Between Ortom and Benue People

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

The verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi

Governor Sam Ortom is angry with the people of Benue State. And last Saturday, he publicly expressed his feelings at the commissioning of a Pentecostal Church in Makurdi, the state capital. Before we get to what he said about his people, let’s begin with the issue. Ortom accuses Benue people of peddling unfounded allegations about him. “Every new building you see in Benue State, they say that it’s Samuel Ortom that is building (it); ‘he is stealing and doing that,’” Ortom said from the pulpit. “In politics, people say a lot of things: blackmail, insults, and intimidation, you face all sorts of things. No matter what you do with the people, they always find something around.”

Apparently, this problem did not start today because as far back as four years ago, only mid-way into his first tenure, Ortom said he asked himself whether the insults he was receiving from the people of Benue State were worth his being governor. “In 2017, I concluded that I will never contest the second term as allowed by the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria because of the insults I received from Benue people and how I was vilified—even some members of the church joined forces with those who do not know God.” And since Ortom is very familiar with God that his people do not know, he chose to have a conversation with the almighty before deciding to seek a second term. “I was pained in my heart, and I said ‘God, you brought me, and I said I was not going to contest in the 2019 election’, and that night, God rebuked me and told me ‘I am not done with you. I brought you. I have not rejected you when people reject you; I am still with you.’”

That assurance would have been enough for some of us but not Ortom. He went into a season of fasting and prayers “for three months,” apparently so he could have a better experience than the Biblical character whose life and ministry he chose to study. “I did a case study on the life of Moses in the book of Exodus in the Bible, and at the end, God told me, ‘don’t be like Moses who could not get to the Promised Land, have faith in me, and I will see you to the end.’”

Beyond surpassing Moses who only saw the Promised Land without getting there, Ortom’s Biblical research also offered him revelations about why Benue state could not enjoy the land flowing with milk and honey that he has provided them. “If you go round Makurdi town, our people start drinking beer from 9 am and some from there, they will go to sleep, and they come back and insult the governor for not helping them to add value to their lives,” Ortom declared.

Now, let me dispel one wrong notion. Whatever may be the misgivings of those ‘who do not know’ Ortom’s God, nobody can accuse the governor of not loving Benue people. He certainly does. In a video that went viral in September, Ortom said he cares so much about the plight of his people that it is already affecting his matrimonial responsibility. Here is what the governor said: “Even when I am on top of my wife, and I remember the (Benue) people who are in the IDP camp…” He left his naughty and probably beer-drinking audience to conclude that his ‘staff of office’ would shrink when he might have meant that he would be seeing ‘heavenly vision’. That was enough for presidential aide, Mrs Laureatta Onochie to release what she described as Ortom’s scorecard—Development of Benue State: 2%; Payment of salaries: 6%; In his bedroom, by self–assessment: 2½ %!

But let’s leave Ortom and his ‘stewardship’ in The Other Room for now. It is interesting how Nigerians seem to be fair game for our leaders. If our citizens are not drunkards, they are lazy, in what has become a pattern of unfair generalisation. At a panel discussion among world leaders at the London Commonwealth Business Forum in April 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari said: “More than 60 per cent of the population (of Nigeria) is below 30. A lot of them haven’t been to school and they are claiming that Nigeria is an oil producing country, therefore, they should sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free.”

I am aware there is nothing in the law that says a president or governor cannot berate the people. I also know that in Nigeria we are simply expected to applaud public officials regardless of how we perceive their stewardship. Afterall, as the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Lagos zonal director, Chibuike Ogwumike, said last year, “The recourse to abusing, denigrating and insulting the President, Governors, MPs and other leaders does not show us as cultured people.” But when they abuse, denigrate, and insult the people they are elected to govern, they are cultured.

Beneath the arrogance and condescension of our leaders towards citizens lies a more fundamental crisis. A democracy in which leaders come to power irrespective of the veracity of elections cannot inspire respect for the people. Nor can electoral mandates obtained by rigging and fraudulent court rulings produce humble leaders. Similarly, leaders who believe that the revenue that sustains their power and privileges comes not from the taxes of voters but rather from oil rent shared in Abuja cannot be respectful of the people. There is even a greater tragedy: Many of our new crop of political leaders lack refinement, decorum and the polish that should come with high public office.

Overall, a certain absence of leadership tutelage and often deficient basic education has combined to inflict on Nigerians some of the most atrocious wielders of state power at practically all levels. It is therefore no surprise that when the people of Benue State demand accountability of their governor, what they get in return are insults. Now, can someone pass me my bottle of beer?

