UNLIKE the blaze of blessings and endorsements enjoyed while consulting stakeholders in the Tiv-speaking Zones A and B, it was a mix of encomia and restraint at the event where frontline governorship candidate, Hon Sam Ode, consulted key stakeholders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Benue South Senatorial District, otherwise known as Benue Zone C, on Thursday, July 29, 2021.
The event which held at the palatial residence of Alhaji Usman Abubakar, popularly known as Young Alhaji, in Otukpo, Idoma’s traditional headquarters, had in attendance party stalwarts, elders and faithful from the nine local governments in Zone C.
Although many spoke glowingly of Hon Ode’s political antecedents and the perceived leadership qualities which they claim put him ahead of other governorship aspirants, there were others who called for caution against open endorsement of his candidacy in obeisance to the fair, just and credible process that the APC hierarchy in Zone C said it has set up.
Senator Ameh Ebute, former Senate President and party elder from Zone C, spoke eloquently to this process which he said is being designed to ensure unity of purpose required to guide the process of picking a candidate that will command broad acceptance of not only Zone C but the entire state towards realising the profound desire of producing the first governor of Benue State of Idoma extraction.
According to Senator Ebute, the mission of the party elders at the event is to assess the qualities of the aspirant; a process which he confessed has been on before now. “The fact that we have been attending meetings of people who want to come and govern us is not for nothing. We are here to assess their qualities. Of course, we know them; they are our children. We know Chief Lawani; we know Sam Ode; we know Prof Ochefu; we know Oyigeya; we know Dickson;” Ebute said as he stressed that the elders or the party will not “allow what happened in 2007 to happen again.” He explained that the contest by multiple aspirants of Idoma extraction then ultimately truncated the collective aspiration of all Idoma.
In the current dispensation, Ebute said, it has been resolved to set up a Committee of Elders with representatives from every local government area in Zone C to examine the credentials of all the aspirants vying to become APC’s governorship candidate from the zone.
Ebute said: “The Elders are going to make their choice and bring it to you for approval. Because the whole multitude cannot arrive at a conclusion; there must be elders to take a decision. We are not going to allow all the people that have come out to express their interest in the governorship because in 2007, we presented five Idoma candidates and we failed; we are not going to do that this time around.
“I want you, the supporters, to be reasonable; I want you to be serious; to show seriousness in wanting to become the governor of Benue State. That is, you should not oppose anybody who has been decided upon as the only candidate that is going to go for nomination in Makurdi. After we have taken the decision, all of you must support the candidate that will emerge from this Zone. Idomas cannot present five candidates if we are serious; unless if we do not want to become governor. I think I am fair. You must support the only candidate that Zone C will eventually choose to go to Makurdi to stand with other candidates.
“Anybody who starts bickering after the choice, we will know that he is not interested in an Idoma man becoming governor. We are going to devise means of enforcing our decision; we are going to enforce decisions that we have taken and anybody who says he does not accept the decision is not a candidate on the platform of Zone C. So, this is the information I want to give you.
“Please, please, please; be serious in making our demand to become governor, and the only way to be serious is to present only one candidate, because we are not up to our brothers in population. We have planned our strategy by presenting only one or two candidates…whether two or one, we don’t know yet. But we are going to narrow down the number. So, if you are going to be a coordinator for any candidate, you must advise him well because we know all of them. We know those who are serious candidates; we know those who are not serious. I advise, they should not waste their money because there is no money.”
Multala Hassan Mohammed, the APC Zonal Chairman, Zone C, who represented the party’s State Working Committee, while stressing Senator Ebute’s message, appealed to campaign coordinator and supporters of Hon Odeh not to see other aspirants as enemies. “Please, build a bridge of relationship so that at the end of closing of this process, and he emerged as our candidate, you can have a means of talking to other people to join you. The relationship built now will make it easy for you after the primaries for you to talk to the other person,” Mohammed said as he called for unity of all Idoma people in the quest for the state’s governorship.
“Let all of us come together as Idoma people, as Zone C people, that this is out time. Like the Minister and leader of the party in the state says; “we are better together. Let it be us, not me”. Please, the experience of the past has been the experience that each time we are looking for governor, the people that will be used as spoiling machines have always come from our Zone. In 2019, APC Benue South made a statement. Our vote that we gave to His Excellency and Jime, our son-in-law; we made our statement,” he said.
But notwithstanding Senator Ebute’s counsel on the need for caution in open endorsement of governorship aspirants, speaker after speaker openly voiced their choice of Hon Ode.
