You have to give it to Samuel Ioraer Ortom, Governor of Benue State. Benue is the geo-polity which savours the bragging rights of being the “food basket” of the nation. For emphasis, you are embraced into Makurdi, capital of the state, by a humongous artistic simulation of the agrarian essence of the state, at the triangular intersection, as you approach the city, from Yelwata and Agan. It is complete with select, albeit artistically simulated farm produce and local implements, for graphic emphasis. The preceding road leads variously from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and other routes from the North-west and North-central, through Nasarawa State.
That iconic “food basket” convergence, leads to Gboko and Otukpo respectively, the other two angles of the tripod of roads. Gboko and Otukpo are major towns in the state, and also ethno-cultural headquarters of the two major peoples of Benue, the Tiv and the Idoma. Both towns lead further, to two major geopolitical zones of Nigeria, the South-south and the South-east, respectively. This backdrop is apposite to help us situate the depths and distances to which produce emerging from the fecund soils of Benue State, travel for national, even international culinary arbitration.
To be sure, there are also active cross-border migrations of produce from Benue, into neighbouring Cameroun from the Zaki Biam area of the state, in Ukum Local Government Area.
It may be just a little over three months to the completion of Ortom’s second term in the driver’s seat of Benue State, but there is no slowing down for him. The stamina, the drive, the energy Ortom continues to invest in governance and development, is best compared with the exertions, the commitment a newcomer to the office he has occupied in the past eight years. True, “freshmen” to Ortom’s kind of position are driven by that desire to impress and make a mark, within their “first 100 days” in office. The First Hundred Days concept was popularised by erstwhile American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s regime and has become a global political concept.
Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States of America, (USA), was in office between 1933 until his demise in 1945. Ortom’s valedictory weeks and months have not been characterised by a slowing down in his work rate. Rather, it has been one of accentuated intensity. He continues to feature on campaign podiums, project commissioning, meetings and interfaces with his constituents at various levels. He conscientiously manages his official schedule receiving official delegations and August guests who desire to see him.
But he has his distinctly Ortom style, outside of the “Benue unity colours” initiated by him, and since manifestly popularised by his people. Benue people flaunt a multiplicity of apparels and regalia, the “amalgamated,” Ortom-created colours have spun. Between his personal accommodation; his formal workspace in Government House, Makurdi; his rest zone within the same premises, even his vehicle, Ortom himself is a veritable “mobile office.” To be sure, Ortom even while travelling to keep up with engagements does invite an aide from time to time, to discuss government matters, even while in motion. The last time I witnessed anything like this was during Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime. Baba, as we famously call him, can participate in an interview by a media organisation, riding between Aso Villa and the Nnamdi and International Airport (NAIA), Abuja.
Ortom’s schedule on Wednesday, February 15, 2023, typifies the breakneck programme he has prosecuted in recent times. He began his day at an “Interactive Session Between the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and Critical Stakeholders in Benue State.”
Both as governor and candidate aspiring to the Senate of the Federal Republic to represent his people, it was imperative Ortom attended the event which he did. The broader canvas of the Benue electorate would subsequently be fed by him with his takeaways from the programme as the countdown to elections gains traction.
He would also commission the “Ultra Modern Institute for Almajiri Learning,” located at the “AGB Learning Centre,” North Bank, Makurdi, and inaugurate the Ortom Vanguard, Ayihe-Ugondo, also in Makurdi. The body is a support group launched in furtherance of Ortom’s senatorial bid. The governor will then lead his people to a campaign rally held at St. Mary’s Primary School, in Wurukum District, Makurdi. Same day, he engaged with political stakeholders from Buruku LGA. In between these various events, Ortom made out time to hold two private meetings. These instances typify Ortom’s itinerary in just one day, starting from 9am and stretching to 8pm. It was at that time that he led his officials to dinner in his home. Very instructively, Ortom is actively participating in the very draining beginning-of-year fasting and prayers usually called by the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), his denomination.
Ortom not only worships in the church, he is also an elder in the leadership hierarchies. Ortom began his week Monday, February 13, with a visit to Gboko, the traditional and political headquarters of the Tiv nation. There, the Tiv Area Traditional Council, (TATC), at its ijirtamen, the “Supreme Council Meeting” under the leadership of the Tiv paramount ruler, the Tor Tiv, His Royal Majesty, Prof James Ayatse, conferred on him the chieftaincy title of Inyamkyume i Tiv. His wife, Dr. Eunice Erdoo Ortom, received the title of Shima i Inyamkyume i Tiv.
Inyamkyume is a dreaded creature which scares and terrifies beings which encountered it. The title relates to Ortom’s chest-front fearlessness in defending his people from the fangs of freestyle invaders, notably itinerant herdsmen. They have relentlessly terrorised and traumatised the Benue valley in recent years and Ortom has forever stood his grounds against such ruinous adventurism which has upset the socioeconomic equilibrium of his people.
In what could be described as syndicated investitures of traditional titles on Ortom this season of his swansong, Ortom a week before the Tiv honour, had similarly been celebrated in Idoma land. Thursday February 9, 2023, the Och’Idoma, His Royal Majesty John Elaigwu Odogbo, installed Ortom the Ochikpaki L’Ogwabo K’Idoma, meaning “Defender of the Defenceless.”
His wife received the title Ogbonene K’Idoma, which translates as the “Kindhearted Daughter of Idoma land.” This was just as a modern palace, the seat of administration of the Och’Idoma was unveiled the same day. Ortom’s political twin, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike of Rivers State, was also conferred the title of Okokonjo K’Idoma, which translates as the “Unbreakable.”
Thursday February 16, 2023 after the enervating engagements of the previous day, the tireless Ortom chaired a meeting of the Benue State Executive Council, (BSEC). The converge usually holds on Wednesdays, but was taken up by the racy events of the previous day. He equally received a delegation of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), led by Levi Akuma, who came to demonstrate solidarity with him. His proposed out-of-state trip in furtherance of his engagements for the day, was kept in abeyance because of inclement weather conditions for his prescheduled flight. Ortom would not let the window of opportunity provided by his botched trip slip idly by. He held private meetings with party leaders and stakeholders from Benue North West, also known as Zone B, bolstering his campaigns for his senatorial quest.
Ask him why he has revved up the pace of his engagements even in the twilight of his regime. A smiling Ortom reminds you he swore to serve his people with as much verve and conscientiousness all the way to the very end. There is nothing like a “pre-retirement leave” for him ahead of his disengagement from office on Monday, May 29, 2023, when he would formally handover to his successor. The incumbent Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Titus Tyoapine Uba is the candidate of Ortom’s party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), whose main challenger is Hyacinth Alia, a Catholic priest, of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Uba is favoured because he is candidate of the incumbent administration and the ruling party in the state. Except for Ortom’s 2015 “default” ascent to office on the platform of the APC, Benue has been a bastion of the PDP since the beginning of the Fourth Republic. Ortom’s predecessors, George Akume (1999 to 2007), who is a serving minister, and Gabriel Torwua Suswam, (2007 to 2015), the incumbent Senator representing Benue North East (Zone A), were PDP governors. Ortom it would be recalled jettisoned the APC in the run-up to his 2019 reelection. Other PDP heavyweights in the state include David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, Nigeria’s longest serving Senator to date (1999 to 2019), who was also Senate President for two terms (2007 to 2015). There is also Abba Moro, Senator representing Zone C who was also minister during the regime of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.