The recent visit by the leadership of the People's Democratic Party to the people of Benue State is not only a show of empathy but also a strong indication of political mastery by a party bent on returning to power in the next general elections.
The major opposition political party in the land, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) sure has a tough task ahead of its bid to stage a return to political power in 2019. And for a truth, the intrigues expected to colour its search for a Presidential flag bearer is one capable of determining the health of the once-dominant party in the months ahead. Still grappling with the tensions occasioned by the outcome of its elective convention in December 2017, the PDP has not been able to woo all defectors back in its fold despite the efforts of the Governor Seriake Dickson-led Post-Convention Reconciliation Committee.
These internal crises notwithstanding, the PDP is proving its masterful understanding of the intrigues of politics, leaving the All Progressives Congress (APC) holding on to straws in dire struggle for relevance. The recent killings in some parts of the country by suspected bandits masquerading as Fulani herdsmen have in many ways than one, revealed the character of the major political parties in the country: the APC and the PDP.
Apparently worried by the Federal Government's failure to heed earlier warnings of a potential attack by the Fulani herdsmen; a mournful and obviously helpless Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State recently castigated Buhari's poor handling of the tragedy visited on his people, stating that the Fulani had earlier threatened to frustrate his effort aimed at curtailing movement of herds of cattle in the state.
"The Federal Government has not done enough. When this incidence started with the threat from the President and Secretary of Miyetti Allah, Kauta Hore, who addressed a press conference and issued threats that they will do everything possible to frustrate the Benue State Government from implementing the anti-open grazing law, we quickly drew the attention of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), the Director-General of the Department of State Services, DSS, and even the Office of the National Security Adviser.
"The leadership of Miyetti Allah called the law names; that it was draconian and had no place in the 21st Century. We saw that as a threat to our existence and in June 2016, we reported to the then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and to our surprise, these people were not apprehended.
"When they saw that no one was going to apprehend them, they went further to issue more threats. In October 2016, we reminded the IGP, the DSS and the NSA of the potential violence that we faced in Benue State as a result of the threat from the Miyetti Allah. We, specifically, demanded that the two officers of the Miyetti Allah, the secretary and the president, be arrested, but unfortunately, they were not arrested. I do not know why the Federal Government has abandoned us. If they had acted that time, we would not have gotten to where we are today," Governor Ortom had said in the wake of the recent attack which left about 73 people dead.
With speculations rife that the PDP is taking advantage of the rift between the governor and the Presidency to woo the former away from the ruling party; the Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee (NWC) further upped the ante recently with a condolence visit to Governor Ortom, the government and people of Benue State, with a truck load of relief materials to boot.
Presenting the relief materials on Tuesday, Yemi Akinwunmi, PDP Deputy National Chairman (South), urged Nigerians not to be surprised at the humane disposition of his party, stating that tragedy knows no political affiliation. According to him, "The politics of 21st Century is different. When your brother is mourning, you mourn with him. When he is rejoicing, you rejoice with him. We are all Nigerians and we are all politicians. Politicians are one all over, be it in the North, South or the East."
A senior citizen who confided in Vanguard on Wednesday said the public show of love by the PDP in "this moment of grief" would likely sway the disposition of voters in 2019, arguing that Buhari's insistence on receiving leaders of Benue State in his "private abode" was not only contemptuous but "highly disrespectful" to the memory of those dead victims.
"I am a trained sociologist and I can lay claim to the understanding of the behavioural context of a people at any given time. PDP has done well with that great move (donation of relief materials) and we should not be surprised if the electorate in that state reject the APC in 2019. The PDP has succeeded in identifying with the people and I am sure they are not going to forget this any time soon," he said.
On the recent meeting of President Buhari with political and traditional leaders of Benue State at the Aso Rock Villa, the ex-university lecturer said the Commander-in-Chief ought to have realised that the traumatised people of Benue needed pacification more than deliberation. Arguing that the interface would have been more reasonable if it had held in the shore of Benue, the aging academic said taking the leaders to Aso Rock implied that the President had little respect for the people.
"No matter how you look at it, the national leadership of the APC has made a grievous error of not identifying with the mourning people of Benue before PDP did. We live in a country where small things matter. Buhari has the military, the police and other security apparatus at his disposal and he could have visited the state with a combined team of the most sophisticated security orderly imaginable. Was he scared of visiting?" he asked, adding that the "wound would take years to heal."
Already, there are indications the PDP is prepared to go the whole hog in having Governor Ortom return to its fold ahead of the 2019 elections. This is so as speculations have it that the people have resolved to ditch the ruling party for the once-dominant PDP, if only to show faith in a party that came to identify with them in their hour of pain.
As it were, the 2019 general election may be more than a year away and Ortom has chosen to dwell less on politics for now until the return of normalcy. Yet, it would come as no surprise to many should PDP sack the ruling party in the state given perceptions of its poor handling of the humanitarian crises birthed by the recent killings of innocent Nigerians for offences known only to their killers.
Already, immediate past governor of the state, Gabriel Suswam and ex-Senate President, David Mark are said to be working tirelessly to return the PDP to the seat of power, taking advantage of the despondency the people now wear like a badge. How they intend to achieve this feat in the months leading to the February 2019 governorship electionss remain to be seen. Here is the bargaining chip: Return to the PDP with the assured support of the people or sink trying to convince the electorate that the APC means well for them.