Benue Deputy Guber race: Gunning for the next best thing

Since the APC elected its Governorship candidate, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, over a month ago, politicians from Benue South have been jostling and scheming to get appointed as his running mate

Benue Deputy Guber race: Gunning for the next best thing
Senator Akume (left) and Rev. Fr. Alia

After its robust but unsuccessful bid to produce the Governor of Benue state (under APC and PDP) in 2023, Benue South Senatorial District has settled for the next best thing: the position of Deputy Governor.

Left for some political leaders of  Benue South and Benue Rebirth Movement (BRM),  the non-partisan political pressure group that led the abortive agitation for the governorship, Zone C politicians should not belittle themselves or dignify the position of Deputy Governor by jostling for it. They say the Deputy Governorship position, considered nearly worthless by zones A and B and dumped in Zone C since the creation of Benue state 46 years ago, is not worth struggling for. 

But  some politicians from Zone C don't share that view. To them, it is business or, more appropriately, politics as usual. To them, being a running mate and, eventually, Deputy Governor, is as good as any. And so, since the political parties elected their Governorship candidates in May/June from Benue North-East Senatorial District (Zone A), politicians from Zone C have been jostling and scheming to get appointed as running mate. The race is getting hotter the nearer the deadline by the Independent National Electoral Commision (INEC) for the submission of names of Gubernatorial running mates draws.

In APC, since the emergence of  Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia  as the Governorship candidate, every party man or woman from different parts of Zone C with Deputy Governorship ambition has entered the race. 

It is understood that the state leadership of the party, led by Senator George Akume,  asked zone C party stakeholders to come up with a suitable and acceptable candidate for the position. 

Since the flash of this greenlight, there have been  series of meetings by leaders and groups in order to recommend suitable names for the position.
Stateflash investigations reveal that those who have indicated interest in the race are  Dr. Sam Ode, Amb. Dickson Akoh, Hon. Nelson Alapa, Dr Cecilia Ekoja, Amb. Philip Eche, Hon. Benard Ochepa, Chief Agbo Ogah, Benjamin Abuh Omakolo, Dr. Isaac Egboja and Barrister Patricia Kupchi.

The aspirants cut across all the three power blocs of the zone, namely, Old Oju, Old Okpokwu and even Old Otukpo where the incumbent, Engr. Benson Abounu, hails from.  

On the basis of the assumption that all those in the race possess the personal credentials required of the office, the main factors being considered in the selection are zoning and power rotation.

On this ground, the Old Okpokwu political bloc is not in serious contention because it currently holds the key positions of the Senator (Abba Moro, PDP) and APC State Chairman (Austin Agada). Moreover, it was Old Okpokwu (Chief Steven Lawani) that handed the Deputy Gubernatorial baton to the current holder, Engr. Abounu.

Logically, this means that Old Oju, from where it all started in this dispensation with Ogiri Ajene in 1999, should restart the inter-bloc rotation of the office.

The major  contenders mentioned in the media from Old Oju are Dr. Egboja, a medical doctor who worked for many years with UNICEF; and Barr. Patricia Kupchi, a Commissioner with the National Population Commission.

Stateflash learnt that those against Old Oju say that since the circle of rotation has been completed, the next round should start and move in reverse order, beginning with the Old Otukpo bloc which took the rear in the outgoing round.

This argument favours Sam Ode, Alapa, Akor, Eche                  and Omakolo and Chief Agbo Ogah, all of whom are from the Old Otukpo power bloc. 

However, those making the case for equity and fairness say if the rotation is to restart,  it should begin from those local governments that have not held the position before, namely, Agatu, Apa, Ohimini, Oju.

Among the contenders from the local governments that have not produced  a Deputy Governor before, some stand tall, like Dr. Egboja, Chief Agbo Ogah. For instance, Chief Agbo Oga, was a Chief of Staff to the Senate President, Senator David Mark and a former  House of Representatives member. On his part, Dr. Egboja has served for many years as a worker and consultant with UNICEF.

But those from the Apa/Agatu axis say Federal Constituencies should be used as basis for rotation instead of the Old blocs or Local Governments. Making a case for his people in a public position paper, Hon. Samuel Odagboyi Godday, House of Representatives member (APC, Apa/Agatu) said: "In the spirit of fairness, equity and justice, having established that Apa/Agatu Federal Constituency has never been considered for governor, minister, senate or deputy governor; in same vein, Apa/Agatu was brazenly denied of the position of the state chairman of our party.
"... it is pertinent to demand that the position of Deputy Governor be solely zoned to Apa/Agatu to give the people a sense of belonging; this is the exact justice the PDP equitably served by relinquishing the Deputy Governorship position to Agatu Local Government Area."
Omakolo (Apa) and Eche (Apa) are the potential beneficiaries of the argument for the Apa/Agatu axis.
But other LGAs that feel marginalized in the distribution of party and government offices are also pushing for the position of Deputy Governor. Their argument is that while top political offices are concentrated in some LGAs, others have virtually nothing.

