Benue: Race For National Assembly

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The ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has been the leading party in Nigeria since its inception in 1998. It has produced the president, most state governors, members of the Lower and Upper Legislative chambers and state Houses of Assembly members in the country.

In Benue State, the PDP controls the political landscape. Apart from producing two past national chairmen of the party and the incumbent national auditor, the state PDP has produced the sitting Senate President, David Mark and the governor, Gabriel Suswam.  Moreover, most elective offices in the state have been won by the PDP since 1999. On the other hand, analysts of Benue political scene are divided over the fortunes of the party in the forthcoming 2011 polls in the state. While some believe that the party may be walking a tight rope, others believe that the status quo would remain despite the defection of some political actors from the party.

However, where fear is most entertained for the PDP is Benue North West Senatorial District which was once acclaimed to be the party’s stronghold.

Political watchers believe that the Zone B senatorial contest would be tough for the party, with the defection of the former governor, Senator George Akume, from the PDP to the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, to contest the Senate seat after a fruitless attempt to fly the PDP flag.

Akume’s opponent for the upper legislative chamber, Hon Terngu Tsegba, who is the incumbent member representing Gboko/Tarka Federal Constituency was one-time speaker protempore at the National Assembly.

Terngu Tsegba’s decision to run for the Senate position was allegedly made known to Governor Suswam,which many believed further contributed to the political crack between the duo. In spite of Tsegba entering into the Senate race, political watchers believe that he is likely not going to be a threat to Akume, who is regarded as a political colossus in Benue politics, having presided over the affairs of the state for eight years before handing over to Governor Suswam.

From investigations, Senator George Akume’s solid political structures as the immediate past governor is a plus for him in the forthcoming senatorial election. Our findings also show that apart from his former aides – commissioners, special advisers, senior special assists and local government chairmen among others,  some of his aides inherited by Suswam are working assiduously for his return to the Senate on the platform of ACN.

Second, Akume’s benevolence while in office as governor of the state, even as a senator may also count for him in the election. Third, it is also argued that Akume may win the sympathy of the people of his senatorial district on the account that he was behind Terngu Tsegba’s three terms at the National Assembly.

Some also argued that for this reason,  Tsegba should have turned down the call to run against Akume, just to serve as a mark of gratitude and respect for him as someone who had in the past graciously assisted him to get to the National Assembly. His decision to contest against Akume is, therefore, being interpreted in some quarters as biting the finger that fed him.

Some political analysts, however,  have a different opinion. They maintain that Akume may be frustrated from going back to the Senate, if the state government decides to throw its weight behind the candidature of Terngu Tsegba. They argue that that may mark the end up Akume’s political career as the immediate past governor of the state, which may in turn, make him to become a political relic.

Again, Akume’s sins that may also count against him, according to his opponents, are that he, Akume, is believed to be the architect of the one-term in office for the National Assembly members from the state, when he used the state machinery to truncate the return of Senator JKN Waku and Senator Saror.

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The sales of Benue Cement Company and Taraku Mills and the alleged imposition of Hon Asema Achado in 2007 among others are some of the critical issues that are going to serve as hurdles to Akume’s r-election. Another fundamental albatross to Akume’s re-election bid is his supporting the candidature of Professor Steven Ugba of ACN. This, political watchers believe, will count as a minus for the Minda people, who are angling for the position of the Suswam in 2015.

The Minda axis which controls four local government areas from Benue North West Senatorial District (Makurdi, Gwer, Gwer West and Guma LGAs) may not go along with Akume /Ugba’ ACN, because if ACN wins the governorship seat, Minda with four LGA may have to wait beyond 2015. This,  especially, is if the ACN candidate runs for two terms.

With this political calculation  in Minda axis against Akume, he may not scale through the senatorial election and this issue is spreading like a wild fire across the four local government areas of the state .The last straw that is likely to affect Akume’s chances is that less than five days to the senatorial elections, the Tiv Traditional Council has declared that Senator George Akume will no longer win any elections in Tivland.

Tor Tiv IV Ochivirigh Alfred Akawe Torkula who made this declaration at the end of Traditional Council meeting held at his palace in Gboko recently, said the former governor incurred the wrath of Tiv land by bringing dishonour to his stool and the deity of the people.

“Akume , as far as we the Tiv people are concerned, if he wants , let him stand for election in another land , but we in Tiv here, will you elect such a person?” the Tor Tiv asked.

For Benue North East , Senator Joseph Akaagerger is eyeing a return ticket. However, his second term bid is being threatened by one-time National Chairman of PDP, Chief Barnabas Gemade. The two candidates are from the same local government area, Konshisha LGA and the same district, Gaav. While Akagerger is from Mbavaa, Gemade is from Iwarev ward in Tiv land. In Benue North East, zoning arrangement is believed to be part of the culture of the people, and it is widely said in Tiv land language: yan na wamigban meaning “eat and give your brother”.

So, political stakeholders are of the view that Akaagerger should leave the stage for Gemade having been given that position in 2007. Gemade contested for the same position against Akagerger in 2007 and lost but never dumped the party. According to a top politician, who did not want his name mentioned, “When Gemade lost to Akaagerger during the 2007 PDP primary in Kastina Ala, he did not dumped the party for another party, but when Akaagerger lost in a free and fair contest in Kastina Ala , he dumped the PDP for ACN. To us as political stakeholders in Zone A, that negates the spirit of sportsmanship. We have chosen to give the Senate seat to Gemade.

For political analysts, Benue South Senatorial District known as Zone C will not be  tough one for the party because of the Senate President, David Mark’s landmark leadership role and achievements at the upper legislative chamber and his quest to pursue the creation of Apa State among other achievements in other critical areas of governance . Some of the things that would count for the re-election of David Mark include the fact that the Idoma people believe that his emergence as the number three citizen of Nigeria is a plus for the Idoma nation. This general belief has become a stumbling block to any other politician in the area eyeing the Senate seat. Second, the people believe that the move for the creation of Apa State has received more boost during David  Mark’s tenure as Senate President than any other Idoma leader.

The entry of ACN into the political landscape of the state is a critical issue. However, this cannot stop the return of the Senate President to the upper legislative chamber . For the Federal House of representatives, it is not going to be business as usual for PDP. With the emergence of ACN in the state, the party will need to work extra had to retain all its seats, otherwise ACN is likely to pick some seat sin the state.

—Ubong George/ Makurdi