Catholic priest, Assembly Speaker test popularity

ae alia uba
ae alia uba

All political parties have intensified their campaigns, and the struggle for control of Benue State in the upcoming 2023 governorship elections has officially begun.

In the scheduled March 11, 2023, governorship election, candidates from no fewer than 14 political parties will contest  the number one seat in the “food basket” of Nigeria.

Some of the political parties are: Accord, Action Alliance, African Democratic Congress, Action Democratic Party, All Progressives Congress, and All Progressives Grand Alliance.

Others include the Action Peoples Party, the Labour Party, the New Nigeria Peoples Party, the National Rescue Movement, the Peoples Democratic Party, the Peoples Redemption Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Young Progressive Party, and the Zenith Labour Party.

But political analysts in the state are of the view that the battle may likely be between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and the major opposition All Progressives Congress.

Following the momentum gathered by its presidential candidate, Peter Obi, the Labour Party is also being tipped to become a third force.

As the clock approaches the March 11th governorship election, it is clear that the personality, party, and performance of the PDP-led government will likely determine where the pendulum swings.

The personalities of the candidates are one factor that may decide the winner of the governorship election in the state in 2023. Among the candidates of the three major political parties—the PDP, APC, and Labour Party—the candidate of the APC, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, no doubt stands tall above others. In Benue, the name Alia is the beginning of wisdom for the ruling PDP.

Alia enjoys grassroots popularity in the state; as a Catholic priest who is spiritually endowed with healing ministry, he is said to have been able to apply this for human development, which has greatly endeared him to many people within and beyond the state.

He is also one of the few candidates for the state’s top job who has no blemishes on his record.

Little wonder that his emergence as an APC candidate was well received with joy across party lines and beyond the Catholic Church with ‘Yes Father’ slogan, which spread like fire during the harmattan.

Trying to halt what could be described as an “Alia hurricane,” Titus Uba, the state PDP’s governorship candidate, and the party challenged the process that led to his candidacy in federal and state high courts.

Both courts have dismissed the cases, though reports have it that some have proceeded to appellate court.

The State Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Daniel Ihomou, in a chat with our correspondent, said the strength of the party’s governorship candidate is going to be a great factor.

He said, “Some of the factors that can help us win the election in the state are numerous; the acceptance of our party by the populace; we are also happy that our candidate is well accepted across the board; and we have a strong belief that if the umpire (INEC) conducts a credible election then APC is going to win the election.”

A political analyst, Mr. Benson Donald, said that the priest turned politician’s albatross may be his alliance with the Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, Senator George Akume.

According to him, Akume is believed to always have an overbearing influence on those he helped climb the political ladder; “this singular act severed his relationship with the former state governor and incumbent, Gabriel Suswam and Samuel Ortom, respectively,” Donald said.

But Donald argued that since the minister had a magic wand to install two governors after he exited office in 2007, he is expected to replicate this political prowess and ensure the victory of his party’s candidate in 2023, unless he is retiring from politics.

He said, “Senator Akume became the governor of the state between 1999 and 2007, and since he left office, he has emerged as a political lion in the state. For instance, he has been able to install two governors: his successor, Gabriel Suswam, and the incumbent, Samuel Ortom.”

Meanwhile, the PDP candidate, who is also the incumbent speaker of the state assembly, Titus Uba, may be leaning on his performance in the assembly as a stabilising factor to sustain the party’s victory in 2023.

Some political pundits argue that Uba’s strength lies in his ability to maintain cordial relationships with the executive branch of government; their argument is that his humility in both public and private life may work in his favor.

Though Uba came fourth in the mock primary conducted in the Jechira axis in the build-up to the party primary, with the support of both the national chairman of the party and the state governor, Senator Iyorchia Ayu and Samuel Ortom, respectively, he emerged as the PDP governorship candidate.

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James Terwase, a political analyst, said that despite the “cold war” between the national chairman and the state governor, “one thing I am sure of is that the two personalities will bury their hatchets and work for Uba to win the forthcoming governorship election.”

Herman Hembe is the Labour Party’s governorship candidate. The Labour Party prides itself on being a third force. Hembe, a member of the House of Representatives, is weaving his chances of winning the governorship election around his control of his constituency, the Jechira federal constituency, forgetting that the state is larger than just the two local government areas that make up the Jechira federal constituency.

He has been dangling his manifestos, which include the abolition of local government joint accounts and autonomy for the third tier of government, to the people of the state, knowing full well that successive governments have used this to impoverish the people at the grassroots.

Whether this will guarantee his victory in the forthcoming governorship election remains uncertain; only time will tell. Unfortunately, the momentum the party gained in the state over the past few months seems to be fizzling out.

But a staunch supporter of the Labour Party in the state, Dominic Hembaor, said that the party’s governorship candidate has what it takes to turn the tables against the ruling PDP.

Donald was quick to say that the party doesn’t have the structure on the ground to make any meaningful impact in the forthcoming governorship election.

He said, “All these impressions by the supporters of the Labour Party to show surprise in the coming general elections still look like mirages to me because they don’t have any structure. When playing politics in Nigeria, you cannot wish away structure. That is why I said the battle is between the PDP and the APC.”

In 2017, Ortom jettisoned the APC platform and reunited with the PDP.

Prior to his victory at the 2015 poll, Ortom was a beautiful bride who enjoyed tremendous support from the people of the state; he was seen as a messiah who could turn around the fortunes of the state for the better.

Individual perceptions differ on whether Governor Ortom has been able to meet the aspirations that compelled the people to give him their mandate in 2015 and 2019.

But one thing that stands out from his performances is his gallant stand against the oppressors of the state, as well as his administration’s bold step to enact and enforce the anti-open grazing law despite huge criticism and threats to his life.

Since the major purpose of government is the protection of lives and property, Ortom’s administration has been able to weather the storm and reduce the activities of mercenaries in the state.

The PDP publicity secretary in the state, Bemgba Lortyom, alluded to this when he described the gallant posture of the governor as “the tonic that would ensure victory for the party in the forthcoming governorship election.”

He said since the essence of government is the protection of lives and property of the people of the state, the PDP-led government has done that.

“Our track record, in the contemporary setting of our party, represents the interests of the core Benue man, particularly in the area of personal security, which has become a major issue in Nigeria.

“Our stand for the safety of Benue people’s lives and property is made possible by the anti-open grazing law, which we are determined to uphold.

“We are aware that the opposition is planning to repeal the law, but we are determined to sustain it,” Lortyom said.

Though the PDP government and its supporters in the state have easily dubbed the APC the “Miyetti Allah Party,” which could have spelled doom for the opposition party, the PDP government’s failure to pay workers’ salaries on time has shattered this illusion.

Residents of the state, particularly civil servants and pensioners, were of the opinion that the havoc the non-payment of salary, pension allowance, and gratuities has wreaked is worse than the impression given by the governor and his party, and they now see it as an executive way of driving politics in the state.

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