The Election of Och’Idoma: Matters Arising By James Uloko

Nigerian Concord Newspaper

One of the remarkable events that brought the year 2021 to a close in Benue state was the election of a new Och’Idoma on December 30. In fixing that date, the Benue state government, organizers of the event, may have haboured the idea of offering the people of Idoma Kingdom a New Year gift of a Paramount Ruler who would usher in a new era in their traditional rulership history. But rather than celebrations, the election of Dr. John Elaigwu Odogbo as Och’Idoma V has generated controversy and, more appropriately, outrage by a vocal section of the Idoma elite which view the Och’Idoma-elect as a Greek Gift by the government.

The Ochetoha K’Idoma, a socio-cultural organization, lent its weight to allegations against government in various social media platforms by issuing a press statement rejecting the election of Dr. Odogbo and threatened to challenge it in court.
One of the allegations against the government is that it enacted the Benue State Chieftaincy Law 2016 which provided for the process of selecting the Och’Idoma which is contrary to the culture and traditions of Idoma with respect to the selection of their chiefs. More specifically, Governor Samuel Ortom was accused of manipulating and interfering in the selection process and to favour Odogbo, a Pentecostal pastor who is little known within the Kingdom and knows little about Idoma culture and tradition. Some have even sarcastically claimed that the Och’Idoma-elect, the Paramount Ruler of the Idoma Kingdom, has been chosen for them by the Tiv.

To me, these allegations are baseless. The enactment of the Benue State Chieftaincy Law of 2016 followed the normal legislative due process, including committee work, public hearings and debates on the floor of the State House of Assembly before it was passed and assented to by the Governor. These were all processes in which Idoma people and legislators participated and were supposed to raise objections to any provisions that were considered inimical to Idoma culture and interest. HRH Dr. Elias Ikoyi Obekpa, the Och’Idoma the IV, now on a permanent hunting expedition, who benefitted from that law by being upgraded to the position of Paramount Ruler, was ironically the lone voice of substance from Idoma land who rose against the law and almost stalled its implementation in his Kingdom. Since its enactment, the provisions of this law have been used for the election of third, second and third class chiefs in the Idoma Kingdom without anybody raising serious issues about any flaws in it. Why is it now that the law was applied to the election of the Och’Idoma that the anti-Idoma provisions, if at all there are any, are suddenly being identified? Why is it that the contestants to the stool and their supporters willingly submitted themselves to the election process only for them to cry foul after they had lost? Would they have criticized the law and accused the Governor of interference if they had won? Did it not occur to them that a winner and losers would emerge from the election?

It is interesting to note that neither the contestants nor the chiefs who participated in the election are the ones complaining or rejecting the outcome. This suggests that the issue which is purely a legal-cum-chieftaincy affair is being politicized.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Benue State Chieftaincy Law 2016, like other legislations, assigns roles to Government and its agencies to ensure peaceful and orderly conduct affairs legislated on. Those were the roles Governor Ortom performed creditably, through the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, that ensured that the election of the Och’Idoma was orderly, peaceful and transparent. To, therefore, insinuate that the Governor or the Tiv, imposed the Och’Idoma-elect, HRH Dr. John Elaigwu Odogbo, on the Idoma Kingdom is, to say the least, most unfair.

I align myself with well-meaning Idoma leaders, including Senator Abba Moro, Hon. Samuel Godday and Prof. Jacob Omenka in calling on all aggrieved parties to exercise restraint in expressing their grievances in the interest of the office and institution of the Och’Idoma. As Senator Moro rightly pointed out, “further disparaging/denigrating the process and its eventual outcome will only further diminish the institution of the stool of the Och’Idoma. This will not serve the interest of the Idoma Kingdom. ”
Now that the contest has been won and lost through a very transparent process, the onus is on the people of Idoma Kingdom to rally round the Och’Idoma-elect to ensure not only a peaceful inauguration, but a reign that would bring peace and prosperity to Idoma land and people. Let the lessons learnt from the enactment and implementation of the Chieftaincy Law so far serve as guide to the future. If there are any flaws in it, they should be brought up for amendment at the appropriate time. Going forward, we should also learn to pay critical attention to any bit of legislative process to avoid crying after the milk has been spilt.

Hon James Uloko, Special Adviser to Governor of Benue State on Media and Orientation, writes from Makurdi