Alia’s tortuous journey from pulpit to Benue political space

Alia’s tortuous journey from pulpit to Benue political space

JOHN CHARLES x-rays the political voyage of the Catholic priest, Rev Fr Hyacinth Alia, who for the third time has won the rescheduled governorship primary of the All Progressives Congress in Benue State

For the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Benue State, Rev Fr Hyacinth Alia, the experience of the past few months when he embarked on a political voyage will not be easily forgotten. Perhaps at the time he nursed the ambition to quit the pulpit and venture into the murky waters of Nigerian politics, he may not have envisaged that all that is noble and honourable must be achieved through pangs of pains, trials and difficulties.

The momentum that accompanied his political declaration was gradually waning on a daily basis following the huge opposition that was standing against his aspiration within his party and the Peoples Democratic Party in the state.  As a spiritual man, he surely knows that everything in life was ordained by God; he must also be conversant with the notion that in overcoming battles of life, commitment, prayers and destiny have roles to play.

So far, Alia can be said to have faced the tempest in many unexpected ways within his political party and the ruling PDP without failing to brush the challenges aside. Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, the Catholic priest, no doubt has made history as the first governorship candidate in the state to face party primary election three times and in each of the primaries, Alia has come out victorious. In the first governorship primary election of the APC held on May 27, 2022, Alia picked the ticket after he defeated 11 other aspirants in the direct mode of primary election.

The priest polled a total of 526,807 votes to defeat his closest rival, Dr Mathias Byuan, who polled 113,816 votes. Others, who participated in the primary, were a former Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs, Dr Sam Ode, who garnered 79,369 votes to come third, while a former deputy governor of Benue State, Chief Stephen Lawan, polled 46,882 votes to come fourth. A former Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, polled 24,596 votes, while the former Chief of Staff to Governor Samuel Ortom, Mr Terwase Orbunde, polled 12,446 votes and Prof Terhemba Shija, got 10,487 votes.

Terlumun Ikya polled 3,680 votes, while a member of the House Representative for the Konshisha/Vandeikya Federal Constituency, Herman Hembe, garnered 2,473 votes. A former national chairman of the PDP, Senator Barnabas Gemade, garnered 2,365 votes; Godwin Tyoapine polled 1,228 votes, while Bernard Yisa got 742 votes.

However, the victory of the Catholic priest was greeted by protests from some of the governorship aspirants, especially Gemade, Aondoaaka and Shija. In a letter of protest to the national leadership of the APC, Shija rejected the outcome of the election, describing the entire process as a sham.

He wrote in the letter, “The direct primary of the APC held on Friday, May 27, 2022, was to say the least a sham and an aberration of democracy. We reject and disassociate ourselves from the results of the exercise.”

In his protest letter, Gemade kicked against the sudden adoption of the direct mode of primary, describing it as “improper, ultra vires and unacceptable,” while Ikya questioned the failure of the party to strictly observe all the rules governing the application of the direct mode of primary.

Responding to the protests, the party set up a governorship appeal committee headed by Princess Ozoamaka Oyeama, and after listening to the aggrieved people, came out with a recommendation that a fresh primary be conducted.

Oyeama questioned the process that gave Alia victory, adding, “How can an election of the magnitude of total votes cast of 815,452 not have at least one invalid vote? We, the appeal panel members, unanimously agree that it is not the true reflection of a credible election; it is too flawless in figure, which is a clear proof of the assertions of the aspirants/stakeholders that it was written in somebody’s house, the state party secretariat or in hidden places.

“Our submission on the above as appeal panel members was that no election took place in Benue State gubernatorial primary election on May 26, 27 and 28, 2022, and the results so submitted by the primary election committee members were an allusion, mirage, façade and at best a ‘Yahoo-yahoo’ result sheet. We, the appeal panel members, insist that the governorship primary election of Benue State be cancelled and a new date fixed for a fresh election immediately as time is of the essence.”

The National Working Committee of the APC, having reviewed the recommendation of the governorship appeals panel, ordered a rerun for the governorship primary in 12 local government areas of the state.

The Chairman of the governorship rerun committee, Joel Omajali, who superintended over the June 4, 2022 rerun, said 12 councils namely; Kwande, Ushongo, Buruku, Konshisha, Ogbadibo, Agatu, Ohimini, Ado, Oju, Okpokwu, Obi and Apa were affected. He, however, stated that in Buruku, the rerun would take place in only three council wards namely; Mbaya, Mbaapen and Binev.

At the end of the rerun on Thursday, June 9, 2022, Omajali declared the Catholic priest the winner, having polled total votes of 195,314.

However, at the rescheduled primary held on Friday, the Chairman of the committee, Senator Basheer Lado, while declaring Alia the winner of the primary, said the priest polled 410,682 votes to beat his closest rival, Sam Ode, who polled 22,319. Lado explained that the total number of registered voters for the election in the 23 LGAs of the state was 868,010.

Lado gave a breakdown of the total votes by each of the aspirants in the 23 LGAs of the state thus; Mathias Ibuan, 14,593; Bernard Yisa, 581; Gemade, 5,125; Ikya, 2,851; and Sam Ode, 22,319.

