(First used in BusinessDay)
Wherever there is a river, Port Harcourt by Boat can get there; and so it was that this column paddled to Makurdi through the River Nun that touches the ocean and to Orashi River, to River Niger, passed through the risky Confluence at Lokoja, switching into the Benue River, and paddled straight down to Makurdi. Parking at the Wadatta Market, we trekked to New Garage down to the Post Office and rested at Akilu Street near the Bishops quarters. There was no plan to get to the Government House because there was enough gist in town, especially at the ‘atte’ joints’ that dominate the state capital and determine the flow of political narrative in Benue State. In fact, any one who wants to know the next governor of the state simply sits and eats at some ‘atte’ joints and the ‘results’ would be obvious. That is why anybody who wished to win the masses over in any elections would first cultivate the habit (or is it culture) of eating with the masses at various ‘atte’ points, or at least sponsor some ‘atte’ goers to drop his name and allow it permeate the grassroots network. That could explain why the best dishes are found at the joints, especially opposite the IBB Square in High Level area or at the spot close to Benue Hotel.
This was the strategy the late Father Moses Oshio Adasu discovered and used effectively over Igbetar and Ayua. In most Benue elections, its always a fight between the Tiv elite versus the masses. All a clever person needs to do is start early and cultivate the image of a man of the masses: dress down with ‘anger’ cloth, make yourself available at ‘atte’ joints and burials, start a farm, help out with fertilizer access and tractors, show huge anger against the Government and the rich, and hate cows that eat crops. Should a very good elitist man emerge for governorship, the masses would first ‘eat’ him (fleece him) and make him lose. Then, they pardon him, if he wants to try again, that is. That would be the fine he paid for ignoring the critical masses over the years. After that, he could now be allowed to win an election.
Ortom was and still s a member of this masses movement far before he became a minister, an elite. He was a salesman with Pepsi at a time it was the rave of the city and mixed with the boys at the picnic venues on Gboko Road. That was enough initiation. He later became a LG boss, party boss, grassroots businessman owning cyber-cafes, etc. Later he became big and a minister. When it was the turn of his MINDA zone to produce governor, after they had lost the Tor Tiv throne that is equated to governor for the sake of rotation, he simply walked up and picked it, despite borrowing a garment (party) because he was never an APC member for a day.
Now, the herdsmen came with their guns. If there is anything that unites the Tiv, it’s war, especially if that war comes from the Fulani. They have a history of fights. It did not start with Jonathan, it could not have started with Buhari, but, presidents or prime ministers pay for it; ask Tafawa Balewa, ask IBB (Orkar coup and brief expulsion of the north), ask Jonathan. Feel free to ask Buhari in May 2019, too.
Ortom is a man from the ‘atte’ background and the message of the ‘atte’ is always loud and clear. Before now, this column said that those he talked to at the grassest roots did not want to hear none of Ortom, not with butchered bodies of Tiv women and children, or displaced farmers now begging in Makurdi. Anyone who forces the Tiv to lose their farms and eat lowly like eastern visitors is their worst enemy. They say the Tiv people are very hospitable, such that if they loved their stranger-friend a lot, they would give him warm blanket (you get what I mean?) but when they hate you so much, they give you warm arrows, poisoned arrows. What would the Tiv likely give APC and Buhari in 2019? So, Ortom would not like to take any warm arrows along with anybody or any party. His escape must be to dodge the anger of the Tiv masses, lest, another man’s injury becomes his own. Voting Ortom out would destabilize the untouchable Tiv zoning practice. So, voting him in seems the only option, but it must not be in that party, the ‘atte’ jointers hissed to their cherished stranger.
Now, the war of guns and knives seem to have moved to the war of politics in the state, my ‘atte’ sources tell me. Groups now loyal to different leaders in the Benue equation are marching on the state’s House of Assembly where impeachments are the latest political password.
The killings by herdsmen seem to have caused angst in the state and caused a shift in political choice away from the ruling party to the former ruling power bloc. As if to align with the new opinion shift in the state, Ortom, decamped from the APC to the PDP, apparently realizing that many voters in the state would not touch thumps anywhere near the party in the ‘odza’ room.
So, according to insiders, instead of wooing the Benue people over to his ruling party, the governor rather ran faster than his supporters to wherever they were running to. The grouse with his former lords in the state was that he said they gave him a red card. The national body intervened to nullify the red card like in Video Assisted Referee (VAR) match, but Ortom refused to see any green card anymore.
Now, his special adviser on media and ICT, Tahav Agerzua, seems to confirm the speculation. It is now clear that the ‘red card’ was the least of the reasons for the escape but a seeming strong desire not to be abandoned by his people on the exodus.
The Governor on Sunday, speaking through his Special Adviser on Media and ICT, Tahav Agerzua, mentioned the reasons for his departure, chief among which being the desire of the Benue people to fight against the return of Buhari. Ortom would not want to be against the move of his people and thus acted locally wise.
Agerzua was George Akume’s chief press secretary. Now, he is special adviser to Ortom who is fleeing from Akume. He revealed thus: “Besides, major stakeholders in the state advised Governor Ortom to leave the APC because of the federal government’s alleged complicity in the ongoing killings in the country, including Benue state. They advised him to change platform so that they can fight against the return of President Buhari in 2019. The stakeholders are scared that if Buhari comes back in 2019 the killings would be worst because it is clear that he supports the conquest and occupation agenda of his ethnic group, the Fulanis.” The ‘atte’ masses have spoken.