Friday, 3 July 2015

Benue Governor's Many Headaches

One month after the inauguration of a new government in Benue State, the dust raised over the emergence of Governor Samuel Ortom on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) seems to have refused to settle down as controversies confront him from different sides.

Certainly, the governor of Benue state, Chief Samuel Ortom knew that the road to the Government House would never be a jolly ride, but what he may not have envisaged is the legion of opposition against his mandate and their resolve to keep his administration restless.

Lately, the state PDP chairman, Dr. Emmanuel Agbo, added another dimension to the saga when he claimed that the governor still remains a bonafide member of the PDP because he was yet to withdraw his membership of the party from the appropriate level.

"Ortom is still a bonafide member of the PDP because he has not withdrawn his membership at the state and national level of the party," he said at a news conference in Makurdi.

According to him, the governor contested the PDP's governorship primary election and only three days after losing the ticket, he was announced the APC's flagbearer without properly disengaging himself from the former.

Agbo contended that it was not enough for the governor to withdraw his party's membership from his ward level, stressing that the right thing to do was to approach the PDP executive at national and state levels in order to denounce his status.

Reacting to the allegation in a statement signed by Tahav Agerzua, Special Adviser on Media and ICT, the governor averred that Agbo's statement indicated that he had not recovered from the trauma of defeat in the April polls.

"That trauma has certainly affected his memory, reasoning and logic. Otherwise, how could he claim that Ortom was still a member of his party when the Federal High Court in Makurdi dismissed the PDP case which had sought to establish that claim?

"Before the court decision, Ortom resigned from the PDP on December 9, 2015 and handed over his resignation letter to the PDP ward chairman in Nzorov council ward of Guma local government area, Felix Agbaka.

"How could Dr Agbo forget so soon that the people of the state came out last April with a unanimous determination to throw off the yoke of a party that brought them untold hardship and bad governance that led to the collapse of all government institutions in the state?" The governor asked.

Sequel to the PDP's outburst, a former senator, Joseph Waku, had also said that he would follow legal process to a conclusion in order to determine his case against the state chapter of the APC.

Waku, an APC governorship aspirant and his counterpart, Barr. Emmanuel Jime, had dragged the party to court in December 2014, alleging that the party failed to conduct primary election and declared Ortom, who lost at the PDP primaries as the flag bearer of the party.

Ortom won the governorship election. But barely two weeks after the assumption of power, the APC leaders in the state suspended Waku, Jime and 10 others for refusal to heed the party's advice to withdraw cases they had filed before courts against supposedly party preferred candidates.

However, the party made a U-turn at the weekend by reversing the suspension it slammed on the 12 in a statement signed by its state chairman, Abba Yaro and secretary, Ayem Atsem, in what it described as "intervention from President Muhammadu Buhari through the APC leader in the state, Senator George Akume and Ortom."

Speaking to Daily Trust in Makurdi, Waku said the president did not intervene on the matter, but gave a directive that if the party leaders wanted him to intervene, they should lift the 'illegal suspension'.

He explained that the idea of lifting the suspension arose from a crafty meeting initiated by a 'busy body' Army General from the state who lied to the president that Jime wanted to see him for reconciliation. He added that the person delivered the same message to the aggrieved gubernatorial aspirant.

Waku said the president discovered the truth at the end of the meeting and directed the party to undo the suspension.

The senator further maintained that despite the tactics implored by the state APC to coerce him and Jime to give up, they were bent on pursuing the case up to the Supreme Court if the lower court did not favour them.

He added that if the president must intervene, Akume and Ortom must not sit on the resolution table, calling them "dishonest and unreliable" people.

"Absolutely, we are going ahead with the case even up to the Supreme Court if it does not go well with us at the lower court. We will follow legal process to the end. The only person that will convince us to withdraw the matter is the president because on personal ground, I can no longer discuss with Akume.

"He has overdrawn from my account which is now red and I can no longer trust him. If we are to discuss, Akume and Ortom must not be there. They are dishonest and unreliable," Waku said in anger.

In a sharp response to Waku, Agerzua conversely submitted that he was glad that the Benue people knew who was dishonest among the trio of Akume, Ortom and Waku given their antecedents in the state.

"It is Waku who is dishonest among them. It is even Waku who made the primary election almost impossible in the state. Akume didn't create the problem on ground. People, in the state, knew what transpired," he added.

The governor is also entangled in an ongoing battle with the PDP's flag bearer, Tarzoor in a suit filed at the state Election Petition Tribunal by Barr. Titus Hyundu, who argued that Ortom was not qualified to contest the election.

The suit implied that Ortom was not validly nominated by his party and that all his votes scored during the elections should be rendered invalid and transferred to Tarzoor as the duly elected contestant at the gubernatorial poll.

Also, that the certificate of return handed to Ortom by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should be withdrawn and same given to Tarzoor as winner of the election in line with Section 171 of the nation's constitution.

"We have joined the INEC in the suit based on three grounds and many prayers. Our client, the PDP candidate alone has filed this petition, PDP is not a party to it," Hyundu pointed out.

Quoting from Section 138 of the Electoral Act, he said that the action taken against the governor could be determined under pre-election matters since the respondent was not validly nominated by his party because "it is a mandatory requirement of the law."

The tribunal began its sitting in Makurdi last Tuesday and granted the APC's application to amend its reply to Tarzoor's petition of the pleadings as brought by the counsel to the APC, Sebastian Hon, while the tribunal at the same time dismissed the motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the suit brought before it by the PDP governorship candidate.

Justice Elizabeth Karatu based her ruling on Paragraphs 47(1)(2), 18(7)(g) and 12(5) of the First Schedule of the 2014 Electoral Act, as amended and Section 3(1)(2)(3) of the Practice Direction, saying that a lot of time would be saved if all motions raised in the matter were heard alongside the substantive suit.

The APC had earlier raised a preliminary objection, questioning the jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the suit filed by Tarzoor.

At the commencement of the pre-hearing session, counsel to Ortom, Adeniyi Akintola (SAN), averred that the grounds and reliefs of the petition were the same as those dismissed by the Federal high court sitting in Makurdi.

"They cannot come here and ventilate anything. They are just busy shopping for nothing. The APC has the power to nominate anybody to be its flag bearer and it is not the business of anybody to question it. The reliefs are the same as those that have been struck out by the Federal high court," he said.

But counsel to Tarzoor, Mrs. Joy Adesina (SAN), had submitted that the motion raised by the respondent was intended to prolong the suit and frustrate the process. She insisted that all motions raised should be heard alongside the substantive suit.

As the political battle continues, a former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, has expressed fear that the APC might lose the seat of power in Benue State, following an Edo court ruling which upturned an APC victory and gave it to the PDP on ground of faulty candidate nomination.

Pundits are, nonetheless, worried about the development in the state in the face of Ortom's many headaches; including civil servants salaries amounting to over N12 billion, huge financial burden from the past administration, court cases as well as opposition within and outside the new administration among others.

By Hope Abah
Daily Trust 

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