By Richard A Hwande Esq.
Political upheavals and recalibrations are not new on election eve years. In Nigeria, this is characterized by party defections and counter defections by political gladiators. This obtains at all levels of the political class. Back in 2014, a political eve year, this scenario played out with mass defections from the then PDP to the APC. Four years later, its déjà vu. This high level Political scheming and machination cannot go without its effect on the polity. The current political intrigues as obtained have cascaded down to the grassroots across Nigeria in varying magnitudes. The political environment and dynamics in States across Nigeria have been recalibrated in quantum leaps with the fate of the common man and electorate hanging in the balance.
The Confusing Benue Episode
Benue Politics has always had an interesting narrative. From time immemorial, political alignments and counter alignments have rocked the State with attendant effects both negative and positive including the current episode.
The current Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom has been locked in a tense face-off with his erstwhile god-father, Senator George Akume, the de facto APC leader in the State. The reason for the face off cannot be emphatically established as this, like other political issues, is shrouded in secrecy leaving room for rumored and assumed reasons to swirl around.
The effects of the face-off are however not rumored or assumed. They are real and staring right at us, the biggest being the defection of the Governor, his deputy, 13 local government chairmen, and 22 Assembly men from the APC to the PDP, the closest choice. This has opened up a gamut of political swings and up swings in the State with each action birthing a reaction.
On the 24th day of July, 2018, the speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly Hon. Terkimbir Ikyange and his deputy, Hon. James Okefe, were impeached unanimously by about 22 members present at a reconvened session of the house. Recall that a week earlier the House had proceeded on a month’s recess to resume plenary on the 15th of August, 2018 only to reconvene abruptly against its standard practice to impeach the speaker, his deputy and other principal officers of the House in curious and suspicious circumstances. The 22 members of the House elected a new speaker and a deputy on the same date.
The following timeline captures the unfolding political quagmire:
On the 24th day of July, 2018, the speaker, Benue State House of Assembly and deputy are impeached by 22 members present at a reconvened session.
On the 25th of July, 2018, the Benue state Governor decamps from the APC to the PDP.
On the 26th July, 2018, heavily armed Police squad cordones off the State Assembly preventing members and staff from accessing the Assembly complex. This move is believed to have been orchestrated by the impeached Speaker in tandem with the APC leadership in the State.
On the 27th July, the chief Judge of Benue State issues an order restraining Hon. Terkimbir Ikyange and others from parading themselves as leaders of the State Assembly while a pending suit they had filed before another High Court of Justice in Makurdi challenging the impeachment was yet to be determined.
In another twist, another State High Court issued yet another order restraining the police from occupying the State Assembly Complex and preventing the 22 Assembly members loyal to the Governor from gaining access to the Benue State House of Assembly Complex to carry out their official duties. The Police have since vacated the complex but the house is yet to resume sitting as it is currently on recess.
As it stands:
Currently, in Benue State, things are falling apart and the centre is not holding. The political logjam is taking its toll on Governance leaving the common man in the street in limbo. For instance, 9 of the 13 State Exco members loyal to the erstwhile god father have been sacked with no replacements made so far not mentioning heads of Parastatals and agencies including the Benue State Internal Revenue Service.
The implications of the political logjam are multiple and burdensome. The first implication is that the issues of core governance, which are service delivery to the is neglected and has been sacrificed on the altar of ego and the political interests of the gladiators.
Another implication is the deepening of poverty and misery on the already impoverished Benue Citizen. Since the beginning of 2018, Benue has been engulfed in a vicious orgy of bloodletting by killer herdsmen with attendant consequences. Going by the reports of the Benue State Emergency Management Agency, it had registered more than 180, 000 displaced persons which it has been catering for in eight camps while over 500 000 IDPs are taking shelter wherever they find space. Mercifully, the attacks are beginning to decline with slender peace appearing on the horizon in the State. The least the State needs at the moment is another round of disharmony from its leaders. Political affiliations are normal and legal but the acrimony and tension being witnessed in the State at the moment is least desired. This will no doubt deepen the poverty level of the already impoverished Benue Citizenry especially Women and Children.
Yet another grave implication of the current situation in Benue State is the derailment of democratic structures and values in the State. For example, it was widely reported that a battalion of heavily armed Police men invaded the State Assembly more than once to prevent the assembly from sitting to carry out its legislative functions. At any rate, it is most undemocratic and absurd for the Police and other Security agents to invade a legislative complex to prevent lawmakers and their aides from carrying out their duties. Furthermore, the Assembly is divided between two factions. A 22 member faction loyal to the Governor and another 8 member faction loyal to Senator George Akume. Things got uglier when the 8 man Assembly faction attempted to impeach the Governor in a counter move against the 22 man group. The 22 Assembly members now sit at the Banquet Hall of the Government House to carry out their legislative duties.
We can go on and on reeling out the implications as negative as they are. Going forward however, we recommend the following as measures to save our State and its future from imminent danger.
We call on all warring factions to sheath their daggers and dialogue over their differences for the interest of the common man.
Security agencies including the Police should not be allowed to be used as hatchet men in the hands of Politicians to settle scores with disregard to democratic norms and the rule of law in Benue State and Nigeria.
Peace and harmony are the most important resources the State and its Citizenry need as we emerge from herdsmen crises in the State.
The various interest groups should note that the citizen is paramount and should be prioritised above everything else including political interest especially the rights of Women, Children and the most vulnerable in our society.
In conclusion, we can only say that though conflicts, disagreements and realignments are common decimals in party politics, these can, however, be managed in an effective and efficient manner without losing sight of the bigger picture which is the growth and development of our State and the Nation as a whole.
In conclusion, we aver that this Benue logjam will provide the electorate an opportunity to know who has their interest at heart as we go to the polls come 2019.
R.A. Hwande Esq is a Legal Officer with Lawyers Alert