The fresh agitation and quest for power to shift to Benue South, one of the three senatorial districts in Benue State, popularly known as Zone C, appear to be gathering momentum as the 2023 General Election is gradually drawing closer.
Since the creation of Benue State on February 3, 1976 by the late General Murtala Mohammed, the Benue South Senatorial District mainly peopled by the Idomas, has never been given the chance to produce a governor.
The governorship seat has always rotated between Benue North East and Benue North West predominantly occupied by the Tivs. The Benue North East and Benue North West are otherwise known as Zone A and Zone B respectively.
The Tiv ethnic group has 14 Local Government Areas (LGAs) spread in Zone A and B (seven in each of the two zones). The Idomas, who are the second largest tribe in the state, have 7 and Igede ethnic group is in 2, giving a total of 9 LGAs that make up Benue South Senatorial District (Zone C).
The population of Benue State, according to the 2006 census, was 4,253,641. Of this figure, Zone A had 1,513,660, Zone B 1,432,334 and Zone C 1,307, 647. The projected population of the state by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2016 is 5,741,600. The Benue North East projected figure is 2,043,200, Benue North West 1,933,500 and Benue South 1,764,900.
Whichever population figure is considered, Zone C (which comprises the Idomas and Igedes) is obviously the least populated among the three senatorial zones – about 30% of Benue population. Zone A and B peopled by the Tiv is about 70% of the state population. This explains why the Tivs have tenaciously held on to power making it hard for anyone from Zone C to become governor in the state over 45 years after it was created.
However, the people of Benue South believe that the time has indeed come for their Tiv brothers and sisters to allow them have a feel of the coveted seat, hence the renewed agitation for power shift to Zone C in 2023.
Various groups and individuals have risen up in pursuit of the actualization of the Benue 2023 project for zone C. They are doing everything possible to persuade the people of Benue North East and Benue North West to, for the sake of fairness and equity, give a person of Benue South extraction the chance to be governor in 2023.
Comrade Patrick Abba Moro, an erstwhile Minister of Interior, who has been a very potent voice for the people of Benue South in the Senate since he became their senator in June 2019, is in the forefront of the agitation for power shift to Zone C. The senator with an outstanding record of achievements by way of bills, motions and empowerment programmes, aimed at bettering the lives of the masses, sees his advocacy for power shift to Benue South as part of his responsibility to speak for his constituents.
Moro, in the current agitation, made his first open plea for a governor of Benue South origin at the Benue State Congress of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in August last year. He used the event which had the incumbent Governor Samuel Ortom and some other prominent Benue citizens in attendance, to implore political leaders in the state to pluck up the courage to support someone from Benue South to be governor come 2023.
Speaking with unmitigated boldness at the gathering, the Benue South Senator said: “Today, I stand on behalf of the good people of Benue South Senatorial District to say that as we set the stage and march towards 2023, the good people of Benue South asked me, if I come here, to say that they crave the indulgence of the Benue people to support somebody from the Benue South Senatorial District to become Benue Governor in 2023.
“Your Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it’s my pleasure to say here that by all calculations that our amiable Governor (Samuel Ortom) is the fifth Governor of Benue State of the Tiv speaking area of the Royal families.
“I, therefore, plead with our brothers from Zones A and B to support someone from Benue South to become Governor, even if it’s for just one term. Today, we are on the threshold of history, and I urge our political leaders to pick up the courage to support one of us to become Governor, to build inclusiveness in the Benue State and the Benue of our dreams.
“All of you know that a Tiv man, the revered JS Tarka, fought for the minorities, and therefore, I call on our Tiv brothers and sisters to pick up from where our revered statesman (late Senator Joseph Sarwuan Tarka) stopped by making 2023 a year where Benue will build new inclusiveness. A year where the Benue people will say ‘enough is enough’, that we are one people because we work together, and together we stand stronger.”
Since he fired the first shot at the Benue PDP congress in 2020, Moro has remained vociferous in the push for Benue South to be given a chance to produce the governor of Benue State in 2023. He has never shied away from making a strong case for power to shift to Benue South at every opportunity that comes his way.
In a recent interview widely published in national newspapers and online media, the senator insisted that nothing should stop his fellow Benue citizens in Zone A and B from allowing Zone C to taste the governorship seat come 2023.
According to him, “Apparently all the kindred houses in the Tiv speaking area in zones A and B have become governor. One person in each of the kindred – five of them – have become governor. So, in 2023 we expect that if we believe sincerely in the corporate existence of Benue State somebody from Benue South should be supported to become governor.
“In the past, because elections are about numbers and the Zones A and B have the numbers to always win elections, one Chief Godwin Daboh of blessed memory, had postulated that a person or persons of the Benue South Senatorial District will only be supported to become governor after the five kindred houses, royal houses, ruling houses of the Tiv speaking area become governor. And like I said in my first advocacy, at that time some of us felt it was eternity. Some of us felt that it was too long away. And it was never going to come. But it has come. A current governor of Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom is from the last ruling house of the Tiv speaking people to become governor. And that is why we find it auspicious at this time to ask to be supported to become governor. Because the five houses that have been the basis for not supporting a person from the Benue South have produced governor.
“We are not all made up of mediocres. We have meritable people. We have people who have the intelligence, the educational qualification, the acumen, all the qualities that the governor should possess. Therefore, this time around we are insisting that we should be supported. And I am saying personally that this time around we must talk. The people of Benue must talk. We must debate. We must negotiate. And if somebody from Benue South is not going to be governor, I will insist that our brothers should give us reasons why, because we are part and parcel of Benue State.
