Benue 2023: Strength of contenders, weaknesses of pretenders

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From Makurdi, JOHN SHIAONDO reports that the political atmosphere in Benue state is getting charged as the electorate and politicians seem to be in dilemma over who to support ahead of the March 11 governorship polls.

The candidates at a glance

At least sixteen (16) political parties are fielding candidates for the Benue number one seat. Those contesting the governorship of the state are Oyigeya Matthias of Accord, Dabu Mathew Asemayina Action Alliance, Obe Ewaoche Benjamin Africa Action Congress (AAC), Tilley Gyado Terhemen, African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chenge Roseline Ada African Democratic Party (ADP), Alia Hycinth Iormem All Progressives Congress (APC), Waya Joseph All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and Kwadzah Terrumun Kenneth for Action People’s Party (APP).

Others are Hembe Herman Iorwase Labour Party (LP), Angwe Bem Reuben New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), Abah Sam Inalegwu National Rescue Movement (NRM), Uba Tyoapine Titus Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)

Icheen Levi Lumun Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Mede James Bemgbator Social Democratic Party (SDP), Orya Ungwaga Roberts Young Progressive Party (YPP), and Dabo Adzuana Aondona

Sharon Funmi Catherine, Zenith Labour Party (ZLP).

Although there are 16 political parties contesting for the governorship, only three seems to be dominating the political sphere in the state. All the three dominant political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) are seriously devising strategies to either consolidate or take over the affairs of governance in the food basket state.

Emergence of Father Hycinth Iormem (APC)

There is a new emergence in the Benue political scene Reverend Father Hycinth Iormem Alia who is being fielded by the APC.

Reverend Alia, a Catholic priest, who had served in various parishes and was known for his healing powers decided to take the bull by the horn when he joined the governorship race.

Though a political neophyte, Alia may be a force to reckon with considering the background which he is coming from.

There are speculations that the Catholic community in the state  may be fronting him to achieve the desired change they yearn for.

The reverend gentleman has been able to bring significant change where he had presided as a priest and many other places he had served.

His candidature may enjoy support owning to the fact that the Christian community will file behind him. Because of the healing ministry he had operated, he had been very popular across Benue, and many had known or heard about him long before he ventured into politics

Rev Alia also seems to be enjoying the sympathy of the Benue people irrespective of their political affiliation.

To analysts, the growing support being enjoyed by the priest could also be premised on the fact that a cleric, Rev father Moses Orshior Adasu, in botched third republic, was able to provide, within the short time he stayed in office as governor, some life-changing projects which till date have impacted positively on the lives of Benue people.

However, some other observers  were of the opinion that Benue state, has been ruled by the PDP, for about 22 years since the advent of democracy in 1999, but have denied the state of the needed development.

They underscored the need for an alternative party to also taste the reins of power in Benue. 

A Business man Terkaa Mfaga, said “Alia can make good governor for Benue. Father Alia may be a God sent to Benue since the previous leaders have failed the state.

“Since Aper Aku left office as governor of Benue state, no governor has done anything tangible to improve the state. Apart from Aper Aku, the former governor Rev Fr. Adasu could have performed well, however, his administration was truncated by the military. Despite that, Adasu was able leave outstanding legacies for the state within that short period he stayed on seat as governor.

“It is our belief that Alia as a man of God will have fear of God and change Benue for the better,” he said 

Nonetheless, others also argue that Father Alia might have his challenges, considering the fact that he is venturing into elective political position for the first time.

Those who belong to the school of thought said “since he has never occupied a political position before, it will be difficult for him to operate if he is made governor”.

Furthermore, a bigger challenge before the Alia and the APC is the numerous court cases against them which are actually taking a toll on the candidate.

Just Monday 23rd January, 2023 the Appeal Court sitting in Makurdi, nullified his election as candidate and ordered conduct of  the primary in 11 local government areas of the state within 14 days. 

Terhemba Shija, one of the aspirants in the APC had challenged the election of Alia as candidate of the party.

Though Shija lost the case at the lower court, the Appeal Court favoured him and annulled the election of Alia and ordered conduct of fresh primaries within 14 days in eleven Local government areas of the state. 

These, according to some persons, would pose a major challenge to the aspirations of the party to rule Benue in 2023.

There are also allegations that the opposition political parties may have a hand in the sponsorship of the court battle against Alia, in order to clip his wings and stop him from getting the ticket.

However, the Legal Adviser to the APC, Fidelis Mnyim, said there is no cause for alarm as the Monday judgement had rather opened two options for APC.

“The first option is that we will comply with the court directive and conduct fresh primaries in the 11 LGs within the next 14 days and the second is to approach the Supreme Court within 14days.

“We, however, would apply for the hard copy of the judgement, study it critically and advise the party accordingly. But in my opinion, either of the two options are in favour of the party,” he said.

The governorship candidate of the APC, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, who also reacted to the judgement expressed his respect for the judgement, urged all APC members and supporters to remain calm as he is still on the ballot.

He said all the other prayers against him in the case were thrown out except one in which the Court directed that the APC should go back to the 11 LGAs to conduct a rerun of the elections.

