by David Odama
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may have actually promised an automatic ticket to Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, who last week dumped the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the party.
Checks at the national secretariat of the party revealed that before Ortom’s eventual decamping to the PDP last Tuesday, several meetings were held in Abuja with leaders of the party in Benue, where it was agreed that the Governor be allowed an automatic ticket.
“There were meetings and the leadership of the party in the state was in all such meetings. There is nothing anybody can do in Benue without discussing with the leadership of the party at that level,” the source said.
Asked about the details of the resolutions, the source said: “The leader of the party should brief his members including elders, the guber aspirants and other stakeholders on what actually transpired.”
“If you observe, Ortom was playing hide and seek with APC for some time, during this period, he was talking to the PDP leaders in Benue. It was after he got the green light that he finally declared for the party,” the source further disclosed and insisted that “there is no prominent leader in Benue state that can claim he was not aware or consulted about the decision to receive Ortom into the PDP fold.”
According to the source, “Ortom began to attend PDP functions in Kwara and Sokoto after he got reasonable assurances that he would be given the PDP ticket.”
“Do you believe with every conscience that a serving Governor who dumps his party should be denied second term ticket in PDP”? the source queried.
When reminded that the APC had denied Ortom re-election ticket and given him “red card” the source said: “What is the reason for the red card? The party denied him ticket because he was protesting the killing of his people and the ruling – elite in the North were not comfortable with him.”
The source further disclosed that although Ortom was promised automatic ticket, no such promise was made to the other decampees, especially the elected members of the National Assembly.
Among those who recently returned to the PDP in Benue alongside Ortom were Senator Barnabas Gemade (Benue North East) and four members of the House of Representatives, Hon Emmanuel Udende (Katsina-Ala/Ukum, Logo); Hon Hassan Saleh (Ogbadibo/Okpokwu/Ado): Hon Mark Igbilla(Gwer/Gwer-West); and Hon Dickson Tarkighir (Makurdi/Guma) federal constituencies.
According to the source, the national assembly members were told to join the party and seek nomination with other aspirants for their various tickets.
Speculations have been rife that Ortom and the National Assembly members were all promised automatic tickets and to achieve this, the structures of the party in the state were to be dissolved and the new entrants given opportunity to produce 60 per cent of the party Executive Committee members at the Ward, Local government and State levels.
Most of the delegates to elect a candidate in the forthcoming elections would come from the executives, according to the provisions of the PDP constitution.
Before his formal movement to PDP, Ortom held meetings with the various stakeholders in the party including the influential G14 members, the state executive committee and LGA chapter chairmen to brief them on his imminent return to the party.
During the meetings, he reportedly asked the party leaders to treat him like the Biblical “prodigal son” and receive him back with honours and celebration, a veiled reference to claims to the party’s sole gubernatorial ticket.
The party leaders were, however, said to have asked him to join the litany of other aspirants in the race and fight his way through rather than stake for “automatic ticket”.
Suswam Kicks, Contemplates Defection
Former Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam may have kicked against the decision to hand over automatic tickets to the new entrants as that would kill his ambition to represent the Benue North East District in the Senate.
Besides, Suswam is said to be worried about the fate of the 13 governorship aspirants of the party who have been campaigning on the party’s platform before last week’s coming of Ortom.
An aggrieved Suswam was said to have held meetings with Ward, Local Government and State Executives of the PDP all through last week in Makurdi, where he told them point blank that he would not accept the decision of the national secretariat to hand over automatic tickets to the new entrants.
Party officials who attended the meetings disclosed to DAILY ASSET that the former Governor had asked them to begin to think of an alternative political base in case they were “chased out” of the house they built.
He had earlier at a funeral oration of his uncle’s late wife, Mrs Torngee Jem Toranyiin dropped the hint that he was embarking on another political journey in search of a new home and advised all those who were loyal to him to begin to pack their bags and baggage.
His remarks were interpreted to mean a notice of his mention to dump the party.
“Our Leader was very clear in his submission. He told us that he will not accept any move that leaves him without a senatorial ticket to contest the election because the incumbent has exhausted his term since his local government has produced a senator in the last three elections,” an official said in an interview.
