FOR HISTORY – An Overview of the Benue Elections

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Suswam (PDP) 590, 756        Steven Ugbah (ACN) 499, 319

After a whole season of interesting campaigns that was filled with the usual thrills that election periods are known for and more, the elections have come and gone, for now. The times have been very interesting in Benue and it seems that for the first time the citizenry came to know the importance of their votes. Well, not just them but the contenders for power too. It all started with the voter education that was done by several people and the popularisation of the various slogans for the 2011 election promised: ‘One person, one vote’ ‘Let every vote count’ ‘Let your vote count.’ People were informed that if they wanted to cause a change, they should make sure they vote and put in the person they want so that they would control the person instead of any one godfather or the other. There was a large turnout in election registration that saw sons and daughters in the Diaspora come back home. Those who didn’t came back in the end to campaign for those in whom they had belief and also educate their people. The registration figures were put by the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Alhaji Nasir O. Ayilara at 2,218,105 (Zone A 834,273; Zone B 781,380; Zone C 602,452) with Makurdi having the largest number at 225,260 and Ohimini having the least at 32,567.

The beginning of the elections was marked with a few controversies including the mysterious death of Jonathan Biam, the All Nigeria’s People’s Party (ANPP) gubernatorial candidate who was looked at as a formidable threat to the incumbent Governor Gabriel Suswam. Cyanide was allegedly put into a microphone that he spoke into at an occasion. The result was fatal. There was also the infamous defection the immediate past Governor of the state, Senator George Akume from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) to the Action Congress of Nigeria. Along with him was incumbent Senator Joseph Akaagerger whose senatorial ticket (Zone A) was won by former PDP National Chairman, Chief Barnabas Gemade, and Onoja who was contesting the Zone C Senatorial Ticket with Senate President, David Mark. Several other top names like Dr. Iyorchia Ayu and Senator J.K.N Waku also decamped along with these heavyweights. The general slogan for the ACN became ishor chenji (the game has changed). Several people wondered if there was really any change when the ‘new faces’ were the same old faces of the PDP. It seemed like a contest between a team A and team B – maybe a friendly match. There was an infusion of some new faces into the political scene of particular interest, Professor Steven Ugbah, a Professor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship Systems at the California State University, USA. Ugbah became the ACN gubernatorial flag bearer. Other gubernatorial candidates include the 2007 runner-up Professor Daniel Saror (ANPP), Maj. Gen. John W. Gbor, Engr. Bisibi Atii (CPC), Rev. Samuel Adzongo (ADC) and Mrs. Victoria Puusu (APGA). These were not looked at as serious threats due to several weaknesses which included campaign structures that weren’t strong. As such, their campaign venues usually had a few people in attendance. As such, the major tussle was between ACN and PDP.

The hostilities that began to emerge soon after showed that there was going to be nothing friendly about the contests as there were serious campaigns and wanton violence and destruction of properties in the state. Billboards and campaign posters were destroyed severally in broad day light. There was also the incidence of the burial of the Ter Kwande, James Adzape. Thugs, said to be loyal to PDP were extremely violent and dealt with several people. Opposition vehicles were also destroyed in full glare of everyone. In Gboko, some ACN supporters’ houses were razed with Onov Tyulugh being the prominent of them all. Governor Suswam’s convoy was also attacked during the period. After a while, claims and counter claims of violence on each side were traded between the ACN and PDP. Strange though, top men of the two parties including Suswam and Akume kept preaching non-violence while warning the opposing party that they would retaliate if they were pushed to the wall.