Audacious Attacks on Prisons
Nothing speaks more to the state of insecurity in Nigeria today than last Sunday’s audacious attack on Jos Medium Security Prison. Not only did the gunmen operate in what could be considered broad daylight, but they also chose a strategic target—perhaps to demonstrate their capacity viz-a-viz that of the Nigerian state. The prison facility they attacked is within the precinct of the Directorate of State Security (DSS) state headquarters and is adjacent to the state police command. The operational base of the military is also not far away. The dare-devil attackers, according to the Head of the prison facility, Samuel Aguda, were suspected cattle rustlers from Barkin Ladi. “Some of the inmates took part in attacking us because they gave them rifles from our armoury”, said Agada. “Six (inmates) were fatally injured, 252 escaped and 789 are in custody. We have learned one or two lessons from this incident; we want to assure that this will not happen again.”

We hope the ‘one or two lessons’ learnt by the prison authorities will help in stemming the rate at which bandits, insurgents, armed robbers etc. attack prison facilities to let loose their incarcerated colleagues as well as those serving terms. In the past six years, prisons across the country have witnessed violent breaches with thousands of inmates released. They include hardened criminals who are still at large. Yet, the authorities cannot claim to be surprised by this development.

While decorating Haliru Nababa as the Controller General of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) in May this year, Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola said the country was experiencing an unusual security challenge with “insurgency in the Northeast, banditry in the Northwest and parts of Northcentral, kidnappings in virtually all parts of the country, financial crimes and ritual killings in the Southwest, militancy that is assuming an insurrectional dimension in the Southeast and Southsouth and sundry other criminal activities in all parts of the country.” And then Aregbesola offered the all-too-familiar lamentation: “There are also sophisticated criminal organisations whose members are either serving terms or awaiting trials and are now using the security situation in the country as an opportunity to attack our custodial centres and obtain their freedom. Whatever may be the motive, custodial centres have been under consistent attacks in a brazen challenge to the authority of the Nigerian state.”

That these criminal cartels are getting the upper hand in that ‘brazen challenge to the authority of the Nigerian state’ is what should concern all of us. On 5th April this year, gunmen suspected to be members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) attacked Owerri Prisons with improvised explosive devices, releasing 1,844 inmates to the society. Six months earlier on 19th October 2020, hoodlums hiding under the pretext of the then ongoing ENDSARs protest, attacked the prisons in Benin City and Oko in Edo State freeing a total of 1,993 inmates in the two facilities. On 6th December 2014, the Minna Medium Prisons was attacked by three suspected armed robbers with about 270 prisoners allowed to escape. A week earlier on 30th November of same year, the Federal Prisons at Ado Ekiti, was attacked with 341 inmates set free and one prison official killed. From Federal Medium Security Prisons in Koto-Karfi, Kogi State attacked by suspected Boko Haram members to free 144 inmates to the attack on Olokuta Medium Security Prisons in Akure, Ondo State by dozens of suspected armed robbers who freed 175 inmates, the ease with which criminals overpower the security at our prisons to exercise their own brand of ‘prerogative of mercy’ is now quite alarming.

With reports that there is no reliable data on inmates in our prisons, there is no way to track many of these criminals who are menacing the society. And we have seen the implications. According to Babatunde Kokumo, Edo commissioner of police, one of the inmates who escaped from Oko correctional centre in October last year, “ran back to his village on the same day, to kill the person who stood as a prosecution witness in the case that took him to the correctional centre.” There may be more of such cases not yet reported.

Sadly, the manner in which criminals now break down prison walls can be seen as a metaphor for the state of anomie in which we find ourselves. In Nigeria today, there is little difference between prison inmates and those of us that are ‘free’ because we have all been imprisoned by fear, insecurity, and an unjust social order.

Goodnight, Tony Uranta
For more than ten years that he served on THISDAY editorial board, I related very closely with the late Tony Ipriye Uranta (TIU), and I found in him a friend and brother. He was also very purposeful. From Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) to United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy (UNDEDSS) and other groups involved in fighting for the Niger Delta, Uranta led from the front, until he developed health challenges a few years ago. Born in Opobo, Rivers State, on 7th December 1953, Uranta attended International School, Ibadan, Methodist Boys High School, Lagos, and University of Ibadan, where he obtained a first degree in economics. And for much of his adult life, he was involved in the struggle for justice and equity, not only for the people of the Niger Delta but also for the entire country. He was a worthy Nigerian patriot who will be greatly missed. May God comfort the family he left behind.

You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com