The abysmal failure of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 general elections in Benue State has continued to be disheartening to notable party stakeholders in the state. More perturbing to party stakeholders is that the once ruling party in Benue with prominent leaders appears to be going into extinction or barely struggling for meagre existence in the state. Our investigation shows that APC is currently relegated to the periphery of power politics in Benue State. The party appears to be overwhelmed in the political milieu of the state since the 2019 defeat by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). APC stakeholders in Benue State are expressing worries that the prominent APC leader in the state, former Governor George Akume, now Minister of Special Duties, did or is doing little to mobilise party stakeholders for collective efforts to rebuild and revive the party, accusing the leader of purportedly using remnant of the party for personal gains, essentially, in securing federal appointment. The stakeholders lamented that Benue APC has become comatose and bereft of leadership, including erasing of democratic principles of equity, liberty, fairness, internal democracy and consensus building. The party, they said, currently gasp for breath for survival, resuscitation and populist leadership.
The resilience of stakeholders in the state for rebuilding the party after the 2019 electoral trauma, precipitated deep investigation between May 11, 2020 and May 16, 2020, into the circumstances of the 2019 electoral tragedy and the search for guide to rebuilding the party.
Interactions were held several non-partisan Benue indigenes, party members, including key stakeholders, as well as few aggrieved APC members, some elder statesmen, in addition to personnel of institutions and agencies directly or indirectly responsible for conduct of elections.
Many of the contact persons insisted on responding on the condition of anonymity for protection. A few others were a little skeptical about the investigation and were reluctant to cooperate.
In the investigation on the 2019 elections in Benue, engagements were extended to stakeholders in Zone A – covering Katsina Ala and Kwande; Zone B – covering Makurdi, Buruku, Guma and Gboko; and Zone C covering only Otukpo.
The investigation detected three hypothetical factors drowning the APC in Benue. They include governorship succession crisis which party stakeholders said is directly linked to the insistence on imposition of candidate by the party leader, Senator George Akume; poor party leadership; and lack of internal democracy.
Governorship succession crisis
Investigation revealed that Senator George Akume has shown pre-eminence in dominating the politics of Benue State in about the two decades. A two-term governor – 1999 to 2007; a senator, and now, a minister, Akume has entrenched his hegemony in the politics of Benue State, particularly, in Tiv land since 1999. A lot of stakeholders have, therefore, learn to rely on him for political patronage in the state, including influencing party tickets for elections. The Tiv constitute the majority in the state.
There are two conflicting positions on how George Akume became prominent in party politics and national limelight. Some believe he was brought into politics by Dr. Iyorchia Ayu; some others attribute his political emergence to Chief Barnabas Gemade, who is an apostle of liberal democracy and transparent politics. But there are pertinent indicators that Chief Barnabas Gemade lubricated Akume’s emergence as Benue governor by disappointing Mr. Mike Mku, who was an influential political actor in the state; he was also a political ally of Gemade. Investigation revealed that Chief Gemade who had the stature of a kingmaker in Benue politics, as well as an active national player, was persuaded by his wife, who is a relation of George Akume from Mbakor clan, to give the Benue governorship ticket of the People Democratic Party (PDP) to Akume in 1999.
Mr. Simon Shango, a veteran journalist, also played key role in convincing Chief Gemade to switch his alliance with Mr. Mike Mku to George Akume. Some stakeholders in Benue bemoaned that, “The Tiv nation will never forgive Gemade for his role in influencing the emergence of George Akume who was never prepared for leadership role as governor.”
George Akume, the third democratically elected Governor of Benue State and first to serve for two tenures, has been a successful politician at individual level. On completion of second tenure in 2007, Akume aspiring for the Senate, facilitated the emergence of Rt. Hon. Gabriel Torwua Suswam, with the strong support of the Tiv establishment, to succeed him. After the succession, emergent Governor Gabriel Torwua Suswam, unfortunately, resisted external control of his administration purportedly by Akume, leading to a fallout with his predecessor. Suswam subsequently established his own political structure in the state, and with incumbency power at his behest, Suswam organized more supporters and loyalists to strengthen his structure to combat his predecessor’s political structure; which later made Akume defect to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) that, thereafter, aligned with other parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC).
