AYU, AKUME LEAD COALITION TO TEST SUSWAM'S RUN
THE second term bid of Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam might be in for a big test. With the impending governorship primary, those opposed to Suswam have finally bared their teeth by unveiling their preferred governorship aspirant.
Former Senate President, Dr Iyorchia Ayu and former governor, Senator George Akume are leading a coalition of politicians from Benue North-West and Benue North- East Senatorial districts in a major political push that might re define the governorship race.
The leaders of the two senatorial districts that account for two third of the population of Benue were in Gboko for the burial of the traditional ruler of Gboko council traditional ruler. Suswam supporters did not attend the ceremony after reports indicated that youths might ambush them.
The meeting took place at the Gboko Hilltop Residence of Ayu. Those present included Ayu, Akume, Senator Joseph Waku, Benue North East PDP leader, Chief Abu King Shuluwa, some members of the House of Representatives and House of Assembly, PDP executive members, youth leaders and women leaders.
Those in attendance ended speculations regarding the position of the opposition on the re-election of Suswam.
In the Tiv political setting today, Ayu and Akume are regarded as very influential politicians after Suswam.
Ayu and Akume had always been friends but they drifted apart over their preferences during the 2007 elections. While Ayu supported former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the then Action Congress (AC), Akume preferred to remain in the PDP. Ayu and Suswam enjoyed a good relationship after Ayu returned to the PDP. That relationship went sour after the governor chose to support President Goodluck Jonathan's presidential aspiration.
However, Ayu and Akume have re-united to raise the competition against Suswam's re-election bid. On the cards is Prof. Steven Ugba, the Special Adviser to the Governor of California, United States and nephew of Second Republic Minister of Steel, Paul Unongo. Unongo who is a supporter of Suswam's re-election, said that his nephew would not be drawn into any contest with Suswam. He claimed that Ugba, whom he was in contact with, would not contest. However, unfolding events showed he was far off the mark and the question now is how did Ugba agree to run.
The emergence of Ugba has altering calculations, and a once quite polity has become vibrant, and there is the threat that the PDP could become factionalised.
Ugba, an indigene of Logo council is considered a thorn to the re-election of Suswam, who also hails from Logo. He is a technocrat who has been involved in grassroots development with funds from abroad. Last Sunday, he was presented as the consensus gubernatorial candidate to run against Suswam.
Presenting Ugba to political leaders and other groups, Ayu said that Ugba was the consensus candidate of the governorship aspirants, across party lines.
Ayu said that due to the challenges in the state in the last three and a half years, political leaders have buried their differences with a view to enthroning a credible technocrat as governor.
He said: 'We have finished extensive consultations and all the governorship aspirants, irrespective of political affiliation have agreed to support Ugba for the race in 2011.'
Akume said that contrary to claims, Ugba was conversant with the challenges in Benue and who could transform the state from the grassroots.
Ugba promised to restore development at all levels in the state if elected in 2011. He said that Benue has witnessed a steady decline in development in the last three and a half years because of the refusal of the present administration to recognise the views of political and traditional elders in the state.
After the official presentation of Ugba, PDP leaders moved to Jato-Aka, the traditional home of Tiv people for traditional blessing. After the unveiling, Unongo accused Ayu and Akume of setting him and his nephew on a collision course.
Aware of the implications of the development, Suswam last Monday directed the State Executive Council of PDP to summon a meeting of the expanded caucus to deliberate on issues affecting the party.
At the meeting, Suswam briefed party members behind closed doors. The state PDP publicity secretary, Mr Godwin Ayihe at a press conference after the meeting, said that the governor had appealed to party loyalists to disregard the persuasions of Ayu and Akume and follow him on the governorship primaries.
Ayihe said that members of the caucus resolved to advice Ayu and Akume to desist from anti-party activities or face sanctions. He added that members of the caucus doubted Ayu's membership of the party, since they were not aware when he actually returned from the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
On the issue of endorsements, Ayihe said that the party has not endorsed any governorship aspirant including Suswam. He insisted that the party's governorship ticket was open for anyone and will be decided at the primary.
He said that most members agreed that the primaries at all levels should be free and fair. 'We are aware that Ayu and Akume are sponsoring a candidate in another party. This is anti-party activity. The governor told us not to have anything to do with this aspirant,' he said.
Ayihe said that the governor released N500,000 to each of the 23 councils and tha, 'the money the governor released at the meeting was for party loyalists and not for the party. Therefore, all the party loyalists at the meeting were given the funds.'
Speaking at the presentation of his campaign vehicles in Makurdi, Suswam, who was represented by his deputy, Steven Lawani said that he would use his achievements to sell himself to the electorate.
The Director General of the Suswam Campaign Organisation, Terhemba Shija said that the campaign vehicles were bought with funds raised at a dinner for the governor's re-election.
With the challenge of re-election, a Suswam loyalist and former Lagos State Police Commissioner, Abubakar Tsav appealed to Unongo to persuade his nephew not to allow himself to be drafted into the governorship.
In a text message, Tsav stated: 'I want to appeal to you most passionately to prevail on your son, Ugba not to allow himself to be used by desperate discredited politicians to destroy his hard earned reputation and unstained integrity.'
Leaders of Benue South have formally given Suswam the condition upon which he would receive their support at the primary. At a meeting, the leaders told the governor to get a new running mate since Lawani, has not been reaching out to members of the constituency.
They accused Lawani of trying to corner political positions in his Federal constituency and council. They insisted that the action of the deputy governor has led to factions within the party in his area and that his interests were against the interests of the party.
According to sources, Suswam is in a dilemma on how to tackle the demand of the Idoma leaders on the candidacy of his deputy governor. Suswam said that he has the loyalty of Lawani, but he also understands that Lawani has lost touch with his Federal Constituency over his insistence to impose an aspirant from his hometown on the people.
The Minister of State for Niger Delta, Mr Sam Ode was suggested to the governor as a replacement to Lawani. Another choice is Mr Abba Moro, the pro-chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, who is from the same constituency as Lawani.
One of those up against Lawani's plot to impose his kinsman on the party is former Senate President Ameh Ebute. Ebute, an indigene of the constituency, said that there was no way the most populated district in the constituency, Edumoga, would be schemed out of political posts in 2011.
The State had established that the councils from where the governor and his deputy hail from would not be allowed to produce the members of the House of Representatives. Suswam is expected to take his stance on the issue of the deputy governorship candidate after the primary. Though his campaign structure still bears the name of the deputy governor, it is uncertain if the governor would want to have him on the ticket, if he eventually gets same at the primaries.
With Ayu and Akume baring their political fangs, the political fight has shifted to Benue South and Suswam cannot ignore the demands of the leaders from that area. He is pleading with stakeholders to allow Lawani remain on the ticket, while he sorts out the issues against him.