To say that the wind of change is blowing across Benue in this critical election period is to mention the obvious. Others prefer to see it as a political tsunami traversing the rugged socio-economic landscape of this key Nigerian state. As it makes its way through villages, hamlets, towns, market places, churches and the public squares of the various cities, it is toppling held assumptions as well as challenging those forms of conduct that have tended to thwart the advancement of the people.

No matter how one views this phenomenon of political consciousness or awareness, the ACN's Broom Revolution is sweeping through here, propelled in large part by the yearnings of Benue citizens for a sense of direction in the governance of their state. The people's prayers have been answered in the person of Professor Steve Ugbah, at least judging from their reaction to his ambition to be the next Benue governor on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

Personable and urbane, the experienced development specialist who, until recently, taught at a university in California, USA, has an impressive professional profile that spans three decades and which includes, amongst other items, teaching, research, consultancy, community work and administrative responsibilities in Nigeria, America and Europe in particular. Befittingly, Professor Ugbah has come to symbolize the legitimate aspirations of the average Benue man and woman. The spontaneous crowds trooping to hear his political programme or simply to catch a glimpse of him as he takes to them his message of prosperity and progress in a secure and democratic environment do say it all.

The surging waves of humanity ÔÇô old and young people of every socio-economic status ÔÇô on his campaign trail are a potent testimony to the favourable perception by the populace of Ugbah's persona. But more than that, they speak to the abiding clarity and viability of his message as articulated through his people-based ÔÇś'My Vision For A Prosperous Benue State''.

Crucially, we are reminded that the development agenda being proposed is first and foremost the fruit of extensive consultations involving all the strategic segments of the society, from the grassroots to the elites and most certainly not an imposition from above. Asked about how he hopes to achieve his governorship ambition, Ugbah aptly replied: ÔÇś' This is not my project, it is the people's project, I am only an instrument for development...We are working with everybody, Tiv, Idoma, Igede, Etilo, Christians and Muslims, it is one Benue, one state, one voice, because we have one destiny'' ( Nigerian Compass).

Avoiding the straight-jacketing of theoretical formulations, the political action plan of the ACN's gubernatorial candidate is also an expression of the desire of the residents of Benue to break with the prevailing reign of impunity and its attendant consequence of excruciating hardship that have become their lot under the current Suswam regime, not to mention the sheer hopelessness of their existence, individual or collective, in favour of change of the qualitative type that would tangibly improve their lives. To realize this objective of sustainable development for all, an Ugbah administration shall be predicated on competent and accountable leadership , one that cherishes the core values of hard work, integrity and the fear of God.

Professor Ugbah's vision for Benue comprises a five-point agenda that is centred on effecting profound and far-reaching reforms that would turn Benue into a truly modern economy that is self-sustaining. The 5-point programme of action translates to five main areas that will be the focus of a Steve Ugbah government. These five main areas include good governance, the economy, an affordable health system, an education that is both relevant and geared toward the practical needs of the community, and infrastructural development covering all the sectors of the economy ÔÇô roads, transportation (the railway system, water ways), electricity generation and distribution, water, etc. For the purposes of concision, the five-point programme can be said to have two thrusts, namely, security and the economy. And because security is a requisite for the development of any society, the very first steps of an Ugbah government will be geared toward restoring an atmosphere of peace and civility in the state.

It goes without saying that where due process and the rule of law are ignored, either by those in executive positions or the ordinary citizen, the people's right to partake in legitimate endeavours is curtailed, and that includes the sovereign will of Nigerians to choose their representatives . Of course, the immediate impact of such anti-democratic tendencies is that the society stagnates in decay and corrupt practices even as mediocres and their collaborators are allowed to impose themselves and their destructive, anti-people behaviour on the polity.

Needless to say that the contents of the Steve Ugbah programme, when fully implemented, will substantially change Benue State in a progressive direction. Now, the mantra of inclusiveness that is inherent in the Steve Ugbah message presupposes two key notions, those of self-help and being our brother's or sister's keeper, respectively. Another elegant way of expressing the import of the Ugbah message is that God helps those who help themselves. And that is precisely what we as Benue citizens and as Nigerians must resolve to do in order to ensure the change we all want in the state.

