Samuel Ortom caricature
Ortom's cartoon caricature

By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

It is no longer news that Samuel Ortom, Benue State Governor is a man challenged by history and nurture to liberate his people from the clutches of Internal colonialism, a man thrust by duty to be the face of opposition to the banditry and lawlessness of the Fulani herdsmen, injustice in the land and brazen lack of equity in the society . He is an avid critic of less than sterling performance of the Buhari administration.

He has in the course of defending his people against the terrorism of the Fulani herders incurred the wrath not only of the herdsmen themselves but the Federal Government, widely believed to be sympathetic to the cause of the herdsmen, and seen to be allegedly providing cover for their impunity.

Last Saturday, the herdsmen took the battle to Ortom in a deadly ambush that would have been fatal ; had the governor’s security not acted with precision and tact to repel the attack.

The embattled governor narrowly escaped death in the encounter. The incident happened at Tyo-Mu community in the outskirts of Makurdi town, a distance of less than 20Km from Makurdi, the Benue State capital, according to a statement from Benue Government House, Makurdi.

In a statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, MrTerverAkase, the herdsmen opened fire on the governor’s convoy as it travelled along Makurdi-Gboko road but were repelled by the governor’s security.

Sources said herdsmen numbering about 15 trailed the governor to a river bank where he disembarked to inspect a farm but waited for his convoy to move on his way back to Makurdi before they opened fire.

But the governor escaped narrowly, as his security men gallantlyrepelled the attack. Hours after his press Secretary issued the statement, Ortom himself confirmed the attack on him by suspected militia herdsmen in his farm at Tyo-mu, along Makurdi – Gboko road.

Ortom, while briefing journalists at the Benue Peoples House after the incident, stated that he was inspecting his farm when the militia herders, who were regaled in black ambushed him and his security men and opened fire.

He stated that it took the fast response of his security details to quash the attack, while he ran a long distance to escape to safety.

The Governor bemoaned the audaciousness and impunity of the herders, saying that the attack came a few days after the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore convened a meeting in Yola, and marked him out for elimination for being a thorn in their flesh that must be eliminated.

Ortom claimed to have received intelligence to that effect. According to the governor his life is in the hands of God and no Fulani militia has the power to take it without God’s permission, noting that as many times as they try, they would continue to fail.

He made it clear that the ranching law of the state will not be repealed for any reason, adding that no intimidation could force his administration to reverse the decision of Benue people against open grazing.

He promised to send a petition to the President and security chiefs against Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, saying that allowing the leadership of the group to walk freely with security personnel attached is unconstitutional and dangerous.

Professor AdeagboMoritiwon, a political scientist said ” the abortive assassination attempt on Ortom ” was escalation of lawlessness of the herdsmen and their criminal protection by the Nigerian state under Buhari. The leadership of the group should be ready for war crimes charges at the Hague after this inglorious era of darkness.”

A few weeks ago, there was a dramatic rising action that now climaxed in the attack on Ortom.

The rising action that provided context for the abortive attempt on the governor’s life was a war of word between the sister governors Bala Mohammed and Samuel Ortom of Bauchi and Benue states espectively, over the bandits’ attacks in different parts of the country.

The war of attrition between the two governors has brought home the challenge facing the country and different motivations behind the problems.

In “The Challenge of Nationhood”, the effervescent Kenyan statesman, Tom Mboya says “the duty of a leader is to rise up to the challenge of his time, and for no reason of political expediency should he betray his people for filthy lucre or political relevance.”

For Mboya as for Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor, fidelity to truth is the watchword and the cornerstone upon which his political career is built. Mboya died in pursuit of that fidelity and truth, murdered in suspicious circumstances. For Ortom, a man of humble background, being on the side of his people is non-negotiable.

Thus, he decided to side with his people even when he had grand opportunities to betray them, as many in his position and circumstances would have done. When he came to power in 2015 there was nothing in his background that presaged his larger than life fighting spirit and indomitable will. But most times, a man’s calling is not discovered until he is challenged by forces that threaten his interests.

For Ortom, the fire was not long in coming in form of Fulani herdsmen who began a siege on his people in Benue State.

The way he has been handling the Fulani menace in trying and troubling circumstances, has thrown up his leadership qualities and accentuated his claim to statesmanship.

Attempts were made by powerful forces for the governor not to win reelection in 2019 but his people stood by him solidly and he won.

The Fulani menace and their growing siege on the nation is no longer news, what is troubling is the sea of silence from political and opinion leaders across the country. In this atmosphere of near silence, Ortom has chosen to be different.

In the face of the pogrom of his people launched by marauding herders, he chose to fight rather than surrender.

This decision to confront the aggressors has pitted him against the Federal Government, which is widely believed to be sympathetic to the cause of the Fulani.

“Governor Ortom is the prototype of a good leader who in this season of anomie in the country where most governors and politicians are afraid to speak out against the terrorism of the Fulani herdsmen for fears of offending Abuja. He should be commended for his stand, for his decision to defend his people. We need a leader like him”, says Professor Nasiru Akanbi of Brigham University in his chat with this medium.

At various times, Ortom has taken on the Army authorities for their bias on herders/farmers’ crises in Benue. He has consistently accused President Muhammadu Buhari of protecting Fulani herdsmen and providing cover for their atrocities against Nigerians through his inaction and refusal to act decisively.

