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Opinion

TERHEMBA SHIJA: AN ALTERNATIVE VIEWPOINT…

By Mike Utsaha

This isn’t the best of times for us as a people and as a nation, and the reason is pretty obvious. This notwithstanding, the Benue Political Community seem to have taken a break from concerns around combatting the effects of COVID – 19, and has rather focused attention on the recent resignation from the Peoples Democratic Party by the erudite Professor of Creative Writing and former member of the Benue State Executive Council Prof. Terhemba Shija.

Professor Terhemba Shija

The resignation of Shija from the PDP, after many years sojourn in that Party, has unsurprisingly, elicited mixed reactions. Although the text of the public statement which he personally signed, gave no indication as to his immediate next steps, there are speculations already that his resignation is a first step towards the actualisation of a gubernatorial ambition come 2023, on an alternative political platform, a platform which he allegedly undermined during the 2019 general elections.

A little bit of a background here, just so that base motives are not ascribed to this alternative viewpoint.

As a much younger person I loved books a lot, I read practically everything that was in sight, newspapers, novels, journals, etc. and that is how I first came in contact with Terhemba Shija many years ago, through his first published work “Whispers of Distant Drums”.

Then, by October 1995 when I was called to the Bar, Shija was the then Head of the Benue State Liaison Office in Lagos where I had undertaken my mandatory Law School Studies. Without any prompting, and without any prior notification, but obviously in honour of my parents, who were in Lagos to share in the joy of my admission to the prestigious legal profession, Shija hosted a large Party in my honour in his official residence somewhere in Victoria Island.

Many years later, coincidentally in the month of October 2012, when my younger Sister Alu got married to her heartthrob Pius Ayoo, Shija was there once again, to host a sit out in Hallydays Hotel Makurdi, this time around, in honour of the Ayoos and Utsahas.

Even here on Facebook where we maintain an enduring bond of friendship, we share a commonality of interest on issues of diverse interests, and I am constantly intrigued by mass hysteria that usually accompanies his outings.

Naturally, I have had and maintained more than a passing interest in Shija even as I owe him a debt of gratitude for his thoughtfulness, kindness and generosity, and I needed to mention this upfront.

I think it is a great act of disservice to our great Party the All Progressives Congress (APC) to even contemplate a cold shoulder for Shija. Globally, political parties thrive on membership, the more the merrier. The political process is a market place whose legal tender is the freshness of ideas that one brings to the table. It is decidedly a market place of ideas.

Besides, if Shija worked against the APC during the 2019 general elections in favour of his Party the PDP, then he was discharging the responsibility expected of a loyal, forthright and committed Party man. Rather than condemn him for this, he ought to be commended for his exemplary conduct, notwithstanding the motivation, if any, for this line of action. So, if tomorrow Shija decides to pitch his tent with the APC I personally consider it a salutary development.

It should be stated, without equivocation of any kind whatsoever, that the 2019 electioneering campaign of the APC in Benue was poorly conducted quite frankly.

We went into that election as a fragmented Party with disparate and varied interests.

We refused to take advantage of resources at our disposal and relied essential on the feeble and capricious efforts of spent political forces of yester years.

Indeed, in some cases, we were pants down in bed with the most vociferous opposition elements. We squandered our chances and goodwill as a party, we took a lot of things for granted even as we were in a contest with a formidable incumbent governor who was too well aware of the consequences of losing his seat, and with it, his constitutional immunity.

So, to now turn around and blame Shija for our lack lustre performance in that election is for me akin to playing the game of the proverbial Ostrich.

Like I mentioned earlier on Shija has been an active member of the PDP since 1999. In my view, it is a fitting testimony to his selflessness and consistency of character that, notwithstanding the fluid nature of our political process, he has never ever contemplated, until now, a change of platform.

Conversely, it is also a fitting testimony to the soul and character of the PDP that it could not retain or at least tolerate Shija within its fold, in spite of his many years of committed and dedicated service and sacrifice to the Party.

Let me conclude, not only by wishing Shija all the very best in his future endeavours, I additionally urge him, most respectfully, to consider taking up membership of the APC, if and when he decides to continue making modest contributions to the democratisation process in our country Nigeria. The fortunes of our great Party will be significantly improved if he takes this step.

We look forward to working very closely with him and benefitting from his wealth of experience, depth of knowledge and the network of friends and associates he has cultivated within and beyond our country Nigeria.

(Mike Utsaha is a legal practitioner based in Abuja)

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