Politics

Ortom opens up I governed Benue in pains

…Reveals attempts made by FG, others  to remove him as governor

 

• How terrorists made 7 attempts to kill him • Benue denied monies due to it because he did not accept Fulanization agenda  • Says he has no regret defending his people

 

From Adetutu Folasade-Koyi and Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja

 

As he leaves office on Monday, Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, has said he has no regret defending  the people of the state.

In this interview with Sunday Sun, Ortom said that if not for God who stood by him, he would have been removed as governor by both federal and local forces.

Among other issues, Ortom reeled out his achievements as governor of Benue State, saying that he is leaving office as a fulfilled man.

As you leave office, what is your joy, what is your sadness?

Well, first, I want to appreciate God Almighty for helping me thus far. I’ve been here on a divine mandate because I saw that I would be governor in 1992, when I was local government chairman. And I proclaimed it and told everyone that cared to listen and it came to pass, though through a very turbulent situation. Even in 2015, it was not easy, but by the grace of God, I made it. And that confirmed that it was a divine mandate. In 2017, I chose that I will not contest for a second term, I will finish my first term and by the grace of God, leave for another person, but divine arrangement was not what I thought. And God told me, He is not done with me, I’ll contest and win. And I proclaimed it to the people. I told them. It was more turbulent than 2015. All the might that you know, federal might, state might, local might, whatever might, came against me, but I still made it. So, I give glory to God for making it possible. Throughout my tenure, it has not been easy.  I have passed through challenges. Just like the Psalmist will say, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil because God is with me. The rod and the staff will comfort me and He will prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, He will anoint my hair and my cup will run over. Surely His goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. That is what I have seen. I’ve gone through very turbulent times.  Many people around here and at the federal level attempted to even remove me as governor through illegal means. They were not able to do it. The terrorists Fulanis attempted to assassinate me seven times, but God preserved my life. They were not able to get me. So, one thing I must say is that I’m grateful to the Almighty God for helping me. No regrets. I give glory to God for finding me worthy and making me a vessel to speak for the downtrodden, to say the truth, to fight for justice, to fight for equity. That is all that I look for. And I can boldly say that I have not committed any crime against humanity. I have not killed, I have not spilled blood, I have not defiled anybody’s child. I have not defiled anybody’s wife. I have not stolen money from the government. People can say what they want, but I have not stolen money from the government. My budgets are there. I am ready to face EFCC and ICPC. I’ll go anywhere. I was told that the EFCC says some governors are planning to run away. Those who run away are cowards. They’re not men. If they are men, they should stand back and justify the four years or eight years tenure of the administration. For me, everything I did, I’m ready to justify or clarify it. As far as I’m concerned, I have not committed any crime that will warrant me to face prosecution. At least for now, nobody has brought that to my attention. But anyone that is brought, I’m ready to respond. So, I have no reason to regret that. I am sad about the development because as a federating unit where I preside over here in Benue State as governor, I had expected cooperation from local government which they gave me, but the cooperation I needed from the Federal Government to help and turn things around, add value to development and then provide security for lives and property, which is the primary responsibility of any responsible government, and then make things work for our people, make our people to be happy, I have not seen that complementing effort from the Federal Government, rather, it has been hostility, rather, it has been a kind of politicking instead of governance. You use politics to get into position, but when you get there, you do governance, you don’t do politics again. Because as governor of Benue State, I am governor of PDP and governor of APC, I am governor of APGA, I am governor of everybody. I’m governor of non-partisan people. But here is a different case because of the agenda of certain people. It will be a logical fallacy to say that all Fulanis, not all Fulanis, are collaborating with foreign Fulani mercenaries and terrorists to take over Nigeria as their country. And I think that is the only quarrel that I have. The sad thing is that the killings have gone on, raping of our children and wives, women have gone on for a long time. But there has not been any form of condemnation or stoppage of this matter. We have done everything under the sun here in Benue State to stop the carnage that has been going on and we soon discovered that there was grossly inadequate security personnel to man this challenge because the Federal Government had allowed all Fulani terrorists from Senegal, from Mali, from Futa Jalon, from Chad, from all over the place to come in with AK 47 to kill our people and they are not hiding it. Here the FUNAM (Fulani Nationality Movement), Miyetti Katan Houre, Miyetti Allah MACABAN, MACABAN is a little bit liberal because they are merchants in animal husbandry. They’re not as hostile and violent as Miyetti Katan Houre. These people have not hidden it. They have said their agenda is to take over Nigeria and make it their own and every other person will be a slave. I don’t think in the 21st Century, you can come and make me a slave.  I know what our forefathers went through and I’m not willing to be one. And that is why I’ve chosen to speak out, to stand out and always say the truth. It is unfortunate that gullible Nigerians who complacency is their second name, even those in high places, those who have been given responsibility and even powers conferred on them to ensure that they protect others, have decided to live a gullible life and be complacent where they are. The reality is here. But for me, I have chosen to stand by the truth no matter what it will cost me. It has cost me a whole deal.

What has it cost you sir?

