Ortom: Why Benue State Can’t Hold LG Elections Now

  • Says ranches are ultimate solution to herdsmen, farmers’ crisis

Tobi Soniyi in Abuja

Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has said his state does not have the resources to finance local government elections in the state.

Ortom, who spoke with State House Correspondents after he visited President Muhammadu Buhari, also said he had been able to resolve the crisis between herdsmen and farmers in the state.
He said the crisis was resolved through dialogue. Nevertheless, the governor insisted that the present system of moving animals from one area to the other was not sustainable. In his view, the proper thing to do is to build ranches.

He said: ”I have always said this, if we can copy the presidential system from America why can we not copy ranching? But, it is a gradual process and cannot be done over night.

“We are propagating ranching as the final and lasting solution to these issues of herdsmen and farmers clashes. But is something that cannot be done over night. We need the collaboration of the states and the federation to agree on a formula, one for the nomads. In Nigeria, we must find a way of educating them, give them a new orientation on how to live better by ensuring that we establish ranching and government must come in to provide the infrastructure and support that is needed to do this.

“So this is where the federal government and states must come together to work out this. The final solution I tell you the truth is about ranching because the line that use to exist in the 50s where cattle routes and grazing areas were designated are no longer there. Today, we no longer have the 923,000 kilometers as it used to be because we have seeded part of Bakassi to Cameroun. And because of the increase in human population, in the 50s we were less than 40 million people but today we are over 170 million and that was 2012 projection and today we are in 2016 and we should be more than this.

“Today we are talking of diversification of the economy to agriculture it becomes more tasking and challenging because we cannot farm in the air or on the sea, we must farm on the land. Grazing and farming cannot work together, the final solution will be ranching.”

When asked why he had chosen to undermine democracy by appointing caretaker committee to run local government areas instead of conducting elections he replied, “We will conduct elections as soon as we have the resources. The point is, we were given a bill of N1 billion to conduct elections when I cannot pay salaries. I’m down by four months. My wage bill for a month is N7.8 billion. Since August of last year we have been receiving an average of N4 billion so how do I cope? Every month I have a deficit of N3.8 billion to pay workers and then run the government.

It is a big challenge. My Internally Generated Revenue (IGI) is N250 million. So is a big challenge. As soon as the resources are there I will conduct election. I’m a product of a democratic process, I don’t see why I will truncate it at the local government level. I was a local government chairman democratically elected on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1991 and I see no reason why I should truncate that. So it is not my making and I have consulted with the stakeholders of Benue State and they have given me the go ahead.”

He also defended his decision to build a cargo airport in Benue, saying that as the foods basket of the nation, there was need to transport some of the farm produce out of the state.