Gen. Harrison Adoga (rtd), who spoke on behalf of Otukpo, stated that though Otukpo has so many children, she however decided to ‘select’ Hon Ode to fly her flag. “We have so many children; only one person can make it to the top. Among the many we have in Otukpo, we have decided to select him. I can assure you that our son is marketable every day. Like my distinguished Senator has said, out of the 8 or 9 candidates, all of them we agreed are our brothers, but only one can be there,” Gen. Adoga said adding that Ode “is a trusted and tested individual. In all his life, this young man has sacrificed his life for people. This our son is somebody who can be accepted everywhere.”
Hon Donald Agida, who spoke for Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency, adopted biblical and historical symbolism to pass across his message as he portrayed Sam Ode as the “Moses of Idoma land.”
According to him, just as the Israelites spent 40 years in Egypt, Idomas have spent “45 years of slavery in Benue State. Sam Ode, you remembered that Moses was nurtured in the house of Pharaoh. Your mother is a Tiv woman you are the Moses of Idoma land. The Israelites celebrated 47 years of Jubilee; we have only two years to reach 47 years. So let us celebrate the Jubilee of removing us from slavery.”
Hon Agida appealed to Tiv people to extend their cultural practice of “ya na angbian” to their Idoma brothers; a phrase which literally means: “eat and give your brother.” Agida asks rhetorically: “that you cannot eat and give us; are we just your neighbour or your brothers? I think we are all from Adam. So, we are brothers.”
He said as a son of Idoma and Tiv parentage, Sam Ode has become a bridge that should end the undue political domination of Idoma by the Tiv.
For Amb. Matthew Agulewu who spoke on behalf of Ogbadibo Okpokwu/Ado Federal Constituency, it was a diplomatic endorsement of Hon Ode, as though agreeing with the position of the Elders Committee as enunciated by Senator Ebute, he however spoke so glowingly of Ode’s persona and family such that anyone listening will have no doubt on where his support lies.
“Like the stakeholder has said, elders will meet to arrive at a candidate so that there will be no rowdiness, and no division of vote at the primaries. The person preferred as the governorship candidate must have good personal qualities, must be accepted across board; must have been tested and must be ready to mix with the high and the low,” Amb. Agulewu said, while affirming that he knew Sam Ode “since 1975/76 when his father was a serious army colonel in Lagos and commander, Lagos Garrison, when I was working with President [Shehu] Shagari.”
He described Ode in the following terms: “To shorten the whole gist, you are an achiever, you are a performer, you are a realist, you are young, you are dynamic, you are pushful, you are sensitive and you are very good.
“When I was in Togo, the young, dynamic, pushful candidate visited Lome three times within the framework of the rehabilitation of the Niger Delta militancy in Togo. He succeeded in the exercise. And the host President asked me; “Who is this your minister; he is so young and dynamic and pushful?” I said he is from my place; and I felt very proud of him. I’m still proud of you!
“…Ladies and gentlemen, this young, vibrant candidate we have here has the wherewithal intellectually and otherwise to deliver the goods. Well, I don’t want to be too sentimental, because they are still going through a process. But I make bold say that the title of His Excellency is already with you. What remains is the actualisation of the title. And we pray to God so that the mantle of leadership will fall on you.
For Barr. Jacob Ajene, an APC Senatorial aspirant who spoke on behalf of Igede nation, Sam Ode is a product whose time has come. He said for Igede nation, Ode is a friend, a brother and a leader in whom Benue will be safe. “Very importantly, you may have the best product for the market, but if the timing is not right that product will not sell. I stand here today to tell you that for our dear brother Sam Ode is the product whose time has come. I stand here to acknowledge our dear brother who needs no introduction, who to us in the Igede nation, is a friend and a brother; who to us in Idoma land, he is an Idomite to his tiniest blood. I stand here to celebrate and welcome a man that Benue State can feel safe in his hands – a man that is knowledgeable; a man that is capable; a man that is efficient; a man that is sagacious,” Ajene said.
For Prince Philip Agbese, who spoke on behalf of APC’s Zone C Youth, and who is also aspiring for the House of Representatives, Ode typifies “what President Muhammadu Buhari referred to as “I belong to nobody and I belong to everybody.” He said his choice of Ode is not from hearsay but personal experience of him, and as such he could recommend his candidacy to Benue youth. “There is this saying that if you are offering medicine to a Fulani man, he always ask you; “this medicine that you are giving me, have you use it before?” Sam Ode is a medicine that I personally have used. He is somebody that we the youth of Benue State, we have used and have tested. He is working.
