By Nathaniel Ikyur
I don’t want to believe that the one minute, twenty six seconds video clip of Senator George Akume where he spoke at the valedictory session of the 8th Senate trending on the social media is a complete version. Even at that, no matter the time he took to speak to his colleagues, and to the nation, that short clip has done more harm to him politically more than whatever he may have said thereafter.
I watched as the cameraman panned his lenses over the Senate chambers, what one saw were faces of his colleagues who were obviously disappointed.
Everyone who spoke, and particularly those who didn’t make it back to the red chambers were sober and full of praises to their constituents and to God for the privilege to serve them and the nation. Those who spoke made good use of the time, picking on specific issues in the life of the 8th Senate to render their accounts either for or against certain decisions. Their personal political battles were buried even though they may have had as a result of their loss at the National Assembly polls.
Sen Akume is no doubt a very compassionate personality. He’s an embodiment of humility and care. He has truly being a pillar to many politicians in the state. On the flip side, many have also helped him in many times past in his electoral victories.
Before his foray into politics in 1999, those who claim to know said His Royal Highness, Abu King Shuluwa, the Tor Sankera, then one of top civil servant in the Benue state civil service recommended Akume to be appointed Secretary of Gboko local government. He was later moved to Idah. This was his first taste of political office and power.
When the military were planning to hand over power under the General Sani Abacha transition arrangement, Akume was the undisputed governorship candidate of the defunct Congress for National Consensus, CNC, one of the five ‘leprosy fingers’ of the Abacha transition. That quest to be governor on the platform of CNC diasppered after the sudden death of Gen Abacha on June 8th, 1998. Chief Gemade was the national chairman of that party then.
After Abacha died and new political arrangements emerged, Akume moved along with Gemade into the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. As a political reporter with Vanguard newspapers at that time, I covered the formal public unveiling of the PDP at the International Conference Centre, Abuja. I met with him (Akume) and i know where he stood throughout the proceedings.
The governorship primaries in Benue state in 1999 was tough. It wasn’t a tight race as such but superior interests played a key role. While Hon Mike Mku had enough resources to prosecute his elections, Akume, a retired permanent secretary was without doubt dependent on the goodwill of many. Given his humility and proximity to the lineage of JS Tarka, it was an added advantage for the sake of the late political leader of the middle belt.
Given the financial war chest that Hon Mku, then Assistant General Manager at Benue Cement Company, Plc possessed, it was obvious he would carry the day. Mku won significantly delegate votes from the two zones in the Tiv speaking area. It was certain that he was almost there as the candidate of the party until some discreet political maneuverings set in. At the end of the day, three political heavyweights, viz: Senator Gemade, Dr Iyorchia Ayu and Brig-Gen David Mark queued behind Akume to outsmart Mku who was already coasting him to victory. This singular ‘betrayal’ made Mku not to forgive some persons for a long time. But again, it is said that it was delegates from the Benue South senatorial district that gave Akume block votes as commandeered by Mark and his foot soldiers. This shot Mku down from winning the ticket.
The 1999 elections came and the PDP swept majority of states. Akume too won the governorship in Benue. And for eight years, courtesy of the synergy created by these three and many others in their various domains, he was able to sustain the supremacy of the party in the state. Of course, electoral victories at that time, as he too confessed on the floor of the Senate June 6th, elections then were not won free and fair. It was garrison politics. Anyone with more thugs carried the day. It’s from this point that Akume too began to use state powers to help others.
Curiously, Akume’s romance with these trio began to fall apart soon after. First to fall victim was Chief Gemade who used, not only his influence to get Akume the ticket but also his finances. Akume as governor raised a formidable gang up against Gemade’s ambition to be the National Chairman of the PDP. In his place, Akume supported Chief Audu Ogbeh openly and was elected. It didnt take long for Sen Mark to be next. Although stories about their disagreements revolves around the alleged pact to cede the governorship to the Idoma in 2007, others claim the assassination of Chief Andrew Agom who was in the same vehicle with Akume on their way to Abuja had some strings of financial links. This has not been proven. But all said, Akume and Mark parted ways politically.
Iyorchia Ayu was last to be edged out. And this was at the twilight of Akume’s administration. It’s said that the duo had agreed to move with Atiku Abubakar into the defunct Action Congress, AC, which later became ACN to actualise Atiku’s presidential ambition. Akume withdrew from themagreement at the last count sensing threats of persecution from the vicious former President Olusegun Obasanjo using the EFCC. This and perhaps many more issues made the break up easily. The only thin line which would have brought them together was the botched governorship ambition of Prof Steven Ugbah in 2011. This too didn’t fly because of some selfish underlying interests.
Apart from these three, there are numerous political foot soldiers who should not be ignored in the successful story of any politician, including Sen Akume. They also contributed to the twenty years of Akume’s larger than life position on the Benue and Nigerian politics. And one of these is Gov Samuel Ortom.
Ortom as an elected local government chairman of Guma in 1992 was more experienced politically. His joinig the PDP from the defunct All People’s Party, APP was a plus to the successes of the PDP in the state.
It is a truism that Sen Akume helped Gov Ortom to get the 2015 governorship ticket of the APC. It is a gesture that Ortom has never taken for granted. But of course like he (Ortom) would always say, ‘you cannot receive nothing except it be given to you from above.’ This means in as much as he recognises the role the former governor played in his emergence as the candidate of the APC in 2015, without the God factor, every effort would have amounted to nothing.
There’s no doubt the outcome of the 2019 general elections didn’t go down well with the distinguished senator. And this is where many picked holes in some of his actions both on the streest of Makurdi and in public places. We expected the distinguished senator to borrow a leaf from what Sen Mark did in Otukpo a few weeks ago. We looked forward to the time he would come back to the state, hold a thanksgiving service to give thanks to God and the people of Benue for keeping faith with him. For ceaselessly uplifting him to high political offices for twenty uninterrupted years.
The valedictory session of the 8th Senate provided an opportunity. But rather than take advantage, he blew it. Preferring rather to single himslef out, leaving a colony of political heavyweights who stood by him all these years in his political exploits in the state. And this is the tragedy of his evening days on the political firmament of the nation. He’s playing God forgetting the people of Benue state made him. Of course it’s not too late for that thanksgiving service of twenty meriterious years.
But for Akume to stoop low to be taking the glory of Gov Ortom or anyone he helped to a position, as if he is a co-equal with the Holy Spirit is blasphemous. And even if he sees Ortom as an area Court judge and himself a Supreme Court Justice, he should remember that not too long ago, Justice Danladi Umar of the Court of Conduct Tribunal shot down the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen of the Supreme Court to an early retirement.
Ikyur is a journalist and writes from Makurdi.