In less than 24 hours, the race for the governorship position and state assemblies in Benue State and other states will be concluded and results announced to cap the season of elections in 2023.
However, the question on the lips of everyone in Benue state is, “who will succeed Governor Samuel Ortom?” The answer may seem to be written on the wall, but blurry.
Persecondnews gathered from a reliable source in Ortom’s camp that Ortom who contested for the senatorial election under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the February 25 presidential and national assembly elections, but lost to his former aide, Titus Zam, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is girding his loins for the gubernatorial election to ensure his candidate wins.
Ortom, who is one of the G-5 governors, is among those who lost his bid to go to the Senate on completion of his two terms of eight years in furtherance of his political ambition and to join fellow ex-governors who have turned the Upper Chamber into “retirement home”.
While Ortom polled 106,882 votes, Zam had 143,151 votes, while Labour Party (LP) candidate, Mark Gbillah garnered 51,950 votes.
The source who did not want his name mentioned, disclosed that Ortom who was yet to get over the shock of his loss at the just concluded February 25 National Assembly elections, is doing everything possible to ensure that his candidate, who is the present Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Titus Uba, wins.
“His candidate losing the gubernatorial election will be a double blow on his face,” he said.
Allegations of poll rigging
The results of the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections have made political parties, especially the opposition and voters alike to be on their toes.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) and the PDP in Benue have accused each other of plots to rig the March 18 governorship election in the state.
The APC, in a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Daniel Ihomun, accused the PDP of plans to bypass the BVAS machine by influencing the reposting of staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and instigating violence in APC strongholds through the use of members of Community Volunteers Guards.
Ortom had on August 4, 2022, inaugurated the community volunteer guards.
According to the Benue State governor, the guards are designed to address community security and safety challenges in the beleaguered state which is yet to recover from Fulani herders onslaught against the farmers, youths and churches across the state.
He, however, denied that the volunteer guards were established for political purposes ahead of the 2023 general elections, as speculated by people.
“A secret meeting was held recently, in Government House where a plan was hatched to rig the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly election.
“The plan is to totally boycott BVAS, influence the reposting of INEC Staff (Polling Officers, Collation Officers and returning Officers), create violence in APC strongholds,” the statement said.
But the PDP, in a counter statement by the Publicity Secretary, Bemgba Iortyom, said the governorship election was about the “home affairs”, noting that the party and its supporters needed extra vigilance to ensure strict compliance with the Electoral Act.
“They APC have all reasons to be gripped by the fear they are exhibiting as for sure PDP in Benue under the leadership of Governor Samuel Ortom will not blindly trust in the electoral system put in place and run by APC as we did on February 25th.
“We will maintain extra-vigilance at the polling units and collation centres and insist at every point on strict compliance with provisions of the electoral act for conduct of the elections.”
Low voter turnout
The March 18 gubernatorial poll in Benue has been largely marred by very low turnout of voters in most polling units.
Persecondnews gathered that most people are reluctant to go out and vote as they believe “their votes won’t count”.
It was also gathered that Makurdi, the Benue State capital, had the worst turnout of voters as most of them are from the South-East and are still angry over the outcome of the February 25 Presidential elections.
Speaking with one of the voters in the scanty Obaganya ward 1 polling units 1 and 2, Zone C Benue South, he revealed that most people were there because they were more concerned about the state house of assembly election.than the governorship.
This is owing to the fact that the Benue South has never produced a governor as they are referred to as a “minority”.
“Most people are here because of the state house of assembly elections. If it was only governorship elections, I bet you won’t see anyone here, because no one cares about it,” Onyilokwu Abah said.
However, for Mbachohon council ward Polling unit, Gwer West local government area of Benue, the turnout was quite impressive compared to other polling units.
Persecondnews discovered that there was a reason for the high turnout of voters.
One of the voters, Terkula Tyorpine, disclosed that most of the voters were there to vote for the governorship candidate of APC, Fr. Hyacinth Alia, a reverend father, who they feel will “liberate Benue from what they called bad leadership of PDP and also to redeem the image of Benue.”
“Almost everybody you see here are here to vote for APC. We did not enjoy Ortom’s government. He brought more hardship and suffering to the people. we don’t want to have anything to do with him or his Party,” he said.
Persecondnews reports that people in Benue state, especially civil servants and pensioners, are aggrieved as they are being owed salaries and arrears of pension for over six months.
Ortom has also been tagged for having the longest record of unpaid salaries, despite Benue being among the states that benefitted from salary bailout and the excess crude loan as well as budget support facilities from the Buhari-led administration.
With the legacy of poor governance and months of unpaid salaries and pensions being left behind by Gov. Ortom, will the PDP still be able to retain the seat? This is the million-dollar question.