As Nigerians head to polling booths across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT, to elect who will pilot the affairs of the nation for another four years, DAILY POST’s Ameh Comrade takes a critical look at likely events that may play out in Benue State on Saturday…
To an ordinary political observer, the battle for the soul of Benue Valley between President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party in Saturday’s presidential election is predictable.
To others, the election is dicey and too close to call.
While some school of thoughts are of the opinion that both candidates will have no place in the food basket state, considering the fact that a Benue son is also in the presidential race on the platform of another political party.
Be as it may, Saturday, February 16 would end the endless wait.
Expectedly, the contest is between Buhari of the APC and Atiku of the PDP.
Buhari: Herdsmen killings and the ‘unpresidential’ silence, inaction
The major odd against President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC ahead of the Saturday’s presidential poll is his perceived poor attitude towards the killings believed to have been masterminded by herdsmen in Benue State under his watch.
Benue State had suffered one of the worst mass killings by herdsmen in the history of Nigeria, with the federal government showing little or no actions to end the menace. The state had constantly decried the body language of the president whom they believed was sympathetic to the marauding herdsmen.
Although, the crisis began in Agatu back in 2013, it literally snowballed into ‘madness’ when the current administration assumed office in May 2015.
In one of the attacks, few months after Buhari was sworn in, suspected herdsmen invaded Aila in Agatu, killing over mourners in one day.
Amazingly, it took the federal government ‘forever’ to react to the incident, a development that angered traditional rulers and political leaders of the state.
After much pressure and outcries, the then Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase visited the state and claimed only three persons were killed and not 500 that was widely reported in the media.
The state would not forget in a hurry how suspected herdsmen on a Tuesday morning of April 24, 2018, attacked Ayar Mbalom village in Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State, killing 19 persons and burning down over 35 houses.
A mass burial was organised in honour of the victims but no federal presence at the funeral.
Elder statesman and former chairman of Northern Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, who was angered by the poor attitude of the federal government towards the killings, threatened to raise an army to fight back.
The people of the state were not pleased with the development and the Movement Against Fulani Occupation sponsored a bill to ban open grazing.
The state governor, then a member of the APC eventually signed the anti-grazing bill into law on November 1, 2017, an action that pitched Governor Ortom against the federal might.
When the outcry became unbearable, Buhari in March 2018 visited the state capital, Makurdi amid tightened security and begged the people of the state to accommodate their Fulani brothers.
Youths of the state, who could no longer stomach the lackadaisical attitude of the towards the killings blocked the governor from going for further meetings with the APC leaders and Ortom eventually bowed to pressure and joined the PDP.
With this background, it’s likely that the people of the state will see the election as a payback time to punish the federal government over his failure to act when they needed them most.
The Akume factor
The outcome of the presidential election in Benue State would determine the political future of former Governor of the state, now a serving senator, Geroge Akume.
Akume left the PDP after serving as governor between 1999 to 1997 and pitched his tent with the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria.
On the other hand, Akume would be fighting to regain his ground after losing Ortom to the PDP and have a chance to remain relevant on the political scene.
However, many Tiv natives believe that Dajoh, as Akume is fondly called betrayed them during the Benue farmers/herders crises by refusing to speak up.
He might not pull bloc votes for Buhari from this axis. It’s equally not clear a protest vote against APC is possible from the axis.
Many are still of the opinion that Akume commands respect and enjoys large followership in the state. It’s believed that his popularity may put Ortom and other PDP chieftains on their toes come Saturday.
Ortom, David Mark and the rest
No doubt, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom would see the presidential election as an avenue to prove to his people that he has truly left the APC and ready to defend his people against attackers as he has always claimed.
For Benue South, the APC may find it a hard nut to crack because it is the territory of the former Senate President, David Mark and the immediate past Minister of Interior, Abba Moro.
Since the return to democracy in 1999, the Idoma and Igede people have always supported the PDP and might likely not change their mind on Saturday.
Atiku: ‘Zege Mule’ U Tiv; the Benue first son
It is a known fact that former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar is highly loved and regarded as son of Benue State.
In fact, Atiku enjoys one of the highest chieftaincy titles in the state – Zegu Mule U Tiv (The Great Shade of the Tiv).
Aside being married to a Benue daughter, before the election of Ortom on the platform of the APC in 2015, Benue State has been a stronghold of the PDP and might likely queue behind the umbrella.
For Atiku, Benue is a fertile ground.
John Gbor, a Benue son eyeing Buhari seat
Unknown to many, a Benue native, John Gbor is gunning for the presidential stool on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
Gbor had during his campaign promised that his administration would raise Nigeria’s education budget from seven to 26 per cent if elected in the 2019 general election.
Gbor hails from Katsina-Ala Local Government of Benue State and might secure some votes at the polls.
What Benue electorate are saying
When DAILY POST sought for comments from electorate on whom they would support on Saturday, many of the respondents declared their support for Atiku.
Few others went for Buhari, while just one vowed to support ‘their own’ John Gbor of the APC.
In Benue, it is going to be a battle between the people and the power that be.