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Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, on Monday last week interacted with Benue people on a Radio Benue programme, Issues of the Moment. The programme lasted for two hours.

Below is the serialization of excerpts:

Introduction by program anchor, David Ukuma:

This occasion of the programme is as usual at the instance of His Excellency, Governor Samuel Ortom. Remember, the Governor promised on assumption of office to constantly interact with Benue populace on issues of governance and development in his bid to remain accountable to the masses. The appointment of traditional rulers and Chieftaincy Law recently passed by the Benue State House of Assembly and assented to by the Governor will be the overriding issue among other matters of public importance on the programme. The telephone line; 08034787173 dedicated for short text messages has been activated two days ago and our teeming listeners are free to send in their short text messages with their full names and their locations; while the telephone line; 07038267479 will be open in the course of the programme for voice calls. Already, the number one citizen of the state is seated in the studio for the programme. Listener, I have the pleasure to welcome on board the Executive Governor of Benue State.Your Excellency, you are welcome to the programme. Governor Ortom: Thank you David, and thank you listeners. Ukuma: The Governor is accompanied to the studio by some of his appointees. I can see the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Chief Odeh Ageh; the Special Adviser on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Titus Zam and that on Media and ICT; Tahav Agerzua; my co-anchor, Patrick Omora, my name is David Ukuma, your guide. Ukuma: Your Excellency, let’s lay the background for the programme this way. Some Benue people today see the appointment of the substantive Tor Tiv and other First Class Chiefs in the State as long awaited. The Benue State House of Assembly passed the Chieftaincy Bill which you recently signed into law. Can you have the pleasure to speak about this important law and what the people should expect with this development?

The importance of the Radio Programme

Ortom: Once again, I appreciate the people of Benue State and this programme and all of you that anchor this programme. It has afforded me the opportunity of interacting with the people and each time I come here, I have something to take back to the People’s House and reflect on because as much as possible, as a democratically elected Governor, I want to go with the people; know what they need; and as I always say; yes democracy has several meanings by several philosophers. For me, democracy is what the people want. So when you are elected, no matter how intelligent, no matter how brilliant, no matter how experienced you are, it is important to go with the people; listen to them; try to harmonize what their views are and then you will have less work once you are able to carry your people along. So as much as possible, I want to carry my people along and that is why our working document is tagged “The collective vision for a new Benue.” We are not just saying we have the monopoly of knowledge, but we want to work with Benue people; if there are bright ideas, if there are superior ideas and arguments, if there are creative ideas, if there are innovations that the Benue people have to contribute to help add value to the development of the state; we are willing to accommodate this and make sure that at the end, Benue State is better for everyone so that posterity will appreciate the foundation that we are laying and the contribution we are making at this time in the history of our country. More so, that there is a recession – downturn in the economy, makes it imperative for allowing people to make input so that we can get the best out of it. So I deeply appreciate Radio Benue and the people of Benue State especially those who all the time will create time to listen to their Governor and then make input. I have taken this programme as a very serious one because as Governor, it is not easy to see me at all times and have good interaction. One thing I have discovered is that I do not respond to my phone calls the way I used to do and even text messages sometimes it is difficult but those with my number if you continue to send, once in a while I go on my messages and try to interact with the people but it’s extremely difficult. You hardly sleep three hours a day before you take off again doing other things – trying to meet up with the challenges of governance. I really need the prayers of the people and this kind of contribution, it’s actually helping me and I will continue to do it as long as we exist.

