By Tony Iji

Your Excellency,

I am writing as a concerned member of our dear party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), to draw your attention and that of the national leadership of our great party to the emerging ugly developments in the party in Benue State.

The first outing of APC in the governance of Benue State was not a very complimentary episode. All indications now are that history is on the verge of repeating itself if you as President and the national leadership of the party do not intervene urgently.

APC won the Governorship election in Benue state for the first time in 2015 after 16 straight years of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rule. At that time, Senator George Akume, leader of the party in the state, used his vast influence to secure the party’s gubernatorial ticket and electoral victory for Samuel Ortom whom he brought from the rival PDP at the last minute. No sooner did Ortom assume office than cracks began to appear in the relationship between him and Senator Akume over irreconcilable differences in the affairs of the state.

By Ortom’s second year, the muffled cracks had developed into open gullies. Sensing that he could not secure APC’s ticket for a second term in 2019, Ortom defected back to PDP, taking APC’s governorship mandate along with him. That meant that APC was in power effectively for only two years as Ortom got reelected in 2019 on the platform of PDP.

With his reelection, Ortom pulled a chunk of APC members with him to PDP, leaving the rest to languish in opposition, an unpalatable experience they had passed through for 16 years before 2015. It meant another six-year reign of PDP, from 2017 to 2023.

Fortuitously, Ortom failed to perform for those six years, igniting in the electorate another desire for change. And, once more, Senator Akume came to the rescue by bringing in Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, an immensely popular Catholic priest, considered untainted by the existing political environment, as APC’s ace for the 2023 governorship election. Senator Akume and Alia led the party to a convincing victory at the polls.

The Alia administration is only eight months old but it has drawn all the parallels with that of Ortom in 2015 in terms of friction between the Governor and his mentor. It appears to be worse this time around, even. The friction began when the Governor allegedly rejected the candidates for the position of Speaker and other Principal Offices proposed by Senator Akume, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), and the party. It is alleged that he rather aligned with the opposition PDP to constitute the House leadership. It was reported that the Governor was personally in the House to supervise the election of the Assembly Officers. The election was eventually decided in favour of the Governor’s candidates on the second ballot after votes by Akume’s and Alia’s loyalists had tied during the first round of voting.

Since then, the rancorous relationship has persisted between the state chapter of APC and Governor Alia. What started like a mere crack in the state APC family has developed into a wide gully, with the prospect of turning into a gulf. The crisis has manifested in press conferences or statements by different organs of the party and individuals accusing the Governor of excluding the party from participation in his government. These include the Forum of Local Government APC Chairmen, State Zonal Vice-Chairmen representing the three Senatorial Districts, the APC Caucus in the National Assembly, and Arch. Asema Achado, member representing Gwer/Gwer West in the House of Representatives. They cited the rejection of candidates recommended by party officials and leaders for inclusion in the House leadership, the State Executive Council, and Local Government Caretaker Committees, among other appointments, as evidence of Governor Alia’s policy of exclusion of the party from his government.

The Forum of Local Government Party Chairmen went a step further to threaten public protests in Makurdi, the state capital, and Abuja, as well as boycott state government public functions.

The crisis also manifested in an open brawl between the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) on the one hand and the Chief of Staff to the Governor and Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, on the other, during a meeting on the leadership crisis rocking the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).

As expected, relevant aides to the Governor refuted all the allegations against their principal through counter-press conferences and statements.

Although the existence and origin of the deepening crisis between Governor Alia and the APC leadership in the state has been widely acknowledged, nobody has been able to admit the true cause of it. For instance, the three Zonal Vice-Chairmen of the party said in the address they read at their press conference: “We have made frantic reconciliatory moves, trying to find out what the real issues were but in all our efforts, we could not get tangible issues capable of tearing the party apart. Our Leader, Sen. George Akume, has a deep love for Gov. Hyacinth Alia, and in all our meetings, he has never spoken ill of the Governor at any point; he has consistently admonished us to pray and support the Governor to succeed, the same way the Governor eulogizes Sen. Akume at all times and hints of a cordial relationship between them.”

As evidence that an end to the feud is not yet in sight, the Governor fired hot shots at his party critics in his Christmas message to the Benue people. He urged them to “resist attempts by desperate, selfish and disgruntled politicians to use them to cause divisions, mischief and disharmony.”

