The most fortunate Benue politicians are those who at a point participated actively in student politics and successfully translated to mainstream politics. Looking at this group from Wantaregh Paul Unongo, seemingly the godfather and mentor of the rest, through the likes of Late Onov Tyuulugh, Dr Terhemba Shija, Hon Terwase Orbunde, Basil Chianson, to Iorwase Hembe, Frank Utoo, Daniel Onjeh, Terver Orduen, Austine Agada, etc shows concrete degrees of successes or better strategies of a group ready to become stakeholders in a highly competitive environment . The success story of the group is better appreciated when compared to their protégés, the Social Media politicians, those who are on the stage now.
This article is actually about how the Social Media politicians have fared since they appeared on the stage in 2011.
Those who started politics in the Benue Province towards independence in the 1950s were principally the traditional rulers and the not-so- educated elites that had emerged out of colonialism. The likes of J S Tarka and Isaac Shaahu, who were only fairly educated, left their teaching careers to join politics. Others , especially in the 1960s when universities came on board had the opportunities of going to school more, were bent on pursuing their professions. In this group, you have the first graduates from Nigerian universities like Dr Edwin Obe, Dr Ameh Idoko, Dr Joshua Adagba, Dr Anthony Ochefu who read Medicine from Ibadan. There was another group who had earlier studied outside Nigeria like Dr Edwin Ogbu, Ambassador Ogah Okwuoche, Adom Gande, Ezekiel Akiga, Aper Aku and Paul Unongo.
Paul Unongo, the founding president of Community of Tiv Students, CTS, was also said to have participated in politics as a student in Canada. After a stint at University of Lagos as a lecturer on return to the country, Unongo left the class room in 1969 with a mandate to intellectualize Benue politics. His message was an instant success amongst the students and graduates. They fought hard and from then, carved a niche for themselves. For Unongo and his group of intellectuals, it has indeed been a successful battle.
Since 1950s, Benue politics has therefore, been a marriage of these well-known interests; the elite, community leaders, veteran student unionists who graduated to mainstream, and their hangers-on loyalists. In 2010, another group emerged on the stage; the social Media group. A group that wanted to use the new social media platforms that have come on to exert themselves and get political capital. Their biggest tool, would be Facebook, a new technology. On February 4th 2004, Mark Zuckerberg with his college roommate and fellow Harvard University student, Eduardo Saverin founded Facebook. After initial limitations which allowed only a few to use the site, by September 2006, it was opened to all. So, as from 2007, some people from Benue State signed up on the site.
2007 was an election year in the country, but those who had started accessing the net, in those earliest days were more interested in friendship and dating; or maybe entertainment and sports. Perhaps, the presidential election of Barrack Obama was an eye opener. According to Wekipedia, through forums and social websites such as MySpace and Facebook, Obama built relationships with his supporters, and would-be supporters. He developed an upfront, personable and face-to-face quality that gave his supporters a sense of security and trust, which inspired them to rally others in their local communities. The supporters of Obama themselves formed a nationwide community.
All of his policies were made available online, and updates were sent to the subscribers of his political party via email and text messages, ultimately making him the most technologically savvy candidate to date, increasing his popularity among youth voters.
Obama who faced an establishment where he was projected not to amount to gathered young men and said, YES, WE CAN. He surely did. His victory in 2008 inspired young men around the world to enmesh in social media as a tool of seeking political relevance. From 2009-2010, most Nigerians became aware of the potency of Social Media. Although, there were some who still distrusted the social media. One of them was the then governor of Benue Sate, Gabriel Torwua Suswam, who was seeking a second term. It is said, his Senior Special Assistant then had told him not to be mindful of Social Media.
From Facebook, to other elites Social Forums like TivNet and Ate U Tiv, many people were heavily mobilized against Suswam and PDP. Young men and women who before then had been locked out of mainstream politics , now entered it boldly and with just a phone and data, became potent voices. Yes, Suswam won but a lesson was learnt, which was that, Social Media was not something to be ignored.
Though “defeated”, Social Media politicians kept Suswam’s administration under check; criticising or questioning some of his policies or decisions. This was very impactful. That was why as 2015 election arrived; every politician put together, or attracted what was termed a Social Media Team. As expected, 2015 was indeed Benue State’s, and of course Nigeria’s Social Media election. The leading participants came out with their heads high as heroes. Their roles have finally been established as influencers of thoughts and voters’ direction. But others became, as expected of most winners, arrogant, mischievous and cheap. This has cost the social media politicians of big wins. The older politicians were quick to discover to what extent to involve the new people in government.
The resultant disillusionment or poor judgement as the case may be, made some of the leading participants to become rebellious, childish and eventually useless, such that in 2019, most of those strong voices of yore were either ignored or only just tolerated. Some daring ones who put their worth to test in the party primaries, were schemed out.
Where do you think Social Media Politicians in Benue have erred? It will be due to inordinate ambitions, inexperience, and their penchant to easily resort to falsehood for no reason. As expected, because of youthful exuberance, jealousy and envy have prevented the promising amongst them to work as a team. They work as rivals, funnily to the advantage of the older politicians. What’s more, those who attempted to lead, ignored and scorned important stakeholders-they were eager to divide between them and us. They made little impact.
Maybe 2023 would be the year of the social media politicians from Benue State.