History is, again, being repeated in Benue. And it is really not funny at all. Chief (Dr.) Samuel Ortom, the erstwhile State PDP Mr. Fix It, appears to be the luckiest man in Benue state today. And the reasons are obvious. The chubby-cheeked chief is Benue State’s 5th Executive Governor. His official residence is the expansive, ornate and well-secured Government House, Makurdi (GHM). For the next four years (it could even be eight), he will not have to buy food, clothes, cars or, in fact, anything: the state will take care. As Government-Pikin, whatever he fancies, Government will provide.
And to make his executive tenancy even sweeter, every 30 days, Abuja hands him a cheque of, at least, N2billion as the state’s share of the Federal Allocation. And being a man of tradition, he can follow the traditional path. He can travel abroad with it to woo foreign investors, he can pay it into his personal account and start whistling or he can, mercifully, use it to pay civil servants. So on the surface, Gov. Ortom should be a happy man, but appearances can sometimes deceive, and they are deceptive in this instance: for Ortom is a man under great stress.
The reason is because Ortom is beset on both sides by very strong forces: one, the force of Due Process; and the other, the force of serendipity. Like ex-Gov. Gabriel Suswam, Ortom has two powerful cases to contend with: one, a pre-election matter before an Abuja Federal High Court, and the other, a post-election suit before the Election Petitions Tribunal, sitting in Makurdi.
The Abuja case was instituted against the party leadership in December 2014 by the quartet of Prof. Steve Ugbah, Hon. Emmanuel Jime, Chief (Sen.) J.K.N. Waku and Hon. Mike Iordye to challenge to imposition of Ortom on Benue APC as its guber-candidate. The quartet, which has now shrunken to a Duo, seeks to now join Ortom as a Defendant.
The second suit has been instituted by the PDP guber-candidate in the April election, Rt. Hon. (Prince) Terhemen Tarzoor. Tarzoor, better known as “the man wey sabi,” may be an economist, but he knows something about time and chance (opportunity). He knows he did not win the guber-election, but he also knows that while Ortom’s emergence might have satisfied all of APC’s sinister designs, it did not comply with a single provision of the Electoral Guidelines as provided in the subsisting Electoral Act! You may call him an opportunist, but he sees it as his golden opportunity.
He is, accordingly, praying the Tribunal to void Ortom’s votes, and declare him the rightful winner of the governorship election. The recent Tribunal ruling in Edo state where the election of an APC Rep was voided for only partial compliance with the Electoral Guidelines has thrown the governor and his camp into a quandary.
Although the governor cultivates a calm demeanour in public, and the instruction is for his vocal publicists to keep hope alive with appropriately-worded press releases, it is said to be a different thing altogether behind the curtains. Sources in GHM tell of an embattled governor, skipping meals, rescheduling appointments, taking lonely walks at night, and running from pillar to post so as to salvage his governorship position: today, it is the Tor Tiv Palace in Gboko, the following day, it is the Presidential Villa, and the day after, it a vigil. The aim of these agitated gubernatorial shuttles is to mobilize pressure against the court cases sapping his joy, and threatening to abbreviate his tenancy in GHM.
These are the two cases giving our governor sleepless nights and daytime-nightmares. His worry is that if the Jime/Waku combination does not get him, Tarzoor definitely will.
This is exactly what happened in Benue state in 2011. So history is repeating itself, and with all the fine details. Ex-Gov. Suswam faced legal battles from two major fronts. On one hand was Prof. Ugbah of the then ACN, who wanted his stolen mandate returned; and Prof. Daniel Saror, who also Suswam’s tenancy in GHM truncated.
Hemmed in by two world-class professors, Suswam resorted to executive brigandage – maiming, burning and killing. But more tellingly on the state’s economy, he dedicated Benue’s Commonwealth to his survival, allegedly doling out hundreds of millions of Naira on a monthly basis to service the stakeholders in the Benue Tribunal System.
In the end, Benue paid dearly for it. Development was arrested, the work-force (active and retired) was relegated to the background; and as the debts kept mounting, the lawyers kept smiling to the banks and auto-shops. Much of whatever was left after Tribunal logistics was quickly appropriated as “Security Votes.” Today, the Benue economy is not only prostrate, it is comatose; and the people, once proud citizens, are today bent by the excruciating weight of poverty.
Most strangely, we have allowed ourselves to fall into the same rut. Once again, the Ortom advent has invited a season of multiple litigations. This will naturally be followed by heavy distractions, heavy investments in litigation logistics, and, if he survives the battles, he will have ready-made excuses to fall back on as a defence for his poor outing. It is a road already travelled, and we did not need to travel it again.
If Benue APC had followed due process in its nomination exercise, whoever emerged would have beaten the PDP hands-down. And if any litigation came, it might simply be to fulfil all righteousness. But the APC, to prove that it was fathered by the PDP, threw away the Electoral Guidelines, and awarded its governorship ticket to Ortom, a failed PDP governorship hopeful.
