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Benue politics: the Lawani phenomenon

Some of the states, past and present, where governors have been embroiled in power tussle with their deputies include Abia, Akwa Ibom, Oyo, Bayelsa, Bauchi…

Some of the states, past and present, where governors have been embroiled in power tussle with their deputies include Abia, Akwa Ibom, Oyo, Bayelsa, Bauchi and Gombe. In the worst case scenarios, like in Bayelsa State, the deputy governors end up being impeached or forced to resign. In Lagos State under Governor Bola Tinubu, the state witnessed the unprecedented forced removal from office of two deputy governors. The endless instances of shadow boxing and cat-and-mouse relationships between governors and their deputies serve as a fitting preamble to a different kind of scenario that has emerged in Benue state where the relationship between the younger governor ,Gabriel Suswam and his older deputy, Chief Steven Lawani, has served the state very well and indeed a model of how governors and their deputies should work in one accord for good governance.

 To some, from the dominant Tiv axis, Chief Lawani, himself a former gubernatorial aspirant, an experienced and savvy political tactician could simply take full advantage of age and experience to   re –configure and even re- calibrate the ensuing power dynamics in the state.

 But to some Idoma political leaders at the far end of the Benue political spectrum, the position of deputy governors simply fell short of their expectation.  They felt that their highly revered political leader deserved much more.  They would rather see him settle for the role of kingmaker within the larger gamut of Idoma politics. However, in a matter of time, it was to dawn on all that whoever came up with the idea of a Suswam/Lawani joint ticket, had indeed provided the masterstroke that would propel Benue state on the trajectory of political stability and rapid development.   

 Today, three years down the line, these loosely-held perceptions across the Tiv/Idoma political divide has tumbled on their heads. Thanks to the highly successful and profoundly exemplary role of the Deputy Governor, Chief Steven Obekpa Lawani, as a stabilizing factor in Benue politics so far. That Chief Lawani, the soft spoken holder of the Idoma traditional chieftaincy title, the Ochagwu, has conducted his official responsibilities with decorum, grace, humility and sincerity of purpose did not come as a surprise to many. As former Deputy National Chairman of the defunct National Republican Convention, NRC; a successful real estate magnate and chairman of various  banks and organizations, Chief Lawani knew that the task of deputising for a political helmsman required huge elements of political balancing skills,  brinkmanship and a spirit of uncommon loyalty that are usually lacking in the relationship between some of  the  governors and their deputies across the land and hence, the occasional needless tension between state governors and their deputies.

 The case of the relationship between Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State and his deputy, Chief Steven Lawani, is refreshing. The sheer energy which drives the engine of mutual understanding and co- operation between the two leaders is clearly visible before the public. Governor Suswam consults with his deputy on any contentious political matter. His deputy is always on hand to provide solutions from years of experience, expertise and wisdom.  More often than not, the Deputy Governor represents the Governor at official functions within and outside the state, while the governor attends to state matters and a deluge of official correspondences in his office.  Sometimes, the governor relieves himself of the pressure of attending to every courtesy call by assigning his deputy to attend to some.

  The last time Governor Suswam proceeded on a one month leave, Chief Lawani acted as governor and conducted the affairs of the state in a manner that commended him to the governor on his return. At the end of his leave, Governor Suswam, at a public function, poured accolades on his deputy, describing him as ‘a great leader and a worthy deputy’. He told a gathering of party leaders and supporters at the Aminu Isa Kontagora theatre complex, Makurdi, that while he was away, Chief Lawani gave a very good account of himself. He said the successful outing has further confirmed and strengthened the abiding confidence he has always reposed in the deputy Governor. In emotion- laden words, Governor Suswam asked the people of Benue State to ‘thank the Deputy Governor’ for him.   

  Experts in conflict resolution at workplaces agree that working for public good requires uncommon spirit of team work, accommodation, compromise and tact as necessary components of achieving common objectives. Anything short of that may well spell political disaster for the people.

 Indeed, political watchers in the state agree that the relative political stability being enjoined in the state is attributable, to a large extent, to the cordial working relationship between Governor Suswam and his deputy, Chief Steven Lawani. Indeed, at no time in the life of the present Suswam/Lawani administration have the Benue people have had to be fed with the usual ugly spectacle of open or covert confrontation between the younger governor and his older deputy. This is the crux of this discourse and indeed, a big lesson in the study of political leaders holding public positions in trust for the people of Nigeria both at the federal, state and local government levels.

 The case of Suswam/Lawani political understanding and co-operation should serve as a veritable point of reference or a refreshing model for leaders who are really prepared to provide effective and sincere political leadership at all levels of governance where virtues of team work, collective sense of purpose and spirit of give and take should normally hold sway in the interest of the people who elected them into office.

James Uloko, public affairs commentator, writes from Makurdi.


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