By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Joseph Tarka lived for only 48 years. His life and times were eventful. He defined his eon with the magnitude of his individuality and politics. He produced and offered to the Benue people a visionary, pragmatic, inspiring and focused leadership. Since his demise on March 30, 1980, no Benue politician of Tiv ethnic stock after him has been able to command the kind of reverence, public approbation, sympathy and support that he enjoyed in the political space of Benue.
Tarka left behind a legacy of loyal and committed leadership. He was loyal to his followers and sensitive to the yearnings of his people. It is arguable whether any Tiv politician has been able to surpass Tarka’s record of accomplishments that were packed full into his short existence. Except David Mark from the Idoma ethnic stock that had been governor, minister and senator (senate president), no other Benue politician towers above Tarka in terms of strategic public offices occupied.
By the time Tarka died, he had been a minister for commerce and a senator in the second republic. He died while in the senate. Today, the only Tiv politician that is set to surpass Tarka’s record of occupying strategic public offices is George Akume who had been governor of Benue for eight years, senator for twelve years and has just been appointed as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Barnabas Gemade, another Tiv politician, had only been a minister and a senator. A former governor of Benue, Gabriel Suswam, had been a member of the House of Representatives and now a senator. The incumbent governor, Samuel Ortom, had been a minister. Akume’s impending ministerial voyage places him ahead of them all of Tiv ethnic extraction. That also positions him strategically to appropriate Benue’s political leadership, depending on how well he can deploy his ministerial position to utilitarian performance in service delivery.
Indeed, Akume’s political cruise has been phenomenal. He had taken the Benue political scene by storm as governor between 1999 and 2007 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). His brand of politics of inclusiveness and accommodation resonated well with the vast majority of the people. He ensured the economic empowerment of men and women in the state and democratized the dividends of democratic governance while in the saddle as governor.
He was very popular among his people. To be sure, Akume has enjoyed rare reciprocal and episodic gestures from the people who have always rewarded him with their massive votes during elections. While he won the election to the senate in 2007 as an outgoing governor, his move in 2011 when he dumped the PDP for Action Congress (AC) in the Senate and went ahead to win his re-election was remarkable. It simply showed that his popularity among his people and influence on them were not a fluke. He worked hard to achieve their trust, confidence and goodwill.
Apparently, Suswam as governor was going to deny him the senate ticket in the PDP. It was a battle of wits and grits. Akume proved that he had the people on his side. It was in 2015 that his politics and politicking blossomed and became prodigious. His planned re-election to the Senate was a foregone conclusion. He did not really campaign. But he was rather engrossed with his plan to produce a successor to Suswam as governor of Benue state.
While Suswam denied Samuel Ortom the PDP ticket and gave it to his crony, Dr Tehemen Tarzoor, Akume had, single-handed, paved the way for Ortom to cross over to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and rewarded him with the governorship ticket of the party. He ensured that Hon. Emmanuel Jime, who was favoured to clinch the ticket, was pacified with a federal appointment. That was sheer political dexterity that paid off handsomely.
But in the build-up to the 2019 general election, the relationship between him (Akume) and Ortom had become conflicted, resulting in their parting of ways. Ortom returned to the PDP where he sought for re-election and won. Akume could not ensure the victory of Jime who was the party’s governorship standard bearer in the election. And, in a controversial circumstance, Akume who had become a household name in the politics of Benue Northwest Senatorial Zone, was “defeated” in the 2019 election.
A former member of the House of Representatives, Emmanuel Yisa Orker-Jev was deployed by the PDP leadership guard in the contest against him (Akume). The scenario was tantamount to a fight between an elephant and a cow. Akume was understandably over confident and dropped his guards in the belief that he was going to overrun Oker-Jev even without electioneering.
In fact, on a good day and in a free-and-fair election, Oker-Jev would not be an obstacle to Akume’s victory in the political cosmos of Benue Northwest zone, but by the time the other camp was done with its shenanigans, Akume discovered too late that he had been electorally undercut and manipulated out of victory path and celebration. But to be sure, Oker-Jev, who is not half as popular as Akume in the political space of Benue, was a proxy in the witty and gritty battle of supremacy and survival.
The philosophy of survival of the fittest as exemplified in the theory of Social Darwinism continues to underline political interactions in Benue State. The leadership question was about to resolve itself to the disfavour of Akume and possibly to be thrown open for contestation and appropriation by the likes of Ortom and Suswam, when providence beckoned on him (Akume) to commence his second missionary journey in the executive arm of government but, this time round, at the federal level.
That gives Akume national visibility. He becomes effectively entrenched and reinforced as the leader of the APC in Benue. He remains a formidable hub around which a viable opposition against Ortom and the PDP revolves in the State. In fact, it goes without saying that he seamlessly fits into his providential role as a leader of his people. Significantly, oiling of APC political machinery in Benue becomes easier ahead of the 2023 general election.
With his cosmopolitan disposition to politics, having traversed both the PDP and APC terrains as an influential leader, Akume’s capacity to step in the driver’s seat of the vehicle of political leadership is not in doubt. As a minister of the Federal Republic, the burden is on him to provide political leadership to the entire State of Benue. He is to minister to their needs as well as to the needs of the entire nation in whatever portfolio he is saddled with.
Certainly a great step ahead of Ortom as a three-time senator and two-term governor, his ministerial voyage offers the opportunity of a countervailing force to Ortom and PDP’s antics in Benue. Indeed, Akume is in a good stead to convince Benue people that the question of political leadership in the state should be resolved in his favour. The coast is clear for Akume, whom the other camp thought it had damaged politically, for the ultimate battle for leadership, thanks to President Buhari who nominated and appointed him as a minister.
· Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via email@example.com