By Justin Amase
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in misery”
Willian Shakespeare in ‘Julius Caesar’
Apart from the late Joseph Tarka, there is probably no other politician of Benue State extraction who has stamped such large imprints on the recent political landscape and history of Benue State as Senator George Akume, the newly appointed Honourable Minister for Special Duties an Inter-Governmental Affairs. Indeed, in the recent politics of the State Senator Akume has become the issue. And so as one of his many admirers, I was initially tempted to go with the reflex reaction of some of his well-wishers that his current ministerial portfolio was an anticlimax, and indeed a spite on his status and unalloyed personal loyalty to President Buhari and the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), his political party. Further, the appointment was equally perceived as a harsh reward and denouement to the collective loyalty and support of the Tiv people who gave President Buhari their majority vote in both the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections.
The above initial perception assumed a semblance of credibility when i beheld the apparent sullen faces of thousands of the Minister’s supporters who came from within and outside Benue State to felicitate with him at the Ministers’ Hill, Maitama venue of the post-inauguration reception organized for the Minister. In spite of this initial reaction, I was immediately persuaded by my personal decision-making code which restricts me from falling in love with my first idea or reaction of any situation. So, upon a calmer reflection, I was glad the true import of the portfolio became fully revealed to me.
Historical precedent in a majority of cases shows that this portfolio is usually reserved only for those in whom their principal reposes unreserved confidence and intimate respect. By implication, President Buhari’s choice of Senator Akume for this portfolio is a reflection of his explicit confidence and intimate respect for the Minister as someone who can be counted upon to serve as his alter-ego, and to represent him in both private and official capacities everywhere without fear of disloyalty or misrepresentation.
Similarly, by virtue of the pole positioning of the portfolio, the Minister is automatically a member of the President’s kitchen cabinet. Thus, placed side-by-side the immense functional powers of the Ministry with its near-omnibus monitoring and oversight responsibilities on the activities and projects of most federal MDAs, there is no doubt that Senator Akume, with one of the tallest political and public service profiles among his ministerial colleagues, is truly a round peg in a round hole in this ministerial portfolio which carries enormous powers, responsibilities and influence within and without cabinet circles.
As a former State Commissioner myself, I am aware that the robustness, visibility, relevance and degree of the Minister’s influence and power at the Ministry are a function of the degree of the dynamism of his vision, focus and actions, and most importantly, his closeness to and ability to continue to justify and sustain the confidence Mr. President has reposed in him. The Minister must therefore breath a dynamic vision, life, focus and actions into the Ministry. One of his primary focus will be to sustain his absolute loyalty and closeness to the President, supported by a good knowledge of the President’s body language and mindset on national issues. Should he succeed in achieve this required personal positioning, his powers and influence within the presidency, the cabinet and the present administration will be envious and writ large.
Without overwhelming the Minister with undue expectations, it is pertinent to inform him that the three principal challenges facing Benue State at the moment which should form the core building blocks of his ministerial legacies to the People of the State and indeed Nigeria are: Economic Development, Security, and Unity. Limiting the focus on these imperatives on Benue State at the moment, I will recommend my basic ministerial agenda to the Minister as follows:
1. The achievement of the much-desired economic development of Benue State to lift it from its current degrading economic backwardness. His primary focus should be on:
● Aggressive pursuit and attraction of federal presence to Benue State via the siting of key federal development projects in the state. This will create employment that will take off the streets the State’s teeming population of unemployed youth who are presently engaged in such social vices as armed robbery, kidnapping, political thuggery, prostitution, drug abuse, and general idleness and directionlessness.
● Placement of many eligible and qualified Benue indigenes into key federal public sector appointments in the various federal MDAs as well as public and armed services to bridge the prevailing criminal neglect suffered by the State in recent years.
● Attraction of private sector investment to Benue State from domestic and foreign investors (through public private partnerships and direct foreign investment).
● Effective empowerment of Benue entrepreneurs by influencing the award of contracts and access to concessionary grants and funding opportunities available in many of the federal MDAs and the Central Bank of Nigeria, leveraging the indirect influence of his office and its strategic interfaces with key officers in these funding centres.
Viewed against the pace of development of even those states such as Anambra and Katsina which were created on 27th August 1991 and 23rd September 1987 respectively, Benue State which was created on 3rd February 1976, is truly a pathetic development basket case living from hand-to-mouth on national hand-outs in spite of its tremendous human, agricultural and natural resource potentials. The State’s dormant entrepreneurial potentials need to be awakened to achieve its desired economic transformation to a commercial/industrial status.
