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Benue’s Two-Horse Race: Ortom, Jime’s Battle For Benue Peoples’ House

After the declaration of winners for the Presidential and National Assembly elections last Saturday, February 23, next comes the governorship election which is expected to take place on March 9 across the country except for a few states. States like Ekiti, Osun and Bayelsa, Edo, Anambra and Kogi will be having theirs later.

The polls brought in its wake severe tension that can only be likened to what was experienced in the build up to the 2015 general elections. And like 2015, the 2019 presidential and national assembly polls were relatively peaceful and successful; despite complaints from some parties about the processes.

The governorship elections just a couple of days away would be a battle for survival between political gladiators. It will be a battle for relevance. It will also be a battle that will show surprises as was seen in the results of the national assembly where some big names were retired by their constituents

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One state to watch out for surprises is Benue. With the campaigns and planning over, the political stage is set for the election. Incumbent governor, Samuel Ortom of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and his All Progressives Congress, APC challenger, Emmanuel Jime will be slugging it out for the soul of the state. There are however other candidates in the race, but the election is basically between the duo of Ortom and Jime.

The two candidates, both from Guma Local Government Area are not strangers in politics of the state. But the big question is how the two candidates stand to win the election?

Ortom had his first political experience when he was elected Executive Chairman of Guma Local Government between 1991 to 1993 on the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, followed by Benue State Publicity Secretary of the National Centre Party of Nigeria, NCPN; State Treasurer of the All Peoples Party, APP; and State Secretary as well as Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, all in Benue State. Ortom was also Director of Operations of the PDP gubernatorial campaign in Benue State in 2007 and Director of Administration and Logistics of the Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organization in 2011.

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 He was PDP National Auditor before his appointment as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in July 2011. He resigned as a minister to contest for governorship in 2015 on the platform of the APC when he failed to secure the ticket of his party, the PDP. He was brought in to the APC by Senator Geoarge Akume, who many regard as his political godfather.

From these lofty credentials it clearly shows Ortom is not a pushover when it comes to politics in the state.

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It is believed that the governor is a thorough breed politician who has been on the political scene for such a long time to know the intricacies therein. He is also believed to know how to maneuver his way in the political field when the arena becomes very hot.

That tells of the politician Ortom is. But he is going into one very tough battle in a couple of days. One which will either make or mar him for life. This is because when he contested the 2015 governorship election, he had the support of former governor, now senator George Akume, the goodwill of the people, coupled with the wind of change of the APC that blew across the country and swept him to power.

Now the case is different. He is going into the contest as an independent candidate on a different platform, the PDP. Thus, it may not be that easy this time around. But his supporters believe he would be re-elected.

He has the total support of Senator David Mark. Mark, from Benue South, remains the undisputed leader and political godfather of Benue State. He is known to wield so much power on his zone to always deliver votes from the zone to anyone he so wishes. With his support, former governor of the state, Gabriel Suswam was able to win the 2011 gubernatorial election in the state against the forces that wanted to stop his reelection. Because the state,  like others has three senatorial districts. So, any governor can win the governorship if he wins two senatorial districts. That was what gave Suswam victory in 2015 because he naturally won zone A,his zone, and the forces against him came from zone B while David Mark from zone C did the magic for him.

The recently held national assembly election in the state and Benue South particularly where the PDP won overwhelmingly proves that if you ignore Mark, you do such at your peril.

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With this realization, Ortom is banking on Mark to deliver the zone to him on March 9. And with the full endorsement and open campaigns for him by Mark, he is rest assured he has Benue South (Zone C) in his pocket already.

The governor on his part is from Benue North West and as such he has almost total control of political structure of the zone. The just conducted national assembly polls where PDP won very well tells of his grip and the goodwill he enjoys in the zone. It was this grip on the zone that reportedly led to Sen. Akume losing his senatorial reelection bid to the PDP.

In Benue North East (Zone A), former governor, Gabriel Suswam is reputed to be the leader of the district and having won the zone’s senatorial seat in last Saturday’s election, the coast seems almost clear for Orton’s reelection. With the assurance and strong support from the ex-governor, victory is almost certain for the governor.