For instance, in the Old Okpokwu bloc, Ogbadibio has consistently dorminated virtually all the political positions to the detriment of other local government areas in the bloc, from Deputy Governor, Senate to State Party Chairman, while Ado and Okpokwu stay helpless.

In the Old Otukpo bloc, Otukpo has at present the House of Representatives and the Deputy Governor seats, while Ohimini, Agatu and Apa still look on. 
 In the Old Oju, Obi LGA has been holding the position of House of Representatives after that of Deputy Governor, leaving Oju disadvantaged.

Armed with their respective arguments, the contenders are out in the field trying to outsmart each other. They are all over the state social media space pushing their case with arguments as well as posters depicting themselves wishfully as running mate to Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia. Some of them sponsor press statements that are aired on radio while the most serious ones strive to secure the endorsement of the prominent party chieftains at the senatorial, state and national levels as well as intra-party groups. These groups have, in turn, been meeting to make recommendations to the appropriate authorities.

For instance, according to Stateflash findings, the Benue South Elders Consultative Committee ( ECC) jointly led by Chief Audu Ogbeh  and Chief John A. Ochoga, has shortlisted three names: Sam Ode, Dr. Isaac Egboja and  Benjamin Abuh Omakolo.

Another group led by the former Senate President, Ameh Ebute, Stateflash learnt, came up with such names as Barrister Patricia Kupchi, Bernard Ochepa and Abu Omakolo.

Yet another group of Benue South leaders, led by Usman Abubakar, alias Young Alhaji, simply zoned it to Apa/Agatu axis, premised on the argument of fairness. However, Stateflash investigations reveal that a meeting called recently by Abubakar for the purpose of recommending a Deputy Governorship candidate attracted a disclaimer from the official Zonal leadership which said the meeting was not authorised.
Pinot Ogbaji, the APC Vice-Chairman for Zone C, in a statement, said: "We, by this notice, call on all party members and stakeholders invited to disregard this meeting as Alhaji Usman Abubakar lacks the constitutional powers to call for a meeting of that magnitude within the party. This meeting is hence not legal and any matters discussed or deliberated upon there will not be binding on the  party as the Zonal leadership officially dissociates itself from the gathering.

"Alhaji Usman Abubakar as a party elder statesman is expected to understand and respect constituted authority of the party and its laid down procedures for deliberations of any kind."
The meeting reportedly took place all the same but was said to be poorly attended by notable party chieftains in the Senatorial District. 

On another front, according to Stateflash investigations, a letter dated July 8, 2022, with the signature of Senator Ameh Ebute, former Senate President, addressed to Father Alia, on the Deputy Governorship issue, is currently circulating in the social media. The letter informed the APC Governorship candidate that four elders of the party from Benue South, namely, General Chris Garba, General Lawrence Onoja and Chief Sylvester Ameh, who met in Ebute's office on July 8, had selected four names to the candidate "for your consideration for choosing one of them as your running mate for the 2023 general elections."
The four shortlisted candidates are Hon. Bernard Ochepa (Ado LGA), Mr Yusuf Suleiman Elaigwu (Apa LGA), and Mr. Mike Oglegba (Otukpo LGA).

Stateflash understands that Senator Ebute has since dissociated himself from the letter written on Ochetoha  k'Idoma National Secretariat letterhead and signed by him as "former State President." 

Stateflash learnt that even as the contestants and their backers strive to outwit each other, the Governorship candidate, Fr. Alia, unofficial sources told Stateflash, has set up a confidential committee that has screened at least four of them. They are Sam Ode, Isaac Egboja,  Abu Omakolo and Chief Agbo Ogah.
The absence of a woman among those screened seems to debunk speculations that the Catholic priest, a celibate, had expressed preference for a woman as his running mate.
Following the confidential screening, the name most mentioned as the likely final choice is Sam Ode,  the only high-profile defeated APC Governorship aspirant to have thrown his weight behind Fr. Alia. 

However, reliable sources say a close ally of Sam Ode who is also an APC House of Representatives candidate from Benue South, is said not to be on the same page with Hon. Austin Agada, APC state Chairman and loyalist of the State party Leader, Senator George Akume, as far as the choice of the party's Deputy Governorship candidate is concerned. Analysts interprete this to mean that the position is not  in the pocket of the former minister yet. In fact, anyone can emerge from among those mentioned here - or from the blues - considering that in Benue APC, as in Nigerian politics generally, anything can happen.

The only thing that is certain at the moment, however, is that an APC Gubernatorial running mate will emerge latest by close of INEC deadline for submission of names this weekend.