From being a given a red card, the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, left the APC and pitch for his former ‘Club’, the PDP writes George Okoh examines the intrigues involved in Ortom’s defection
Although Governor Samuel Ortom had initially put up front despite clear indications of what was to come. Ortom currently faces a herculean task of keep his job beyond 2019. Making matters worse for the governor is the internal wrangling the APC has continued to experience.
A few weeks ago, Ortom and his erstwhile godfather, Senator George Akume, allegedly had a spat over the financial accountability of the state. Shortly after the clash between the two, the governor reshuffled his cabinet – and kicked out staff loyal to Akume.
Even though the governor said the reshuffling was carried out to inject new ideas into his cabinet, it was seen by political watchers as an attempt to spite Akume, as well as weaken his stranglehold on his government.
But in retaliation, Akume is said to be forming an alliance with the Managing Director of Nigeria Export Promotion Zone Authority (NEPZA), Emmanuel Jime, who was coasting home to victory in the 2015 governorship primary of the APC before he was substituted with Ortom. It was in this state of affair that the governor surprised his supporters with the news of his exit from the APC. He explained that he had been given a red card by the ruling APC and that he was only floating and waiting for the party that would admit him into its fold.
He gave the hint during the inauguration of his Special Adviser to the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Jerome Torshimbe.
“Many people have been asking that as we dedicated the state to God, we are still facing challenges but God made the Israelites pass through the wilderness, where there are giants, wild animals and other things that are harmful and took them to the Promised Land.
“All these challenges that we see today, we shall see them no more. All that we are required to do is not to begin to be wayward in our conduct but to move to the righteous side of God. Once we do that, things will work out for our good. Looking at what is happening to us, sometimes, I am tempted to think that we are dying like people who do not have God.
“But we must choose the path of working with God, obeying and serving him. If we do that and ensure that his values get into our hearts and we work with him, development will be inevitable. Let us work and encourage those things that can develop us.
“We need to come together. Let party or ethnicity not divide us. As for party, I have been given red card and I’m outside the pitch. So, if I have been given red card and I’m standing outside, I’m a free man. So, I don’t know what will happen next but I’m waiting. If anyone approaches me, then I will tell the Benue people that I’m joining another football club. I’m a child of destiny and it’s only God that will decide what I will be,” Ortom had said.
Against this backdrop, political observers have suggested that the actual rift between was not unconnected to the governor’s standoff with the Presidency over the state’s anti-open grazing and ranching bill. Some top members of the President Muhammadu Buhari regime had openly condemned the bill.
According to Ejimbi Oloja, a political analyst, this group of people led by the Inspector General of Police and the Minister of Defence felt that the law was not the solution to the crisis.
He noted: “You can see that the duo and many others within the regime do not buy into the idea of the law and they are resisting it.”
Akume and some APC stakeholders in Benue felt the approach of the governor to the implementation of the law could have been different but were afraid to speak out for fear of being pitted against the masses that already see the law as the solution to the wanton killings by herdsmen.
To complicate the matter further, the governor gave mass burial to the 73 victims of the New Year day attack by herdsmen and which was supported by stakeholders in the state. This singular act was the climax of the frosty relationship between Ortom and the APC and by extension, the Presidency.
The party’s top-notch members in the state and Abuja were uncomfortable with his action. They felt he was either deliberately or inadvertently de-marketing the party with his action. They were of the view that the open confrontation was unnecessary and that dialogue would have resolved the farmers-herders crisis.
A source hinted that the governor decided to be confrontational because of the attitude of the federal government not to contain the killings in the state and arrest the perpetrators. Ortom was further peeved, when he was accused in some quarters for arming militia groups.
In the end, the governor no longer felt comfortable within the APC, because of the hostility towards him. Yet, another issue that led to the frosty relationship between the governor and his party was the last congress, where the governor completely lost the control of the party to Akume. Akume insisted on returning all the old executive members of the party from the ward to the state level.