It does cost me a whole deal. One, I’ve been denied funding by the Federal Government to complement what we’re doing here. For instance, everybody knew I inherited huge arrears of salaries, pension and gratuity. Other states too did.  We started well. Part of this money was given. We were able to liquidate them. But going forward, because I did not accept this evil agenda of Fulanization over our land, I’ve been denied those monies. And I give a typical example. When I came, the total arrears of salaries and pension was over N70 billion. N28 billion was given, we cleared it for both state and local governments. And the balance of N42 billion, they said it would be treated later. Other states have been given, but I have been denied because of my stand. I have not been given. Every process that was required, I went through it. The State Executive Council, the House of Assembly, the Federal Ministry of Finance, DMO and up to the Central Bank. People rose and said you cannot give this man this money. He is hostile to us, if you give him the money to clear the arrears, we will not have anything to say. As I talk to you today, the papers are with the Central Bank, they have refused to act on it because people went and worked against it. Another instance is the infrastructure fund, which was created by the Central Bank to give loans to states. Most of my colleagues got.  Some got as much as N50 billion, 40, 30 billion. I, just N20 billion that were applied for, every process was done. DMO approved. It’s with the Central Bank, and was denied. It has not been given to me. The paraphernalia of being the governor has been denied. Everything that we have and keep has been denied. So, this is part of the pains that I’m talking about apart from the killing of my people. I wasn’t elected as governor to preside over dead people. Between 2011 to…, or even when I came from 2015 till today, over 5,000 people have been killed. If I take you back to 2009, 2010 and 2011, over 6,000. But as I talk to you, even today, people are being killed by these herdsmen. And that is apart from the local banditry, armed robbery, criminal activities of the local people which we are containing. So, I’ve been denied every right as if I am a second-class governor. I am duly elected just like the other people, but they have chosen to treat me in that way because I have refused to bow to their intimidation. You recall that I won the election first on the platform of APC. But when I was not satisfied, I left because politics is a game of interest. When your interest is not protected, you shift. That’s what I did. So, I’ve been termed as an enemy, but I stand for the truth.  Several people who stood for the truth and had learned how to pay various prices have given me a lot of inspiration. I have not gone to the level of paying the supreme price   though attempts have been made on my life seven times. It was the Fulanis themselves who sat where we are and told me, ‘Look, the one that happened to you on Gboko road which you knew was just one case. We have attempted seven times.’ And they came to know the secret that I have that they have not been able to kill me. Nelson Mandela paid that price and today, he is a hero. People like Martin Luther King (jnr) did not live to be 60 years the way I am. He died in his prime age. But he paid the price for the blacks in America. Today, to the glory of God, a black man became the president of America, a Kenyan for that matter. So, when I look at several other people around the world, leaders who have made landmarks and have written their names in gold, if you go to China, China will also tell you, go to America,  go to Britain, the entire world, they will tell you, they enslaved us, they made us slaves, but there were people who stood firm. And of course, even in Africa here, and in Nigeria, we have great leaders who also stood and fought for the independence of their country.

There are a lot of projects that your administration has executed – roads, primary schools, power, etc. Why is there a perception that your government did nothing?   

