Thursday, 4 December 2014

Benue Guber 2015 focus: A bumpy but traversable journey for APC’s

In the coming days, Nigerian leading political party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) will complete the process of selecting candidates to stand in for the February 2015 elections.

The presidential poll slated for February 14 seems to be getting more national attention in the media, but Nigerians are typically more interested in local elections that produce governors in their domain, for obvious reasons; the governors are directly close to them, hence their decision at the polls will have direct effect on their state and their future.

Observers of politics in Benue State would attest to the fact that election in the state is not only dramatic and theatrical, but also an Armageddon. It’s a period where political gladiators flex muscles and throw dart at one another.

It then becomes expedient to take a peaceful look at the forthcoming election in the state by way of analysis and to have a foreknowledge of what is expected in the 2015 gladiatorial contest in the state.

DAILY POST will painstakingly begin this analysis by looking at the candidacy of Hon Emmanuel Jime.

Hon Emmanuel Jime is one of Nigeria’s most articulate parliamentarians. The lawmaker from the opposition APC is known more for laying clear headed logical positions during debates, than for the pomp and glamour Nigerian politicians are associated with. In a legislature renowned more for the amount of money members blaze around with, identifying any for their stand on national interest issues is a rarity. But, after nearly eight years in the business of law making, Jime has put himself forward for what may turn out to be the most challenging job of his life. He seeks to be governor of Benue State, the central Nigerian State known for its agricultural endowments, but also for wide spread poverty and broken infrastructure.

Jime couldn’t have joined the race for the position of governor of Benue at a more trying time. The state, sixteen years after Nigeria’s post 99 democratic experience and billions of naira piped to it from the federal coffers, groans under a disillusioned workforce (civil servants have yet to be paid since the month of August), acute power shortage (worse than it was decades ago), and grapples with a wave of crime unknown to it since creation. Perhaps the biggest headache a new governor may have to nurse upon succeeding incumbent helmsman, Gabriel Suswam, is the weighty indebtedness of Benue to lenders. A rough estimate places state’s debt profile at over 30 billion naira. This reality would startle both a handpicked successor and one who wins through popular vote.

To be on the ballot on Election Day, Jime has to shake off the challenge of equally sound aspirants in what promises to be a keenly contested primary election within his party. While this looks a doable task to some of his supporters, it won’t come without bumps and maybe burns for the aspirant.

First, some hard-line elements within the APC consider Jime an ‘outsider’ to the party, having defected to the APC from the PDP earlier on in the year. There are those who feel he crossed over to the APC to pluck a hassle free ticket that primes him for the main contest. The legislator himself has never hidden the fact one of his reasons for leaving the PDP is the lack of prospects for a level plying field. The voices against Jime’s APC foray may be few but some have the ears of power brokers in his party. Among them is a retired civil servant, Chief Akange Audu, himself a governorship aspirant, known to be a trusted ally of APC leader in Benue, Senator George Akume. Jime would also have to deal with the discomfort brought by the renewed aspiration of top opposition candidate in the 2011 elections, the charming and soft spoken American university Professor, Steve Ugba. Due to the dynamics of power rotation (something Jime has never built into his campaign), Ugba’s second shot at Benue’s governorship may not pose much threat to Jime’s chances; it could however erect hurdles if not approached with caution.

Then there is the smoldering flame of a speculative defection to the APC of Dr Samuel Ortom, a major PDP contender and former federal Minister. The latter, it was reported plans a last minute cross to the APC to pick its ticket on a plate if he loses out of the PDP contest. Although, the report has been pointedly denied by Ortom’s handlers, such denials come a dime a dozen in Nigerian politics. Eyes are still on the minister, who many believe backtracked on joining the APC following protests that greeted rumours of his carpet crossing.

These are bound to test Jime’s patience and composure, but the legislator has done a good job of striking the delicate balance between campaigning hard for his aspiration and not ruffling feathers within the party by appearing combative. He has handled this well by calling for fair, open contests. If the party heeds his calls, he stands the best chance of winning.