In the immediate, we are confronted with the worrisome reality of a regime in Makurdi that is both desperate and panic-stricken on account of its failures and unpopularity. Rankled by the growing popularity of the ACN and its key candidates in the 2011 polls, those who are benefitting from the untenable status quo are fighting back through an increasing resort to violence and other unwholesome tactics. They think they can stop the change that is coming to Benue. They are wrong. In its report bearing the title ÔÇś'Season of Violence in Gboko'', The Guardian (Lagos) of February 08, 2011 narrated how politically motivated violence is spreading in Benue in the run-up to this year's elections. Much of that violence is targeting members of the ACN. In Gboko, for instance, a restaurant belonging to the wife of a key adviser to the ACN's gubernatorial candidate, Onov Tyulugh, was burnt to the ground by armed thugs in the first week of February. The Tyulugh family residence was also reportedly torched. Disturbingly also, the campaign convoys of the ACN governorship candidate have come under armed attacks. Typically, regime-induced violence and intimidation are also affecting the media. Journalists are being muzzled even as media organizations have come under pressure to kill stories that are considered unpalatable to Suswam and his government. All men and women of good will should condemn the brazen acts of thuggery, arson and intimidation reportedly being perpetrated by suspected pro-regime thugs and agents against mainly the ACN's supporters and candidates in the April elections. It is noteworthy that in the face of all this violence, the ACN governorship candidate is urging the path of peace. "Throughout our campaigns, I have stressed peace. What you see across Gboko is the stark reality of what some politicians have in stock for us. If there was any doubt that our lives were threatened by assassins, what you see today in Gboko dispels such doubts". On his part, Senator Akume, an ACN chieftain, asked President Jonathan to assume his constitutional responsibilities by helping contain the criminality taking place in the name of politics. "We call on President Jonathan to set in motion the security apparatus to arrest the political thugs used to perpetrate arson on law-abiding members of the ACN".

As the charade called the PDP primaries in Benue and elsewhere has proved, the likes of Governor Suswam and his sidekicks are desperate and are therefore resorting to increasingly undemocratic antics in order to hang on to power. This is apart from the fact that the current government in Makurdi has been associated with acts of gross human rights abuses directed against the opposition, the media and the organized civil society in general. Under the present dispensation, unprecedented levels of insecurity have resulted in the wanton murders of public figures, amongst whom were prominent critics of the government. Suswam and his confederates can have their way only if the good people of Benue fold their arms and do nothing. But that is not an option. As law-abiding citizens, we should do it the right way. We must insist that the relevant security forces, the police included, do their job by calling to order the regime in Benue and its hounds. At least one media outfit, namely, The Guardian, has reported that Governor Suswam has chillingly boasted that members of his ÔÇśPraetorian Guard' have a ÔÇś'legal right'' to ÔÇś'shoot and kill'' people lawfully assembled, should His Royal Highness deem it fit. The governor allegedly made that insinuation while warning the state's inhabitants not to stage public protests during President Jonathan's visit to Makurdi in the third week of February. These troubling developments do highlight the urgent need for adequate security coverage to be provided key opposition candidates. Crucially also, the change we all aspire to will happen only if we insist on transparent elections that are truly free and fair. Bringing out the vote on election day will ensure victory. Let's pledge to do our widow's mite, so to speak. Benue citizens living in the Diaspora can also do their part by, amongst other things, encouraging their kith and kin as well as their friends to vote wisely, for change of a transformative kind. Also, they must protect their votes on election day. The people cannot afford to lower their guard now. They will redouble their efforts in the understanding that it is not prudent to under-estimate the capacity for mischief by a tottering tyranny and its actors who want things to remain as they are in Benue.

Governor Suswam and his associates should realize that the world is watching them. As citizen journalists, let's endeavour to diligently monitor and document their actions, for posterity and especially for retributive justice. Appropriate sanctions ÔÇô diplomatic, financial, judicial, etc. - will be sought against the incumbent Benue State governor and his allies, where necessary. This should serve as a deterrent to the impunity on the part of those who stand in the way of the people's legitimate aspirations which happen to include the right to choose their representatives or leaders unhindered. And it is trite to reiterate here that a government that is the product of genuinely democratic polls is better placed to meet the wishes of the citizenry for a decent and prosperous living.

Aonduna Tondu (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)