After weeks of blowing hot and cold, the eighth Assembly in Benue State was finally inaugurated
penultimate Friday with Terkimbi Ikyange, member representing Ushongo constituency, emerging as Speaker. Ikyange is of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
However, the intrigue that heralded the emergence of the new leadership of the assembly has dealt another fatal blow to the PDP which lost the state to the APC at the last general elections.
Political pundits were of the opinion that the PDP, with majority number in the House, stands the chance of forming a formidable opposition in stabilising the state polity and balancing the power equation through robust debate.
The argument was based on the idea that since the advent of democracy in 1999, it would be the first time a party outside the ruling party that produced the state governor will have the majority in the state House of Assembly to expectedly be in firm command of the legislative arm.
But, instead, a few of its members caved in to the pressure allegedly mounted on them by the party in power to accept monetary and car gifts to give up the coveted seat to the minority.
Earlier, there were allegations by the PDP legislators that the governor, Samuel Ortom, and his party were wooing them with huge sums of money and car gifts in order to ensure the materialisation of an APC speaker.
These allegations have been denied by the governor’s spokesman, Tahav Agerzua, who maintained that his principal is a God fearing man and would never stoop low to contradict his belief in the rule of law, equity and justification.
The PDP legislators had also alleged receiving death threats from anonymous callers who warned them severally of the impending dangers lurking around to the extent, it was gathered that all 16 members including the Labour Party legislator fled the state for safety only to show up at the assembly complex for the inauguration.
Interestingly, at the end of their first duty in the new Assembly, the speaker emerged with 17 votes to beat PDP’s Dominic Terka Ucha representing Vandekiya constituency who scored 13 votes while James Ejembi of PDP representing Okpokwu constituency won the deputy speaker position.
It was learnt that the PDP, despite being a majority in the House lost the speakership because three of its members had sold out to the APC during the horse trading, a development which however did not come as a surprise to many people following rumours in the state days before about the game changer.
Before now, the two parties, sources say, separately held endless meetings plotting on how to plant their various candidates. One of such manoeuvring tactics employed by the APC was overtures made to certain members of the PDP to play across party lines.
Before May 29 which marked the beginning of a new government in the state, the PDP members in the Assembly had met in Otukpo at the instance of the former Senate President, David Mark and former Governor Gabriel Suswam to deliberate on who among them takes over the seat of speaker.
It was gathered that three PDP members; Jato Ianna representing Katsina East, Kester Kyenge of Logo constituency and his Vandekiya counterpart Dominic Terka Ucha, were selected with a renewed commitment that none of all the 15 members who attended the meeting would let down the party’s chances of becoming a force in the new House.
However, the APC on its part evolved possible strategies to gain control of the House at all cost as the party’s chairman, Abba Yaro, allegedly worked on three of the PDP members supposedly from the Benue South senatorial district where he hails from to achieve the goal.
The lawmakers were said to have been promised juicy appointments for their senatorial zone.
The first five appointments made by the governor excluded the Idoma of Benue South with four of the positions shared to a particular axis of the Tiv speaking people which has the two senatorial districts of Benue North East and Benue North West, while the Igede got the only one for the South district.
Inside sources told Daily Trust that those factors could have been responsible for the PDP’s inability to clinch the foremost seat of the Assembly which has now destabilised the past rotation arrangement among the Tiv people who have always held the position.
Available record showed that the first speaker of the Assembly since the creation of the state, Ayua Num hailed from Gwer LGA; his successor, Tor Bosua was from Ukum LGA in the second Assembly. The third assembly had Steven Tsav of Guma LGA and Emmanuel Jime of Makurdi LGA as speakers respectively.
While the fourth, fifth and sixth assemblies had Margaret Icheen from Kwande LGA, Mzenda Iho from Katsina-Ala East, Terseer Tsumba of Buruku LGA, Terhemen Tarzoor from Makurdi, David Iorhemba from Guma and Terhile Ayua from Gwer LGA respectively, occupying the position in the 7th Assembly.
The record shows that Benue North-east had occupied the position on three different occasions while Benue North-west had the privilege of occupying the position seven times, a reason for which a disenchanted group from the Benue North-east zone stormed the Government House a day before the inaugural session to demand that they be allowed to take the speakership.
The group, known as Kunav Youth Association on Thursday staged a protest at Benue Peoples’ House as the Government House is now been called to ask for the speakership to be zoned to Vandeikya constituency.
They alleged that the position has continually eluded them since the inception of the 1999 democratic government.
President of the group John Orjime told newsmen that the Kunav people have suffered marginalisation for too long, maintaining that all sections of Tiv land including Jemgbah, Sankera as well as Kwande/Ushongo axis have occupied the number three position of the state hence the need for justice and equity to prevail in ceding the seat to Vandeikya people.
The protest-group who numbered over 100 carried several placards with some inscription such as; “Speakership, the only hope for Vandeikya people”, “Our mandate cannot be sold”, “We need fairness in the 8th assembly” and “Kunav slot cannot be sold” among others.
As the time of filing this report, it is believed that the Idoma people as well as a section of the Tiv people are not happy with the outcome of the speakership position which the PDP, by all external parameters, could have retained to favour the agitations of the dissatisfied groups but for the ‘selfishness’ of a few among them.
Inside sources also said that the major factor responsible for the PDP’s failure to clinch the speakership was the internal wrangling among the members over who should become the deputy speaker.
It was learnt that James Ejembi of PDP representing Okpokwu constituency who won the deputy speaker position fell for the juicy promises of the APC and along with two others from the Idoma axis ‘betrayed’ their party as a result he is said to be resident at the Government House now for fear of his kinsmen bent on recalling him.
But Chief Abu King Shuluwa, a PDP chieftain has said in Makurdi that though the PDP lawmakers were very stupid to have allowed the APC prevail, he however heaped the bulk of the blame on the immediate past governor of the state for abandoning the party soon after he exited the government house.
“The only person that tried to organise the PDP in Benue is Senator Mark who I learnt had a meeting with the lawmakers in Otukpo. Under normal circumstances, the PDP stakeholders would have met with their lawmakers to thoroughly work on them before the inauguration,” he opined.
Meanwhile, in a goodwill message, Ortom has felicitated with the newly elected Speaker, Ikyange and his Deputy, Ejembi on their election as leaders of the eighth assembly on the tickets of APC and PDP respectively.
The governor said that their election was an exhibition of the confidence members reposed in their leadership qualities which he hoped would be deployed for quality legislation and good governance in the state.
He pledged to partner with the assembly leaders for efficient and effective service delivery to the people and also solicited their cooperation with the executive arm to fast-track the realisation of the development agenda of his administration.
Ortom further expressed happiness that members voted across party lines and urged them to sustain the development in the interest of the state even as he urged the speaker, his deputy and members to approach their responsibilities with discipline, commitment and grace.
In the days ahead, the parties in the House would be expected to produce ranking officers such as; majority and minority leaders as well as their deputies.
The question which many members of the public are now asking is, who are the three that betrayed the PDP? Will the new assembly under the development become a stooge of the executive or would the PDP recover the loss to form a strong opposition?