The Suswam-Gemade Senate War

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The Senatorial ambition of Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State has put him in a collision course with Barnabas Gemade, the incumbent senator, who has not hidden his intention to return to the red chamber in 2015

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Aug. 11, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

LIKE many other events in the political circle of Benue State, the report that Gabriel Suswam, the incumbent governor, was planning to relocate to the Senate after the expiration of the of his second term in 2015, started like a joke. Many people dismissed the report with a wave of the hand because they believed that after serving eight full years as governor, Suswam would have done enough to quit the political scene and retire gracefully.

But whatever doubts anyone had about his quest to remain in active politics at the end of the his tenure as governor, dissolved Saturday July 19, 2014 in Adikpo, Kwande area of the state where he formally declared his intention to cross over to the Senate next year. He is seeking to represent Benue north-east senatorial district in the upper legislative chambers.

The governor met with three paramount rulers of the ‘Sankera political bloc’ comprising Ushongo and Kwande local government areas, to which the PDP has reportedly zoned the position, asking that the ticket be ceded to him.

Addressing a gathering at the palace of the Ter Kwande on the purpose of their visit, Fezanga Wombo, who spoke on behalf of the Suswam-led delegation, said they had come to intimate the people of the governor’s intention to contest the 2015 senatorial election.

“We know that the senatorial seat in the forthcoming 2015 election has been zoned to Kwande/Ushongo axis, but we of the Sankera bloc have come to ask that you lend us the slot to allow Governor Suswam run for the seat.”

Responding to the request, the Ter Kwande, Hilary Ikima, stated that “since none of our subjects had indicated interest to contest the seat and given that Governor Suswam is the first to ask for it, we will loan the seat to Sankera.

Suswam’s quest to represent the zone in the Senate has not only divided the people of the zone, it has also drawn the battle line between him and Barnabas Gemade, a former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who presently occupies the seat.

Like many other lawmakers, Gemade has made no secret of his desire to return to the Senate. He has declared at various fora that he wants to go back to the Senate in 2015. The feud between these brothers is further complicated by the fact that they are members of the same political party. Having held the highest position in the party, Gemade is believed to be relying on the presidency and the influence of his former subordinates in the state. He is believed to be enjoying the support of PDP’s top hierarchy.

Suswam, on the other hand, is believed to be a grassroots politician, who will spare nothing to ensure that his ambition is realised. Some of his close associates are said to be working assiduously to ensure that Gemade doesn’t get the PDP ticket to represent the zone.

Barnabas Gemade
Gemade

There are even rumours in Benue State that the governor has the backing of President Goodluck Jonathan, who has also promised him that he would be made a minister should his senatorial ambition fall through. Long before Suswam’s public declaration, there had been a sustained war of words between him and Gemade.

In an interview with a newspaper, Gemade accused Suswam of being disrespectful. He added that the senate is not meant for “small boys” like the governor. Gemade also stated that his re-election to the Senate had already been guaranteed and that he was not threatened by the contentious ambition of  Governor Suswam to contest the Senate seat against him because he had contributed immensely to the governors’ political growth.

“My return to the Senate has been guaranteed and those who speak with God in heaven already know that it is guaranteed but those who do not speak with the Almighty will continue to beat about the bush. To me, I know that the issue is already being settled.

“I am not threatened by Gabriel Suswam, he is my political son and I had contributed immensely in making him grow politically. Proverbially, there has been no such time that a young one would decide which piece of meat to pick from the soup when dining with the elders because the elders will always pick first and decide what the young ones will then take.” Gemade stated.

Suswam, on the other hand, is confident of winning the election and has said only God can stop him. “This thing has gone on for a while; if I defeat them here, they will find another way. They want to tarnish my image and reduce me in the eyes of Nigerians. I contested in 1999, I contested in 2003 and I contested in 2007. They couldn’t succeed in moving me out and I’m set to move to the Senate. It is only God that can stop me.”

 “For the sake of clarity, I don’t know the context on which he was referring to me as a young man. It is on record that I was at the National Assembly for eight years and today I am almost clocking another eight years as governor; so it will be foolhardy for anybody to describe me as a novice in the game of politics”, he told reporters in Abuja recently.

While Gemade appears to enjoy the support of party members at the national level, Suswam seems to be enjoying unrivalled loyalty at home in Benue. Godwin Ayihe, Benue State PDP publicity secretary, recently made that clear in a statement in which he said “no one poses a threat to the governor as far as party machinery is concerned.”

As the election draws nearer, it is not clear which of the two brothers will smile at the end of the day. Suswam’s senatorial ambition is not a surprise to political observers because he is not the first to do so. Since Nigeria’s return to civil rule 1999, the Senate has become an attractive destination for ex-military administrators, former governors and ministers. At the moment, there are about 10 former governors in the Senate and there is a strong possibility that many of them will be there for a long time to come.

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