The elections came and was met with a surprising huge turn-out on the first day scheduled for the elections, 2nd April, 2011, which was postponed to Monday 4th and later 9th. Several people came in from outside the state to cast their votes. The postponement came as a blow to the parties as a lot of money was spent on the eve of the 2nd and 4th. Some party members went about trying to do a last minute buy of the love of people. The postponement meant a re-buying of the electorate on the 8th. The National Assembly elections of the 9th did not have the impressive turn-out of 2nd April but was successful in many areas, with postponements in a few areas. The PDP candidates, Senator David Mark and Chief Barnabas Gemade won the Senatorial elections in the two zones contested on the day viz. Zone A and Zone C respectively. This was against cries of malpractice by Chief Onoja and Senator Akaagerger. The ACN won a few seats but controversially had its candidate, Hon. Clement Uhondo, lose the Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency seat to the incumbent Hon. Emmanuel Jime. Uhondo of the ACN had a clear lead from the vote count in Makurdi. He however lost the seat to Jime when the votes from Guma (that he is ironically from) came in. Jime’s lead in Guma gave him the victory.

694776 – Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP); 109680 – Consensus for Positive Change (CPC); 8592 – All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP); 223007 – Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)

The Presidential elections came without much trouble and so much concern. President Jonathan won the elections by a large margin according to several people, in large part due to the failure of opposition leaders to give their followers a direction to follow. Others claimed that it was as a result of a belief in the President, not his party as became the new slogan of the PDP ‘Show me your President, I will show you your Governor.’

All became set for the grand election of all – the gubernatorial elections and the Zone B Senatorial election between Senator George Akume and another incumbent legislator, one time House of Representatives Speaker Pro Tempore, Hon. Terngu Tsegba. Campaigns started anew with renewed vigour. The CPC candidate stepped down for Suswam. The major contenders kept their fight as they traversed the state campaigning with Tsegba being the least visible of all the ‘giants.’ The elections came with a huge flow of traffic from without into the state. It seemed as if every member of Benue state came back for the elections. There was full voter turn-out on the day of elections. People conducted themselves well and to their credit, were as orderly as possible. It seemed as if the casting of ballots would not end as queues remained steadily long. It finally came to an end and most voters stayed with the INEC officials into the night waiting to have their votes counted. The results were announced the next day by the State Returning Officer, Professor Vershima Uza, who is also the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi. The Senate seat of Zone B went unsurprisingly to Senator George Akume. The state assembly seats were shared largely between the ACN and PDP. The Gubernatorial election had votes spread to the various contending parties with the ACN and PDP coming out top of the pack (with a combined total of 1,090,075 out of the 1,110,606 valid votes cast) with Steve Ugbah (ACN) 499, 319 and Suswam (PDP) 590, 756. Governor Suswam was declared the Governor-elect.

There were some dirty tricks played by politicians and a few others that foreran the elections that showed that there would be problems. The first was the usual use of state funds to execute campaigns by the incumbent. It was so bad that some PDP officials boasted openly of the availability of these means. There was also buying of voter registration cards by agents loyal to the PDP. There were also slight intimidations like billboards that showed that if people did not vote in the ruling party, they would be ‘out of the mainstream politics’ and therefore, suffer. There were security concerns made prominent by the violence (explained above) and assassination threats to several of the opposition stalwarts (After the election though, there have been reports in some quarters of plans to eliminate some of the key figures who worked to have Governor Suswam re-elected). The Suswam WAEC certificate scandal is also looked upon by many as a dirty trick by the opposition. He however did his best at clearing his name especially through the state Commissioner of Information, Mrs. Diana Ochoga. Several civil servants, particularly those of high ranks (Permanent Secretaries) were also seen to be actively involved in politics, on the incumbent and opposing side which is not in line with the constitution which requires that they remain neutral. The involvement of traditional rulers in politics has also been looked at being very wrong especially as these leaders are meant to be fathers to all. The open stance of some of these Royal Highnesses is not right or in line with tradition that encourages an embracing of all. In villages though, these people were said to have called their people to support particular people and shun others depending on those favoured by the same royal Lord.