After Suswam’s second tenure, Samuel Ortom was frustrated at the PDP primary election by Governor Suswam. In the emergent APC, Senator Akume quickly saw the political potentials in Ortom, and urgently upturned the arrangements in APC to present Barr. Emmanuel Jime as governorship candidate. Samuel Ortom was immediately adopted APC governorship candidate in the 2011 general elections on the influence of Senator Akume. And with the combined political machines of other APC leaders, who include Senator Barnabas Gemade, APC defeated and ousted PDP from Benue State Government House in 2011, and further won two senatorial seats.
In the buildup to the 2019 elections, Senator Akume was on war path with Governor Ortom. Akume’s plot to stop Ortom from second tenure became known to the incumbent governor, who went to the APC national secretariat in Abuja to register his plight that he has been given “red card” by Benue APC. The intervention of the APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, failed to reconcile the Benue APC leaders. The political capability of Ortom was, perhaps, undermined by the APC national chairman who probably gave more concession to Akume, Governor Ortom dumped APC and returned to PDP.
Again, with seeming imprecise arrangements, the APC governorship ticket was given to Barrister Emmanuel Jime, for the 2019 elections. Some APC members alleged that Sen. Akume and his wife were initially opposed to Jime being the APC governorship candidate; they had insisted that it must be Barr. Benjamin Adanyi. That was said to have created another level of division in the party after Jime eventually picked the party’s governorship ticket.
With Ortom’s re-alignment with Suswam, the PDP grassroots political machine was rebuilt in Benue to overwhelm the fractured APC political structure; the result was humiliating. Akume was an unimaginable casualty; he was defeated in that election he contested as a returning senator. While APC won narrowly in the presidential election, the party lost in the senatorial and governorship elections.
Poor Party leadership
Several APC stakeholders in Benue were of the view that it would appear that Senator George Akume’s leadership capacity is function of having alliance with political actors who have strong grassroots appeals and followership. They cited how Akume led his party at different times to win the state when he had alliance with the likes of Senator Gabriel Suswam and Governor Samuel Ortom but lost completely at the time Emmanuel Jime, who they describe as being elitist, was on the leadership saddle with Akume.
The second level of poor leadership of the party was traced to the people Senator Akume surrounded himself as dependable allies. Some stakeholders in the state construe Senator Akume, who is considered to represent the arrow-head leadership of Benue APC, as a “widely exposed and brilliant public servant, but, egocentric and uncomfortable with intellectuals, principled and enlightened individuals.” Thus, he was said not to have penchant to work with the best brains in leading the party.
Some stakeholders in Benue APC alleged that some of the people influencing party decisions in collaboration with Akume include Mrs. Regina Akume, known as Mother-General of Benue State, wife of Senator Akume. They described her as a de factor leader of APC in Benue State.
Abba Yaro was identified as the longest serving state party chairman in Nigeria. His primary constituency, Zone C, Idoma nation, was said to have protested his perpetual party leadership.
APC stakeholders narrated that Abba Yaro is a sheer beneficiary of power sharing in the party structure such that Zone C leads the party while Zone B and Zone A control the governor. The stakeholders were of the view that Abba Yaro has little political capital and has never won any election in his polling booth for the party. The APC stakeholders perceive Yaro to be there to allegedly carry out Akume’s bidding.
Simon Abua Yajir, known as “Crucial”, was a personal assistant to Sen. George Akume when he was Governor of Benue State. Yajir, a Gboko-based populist socialite with remote grassroots affinity, was identified as a trusted errand boy for Sen. Akume.
The party stakeholders also identified Targema Takema, a businessman, technocrat, and a former Secretary to the Benue State Government in the first tenure of Governor Samuel Ortom, as a dependable ally of Akume. Unfortunately, he was said to be currently having a complex health challenge. Senator Akume was said to be losing a resourceful and valuable ally in Takema.
Senator Jack Tilley Gyado, son of the first Tiv millionaire, a second republic senator and an experienced politician, was said to be a long-time ally of Senator Akume. He built his political clout from his family background. Gyado was appointed Director-General of Emmanuel Jime/Sam Odeh Governorship campaign organization for the 2019 elections; he subtly extended his duty to coordination of the 2019 APC campaign in Benue.
