know that it is not over yet.
“My party, the PDP is ready to challenge the outcome of the elections at the tribunal. My party has already contacted her lawyers and they are looking at the results with a view to approaching the tribunal, and I am confident that the party will recover all her stolen mandates.”
But while the ruling party was yet to come to terms with the outcome of the Presidential and National Assembly election, the Governorship and State Assembly elections of March 18 left PDP faithful bewildered.
The APC gubernatorial candidate Reverend Fr. Hyacinth Alia defeated the PDP candidate, Mr Titus Uba and the dominance of the PDP in the State Assembly was also taken away by the opposition.
The APC candidate polled 473,933 votes to defeat Mr Uba who garnered a total of 223,913 votes.
Not a few PDP faithful could comprehend what went wrong, and have gone into the polls with reverberating confidence.
Pundits however believe that some factors might have contributed to the swing that saw the APC reclaiming Benue state.
While some are not ruling out the issue of electoral fraud as claimed by the PDP, following the failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to transmit the results of the Presidential and National Assembly elections electronically, some are also of the opinion that the Catholic Priest’s entrance into the political fray contributed in no small measure to the landslide victory the APC recorded in Benue.
Others are also of the view that the PDP was in disarray before the elections over the choice of presidential candidate and the scar created by the untoward development needed time to properly heal which was not achieved before the last round of elections.
According to the Secretary of the Campaign for Equal Rights and Opportunities for all Nigerians, CERON, Francis Odiir “aside from the allegation of electoral fraud and militarization of the process in several communities as claimed by the PDP, the Reverend gentlemen who ran the governorship race on the platform of the APC added impetus to the strength of the APC in Benue state.
“Initially when he was about to join the race most politicians took him for granted and didn’t give him attention till the ‘Yes Father’ slogan enveloped the state.
“The truth must be told to the APC who are claiming the bragging right today because of their victory, that if you remove Father Alia from the race, it would have been difficult for any of the political parties to successfully run against the PDP.
“He was the game changer for APC. He was ordained a Priest over 30 years ago and within a large portion of this period, he spent most of his time preaching the gospel and conducting healing masses in parts of the state. That actually sold him to the people in the communities and made him very popular. So when he stepped into the political scene, his acceptance was swift because his previous works spoke for him.
“His popularity which triggered the ‘Yes Father’ movement across the state rubbed off on some other candidates of the APC who also won their elections on the platform of the party. Simply put, Fr. Alia gave APC the advantage and victory in Benue state, his popularity won it for APC. He was conducting healing masses and people have not forgotten”
Reacting, the Organising Secretary of the APC in Benue State, Mr James Ornguga who insisted that the party won in Benue without any form of rigging also noted that Fr. Alia’s influence was a contributing factor to the success of the APC in the state.
He said, “the Alia factor was a contributing factor to the success of the APC in Benue State. I have always said that in a free and fair election, APC would win Benue State.
“Since 2011 we have had a dominant position in the state. So we were rigged in 2019 and the anger extended to the 2023 elections which are reflected in the results you have seen. And Fr. Alia came with his own influence which was an addition to what we have on the ground. Saying without him we wouldn’t have won is also not completely true. APC has always maintained its dominant positioning in Benue state.”
On his part, the President of Benue Youths Forum, Terrence Kuanum, insisted that the APC won in Benue and not on its strength but with the help of the Federal Government which militarized the state to give the party victory.
“The election was militarized and people were scared of coming out to vote. That was what happened, as far as I am concerned there was no election in Benue State,” he said.
The Catholic church suspended Rev. Father Alia when he plunged totally into politics. He could return as a full-fledged priest after politics if he so wishes.
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.