Governor Samuel Ortom
is on record as one man who has faced the longest and hottest furnace of presidential venom, hate, blackmail, and victimization in the history of Nigeria. Yes, you heard that right. His only ‘sin’? Simple. He has refused to betray his people and make them slaves of the President’s kinsmen.
But now flip back to the time when President Muhammadu Buhari
assumed office in 2015 up to early 2017. Samuel Ortom was one of the most loved and closest Governors to the President. The Benue State Governor was one of the first to be invited to accompany Mr President on foreign and domestic trips. President Buhari was heard confiding in those close to him on a number of occasions that Governor Ortom is a very honest man who says things precisely the way they are. So what went wrong all of a sudden? I will give you a chronicle.
For years, Fulani jihadists were making attempts to take over the land called Benue Valley. It had never been simply about grazing of cattle. The agenda was and still is much deeper than that. They kept making incursions into Benue through the Nasarawa border attacking communities and killing innocent people to scare them out of their ancestral lands.
Dr Ortom as then Minister of the Federal Republic suffered the attacks directly in 2014 when his country home was completely razed, his relations murdered and property worth billions destroyed. The attacks also took place in other parts of the state including Agatu, Tarka, Logo, Makurdi, Gwer West and Kwande. All efforts to stop the attacks failed. The then Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam narrowly escaped death in Guma where he went to ascertain the level of damage caused by the rampaging herders.
That was the grave situation when Samuel Ortom took over as Governor. Determined to find a lasting solution, the Governor set to work beginning with dialogue in form of town hall meetings where the pastoralists were also present. Sooner than later, it became clear to all that the herders were not interested in any peaceful solution. The Government of Benue State had already found a permanent solution to the mindless killings. That was when Governor Ortom sent a bill to the State House of Assembly to enact a law to ban open grazing of livestock in Benue State and encourage ranching.
That move did not go down well with the Presidency and all Fulani socio-cultural organizations. The herder groups were invited to the public hearings that took place in the three senatorial zones of Benue State, but they turned down the invitation. They also did not send any memo as their input into the making of the new law. Eventually, the law was passed and Governor Ortom assented to it. A period of grace was given between May 2017 when the law was signed and November of the same year when its enforcement commenced. Within that period, Fulani groups now emboldened by a presidency that apparently wore a toga of nonchalance, came out to address press conferences and declare that they would never obey the Benue law banning open grazing. They threatened that they would mobilize their kinsmen from other parts of Africa to invade Benue and stop enforcement of the law.
That was when Governor Ortom began to show uncommon courage and sterling leadership qualities. On hearing the threats by Miyetti Allah groups, the Governor swung into action and wrote letters to the President, his Vice, the National Security Adviser, Director General of DSS, Inspector General of Police and all other relevant authorities. He wanted the Federal Government to rise and prevent the impending attacks on his people. He condemned the silence and inaction of the presidency which was encouraging the armed pastoralists to cause greater mayhem on farming communities in Benue State. He met on several occasions with President Buhari to plead with him to act fast and save his people.
Recall that at that time, Governor Ortom was still a member of All Progressives Congress, APC, same as Buhari. So for him to have the courage to take that stand, many Nigerians were impressively surprised. No Governor in the history of Nigeria had dared to do what he did. His counterparts in other states mocked him. The cases that easily come to mind are those of Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong and Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State. The two men made jest of their Benue State counterpart for being the cause of the killings in his state. They blamed Governor Ortom for enacting a law to ban open grazing which they said was the reason for increased attacks on his people. I won’t waste your time to talk about the fact that now those states and others who mocked Benue have become slaughter fields by the same Fulani herders.
Expectedly, Governor Ortom soon fell out of favour with the Buhari government for choosing to take a stand with his people to the chagrin of Fulani killer herdsmen.
The coordinated attacks that Governor Ortom saw coming and alerted the federal government eventually occurred. Innocent Benue people numbering 73 were murdered in Guma and Logo on the eve of 2018 new year. The Governor could not bear it anymore. He laid the blame squarely on the table of President Buhari for failing to act when he should. The Governor said he was not elected to govern the dead. He damned the consequences and spat injustice directly in the face. He vowed to sink with Benue people even if that meant losing his re-election bid in 2019. But that also began the persecution of the Benue State Governor.
President Buhari reluctantly visited Benue almost two months after the killings and the only thing he could tell Benue people was to learn to live with their fellow countrymen. He had said the same thing when Governor Ortom led a delegation to pay him a visit a few days after the attacks.
The Buhari administration began to wage a war of attrition against Governor Ortom. First, they asked EFCC to commence probing the Governor’s security votes. Little did they know that Governor Ortom was smarter than their game plan. He quickly challenged the Presidency to also account for the security votes of President Buhari. That challenge abruptly ended the probe against him.
Next, the Buhari government caused the freezing of all Benue State Government accounts in the effort to cripple Governor Ortom and force him to go cap-in-hand begging for “forgiveness”. The Governor told them ‘We shall meet in court’. Again, Governor Ortom defeated his traducers in court and Benue came out victorious once again. The accounts were unfrozen.
Having failed a number of times to intimidate the Benue State Governor and coerce him into submission, officials of the Buhari government embarked on emotional blackmail. The then Minister of Defence, Retired Brigadier-General Mansur Dan-Ali was twice quoted to have made reckless statements about Benue’s ranching law capable of worsening the security situation not only in the state but also in other parts of the country. He defended herdsmen’s attacks and killings and blamed the victims for blocking of cattle routes and reserves. He said:
“Look at this issue (killings in Benue and Taraba), what is the remote causes (sic) of this farmers’ crisis? Since the nation’s independence, we know there used to be a route which the cattle rearers take because they are all over the nation. You go to Bayelsa, Ogun, you will see them. If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen?”
