Re: Power sharing in Benue State: Use Equity, not Blackmail

By AVM Monday Morgan (Rtd)

The Benue Rebirth Movement (BRM) has come across an article titled, “Power sharing in Benue State: Use equity, not blackmail,” written by Chief Simon Shango. In the piece, Chief Shango gave what could be called an insider account of the creation of Benue State. He said virtually all ethnic groups that made up Benue Plateau State then were afraid of the Tiv dominance in a new Benue state. According to him, the Idoma agreed to join the Tiv in the proposed state only on the condition that the Igala, hitherto in Kwara State, would come with them, a condition both the Tiv and Igala accepted.

Shango who was the Secretary of the Tiv group that was agitating for Benue State said no sooner was Benue State created than the Igala began to shortchange the Idoma, their “kit and kin.” Due to their numerical strength, the Igala, according to Shango, took all the prominent available positions at the state and Federal levels from the Idoma after the Tiv had taken the Governorship in the person Mr. Aper Aku. Chief Shango said it was with the magnanimity of the Tiv nation that Chief Audu Ogbe was moved from Deputy Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly and appointed a Minister in Lagos after the death of Dr. Usman Abubakar.

He tried to connect the past with the present by asserting, wrongly, though, that “the main problem now is that the Idoma nation want to take over the Governorship of the State which can only be done by negotiation, not by blackmail or name calling.” He also alluded to “recent attacks by Idoma groups” on Distinguished Senator George Akume, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).

BRM wouldn’t have bothered to join issues with the elder statesman if he had limited himself to his reminiscences about the creation of Benue state. We are concerned because he told the story with an obvious intention of reigniting political cum ethnic rivalry between the Idoma and the Tiv people as well as creating bad blood between the distinguished Senator George Akume, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and Idoma people.

Also, BRM feels obligated to respond to Chief Shango because it is the umbrella group that is currently leading the agitation for the Idoma nation to produce the Governor of Benue state.

Shango said: “The numerical strength of the Tiv nation is far larger than all the other tribal groups put together such that the Tiv votes alone can win the governorship of the state on any political party platform.” He was only stating the obvious. This was exactly why, by his own admission, many other ethnic groups refused to join Benue state at inception. It is in recognition of this fact that the Idoma/Igede have been peacefully and constructively engaging the Tiv in bidding for the state governordhip in the last 48 years. Even in the face of a deliberate and unjust practice of alternating the position between zones A and B and rotating it among the five Tiv ruling houses to the exclusion of the Idoma/Igede of zone C, our people remained patient, undaunted and hopeful. The latest and, perhaps, the hardest push by zone C for the Governorship in 2023 was not just because of the leadership provided by BRM but more so because of the promise by the Tiv and the belief by the Idoma that the former would cede the Governorship to zone C after all the five Tiv ruling houses must have taken a shot at the governorship by 2023.
One would have expected a respected elder statesman like Chief Shango to be pricked by his conscience and be remorseful over the unfair and unjust manner his people have treated a partner that helped them to realize the dream of Benue state nearly 50 years ago. Rather, he turned round to accuse the same loyal partners of blackmail for demanding for their right. This is like rubbing salt on an injury.
In the build-up to the 2023 elections, like in several previous occasions, all sorts of bridge-building and consultations between the Idoma and Tiv nations were exploited by BRM as a group and Idoma governorship aspirants at the personal level. The interface involved both political and traditional rulers. Therefore, for Chief Shango to accuse the Idoma of attempting to use blackmail rather than negotiation to take over the governorship of Benue state is, to say the least, uncharitable, unfair and unbecoming of someone who, at his age, ought to be the conscience of his people.

The elder statesman also contradicted himself when he gave the unsolicited advice to the Idoma nation “to learn a lesson or two in politics from their Tiv neighbours.” In one breadth he said: “Because the Tiv people are vulnerable, they choose their political alignment carefully. While the Idoma nation still cling to the PDP, which has been abandoned by the rest of Nigerians, the Tiv people on the other hand chose to align with the All Progressives Congress APC under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, In another, he said the numerical strength of the Tiv nation alone can win the governorship of the state for them on any political party platform. Can a group with that kind of political clout be termed vulnerable? So, did the Tiv win the governorship election in 2023 and on previous occasions because of their numerical strength or because of their right alignment? The truth is that Chief Shango was only trying to find excuses to justify the unfair treatment being visited on their hapless neighbours who chose to stick with the Tiv when others abandoned them about 50 years ago.

The allegation of “recent attacks by Idoma groups” is another ploy by the elder statesman to tarnish the reputation of the Idoma’s struggle for political emancipation by setting them up against Senator Akume. BRM which today leads the struggle has never believed in, engaged in or approved of any form of violence, physical or verbal, against any individual, group or institution, not to talk of attacking the highly revered SGF. By throwing the name of the former Governor, Senator and Minister into the fray, Chief Shango was unwittingly but wrongly classifying the SGF as a tribalist. But discerning Benue sons and daughters take pride in the political profile of the SGF and only small minds will underestimate his importance to the entire country, North Central and Benue State.

Calling the little given to the rest of us as magnanimity, as Chief Shango has done, smacks of elitist arrogance which is inimical to political power sharing. Chief Shango and others of his ilk must learn to purge themselves of their tribal bigotry and accept that Benue belongs to all of us.

AVM Morgan is the National Coordinator of Benue Rebirth Movement (BRM).