Stakeholders, however, complained of non-accountability or alleged mismanagement of campaign funds.
Moreover, stakeholders decried that Mark Hamation was planted by Senator Akume as APC State Organizing Secretary in Benue.
Other allies of the Senator in the leadership of the state party were identified to include Richard Agwa, currently private secretary to Akume; Mrs. Becky Orpin; a former staff of Radio Benue; later an aide to the former Benue State Speaker, Mrs. Magaret Chen. She was said to be a close associate of Akume. She was alleged to play key role in destroying Akume’s relationship with Gabriel Suswam, Governor Samuel Ortom, Architect Tsegba Tyopine, Hon. John Dyeh and many others. Thus, making Akume lose strong grassroots leaders that would have been reinforcing his leadership.
Also, Dr. Aondona Mkor; a former lecturer in the Political Science department, of Benue State University, is the “image maker” of Sen. Akume since his appointment as a minister.
Moreover, Titus Zam, identified as an ardent supporter of Sen. Akume from Gwer West Local Government; he was a former Local Government Chairman, later adviser on local government and chieftaincy affairs to Gov. Samuel Ortom in his first tenure. He provides notable grassroots leadership in Gwer West but began to encounter crisis over leadership high handedness, arrogance, and political thuggery.
Investigation revealed that Sen. Akume in his structural leadership framework, may have created factional group to dominate the majority in the Benue APC, causing dissentions and discontents. The leadership could not provide mechanism for internal horse trading and consensus building for the cohesion of the party because decisions are pre-determined before party meetings. Apparently, the APC went into the 2019 elections deeply divided with allegations of bribery for election tickets and mismanagement of campaign funds.
Lack of internal democracy/Money politics
Party stakeholders complained that virtually all primary elections for nomination of candidates for general elections under the leadership of Senator Akume in Benue State, from the PDP to ACN, then the APC, defied the basics of internal democracy and transparency. This subsequently disrupted consensus building and party cohesion at different times. Party stakeholders accused Akume of always imposing his anointed candidate(s) for elections in the state. There expressed discontents that candidates were often selected at the pleasure of the former Benue Governor, and that where there appear to be semblance of party primaries, the results were upturned in favour of a preferred candidate.
Then, the issue of money politics. Investigation revealed that some desperate aspirants were under pressure to spend heavily to secure party tickets for elections. Thus, money changed hands to outweigh competing aspirants for party tickets for the general elections.
The wife of the Minister of Special Duty, Mrs. Regina Akume, was identified to be influential in the decision making of who gets what ticket and how or any other political patronage in Benue APC. In the configuration of money politics, APC stakeholders alleged that some desperate aspirants for election tickets did reach out to her with certain amount of money to assist in influencing their emergence as party candidates for elections.
Mark Hamation was also fingered in the allegations of money politics in giving elections tickets to preferred aspirants.
The aftermath of the APC primaries in Benue left a lot of divisions, bitterness, resentment, and mutual distrust among APC members in the build up to the 2019 general elections. Investigation revealed that the consequence of discretional and seeming discriminatory decisions on party tickets or candidates was either outright withdrawal from active political programmes of the party or surreptitious betrayal or brazenly working for an opposition candidate and party.
Investigation also showed that there was weak or absence of conflicts resolution and reconciliation mechanisms in the state. Accordingly, the state party leadership failed to reconcile the victims of injustice or aggrieved APC candidates and other party members before the general elections.
The party, therefore, went into the 2019 general elections deeply divided and incoherent. APC stakeholders dislcosed that the party lost cohesion and unity going into the general elections over the disagreement on the governorship candidate in the state. They revealed that majority APC stakeholders and delegates to the primary election had insisted on Barr. Emmanuel Jime to be the governorship candidate while Sen. Akume and his wife had allegedly insisted that it must be Barr. Benjamin Adanyi. Majority APC members stood firmly behind Jime for the party ticket. Thereafter, Jime, they said, had to pay for that decision; he was abandoned by the leader during the electioneering campaign and also purportedly denied financial support. Party stakeholders alleged that even campaign funds from the APC national leadership in Abuja to the Benue APC for the 2019 elections were not released to the candidate.
