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2019: As Suswam, Ortom Forge New Alliance In Benue



Ahead of the 2019 general elections, various political intrigues, permutations and events are playing out in Benue State, HEMBADOON ORSAR, writes.

The visit of two PDP governors, Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State to Benue State and the recent reconciliation of Governor Samuel Ortom with his predecessor, Gabriel Suswam, appears to be giving the PDP some foothold in the state.

These events were sequel to the unfortunate New Year attacks, killings and ransacking of communities by killer herdsmen which left scores dead. 73 corpses were given mass burial afterwards.  Analysts posit that a contrast in the outcome of visits by both party’s delegates was instructive.

Rivers State governor, Wike not too long ago was in Benue to condole with the people during which he first visited the grave yard of the 73 slain helpless farmers and offered prayers for the repose of their souls.

Condemning the killings in Benue, Wike faulted the APC led federal government for not being proactive and responding rapidly to the attacks as well as general insecurity in the country. He said Rivers had suffered the same fate. He however assisted Benue with N200 million to provide succour for the survivors taking refuge in IDPs camps.

He said, “ I was shouting like this, nobody believed it, now, they are  everywhere. I am not here to condemn the APC administration but they know that I know that they are not doing well. They are in their own party and I am in my own party.

“I only come here to commiserate with you because what happened to you has affected me. They were killing my people before I said come and support me they said I was playing politics, now look at death everywhere. My dear brother, we will support you, we cannot abandon you.

“The government and people of Rivers state will continue to support Benue state government in whatever we have to cushion the effect of the burden to cater for the IDPs and refugees in the state”

Though, the Rivers State Governor said his visit to Benue was purely sympathetic and not political, he visited Former Governor Suswam, a top PDP kingpin in his Makurdi residence where they had a close door meeting and later met with Ortom at the Presidential Lodge of Benue Peoples House for another close door meeting.

The next day, chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Governor Fayose of Ekiti State was also in Benue to sympathise with the people. He also visited the burial ground where he prayed to God to grant the deceased eternal rest and later addressed the people at the New Banquet Hall of Benue Peoples House, Makurdi.

Fayose, a fierce critic of APC and Buhari’s administration who condemned the killing of helpless Benue farmers, also accused the federal government and metaphorically asked Ortom and the entire people of Benue to dump APC for an alternative platform to pursue his next ambition.

He said though he was not in the state for politics, he must tell the governor that the vehicle conveying him was faulty and could not carry him to his destination, so he should think of changing to another vehicle.

“When a vehicle you are using break down and cannot carry you to your destination you must look for a better one to take you.

“Fortunately here, we have Toyota, Nissan, and other better vehicles to take you because, this one you are using cannot take you.”

Fayose who donated N10m for the up keep of IDPs also visited Suswam for a closed door meeting and later had similar meeting with Ortom.

Responding particularly to the analogy of Fayose, Ortom said Benue had kept political differences aside to tackle the menace of herdsmen attacks, stating that he will only do the political wish of the people whose mandate he was holding in trust.

“As you can see, the entire Benue State House of Assembly is here and in Benue whether PDP or APC we are here. We are not talking about party politics, we are talking about Benue first, thereafter, we can go into politics.

“I am a member of APC, What you have said Benue people are here listening but I will not decide for Benue people, it is the people that will decide for me. What they ask me to do, I will oblige”, Ortom stated.

Prior to the Wike and Fayose visits,  a seven-man delegation of APC/Northern Governors Forum led by Kashim Shettima of Borno State had visited Benue State with a promise to collaborate with the Federal Government to provide succour to the victims of the attacks.

The delegation also had in attendance, Simon Lalong of Plateau, Mallam El Rufai of Kaduna, Yahaya Bello of Kogi, Mohamad Abubakar of Jigawa State respectively and deputy governor of Osun state, Chief Mrs Grace Titilayo Tomori .

The APC governors, who came to pay a condolence visit, expressed dismay that the crisis between farmers and herdsmen in Benue was being politicised.

Speaking in Makurdi, the state capital, Shettima said problems are created by men, and that men can find the solution to the problems.

According to Shettima, “Sensationalism cannot advance the cause of the issue, we should have generosity of spirit to embrace each other. “We are the new generation of Nigerian leaders not for some political dinosaur from Abuja or any part of the country to cause unnecessary issues.

“All of us here are members of this generation, the future belongs to us (governors).

He decried comments made by some elder statesmen over the killings noting, “We will not allow that. This is my fourth time coming to Benue. We are partnering with the federal government to find a permanent solution to the security matters in Benue. Benue is part of the APC family. Benue is part of the northern family,” Shettima maintained.

The PDP controlled South- South and South- East regions as well as other socio-political organisations had also expressed their solidarity with Ortom and the entire Benue State with assurances of support.

During one of the Benue recent stakeholders meeting, Paul Unongo said, “Organisation include making new friends. If your own friend is not going to help you in a most difficult situation, for God’s sake, you are honour bound to look for new friends.

“And I say without fear, stand by your Governor to look for new friends that will help you to assuage the situation you have”, Unongo stressed.

Since the visits of Wike and Fayose, the political scene in Benue State has been rife with permutations and rumours that Ortom is set to dump APC and return to the PDP, which he left shortly before the 2015 governorship election.

It was gathered that he has been holding secret talks with those who call the shots in PDP, including Suswam. The climax of the political intrigues was after a reconciliation meeting between Ortom and Suswam which held at the instance of Tor Tiv, Orchiviligh James Ayatse.

Sources in the meeting told our correspondent that after Tor Tiv brokered peace between Ortom and Suswam, the duo immediately commenced political talks bothering on the PDP governorship ticket ahead of 2019.

The governor was a staunch member of the PDP having served as member of its national working committee. Ortom governorship ambition under the PDP had resulted in his strained political relationship with Suswam, who anointed his protege, Prince Terhemen Tarzoor, to succeed him as governor under the banner of PDP.

Ortom was forced to move to the APC where he effortlessly emerged its candidate and defeated Tarzoor at the governorship election. The relationship between the governor and his predecessors inevitably strained, culminating in series of media battle.

But Ortom has debunked insinuations of his purported defection to PDP ahead of 2019, underscoring that he has no intention of leaving APC. He also denied asking for PDP’s governorship ticket, stating that the meeting he had with Suswam was a peace meeting aimed at burying their differences and working together for the interest of the Tiv nation and Benue State.

The governor said the rumour that he begged Suswam for ticket were brewed by a person he called “an invisible online journalist”, whom he said is not even from Benue but has taken advantage of the differences between him and the former governor to earn a living.

“The meeting was not connected with the issue of platform. We did not discuss any platform matter, there was no need for that.

“Why should I go and beg for a platform?  I am a Governor in the ruling party, why should I go and beg for a platform?

“I have told you that for now, I have suspended all political activities pending when the crises in Benue are resolved and my people leave the IDP camp to their ancestral homes that is when security of lives and property of Benue people is restored”, the governor maintained.

Suswam also corroborated his successor’s position on their meeting and the perceived political alliance. Explaining that their reconciliation is devoid of partisan politics, he said the incumbent “governor is in APC, while I am in PDP.”

Suswam said “I want to assure the people of the state that I will work hand in hand with the governor on issue that are not partisan for peace and the overall development of the state”.

However, as political events unfold ahead of 2019, prospects of a political alliance between the Ortom and Suswam seems more realistic now than before. Still, it will be interesting to see how other APC and PDP stalwarts like former Senate President, Senator David Mark, former governor, Senator George Akume and Senator Barnabas Gemade view the evolving political scenario.