Suswam and Gemade: Options before PDP
By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Let me state from the outset that I am not from Benue State. It therefore
stands to reason that I cannot also be from Benue North-East Senatorial
District, one of the three senatorial districts that make up the state,
and about which seat in the Upper House of the National Assembly I am
writing. So, anybody can conveniently question my interest and locus in
the political dealings in the district.
I am involved in this enterprise for two reasons. One is my relationship
with the occupants of the seat since 1999 as a reporter (both for Vanguard
and THISDAY at different times) covering the activities of the Senate. Two
is the great concern the scramble for the seat has generated in social and
political circles in the build-up to the 2015 general elections.
Today, as publisher of The Congresswatch magazine, I have a wider role in
relation to the entire Legislature. Regardless, my interest in the Benue
North-East Senatorial seat, in particular, has been deepened because of my
close interactions and relationship with occupants of the seat.
Significantly, in 2007, I struck up a friendship with Senator Joseph
Akaargerger, who was then the custodian of his people's mandate from the
senatorial district. Akaargerger was and remains a sedate but highly
fecund persona. A former military administrator of Katsina State and
holder of a Ph.D degree in Law, he brought his brilliance to bear in his
contributions to debates on the floor of the Senate. I do not want to
dwell on how he emerged as candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)
at the expense of former National Chairman of the party, Chief Barnabas
Gemade, at the party's senatorial primaries in 2007, a process that was
superintended by George Akume, who was then in the saddle as governor of
Benue; and how he lost the seat to Gemade in the 2011 senatorial election.
That Gemade won the 2011 election did not come as a surprise. In fact, his
victory was expected. The Nomyange U Tiv (Rising Sun of Tiv) enjoys more
political prominence both locally and nationally than Akaargerger, having
been a Federal Minister and National Chairman of the ruling PDP. Had it
not been due to the conspiratorial alliance perfected by Akume, Gemade
would not have lost to my friend, Akaargerger, at the party primaries in
Gemade brushed aside the incident, remained in the party, gave the seat
another shot in 2011 and won. Interestingly, in 2011, the incumbent
Governor Gabriel Suswam was in charge of the party machinery and with his
support, Gemade clinched the party ticket. Akaargerger had tried to save
his senate seat by moving to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), on
which platform he contested against Gemade in the senatorial election but
lost to Gemade.
Akaargerger has since returned to the PDP. The import of this is that
there is something very unique and attractive about the PDP platform.
Leaders of the party would decide one day to jump ship and, always, like
prodigal children, would later return to the party. I have deliberately
made reference to this tendency to decamp against the backdrop of reports
linking Gemade with a plot to leave the PDP.
I sincerely took the reports with a pinch of salt because Gemade's
political pedigree does not portray him as someone who would abandon a
house he built to be a tenant in another house on account of injustice or
unfairness. After all, he had suffered injustice before now when former
President Olusegun Obasanjo forced him out of office as PDP national
chairman. His pre-determined and controversial defeat at the 2007
senatorial primaries did not also make him to run to another party out of
desperation for elective office.
He had remained unruffled, and had decided to bide his time. This is why,
when it was reported, very recently, that he was contemplating leaving the
PDP if he was denied a return ticket to the Senate to represent Benue
North-East Senatorial District, I found it difficult to believe. The
narrative had it that Suswam is interested in the seat at the end of his
eight-year tour of duty as Benue governor; whereas, Gemade is interested
in seeking a second term in the Senate.
This scenario presents a jigsaw puzzle that would require the leadership
of the party, including the presidency, to unravel. Here is a governor who
has been loyal to the party, seeking a senatorial ticket. Should he be
told not to exercise his right to aspire to any position in the land
because of the ambition of another man? And if he is not told not to run,
would he not deploy everything (read state machinery) at his disposal to
overrun his opponent (in this instance Gemade)?
But when one begins to analyse the development further, one is likely to
point to the fact that the governor, who is about 49 years old, has had
enough of elective offices having been in the House of Representatives
from 1999 to 2007 and having been governor from 2007 to 2015. Attempting
to proceed from there to the Senate where he is likely to spend another
eight years or more would be giving too much to one man in a state where
there are people who are equally good or even better than him.
This brings me to Gemade's re-election bid, which is being threatened by
Suswam's senate ambition. Ideally, in the democratic spirit, Suswam should
be allowed to slug it out with Gemade for the party ticket. But it is
common knowledge that the contest would be skewed in favour of the
incumbent executive head and the outcome of the primaries would be
fractious on the party.
And I ask, is the PDP ready for more crises within its fold? Would it not
be in order for the PDP and the presidency to quickly identify potential
flashpoints like the Benue North East senatorial contest, wade into them
with compromises that would make political actors happy? Would it not
serve the interest of the party and the presidency, for instance, to
prevail on Suswam, a younger Tiv man, who has had his fill of elective
posts, to allow his elder brother, Gemade (65 years), to enjoy a second
term in the senate? And, would it not be ideal for the party and the
presidency to consider an appointive post for Suswam with an assurance
that he would be sustained in office for the period of four years?
Lest either Suswam or Gemade misunderstands my motive and interest in this
matter, I am interested overall in the wellbeing of the PDP. Indeed, while
I once enjoyed interactions with both Suswam and Gemade, time and events
have eroded such interactions. Nonetheless, the position that I have
canvassed above is, to my mind, a fair one and I hope the duo as well as
the party and the presidency will give these issue and others similar to
it a thought in the interest of PDP victory in the 2015 general elections.
Ojeifo, journalist and publisher, sent this piece from Abuja via