While the divisions in APC was deepening, the PDP was consolidating its political forte for the 2019 elections. Governor Samuel Ortom had defected from the APC to PDP with all local government chairmen in the state, including councilors and virtually all members of the Benue State House of Assembly. These were in addition to commissioners, special advisers, and other political appointees. Apparently, the PDP took control of the grassroots. Those who have the political stout to deliver the grassroots votes to the APC were pushed to the outskirt of the party after the controversial party primaries or selection of candidates.
Because of the division in the party, there was no proper coordination and organization of the electioneering campaigns, leading to a visual non-campaign across the state. Most aggrieved APC members even openly worked against the party while some others contested the election on platforms of other political parties. They deliberately plotted to weaken the political strongholds of APC in their domains, share the votes, to give advantages to PDP. Thus, they consciously weakened an already weak APC.
Some grey areas of leadership
Some stakeholders in Benue State construe the leadership of Akume to have failed in promoting the development of the state.
Several stakeholders said that Benue people are still searching for the record of the number of bills the former governor initiated or sponsored in his 12 years of representing the state in the Senate, adding that they are yet to find any.
The stakeholders also alleged that “Senator George Akume spent 12 years telling the Tiv people that the obstacle of the Tiv man in Nigerian politics is Senator David Mark but the Tiv people later realized that this is sheer deception to cover his leadership failure and disappointment of the Tiv nation in his years of dominating politics in the state.” The Tiv people, they said, rejected Akume at the polls in the 2019 elections because of his leadership failure in over the past two decades.
Another grey leadership phenomenon was Akume’s perceived alliance with Dr. Iyorchia Ayu in his first tenure as Benue Governor to allegedly emasculate Chief Barnabas Gemade and relegate him to political obscurity, after Gemade had played significant role in making him governor. Thereafter, Akume and Ayu allegedly targeted a celebrated Tiv political figure, Mr. Paul Unongo, for political emasculation. This caused what people considered the deadliest and humiliating political violence in Tiv history, leading to the killing of hundreds in Kwande Local Government. Many people were rendered homeless and schools were closed for over one year and people could not go to their farms, the stakeholders lamented.
Investigation further revealed that these ugly political phenomena have continued to live with the Benue people, essentially the Tiv nation, and generating mutual suspicion and mutual distrust among the political class in Benue State. Benue people in their bid to eliminate these centrifugal epiphenomena from their polity, decided on protest votes against Akume and his party in the 2019 elections; they resolved to support a more organized and united PDP despite the massive failure of Governor Samuel Ortom in his first tenure.
Party stakeholders cautioned against a repeat of the 2019 political pitfalls of APC under the leadership of Akume ib the preparations for the 2023 elections. They alleged that some party members who include Mark Hamation and Prof. Terhemba Shija, are subtly being encouraged by Akume to contest for the 2023 APC governorship ticket in Benue State, declaring that “any candidate from George Akume should be considered “Brought In Dead (BID)” on arrival.
However, loyalists of former Governor Akume have argued that it is out of place to heap the blame of APC failure in Benue in 2019 solely on Akume. They stated that other factors such as the perennial killing and destruction of property in the state by herdsmen created hatred for APC in the state. They also admitted that the poor performance of the APC governor, Ortom, was a big disappointment to the people of the state, adding that only the defection to PDP saved Ortom. They stated that even Ortom would have lost if he had remained in APC, saying his failure in the first tenure was monumental and painted APC in bad light before the Benue people.
The minister’s loyalists maintained that Akume only suffered transferred anger of the people in the state from those other factors.
Meanwhile, as political overtures and negotiations for new alliances and coalitions are noticeable in Benue State, as in other parts of Nigeria towards 2023, party stakeholders in Benue are advocating for total overhaul of APC leadership in the state.
The state stakeholders also demanded the APC national leadership to investigate Mrs. Regina Akume, Comrade Abba Moro and Mr. Mark Hamation over allegations of monetary inducement by some desperate aspirants seeking APC tickets in 2019.
The APC stakeholders, subsequently, demanded genuine reconciliation of aggrieved party members; and initiating of profound process of repositioning the party into winning ways in the state before 2023, essentially, making the Benue APC an all-inclusive party where all stakeholders will be given a sense of belonging.