Necessity of the amended Chieftaincy Law

I want to say that we came in when the law to make provision for the establishment of the Benue State Council of Chiefs and Traditional Councils in the State and other purposes connected therein was enacted and assented to into law by the former Governor; but there were issues. The law did not capture the collective will of the people. There were a lot of loopholes and some were tailored towards favouring some individuals and we felt that this was not correct. Moreso that laws are meant for everybody. Laws are meant to give protection to everybody in the society including posterity. And we took a look at it and there were a lot of lapses. One, it was hurriedly done and so many things were left out and so we took our time; unfortunately, may his soul rest in peace; our Royal Highness, the Tor Tiv, in the course of this died so there was a vacuum. But we felt that before the next appointment, there should be a reflection of what we saw and what can be done to make it better for everyone to be seen as the law is protecting him or her. And so we started the process, though it has taken sometime. But as our people say literally that when you hurry or you are in a hurry to pluck mushroom, it will scatter, so it is better to take your time and once bitten, twice shy. The other administration were in a hurry and in the course of it there were mistakes, we decided that this time around,  that we will take our time and ensure that we do the right thing and so it took time. First of all, it went through the State Executive Council, then the House of Assembly and they took time because they too decided to work with the people because we need public input and so there were public hearings in all the zones and then we had input from the current traditional rulers in the state; from stakeholders; from those aspiring to the first class, or second class, or third class or whatever and of course the stool of the paramount leader of the Tiv nation. We got input from intellectuals; from all the people and finally, the bill went through the House of Assembly and was passed and last Tuesday, I assented to it and it has become a law and we are expecting that in no distant time, we shall bring out the guidelines that will lead us to first of all appointing after selection, the kindred heads, then the district heads then next the third class chiefs and then to the second class chiefs that are vacant and thereafter, we will appoint first class chiefs round the state. We have ten of them according to the law and they are going to be selected and appointed and thereafter the Tor Tiv will be the last selection and appointment. We are going to work out the guidelines.

The need for prayer and fasting

But like I did on the 30th of May, 2016, where the people of Benue State came together as I was led; we came together and we dedicated the state to God and so when taking major decisions like appointment of chiefs which as leaders we all know that as human beings, we are here; we can do democracy, and nominate people to contest elections and all that; but if God does not permit, we will not be there and get it correct. My case is a typical example. I am someone that God brought to be Governor at this time and we are witnesses to what transpired. If not for God, I wouldn’t be here as Governor. I was not fit to be Governor by the reasoning of certain individuals and groups but because God has the paramount authority, the supreme powers to appoint and select kings and rulers as it is captured in Psalm 62:11; God has spoken to us there that power belongs to Him. And again in the New Testament; John 3:27: “A man can receive nothing, except it is given to him from above.” So if God does not permit, it is impossible for you to be there. So for me completely in alliance with the entire people of Benue State; the church, the traditional institution and everybody; we came on the 30th of May and dedicated the state to God knowing fully well that as we look unto Him, we continue to thrive as God will continue to guide us; He will lead us on the path that is righteous. He will lead us to green pastures; He will lead us beside the still waters; He will provide all that we need and that is what we have been witnessing all these times. Investors are coming, new doors are being opened; we have seen so many things that God is working with us despite the challenge that we have, the funding; people are coming on their own and telling us that please we don’t need you to give us counterpart funding, we want to bring 10 megawatts of electricity; just give us the land and we will have done that. We have gotten a concessioner who is willing to take over Taraku Mills and has already taken over. For this year alone, he told me that he has set aside, and as soon as the soya bean season starts, he has set aside five billion naira just to buy soya beans. That is one aspect, maize is another aspect. So you see, Taraku Mills is a gold mine and these are the opportunities that were hidden, that were blocked but God is opening new ways. The plastics industry will soon start work, the tomato factory in Wannune will soon start work, and several other investors who are willing to work and establish processing factories that can process our agricultural products; they are all coming in, doing due deligence, finding out what is needed and the processes are going on. There is an investor who came; in fact two of them, struggling to establish cargo airport in Benue State. It’s amazing. One from Russia, another one from China and they are ready with the fund; they don’t need money from Benue State. So these are opportunities that only God can give and we are grateful for several other things. And you can see that the level of insecurity has been reduced to its barest minimum. Today in Benue State, we have arrested most of these criminals that were terrorizing people; those who accepted the amnesty, we received them and you can see that things are generally calm and we are not resting, we are continuing on this. And so we are relying on God and we are looking on to God and what we have done; this is a major milestone – amending the law, and the appointment of these chiefs who are very critical stakeholders. In fact, I have always said they are the owners of the land and so we want God to be involved and so Benue State Government has declared today 17th, 18th and 19th, October, 2016 as fasting and prayer days. We will end on Wednesday. It is a three-day programme and all stakeholders, all the chiefs will come together and we shall pray that God should give us the correct king and chiefs that will rule us in line with His programme because we need them but we don’t want to be misguided. This time around, as a sitting Governor, I’m not going to allow money to influence any selection of any chief or king. I am going to insist that the right thing must be done and it’s clear to me that God is honest, God is truthfulness and then if we apply truthfulness and honesty in the selection of these chiefs, it means God is there and so that is our prayer. I am insisting that personally God, in the course of my prayer, told me not to interfere. Ordinarily, as a sitting Governor, I would like to influence who is appointed the Tor Tiv or second class chief or first class chief and all that but it was clear to me in the course of my prayer that we should allow God to select and that God will insist that what we do is true and we are honest. Ukuma: Your Excellency; the process is already there; the appointments will start from the kindred heads that are vacant, then to district and third class chiefs, those that are vacant and then… Ortom: We have made provision this time for two third class chiefs per local government. Ukuma: What the Tiv people will call the ‘Mue Ter’ in each local government. From there it will go to second class chiefs where they are vacant and then to first class chiefs and then lastly, the Tor Tiv. The people of Benue State will be wondering how this programme will be speedily carried out because already the demise of the Tor Tiv has taken some time now.