But again, politics is a game of surprises; anything can happen, mostly because of the shortcomings of the Ortom’s administration. His non-payment of workers salary in the state is a major minus for him. Unless something is done fast, state workers may shock him on March 9. This is because salary payment is what sustains almost 98 percent of the state population. It is believed that it was because of non-payment of salary to state workers that cost Suswam his senatorial bid in 2015 when he held sway as Benue governor.

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Nevertheless Ortom knows how to play politics. He knows that his administration has a few shortcomings like the non-payment of salaries, lack of infrastructural development and others; he quickly enacted the Anti Open Grazing and Ranches Establishment Law . The law is generally seen by the people as a shield against the forces of herdsmen. By this singular action he is now seen as the defender of the Benue valley. This will make the people sympathetic to him on election day.

His rival at the poll, Emmanuel Jime is also a political force. He is a lawyer by profession, having read law and graduated in 1983 (LLB) from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

He went into private practice until his election in 1992 into the Benue State House of Assembly and was elected into the State House of Assembly in 1992 and was later elected Speaker of the House in 1993 under the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP.

Having being a Speaker of the BSHA in 1993 at the age of 31 during which period they (BSHA) passed the law establishing the Benue State University, he came fully motivated to run for the Senate seat 6 years later – 1999. It is one race retrospectively adjudge as a bit premature in timing. He lost the primaries to the eventual winner of that seat’s general election, late Senator JKN Waku.

By the next election year (2003), he contested for the House of Representatives seat and lost. He thanked his supporters for their support and resilience and assured them he would live to fight another day. A return to a frequently truncated practice was again, on the cards. He returned to Abuja to continue his law practice.

In 2007, there was no such thing as a lose as he won the primary contest against the then incumbent and went on to win the general election with a land slide victory representing Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency. The exercise of that mandate was burdened with high expectations.

In the House of Representatives, Hon Jime became a member of the integrity group. At the time, 2007 – 2011, he sponsored a couple of bills and moved a number of motions including one to have the President rescind his decision that banned the Super Eagles from all FIFA competitions. A few days later, the President rescinded his decision and he a few years later, the Super Eagles won the African Cup of Nations.

He was the Chairman of the House Committee on the FCT as well as a member of the committees on Customs and Excise; Federal Capital Territory; Human Rights; Legislative Budget and Research and Media/Public Affairs.

By and large Jime is a thorough bred and influential politician. He was the governorship candidate of the APC in 2015 and was rumoured to have the support of party faithfuls and even a large percentage of the populace. It was however, Governor Ortom who got the ticket and eventually won the election. He went to court to fight for his stolen ticket. He was reportedly urged by the leadership of the party to seek out of court settlement, which he heeded, and was compensated with the position of Managing Director of Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) in 2017 by president Muhammadu Buhari.

That singular decision of Jime to withdraw the suit against Ortom reportedly led to a good number of citizens losing hope in him. They had wanted him to fight to the finish line even if he loses out in the end.

Now the election before Jime, to many people is another attempt to eventually chicken out of any legal tussle if he is defeated at the polls. He is seen as one who backs out so easily. That is a minus for him.

Again, the defeat suffered by his boss and godfather, George Akume in his senatorial bid is also seen as a reason why he could be defeated in the governorship election. Moreover, the three senators-elect are all of the PDP stock, which is definitely not good for him.

Apart from the little influence of his running mate, Sam Ode in the Benue South Senatorial district, Jime has practically no political power and structure in the zone.

All said, Jime is a candidate that could cause an upset in the governorship election. He is seen as a man of the people and one who would stand for his people no matter the circumstances. He is also seen as a detribalised politician who would be fair to all sections of the state. Although he’s Tiv, but he’s married to an Idoma, which makes him an in-law to the second largest ethnic group in the state. This is a big plus for him because the current governor is believed to have sidelined the Idoma, and Jime may get their protest votes.

But more critical is the fact that Jime is running on the platform of the APC which controls the Federal Government. This gives him a huge advantage over the incumbent as the federal might may be used against him. There is no disputing the fact that federal might may come to play. Also, the Senator Akume factor may come to play. Still writhing in his defeat at the just concluded National Assembly election, Akume may work full throttle to ensure that Ortom, who made him lose the senatorial seat is also retired from the Benue Government House.

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