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Selection of New Och’idoma: Idoma Elite, Benue Govt Trade Blame

Pastor John Elaigwu Odogbo
Pastor John Elaigwu Odogbo

January 09, (THEWILL) – Pastor John Elaigwu Odogbo has been elected to replace late Och’idoma, Elias Ikoyi Obekpa. KAJO MARTINS writes on the intrigues, politics and disquiet resulting from the selection exercise

Sometime in October 2021, the traditional stool of Idoma Kingdom in Benue South Senatorial District became vacant, following the death of the Och’idoma, His Royal Majesty, Elias Ikoyi Obekpa,. With the development and in accordance with the Benue State Council of Chiefs and Traditional Councils Law 2016, a first class chief, Chief George Ede, was appointed to take charge of the throne for three months, during which a substantive Och’idoma would be elected.

In the foregoing, a selection committee headed by Chief Ekpe Ogbu, Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development, was inaugurated and given the mandate to conduct an election on December 30, 2021. The election took place at the Idoma Traditional Council Hall in Oturkpo.

Presenting the Och’Idoma-elect to Governor Samuel Ortom at the Benue People’s House, Makurdi, Chief Ogbu described the election process as transparent and peaceful.

“Out of the three contestants that went to the final stage, the Och’Idoma-elect polled a total of 19 votes to defeat his closest rival, Architect Sunday Echono, Permanent Secretary, Federal ministry of Education who scored 8 votes while Chief Andrew Idakwu got 1 vote out of the overall 28 votes cast. One contestant withdrew in the course of the election while another did not secure nomination from the electoral college,” Ogbu said.

However, a group acting under the aegis of Idoma Socio-Cultural Organisation and known locally as Ochetoha K’Idoma National Forum, rejected what it described as the “imposition” of Chief John Elaigwu Odogbo as the new Och’Idoma.

The group, in a statement signed by its President, Air Vice Marshal Toni Adokwu (Retd.) and made available to journalists in Makurdi,  described the selection process as a ‘sham’ and alleged that traditional rulers who formed the selection committee were threatened with sack if they failed to vote for a preferred candidate of the Benue State Government.

The group claimed that it had earlier expressed the fear that the selection of a new Och’Idoma might be compromised.

It said,”We also deposed that a new traditional ruler would likely be imposed on the Idoma nation by some powers that be by using the name of Governor Samuel Ortom.

“In the public statement, we categorically affirmed that a number of traditional rulers, who would be members of the Selection Committee, were invited to Makurdi on Tuesday, December 28, 2021 ostensibly by the governor and instructed to vote for a particular candidate or be sacked.”

The group also alleged that the ‘foreign interference’ became glaring when the parties outside the Idoma nation came up strong in support of the candidate said to have been selected.

“The actions of government officials who superintended over the ‘sham’ and the traditional rulers’ fear of sack for failing to comply with the alleged instruction from Governor Ortom affirmed our doubts.

“In view of this glaring evidence, Ochetoha K’Idoma hereby, totally rejects the entire process and declares it a charade by misguided persons with intent to impose themselves and their cronies on the Idoma people,” the group said and called on all Idoma sons and daughters to remain calm and law abiding.

In a swift reaction, the state government denied involvement in the alleged imposition of the newly elected Och’idoma, John Odogbo.

A statement signed by Nathaniel Ikyur, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Samuel Ortom, said the governor had no hand in the selection of any traditional ruler or chiefs, either in Idoma or Tiv Traditional Area Councils.

The statements reads, “We have read a news report credited to Ochetoha K’Idoma National Forum and signed by Retired AVM Toni Adokwu wherein he levelled spurious and unfounded allegations against Governor Samuel Ortom for interfering in the selection of the  Och’Idoma-elect, His Royal Majesty, Dr John Elaigwu Odogbo.

“At no time did the governor invite any traditional ruler of Idoma extraction or wheresoever to Government House for the purposes connected to or related to the selection of a new traditional ruler for the Idoma nation. The selection of the new Och’Idoma was based on the legal procedure as enshrined in the legal instruments of the Chieftaincy laws of Benue State.”

It said that due process was followed in the selection exercise as provided by the Benue State Council of Chiefs and Traditional Councils Law 2016 which highlight indicates that, “the Och’Idoma shall be chosen rotationally by a Selection Committee from amongst the components of Agatu and Apa; Otukpo and Ohimini; Ado Enone (Ado, Ogbadibo and Okpokwu); Igede (Oju and Obi). And from the history as narrated by members of the Selection, it was the turn of Agatu and Apa to produce the next Och’Idoma.”

The statement said the selection committee consisted of four First Class chiefs, nine Second Class chiefs and 18 Third Class Chiefs in Idoma Area Traditional Council, totaling 32.

It added that out of the 32 members, 28 were present at the selection exercise and formed a quorum, which is two-thirds of the membership of the committee.

According to the committee report, five persons presented themselves for the selection exercise; four nominated while in the course of dialogue for a consensus candidate, one person stepped down and three persons went into the election/selection. After the voting process was concluded, one candidate polled one vote, another polled eight votes and the winner polled 19 votes.

“This shows that the selection process was very transparent, fair and free. At least nine voters did not vote for the winner and none of them can prove that he was victimised. The allegations by the Ochetoha K’Idoma against Governor Ortom is therefore, baseless, unfounded and unnecessary.”

According to Ikyur, the tone of the press statement as signed by AVM Adokwu, a retired senior military officer, who should know the implications of endangering the public peace after such a transparent process had been concluded, was not only set in derogatory language against Governor Ortom, but also deliberately crafted to cast aspersions on his government.

“The statement is also intended to cause strife, destroy and pitch the Tiv against their Idoma brothers. It should not be tolerated.

“It also beats our imagination how AVM Adokwu and his co-travellers tried to belittle the Benue State House of Assembly that included the full compliments of all Idoma representatives. The state legislature followed due process, including the public hearing that produced the Benue State Chieftaincy Law 2006, which introduced the unified new first-class, second-class and third-class chiefs in the state,” he said.

Ikyur said it should be known to Adokwu and his sponsors that the Benue State Chieftaincy Law is not the creation of Governor Ortom or designed to humiliate and subjugate Idoma people as all traditional rulers and elites in Idoma land, including members of the State House of Assembly, who are aware of the provisions of the amended chieftaincy law, which was also used in the selection of other chiefs in Idoma land and is still being used to select chiefs to fill some vacant stools in Idoma land.

He noted that no traditional ruler outside of Idoma land participated in the selection process of the new Och’Idoma, pointing out that the campaign of calumny and prejudicial name calling of Governor Ortom is vexatious, callous and uncalled for and should be discountenanced.