When and how the new Chiefs will be selected and appointed

Ortom: We are not going to waste time. After our prayers on Wednesday, we will set out the guidelines and as soon as that is ready, we will kickstart the process, it’s not going to be long. We can set up various committees that can help conduct the vacant kindred heads in one day, the local governments can do this; one day, we can set to do that of the vacant district heads, and in one day again, we can do that of the third class chiefs and in one day we can do that of the vacant second class chiefs and in one day again we can do that of first class chiefs; it’s not going to be a difficult thing and then the Tor Tiv will be done. For instance, the selection of the Tor Tiv will require the third class chiefs to have an electoral college for the selection. The third class chiefs are involved and in the case of Tiv, 14 local governments and we have 28 of them and then you have the 14 second class chiefs plus the first class chiefs that will be selected and appointed and so altogether we are going to be having 48 members of the selection committee that will constitute an electoral college that will select the Tor Tiv and that is why we have to start from bottom to top.

Non-interference with the selection and appointment process

One thing which you fundamentally raised here is that you as a sitting Governor of the state will not interfere in the selection process and I wonder who else will want to dabble into this. No one will do that because I will not allow anyone to interfere with the process because we have to do the right thing. You know, one thing I keep telling people is that I’m a politician and in those days, politicians were branded as evil and bad people; that they have no truth in their lives and if they should greet you good morning, check your watch whether it is actually morning; that was the perception of an average Nigerian, even in Benue State here. But the truth is that as a God-fearing leader, I will insist; as I’m leading with the fear of God, I will insist that we do the right thing. God will always insist that we do the right thing. When you do the right thing, everybody is protected – the rich, the middle class, the poor, the high, the middle and the lowly placed; all of them are protected and they appreciate it. Even for us in politics, when you do the right thing, everybody appreciates it. It is only when you begin to cut corners and you begin to find ways of patching it here and there that you create crisis. If people are told the truth just like the Bible says “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free,” that is what we need.

Recipe for success and failure in life

My appeal to the people of Benue State is that let us come back to God and let us walk with God and always do the right thing. That is why I always say this, Job 36:11: “If they obey and serve God, they shall spend their days in prosperity and their years in pleasure.” But verse 12 says: “If they obey not, they shall die by the sword and perish like people without a vision.” If only we will accept this and begin to walk with God, and I have said this to challenge our people that since I knew God and I have started walking with God, there is no single thing I have undertaken in this life that has been a failure. The Governor that I am today is inclusive. There is no way I will fail as a Governor. It doesn’t matter the blackmail and the lies that people say and try to dent me but by the grace of God, I want to assure them as the Bible says: “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning.” By the time I am rounding up, those critics, those people who are telling lies against me, against my government will appreciate that truly, God brought this man. Go back and check my records; my private sector life, my family life, my party life, my public life, my farming life, in what have I failed? It has only been success through. It is only a matter of time and I want to assure the people of Benue State that despite the challenges we have today in economy, in security; all that I need is cooperation. Listen to me, walk with me, give me support, pray for me and you shall see that we shall turn around things. Others will come here and learn what Benue State is doing like it’s already happening. The issue of the amnesty programme which I initiated right from the day of my inauguration is now being replicated in other parts of Nigeria and in other parts of the world. You can imagine when UN and PRESCOM and other NGOs with the German government; came here to destroy the weapons that were collected; you can imagine the number of weapons – over 700 rifles that were being used by our youths to terrorize our people. You can imagine what would have happened if these weapons were out there in the field and it has worked – the carrot approach. Today, we have adopted the stick approach. Go to the police, go and look at the number of arms that have been recovered, look at the people who were manufacturing local weapons and giving to criminals that we have arrested; all their equipment were ceased. Look at what the police are doing today; look at what the army is doing; look at what the Civil Defense is doing in protecting lives and property and you can see that we have been able to reduce this. And you can look at our achievements. Like I said, I just came back from the UN and for me to have been selected as best Governor on Sustainable Development Goals; it’s not a small thing. Out of 36 states, for us to have been selected out of 36 states is not an easy thing. Look at what UBEC national executive secretary said about Benue State and me when he came here that as far as he was concerned, I remain the best governor in performance with UBEC – accessing N3.8 billion and with our counterpart funding making it N7.6 billion.  Go to our local governments, go to the primary schools and look at the work that is going on and so these are issues that we need to come close to God and walk with God and you will see that things will turn around.

