Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, holds the belief that he had stepped on toes following his determination to end the menace of herdsmen who allegedly slaughtered some of his people. In this interview with select journalists, he speaks on issues in bedevilling the country, role of the media and other issues. Deputy Editor, LEON USIGBE, brings excerpts.
How would you assess the role of the media in relation to herdsmen attacks on your people; do you think the media has done what it should do in terms of enlightenment?
First of all, I want to begin by appreciating the media, the passion they have shown to the Benue people and to me as a person and the various roles you have played, not just during this crisis but in promoting and projecting my activities and that of my government. It is deeply appreciated each time we meet; I am projected to a certain level beyond what I even expect. So, I remain very grateful, you have shown uncommon love to me for reasons I cannot explain. And some of you have always taken time to advise me on what you think is best to be done because, like one of our presidents used to say when you are elevated to this kind of position, you become a prisoner; because where you want to go you cannot go, the people you want to see, you cannot see and your knowledge of what is happening out there is limited. And so the kind of people around you will largely shape your opinion and your decision and it becomes very difficult.
And for people like you who are on the street with the people, who are out there on social media and who are out there with full knowledge of what is happening around us, you are better placed to advise someone like me, if you choose to do that objectively and for me I can say that you have been doing it well.
I won’t be talking about the role the media has played just limiting it to the crisis I had in Benue State. I will not be fair to the media; that is the truth, it is beyond that. By restricting it to your question, I would say that it has been wonderful. In fact, if not for the media, I would have been consumed by now.
Some people are afraid to kill me because if they do the media will shout. There are certain things or actions that certain people would have done if they had their way, but it is like the entire Nigerian media are working with me and are supporting the course that I am pursuing on this matter and so that alone has restrained them from doing certain things they would have done against me.
The role of the media in nation building, in reshaping the opinion of the people and causing things to work is very critical and in my own case, if not the role you have played, nobody would have heard us. Several attempts were made to block, this, I know the intimidation from certain quarters against you; some of you have been branded to be promoting hate speeches and they have called you names, yet you have never stopped promoting the truth and I tell you, the Bible says whatever you do, do it as unto God, it is only God that rewards in this life.
What are your plans?
I have tested God, I have trusted in God, I have worked with God and I have seen what God can do and that is the very anchor that I have, trusting in God to be able to see me through. But one thing I look forward to is that in everything I do, I will do it with the fear of God and that would translate to being truthful, to ensure equity, to ensure fairness, to be transparent so that nothing is hidden, to be humble in trying to communicate my feelings and my desires to all, that doesn’t mean that I am weak but I just want people to understand me and as much as possible to ensure integrity in whatever I do and also be selfless because these are all virtues that God wants and of course love all, forgive and do reconciliation and where possible restitution should come in; this is what I believe, this is what is driving me.
Would you say Nigerians appreciate the truth?
I tell you the truth, the Bible says you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. Nigeria today, we have no business being where we are, we would have been far ahead of where we are today, it is just that for a long time we have suppressed the truth. But the truth is that I have decided to offer myself, if it would require me to pay the supreme sacrifice for saying the truth, I am ready to do it because time has come in this country that we must stop promoting sycophancy and mediocrity; we must promote the truth, we must respect the constitution and the rule of law. The constitution and the laws of our land is the only thing that can guide us to greater heights, it is the only thing that can lead us to where we are looking for and to where we want to be, it is the only thing that can promote and project us to rank with other countries that are doing well. Was it not just yesterday that we said “Ghana must go” why is it that on African soil today, Ghana or in West Africa, the whole world is turning their attention whether in investment or whatever, Ghana has become a reference point against Nigeria. And at my age and having been privileged to work at the local government, to work at the state and went as far as working as a cabinet minister and now back to my state as a governor; what have I contributed, what can I make to add value to Nigeria’s development? This is the challenge I have, this is the pain that I share and today for the persecution I am going through, for doing what is right then I have become a target, for saying that look, enough is enough. Stone Age laws should be repelled even if they were law or if they were policies we should discard them because they will not help us.
Would you say security agencies handled the matter well?