“We have been supporting our brothers from Zones A and B to become governors without questions. In the last election for instance, nobody from Benue South contested against the governor for his second term. And so, I think that the message is sinking. The advocacy is becoming more intense and aggressive because the awareness is there already that this is the time – like an idea whose time has come. I will continue to talk to our brothers and sisters and other stakeholders too will continue to talk. And at the end of the day, we expect that the people of Benue will see reason to support a candidate from Zone C.”
On the level of response from the people of the two zones made up of the Tivs, the lecturer turned politician said: “Frankly, and to be fair to them, sizeable number of persons in Zones A and B agreed that this is the time to shift power to Benue South. Even within Zones A and B, there are advocacy groups now that are springing up – The Benue Patriot, for instance. The Benue patriot is made up essentially of very prominent Benue sons and daughters – former House of Reps members, former House of Assembly members, former Commissioners, former advisers, former special assistants to the government of Benue State – all of them are there from across the three zones of Benue. That is to tell you the level of acceptance or resonation that has taken place since the advocacy started.
“So, this is a Benue project. It is not just about Zone C. Power shift to Zone C, Benue South is now a Benue project embraced by a sizeable number of Benue citizens. Even current members of the National Assembly, majority of them are in agreement in principle that this is the right thing to do in 2023. And in the Benue State House of Assembly you can find a sizeable number of them. Therefore, I think that the agitation for power shift to Benue South is on course. And as the Senator representing the Benue South people, I am in the forefront.”
In spite of the understanding so far believed to have been shown by major stakeholders in Benue politics from Zone A and B on the need for power to move to Benue South in 2023, there are those from the Tiv speaking area not yielding to the pressure being mounted by Zone C for power to shift.
For instance, the Jechira people, a Tiv political bloc in Vandeikya and Konshisha Local Government Areas of Benue North East are joining forces to produce the next governor after Ortom who is from Benue North West (Zone B). They think the Idoma-dominated Benue South should not be talking about powershift in 2023 when Jechira has not had a real feel of the governorship seat.
Comrade Dan Nyikwagh, President of Jechira Gubernatorial Movement (JGM), a consultation group that has reportedly been going round the other Tiv ruling houses to solicit for their support, had dismissed the claim that Jechira has produced a governor. He insisted that the period the late Rev. Fr. Moses Adasu served was a military transition under former President Ibrahim Babangida.
Nyikwagh said: “George Akume from Jemgba ruled for eight years under Obansanjo, Gabriel Suwam from Sankera also ruled for eight years under Yar’ Adua/Goodluck Jonathan,while Governor Samuel Ortom who is from Minda intermediate area is serving out his eight years under President Muhammadu Buhari. So, our contention is that Adasu ruled under military transition and Jechira should be allowed to produce the next Governor.”
Also, some persons from the Kwande bloc consisting of Kwande and Ushongo LGAs in Benue North East are arguing that upon the completion of Ortom’s tenure in 2003, the governorship seat should return to them, having gone round the five Tiv ruling houses. The Kwande bloc produced the first Executive Governor of Benue State in the person of late Appolos Aper Aku from Ushongo who was in office between October 1, 1979 and December 31, 1983.
Jemgba (Gboko, Buruku and Tarka) had Brigadier General Atom Kpera from Gboko (January 4, 1984 – August 28, 1985) and Senator George Akume from Tarka (May 29, 1999 – May 29, 2007). Jechira produced Rev. Fr. Moses Adasu from Konshisha (Jan. 2, 1992 – Nov. 17, 1993). Sankera (Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Logo) have had Gabriel Suswam from Logo (May 29, 2007 – May 29, 2015). The incumbent Governor Ortom is from the Minda ruling house which is comprised of Makurdi, Guma, Gwer East and Gwer West LGAs.
The widely held view amongst many observers of Benue politics is that the Idomas have a justifiable reason to agitate for power to shift to Benue South in 2023. Right-thinking and fair-minded Nigerians have noted that the stranglehold on power by Zone A and B since 1976 was not only politically unfair, but clearly negates all known principles of justice, equity and fair play.
The question being constantly asked is: Why should the gubernatorial position be the exclusive preserve of the Tiv people in a state where there are other ethnic groups? Even though the majority status of the Tivs confer electoral advantage on them, many have wondered why they are finding it difficult to embrace the spirit of inclusiveness by giving the Idomas and Igedes of Benue South the chance to be governor.
In his words of Ejemba Ogwuche Rexman, a former Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to ex-Deputy Governor of Benue State, Chief Steven Lawani, “The vociferous agitation for power shift in Benue State by the Idoma minority ethnic group of Benue South is as old as the state.
“Fundamentally, the agitation by the Idoma ethic group for a shot at the Benue governorship position is not an aberration; it is for fairness, justice and equity and to give them a sense of belonging in their own state.
“The monopolistic appropriation of the Benue governorship position by the predominant Tiv ethnic group on demographic reason is archaic. Even if politics is a game of numbers, we have witnessed the emergence of a minority as the president of the US. Democracy is about fairness and equity.”
Ex-Governor Suswam now Senator representing Benue North East in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly, had said it was feasible for Zone C to produce the governor in 2023, if the Idoma leaders keep on reaching out to their counterparts in Tiv land. Stressing that it would only take the consensus of both the Tiv and the Idoma ethnic groups for the Benue South governorship project to be realizable, Suswam admonished that the agitation should be done with diplomacy and avoidance of needless social media war.
According to him, “You don’t necessarily need to be antagonistic, you go about it diplomatically, because I have seen some social media write-ups that will not augur well for the agitation. When I was contesting, the Idoma people said NO; they want their own, yet, I would go and stay in Idoma land for one week. So this is not something you tackle with force, it entails diplomacy.”
Michael Jegede, a media professional writes from Abuja