“Sir, you have seen the display from Agila, that is the extreme end of Benue. On this campaign train, we followed you to Sankera that is another extreme end. And those of us from Enone in Ogbadibo, again is another extreme end. I have listened to speakers from another extreme end of Apa/Agatu. We have listened to speakers from Konshisha. Sir, you represent the new Benue that we crave for,” Agbese stated as he asserted that Ode is on the right path and will coast to victory as the first governor of Benue South extraction.
He further stated: “All of us here have come to encourage you that you are on the right path. You are not only going to be the first governor of Benue South extraction for the Benue people. You are going to be a governor that Nigeria will be proud of. Members of our party, we have been crying because our mandate that the people of Benue gave to us in 2015 have been stolen and taken away. We say that come 2023, through Sam Ode, that mandate will be restored back to the APC…I want to say to the APC that today you have the best product. Make use of this product come 2023 because we believe that APC will make Benue great again and this is the person that Benue people are believing in that will make Benue great. I encourage you that many of us are here not because it’s now time to take a stand, we have taken our stand and that is why we are with you, and we are with you because Benue people are with you.”
The speech by Hon Manasseh Akperashi, the Director General of Sam Ode Campaign Organisation remains the most categorical statement on the perceived endorsement of Sam Ode by his mother’s kinsmen in Tiv land. According to Akperashi, though Wantaregh Paul Unongo and many elders from both Zones A and B are supportive of the Idoma agitation to produce Benue governor in 2023, the shortest route to achieving victory could be through Sam Ode without whom he said Idoma should forget the governorship.
Although Alhaji Usman Abubakar, a.k.a Young Alhaji, in his remark, had asked Hon Akperashi to apologise for the above claim, as he interpreted it rightly or wrongly to be imposition, he (Young Alhaji) however admitted that he is aware that Unongo and many Tiv elders truly “are sympathetic to our clarion call to rule, to govern Benue State, come 2023.”
“The DG you have said that if it’s not Sam Ode we should forget it. Tender an apology for that, Why do I say so? Sam Ode is our son, Dickson is our son, Oyigeya is our son, and Stephen Lawani is our son. We have all agreed to train them to go and study on how to rule Benue State as governor. But on examination day, you will not be there, I will not be there. They are one on one with the question paper,” Young Alhaji asserted.
Young Alhaji also revealed a closed-door conversation he had with the State leader of the party and current Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, Senator George Akume, who assured him of his disposition “to support a candidate from Zone C” and urged Idoma people not to put him “in a precarious situation”. “What does that denote? Young Alhaji asked, and proceeded immediately to answer it: “It denotes that we should not fold our hands and say the Tivs want us to become the next governor and not strive enough, and not struggle enough, and not pay commensurate sacrifice and commitment to make our dream a reality.
He said as a party elder, he will remain neutral until the candidate that will fly the party’s flag is elected. “I, Young Alhaji, in order to build party in this Zone, to support our leader, George Akume to be in control of Zones A, B and C, I have decided to remain suspended in my cocoon. If the next governorship ticket of APC comes to Benue South, take it from me, I will support a candidate from Oju/Obi for Senator. My desire to run for Senate shall be diminished permanently.”
Young Alhaji, quoting from the Book of Joshua in the Holy Bible, urged Sam Ode, whom he addressed as ‘Your Excellency,’ to “be courageous, go ahead and conquer!”
Hon Ode, in his brief remark, noted that there are currently 34 governorship aspirants in the APC out of which only 6 come from Benue South with the remaining 28 coming from Zone A. In response to Senator Ebute, Ode advised that clear parameters be set up for a transparent process so that people don’t feel cheated in the end.
“Earlier on, our leader and father, Senator Ameh Ebute, informed us that there will be a group of leaders who will sit down to screen aspirants. I’ll like to advice that in doing so, let us set the parameters of that selection very carefully, let it be very clear to the people of Benue South that the parameters for choosing who’ll be that candidate will be very clear so that people don’t feel cheated. Even if you favour me and people feel cheated, I may not win the general election because of protest.
“I am saying this because in 2015, I was an aspirant in PDP; and in the last minute, the candidate was brought from nowhere to lead us. All the aspirants in PDP came together and formed one group to oppose the imposition of that candidate. Sir, so we have to be very careful. So that people don’t feel cheated. Let the people that are here take a decision on who becomes our candidate. The good news is that the Electoral Act is amended and is likely that the primaries will be by direct method; which means it will be by option A4. If you are for Sam Ode, line up here; if you are for this person, line up. Power is returning back to the people,” Idoma said.