“We respect the judgement so far and I am appealing to my supporters to remain calm and everything is still under control. I am still in the ballot.

“I am going to make further consultation with the party’s leadership and speak to you further, so stay calm.”

Though the Catholic Priest may be gaining ground, a check on the two other leading political parties in Benue and their candidates indicates that both are darling of the people in their own right therefore presenting a titanic battle ahead of the general election.

PDP’s Uba as a no pushover

Parading the incumbent Speaker Titus Uba as its gubernatorial flagbearer, the PDP is no pushover in Benue state.

Since the return of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, the PDP had been ruling Benue state and only broke for two years only to regain its supremacy in the state.

Though the party lost the 2015 election to the All Progressive Congress APC, it won majority of the state Assembly seats.

The governor Samuel Ortom, who won the election under the APC then left for the PDP to achieve his 2019 return ticket.

His return again boosted the PDP in the state. He is the one fighting tooth and nails to ensure the victory of Uba and the PDP generally in the state.

With the candidature of  Hon Titus Uba, the PDP members in their opinion, believe that they have the peoples’ support and the capacity to win the governorship poll as a result of their spread and popularity across the 23 local government areas of the state.

The party as is currently, boast of three Senators namely former governor Senator Gabriel Suswam (Benue North East), a three times house of representatives member, Senator Emmanuel Yisa Orker Jev (Benue North West) and Senator Abba Moro (Benue South).The party also have seven out of the eleven House of representative members in the state, 23 local government Chairmen and 276 councillors in their kit among 30 House of Assembly members and other officials ready to work for them.

With heavyweights in the party like  the former Senate Presidents David Mark, and Dr. Iorchia Ayu the National Chairman of PDP, Gabriel Suswam, the Deputy Governor Engr. Benson Abounu, the governorship running mate of the candidate, John Ngbede, among many others, the party still remains a tough one to beat.

The candidate Titus has won House of Assembly seat two times and is currently the speaker of the assembly. He has political experience and the large support he enjoy from the big Benue politicians may propelled him to the number one seat.

He is believed to have a clean record since he became Speaker and have not been indicted of any fraud. 

He is considered to be very humble and allegedly addresses the Governor Ortom and his wife ‘daddy’ and ‘mommy’, respectively. Some of the elders fighting for his emergence as governor believe this will be good for them.

He was known for his honesty in dealing with people. While working with Late Brig. Gen. John Mark Inienger, he was said to have refunded N10 million to the family of the General who died while on transit with him to Makurdi, against the advice of many of his colleagues.

However, Uba also have myriad of huddles before him capable of stopping him from winning the election.

Many people consider him as a stooge of the powers that be in Benue PDP who they are allegedly fronting him to cover their tracks.

He is said to have a serious challenge expressing himself in English and many believe it was this flaw he was barred from speaking at the opening ceremony of the PDP mega rally in Benue, where the G-5 members were present.

People in the state currently make jest of him for wrongly pronouncing “creme de la creme”  as “Creme ala Creme,” in an occasion in the state.

He is known for his short temper, a condition the people believe is not good for the occupant of the number one seat in the state. 

Labour Party’s Herman Hembe 

Another candidate to watch in the race is the Labour party candidate Iorwase Herman Hembe, a four- time House of Representatives member for Konshisha and Vandeikya.

Hembe is no doubt loved by his people and that is why they don’t get tired of voting him no matter the platform he contested on.

He has contested the house of representatives position in three different political parties and won all. First it was PDP, then he moved to APC and then APGA.

His youthfulness and achievements in his Constituency within the period of time he had served his people are considered part of the reasons he is loved by his people.

He has sunk many boreholes for his people, brought electricity to their doorstep, provided jobs to many young people in his Constituency.

He is believed to enjoy the support of many young people in the state. As unionist who tutored the younger brother that eventually became President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), he enjoys the support of many of his peers.

However, Hembe too has his challenges. Currently, two serious cases are hanging on his neck. First is the case instituted against him by Ben Akaaka, one of the aspirants that contested against him at the primary.

Akaaka is alleging that Hembe is still a member of the APC, where he was before decamping to LP to pursue his gubernatorial ambition.

Few days ago, a group operating under the name Benue Youth Vanguard had kicked against the candidature of Hembe, while throwing its support behind Engr. Akaaka.

The group expressed optimism that Engr. Ben Akaaka who is challenging Hembe’s credibility at the Appeal Court as the Labour Party governorship candidate in Benue state, would get a favourable judgement.

Also the case which Hembe filed against his former party turned sour for him. While Hembe sought that his name was wrongly on the ballot of the APC gubernatorial primary, the court rather threw the case out for lack of merit.

This, to analysts, is a wrong signal, which if not cleared may indicate trouble for the guber hopeful. It may likely be a violation of the electoral act that frowns against  one person contesting on the platform of two political parties.

Hembe is considered by most political leaders in the state who are his elders as arrogant. 

As one elderly politician put it, “His high headedness, make many regard him as disrespectful. And as it is usual with Nigerian politics, no elder will want to vote into a position like governorship to who would be disrespectful to him.”

Generally, the guber race in Benue promises to be a tough one and may spring surprises at the declaration of results.

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