Samuel Ortom as Defender of Benue Valley

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Ortom

Paul Mumeh extols the resilience of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State in the face of daunting challenges

In the build-up to the 2015 governorship election in Benue State, incumbent Governor Samuel Ortom was arguably the favorite of majority of the people. He was in the forefront of all the aspirants in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but for a twist of history which denied him the ‘famous’ ticket of the ruling party then.

Convinced that his popularity could take him to the zenith of his ambition, Samuel Ortom took a plunge into the little known but ambitious All Progressives Congress (APC). With good calculations and political brinkmanship, Ortom clinched the ticket of the APC. He also pulled a string; with a handful of aggrieved people from the PDP and the new folks in the APC, Ortom went into the battlefield assured.

Conversely, the PDP even with crack in its fold went to sleep albeit taking almost everybody and everything for granted as it were, “Anyone with the PDP ticket was sure of victory no matter the situation“. Unknown to many, things were going in the reverse order. Nobody except destiny gave Ortom and his new APC in Benue State a chance. So against all odds, Ortom won the 2015 governorship election in Benue; a development that ultimately changed the narrative and political equation in the agrarian state.

That 2015 governorship election no doubt disappointed political pundits and history makers when Ortom emerged as the governor of Benue State. He started well. Yes, he began on a steady note. But he soon ran into troubled waters when midway into his first tenure in office, issues of unpaid salaries and allowances took the front burner of his administration. With dwindling resources, he struggled to offset the wage bill but the more he tried, the less result he got. Of course, the people became restive.

Ortom had to face another battle of his life; one he never prepared for. He had fallen apart with his supposed political godfather; Senator George Akume who vowed to give him ‘the Ambode treatment’ in Benue. Ortom was faced with the difficult choice of either toeing the line of the party in Abuja or stand to defend his citizens being felled by the bullets believed to be from the flanks of the Fulani herdsmen in what is now dubbed the ‘Benue massacre.’

East, West, South or North, Ortom believes that home is the best. So With all the threats, Intimidation and outright blackmail even by highly placed persons who ordinarily should have offered some sort of succour to Ortom, he refused to abandon his people. For him, his administration would be worthless if he abandoned his people.

Ortom stood like the Rock of Gibraltar to wit; “I am here (Governor) because of the people of Benue State, whatever happens to them happens to me. I am a true descendant of my forefathers, I cannot abandon my people.” For Ortom, if defending his people would cost him the governorship, so be it but he was convinced that history would be kind to him as a man who stood to be counted when it mattered.

The governor has insisted that he will be objective and neutral on all matters, but he will defend with the last drop of his blood on issues of the welfare and security of his people.

He demonstrated this further when he signed into law; Open Grazing Prohibition and Establishment of Ranches Law’ to among other things promote healthy and harmonious relationship between farmers and herders to halt the incessant clashes orchestrated by trespassing and infringement of the other’s right. It is instructive to note that open grazing during which cattle invade and destroy farmers crops has been the cause of violent clashes between farmers and herdsmen for which the state has lost thousands of her productive citizens.

The situation led to displacement of citizens from their ancestral homes, loss of family breadwinners and created huge problems of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Rather than concentrate on development programmes, the Ortom administration encumbered by the crisis of IDPs who must of a necessity be catered for.

The Miyetti Allah believed to be the aggressors with the tacit support of Abuja vehemently opposed the Open Grazing Prohibition and Establishment of Ranches Law but Ortom insisted that the job that has to be done must be done in the overall interest of indigenes and residents of Benue State.

Ortom has however taken some steps in terms of provision of infrastructure especially at the Benue State University, completion of 42 primary health care centres across the state as well as construction of new Deputy Governor’s office and the state House of Assembly Complex.

His administration has completed the Oshigbudu/Obagaji and Zaki-Ibiam-Aria-Gbeji roads while contractors who initially abandoned 11 road projects across the state have been ordered back to site.

For the crisis of confidence in APC, Ortom lost favour and the handwriting was unambiguous that the APC’s top hierarchy would not give him a return ticket for 2019. He thus began negotiations early enough to return to the PDP. The move proved not to be tea party affair as many, indeed many eminently qualified persons were waiting in the wings to clinch the PDP ticket and show Ortom the exit door out of the government house. It became another round of fierce political battle; intrigues, horse-trading and blackmail were the tools. However, days, weeks and months of sleepless nights gave the PDP ticket to Ortom when scores of party stalwarts, elders and stakeholders saw the wisdom to give the ‘prized‘ ticket to Ortom.

However, more than anything else, Ortom’s resilience and steadfastness in defence of his people unarguably earned him the ticket and ultimately the votes of the Benue people.

Ortom has begun his second term as Governor of Benue State in earnest. One thing and only one thing he owes his people is service delivery. He must be able to reciprocate the peoples’ investment on him by ensuring dividends of democracy. Importantly, premium should be placed on regular payment of salaries and pension. Ortom is like a child of circumstance who triumphed against all odds.

He cannot afford to fail the people who stood by him when it mattered. He has promised to be the authentic defender of the troubled Benue valley.

* Mumeh writes from Abuja