He continued: “Watch out, especially for those who have abdicated their primary legislative responsibilities which you voted them to Abuja to perform. Be very wary of them at this crucial period as they have sadly failed to jointly sponsor even one newsworthy bill in the whole of the last six months, but have rather resorted to poisoning your minds with hate in the bid to divide and conquer.”

A careful analysis of the allegations against the Governor reveals that they revolve around the filling of political positions – in the House of Assembly, State Executive Council, MDAs, Governor’s aides, Local Government Caretaker Committees, etc. It is apparent that the political hawks in the party, the core loyalists of Senator George Akume and Governor Alia, created and are the ones fanning the embers of the disagreement between them for their selfish gains. The hawks on both sides appear to be selling the idea to the two leaders that the only way they can maintain or take control of the party in the state ahead of the 2027 elections is for them to fix their people in strategic positions now. They disguise this self-serving advice in the garb of the long-term political interest of their respective principals who find it irresistible. These political hawks are playing a very dangerous game of pitching the two leaders against each other in their desperate efforts to secure favour from either of them. For instance, during the appointment of the local government Caretaker Committees, many of the hawks who lost out at the stakeholders meeting of their zones or Local Government Areas quickly moved over to sell a dummy to the Governor that the names recommended by the stakeholders were representing the interest of the SGF, Sen. Akume; that to work with the lists submitted by the party amounted to putting the Local Government Councils under Akume’s control. This prompted the Governor to drop the recommended lists of nominees which he had requested from party stakeholders in favour of the lists drawn for him by the political hawks.

What many concerned APC members like me find disturbing are the growing speculations that the escalating crisis might lead to the impeachment of the Governor, or that Alia, like Ortom, might defect to the rival PDP if he cannot be sure of securing an APC ticket for reelection in 2027. Neither scenario is good enough for the party or Benue state. Apart from stultifying the development of our state, either of them is capable of weakening the party’s support base in the state to the point of, once again, costing us future elections and control of the state. We have gone through this road before and it was a harrowing experience. We must not allow history to repeat itself.

We cannot continue to pretend that there is no crisis in the APC family in Benue state. Unfortunately, the ominous clouds are gathering and the denial of the existence of a feud between Governor Alia and Senator Akume is no longer tenable. Public shows of camaraderie between the two leaders, in speeches and before the cameras, are largely farcical. For instance, the apparent cordiality between the duo, symbolized by the Governor’s faithful participation and encouraging speeches during activities marking the SGF’s birthday as well as the Governor’s Supreme Court victory celebration to Akume’s Abuja residence, were soon neutralized by commensurate hostile public outings by their supporters. The most recent such hostilities were the defection ceremony of PDP members to APC in the state and the APC primaries to fill a vacant House of Assembly seat in Guma LGA. In the former, the loyalists of Senator Akume, reportedly publicly berated the Governor and members of his cabinet for allegedly boycotting the event. In the latter, the Governor announced the cancellation of the primaries over alleged irregularities, but Akume’s supporters describe the announcement as a face-saving attempt by the Governor whose preferred candidate had allegedly lost to that of their principal. The matter is yet to be resolved.

The animosity between the hawks on both sides has split the party stakeholders into two from the Federal level down to the Council Wards, with each fighting for control of party structures, Local Government Councils, palliatives, and other advantages. Latest unconfirmed media reports say there are moves to impeach the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, a Governor Alia loyalist, a move interpreted by political analysts as a prelude to the impeachment of the Governor.

Our dear President, a stitch in time, as the English proverb says, saves nine. To avoid further escalation of the crisis that may prove too costly for our party, our state, and our country’s democracy, I call on you and the national leadership of our great party to intervene urgently. The two leaders should be called to a round table where a formula for the sharing of the fruits of hard work and victory of the party in the 2023 election in Benue state will be worked out and agreed upon. The hawks hovering around the SGF and Governor Alia should be identified and called to order. They should be told clearly that the two leaders and their supporters were instrumental in getting the Benue state electorate to give their mandate to APC. Benue people deserve to reap the dividends of democracy under APC which cannot be achieved in a crisis-ridden atmosphere.

Tony Iji
Concerned APC member,
Oju Council Ward,
Oju LGA, Benue State