By Iorliam’Amo Shija
The year 1951 is important to the political history of Tiv people of Benue State because it was the year they first participated in an “election” in the emerging nation .
The then Tor Tiv, HRM Makir Dzakpe and notable Tiv men who then belonged to the social cultural association, Tiv People’s Union (TPU) gathered and selected people on non-partisan basis to represent the Tiv people at the Northern House of Assembly in Kaduna. The 8 representatives to the Northern House of Assembly were Pagher Mue, Gbile Gundu, Yough Gera, Wuam Gambe, Akiga Sai, Ayila Yough, Chia Aka and Makondu Igbon. This began the first exposure of Tiv to politics.
In 1954, after the constitutional amendments, a federal house of representatives was created in Lagos and once again, a second set of representatives were chosen. This was the time that Joseph Sarwuam Tarkaa, first political godfather, entered Tiv political picture. Others selected with Tarkaa were Deem Kpum for Jechira, JS Tarka Jemgbagh, Gondu Aluor Ihyarev /Masev /Nongov and Oravande Abaagu, Kwande. This was the election that brought the former teacher, Tarkaa into politics. He was 19 years old.
By 1960 when Nigeria got Independence, only three names from that lot were still visible on the scene. Gondu Aluor became Tor Tiv when Dzakpe died in 1956. Akiga Sai, first Tiv author, continued the mobilization and education of his people while with the formation of United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) in 1957 and becoming its president, Tarkaa became the first Tiv political godfather.
With tact and and partnership with the then Yoruba leader, Tarkaa took control of all the political structures in what is today North Central Nigeria. From 1960-1980, Tarkaa built a political profile that helped us to have a state and it is also to his credit that he installed the first civilian governor, Aper Aku in 1979. Since 1979, installation of a governor has become the hallmark of a godfather’s influence in our state. Tarkaa died in 1980.
The second political godfather was Paul Unongo. In 1969, as Tarkaa was taking roots, Unongo challenged him. Unongo, then a university lecturer and better educated than Tarkaa, was attempting to introduce an intellectual angle to our politics. He inspired a younger generation of the then newly educated but he also drew the anger of the experienced politicians led by Tarkaa.
The old order fought fiercely, defeating Unongo in 1979 and 1983 gubernatorial elections. In the former he featured Mr PRV Belabo, and in the latter, he contested himself. It was after many years that Unongo would successfully make Rev Fr Moses Adasu governor in 1992. That dispensation was ended in 1993 June 12 crisis .
Our third political godfather was Barnabas Gemade. I think, not trusting or being scared of Unongo, the military empowered Gemade above him. So by 1999, when the current political dispensation began, even though the veteran Unongo was still on the stage, it was Gemade’s gubernatorial candidate, George Akume who won the election in 1999.
On the heels of Gemade was Dr Iyorchia Ayu. Till date, the argument still persist of who made Akume governor between Gemade and Ayu. What is not in doubt though is the fact that as soon as Akume became governor, Ayu outsmarted Gemade and became the sole godfather of Benue politics.
Since 1951 when elections were first held amongst Tiv people, what has never been in doubt is the fact that Distinguished Senator George Akume has been the most successful politician at winning elections and installing candidates, beating the records of all the other godfathers like Tarkaa, Unongo, Gemade, Ayu and Suswam .
In 2003, he won a second term as governor and In 2007 , he became the first Benue State governor to successfully complete his two terms and install a successor, when he made Gabriel Suswam governor. He also went to the Senate after that, where he has been since 2007.
Suswam attempted to wrestle power from Akume but the only thing he ended up achieving was a second term in 2011. Suswam became the most unfortunate “godfather” in Benue State history in 2015 when he could not install a successor and also lost his senatorial ambition. This gave Akume the opportunity to consolidate power as he used Suswam’s tactlessness and political miscalculation to make Ortom governor in 2015.
Those close to Akume and his fans say he is a man of his friends, generous and simple. To them, that is why he keeps winning. His critics say, he has had so much political power but he has done nothing for his people. That, he has failed to impact the people positively. Akume has also obviously failed to raise others. One example worth mentioning is Bola Tinubu who has been able to raise so many leaders after him, since leaving office as Lagos State governor in 2007.
Noticeable of Akume’s politics is though the fact that most of his friends and political associates all end up as his enemies, eventually. Here is the list of his friends and associates who have become his enemies since 1999 till date: Senator Barnabas Gemade, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, Dr. Terhemba Shija, Mr. Terwase Orbunde , Hon. Emmanuel Udende , Hon Emmanuel Yisa Orker Jev, Dr Gabriel Torwua Suswam, Prof Steven Ugba, Young Alhaji, Hon Benjamin Aboho, Dr Terngu Tsegba, Mr Tyoapine Tsegba and Samuel Ortom.
The recent case of Ortom is making headlines. What is common in our politics is a case of godsons abandoning their godfathers because they have assumed more powers or are power drunk. But close watchers in the Akume /Ortom issue say, Akume the godfather has abandoned and betrayed Ortom, the godson.
Ortom is very humble and respectful. They also say that since becoming governor, Ortom has respected Akume and run the state by Akume’s directives on many fronts. From appointments to policy directions, Akume guided Ortom and he obliged him, so what has gone wrong? We may not have known why most of his friends become his enemies in the past. In the case of Ortom, people seem to be more sympathetic with Ortom. This coming close to an election should worry Akume.