“ These people are Nigerians. It is just like one going to block shoreline, does that make sense to you? These are the remote causes of the crisis. But the immediate cause is the grazing law,”
Brigadier-General Dan-Ali (Rtd), again on June 5, 2018, as reported in Punch of 6th June, 2018 in a statement signed by his Public Relations Officer, Col. Tukur Gusau, called for the suspension of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017 as the only condition for peace in Benue and other states which have enacted similar laws. He said:
“We need to employ other channels with the affected states to reduce tension by suspending the implementation of the anti-open grazing laws while also negotiating safe routes for the herders”.
Those comments immediately triggered further killings by herdsmen militia in Guma, Logo, Kwande, Gwer West, Agatu and other local government areas in Benue state.
Then Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, also made disparaging comments against the person and office of the Governor of Benue and castigated the entire people of the State. In his first statement at a press conference in Abuja, he described the killings of Benue people by armed herdsmen as “a mere communal clash”. Also before a Senate Committee on Friday 2nd February, 2018, IGP Idris stated that the Ranching Law was the cause of the attacks. Apparently acting on the directive of his principal, the then Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood featuring as a guest on Channels Television programme on Tuesday 6th February, 2018 described Governor Ortom as “a drowning man.”
“On April 24, 2018 Rev Father Joseph Gor and Rev Father Felix Tyolaha, two Catholic Priests were killed while conducting morning mass alongside 17 others in an attack by herdsmen in Ayar- Mbalom, Gwer-East Local Government Area of Benue State. What followed the killing was a desperate attempt by Buhari’s men to blame the killings on Benue people. Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi was the one who championed that blame-the-victim charge.
Now that it was becoming very clear that the Buhari presidency was losing the war against Governor Ortom, they went for the final onslaught. This time, the only option was to impeach the Governor. But they needed the help of some Benue sons to actualize the unholy plot. Huge sums of money were released to leaders of APC in Benue State to bribe members of the Benue State House of Assembly to impeach the Governor. The then Speaker of the House, Terkimbi Ikyange was promised that he would become the acting governor if Ortom was impeached. Ikyange bought the bait. He played along. Unknown to him, he had only a small number of members of the house on his side. Only seven members agreed to join his impeachment bus. Ikyange was asked to falsely accuse Governor Ortom of embezzling N22 billion from the security vote and N32 billion from local government funds. He made the allegation before television cameras and didn’t blink an eye. Such a barefaced lie from the pit of hell.
Governor Ortom had five days earlier, dumped the APC expressing dissatisfaction over the manner the Federal Government controlled by the party had handled the security in his state and the backstabbing of the leadership of the party in Benue State.
The Federal Government didn’t have confidence in the Commissioner of Police at the time to supervise the impeachment so they quickly deployed a new Police Commissioner, Besan Gwana, who was handed the hatchet job. He failed as the eight members who served the Governor impeachment notice could not form the required quorum to impeach the Governor and had to be suspended by the 22 members later including Speaker Ikyange.
With the latest failure to oust Governor Ortom, Buhari and his men had no option left than to wait for the 2019 elections. They did all they could; waged a bitter campaign of calumny against the Governor, sponsored Emmauel Jime to replace him and released billions of naira to prosecute the Benue governorship election in favour of APC, yet, Governor Ortom shot into an early lead. When it became apparent that APC would lose the election, INEC was forced to suspend the process and call for supplementary election. Again, Governor Ortom floored APC at the supplementary election.
With that last battle, Buhari and his men knew that the only option left was to move and grab lands for his Fulani people in Benue and other parts of the country. He introduced Ruga, cattle colonies and national water resources bill but Governor Ortom was always the first to alert Nigerians of the evil plots. Initially, people thought that the President’s spokesmen like Garba Shehu were lying, but events soon proved that indeed, all they said came from the President. Recently, President Buhari announced that he has directed the Minister of Justice to revive old cattle routes and grazing reserves. The nation was shocked beyond words!
Meanwhile, the hatred on Governor Ortom has grown in leaps and bounds. He has been declared persona non grata in Aso Villa. Failing on all fronts to get the Governor out of the way or at least shut him up has angered President Buhari more than anything else. His men accuse Governor Ortom of insulting the President, but the Governor is quick to tell them that he doesn’t insult the President, that he only wants to see him be the President of all Nigerians and not a Fulani President.
President Buhari couldn’t bear anymore, the Benue State Governor’s constant reminders to him to be fair to all Nigerians and had to call out the Governor! He could no longer hide under the unguarded utterances of Garba Shehu and others. He said Governor Ortom was not fair to him but failed to explain how. That outing by the President on Arise TV was very unpresidential to have come from an elected President. The negative reaction of Nigerians must have spoken loudly to the President that his unprovoked victimization of Governor Ortom did not impress them.
The story of Samuel Ortom is that of victoria super malum (victory over evil). He has won the battle against oppression, injustice and impunity. He has won for Nigerians, a victory that was long coming but not many dared to bring it home. Now, the people know who the real revolutionary is. The marginalized and oppressed people of this country now have a voice; a voice which is speaking to the conscience of the nation. That voice is of Samuel Ortom, the Governor or Benue State. It is the ultimate victory of good over evil!
…Anande Chancha wrote from Gboko, Benue State.