By Ior Ikyereve
The topical issue of zoning or power rotation with regards to 2023 governorship position in Benue State is currently on the front-burners of Benue political conversation and dialogue. Regrettably, some of those spearheading the discourse and debates on this very important matter, whether by omission or commission, are deceptively hiding under the cover of clannish prejudices and subjective analysis to promote distrust and unfounded fear.
It is against this backdrop that I write to dispel the seeming apprehension that characterized the issue of zoning and rotation of the 2023 governorship of Benue State even as we prepare to go into party primaries.
The logic of zoning and rotation of power emerges from principles of equity, justice and fair-play that consider every ethnic group in a particular state to be a bona fide constituent of the state. Thus, as a product of equity and justice, power rotation or sharing is not attainable through acts of activism or confrontational advocacy. Power rotation rather, is a peaceful process that evolves from persuasion, solicitation, supplication and political alignments on the basis of fairness, equity, justice and good conscience.
Power sharing or rotation therefore, is the very essence of democracy. Indeed, it’s a popular cultural and democratic practice among the Tiv which has been in use for centuries. They axiomatically referred to it as “Ya na angbian”, which literally means, “eat and give to your brother.”
In his book, “Power Rotation and the Challenges of Democratization in Contemporary Nigeria”, Agaptus Nwozor, a renowned political scientist postulates: “The impetus for zoning and rotation of power was ostensibly derived from efforts to create a sense of belonging amongst the various ethnic groups …” (Nwozor, 2014:10). Nwozor’s position emphatically suggests that mutual trust, unity and peaceful coexistence are only conceivable by respecting feelings and interests of different ethnic groups in a given geographical area.
Moreover, the expediency and practicability of the principle of zoning and power rotation in a democratic setting was previously championed by our own celebrated sage and first Executive Governor of Benue State, the late Aper Aku, when he argued that: “Zoning can rescue minorities from political obscurity and at the same time guarantee majority interest…” (Onwudiwe,2004:273) cited in (Nwosor (2014:10).
According to the views of the late political icon as expressed above, power rotation gives a sense of inclusiveness to minority ethnic groups and also dispels mutual fears even as it protects the interest of the majority. It is heartwarming to note from the above narrative that the founding fathers of Benue politics were very passionate and zealous about power shift or rotation in favor of the minority ethnic groups. So, the reassuring news is that our peaceful agitation for power shift to Benue South is not a new phenomenon; we are only building on the foundation laid by our political forefathers.
The argument some people put forward against the principle of zoning and rotation is that it undermines political competition and choice. In as much as I appreciate this concern, I also would like to stress that zoning or power rotation is a political imperative in a multi-ethnic society which should not only be given a chance but also vigorously pursued through negotiations and truthful appeals.
In Benue State, for instance, the ongoing dialogue is between the people of Benue North-East and Benue North-West on the one hand and the people of Benue South, on the other hand. Like I said earlier, this negotiation is a peaceful diplomatic process, hinged on good brotherliness, and completely devoid of coercion and activism.
Furthermore, as we move towards the gubernatorial primaries in the state, we should also be conscious of the growing appeal and calls from the people of Benue South to their Tiv brothers to graciously nominate a suitable aspirant from Benue South as flag-bearer of a major political party in the state. This genuine appeal, obviously, is worth being considered even for the sake of equity, fairness and goodwill.
What is more, my candid advice, particularly to the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Benue State, party stakeholders and all delegates to the forthcoming governorship primary election is that, the candidate we all need at this particular time as the flag-bearer of our great party should be someone that is suitable for the time, capable and qualified for the job, and above all acceptable by Benue people.
To hit the nail on the head, a former deputy governorship candidate of the APC in the 2019 gubernatorial election in Benue State, and now a frontline governorship contender still on the platform of the APC, Hon. Barr. Sam Ode, mni, is one aspirant that wears the toga of a suitable candidate that Benue needs at this point in time.