The same executive members, who were elected before the governor joined the party in 2015 are loyalists of Akume and were instrumental to the victory of the governor. Akume had his way and the governor could not bring in his own men.
However, reacting to the governor’s intent to dump the APC, the state chapter of the party had said it did not at any point give a red card to Ortom or any other member of the party. Rather, it said the party at its last congress in Makurdi endorsed the governor and leader of the party in the state, Senator George Akume, for another terms in office.
It said the endorsement of the governor and leader of the party was meant to further unite the party in the state and provide a stable political atmosphere for the governor and the leader of the party to deliver better dividends of democracy to the people of the state.
In return of the endorsement by the state chapter of the party, the party demanded from Ortom and on behalf of the people of Benue, an improved welfare package.
The demands became necessary due to the fact that despite several interventions by the federal government in the form of bailouts, Paris Club refunds, budgetary supports coupled with the huge borrowings by Ortom’s administration, amongst others, the party said the state was still burdened with huge salary arrears and unpaid pensions of retired civil servants, huge deficits of basic infrastructure and porous security situation bedevilling the state.
It was consequent upon this that the party demanded explanations on the handling of affairs especially issues bordering on security in the state. The party then urged its stakeholders, supporters and fans to remain calm in the face of the turn of events, reiterating its commitment to good governance.
This development also compelled the new National Chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to meet with the governor in Abuja as part of efforts geared towards prevailing on him not to go.
The whole scenario, however, climaxed, when a group of youths prevented Ortom from attending any reconciliatory meeting in Abuja. They insisted he must defect from to the PDP. But the meeting with Oshiomhole was reportedly positive with the chairman showering praises on Ortom.
Oshiomhole, who addressed journalists at the party secretariat in Abuja, shortly after meeting with Ortom, described the governor as one of the star performers of the APC. He also said he was an honourable man and that the party would do everything to keep him within its fold like a highly valued diamond and not let him defect to another party.
“Governor Ortom is not going anywhere. He is a very very prominent member of our party. We appreciate his leadership in Benue and we will do everything possible to help those, who have issues to have those issues resolved. Anything we would do, I would do.”
But none of these swayed Ortom, who last week defected to the PDP. Unfortunately, since the development, the governor had come under attack from his party, including Oshiomhole who had earlier praised him. He now called him a failure.
“I am relieved as national chairman, and I believe that the leadership of the party in Benue is also relieved that Ortom has left the party and returned to the club he belongs – a club whose philosophy is to share the money and not develop communities. We now have a clean platform to search for a clean and credible candidate from Benue, a candidate that can provide leadership that the great people of Benue state deserves. And not someone, who seeks to make political capital out of human graves and celebrating the death of his own people,” he said.
Disturbed by this attack, the Ortom camp too fired back. In a statement by Ortom’s Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, the governor said he was shocked that a man who few days ago poured encomiums on the governor could turn around 180 degrees.
“The APC National Chairman’s sudden aggression towards Governor Ortom has revealed among other things, the true oppressive intentions of the ruling party, APC against Nigerians. Oshiomhole appears to be flying a kite of an agenda to intimidate and suppress Nigerians, who desire freedom from a party which has clearly failed to secure lives and property, thereby ushering in an orgy of violence never before witnessed in the history of the country.
“Adams Oshiomhole’s diatribe against Governor Ortom has also revealed the plot hatched by APC leaders within and outside Benue to throw the state into political crisis ahead of the 2019 elections. Comrade Oshiomhole ought to be telling Nigerians why they should vote for APC next year instead of embarking on a voyage of attacks on perceived opponents. His unprovoked attack on Governor Ortom and other members of the opposition has not translated to a single vote for the APC.”
Ortom’s media office however, said Oshiomhole appeared to be in a hurry to justify his moniker as an ‘undertaker’ who had come to evacuate what is left of the once popular APC into oblivion as recently observed by PDP’s National Chairman, Uche Secondus.
Certainly, with Ortom now in the PDP, the equation has palpably changed in the Middle Belt and environ and this, of course, promises to have its own effect on the elections of the president next year.