The APC had five governorship aspirants i.e. Ugbah, the professor; Jime, a senior lawyer, who was rounding off his second term at the National Assembly; Waku, the veteran politician as well as Messrs. Iordye and Audu, who were thorough-bred bureaucrats. Even if the Benue APC were averse to direct primaries, it could have adopted, anointed or selected one of them as its “consensus candidate,” and proceeded to do the needful. But the party, for very strange reasons, did not want a professor or a lawyer or a bureaucrat; it wanted Ortom, a college drop-out and retired motor-park tout, who got his Ph.D. in three days in a hotel suit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Many insiders believe that it was Ortom’s cut-and-join education that recommended him to Dr. George Akume, the APC Leader in Benue state. Akume, himself a Ph.D awardee, left the APC altogether, went to the PDP, imported Dr. Ortom into the APC, and crowned him the “Consensus Candidate.” And Ortom, whose three-day Ph.D. is supposed to be in “Peace and Conflict Resolution,” proceeded to move into the APC, and shatter its fragile peace and compound its problems.
Ortom, a likeable person at a personal level, did not even bother to join the APC in time so as to vie, with others, for the governorship ticket – a ticket he was certain to win: what with the billions of Naira he was alleged to have hauled in from the Aviation Ministry! No, with Akume’s assurances, Ortom waited till the APC had closed its sale of forms; he waited till the five APC governorship candidates had exhausted themselves in campaigns; he waited long enough to contest for the PDP governorship ticket; and, after losing, he crept into the APC to be adopted as its “Consensus Candidate” – not at the party secretariat, but in Sen. Akume’s Makurdi residence.
When party faithful asked how Ortom, who derided the APC as the “Aggrieved Peoples Congress”, even terming it “the Boko Haram Party,” could fly its flag, they were told the “Leader has spoken.” And when party’s governorship aspirants queried how a PDP Strongman, credited with the Gumanization (geometric inflation) of votes, could become APC’s “Consensus Candidate,” they were told that it was a “Miracle from God.” But the more they looked, the more it appeared this god has clay-feet, lives on Gboko-Road, has a Lawn-Tennis Court and his throne is carved from the impunity-wood.
Today, this “Miracle” from the god on Gboko Road has given birth to twins: the first is the Jime/Waku case, and the second is the Tarzoor case!
In 2011, the PDP Camp, with Ortom as a senior member, called Ugbah names for daring to think Nigeria was the US, where an aggrieved person could sue another, a sitting governor! In 2015, Ortom, a PDP juggernaut, has cross-over to the APC to harvest APC’s harvest; and his entourage, with PDP scents oozing all over them, are calling the duo of Jime and Waku names as well as mocking Tarzoor as an opportunist!
Their offence is that they have the audacity to seek legal redress over a constitutional matter, and in a constitutional setting. In 2011, these people insisted, and violently so, on keeping the stolen goods. In this 2015, they are insistent, again, on keeping the hijacked goods. And as in 2011, they are ready to sacrifice the meagre Benue allocation to “court processes.”
So the legal processes must not be arrested. Anyone who is collecting money with the intention of lobbying stakeholders so that they can, in turn, lobby Jime/Waku and Tarzoor into dropping their suits for the “sake of peace,” must be told that justice is the foundation of peace. Jime or Tarzoor, all people of goodwill must join hands with these patriots to rescue Benue from Ortom, his god-father and their less than-patriotic designs for the state.
As Ortom himself fears, and rightly so, his days in GHM are numbered. It explains why he is decided on having ready cash at hand i.e. in case of any unpleasant eventuality from Jime or Tarzoor, but especially Tarzoor. The recent court ruling in Edo state where the Tribunal voided the election of an APC Rep., and awarded the seat to the PDP complainant over APC’s only substantial compliance with the Electoral Act has thrown Dr. Ortom into depression. This is because whereas, the Edo case bothered on only “substantial compliance,” in his (Ortom) case, there was no compliance at all as Akume is said to have unilaterally imposed him on the party.
This is why despite collecting a loan of N10billion plus N2.3 billion allocation and N2.8billion bail-out funds; the Governor has only paid one month salary! Although he said the loan was to off-set salaries, it is now being used for such money spinning schemes as “GHM renovation,” “the take-off of government” and “elders’ welfare.” Another N5billion loan is being negotiated. And another N15billion bond is also in the works for the “Industrial take-off.” All the above is to make sure that when the Tribunal or the courts abruptly ends his tenancy, he would have recouped his campaign expenses and made a tidy profit.
The monthly wage bill, which was N2.4 billion under Suswam, has suddenly jumped to N3.7 billion, and this, without political appointees like commissioners, special advisers, special assistants, personal assistants, etc. By this, Ortom has set the ground to up-grade Benue state’s monthly wage bill to about N5billion! Not a few believe the quantum jump in the wage bill is to accommodate the high bills of the profile lawyers he has engaged to stave-off the political Doomsday, take care of other court/tribunal logistics as well as inaugurate the accumulation process.
Ortom and co have murdered sleep. They have strangled equity. And they have choked due process. Now, they want to strangulate justice, and assassinate our democratic spirit. But we must insist that Benue does not become another Animal Farm. Because this is a democracy, we should continue to speak out against internal colonialism; because we went to school to become people of culture and learning, we should continue to despise all those who, after entering through the window like thieves, have become evangelists; and we should continue to insist on what obtains in any society that aspires for the stars: the rule of law. If not, justice will continue to weep on Benue streets even as impunity, living on borrowed time and feasting on borrowed incumbency, continues to prance about in borrowed piety.
Ikyondo, a civil security specialist, made this contribution from Gboko, Benue State.