Maybe you ask your colleagues here.  Akase is here, Nath is here (media aides). I can respond to you that maybe we’re publicity shy.  Honestly, it may not be their fault, it may be my fault because everything in this country today revolves around money. So, maybe I was not able to pay enough to get publicity. I have been  to states where people commission projects. In some cases, half a kilometre, two kilometres, or three. But here, I’ll tell you, I’ve commissioned 30 kilometres of roads, I have commissioned 40, 46, 30, five kilometres, 10 and all that. Electricity projects, we have done them all over because one thing I have a passion for was giving people light, because light brings a lot of value addition and development to various communities, especially the rural dwellers. And in urban renewal, we have been up and doing despite all the challenges that I’m talking to you about here  like paucity of funds, we’ve been able to do it. Issues of security, we’ve been able to do with in collaboration with a conventional security operative. Here in the state, the logistics that we provide for security men, conventional ones, is massive. We do it because without security, you cannot provide any meaningful development. Where will you have time? There are instances where contractors were out there and were killed by bandits here in Benue state and then, the equipment were burnt and so on.  But despite this, we have always known that history will demand to know what we did, when we were governor. And that has persuaded us. We have been able to reach out to all zones in Benue State in terms of road infrastructure, electricity, schools and all that. When we came in 2015, we identified that first, we must upgrade and ensure that we build a solid base for our primary schools. Because that is the foundation of any child. Once you give your child a good foundation at the primary level, secondary and tertiary levels will be easy for him or her. But we did not just abandon the secondary or tertiary institutions. Where there were bad cases, we intervened despite all the challenges. We were able to reach out to secondary schools and then, tertiary institutions. It might interest you to know that Benue State has a university, Benue State University. It’s a major institution and a major industry for Benue people. In fact, almost every family is connected to this institution because in one way or the other, you are linked to it. It is a school with over 30,000 of our children. When we came in 2015, they were on strike for several months, but we intervened and the issue was accreditation and bringing the staff to work. We did. Accreditation was done. If you talk about the School of Health Sciences, students who were doing medicine had stagnated, some for 12 years, 11 years, 10 years, because there was an accreditation.  By the grace of God, we did it and today, we have hundreds of graduates of medicine from Benue State University who are serving, not just Nigeria, not just Benue State, but the whole world. Some have specialized in several fields within these eight years. Even though we have challenges about payment of salaries among others, the stakeholders told me that Benue State University should be on first line charge. As a state university, Benue State is one state that is paying one of the highest subventions to a state university in the whole country. We pay over 600 million every month. We’re happy that the students are doing very well and we invested massively. TETfund invested in the infrastructure. But we have also invested since I came and Benue State University has not been on strike. While some people may say anything they want about Benue State, since I came, the civil service has not been on strike. And there is a reason for that. Because we are transparent. And we ensure that even the civil servants, they sit with us to appropriate the funds that come into the state or the local government and state levels. So, nothing is hidden. They appreciate this. And that is why with all the challenges, we still don’t have issues with the civil servants because we know we’re saying the truth. Anytime there is an issue, we’ll sit down, discuss, and come to terms. So, the little we’ve been able to get, we devised several methods in funding some of our projects – contract finance through some of our banks that were friendly with us, we did that and any little savings we got because we knew that we needed to impact on infrastructure and other developments. Today, we are happy that we’ve been able to impact, not just in Makurdi here, but Gboko and other areas in Zone C, Oturkpo and other areas and rural development generally.  You see a lot of efforts that we have done. We devised various methods. Some roads were constructed, asphalted; some surface dressing, some laterited and bridges and culverts constructed for our people who are mainly farmers to have access to the markets and to urban areas where they can do their business.  So, the narrative is very wrong. I heard someone saying that ‘this Ortom has not constructed a toilet since he became governor.’ You can imagine. Primary schools alone, we have sunk more than N20 billion into our primary school, not just to upgrade the buildings, we provided desks, we provided chairs. I was providing other instructional materials for our children to have the enabling learning environment that will benefit them.  So, I will say that maybe we did not focus so much on publicity. And that was why that narrative has gone out and some people feel that we have not done anything.

What kind of state would you say you’re handing over to your successor? And is it true that the governor-elect tried to interfere in your administration?

Well, I can’t see me handing over a state that is in ICU (Intensive Care Unit). If it were ICU, nobody, even himself wouldn’t have talked about being governor-elect. But I think and I believe that was just a slip of tongue. Just like any other state, we have our challenges, security challenges, economic challenges, and other social challenges, but relatively, compared to what I hear in other states, Benue State is good to go. But the major challenge is the issue of security because a situation where you have seven million people, or two million people become IDPs, with another chunk of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Cameroon, coming into Benue State, is a big challenge. So, if we have security, we will be far better. And I think with the establishment of Community Volunteer Guards who are very active and are working under the supervision of the Nigerian police, we are making progress. Initially, some people thought that I was going to use them for politics. We did not do that. In fact, during campaigns, they were all mobilized under my instruction. We told them, if you’re going to go there, go as an individual, don’t go there in the name of official work, don’t even put on your uniform or carry the weapons. But you see, we cannot all get the kind of security that we need with our people not carrying pump action (guns). Theirs are not even automatic, double barrel, locally made dane guns and then people move around with AK-47. A hundred of those carrying these weapons can be overcome by one person carrying AK-47 because it’s an automatic weapon. And that was why I put a request to the presidency to grant us license to procure AK-47 and AK-49 to face these people.  We have the capacity. The community volunteer guards are able, young, trained personnel. The army, the police, civil defence and the DSS trained them. So, they have the capacity, and they’re willing to do the job, but it’s just that the weapons are not there. So, this is the point. For us, we are grateful because periodically, we know that we have a responsibility to report to the people and to get confirmation of whatever we want to do with them. So, by the grace of God, we have received endorsement in all the meetings that we attend. There is nothing we do without really consulting the people. We’re happy that we’ve been able to deliver alongside our people. Whatever they wanted, we’ve been able to do. So, we are very happy and grateful to God and the people of Benue State. I never did my government alone. I did with the people. But like you rightly observed, the forces against me were so much and, of course, read the history of these oppressors, what they did in other parts of Nigeria, how they came in and what they did. That is what they intend to do here. But by the grace of God, we shall overcome that.  The people themselves will see it.

Looking at your eight years in office, with the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently?

I have no regrets. Today, some people feel that I contested for senatorial seat and I lost. The person in my party that came in as (gubernatorial) candidate of our party also lost election. Some people think that I have regrets. I have no regrets working with my people. I’m happy. So, given another opportunity, I will still stand tall to defend the people, to ensure equity, fairness and justice.  I wouldn’t do anything different. Some people thought that maybe my people have betrayed me. They did not betray me. But this is an opportunity for them to see the kind of leadership that I gave. So, for me, it’s God that crowns. Whoever comes there, we pray for him. It doesn’t really matter. But I have no regret whatsoever. I still maintain my stand on those national issues and state issue issues that I stood for. So, no regrets whatsoever because I had the endorsement of the people of Benue State.

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