THE CHANGE IN BENUE – How It All Started -Part II

By Peter Shande

One would be tempted to ask why Wantaregh Paul Unongo would deliberately or inadvertently saddle the state with a Gabriel Suswam when he had a seemingly more viable choice of anointing his nephew, Steve Ugbah. This and other salient issues will hopefully come to light as we travel down the road.

The plot to sideline certain elements in the “old” PDP in Benue looked rather easy on the surface but as it unfolded, it got more complicated. The voluntary collapse of Wantaregh Unongo’s political structures in the ANPP to merge with the PDP entailed having to almost completely reorganize the party. New party registers were opened at all the wards and Unongo’s followers were more like directed than encouraged to register towards a state congress that was to hold in the early part of December, 2006. To ensure that those moving in newly were not marginalized or victimized by the old members, Obasanjo directed that of the 25 delegates that were to emerge from each council ward, 13 were to be picked from the “old” PDP, while 12 should be from the group that had moved in at the instance of Unongo in zones “A” and “B”. Stacked this way, there was no way the Wantaregh and his group would fail to have their way at the congress. Or so they imagined.
Just as he was seemingly punishing George Akume for maintaining a conscientious opposition to his third-term design, Obasanjo was equally dead-set against a situation where he would appear to have failed to reward Senator David Mark, who had acted as his manager at the National Assembly and able ally in the third-term contrivance. Differences would start getting irreconcilable within the conspiracy when Unongo would point to Obasanjo, Mark’s ardent hatred for the Tiv and affirmed commitment to the restoration of the Kwararafa Empire as traits that would place the fate of his Tiv people in jeopardy of no mean proportion. The plot then started to leak at the seams.
As the wrangling heightened between these two, George Akume had recovered himself enough to start plotting counter measures. He started employing counters to strengthen his control in an affair that was proving more and more to be a baffling Machiavellian game gone off beam. He realized that it would be impossible to counter the deft strokes of cunning unleashed by Obasanjo, unless he neutralized or compromised the machinery the President had used Unongo, Mark and Gemade to set up.
In composing the caretaker committee, Unongo had the Director-General of his Campaign Organization, Hon Charles Torbunde as the Party secretary; Hon Terwase Orbunde was the Organizing Secretary, Hon Samuel Zaka – Publicity Secretary and Chief Boniface Ukende – Member Elder’s (resolution) Council.
To the Organizing Secretary fell duty of compiling the list of delegates for the congress slated for December. Part of his assignment and central to achieving the aim of the congress was to see to the reflection of the 12/13 formula in all the wards as agreed upon. Governor Akume, by stroke of genius, “kindly” provided working space in the prestigious Presidential Lodge for this important and sensitive assignment. As it would later emerge, this became a quasi-secretariat for all members of the State Caretaker Working Committee of the party. Unongo’s boys had suckered him up the creek without a paddle.
In the meantime, Paul Unongo had picked up, filled and returned his gubernatorial nomination form on the final day of the exercise. This was followed by unprecedented funfair that took his campaign train through all the major streets of Makurdi. This move punctured any hope David Mark had entertained of becoming the governor. Only then did it dawn on him that Unongo really meant to play by a different set of rules. He therefore had no choice but to go submit his form to make his way back to the Senate.
On the December date of the congress which was to hold at Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi, several hundreds of followers and party delegates gathered in Unongo’s Wurukum residence, having been pouring in all day. As twilight approached, they headed as a group for the venue, celebrating, chanting and engaging in general revelry. They came to a brick wall at venue. Shit happened; their names were not on the lists!


Inside the stadium venue, the Deputy Chairman for Zone “B” in the caretaking arrangement, Hon Samuel Ortom had been making announcements and handing out instructions for the conduct of the congress. Hon Charles Torbunde, the Secretary saw this as a travesty and moved to stop it, after which he put a call through to Wantaregh Paul Unongo informing him of the development. Unongo was by then inundated with calls from his supporters complaining about the anti-riot police a.k.a. mopol, who were manning the gates and using horsewhips freely on those who happened to have come as part of Unongo’s 12.
Shortly after Hon Orbunde’s call, Wantaregh arrived at the Aper Aku stadium. There was an eruption of cheers from the pile of disenfranchised supporters outside the gates. After a brief altercation with the Commissioner of Police who was insisting on the armed police escorts divesting themselves of their firearms before coming into the arena, the Commissioner finally gave in and Unongo gained entrance – police escorts and firearms.
A brief meeting with Ortom and Torbunde ensured and the outcome became clear when Ortom resumed the conduct of the congress, while Torbunde left the stage with a resigned look on his face and sulked into a corner, shoulders drooped. Torbunde had lost control of the event and Unongo was out of reckoning.
- To be continued (SUSWAM ASSERTS HIMSELF)

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