While fielding questions from journalists at the NUJ House in Makurdi early this year, Sam Ode threw more light on his suitability as the unity candidate of our great party when he said:
“Among the crop of very eminently qualified aspirants for the position of governor of this state, I’m the most suitable for this time. It’s not because I’m the best or the most qualified, but I’m the most suitable. The Bible tells us that there is time and season for everything. So for the Benue of today, your brother and son, Sam Ode is the best Benue should have at this time.
“My father is from Ediku in Otukpo Local Government Area of Benue State while my mother is from Mbaanyam in Ushongo Local Government Area of the state. My grandmother is the first daughter of Tarka Nachi and the immediate elder sister of the legendary Senator Joseph Sarwuan Tarka of blessed memory. So that puts me in Zone A, Zone B and Zone C as a contender.
“I can tell you with every sense of honesty that of all the aspirants who are contesting to be governor of Benue State, nobody knows Benue State more than me. There is nowhere in Tiv land that I don’t know; there is nowhere in the whole of Idoma and Igede-Akweya that I don’t know, and so I’m a complete Benue man. This time that the people of Benue South where I come from are appealing to the people of Zone A and Zone B that there should be a rotation of the office of Governor to Benue South, I think that I’m the most fitted for that position at this time.
“In a transition period, you test the waters and so I will be one leg there, I will be one leg here and I will give justice, fairness and equity to the entire Benue State. But that is just one aspect. I’m not the only person with the advantage of dual citizenship in this state; there are many others. So it’s beyond coming from zones A, B and C at the same time. I have the intellectual preparation for the job”.
The former Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria added: “I have undertaken a tour of Benue 13 times throughout my political career; and as Special Adviser, I went round the state five times. As a politician, I went round electioneering with Senators Akume and Suswam and of course when I was the coordinator of President Jonathan in Benue State, I still went round. So I know Benue State not only by the geography but by the character of the state, and so I am well equipped with the political experience, the intellectual preparation and the political will to deal decisively with issues that are confronting the development of Benue State”.
Sam Ode’s perspective on power rotation, and by extension, the people of Benue South is variously canvassed and supported at different fora by elites, party stalwarts and elder statesmen in the state, irrespective of political affiliation or ethnicity.
Baring his mind on this issue of power sharing in Benue, Professor Kpamor J.T. Orkar, an elder statesman and former Commissioner for Agriculture during the administration of the late Aper Aku, maintained that the people of Benue South Senatorial District should be supported to produce the next governor of Benue State in 2023.
Prof. Orkar further explained that when democratic structures were being put in place, preparatory to the return to civil rule in the second republic, the other ethnicities in Benue – Idoma, Igala, Igede, Bassa and others – all came together and reached an accord that the Tiv should produce the first governor of Benue State. Based on that understanding, the rest of the ethnic groups in Benue did not come out to contest for gubernatorial election in 1979.
The APC stalwart and elder statesman buttressed his standpoint when he says: “The Tiv are known to be promoters of minority rights, and if tomorrow a Tiv man gets up and wants to occupy a national position and is talking about consideration for the minorities, people may ask him, ‘if this is the case, what have you done with the minorities in Benue?’”
Besides, those who argue that democracy is a game of numbers and that the majority must always have their way, should also not forget that in order to achieve the much-desired mutual trust among the diverse ethnic groups in Benue, our democracy must be adapted to suit the political reality of our environment. Equity, equality and fair-play should be the yardstick in defining our electoral process. And certain peculiar compromises should be reached in respect to our political realities and complexities for the sake of our unity as a people and promotion of inter-ethnic inclusiveness.
My beloved compatriots! Hon. Sam Ode, an alumnus of the prestigious National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS), remains our suitable and capable candidate for 2023 Benue governorship. We therefore, appeal to party stakeholders and delegates to use their votes wisely to nominate Sam Ode as the party’s flag-bearer in the forthcoming APC gubernatorial primaries.
Ode is the only governorship contender who will galvanize all the diverse interest groups in the state for a better, stronger and unified new Benue. While he cannot forget his father’s people, Sam Ode, on the other hand, cannot lose sight of the interest of his mother’s people.
Ior Ikyereve is Director of Research, Communication and Strategy,
Sam Ode Gubernatorial Campaign Organization
April 18, 2022