Underdevelopment and Other Undercurrents Behind Benue’s ‘Yes Father’ Slogan


In this brief analysis, Iduh Onah offers some insights on the socio-economic and political dynamics behind the inevitable swing set to emerge from the impending governorship and state legislative elections on Saturday, March 18, 2023.

NATURALLY, in moments of high political stakes as now, the discursive mood is often emotive, subjective and frenzied, thus providing sufficient space for irrational or false assumptions vis-à-vis logical, genuine and common-sensical conclusions. But that is, as it is commonly expressed, the beauty of democracy whose holy grail is liberty of citizens having their say.

Rev. Fr. Alia (left) and his running mate, Sam Ode (right) at the official flag off APC governorship campaign rally held at NKST Primary School playground, Yandev, Gboko LGA.

Wrapped around the nuances of democratic freedom and governance are very sticky and incredible but factual underdevelopment indicators stamped across the length and breadth of Nigeria which some analysts have used to question our humanity. Of course, there have been flitting instances where and when a revulsive performance had inspired popular rejection, but such scenarios often quickly become stymied and regressive, and translated unfortunately to taking several steps backward, stifling hope and instigating broad pessimism.

Benue State perhaps encapsulates these tragic contradictions. While every election cycle since 1999 had offered hope; in between the elections, the people, particularly the working class, remained perpetually rattled and harangued by poverty and hunger and all known variables of underdevelopment consolidating right from Government House, Makurdi, to the doorsteps of every local government, ward, and community. What had been popularised as ‘dividends of democracy’ in 1999 soon became not only a mirage and baggage of deprivations leading to amplified agony compared only to the acute and excruciating pains of whitlow.

While the unfulfilled electoral promises of yore are still being regurgitated today, reproduced and repackaged in colourful documents and pamphlets called policy or development blueprints, Benue’s voting public may have become wiser in their assessment of what is possible or mere daydream and who is credible or terrible.

Uba, celebrating his victory at the PDP primaries.

Who Benue’s votes will enthrone on Saturday is not hard to predict, especially against the backdrop of the presidential and National Assembly elections. Though the dynamics, nuances and the array of undercurrents powering the swing may not be readily clear to outsiders, they are however visible to the distressed and bedraggled but discerning masses of Benue, who know that their nemeses are those orchestrating the state’s underdevelopment. To render it in plane language, Benue people tended to have come to a partial understanding of the prevalent dialectical tension and have declared their weariness of conventional politicians seen to lack the basic trajectory of leadership required for their emancipation.

That Reverend Father Hyacinth Alia could in less than two years of entering the race to be governor and pulling a followership that he now commands without any background in partisan politics is not a magic concocted out of the rich imagination of anybody, group or godfather. It is a sincere indicator of the diminished confidence of the people on the character of existing breed of leaders. In fact, the creativity behind the creation of Alia’s campaign slogan: ‘Yes Father’, and its magnetic pull in the imagination of especially the peasantry and the excitement visibly etched on their faces when they voice it, can only come from a genuine desire.

Odeh, Alia’s running mate.

It is crucial that Fr. Alia realises this as he is set to be ordained by the people tomorrow, Saturday, March 18, 2023. Crucial because the popular expectation is such that he must hit the ground running. Any delay or truncation in concretely organising and plotting to bring to life the idealism in his policy document, “A Strategic Development Plan for a Greater Benue”, will do a great damage to the hope and aspirations of the state’s working class and the peasants, notably the Catholic Women Organisation (CWO) or Christian Mothers as they are popularly called in rural areas. They form the corpus of the most brutalised, whose collective psyche or soul has been terribly scorched by poor leadership.

Ngbede, Uba’s running mate.

Though provocatively offensive it will sound to Alia’s opponents and their supporters; the assumption that victory at the polls belongs to Fr. Alia is drawn from empirical social and political realities in Benue.

By the strength and advantage of incumbency, the PDP candidate, Rt. Hon. Titus Uba, ought to be the man to beat. However, this is not the case because beyond sheer propaganda, the government in power simply lacks any elementary quality to retain the trust of Benue people.

Apart from the several months of unpaid workers’ salaries, including over 73 months of pensions arrears, which wrecked and is still ruining lives in virtually every family across the state, there exists no tangible development project that the government in power can point to as impactful in its eight years in power. Schools are in ruins, the roads are death traps, utilities are in decay, etc.

