After signing the Anti-open Grazing Bill into law, Benue State governor, Samuel Ortomâ€Ž is now advising states being terrorised by herdsmen to follow suit, saying that it is the only thing that can guarantee peace. George Okoh presents the excerpts:
There is a claim that the N4.5billion UBA refund to state government was refunded by the immediate former governor Gabriel Suswam. Is that true?
No. The whole issue is very clear. The whole process was anchored on falsehood, forgery and lies. As you are aware, the funds were meant for specific projects
In the case of Benue state, they were meant for another 13 projects; Daudu/Gbajimba road, Oshigbudu to Obagaji road, Tarka / Honor, Zakibiam/Afia, Oju Obusa Utonkon road, water projects in Otukpo and Katsina-Ala. All together, about 13 projects and when this money came, instead of using it for the specific projects that this bond was approved for, It was rather used for serving overdraft of N4.5 billion. That was where we have issues. So we engaged a consultant who approached the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) and wrote a petition and SEC did an investigation and decided that this money should go back all together to the original use. That is what had been credited to our account. So we can go ahead and complete these projects that originally this bond was collected for.
Now the issue of overdraft and those documents that were written which was used to access the overdraft were forged by past administration . That is where we are having a case with them because there was no exco meeting on the day the extract given to the bank was purportedly issued. There was no exco meeting but minutes were generated. Of course not just minutes but extracts. It was packaged and all those documents written to the bank on this matter were not in the file and all the reference numbers were forged. This is where we have a case. But recall that the former governor, instead of looking at the main issue, bought a page in a newspaper of 8th June and denied that he didn’t collect this money. I’m not surprised, he denied that he did not sell Benue state’s shares in BCC, Julius Berger and they were sold and the evidence is there. So these are the issues. But actually they collected overdraft amounting to N4.5b. This we have verified from the bank. And we agreed that we, we do not have the resources to talk of paying the overdraft within one month or 60 days as the case may be so we have to restructure. And we have agreed with the bank that we will restructure the overdraft to a period of four years which is about N136 million a month.
The Benue State University lecturers appear to have ignored your executive order to go back to work?
Nobody ignored my executive order. I sent it to the council and I’m yet to have a response from them. I understand they are meeting this week. Nobody has ignored my orders to reopen the school. I’m bent on reopening it. You are journalists you can confirm from other state universities or even federal universities including the one in Makurdi how they are faring. Check in Kogi, Plateau, Katsina, Ebonyi and check all over the states that have state universities whether what I’m doing is not better than all the universities.
Your Commissioner of Information had said that massive fraud has just been discovered in the process in that university. Is the state government planning to institute a probe to sanitize the place?
Of course, we have to sanitize the place. Because every month, out of the N2.5 billion I get from the federation account, I cough out 570 million to pay the state university alone. I compared notes with some of my colleagues in Ebonyi for instance and what they pay is just N200m, in Nasarawa, it’s 183m, in Plateau, it’s even less although I admit that BSU is a bigger and older university. But I think that is too much. There are too many people hanging around without doing anything.
Recently some Benue youths stormed government house agitating for your return in 2019, but some members of the opposition were highly against it saying that for the past two years of your administration you have not done anything to warrant your seeking a second term. Sir do you think what you have done so far is enough to declare no vacancy in government house come 2019?
Well, I have told you, what do you expect the opposition to do? People who are still dreaming that Ortom is governor. And they will continue to criticize anything I do. When have you heard them praising me. Are you not enjoying security in Benue state? Are you not seeing the massive development of our primary schools? Have you not seen the construction of rural roads, bridges and all that? Have you not seen agricultural policies? You have seen it all and you are the best person to judge this, not me. But the truth of the matter like I told those people, I am a product of divine intervention. In 1992, I told the whole world that God said I was going to be governor. 2012 precisely 20 years, God told me that it is going to be realised in 2015 and by the grace of God, with all the hurdles and challenges that came, I overcame them. And I am governor and the same God, when that time comes, I will go back to him. Now, I don’t want to be distracted, I’m doing my work. When that time comes, when the programme is rolled out, I will go back to God on my knees and ask God if I should go back and if he says go, I will go and nobody will defeat me that I can assure you. But if God say relax my son, I am ready to go back to my farm and business. It’s as simple as that.
Recently you signed into law, the anti open grazing bill and other states are following suit. Will you say peace has finally come to Benue with this law?
Well, I want to say that I’m optimistic that peace has come. That is giving leadership. That is what we did in Benue state. We have given leadership and we believe that this is the only thing that will restore peace in Benue state and any other state that wants peace in states where herdsmen are terrorising them, that is the way to go because globally, what is being practiced is ranching and not this nomad life of moving from one end to the other destroying people’s farms and all that. But like I keep saying, I’m challenging anyone including the herdsmen and Miyetti Allah that if you have a superior policy that can restore peace other than ranching, to bring it up on the table and let us debate it. But for now, that is the way forward.
I’m challenging anyone including the herdsmen and Miyetti Allah that if you have a superior policy that can restore peace other than ranching, to bring it up on the table and let us debate it. But for now, that is the way forward.