2. To achieve improved security of lives and property in Benue State which is a fundamental precondition for the success of the economic development agenda, the Hon. Minister should:
● Liaise closely with Mr. President, the heads of the security and law enforcement agencies, and members of the national assembly to deploy adequate number of security personnel to the State required to achieve peace, security and the maintenance of law and order. Focus must be on speedy restoration of the lingering herdsmen-farmers crisis in the State, an issue that has been unfortunately politicized for selfish political capital.
● Work with heads of traditional institutions, religious bodies and community-based security apparatus in the State such as Community Vigilante Groups, in ensuring the minimisation and prevention of criminal activities right at community levels.
3. To achieve a sustainable reconciliation and unification of the Benue elites so as to eliminate the prevailing mutual attrition and suspicion among her political elite, the preconditions involve the adoption of statesmanship and a large heart by the Minister towards his political opponents, with a focus on promoting the overall good and progress of Benue State and its proper integration into national affairs. This was the last wish of the late great son of Benue State and undisputed political leader of Middle Belt politics, late Chief Joseph Tarka. A Reconciliation and Unification Committee has to be urgently set up made up of prominent, impartial and non-partisan religious leaders, traditional rulers and professionals, to carry out this critical assignment. The Minister should take a cue from great political leaders such as Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela, who showed the way that the seeds of true greatness lie in forgiveness and reconciliation with erstwhile enemies and political opponents.
The new Benue State should never again be allowed to be an arena for damaging political power struggles, and endless ego turf wars between her political gladiators, which has all but diminished the its stature and fortunes and that of its leaders at the national level.. No longer should anyone hear of an Akume Vs Ortom, a Suswam Vs Gemade, Mark vs Akume, Iyorchia Ayu Vs Akume open confrontations.
In the spirit of true reconciliation for the good of the State, all the political gladiators should adopt statesmanship in their mutual determination to put the State’s shameful past behind them as they focus single-mindedly on the growth, development and prosperity of a new Benue State and her long-suffering and long-shortchanged people. They should not only shun all forms of surrogate instigations but call off all parochial proxy confrontations and fights wedged by their lieutenants if the vision of a peaceful and developed Benue State will become a reality for all to benefit from as opposed to the few who have taken advantage of these fault lines to hijacked the peoples’ patrimony for their selfish ends in the past.
Should he imbue his portfolio with the expected élan and sagacity, it may be safe to say that contrary to the prejudiced and partisan insinuations of his political traducers, by virtue his new appointment and its potential powers, coupled with his political antecedents, the Honourable Minister will have positioned himself as the de jure and defector leader of Benue State under the current dispensation and probably in the foreseeable future. Therefore, in the interest of the peace, progress and development of Benue State it is advisable for all stakeholders not only to forgive each other but rally round as well as celebrate the Honourable Minister, while and according him the necessary support and recognition to enable him command the desired respect from both the President and his fellow cabinet colleagues.
On his part, the Honourable Minister should be fully committed to seizing the moment and effectively providing the leadership that history has always conferred on him, most especially at this critical moment. History will not forgive Benue leaders again because the Minister’s failure to succeed will impact negatively on all of us and amount to a wasted opportunity by our people. He should equally show maturity by extending the required olive branch to all known and perceived political opponents and bury the hatchet with all irrespective of the depth of past injuries and perceived hurt suffered by him from their past conflicts. Having a strong national leader is the only guarantee for our people to fully tap into and benefit from the current opportunity offered by the Minister’s portfolio so as to reap their national entitlements.
Finally, the Honourable Minister must be aware that should he be able to focus on and successfully deliver on the above three-point agenda, it will prepare the ground for his immediate and future greatness and celebration as the undisputed leader of modern Benue State. Most importantly, his legacies will be cast in gold, perhaps rivaling those of the late Joseph Tarka and to a lesser extent, Paul Unongo and Aper Aku among others. The achievement of this vision will require tremendous personal sacrifice, a deliberate elimination of his perceived unflattering personal idiosyncrasies and lifestyle as well as enhancing his existing positive leadership tendencies as a statesman and man of the people. He should never fail to take cognizance of the fact that the Almighty God himself who has resurrected him from his enforced political retirement by his avowed political opponents did so for a grand divine design and purpose, hence he should be magnanimous in victory in order to fulfil the rare manifest destiny that now beckons on him on behalf of the people of Benue State and his Tiv kinsmen. However, the Minister cannot do it alone. He needs our collective support. So, we should all remember Brutus advice to Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar quoted above, so that collectively we can help the Minister succeed while the opportunity has been opened to us through his new office.
Justin Amase, a former Commissioner for Information and Orientation Benue State can be reached on email@example.com