Therefore, when Uba, in the course of his campaign spewed the narrative that he will build on the achievements of Governor Samuel Ortom, he inexorably insulted, and indeed, offended the crowd of unpaid workers, pensioners and the peasantry who are direct casualties of the his misgovernance, and who will constitute majority of the electors tomorrow. For many, Uba’s utterance is not only politically naïve of Uba but also a vital false error as a campaign message in the context of prevailing high level of distress in addition to the siege mentality created by the government’s crafty sense of valour.

While the Ortom-led government largely succeeded in its blizzard of propaganda stunts moaning the invasion of Benue communities and massacring of the people, and ultimately created in national media imagination monsters of Fulani herdsmen; doubts exist that the Benue pogroms were not entirely the handiwork of Fulani herdsmen militia but also politically inspired internally. People who argue on this possibility point to the fact that apart from Makurdi and environs, Fulani herders who got blamed for every invasion and killings continue to openly graze their cattle in more than two-third of the local government areas despite the anti-open grazing law, which perhaps remains the governments greatest achievement.

There is no doubting the fact that Fr. Alia captured the imagination of Benue people soon after disclosing the intention to aspire for Government House. His immediate attraction, which later bloomed into some sort of fanatical followership in all nooks and crannies of Benue State, is rooted in a tripod of notions.

There is the notion of the influence of his calling as a Catholic priest. In addition to the broad, grassroots presence of the Catholic faith in Benue, both the working class and the vast rural peasantry, have come to repose greater trust and confidence on Alia based on the fact that as a Reverend Father, it is automatically imagined that he will be a better governor compared to a dyed-in-wool politician, perceived generally as corrupt, liar, dishonest and hence untrustworthy.

This hypothesis is better served by the state’s political history where a Catholic priest, the late Rev. Fr. Moses Adasu, was overwhelmingly voted in as governor and in under two years (January 1992-November 1993) of his leadership, perceived to have made visible development strides.

The second notion is that Fr. Alia, as a cleric, is a carrier, a vector or peddler, and if you like, a vendor of hope. According to this notion, upon acquisition of popular mandate, it is hoped Alia will likely undergo a transfiguration from an apostle of spiritual redemption to a social reformer that will, through his policies, be capable of commanding water out of rock. In other words, Alia is being expected to deliver the goodies – bread and butter, and perhaps in Benue’s context, pounded yam, on the tables of families – in addition to expectations of being the salt and light in the state in terms of education, health, infrastructure provisioning, social justice, amongst other socio-economic variables, all of which bad governance had denied them over time.

The third notion for the massive support Alia aggregates comes, ironically, from the crust of entrenched inequality in the state, which has two visible layers. The first layer is the huge gulf between the ruling class, who continually gulp over 80 per cent of the state’s resources, while the rest of citizenry are left to scrounge on a little over 10 per cent of the resources. Though the negative dimension of this category of inequality is extensive, cutting across all the state’s ethnic nationalities, and with the Tiv nationally accounting for a huge percentage, it receives little or no attention compared to the second layer of inequality, which is the overwhelming domination of the state by Tiv elite.

Thus, the reality of the lack of consensus and the incapacity of this ruling elite in the management of inclusivity and diversity continue to breed deep-seated bitterness and animosity. This evidently drives and heightens tension, fear and distrust in inter-ethnic relations. The resultant feeling of socio-political and economic injustice that has lingered for a long time may have activated a feeling that as a cleric with scholarly depth and civility, Fr. Alia, when elected, will be better situated to resolve the contradictions behind the ingrained marginalisation of the Idoma and other minority elements in the political economy of Benue State.

Ortom, outgoing governor.

So, the reality of the excitement and passion behind Alia’s projection to triumph over his opponents on March 18 is much more about the prospect of a new Benue, expected to be hatched by the most unconventional of politicians – a priest of the dominant Catholic denomination in the state – whose calling, knowledge and totality of his experience are seen as sufficient to guide him to navigate Benue into a state whose motto will not only be: ‘Food Basket of the Nation’ but whose guiding philosophy will be: ‘Home of Social Justice’.

A heavy burden it is, but Fr. Alia, no doubt, possesses vital advantages: he is young, and has on his beck and call sufficient goodwill, in addition to a pool of competent and reliable human resources crucial to delivering excellence in governance. What he may contend with right from the go are the forces and barriers of godfatherism, chauvinism, pride and a puritan, all-knowing trait typical of clerics.


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