Ferdinand Ekechuwu reckons that the issues besetting Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State may well justify his stance that he is being persecuted
The legion of issues trailing Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State from within and outside of his state is besetting. At first, it appeared the power brokers had taken authority over him, occasionally giving him this forlorn look that often portrayed him as weak. He would be derided in the face of his struggles and bandied as a governor on trial, a drowning man and a politically wandering governor.
Ortom was a member of the defunct All People’s Party (APP) before joining the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He served as the Director of Operations of the PDP gubernatorial campaign in Benue State in 2007, and later as Director of Administration and Logistics of the Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation in 2011 and later became PDP National Auditor before his appointment as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria same year.
Ortom bears a grass to grace story which is engaging. So endearing is it that when he told the Senate during his ministerial nominee screening on July 6, 2011 he was said to have stirred the lawmakers who asked him to take a bow. Senators were said to be particularly moved by account of his background as a school dropout, a motor park tout and one who struggled to attain education through difficult means.
Perhaps, his background as a driver opened new routes through his life’s journey, particularly through the vehicle of politics. In the political sphere, he has been state Publicity Secretary of the National Conscience Party of Nigeria (NCPN); state treasurer of the All Peoples Party (APP); and state secretary as well as deputy chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), all in Benue State.
Ortom’s journey through his most turbulent political history was said to have started when he resigned as Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment in October 2014 to contest for the governorship position of Benue on the platform of the PDP. Failing to clinch the PDP ticket, he switched over and picked that of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and won the April 11, 2015 election. His victory was largely attributed to his personality and not on account of his new political platform.
Upon assuming office as governor, he was determined to deliver on his promises to the people. Ortom was reported to have inherited enormous rot in the system and acrimonious relationships among political elites which is inimical to good governance and cohesiveness.
In the ensuing melee, the governor pledged to protect lives and properties of Benue citizens as Chief Security Officer on assumption of office. When it became obvious that there was a conspiracy of silence against the state, Ortom began to think outside the box to provide a sustainable solution to the continued killings of his people.
He initiated the Anti-Open Grazing Bill after a wide consultation among stakeholders. He signed the bill into law as was passed by the Benue State House of Assembly. Again, the enemies within and outside frowned at his signing the Anti-Open Grazing law which was aimed at securing lives and properties of his people. His current travails leading to his return to the PDP are the climax of political persecution following the passage into law of the state’s prohibition of open grazing law in May 2017.
While he insisted that President Muhammadu Buhari had not done enough to stop the killings perpetrated by herdsmen in the state, other parts of the country lay credence to the governor’s conclusion.
Recently, Ortom alleged that he was being persecuted by the Federal Government and his former political party, the APC because he refused to surrender Benue land to herdsmen. The governor also alleged that some political opponents working for top politicians have allegedly connived with top government officials to assassinate him.
During a thanksgiving service in his honour, he declared that the agenda of the invaders was not for grazing, but to take over the land from the real owners. Ortom vowed “never to be a party to such evil agenda and reassured the people of his state of his administration’s commitment to protecting their interests, no matter the level of intimidation and threats. The governor had claimed that his defection from the ruling APC was a rejection of a political party which treats the killing of his people with kid gloves.”
Having endeared himself to the people when he spearheaded the Anti-Open Grazing law to discourage roaming cattle, but encourage ranches like civilised breeders; it was the beginning of the crack between Ortom and those he referred to as “enemies of the state.” The invasion and incessant killings of innocent Benue citizens by marauding herdsmen and the seeming compromise or inability of the APC-led federal government to stop the killings was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
His exit from the party described has likened to the biblical exodus of the Israelites from the shackles of slavery in Egypt to the land of Canaan as the governor led his people out of the APC to the warm embrace of the PDP. Ortom pulled a multitude of Benue citizens including 13 Local Government Chairmen; 10 out of 17 APC State House of Assembly members; 268 Councilors; and several other government officials out of the APC in one swoop.
Shortly after his defection to his erstwhile party, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and a section of the Benue State Assembly made him both a subject of investigation and impeachment, putting him on the hot seat. The anti-graft agency had blocked the state account and days later, unblocked same in an act described as shameful activities on purpose to cripple governance in the state.
