Friday September 4, 2020 witnessed another significant moment in the life of Benue State. It was a day Governor Samuel Ortom decided to commence project commissioning across the state. He began in Sankera area. The Governor commissioned the 47 kilometer Zaki-Biam-Afia-Gbeji road in Ukum Local Government Area, the Mbaton-Gbor-Amaafu electricity project as well as the Central Primary School, both in Katsina-Ala Local Government area of the state.
Governor Ortom who was in company of former Governor Gabriel Suswam and other prominent sons and daughters of the state gave reasons why he was reluctant in commissioning projects. According to him, he decided not to commission projects in the last five years because he felt that the funds that would have been used for the purpose could be put into other projects such as provision of amenities to communities in need.
The Governor said he however had to succumb to pressure from his friends and other key stakeholders to commission projects in the state especially following criticisms from the opposition that he had not done anything worth while.
That was a genuine reason given by the Governor, and I join thousands of other people to commend him. He is indeed a listening leader who has the interest of his people at heart.
The thrust of this article is to advise those who have vowed to criticize step of the Governor. It is not as if anybody can stop him from governing but this is aimed at people refusing to let go, sore losers who think the seat of government can change hands at the drop of a hat. Governor Ortom deserves to be allowed to stamp his legacy on the Benue and broader Nigerian Landscape as he is already doing.
It will also be foolhardy to think that it will be smooth and easy sailing. A careful analysis would reveal that Samuel Ortom’s time as governor of Benue is quite different from any other gubernatorial experience in the state. No Governor before him faced the nature of challenges he has faced since 2015. Since 1999, our country has not gone into the depth of recession as it did in 2016 and is beginning to face this year as a result of COVID-19. My findings show that in 2016 and 2017, it got to a point that Benue received less than N1.4 billion as federal allocation with a wage bill of over N4 billion starring the state government in the face. Such paltry allocations went on for several months leading to the inability of Governor Ortom to pay workers as and when due.
The Governor took a bold step at the end of year 2017 when he declared state of emergency on salary payment. And true to his worlds, since January 2018, his government has paid civil servants every month till now.
It is also a fact that the continuum in governance does not apply only to projects. Other baggages are inherited and it is a fact that the issue of wages and pensions did not start with Samuel Ortom.
His intervention over five years has made civil servants look forward to the end of the month now with hope. And Governor Ortom cannot be held responsible for the recession that hit this country and has brought us to this quagmire. The ghost workers on the payroll were not put there by this administration and civil servants who padded the salary bill should hold their heads in shame for passing the blame to politicians.
If one is sincere, there is need to appreciate the number of times this government has conducted payroll audits to find out ghost workers and government even heaved a sigh of relief that the wage bill has shrunk because of the reduction of ghost workers.
But there is no let up. Government agencies with many staff are the fertile ground of ghoulish ghosts, they refuse to disappear from the payroll even after dying. SUBEB, TSB and other agencies with a lot of rural staff are full of ghosts. At SUBEB there are teachers who have remained teachers forever. Go to the classroom and you see men and women who are in their eighties snoring at their desks and have taught for over 40 years. It can be recalled that even the late great Aper Aku had a problem with teachers pay. The schools are not increasing but the number of teachers have increased astronomically. The establishment of SUBEB has increased the bureaucracy without service delivery.
Happily, Governor Samuel Ortom has taken drastic measures to curb the stinking corruption at SUBEB. His recent investigations into the running of that agency will surely cleanse the decay and restore sanity for the good of the Benue child.
There are other challenges that Governor Ortom has inherited and has tackled with brilliance. The level of violence unleashed on the Benue landscape during the Ortom-era is historical in its scope. Nobody alive has experienced this level of anarchy. The earlier wars and strife are matters of history and nobody can say he witnessed the level of mass burial the Governor had the pain to bear at the beginning of 2018. And these massacres spread across the whole of Benue State and beyond. The Sankera crisis that started during the George Akume regime was less in scope than this extant crisis.
This goes to show how crises are handled. Governor Ortom went for the jugular and established the Anti-Grazing Law which has stopped the massacre except that the Fulani, enjoying support from the top brass of this country continue to strain the barriers of peace. It is the strength of the Ortom law that has made the federal government to experiment with RUGA and NLTP. Ruga and cattle colonies were vehemently rejected. That rejection was again spearheaded by no other person than the Benue State Governor. The enemies went back to their ‘drawing board’ and re-emerged with another land grabbing trick called National Water Resources Bill. Once again, Governor Ortom took the lead of courageous resistance! He has put a loud and patriotic call on all Nigerians to rise and reject the evil bill. He has charged National Assembly members to remember that they are representatives of the people and throw out that bill when they resume sitting. I can confidently say that the Water Resources Bill is dead on arrival!
With all his efforts and much more on the menu, there is a lot of sour grapes going on even by his own people who are in opposing political camps and are bent on distracting the Governor. Such people are sore loosers who never believed they could stumble and fall from their high horses. But life is rather eclectic and things change. And history will record Samuel Ortom as the fifth elected governor of the Benue state and the years between 2015 to 2023 are his and he is the only one to have a legacy of achievements.
His troubles are not self inflicted because the problem with herdsmen is not about his lack of leadership. It is conspiracy to undermine the Benue Valley and Samuel Ortom has remained resolute in his approach on finding a lasting solution. The sobriquet, “Defender of the Benue Valley” is quite appropriate and he may go into legend like the famous “Ikyarem”, the snake that gave the Tiv nation passage from the Congo River to the Benue Valley.
The manner you respond to challenges has the potential to make or mar you. Between 1999 and 2020, every player on the Benue and Nigeria landscape has had to grapple with crisis and phenomena. The GSM era is attributed to Olusegun Obasanjo but we know the satellite revolution was a global affair and it was the quirk of fate that put Obasanjo as President of Nigeria at that time.
Back here, crises have become a way of life, with Jukun and Fulani a recurring metaphor of hate and acrimony. Indeed, these crises are older than us and if fate has given the solution to Governor Ortom, we owe ourselves a duty to give him his due and space to trudge on. For those who have had opportunities but failed to offer lasting solutions, they can do well by keeping quiet.
Furthermore, they should leash their foot soldiers to give peace a chance because the enemy within is such a bore and distraction that has the tendency to open our flanks for the enemy to come in. They are snitches and they must know that governance in democracy is tenured and they can come in to do their miracles. But they must allow the Governor to perform his God-given duties.
Leadership is ordained by God and it smacks of barefaced hypocrisy for them to throw barbs from their gilded palaces.
It is heartwarming to see that despite the unfair criticisms, Governor Samuel Ortom has refused to be distracted.
– Inyah is a Makurdi-based public affairs commentator.