Every four years, the Idoma people dream of Benue State governorship seat. But every election year, year in and year out, it often turns into a nightmare.
Despite the caliber of people, the Idoma Nation has churned out and the unending agitations, Idoma governorship in Benue remain a tantalizing mirage.
With the 2023 governorship elections on the horizon, IDOMA VOICE takes a walk through the age-long struggle for Idoma governorship in Benue State:
Benue State was created on February 3, 1976, from the defunct Benue-Plateau State in which the Igala and Bassa people were brought from Kwara State. But the state was under military rule until the second republic in 1979, when the late Aper Aku (a Tiv) was elected as the first Executive Governor of the state.
In 1991, the Igala and Bassa people were merged with parts of Kwara State to form Kogi State, making Idoma the second-largest ethnic group in Benue State.
At the dawn of the short-lived Third Republic, another Tiv, Fr. Moses Adasu emerged as the second Executive Governor of Benue State, much to the dismay of Idoma people who continued agitation for their own state of Apa.
Unfortunately, the Apa State dream did not come to actualization till the end of military rule in Nigeria. But there were speculations that if not for the disagreement of some high-ranking Idoma officers in the military over where the capital of the proposed state should be situated, General Sani Abacha would have finally given the Idomas their dream state in 1996 (the last time states were created in Nigeria).
On return to civil rule in 1999, George Akume (a Tiv man) became the third Executive Governor of Benue State. At the end of his second term in 2007, it was expected that Idoma would take over from him. But that was not the case. Another Tiv, Gabriel Suswan was given the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP’s ticket and went on to win the general election.
A former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, and an Idoma, Chief Mike Onoja came a close second. It was said to be the closest Idoma ever came to attaining Benue governorship. It was even rumored that if not for the stepping down of some of Onoja’s fellow Zone C aspirants for Suswan from Zone A, the former would have picked the party’s governorship ticket.
Nevertheless, the Idoma found solace in national politics; in the Okpokpowulu K’Idoma, Senator David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark defeated the former Benue state governor, George Akume, to emerge the Senate President and went on to become the longest-serving Senate President in the history of Nigeria (8 years).
Mark promised the Idoma Nation to use his office to influence the creation of Apa State. But that promise was never fulfilled till the end of his 20 years sojourn at the National Assembly.
In 2015, several agitations groups such as Ekoleya, and Idoma Governorship Support Group (IGSG) emerged to fight for a power shift to Benue South. But just like others before them, they failed to actualize their cause when Samuel Ortom, another Tiv emerged as the Governor of the state.
At the twilight of the Ortom administration, a pro-Idoma governorship group, Benue Rebirth Movement (BRM) emerged; agitating for a power shift to Benue South (Zone C) because both Zones A&B have produced governors in the present political dispensation.
The group led by the former Chief of Defence Intelligence, AVM. Monday Morgan (rtd.) was promising at first but turned out to be a toothless bulldog after a series of war of words with Governor Ortom on his anti-Idoma governorship stance.
Reality dawned on BRM and the Idoma Nation when the two major parties in the state; the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) fielded Tivs as their governorship candidates for the 2023 polls. Even the rejuvenated Labour Party (LP) has a Tiv as its governorship flag bearer.
Of all the candidates that will be on the ballot for the March 18th governorship election, the only fairly popular guber candidate of Idoma extraction is Dr. Mathias Oyigeya of the less-known Accord Party (AP).
This is not the first time Oyigeya would be vying for the exalted seat. In 2014, at the height of his popularity as the workaholic Medical Director of the Federal Medical Center, Makurdi, he resigned to contest the 2015 Benue State governorship election but lost at the PDP primaries.
Recently, there were reports that the Idoma Nation has “adopted Oyigeya as its governorship candidate for the 2023 elections”. If the reports are correct, then Oyigeya can pull reasonable votes to pass a message to the Tivs that the Idomas are united. Even at that, he would still have stiff opposition from PDP’s Titus Uba, APC’s Rev Fr Hyacinth Alia, and even Labour Party’s Herman Hembe, on a general note.
In a civilized society, Oyigeya would have been a top contender owing to his track record, especially his scintillating performance as medical director of FMC Makurdi.
The chance of Oyigeya and Idoma at the 2023 governorship polls is still very slim. But only time can tell whether he could break the 47-year-old jinx.
It is important to note that the Idoma governorship illusion in Benue State is wholly a sentimental issue, and not a question of ability. All over the country, the Idomas are known for their mark of excellence in every field of human endeavors. What they lack is numerical strength, vis-à-vis the Tivs.
Unfortunately, politics is a game of numbers. Even more unfortunate, is that in our clime, numbers are pulled by sentiments and not ideologies.