Since then events have moved at amazing speed in Benue as operatives of the Economic Finance Crime Commission EFC have since commenced probe over huge sums of money allegedly misappropriated by the government under Ortom. The EFCC probe was also extended to the state assembly and other officials of the Benue State Government.
There was the dubious attempt to impeach the governor which is believed to have strengthened his resolve and the anger of his people. Analysts observed that, “This was his original party before he joined the Buhari bandwagon and became an APC man. Now he is back to the PDP, on the grounds that he can no longer condone the killing of his people by Fulani herdsmen-the biggest problem he has had to deal with as governor of Benue State.
While this is ongoing, the APC, both in the state and the national level was critical of the governor, who they blamed for financial decay of the state, as well as his inability to clear workers’ unpaid salaries. Describing his probe as a clear case of persecution and witch-hunt, Ortom reportedly urged the anti-graft agency to start the probe of security vote from the Presidency, if it was not after him for dumping the APC.
Meanwhile both parties to the political saga in the Benue State House of Assembly are yet to come to a compromise after suspending each other in their separate sittings at the government house and assembly premises. At the moment, Ortom appears to be enjoying the sympathy and goodwill of the PDP in the state and the national level, occasioned by his familiarity with the personalities in the party, having served in various capacities under its umbrella for 16 years, including being a minister before leaving the platform.
While there have been insinuations that the governor may defect from the PDP to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) Ortom has stated that no amount of gang-up against him within the PDP would make him leave the party. It was reported that ever since his defection from the APC to the PDP, there have been some unresolved disagreement between him and the leadership of his new party over who controls the structure of the party in the state.
However, there has been a recent solidarity visit of the national chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus and four other PDP governors to Ortom in Markudi as a pointer to his re-admission into the fold. Secondus insisted that the whole world must rise against the impunity going on in the state as he condemned the recent impeachment notice purportedly served the governor by eight out of the 30 members of the state House of Assembly.
To many pundits Ortom is one politician that has surmounted political storms and crossed several bridges while navigating the turbulent waters of politics. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising if he, again, emerged victorious from the abyss of his current travails, just as it happened to him for dumping the PDP previously to join the APC.
OFF THE CUFF:
1. NO ONE SHOULD TAKE LAW INTO HIS HANDS: It is the law that regulates the activities of human beings. If anybody decides to take the law into their hands then we cannot live together in that society.
Ortom explaining that the Anti-Open Grazing Law by his government may have ignited more killings of Benue indigenes by suspected Fulani herdsmen
2. I WAS GIVEN A RED CARD: The leadership did not allow room for integration. In Benue State, because all politics is local, the senator who said he is the leader of the party took control and doesn’t want input from outside. My supporters and myself were left out and when we tried to insist, I was given a red card. That I am not needed, and everywhere he went, he demonized me, saying all kinds of things.
Ortom blaming Senator George Akume for forcing him out of the APC
3. I CAN DIE FOR MY PEOPLE: As a leader, let me do what I believe to be right. Even if I die, let it be on record that Ortom was killed because of his people. I have chosen to stay with the people and to walk with them. If they crucify me today, if anything happens to me today, everyone will know that it is because I have chosen to stay with the people. Whichever way you do, one day, you will die. But if you die for a just cause, it is okay. Jesus died so many years ago for a just cause, but he’s a hero. Just like Abiola was recently recognised as a winner of June 12 in Nigeria.
Ortom expressing willingness to lay down his life for a cause he believes in
4. WE DIE FOR CATTLES IN NIGERIA: We are talking about just 20 million cattle in Nigeria. In India, there over 270 million cattle but they ranch. In Brazil, there are over 300 million but they ranch their cattle. In America, there are over 100 million cattle but they are surviving. Ranching is global best practice in animal husbandry. Trying to set a pace by doing something new is a difficult task. One day people will understand.
Ortom insisting that ranching was the solution to herders versus farmers clash in Nigeria
5. I DID NOT GIVE BENUE YOUTHS WHEELBARROWS: That is outright falsehood, there is no iota of truth, it is meant to scandalise, blackmail and to reduce my rising profile in Benue because of the achievement we have recorded during these two years.
Ortom explaining that the wheelbarrows that were publicised as his youth empowerment project were actually donated by National Emergency Management Agency to displaced people