Benue Politics: Loyalists trapped in Ortom, Akume Supremacy face-off

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These are no best times for Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State and the leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Senator George Akume, as both men seemed to have drifted far apart occasioned by development towards the 2019 election.

The seemingly rivalry between the two prominent politicians took a messier dimension in the past seven days, following alleged exchange of words and display of power superiority by the duo to the detriment of their loyalists who bore the brunt of the scuffle.

What could have been the climax of the rivalry was the impeachment plot allegedly hatched against the governor and the Speaker of the state’s House of Assembly, Terkimbi Ikyange, by supporters of the both aggrieved factions.

However, the governor and speaker have separately denied any impeachment against them.

Sequel to the impeachment move, the governor in a manner which took many people by surprise, though long expected announced a partial dissolution of the state’s executive council last Sunday evening.

In a statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Professor Anthony Ijoho, the governor retained four commissioners out of 13 and seven special advisers with their portfolios intact out of 20.

It is believed that the alleged fracas between Ortom and Akume was largely responsible for the sacking of the many commissioners and other appointees, nearly 80 percent of them said to be the senator’s ‘men’ who he single handedly nominated for appointments at the inception of the administration in 2015.

As the dust was yet to settle, more appointees within the week to include the Chairman of the Benue Internal Revenue Service (BIRS), Mrs. Mimi Adzape-Orubibi and her Urban Development Board counterpart, Richard Agwa who are believed to be loyalists of Akume were also relieved of their duties.

Our correspondent learnt that more heads would roll in the coming days as the drama seemed to have just begun, following the Tuesday instability at the House of Assembly which led to the deployment of combined team of the police and State Security Service (SSS) personnel to take over the premises to ensure law and order.

It was gathered that Ortom and his supporters have perfected plans to defect from the APC following the party’s alleged move to deny the governor its ticket to re-contest in 2019, but Akume was said to have threaten the governor not to dare him by leaving the party on which platform he won the 2015 election.

Our correspondent also learnt that the senator had allegedly perfected arrangement with his loyalists, one of which is the speaker of the House to impeach the governor, a development that is said to have irked other lawmakers in the opposition party to plot the removal of the Speaker last Tuesday.

But, the House at its sitting on that day, following the insistence of the Speaker to reconvene at a later date arrived at a resolution to adjourn until August 15.

However, the tense session did not end without warning from some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers that an emergency could warrant the House to reconvene before the resolved date.

The speaker, Ikyange, answering questions from newsmen shortly after the adjournment, denied the impeachment plot against him and the governor.

Ikyange, however, admitted that there had been little political instability in his APC, such that it slightly impacted on the House.

He said the rumours of impeachment were the handiwork of external influences in town which heated up the system, but that there was no plot to impeach him or the governor of the state.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the crux of the matter was not unconnected with rumours of Akume’s open support for the Managing Director of Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA), Barrister Emmanuel Jime, to fly the party’s gubernatorial flag in next year’s election.

A hint into the purported arrangement was said to be displayed with T-shirts, face caps bearing the image of Jime for governorship of the state during the APC’s recent convention at the Eagle Square in Abuja.

This was even against the background of an earlier sign of trouble which popped up at the conclusion of the party’s congresses in the state occasioned by the alleged disenfranchisement of Ortom’s candidates during the exercise ahead of next year’s election.

Following the love lost between the two leaders, it was gathered that a former permanent secretary in the state, Mr Akange Audu, attempted to broker peace between the duo but the meeting ended in chaos, after Ortom who was reportedly tongue lashed by the senator declared that he was ready to leave the APC for Akume and his people if that would allow peace to reign.

Akume was said to have fired at the governor over unpaid salaries and for allegedly ridiculing him in some quarters, where he had remarked that the party wouldn’t feed a governor owing salaries in the next election.

Sources close to both men said the meeting ended abruptly as Akume walked away, vowing to deal with the governor which was why in the estimation of many observers, Ortom believed to be a political wizard pulled the strings with the removal of the senator’s men.

The first sign of enmity occurred at the fall out of the state, local government and ward congresses where the senator allegedly imposed all his preferred candidates, leaving no single position for the governor’s candidates.

The development reportedly angered some of Ortom’s strong men, such as the likes of John Akpereshi who few weeks later defected to the PDP.

Ortom had reacted to his impeachment plot by the Assembly, saying the rumour was entirely baseless without an iota of truth.

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and ICT, Tahav Agerzua, the governor noted that the speculation which came on the heels of another that he (Ortom) wants to dissolve the 23 councils in the state was also unfounded.

“From the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended, it is impracticable for any House of Assembly to impeach a governor in one day. According to constitutional provisions, the processes leading to the impeachment of the Governor take not less than three months to consummate. In the case of the Benue State governor, not one of the impeachment procedures has been activated so it is impossible for the House to have impeached him at its sitting yesterday (Tuesday),” the statement read in part.

It added that the rumours making the rounds that the governor was about to dissolve the 23 elected local government councils in the state have no justification, stressing that Ortom who believes in the rule of law was aware that by the provision of the Benue State Local Government Law, he had no powers to dissolve the councils.

“Besides, he has no cause whatsoever to breach the provision of that law on any other.

Elected local government chairmen and councillors have no reason whatsoever to believe the speculations which are as baseless as they are mischievous,” it said.

Similarly, one of the sacked appointees has alleged threat to her safety in a statement released by her media aide, Terna Francis.

“This morning (Wednesday), upon hearing the news that Chief (Mrs) Mimi Adzape-Orubibi has been relieved of her appointment as Executive Chairman, BIRS, some armed men suspected to be members of the Benue State Vigilante and Livestock Guards besieged the premises of the Headquarters, Benue State Internal Revenue Service, Makurdi.

“The men who claim to be acting on the instructions of the Benue State government have made the atmosphere at the board very tense and unsafe, given their modus operandi.

“In view of the above, it has become impossible for Mrs. Orubibi to gain access into the corporate headquarters in line with the Governor’s directive to hand over.

“Let it also be on record that if anything happens to Chief Mrs. Mimi Adzape-Orubibi, the Benue State Government will be held responsible. One will wonder why it is only the premises of BIRS and Urban Development that have been taken over by these men even as other appointees who were recently relieved of their duties had a smooth handover in a calm and peaceful atmosphere.

“Meanwhile, the outgoing Executive Chairman appreciates the State Government for the opportunity to serve and the good people of the state for cooperating with her and making her work easy,” the statement concluded.

As the two leaders sneeze at the moment, their supporters continue to catch cold, giving chances to many public opinions thriving across the state.

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Godwin Okafor is a Financial Journalist, Internet Social Entrepreneur and Founder of Naija247news Media Limited. He has over 16 years experience in financial journalism. His experience cuts across traditional and digital media. He started his journalism career at Business Day, Nigeria and founded Naija247news Media in 2010. Godwin holds a Bachelors degree in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos. He is an alumni of Lagos Business School and a Fellow of the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists). Over the years, he has won a number of journalism awards. Godwin is the chairman of Emmerich Resources Limited, the publisher of Naija247news.

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