Others are Alia, 410,682 votes; Aondoakaa, 3,815; Godwin Tyoachimin, 1,139; Steven Lawani, 21,172; Shija, 2,217; Mlanga, 219; Terwase Orbunde, 1,391; and Herman Hembe, 638 votes.

The committee chairman said, “With this document before me, I hereby declare Rev Fr Hyacinth Iormem Alia, who scored a total number of 410,682 votes, having scored the highest number of votes, as the winner of this election.”

Result of the rerun primary in the 11 local government areas showed that Alia polled 219,002 votes; Bernard Yisa, 136 votes; Ode, 255 votes; Ibuan, 4,797 votes; Aondoakaa, 606 votes; and Gemade, 450 votes. Others are Hembe, 688 votes; Orbunde, two votes; Lawani, 120 votes; Mlanga, 766 votes; Shija, 219 votes and Godwin Tyoachimin, 454 votes.

The party later held a special congress where it affirmed the candidacy of Alia to fly the APC flag in next month’s election. The state party Chairman, Austin Agada, moved for the ratification of the priest.

Though the aggrieved governorship aspirants, particularly those still in court, were reported not to have participated in the rescheduled rerun primary, the truth remains that as long as the Catholic priest is in the race and direct mode is applied for the primary election, none of the aspirants may be able to defeat him.

However, not a few have commended members of the APC for their resilience in coming out each time the court or party orders a fresh primary.

A former member of the House of Representatives and one-time chairman of Benue State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Goddy Ikerave, said, “That shows the love the people of Benue State have for the governorship candidate.

“The chances of Alia are 100 per cent; the people of the state have decided and are calling for a change, and this is obvious; once Tiv people say no, it is no, no matter the money the ruling PDP in the state has to throw around. The change has come and that is why they (PDP members) are afraid of the shadow of Rev Fr Alia. I have been in the PDP for 24 years, but when the head is rotten, the body is gone. There is nothing anybody can do; they (PDP members) are running from pole to pole.

Ikerave, however, admonished other aspirants to understand that the calling of the Catholic priest into politics was a divine mandate. He explained that the people of the state were going to vote and would not do so in court. He regretted that some of the aspirants on the platform of the APC had been receiving financial support from the government in the state so as to scuttle the dream of the people.

“Alia’s issue is a divine mandate and his victory is assured despite all the hurdles in court. We are happy that they don’t own the court, else we will not be where we are today. It shows an act of desperation, whereas some of the aspirants cannot win councillorship election in their places,” he added.

Speaking further on the hurdles being faced by the governorship candidate, the former federal lawmaker said it was an ominous sign of victory in the March 11 governorship poll.

“The way to heaven is not easy; it is a narrow gate. So, going to the Government House, he has to face those hurdles and the end of it will be joy,” Ikerave added.

Also commenting on the chances of the Catholic priest, a member of state House of Assembly representing the Tarka State Constituency, Bem Mgutyo, described them as bright, adding that the APC governorship candidate might have been prepared by God to superintend over the state.

He said Alia’s healing ministry had endeared him to the people of the state, whom he said were ready to vote massively for him in the forthcoming governorship election.

“The man is popular and he is thoroughly loved by the people. Given a free and fair election, he is sure to carry the day. As a reverend father, before he ventured into politics, he used to have this healing ministry. Through that, he impacted the lives of many people and this has been going for him. He is humble and coupled with the fact that the PDP-led government has messed up the state, this has further enhanced his chances,” Mgutyo said.

Lending his voice, a former Deputy Speaker, Benue State House of Assembly, Ralph Igbago, commended the APC candidate for his resilience in pursuing his aspiration despite all odds. He maintained that the governorship candidate had everything going for him to win the governorship poll.

“If you recall the ‘Yes Father’ mantra that spread and is still spreading like fire during harmattan across the length and breadth of the state, it is an indication that the man is loved and people are ready to vote for him in the coming election,” the former lawmaker said.

But the leader of a pro-PDP group in the state, Benue Youth Forum, Terrence Kuanum, said the opposition APC should go and rest, maintaining that the party would not participate in the forthcoming governorship election.

According to him, the Electoral Act stipulates that party primaries be conducted 180 days before general elections, adding that the appellate court’s order was in conflict with the Act.

Kuanum stated, “The party (APC) has not followed the law; so, I cannot say anything about their primary because the Appeal Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to order a rerun primary according to the Electoral Act.

“The party in its June 9, 2022 rerun primary did not follow the law, because what the law stipulates is that every party should give the Independent National Electoral Commission 21 days’ notice and secondly, primaries are to be conducted at least 180 days before the general elections.

“So, I don’t understand the law that the Appeal Court has interpreted. Anyway, what is there is that before the law of the land, the APC in Benue State doesn’t have a candidate for the forthcoming governorship election.”

However, as the supporters of the reverend father continue to celebrate his third victory at the primary, some political observers in the state are of the view that it is not yet Uhuru until all the cases in court are disposed of.

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