George Akume, a former Governor of Benue State and three terms Senator, has been in power for 20 years. His recent appointment as a minister-designate by President Muhammadu Buhari, according to political observers, has altered political permutations in the state, writes AVIASHIMA TOOM from Makurdi
It is no longer news that President Muhammadu Buhari has appointed Senator George Akume, as a minister in his next cabinet.
Akume was said to have successfully passed through the necessary processes of screening, beginning with the Department of State Services, DSS, to the Senate and is now awaiting his inauguration.
His appointment as minister has continued to spark widespread jubilation, most especially from the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, which lost out woefully in the last general elections in Benue State.
The appointment has rekindled hope among the members of the party in the state. Supporters of Akume and the APC, according to findings, had lost hope after the minister-designate failed to get appointed as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, which many believed was going to be handed to him and which brought some level of hope in the APC.
However, there seems to be palpable fear in the state on the appointment. Political observers wonder if Senator Akume will use the vantage position, as a member of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, to impact on the lives of Benue people. Those who hold this view opine that rather, Akume may likely deplore his arsenals of power at the centre to destabilise the Samuel Ortom-led administration in the state.
Aligning with this line of thought is Hon. Shimanyian Torge, a political analyst in the state. He is of the view that the likelihood of the Rotimi Amaechi and Nyesom Wike scenario in Rivers State was going to play out in no distant time in Benue.
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Amaechi’s firm grip of political power, as a recurring godfather in Rivers State was punctured, following a fallout with his erstwhile political ally, Wike, who superintended over the decimation of his (Amaechi’s) anointed political godsons during the 2015 and 2019 general elections, respectively.
The situation was worst for the former governor of Rivers State in 2019, as his All Progressives Congress, APC, was not able to fill candidates for the various available positions due to internal wrangling within the party. As a contingency plan, the APC backed the candidate of African Action Congress, AAC, who could not also make it at the general elections.
Amaechi, fondly called “The Lion of Ubima” by his admirers, could not dismantle the well fortified political fence mounted by Wike and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
In Benue, Akume and Ortom are locked in an intense political duel following a fallout a year to the 2019 general elections over undisclosed reasons. Akume as the leader of APC in the state was said to have facilitated the emergence of Governor Ortom, first as the candidate of APC in 2015. The governor was edged out of the primaries of the PDP, coming a distant second to the then anointed candidate of the party, Terhemen Tarzoor, a less popular candidate at the time in 2014. Few days after, he secured the ticket of the APC, through the help of Akume. Akume was believed have also oiled his machinery, which ensured the subsequent election of Ortom as governor alongside other candidates of the APC in the state.
The titanic political battle between Akume and Ortom climaxed during the 2019 general elections with Ortom, emerging as the victor, while Akume whose APC could only manage to win one House of Representatives seat and six in the 30-member state House of Assembly as the vanquished.
Akume also became the major casualty of the elections, having lost his senatorial seat to his erstwhile political godson, Orker Jev.
Jev was believed to have the backings of such notable heavyweights in his senatorial zone, including Ortom himself, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, Dr. Laha Zdever and Prof. Tor Iorapuu. The Nigerian Xpress learnt that Akume has not forgiven those who gave him a kick during the elections and may be poised to use his ministerial position to get revenge.
Observers are of the opinion that Akume’s loss during the elections was particularly demoralising because it scuttled his long term ambition to occupy the Senate Presidency seat. He first took a short at that position in 2007 and has always maintained the desire to be the number three citizens, the last being in 2015.
Already, the missiles may have started flying. Akume recently made disparaging remarks against the governor.
Media reports quoted Senator Akume, as expressing concerns about continued non-payment of salaries in the state by the Ortom administration, which, he said, he brought to power. He was addressing a delegation of members of the APC from the state who paid him a courtesy visit in Abuja.
But the attack on Governor Ortom was described as most uncharitable by the Benue State chapter of the PDP.
The party’s state Publicity Secretary, Bemgba Iortyom, in a statement in Makurdi noted that once again, the defeated senator could not resist the urge to attack the governor.
Iortyom noted that the statement represents a desperate attempt to smear Governor Ortom with deliberate falsehood, even as it sadly reflects the fact that Senator Akume remains unwilling to heed the increasing calls for peace and unity of purpose among political leaders in the state.
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According to him, to refresh the facts about the salary situation in the state, while the Ortom administration was under the sponsorship of the APC where Senator Akume held sway as a leader, the worst case scenario was the combining of two months of federal allocation to pay one month salary as a result of a shortage of funds.
“That situation led to salary arrears being owed workers for some months, particularly in 2017, and this was a situation Senator Akume himself appreciated and on several occasions took out time to explain to Benue people, pleading with them for understanding and be patient,” he said.
The PDP spokesman, however, said that since January 2018, by which time the Ortom administration came under the sponsorship of the PDP, payment of salaries to all categories of workers has been up to date, whereas in the case of Benue State University, payments have been regular, right from the inception of the administration in 2015.
“It is our observation that Senator Akume’s latest remark about non-payment of salaries is indicative of the fact that he, indeed, has lost touch with the reality in the state which may well explain his landslide defeat in his senatorial re-election bid against Senator Emmanuel Yisa Orker Jev at the last elections,” Iortyom said.
Mr. Iortyom reminded Senator Akume and his supporters that while they bask in the euphoria of his appointment, their recklessness only amplifies the fact that under APC and the Buhari Presidency, since 2015, Benue State was near totally neglected in terms of meaningful federal appointments.
“Benue PDP notes with pride that under PDP controlled federal administrations, since 1999, at no point did Benue State not enjoy ministerial appointments and other juicy federal appointments given to its indigenes which made it the envy of most other states in the country,” it added.
Reacting to claims by Akume that he made Ortom governor, the statement said: “Benue PDP observes that this only betrays the latent undemocratic tendencies of the Buhari ministerial appointee as no human can make another governor without God’s approval and the support of majority of the people of a state.
“Such a claim by the defeated Senator is ‘nudum pactum’ being that it is lacking in basic consideration of political reality. For, if Senator Akume could indeed make governors, then his combination with the fabled “federal might” ought to have stopped Governor Ortom from winning re-election to a second term of office, while, ironically, he, Akume lost in his bid for re-election back to the senate in the March 2019 general election.
“In the face of such expectations, which are well known to Senator Akume, there couldn’t have been a possibly worse start to his ministerial tenure than his attack on Governor Ortom, as was widely reported in the media.”
The governor has already pledged to work with his estranged godfather for the overall development of the state.
Ortom, while addressing Mutua Union of Tiv in Maryland, United States of America, commended President Muhammad Buhari for appointing Senator Akume as a minister. He emphasised the need for greater unity among Tiv people at home and abroad for the development of the state.
In a statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Terver Akase, Ortom said he was looking forward to having a robust working relationship with the minister designated for the interest of the state.
The governor solicited the support of Benue people in the diaspora.
“The security of lives and property, as well as the overall development of the state, remain our priority. I, therefore, solicit the support of Benue sons and daughters in the diaspora to help us sustain the efforts we are making in the development of the state.
“Let me appreciate President Muhammad Buhari for appointing Senator George Akume as a minister. As governor, I am looking forward to working together with Senator Akume for the development of Benue State,”’ he said.
Believed to be a political master planner of repute, Ortom according to opinions is not unaware of the impending political challenge ahead. As the days roll by, only time will possibly say how the seeming renewed battle of the titans will be fought and won.