June 10, 2023

Battle for Benue House: How Gov Alia’s candidate floored Akume’s choice

Battle for Benue House: How Gov Alia’s candidate floored Akume’s choice

By Peter Duru, Makurdi

For many who witnessed the intrigues that played out last Monday during the inauguration and election of the leadership of the 10th Benue State House of Assembly, one could easily conclude that what transpired might be a pinch of the political muscle flexing that would dominate the Benue political space in the next four years.

For pundits, it was a warning signal that the Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia who has just mounted the saddle of leadership in Benue state, is not ready and cannot be anybody’s political puppet.

It all started Sunday night, June 4, 2023 when a meeting of selected stakeholders of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state, members of the State Working Committee and State Assembly members-elect was called to fine tune the process of electing the leadership of the APC dominated 32-member State Assembly.

At the end of that meeting, 17 members-elected, out of the 21 elected on the platform of the APC endorsed Mrs Becky Orpin, a former Gboko Local Government Council Chairman and former aide as well as the anointed candidate of Senator George Akume,the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, as the consensus candidate for Speaker of the House.

It was gathered that before that meeting, some of the APC members-elect had also held a secret meeting with another group of 10members elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, where support was canvassed for the candidature of another APC elected lawmaker, Mr Aondona Dajoh, a supposed preferred candidate of the Governor.

But with her endorsement by 17 members, it was more or less a fait accompli for Mrs Orpin to emerge Speaker of the 10th Assembly upon inauguration of the House by Governor Hyacinth Alia the next day.

But the intrigue that played out during the election of the Speaker of the House sent a SATURDAY Vanguard, JUNE 10, 2023—13 warning signal to all political actors in the state, irrespective of political standing, that the current occupant of the Benue seat of power may not be an easy chew that could be stampeded into submission on any issue.

Before the inauguration of the House, it was an open secret that the Governor’s preferred candidate for the position of Speaker of the House was Mr Dajoh while Senator Akume’s preference for Mrs Orpin was known to all.

On that fateful day, shortly after the proclamation of the Governor inaugurating the House, the Clerk, Mr Bernard Nule took over proceedings to supervise the election of the House leadership. At that point it became obvious that the House was sharply divided along the lines of the pro Alia and pro Akume camps. The member representing Kyan state constituency, Vandeikya Local Government Area, LGA, Hon Emmanuel Shimawua of the APC nominated Hon Aondona Dajoh of Gboko West State Constituency, also of APC for the position of Speaker.

The nomination was seconded by Lami Danladi from Ado state constituency of APC. The nominee, Hon. Dajo stood before his colleagues and accepted his nomination to be Speaker.

Similarly, Hon McClinton Manger of Tarka State constituency also of APC nominated Hon Becky Orpin of APC representing Gboko East State constituency for Speaker. The nomination was seconded by Hon Cephas Dyako, the sole Labour Party, LP, member representing Konshisha State constituency, after which the nominee, Mrs Orpin also accepted her nomination.

Members thereafter went into voting and at the end, both candidates tied at 16 votes each. The House thereafter went on break and reconvened after two hours for a repeat of the exercise.

Meanwhile before the voting commenced, the supporters of the two contestants had earlier on the floor of the House engaged in a shouting match which exposed the fact that Mrs Orpin was the purported preferred candidate of the SGF while Mr Dajoh was the candidate of the State Governor. Before the second round of voting, supporters of Mrs Orpin through the member representing Konshisha state constituency, Hon Dyako, had insisted that Governor Alia who was present on the floor of the House to monitor the exercise should step out. The issue left members shouting at each other and were almost throwing punches before the Clerk of the House restored normalcy.

At about 3 : 1 5 p m , m i l i t a r y personnel in three trucks were seen moving into the Assembly complex to f u r t h e r strengthen security in the vicinity to avert any breakdown of law and order as the sharp division on the floor of the House had also spilled into the huge crowd of supporters of the two contenders waiting outside the complex for the outcome of the voting exercise.

After the second round of voting Hon Dajoh emerged the new Speaker of the Assembly after polling 17 votes to defeat Mrs Orpin who garnered 15 votes.

The exercise also produced Mrs Lami Danladi of Ado State Constituency who had earlier seconded the nomination of the new Speaker, as the unopposed Deputy Speaker of the House.

In his inaugural speech, the new Speaker appreciated his colleagues for finding him worthy of the position and his party, the APC,for providing him the platform to contest.

He described his emergence as a product of the unity of the house, saying “our success as a House depends on this unity because a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

He also pledged to be a servant leader saying the concept of checks and balances must be put into practice in their daily business just as he also promised good working relationship between the Legislative and the Executive arms of government.

The House shortly after adjourned sitting till June 20, 2023. Meanwhile the incidents that heralded the emergence of Hon. Dajoh as Speaker of the House have continued elicit reactions from pundits and keen observers of the unfolding political development in the state.

While some described it as a clear indication that the Governor, Rev. Fr. Alia would not submit to the position of being a stooge
to anyone, others concluded that it was a testament to the fact that the present Governor like his predecessor will not succumb to the machinations of godfatherism no matter whose ox is gored.

Speaking on the development, Convener of the Middle Belt Movement for Justice and Peace, MBMJP, Joe Bukka noted that the outcome of the Assembly election, “passed a clear message to anyone who thinks the Priest will be a puppet to have a rethink because Benue has a defiant Governor whose allegiance is obviously to the people and no one else. Moreover, if you recall, it was his entry into the APC that gave life to the party in the state and changed all the permutations that culminated in the victory for the party in Benue.

“Whether those who want to lord it over the Governor like to hear it or not, Rev. Fr. Alia is the symbol of the strength of the APC and he should be treated as such. The man should be handled like an egg because he gave life to the party and it was on his crest that APC and its candidates recorded the victories and successes that they boast of today in Benue state.”

On his part, Secretary of the Campaign for Equal Rights and Opportunities for all Nigerians, CERON, Francis Odiir, said “the emergence of Hon Dajoh as Speaker of the Benue State Assembly against the preferred candidate of Senator Akume obviously tells you that the one on the driver’s seat in Benue, though a Catholic Priest knows the enormity of his powers and he would be held accountable if he fails to use that power to deliver and impact the people of the state. That is why we had the drama that played out at the Assembly because the man is not fighting anyone. But he must be allowed to pick those he wants to work with and not anyone making the choices for him. That is what the people demanded of him which accounted for loud ovation that greeted the election of Hon Dajoh as the new Speaker.”