Akume, Gov. Alia: Peace and party discipline

“Peace resides in the hearts of men, Not in conference tables and delegates’ signatures. True friendship never dies-It grows stronger the more it is tested”. -The Gourd Of Friendship By Richard Ntiru.

The news from Gboko, the famed ancestral home of the Tiv of Benue state, on the reconciliation of Senator George Akume, Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) and Reverend Father Hyacinth Alia, Governor of Benue state, coming a day after Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is welcome and cheering. In fact, the people and friends of Benue state have been worried about the dangerous dimension the crisis, which fundamentally is about the “firm control” of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) structure, was assuming. But because this is not the first attempt at hammering out a peace agreement between the SGF and the governor, many people, though relieved about the latest peace initiative, have rightly adopted a wait and see attitude.

Despite strong reservations that Governor Alia would most likely refuse to adhere to the terms of the settlement, considering that the root cause of the crisis has to do with his determination to be the supreme leader of the party in the state and in total control of the party structure, Prof. James Ayatse, the Tor Tiv, and the Tiv Traditional Council deserve huge commendation for brokering the peace deal. Kudos to the Tor Tiv for the realisation that their assignment is by no means over, and that they don’t intend to remove their foot from the pedal.

Peace, according to Richard Ntiru, the Ugandan poet, resides in the hearts of men and not at conference table.

The reasons for the apprehension that the Gboko peace deal would sooner than later collapse like a pack of cards are the underlying fears of Governor Alia, since his assumption of office; that he needed to wrestle control of the party from Austin Agada, an Akume loyalist, or bid his dream of a second term ticket bye-bye, considering his numerous problems with critical stakeholders. Alia is reportedly not accessible or open to advice. This is largely what has informed his effort to wrestle control of the structure from the SGF.

The other reason the Easter Monday peace deal may not work is the hold that the anti-Akume forces around the governor have over him. Alia’s Chief of Staff Paul Biam is known to be fiercely anti-Akume, as is Senator Barnabas Gemade, the former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who reportedly lobbied for the SGF position and Gabriel Suswan, a former governor and ally turned bitter opponent of Akume. It was Suswan’s unholy support that made the defeat of Becky Orpin, the party’s candidate for speaker, possible. It’s instructive that the governor attended the meeting with Gemade, while the SGF was accompanied by Senator Jacob Tilley Gyado, a former key backer of Alia. Prof. Joseph Utsev, the Minister of Water Resources, whose thanksgiving reception the governor boycotted, was also in attendance.

The final reason it may fail, is the open secret that Governor Alia hates being challenged, which explains why his political appointees are largely inexperienced young men and women who will take instructions without questioning.

The details of the meeting, as contained in the press statement by Shinyi Tyozua, Secretary of Tiv Area Traditional Council, didn’t and weren’t expected to contain the critical issue; the control of the party which is central to the crisis. If this issue is not resolved in the favour of the governor, who believes that it’s key to his second term bid and that he must be the “state leader”, the peace deal will be an exercise in futility.

How the knotty issue of the control of the party structure will be resolved is the big question that is yet to be answered. Will Governor Alia, who despite the clear directives of the NWC of the APC affirming Agada as the chairman and the ruling of the Benue state high court presided over by Justice Maurice Ikpambese which vacated the order restraining Agada from parading himself, function and acting as APC chairman in the state, and nullified the appointment of Benjamin Omakolo as acting chairman, but still went ahead to inaugurate his own executive, obey the Tor Tiv? Will Alia’s backed acting chairman Benjamin Omakolo, who continues to reject Agada’s reinstatement by both the supreme organ of the party and the court, respect any agreement that would see him relinquish the position that he has fallen in love with? The answers to these questions will determine whether there will be a resolution or not.

And how will the Akume group react to any agreement that will force them to cede control, especially when the APC National Working Committee (NWC) and the Benue state high court ruled in their favour?

If governor Alia accepts the leadership of Agada, that will be a first step and an overwhelming evidence of his readiness for peace, after all, Agada’s only crime, for which Alia instigated his removal, is his closeness to Akume; the allegation of anti-party activities was to give a dog a bad name to hang it. Many analysts believe that the governor would only accept Agada because it gives him time to fast track his movement to the Social Democratic Party (SDP), where he is guaranteed a ticket and enough time to to wreck maximum damage on the APC before he moves.

The lack of party discipline is a serious issue in Nigeria’s political parties. In South Africa, the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress (ANC) had in 2018 “recalled” Jacob Zuma, because he had lost the support of the party and was given 48 hours to resign as president. Thabo Mbeki, his predecessor, was the first to receive the treatment from the party. Both men obeyed the party because they respected party supremacy. In Nigeria, that would never have happened, in fact, the ANC would have been factionalised.

It’s a tragedy that Nigeria’s political parties appear weak enforcing discipline among their members. Alia ought have been disciplined for flagrant disobedience of the clear directives of the party. Inaugurating an executive and opening a parallel secretariat close to the government house for the group loyal to him was a slap on the NWC. Without a doubt, the lawless actions of the governor’s group is wholly responsible for the crisis, and confirms the governor as the orchestra behind the crisis.

It’s sad that once politicians win elections they start treating the party which offered them the platform to actualise their ambition with utmost contempt.

Benue state is lucky to have a paramount leader that is highly respected, but what happens in a state, where the paramount traditional ruler does not command the respect of his subjects? This is food for thought and a reason the NWC of the APC must still take a hard look at the actions of the governor, including his refusal to withdraw the court cases filed by his group.

Governor Alia is the protagonist, thus the success of the peace agreement lies more with him than the Akume group, hence it’s incumbent on him to honestly drive the process. If Alia is eventually expelled by the APC as it seems likely, he would have the rare honour of being disowned by the religious and the secular world. This would certainly earn Alia an entry into the Guinness Book of Records.

Alia, though relatively new in politics, doesn’t look like a fish out of water. He seems to have quickly imbibed all the negative attributes of the average Nigerian politician. He seems to have mastered the act and indeed surpassed the lessons by his handlers.

Ado writes from Kaduna, Kaduna state