“It is rare in Nigeria to see a leader like Ortom that’s so committed to his people. He is a thorn in the flesh of this administration and his constant criticism of Buhari’s handling has raised both local and international consciousness about the evil perpetrated by rogue elements among ethnic Fulani”, says Dr. Daniel Ibikunle of the department of history and international studies, Nasarawa State University.

Just recently, Bala Mohammed, Governor of Bauchi State, raised the political temperature in the land when he justified the need for Fulani herdsmen to carry guns. The dust raised by Bauchi governor’s remark was yet to settle when Isa Yuguda, his predecessor in office said there was nothing wrong in Fulani herdsmen carrying guns for protection.

In a powerful repartee, Ortom last week accused Bala Mohammed of being a terrorist and a threat to his life.

“I am beginning to think that my brother, the governor of Bauchi State is part of the terrorist Fulani organisation that is terrorising this country,” Ortom said while addressing journalists in Makurdi, Benue state capital.

“Why do I say this? This is the same governor who took the oath of office to protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This constitution does not leave room for allowing foreign herdsmen to come in without valid papers,” he added.

He also referred to the assertion by Mohammed that herders should carry AK – 47 to defend themselves as being “unconstitutional.

“His recent outburst that Fulani herdsmen are justified for carrying AK 47 to protect themselves I don’t know where the constitution of this country allows that,” he said.

Ortom, therefore, called Mohammed to render an unreserved apology to Nigerians and learn from the provisions of the constitution that, land both territorial, forest, and aquatic, are vested on the governor of a state who holds them in trust.

Mohammed’s comment on armed herdsmen had earlier triggered a wave of condemnation from his counterparts and Nigerians alike, with increasing calls for the prohibition of open grazing. Ortom and his Ondo counterpart, Rotimi Akeredolu , were quick to knock the Bauchi governor’s statement.

“Bala Mohammed has even poured more petrol into the fire because his speech was unexpected of him. It will become very serious and nobody will be spared,” Akeredolu said.

After widespread criticism, Mohammed on last week, defended his comment about armed herders , explaining that he used AK – 47 as a figure of speech for protection .

“It is a figure of speech to show you the despondence, the desperation and frustration and the agony that this particular person is exposed to by his own people, by his own tribe and by other tribes who have all seen him as a criminal and therefore, he has the inalienable right to protect himself,” the governor said during an interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily .

Ortom, has severally lambasted President Muhammadu Buhari over his silence in the face of the incessant incidences of clashes between Fulani herdsmen and other Nigerians in different parts of the country and his failure to call them to order.

He frowned at Buhari’s nonchalant attitude to the raging crisis, saying he should be the “President of Nigeria not the President of the Fulani tribe where he hails from”.

He spoke last Wednesday while addressing journalists at the Government House in Makurdi shortly after recovering from COVID-19, and said Buhari should uphold the pledge he made in 2015 of belonging to every Nigerian irrespective of tribe or religion and should serve the interest of all Nigerians instead of just one ethnic group. He urged Buhari to act fast and call the criminal herdsmen.

Born in Benue State, Nigeria, he attended St. John’s Primary School, Gboko in 1970 but moved to St. Catherine’s Primary School, Makurdi in 1974, completing his primary education in 1976. Chief Dr.Samuel IoraerOrtom was admitted into Idah Secondary Commercial College, Idah in Kogi State in 1976. He did two years in the school before his father’s retirement in 1979 ended his dream of completing formal secondary school education for financial reasons. He became a professional driver.

He later obtained the General Certificate of Education as well as the Diploma in Salesmanship. He enrolled at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and obtained both the Interim Joint Matriculation Board Certificate, in 1995 and the Diploma in Journalism in 1998. He later attended the Benue State University where he obtained an Advanced Diploma in Personnel Management in 2001 as well as a Master of Public Administration in 2004. Ortom earned a PhD, from the Commonwealth University, Belize, through distance learning.

Political life Ortom worked for different political parties in Benue State including the National Centre Party of Nigeria as State Publicity Secretary; State Treasurer of the All People’s Party (APP); and State Secretary as well as State Deputy Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

He was also Director of Operations of the PDP gubernatorial campaign in Benue State in 2007 and Director of Administration and Logistics of the Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organization in 2011. He was PDP National Auditor before his appointment as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in July 2011.

In April 2015, he contested for Governor of Benue State and won under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In July 2018, Ortom announced his departure from All Progressives Congress as a result of an internal party crisis.

In the 9 March 2019 Benue State Governorship election and 23 March 2019 Benue State supplementary governorship election, Ortom was reelected as Governor having polled 434,473 votes while the runner up Emmanuel Jime of the All Progressive Congress polled 345,155 votes. Following the election, Jime challenged Ortom’s victory and filed a petition on the grounds of substantial noncompliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended. On 21 January, 2020 the Supreme Court affirmed the election of Samuel Ortom as the governor of Benue State.

His philanthropy includes the establishment of Oracle Business Limited Foundation, Ortom has set aside funds in St. Theresa’s Hospital, Makurdi and Rahama Hospital, Gboko Road, Makurdi, for treatment of hernia and snakebites free of charge to the patients.

The foundation also works to alleviate hardship for prison inmates, while also offering various forms of skills acquisition for better reintegration into the society. The Oracle Driving School is another outreach, which trains qualified drivers on a regular basis.

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