George Okoh, in Makurdi, looks at the hopefuls trying to succeed Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam and the permutations ahead of the 2015 governorship election
Come May 2015, Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam will be handing over the mantle of leadership to another person, having spent the maximum constitutional two terms of eight years in office. There are many hopefuls struggling for a place in the governorship contest, but 12 appear to be in the frontline.
Whoever will take over from Suswam will be expected to carry the people’s hopes for improved welfare and security. He will also carry the investors’ hopes for far-reaching economic reforms. Suswam has been able to shoulder these to the admiration of many in Benue State since 2007.
The governor, widely described as one of the country’s few state chief executives that hit the ground running, has had an impressive record. He brought a speedy sense of administrative efficiency and introduced a range of infrastructural development in the areas of road construction, hospital buildings, and water plants across the state. He has promoted agricultural production in the areas in which the state has comparative advantage.
So there is a huge stake among the people in the choice of the person who would succeed Suswam. The electorate are looking forward to a successor that will better, rather than retard, the achievements of the governor.
There is a high political awareness in the state. Therefore, there are a number of factors that will determine who the successor of Suswam will be.
The political equation in the state has over time favoured a zoning system, even though it has mainly being among the two Tiv-dominated, hugely population zones of Benue North East and Benue North West. However, the prevailing belief now is that since the two Tiv speaking zones have governed in the persons of Senator George Akume (1999-2007) and Suswam (2007-date), it is only fair to give the opportunity to Benue South, which is largely Idoma, to produce the next governor.
The only obstacle to the Benue South agitation may be the governorship aspiration of a Tiv sub-tribe, which feel they have been alienated. This feeling is based on the fact that of the five families that make up the Tiv lineage, the Masev, Ihiarev, Nongov, collectively known as the MINDA, have not produced a governor of the state since its creation in 1976. The other four members of the Tiv family have ruled the state and so there is sympathy among the Tiv electorate for the MINDA to succeed Suswam before power could rotate Benue South.
Besides zoning, other factors expected to shape the emergence of the next governor of Benue State are political experience and educational background.
Based on the above factors, the following are among the strong contenders for the governorship seat ahead of 2015.
Dr. Samuel Ortom is the current Minister of State Trade and Investment and Supervising Minister of Aviation. As Christian, he is reputed to be very religious and friendly.
As a member of PDP, Ortom went through the ranks to emerge the party’s national auditor before his appointment as a minister. He is popular among the electorate and has been going about the consultation for his governorship ambition very quietly.
Although, there is a belief in some quarters that Ortom may elect to shelve his governorship ambition and remain in the President Goodluck Jonathan government.
Ortom has a good relationship with the incumbent governor, Senate President David Mark, who is also a Benue indigene, and the Presidency. This has led to yet another suspicion in some quarters that he might have been endorsed for the governorship.
A trained journalist, former publisher and entrepreneur, Ortom is a doctorate degree holder. He has indicated that agriculture and industrialisation of the state would be his main focus if he is elected governor.
He is from Guma Local Government Area and of the MINDA stock.
Honourable Sam Ode has been in politics for over two decades. He started politics at a very young age. He was Minister of State Niger Delta in the early period of the Jonathan administration. He is popular in the state for the jobs he did while he was special adviser to the state governor on Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. Under his stewardship, there was a local government reform, which has been hailed as one of the best achievements of the local government system in the Suswam administration.
His admirers view his candidacy as the best option for the state, as he is of Tiv and Idoma parentage. His father is a Tiv from Oturkpo Local Government Area, while his mother, an Idoma, is from Ushongu Local Government Area.
Ode is well connected and has promised to bring his connections to bear in the state, especially in the area of infrastructural development, youth training and empowerment, education, health, and agriculture, if elected governor.
A doctorate degree holder, Ode is currently chairman of Lower Niger Development Authority. He is from a popular Idoma family in Otukpo, Benue South senatorial district. He is close to Governor Suswam.
Chief Steven Lawani is the current deputy governor of the state and acclaimed strongman of Ogbadigbo politics. An experienced politician and businessman before joining the Suswam government, he was deputy chairman of the defunct National Republican Convention. Lawani is believed to be the most experienced politician currently in the governorship race. He had contested the PDP primaries in 2007 against Suswam and others.