With days to the governorship primaries, more eyes are focused on the PDP with its long list of heavyweights, many of whom seek to succeed Governor Suswam more by emerging as his handpicked choice than sweating out for delegates count. The APC has fewer contenders but presents an equally interesting race; only Akange Audu, Prof Steve Ugba, Mike Iordye and Senator Waku are in the race with Jime. Waku it is rumoured may have backed down.

Of these four contestants, Jime stands the surest chance of going head to head with the PDP choice; combination of factors make him the safe bet for the opposition if it’s in the race to win it.

 Sainthood can’t be bestowed on Jime, but there is little to ‘demarket’ him with. As a politician, he has kept a largely clean scandal free record that makes it hard for opponents to dent his character. In a clime where smear is fair in the political process, opponents would have a tough call, finding missiles to puncture his integrity.

Track record: As a legislator, Jime’s performance has been deemed outstanding by many. He has proven himself as arguably the brightest parliamentarian Benue State has produced, with a catalogue of top notch legislative bills and constituency projects to his name. This says a thing or two about his work ethic and commitment to a cause and vision, plus he can’t be described from any quarters as short on rich ideas.

Credibility for APC: Jime’s candidacy would initiate a makeover for the APC in Benue. The party and its leadership have been, even if in error, dogged by imposition scandals, infighting and allegations of a lack of vision outside thrashing the PDP. Having a man a man like Jime who doesn’t carry the baggage of a run off the mill politician would restore any lost credibility for the APC in Benue. Also, because he doesn’t carry the toga of a godson, his emergence would rest allegations of imposition within the party, and project Akume as one who has redefined the party’s leadership selection process.

Funds: Nigerian politics is not run solely on ideas and robustness of character, it requires a lot of funding, and dole outs during campaigns (sadly so). While Jime may not be able to match the cash stash of the PDP, he should be able to, with some backing from his party, fund a modest campaign, enough to get his message across the state and part with some freebies rural voters look forward to.

Long walk to success: In fairness to Hon. Jime, he’s done the tedious work of reaching out to his party stakeholders across Benue’ 23 Local Government Areas and has never laid back in the hope he’ll be anointed by kingmakers in the party. He’s deployed massive logistics to his endeavour and sold his candidacy far and wide. No governorship aspirant in the APC has reached out like him. Fact.

Zoning: Jime remains the only contestant from the axis of the state said to be tipped to produce the next governor that has never hinged his campaigns on the unwritten power rotation arrangement termed ‘zoning’. This does not mean he can’t benefit from it by default. One of his main challengers, Prof Ugba comes from same Local Government Area as the outgoing governor and would have a really hard time convincing delegates to put him in government house based on in spite of where he comes from. Ugba has publicly displayed some bonding with Jime, if for some reason he has cause not to proceed with the race, he would easily line behind the legislator.

Communication skills: A party needs a good convincing salesman to carry its torch in a race. It worked in ancient Greece and works to this day. Given his gift of articulation Hon Jime would do a better job of selling his vision to APC delegates when they pour out to pick someone to go against the PDP in the general elections.

That zone C vote: People don’t go into marriage with elections in mind, but they can’t be prevented reaping any benefits their marriages may add to any political pursuits. Like his stand on zoning, clearly, Hon Jime is not one to appeal to ethnicity in pursuit of votes, but no one should expect him to mount the rostrum and denounce certain considerations that inform people’s reasons for selecting a candidate. In other words, he should not be held responsible if Zone C delegates factor in the fact they have an in-law in the race.

The 2015 governorship contest in Benue would be as interesting as it would be keen. While the PDP would rely on its network of foot soldiers spread across the state and a hollow message of the benefits of mainstream politics to keep a pauperized people in its grip for another four years, the APC would need to present a man that fires the resolve to break this misrule and reignites the momentum for change witnessed in the state 4 years ago. That man going by APC’s line-up of hopefuls happens to be Emmanuel Jime

If Hon. Jime, as by now widely expected, exits the venue of the APC governorship primaries on the shoulders of party supporters, then for the first time since return to civil rule, the opposition would have a firm first foot in the door of the Benue Government House.
Source: Daily Post NG

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