From The Archives: Franc Utoo: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow


By Iorliam’Amo Shija

Although Frank Fagah Utoo who is known simply as Franc Utoo is also another major beneficiary of the Makurdi students union movement that began in the early part of this century, the biggest beneficiaries of the movement seem to be the Hembe brothers. Someday I will write about the Hembe Brothers and other beneficiaries like Terver Orduen.

It was Orkuma Hembe who was elected as the president of National Association Of Nigerian Students, NANS in 2005.He ran the office till 2007. In 2007, perhaps through the instrumentality of his younger brother’s NANS presidency, Iorwase Herman Hembe, Orkuma’s elder brother, was also elected to House of Reps as member for Vandeikya/Konshisha Federal Constituency.

Before this influential Makurdi movement emerged on the radar, The colour of unionism by students from Benue in the 1980s/1990s when the university bud had caught many a Benue youngster of old, was very different although also significant in its rights .

Beginning with the likes of Onov Tyughluu, Terhemba Shija, Donald Anaana and Basil Chiason, Benue students, especially those in Universities like Ahmadu Bello University,ABU, Zaria, University of Jos and others, had in the past attempted to shape opinion of their various schools, shaped their personalities and poised for after school way of life! Anaana for example was the first and perhaps the only Benue man to ever win the student union government, SUG election as president in ABU Zaria.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s when a University of Jos campus was established in Makurdi and a University of Technology began its activities, some sort of union activities too began. But all would wait until the upgrading of the university of Tech to become a university of Agriculture in 1990 and the establishment of Benue State University, BSU, Makurdi in 1992, for real union activities to be visible.

In the 1990s, Skata Apine of BSU appeared to give life to students union in Makurdi, but it was Bem Steve Abiviha who would later crystallize and put the movement on a more formidable plane when he won election as NUBESS president in 2000/2001.

An Engineering student of UniAgric, Steve commanded respect not just from students of UniAgric and BSU but from all Benue state students in the country. That was why his 2001 call for a protest to demand increment in Benue state scholarship from 1000 to 5000 was successful.

Steve was not alone in these struggles, he had many comrades pulled from Makurdi and across the the nation. Some of who would become house hold names, in years to come. One of his visible lieutenants was a lanky and neat law student from BSU with a good command of English language and raw courage: entered our man, Franc Utoo.

That these students were quite young, inexperienced , but the fact that they refused to be compromised, remained focused and by so, compelling the nascent government of Governor George Akume to do their bidding made them instant heroes.

Basing on the successes of the 2001 protest, another protest followed the next year. The Taraba Crisis of 2002 had sent many refugees into Makurdi and the students protested, demanding that government should act. In an attempt to quell the crisis, it escalated and a curfew was placed for the first time in Makurdi from 6AM to 6PM. Franc Utoo played prominent roles in the successes of these pro-students and people protests, that became frequent.

In BSU, Franc had his battles-sensing his popularity, he took it to the market, he contested LAWSAN president and SUG president, he lost both, but it was clear to most students that Utoo didnt actually fail the elections, he had just become a victim because the school authorities were not comfortable with his profile. Coincidentally, Akume who took over from the military in 1999 as governor of Benue state was closing in on his first term. He would seek another term in 2003.

By now, the altercation between Utoo and school authority was creating a crisis that would eventually earn him a rustication and expulsion from the school, but Akume saw him as the right man to anchor the activities of the youths and students in his re-election bid.

That was how from playing students politics, Franc joined the mainstream. To enable him to deliver on his new duties and briefs , Akume gave Franc plenty cash, airtime on radio and the 23 podiums of the 23 Local government councils in Benue to preach Akume’s “goodness” and why he should be re-elected.

The 2003 General election was the most rigged ever in the living history of Benue state. To most Benue people, the first four years of Akume were abysmal and needed no more four years . The people preferred Paul Unongo, Akume’s rival . Franc Utoo was brought in to use his vibrant stature to salvage the situation, he acted and played his part religiously.