Lawani has good political structures across the state and he was the first to pick his campaign coordinators in the local government areas. His supporters argue that he would be in the best position to continue and further the achievements of the Suswam government.
A finance and economy expert, and former chairman of Savana Bank and Manny Bank, Lawani hails from Ogbadigbo in Benue South.
Prince Terhemem Tarzoor is a former Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly. He has been elected twice into the Assembly to represent Makurdi North Constituency.
At 42, Tarzoor is the youngest of all the governorship aspirants. He was one of the first aspirants to start a statewide consultation in support of his ambition, and he is believed to have a lot of acceptance among the electorate. He is an economist by training and says his focus would be on agriculture, job creation, and empowerment. He is currently undertaking a course for his doctoral degree. Tarzoor is a prince of Makurdi and is of the MINDA extraction.
Dr. Gabriel Tivlumun Nyitse was Permanent Secretary, Government House Administration, until January, when he voluntarily retired from the Benue State civil service to contest the 2015 governorship election on the platform of PDP. Born on July23, 1960, Nyitse, who hails from Guma local government, has had a distinguished career in the civil service. A former zonal editor of the Concord and Voice newspapers, he is an experienced administrator. His work as permanent secretary in the Government House is believed to be an added advantage to him in the knowledge of the workings of government.
Nyitse is from Guma Local Government Area and he is of the MINDA section.
Dr. Hinga Biam
Dr. Hinga Biam is a former Permanent Secretary, Bureau of Internal Affairs, Benue State. An experienced administrator, he has been prominent in government circles for over 30 years. Some believe he is one of the choices on the wish list of the governor. A top journalist, who has said he would turn the economy of the state around through agriculture and establishment of cottage industries, Biam, from Gwer East, is of the MINDA stock.
Paul Harris Ogbole, a lawyer from the Adoka part of Otukpo Local Government Area, is the son of a famous jurist in the state. He has just completed his tenure as a commissioner in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Known for his humane disposition, Ogbole has important friends across the state. He is in private practice as co-partner in a law firm in which Suswam is believed to have an interest. Ogbole says the development of education would be his main focus if he becomes governor.
Dr. Ugim Aliegba
Dr. Ugim Aliegba, a university don, is an associate professor at the Benue State University. He had been a commissioner in the state executive council since 2007 and only quit last month to pursue his governorship ambition. Aliegba has the backing of many members of the state executive council. Aliegba, from Gwer West in the MINDA area, has promised to give priority attention to education if elected governor.
Mr. Felix Atume, the immediate past registrar of Council for Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), has indicated his interest to vie for the Benue State governorship position in 2015. Atume, who is currently embarking on wide consultation with stakeholders across the state says he is prepared to serve the agrarian state in a capacity that would improve the lives of the common people.
Atume, a former Commissioner for Works in the state, says he would build on the existing legacy of past and present administrations in the state. He has particularly emphasised his preparedness to continue projects in the areas of electricity and construction of roads and bridges, which he had brought to several communities in the state during his days as Director General of Benue Rural Development Agency. He is from Gwer West, in the MINDA region.
Mrs. Ada Chenge, an engineer and doctoral degree holder, is contesting for the governorship position for the second time. She enjoys a lot of support in the state, particularly from Vandeakya and Ogbadigbo local government areas. Her husband is from Vandeakya while she hails from Ogbadigbo in Benue South.
Chenge is currently the only strong female aspirant in the race. She is a former General Manager of Benue Water Board and present Managing Director of Benue River Basin Development Authority. A chieftaincy title holder in her community, Chenge says she would prioritise healthcare and provision of water if elected governor.
Honourable Emmanuel Jime, a lawyer, is so far the only notable All Progressives Congress aspirant in the governorship race. A former speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly and two-time member of the House of Representative, Jime only recently defected from PDP to APC and he is viewed as the likely candidate of the party. Following the impact the ACN – one of the major partners in the APC merger – made during the last general elections in the state, Jime’s chances are bright. From Makurdi in the MINDA area, Jime has promised to bring policies that would bring the majority of the people out of poverty if he becomes governor.