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Suswam, Gemade and the Battle for Benue North East Senatorial Seat

As the 2015 general election approaches, one contest that is drawing a lot of interest in Benue State is the impending battle between Governor Gabriel Suswam and the incumbent senator for Benue North East senatorial zone, Chief Barnabas Gemade. The position has generated much debate since Suswam made an open declaration about three weeks ago for the position. Suswam was reported to have said that only God could stop him from occupying the Benue North East seat in 2015
Though, Gemade has remained quiet over his strategy to retain the position, pundits say he is going to fight the battle of his life to maintain the seat he has held since 2011.

To try to actualise his desire to move to the senate in 2015, when his tenure as governor will end, Suswam has embarked on meetings with selected individuals and groups. Some of the meetings were also with the intention of recruiting foot soldiers ahead of the party primaries and to weed out those that may not support his ambition.

Suswam has continued to reach out to top politicians in PDP and Action Congress of Nigeria. So far several members of APC from the zone have defected to PDP to support of Suswam’s ambition. Recently, top ranking members of APC in the state, including Senator David Iornem and the former Speaker of the Benue State House of the Assembly, Hon. Mzenda Iho, moved to PDP with thousands of their supporters in an elaborate rally in Ushongo and Katsina, two very important local government area of the North East zone.

An interesting dimension to the contest is the zoning of the senatorial seat in the district. Under the longstanding principle of zoning among the three blocs that exist in the zone, the position, according to a source, is meant for the Kwande. If this principle is applied strictly, both Suswam and Gemade are not even supposed to contest for the position.

But in the predominantly Tiv political landscape the system of borrowing positions is widely practised. Thus, even though Suswam and Gemade may not be entitled to the seat on account of the zoning system, both can approach the Kwande people to loan the seat from them. A source said the Kwande people had largely accepted a deal with Suswam, but they have asked for some other top political offices. One of the demands is for Suswam to support their quest for the governorship or, in the alternative, help them to get the state’s ministerial slot.

The Kwande axis, which comprises two local government areas of Ushongo and Kwande, are billed to play a deciding role in the choice of the PDP candidate. It is expected that Suswam would comfortably win the Sankera three local government areas of Ukum, Logo and Katsina-Ala if he chooses to contest, while Gemade is expected to win in his Jechira axis of Konshisha and Vandeakya with an intensive campaign. So the real battle will be in Kwande.

Opposition Stronghold
Kwande is also known as the stronghold of the opposition parties in the state. THISDAY investigation revealed that the axis might not be keen on fielding a candidate for the senatorial race within the PDP. They may be preparing to use the APC platform during the general election to win the senate seat in what they describe as their rightful position.
Already, Chief Adaa Maagbe of the defunct NITEL and a strong member of the former Action Congress of Nigeria – now APC – is a front runner for the APC ticket.

APC appears weakened due to the fallout of its last congresses. There were serious disagreements between Senator George Akume and other top leaders of the party over the way the congress was conducted. Akume was accused of singlehandedly handpicking the ward, local government and state executives of the party. This led many members of the party to defect to PDP.

Iornem had said regarding his defection to PDP, after 22 years in the opposition, “A cabal has taken over the party and they have refused to listen to the voice of reason so as to return to the right path, preferring rather to work towards turning the party into a personal business of one individual
“Hence, the APC is no longer the party we founded as the Action Congress (later Action Congress of Nigeria). It has lost meaning and focus and is bedeviled by leadership failure.”

He said, “Considering my intellectual investment and time in the building of the APC in Benue State and Nigeria at large, the decision to quit is tough and weighty. But my task has been made easier by the wider acceptance of my decision by my followers and supporters.”
Iornem commended Suswam for assuring him of a space in the PDP.

However, feeling largely undaunted by Suswam’s attempt to take over his seat, Gemade has been traversing his constituency to consolidate his control. Sources say the former PDP national chairman may be banking on his close relationship with the party hierarchy in Abuja to stop Suswam. A PDP source revealed that the party may consider Gemade’s status as its former chairman and board of trustees member to persuade Suswam to leave the position for him.

Speaking to THISDAY on the issue, an analyst, Philip Agbese, disclosed that both Gemade and Suswam could work out a compromise. Agbese said, “Gemade has had a long run in service to the public and the people of the senatorial district and has age on his side. Returning to the senate would imply forcing Suswam into retirement. Should such happen, it would be a disservice to Benue State as a whole, as the people are counting on Suswam not to retire prematurely in view of what he has been able to achieve within the period he has served. Even if this were to happen it does not mean that the governor cannot emerge from retirement to again to serve the people, but it is best at this stage not to create such vacuum.”

On the other hand, Gemade’s absence from the senate would deprive the people of the state the personality of a much needed elder statesman, whom the younger politicians can approach for suggestions. “We are all witnesses to what the absence of such elderly counsel has plunged some states of the country into and this is a path we best not tread,” Agbese said.

But Agbese also feels, “Gemade, the incumbent senator for Zone A, would have rendered a greater service to the people of Benue Zone A by allowing his son, Suswam, to answer the people’s clarion call. Acceding to this appeal by no means implies political weakness but would go a long way to confirm Gemade as an elder statesman with maturity, strength and in character. It takes such courage to allow one’s son, politically speaking, ascend to higher office while one takes the elder statesman role.”
On the whole, the struggle between Suswam and Gemade for the Benue North East senatorial seat promises to be a titanic battle.

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