Date Published: 11/23/09
ANENIH RUFFLES POLITICAL FEATHERS IN BENUE By Shetima Gatie
Chief Tony Anenih, popularly known as “Mr Fix It” took the Benue political space by storm when he breezed in on November 6 this year. The occasion was the first convocation ceremony of the University of Mkar.
Established by the Tiv dominated Church known as the NKST (Nongo u Kristu u Sudan hen Tiv) the University had planned its first convocation ceremony in a grand style to celebrate its achievement as the first privately owned University in the North to graduate students. Part of the ceremony was the award of Honorary Doctorates Degrees to four distinguished Nigerians, viz; Chief Michael Onoja, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary; Arc. Philip Iyortyer, a successful entrepreneur, Late Rev J. E. I Sai the founding father of the Church and former Governor of Benue and serving Senator, Dr George Akume.
The Convocation Ceremony turned out to be a high profile national event. Notable political leaders from the state and the national level were there. There was Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue state, Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba state, represented by his Chief of Staff Mr Garvey Yawe; the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Alhaji Adamu Aleiro, Chief Barnabas Gemade, former National Chairman of PDP, former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim; Prof Jerry Gana a former Minister and PDP leader and many others.
Chief Tony Anenih instantly became the man of the moment when he walked in casually. The crowd cheered and cheered as they saw - live - the man who has made a career out of his deft political moves. Beginning from the Second Republic days as an NPN chieftain, the Babangida days as the National Chairman that led the SDP to victory in the famous June 12 elections of 1993, a close associate of the late Gen Yar’adua and finally as Obasanjo’s hit man and the Chairman, PDP Board of Trustees, he has always been a national enigma.
Ironically his defining moment at the event came towards its tail end when he had already left the venue. Senator George Akume in giving a vote of thanks on behalf of those honored with award of doctorate degrees singled out the man who has been repeatedly criticized for taking huge amount, which is nothing when compared with to N200billion now known to have been spent, in two years, by (a State of) Akwa Ibom; from the Federal Government to repair and construct roads without applying it for the purpose: Chief Anenih. He thanked the Chief on behalf of the University community and the people of state for the roads he rehabilitated when he was the Minister of Works. Recalling his interaction with the Chief when he was Governor, Senator Akume revealed that as a result of the pressure he put on Anenih, the Gboko – Mkar – Ameradu and the Katsina Ala - Zaki Biam – Ugba – Buruku roads were rehabilitated and constructed. This revelation received a standing ovation.
The roads under reference play an important role in the lives of the community. The Gboko – Mkar – Ameradu roads for instance are a major link of the University community to the outside world while the Katsina – Ala – Zaki Biam Ugba roads traverse the farming communities of the Sankera zone of the State noted for its high agricultural yields that have made Benue the food basket of the Nation.
Earlier, the University orator had earlier revealed while reading the citation of George Akume that he had provided the seed funds that enabled the University to get accredited by the National University Commission. It was in appreciation of this noble role that the University had decided to honor him at its first convocation.
Anenih’s appearance at the occasion, obviously as Akume’s guest further fueled the public suspicion that all is not well between the Akume and Suswam camp. Supporters of the former governor say he has been at the receiving end of Suswam’s energetic drive to dominate the politics of Tivland and Benue since he came into office as governor on May 29 May 2007. Both politicians have denied publicly that there is any disagreement between them but with the passing of everyday, there is increasing evidence that all is not well. Governor Suswam is said to have confided in his close associates and aides that all the problems he has faced as a governor were induced by predecessor.
Late last year, a former member of the State’s House of Assembly Hon. Clement Uhondo in an open letter accused the governor of grave acts of corruption. In response, Governor Suswam’s spokesman Dr. Cletus Akwaya accused Abuja based politicians from the state (a veiled reference to Senator Akume) as sponsors of the petition. Akume promptly denied that he had anything to do with the petition.
But the uneasy relationship continued and there are clear signs that Governor Suswam is not comfortable with Akume’s men in government. For instance Hon Samuel Abua, a close associate of Akume was suspended from office as the Chairman of Gboko local government area while another close associate and former Chairman of Tarka - Akume’s home Local Government - was suspended for two weeks from the State House of Assembly where he currently serves as a member.
Followed, was the announcement by Hon Terngu Tsegba, a member of the House of Representatives since 1999 that he was going to fight for the Senatorial seat occupied by Akume today. Both men have come a long way; when Akume was governor, Tsegba was very close to him, a relationship that enabled him to win elections into the House for three consecutive times. Today, Hon Tsegba is closer to Suswam than to Akume.
But it would appear Suswam is more inclined to pitching Michael Mku against Akume than anyobody else. Mku has a long standing history of political animosity against Akume. In 1999, they both contested the primaries under the umbrella of the PDP for the government house seat. Akume defeated Mku. In the 2003 elections, Mku defected to the UNDP under whose flag he again contested the governorship seat. Again Akume won.
Today, Governor Suswam has allegedly thrown his weight behind Mike Mku to unseat Senator Akume. The deal was allegedly struck when Hon Mku was part of the governor’s entourage to Kaduna for the launching of the Sardauna Foundation recently. Suswam is said to have given Mku the nod to go ahead with his project to contest the senatorial seat. He is alleged to have promised him logistic and financial support if he contests the seat on the ticket of the PDP. The plan, it is alleged, is to tinker with the delegates list of the PDP in the senatorial zone so that Akume’s opponents have an upper hand to ensure Mku’s victory at the primaries.
The plot is said to have the blessing of the Senate President, David Mark who was challenged by Akume for the seat of Senate President. Since that challenge in the early days of the current senate, relations between Akume and David Mark have not improved. Akume’s supporters are of the opinion that Governor Suswam has turned his allegiance from his benefactor in favor of David Mark, thus further widening the gulf between the two.
While the Senate President attends all occasions he is invited to by Governor Suswam, no matter how inconsequential, he has never attended any occasion Senator Akume has invited him to no matter how serious. The current chummy relations between Akume and Anenih are seeing as a realignment of forces between supporters of the senator and the governor at the federal level. At that level, David Mark is regarded as Obasanjo’s fanatical follower who fought tooth and nail for third term while Anenih is seen as Yar’aduas answer to Obasanjo’s meddlesomeness and overbearing nature. The Benue political stage is being set for an entertaining drama.
Time will tell how these political acrobatics at the federal level will affect the fortunes of politicians in Benue.
Shetima, a current affairs/political commentator, is based in Abuja