Suswam was said to have met with PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus in Port Harcourt two weeks ago on the matter. At the meeting, Secondus reportedly told him to accept Ortom’s automatic ticket in the interest of the party.
An aggrieved Suswam was also said to have met his friend and Rivers Governor, Nyesom Wike, who also reportedly told him to comply with the National Chairman’s decision since it was the position of the National Working Committee of party.
The position of the National Chairman which supposedly sealed his hope of re-contesting the senatorial seat he lost in 2015 was believed to have further fueled his frustration and the decision to look elsewhere to save his political future.
Akume, APC Lobby Suswam
While Suswam consults with his supporters on the next move, it has been revealed that his erstwhile godfather and leader of the APC in Benue state, Senator George Akume may have launched a heavy lobby to get Suswam cross over to the APC to beef up his “arsenal” for the upcoming political battles in the state.
Akume who recently fell out with Ortom is alleged to have resumed calling Suswam regularly on phone, to put pressure on him to join him in the APC.
Akume is said to be dangling the Benue North East Senatorial ticket to Suswam with a promise that both would consult to field a common gubernatorial ticket for the party.
Akume strategists were said to have advised him that Suswam had great political value and would help APC recover its lost grounds as a result of Ortom’s defection.
“The Leader” as Akume is called by his supporters, is quoted to have spoken last week at a public gathering that having helped the emergence of both Suswam and Ortom as Governors at different occasions he was of the view that Suswam was a better “political son” to work with hence the decision to woo him to the party.
As at press time, Suswam was yet to formally announce his next move in spite of his grievances as he was said to be weighing the options available to him.
South South Governor Begins Mediation
Meanwhile, a Governor of the South South geo-political zone elected on the platform of the PDP (names withheld) may have volunteered to mediate in the looming crisis in the Benue PDP, an aide to the governor told DAILY ASSET at the weekend.
The Governor upon learning that Suswam was contemplating leaving the party, was said to have held the meeting with the aggrieved former Governor in Abuja to possibly dissuade him from the idea.
“My Governor feels that Suswam has labored for the party and should be respected and not humiliated or harassed out of the party,” the aide spoke of his boss.
He said the Governor had undertaken to take up the matter with other Governors of the party and the national secretariat.
“There is always an exception to the rule, so the Benue case is peculiar and should be treated as such” the aide quoted his boss to have said about the unfolding political situation Benue.
Thirteen Guber Aspirants Threaten Defection
Thirteen governorship aspirants of the party in Benue met last week to review the latest developments in the state and after due deliberations resolved to “resist any attempt to dissolve the party structure” to give a group undue advantage in the scheduled primaries of the party.
The aspirants who attended the meeting were: Prof. David I. Ker, Dr. Paul B. Orhii, Dr. Gabriel T. Nyitse, Engr. Felix Atume, mni, Surv. John T. Tondu, mnis, Dr. Terhemen Tarzoor, Rt. Hon. Bar. David Iorhemba, Dr. Stephen T. Hwande, Prof. Eugene Aliegba, Prof. Tor Iorapuu, Comrade Richard Gbawuan, Hon. Kenneth Iyo, Comrade Simon Anchaver.
In the statement, the aspirants said they were “fully mindful that it may be in the overall interest of the party to welcome into its fold new members, yet it is even more in the interest of the party to ensure that internal democratic functionality and equilibrium is maintained as a critical prerequisite to keeping the party on the track of growth and success enjoyed up to this moment.”
“May we at this point reiterate that a level playing field for a free, fair and transparent primary election which has been promised us by the Benue State leadership of the PDP remains the only option by which the party could credibly and successfully nominate a governorship candidate to the 2019 governorship election if indeed the party is serious at recapturing power from the present APC controlled Government in the state.
“We want to also state categorically that, while we may not oppose to any group or individuals from joining and participating in the affairs of the party in state, we are strongly opposed to a purported unilateral decision to dissolve the executives of the party at all leaves in the state, so as to accommodate or give undue advantage to any group or person angling to join the party. This will certainly be resisted by all of us, the undersigned 13 Governorship Aspirants” the group said in a statement released to the press after the meeting.”