Akume sensing an eminent failure, used money, intimidated the people and with security men backing him, rigged to secure another term. All these while, Franc Utoo stood with him as a loyal boy.

Like most commentators who are familiar with this and I have always observed, Akume did not only rig for himself but somewhere else in the state, Akume had rigged in some PDP men like Suswam for Katsina-Ala/Ukum/Logo Federal Constituency, Terngu Tsegba for Gboko /Tarka, Tarhule Nev for Buruku, Cletus Upav for Makurdi/Guma Federal House of Reps; but it was impossible to rig for Bernard Verr in the Kwande/Ushongo Federal House of Reps and Atumba Shima too for the Vandeikya/Konshisha constituency-in those respective constituencies, Hon Terfa Atii of the ANPP and Ms AondonaDabo of UNPP had won, respectively.

It took the stoic activities of students of valour from the the Kwande/Ushongo axis and Vandeikya/Konshisha, like Douglas Kachi,Richard Mnenga and others to reject Akume’s re-election bid.

Shortly before and after the 2003 election, Benue state was thrown into crisis for obvious reasons-people were killed, houses were burnt and voter apathy had set in, because, as these happened, the law enforcement agents stood helpless. Those who attempted to seek redress in court soon realized they were on a goose chase. Franc Utoo stood with Akume and there is no record to suggest he resented any of the things Akume did!

Even though he was expelled from BSU on controversial grounds, Utoo had now gotten strong friends in government. In 2007 when Suswam became governor, Franc Utoo again had higher responsibility to campaign for Musa Yar’Adua for president. There after, he left for further studies to Asia and Europe. The sponsoship of these schools abroad fell mostly on the shoulders of his friends in government, obviously. These friends, it must be emphasized were most of the times resented by the people because they failed them and indulged in corrupt practices . Franc Utoo accepted their money and said nothing about their ways.

Towards the 2011 General election, the Benue political landscape was divided sharply. Suswam wanted re-election inspite of his poor outing from 2007, Akume who played an important role in his emergence four years ago had fallen out with him and had brought another man. Utoo stood with Suswam.

He now ignored the man who had dragged him into politics in the first place. Most of the times, even though he was abroad for studies , he wore and posted on Facebook, pictures of Suswam’s crested Jersies number eleven with the initials, VISA: meaning, Vote In Suwam again! Yes, either we heard Utoo and voted Suswam or he was rigged him, suswam came back for another term. I think, Akume never forgave Franc for this.

All These happened yesterday.

Today, for no clear reasons, Utoo has once again put up his studentlike union garbs and on daily basis, if he is not calling for some kind of revolution in the polity, he is demanding for answers from issues that look like what he once endorsed; from which he built a MORE comfortable lifestyle.

Today, like the real poor suffering masses like most of us, Utoo plays a victim on daily basis. What has happened? When has Franc gotten back his eyes? Eyes to see injustice and condemn! When has Franc repented?

The only thing I can remember is, again, like it happened in 2011, Franc fell out eventually with PDP towards 2015, re-joined the APC that was a merger of some political parties, to face familiar friends and enemies like his former oga, Akume. He was also in a race for house of reps to represent Makurdi/Guma Federal counstituency . At the party primaries, Akume gave him and the aspirant whose gubernatorial ambition he supported, Emmanuel Jime, a painful dose that looked like what he dished out to others in 2003 when Franc stood with him but was mum. But today, Franc is speaking against it though.

Today, if Franc does not sit down to assess realistically the tone of the language he uses on his former benefactors like Akume and many others whose ignominious political activities he supported and sometimes executed in the past, he will risk been called names tomorrow.

Tomorrow, inspite of his intellectual acumen, natural brilliance and the faithful followership he enjoys from a section of the people who still admire his college days , he would be called an ingrate by some, proud by others, ambitious, vicious. Inconsistent and vindictive by others .

Tomorrow, when more young men shall take over this nation, it will be my desire that it should be people like Utoo who should take the lead; unfortunately, Franc is creating traps that might haunt him tomorrow and thwart whatever chances he might have.

NB: I wrote this article on 27 July 2016. Just felt like sharing again.

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