Thursday, 5 March 2015

Benue 2015: Idoma as beautiful bride

Benue, like every other state in Nigeria, is politically divided into three senatorial districts: Zones A, B and C. The Tiv-speaking people of the state, the single largest ethnic group in the State, dominate both Zones A and B, leaving Zone C, for the Idoma-speaking people.
But for constitutional provision, based on population alone, the Tiv could single-handedly produce the governor of the State, without the Idoma people.

Daily Sun however, learnt that anytime there is crisis of confidence within the Tiv people during electioneering, the Idoma people become the beautiful brides, as they determine the direction of the pendulum.

From 1999 to date, they have remained the deciding factor during governorship elections. And each time they play the role, Daily Sun gathered, they are always promised power in return. But once the decision hour comes, something else would happen and the Idoma people would be back to square one.

Daily Sun investigations for instance, revealed that when Senator George Akume was having difficulty in returning for a second term, in 2003, he went into a gentleman’s agreement with the PDP leaders in Zone C, to hand over to an Idoma man, should they support his return bid. President of the Senate, David Mark, led the Idoma team to the said meeting and negotiations.

Akume was returned, as agreed. But towards the 2007 polls, when the gentleman’s agreement was to be implemented, Mark and Akume, it was further learnt, had fallen out, as such it became difficult to implement the said agreement. Although Mark was said to have made spirited attempts to enforce the agreement, the Zone C governorship aspirants that year, made it impossible for Mark to make any meaningful mark in that regard.
To compound the woes of the Zone C people during the governorship primaries in the state, once it was difficult for Suswam to emerge victorious at the first ballot, two aspirants from Zone C, asked that their ballots be added to those of Suswam, thus forestalling any need for a second ballot, which may have paved the way for another Idoma man, to emerge victorious, ahead of Suswam.

Suswam, the incumbent, had his first term. But towards the 2011 polls, when he was gearing up for a second term, like Akume, he had fallen out with some chieftains of the party, in Tiv land, including his predecessor, Akume. Again, he turned to Zone C, for rescue. Another deal was again allegedly sealed.

But during the last primaries of the party in the State, there was nothing on ground to show that the Tiv people, within the ruling party in the state, were ready to let go the governorship position in the state.

However, the Idoma people are now saying the practice of using them and “dumping” them with little or nothing to show for it, was over, insisting that before voting for any of the two leading parties in the next month’s governorship election in the state, they would have to sit down with them, and know what is there for the Idoma people, before any of them can get their support. Interestingly, both candidates are of the Tiv ethnic group.

Anchoring this position, on behalf of the Idoma people is the Idoma National Forum, INF, an umbrella body of all the Idoma sons and daughters, across the country.
In a recent encounter with Daily Sun in Kaduna, the President of the Forum, Dr. Okopi Alex Momoh, said already, plans have reached an advanced stage, to invite the two leading governorship candidates in the state to a meeting in Otukpo as soon as possible to address opinion leaders of Zone C on what they would do for the Zone if they win the election.

According to him: “This commitment is vital for assessing the score cards of politicians and challenging them during re-election campaigns, as the people of Zone C must not continue to suffer ignorantly and protecting the parochial political interests of other people without sustainable development rewards for their support.

“Together, we must say no to any further political enslavement either by our own people or other people. The destiny of our people is in our hands, so let us work together to liberate them from political and economic bondage. Let all our registered voters endeavor to collect their Permanent Voter Cards and vote wisely for the development of the Idoma Nation,” he added.

Cataloguing his misgivings for the Benue State government since its creation in 1976, the National President of the INF, who said the state depicts a “pathetic story of a grossly underdeveloped comity of states in Nigeria,” further said even though the state’s slogan was “The Food Basket of the Nation,” Benue State has no enough food to feed its people, let alone feed the entire country. He added that the state was rated as “one of the seven poorest states in the country.”

He further said: “the state which was created in 1976 has the Tiv and Idoma as the main tribes inhabiting it. The Tiv are the majority. They have two senatorial districts – Benue North-East and Benue North-West. The Idoma occupy Benue South Senatorial District. While the Tiv have 14 Local Government Areas, the Idoma have nine. Since the creation of the state in 1976, no body from Benue South Senatorial District has been governor of the state, Chief Judge of the State or Speaker of the State House of Assembly. “

Apart from what he described as obvious marginalization by the Tiv, when it comes to appointive and elective positions in the state, Dr. Momoh further said that the entire Benue South Senatorial District, otherwise known as Zone C, have little or no presence of infrastructural development.

Hear him: “Mr. Gabriel Suswam (incumbent governor) would have lost his second term bid in 2011 if not for the massive votes he got from Benue South senatorial district because he lost the election in his Tiv Zones A and B woefully to the ACN candidate.

“Votes from Zone C have always decided who governs the state but we who make the governor’s cannot be governor, neither do we get any compensation in terms of economic development and infrastructures in our zone. Zone C remains the most underdeveloped part of Benue State with only an abandoned state cottage industry, the Benue Burnt Bricks that has not functioned for almost 20 years, while Zones A and B have over 20 state government-owned industries, though many of them are moribund. Appointments and employment in the state civil service are very lopsided in favour of the Tiv people. The extent of political and economic marginalization of Idoma in Benue State is unimaginable. The trend continues because we are not collectively bothered.”

While challenging the political leaders of Zone C, to brace up for the challenges ahead, the Idoma leader again asked “what has Zone C really benefitted from the State Government for all the massive political support we give to elect a Tiv governor in every election?
“We must go beyond mere partisan politics of party loyalty to politics of concrete dividends of democracy that can provide sustainable development for our people. Our votes must have value for development. We have to start holding politicians accountable for unfulfilled electoral promises.

“For 39 years, we have endured the political and economic marginalisation by the Tiv tribe and have really done nothing about it. Our great expectation has been that, one day an executive governor of the state would emerge who would take the whole state as his constituency and all the people of the state as his people and see reason for balance, equity, fairness and justice in governance.

“Our vision of Benue State is that of a dynamic state in which political and economic development are anchored on the acknowledgement of individual capacity, a sound mind for productive work and intellectual capability as the determinants for productive engagement of people to bring about sustainable growth and development rather than the protection of tribal interests,” he declared.

Going down memory lane, the President of INF, who is serving his second and final term in office, said “our highly respected father of Benue State, the late Chief J.S Tarka was an outstanding Minority Rights crusader who fought and died for the rights of minorities in the Middle Belt.

“He stood for social justice and nurtured the Middle Belt Movement in the best tradition of politics of bridge building and social responsibility. He was a nation builder who built bridges of consensus across the Nigerian cultural divide by actively seeking understanding with the leaders of other regions of the country,” he said.

He was however quick to note that the new generation of Tiv politicians have abandoned the late Tarka’s philosophy and instead, created what he described as “minorities out of their minority status in Nigeria,” and marginalizing them against the philosophy and teachings of  the late Tarka.

To his Tiv brethren in Benue State, Dr. Momoh, who is also the Coordinator, Research, Innovation and Technology Transfer, in Kaduna Polytechnic, and who acknowledges that Idoma elites, who also allow themselves to be used to divide the Idoma people, were also part of the problems, said: “we do understand that politics is a game of numbers, but sometimes we need to build consensus for integration and unity of purpose based on our socio-political peculiarities.”

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