The truth is that I felt so sad when the minister of defence followed by the Inspector General of Police were acting the script of Miyetti Allah, instead of doing their jobs that they are collecting tax payers money every month which I am also involved; if not how can you say that it is because of the prohibition of open grazing and provision for ranching law of 2017 in Benue state that has brought those killings. The killings did not take place in 2011, in 2012 did it not take place, in 2013 did it not happen, in 2014 did the killings not take place, in 2015 and in 2016 but in 2017 it started happening. This law is a necessity arising from the killings that were taking place. And for us we sought to bring a permanent solution with the perennial problem of herdsmen and farmers clashes and we did our research and globally we adopted global best practice which is ranching for all types of animals.
And so it is amazing for anyone to assert that it is because of the law. But in any case, is this law in Adamawa state, how many people did we hear that were killed? And almost everyday people are killed; do we have a law in Plateau state, do we have a law in Kaduna state, do we have it in Nassarawa state? We already have more than 10,000 IDPs from Nassarawa state camping in Benue state. Do they have this law in Edo state or Ondo or Bayelsa or Rivers?
So it is not about the law, it is deliberate and we live in a country where people will come out in the name of Miyetti Allah and issue threats that they are coming to attack, that they will mobilise people to invade the land and take over the land and even when you report to the authorities, no action is taken and they expect you to keep quiet and where you are a leader elected by the people and they are looking u p to you for protection, what do you expect me to do?
I should speak and of course, when I speak, the media is able to alert the whole world and today the whole world appreciates the magnitude of the problems that I am going through. How can you be in a state and you have seven IDP camps hosting more than 100,000 people and 60 per cent of these people are children who should be in their schools, they are being denied of their legitimate rights which we as leaders are supposed to give them because of in attitude of or non-performance of people who are saddled with sensitive responsibilities in this country to provide security for lives and property. So, it is painful and really unfortunate and I expect that those people who are responsible for enforcing the laws of our land and ensuring security for lives and property who have demonstrated incompetence because of what is going on.
Take for instance, the President directed the IGP to relocate to Benue state to ensure that these killings stop, the IG came in one day and left, he is sitting in Abuja and he has chosen to send his PPRO to be insulting me on Channels television for doing what is right and for him not doing his job, this is unfortunate and it is like there is general disconnect amongst even the security agencies.
Today, one would say it is a terrorist organization from West Africa that is coming to attack, tomorrow they will say it is because of the law, next tomorrow they will say because it is like water, that we have succeeded in blocking the water from flowing so the herdsmen can do and undo. And we have repeatedly called on the security agencies to arrest Miyetti Allah who is sponsored off these militias, this militia group is on YouTube, browse it and see. The Fulani militias, they are in their numbers with AK47 all over. Even when they were coming to attack people in Benue they boarded two boats, they were more than 200 heading to Benue. They filmed it and released it on social media for people to see their mightiness, where they sat and were making plans to come and attack Benue all of them more than 200 people with armed AK47, yet the IG of police will say that it is Benue people that have arms to attack, it is unfortunate.
If I have 6,000 militia armed with AK47, will my people be massacred in the manner that it happened on the 1st of January 2018? If I have them, will I still be crying to the police and to the President every day that my people are being killed? Since after the burial of these people, there is no single day that one or two persons are not killed and the security men are not even spared; policemen have been victims, they have been killed in the course of trying to promote peace and arrest these persons. Even today as I talk to you, there was an attack by these herdsmen against the mobile police in Logo local government; as at now three of them were wounded, they are in the hospital and four of them were missing, we hope that they will be recovered back.
Just yesterday (Friday), somebody was killed by these herdsmen and people went to bury the dead and on their way back they were attacked by my local government in Guma. In the former late Tor Tiv village, ancestral home, as they were coming back they were attacked and they burnt the vehicle that these people boarded and killed one person. In today’s attack on the policemen, they burnt the patrol vehicle that the police had. There are several reports and write-ups that this is not a normal thing, it is not about grazing and some who should be taking action is not doing it. They are talking about jihad, they are talking about ethnic cleansing, they are talking about taking over the land, they are talking about the struggle of Benue valley that is their own and these things there are press releases which I have submitted to security agencies and these people write their names, they are known they are in Abuja there, they do these press conferences.