The celebrated case of disregard of Senator Akume for the Tor Tiv (the paramount ruler of the Tiv people), Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula comes to mind at this juncture. A meeting of Tiv elders was called and it was declared that Akume had lost the favour of the throne for desecration of tradition. It was also pronounced that he would not win any political seat in Tiv land. This is similar to what was done to another prominent Tiv politician, Wanteregh Paul Unongu, who since then has not won any elective post in Tiv land despite his seeming goodwill and popularity among the people. Ironically, his last outing was against Senator Akume in the 2003 Benue gubernatorial elections. (Despite the pronouncement, Akume won the Senatorial seat of Zone B – which is core Tiv land and comprising of Gboko, the traditional stool of the Tiv kingdom and location of the Tor Tiv’s palace.)

But it wasn’t all dirty as this election season brought about development. The opposition started a development spree that saw to the donation of transformers to different places. Cash donations were also made to churches and aid given in several places. This led to the Suswam led government to match this magnanimity. There is the popular renovation of the LGEA school in Wurukum in addition to the donation of cash to different institutions by the Governor. The continuing strength of the opposition also led the Governor to become more visible. He spoke on projects which people hardly knew he was executing. He explained a lot of the decisions of his government and gave reasons why they had been taken.

Then came the elections. Despite the ‘free’ and ‘fair’ stance that Professor Jega’s elections have been hailed, there were cases and also, rumours of several hitches in the state particularly in sub-urban areas as urban centres like Makurdi and Oturkpo had smooth elections without hitches. As explained above, there was the money (bribe) for vote culture. Several people were paid, particularly a day to the election so as to fully ‘convince’ them to support particular candidates. Officials, particularly those in charge of local governments, were also said to have been given some ‘gifts’ and ‘nice’ treatment by powerful officials. Politicians also provided refreshments and offered some niceties on Election Day to reduce the stress of the voters who stayed in the sun in the vote. The appreciation was to of course, thumb ‘right.’

There was also intimidation of voters as many were sent away from polling units by fierce looking people after confirmation of their loyalties to a differing party. On the final day of the election, it was rumoured that a man was killed in Demekpe, Makurdi while trying to snatch a ballot box and that some top officials of some parties were beaten to good behaviour for the sake of fair conduct of elections in some parts of the state.

Ignorance was also played on greatly. Now, it might seem quite easy but the new thumbprint ‘thing’ is still a wonder to several people especially in the more rural parts. People who were not so knowledgeable asked how to thumbprint and had their thumbs placed on the inkpad and told ‘Like this’ with their thumbprint forcefully put on the party of this ‘shower.’ Fortunately, for most of these voters, it happened once. It brings to mind the case of an old Baba who was told to come and ‘learn’ again. The vehemence that accompanied his reply was enough to allow him have his legitimate say…

Despite all these, all the seats in Benue have found declared winners. There is no doubt that several litigations are going to take place – are in fact, in process. There is a hearing on May 20th to determine the case of Suswam’s certificate forgery instituted against by a PDP gubernatorial candidate who lost at the primaries, Terna Kakih. Many people are counting on history to aid those they support. The ACN faithful keep reminding everyone that the party never loses governorship cases while the PDP faithful aver that no government has been thrown out. Whichever way, the coin tosses; there is no doubt that history is going to be made. The Senatorial seats (Zone A and C), some Representative seats as well as some other positions are also in contention and it would be unwise for anyone to start celebrating as both the incumbent and opposition claim to have damning evidence against the other. Senator Akaagerger already has his case in court alleging all the above mentioned electoral crimes including ballot snatching and stuffing. It seems interesting times still await the electorate. Whoever comes in, there is also the knowledge that the Benue electorate is now well informed and watching. No mismanagement would go without notice and before a blink, it would be 2015 and time again to pay the price. With the look of events and INEC’s new face, it seems like things are set to be better then. Well, it is still 2011 and it doesn’t look like the electoral adventure of the polls is over. What everyone can do is simply to sit, and not just watch, but pay keen interest.

The Benue people have gained tremendously from the influx of the opposition as the government was awakened to its duties. It is hoped that there would always be an active opposition that would keep the government on its toes and be as people friendly. Hopefully, we wouldn’t have to wait for this opposition in 2015. Meanwhile, we would be watching and reminding our leaders of the power of our votes. God bless Benue and raise her to far greater heights, Amen.

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