So which hate speech can be more than the one that you threaten people that they can buy arms and they not only just threaten people they come to kill, which hate speech can be more than that one, which hates speech can be more than killing fellow human beings when no action is being done. So it is a big challenge.
Why did the government choose to carry out mass burial for the victims in this particular instance? Some think it is a deliberate attempt to cause trouble?
I work with my people who elected me and I always do their bidding. And this law prohibiting open grazing and making provision for ranching is the product of the people themselves. We did work with them, they asked for something that can solve this problem, so we brought the law. The law is a win-win for herdsmen and for farmers. And so it is a very popular law, now that you are in Benue state especially for those of you who are not from Benue state, go out there and do some opinion poll and see whether that law is unpopular because we have suffered from 2011 – 2017, people were angry and they felt that government should do something. And so we did our research and we came out with this. So it was the popular view of Benue people to enact this law. This law came into effect and we had talks, when we started the implementation from 1st of November 2017, everything was peaceful, herdsmen were doing their own, we did not even require them to do standard ranching. Even where you were not able to gather sticks and confine your cattle but you were able to restrain them from straying to people’s farm, keep them in one and give them feeds and lead them to where they can take water and come back and stay in one place; we were okay with that and we have a lot of them. So, when Miyetti Allah gave their threat and we reported and no action was taken, we reminded the security agencies no action was taken and when January 1st came and these people were killed, it was the decision of the stakeholders that since these people are killed even after enacting the law that is meant to restore peace for herdsmen and farmers but because of the insensitivity of the security agents they were killed in cold blood, these people were not armed, they were deep in their sleep, they did not respect who was a child and who was a woman, a pregnant woman, they did not respect the old man of 74 years and so on. So it was the collective decision of Benue state stakeholders irrespective of party affiliation that we honour these people and that was our own way of honouring them. Today the grave yard is separate from any other grave yard in Benue state and that has become a monument for all those who became victims of enactment of this law, that was why we chose to honour them and today and forever it will serve as a monument, we are going to put structures there, those other people who are being killed, we are going to put their pictures there with time because we couldn’t bring them down for burial here so that our children will know that once upon a time there was this challenge and we rose to tackle the matter headlong and we held the bull by the horn and said the only way we can live in peace is to ranch and that is global best practice because the land is not expanding, the land is rather decreasing by the ceding of Bakassi to the Cameroons, the land is no longer 923,000 square kilometers but the population is growing.
The 1st January invasion of Benue communities left a lot of IDP’s in the state in addition to the Cameroonian refugees crossing into Benue state making about 200,000 refugees, how are you coping?
The challenge is there as you rightly said. Today, we have seven camps in Benue state housing the IDPs and two camps in Kwande local government hosting the refugees from Cameroon. It is a difficult thing when it comes to human life, you definitely have to suspend other things and give room, no matter how tight it is, to give attention. But honestly I am a human being, the condition where these people are living is not enough to say that we have been able to provide minimum provision for them to leave in those camps, at least minimum comfort, it is still not there. But we have appointed managers in all these camps, the seven of them for the IDPs and the two for the Cameroonian refugees making nine camps, they are being managed. We have had a couple of support from good spirited individuals and groups and government to assist us to provide non-food items and food items to these people, with the support from Benue state government too, we have been doing our best to ensure that they have minimum support. We have also mobilised health workers from primary healthcare board that are supporting them in health facilities but that is still not enough, that is a very big burden on government; we are still calling on good spirited individuals, groups and organisations and the international community to come in and support us because this is about humanitarian crisis, we never envisaged that we will have this at this time. Even where these people are being hosted, it is not a good sight. A family of 10 or sometimes 15, staying in a primary school environment or staying in an open place, the facilities in such places can never be enough. No enough water, toilets and all that, we have decided to make provisions for some but it can never be enough for that kind of situation, so this is where we are at the moment.
The post Nigeria must stop promoting sycophancy, mediocrity —Governor Ortom appeared first on Tribune.