Areas that will produce First Class Chiefs and how undue influence will be checked

Ukuma: My co-anchor, Patrick Omora, also wants to ask a question but before that you told us that out of the 23 local governments that we have in Benue State; each will have two third class chiefs. For the first class chiefs, can you tell us more; the people of Benue State will want to hear from you because whichever source remains a rumour. Ortom: We have six in Tiv land; we have four in Idoma land. We have one between Makurdi and Guma, one between Gwer and Gwer-West; we have another one in Jemgbagh area; that is Tarka, Buruku and Gboko; we have another one in Sankera; that is Logo, Ukum and Katsina-Ala; we have another one in Kwande axis where you have Kwande and Ushongo local governments; we have another one in Jechira where you have Vandeikya and Konshisha local governments. We have another one in old Oju, that is the Igede nation; they have a first class chief; you have another one in old Okpokwu; that is, Okpokwu, Ogbadibo and Ado; we have a first class chief there. Then we now have another one between Otukpo and Ohimini; and another first class chief in Apa and Agatu and so altogether they are 10. Omora: From your body language and your tone, you sound so serious and you will not take chances in the selection process but the fear is that you are not omnipresent; you cannot be everywhere, so how are you sure that your lieutenants who are going to handle the process will do your mindset? Ortom: If you don’t do the right thing, it will be canceled. You must do the right thing. At least having been Governor for over a year, the people know me; they know who I am. And I insist that we do the right thing. I am not just going to be working with the committees that we are going to send out; we are working with the traditional rulers and stakeholders and they have no choice than to tow this line because that is the best way to do it. Each of the stools is being contested by several people and the only way to get it right is when you do the right thing. Once you do it, people will be happy and there will be no petitions, there will be no issues of such. We reserve the right; if the committee goes there and does anything that is wrong, we can disband it and ensure that we get the right thing. So we are not going to compromise. One thing is that people should look at me…I would have been saying I will put a chief here, I will put a chief there, I will put Tor Tiv here because I am Governor; but I am saying no, let’s do the right thing. Tomorrow belongs to God; whatever will happen tomorrow is God that will decide, not any human being here that will do it. So let it be noted and anyone because the people we are going to send are civil servants and of course the civil servant is supposed to know that he is supposed to be faithful to the government of the day and so if you do otherwise and you have premature disengagement from the service, it is your business; I will deal with you accordingly; this goes to the civil servants who are going to handle this matter. Omora: Some other people in Benue State, particularly in Tiv land, have been insinuating that your godfather will just make a pronouncement and a new Tor Tiv will be appointed.

Akume political leader, not godfather

Ortom: Who is the godfather? The Almighty God? I have no political godfather. God Almighty is my Godfather and I am executing his bidding. I am here to execute the counsel of God over the land of Benue and that is what I keep saying. All these things that people insinuate are not correct. If you talk about my leader; Senator Akume or Senator Gemade but especially my leader, Senator George Akume; when people insinuate; we don’t relate like that. Akume is a fair minded man who also has the people at heart. This is someone who can spend his last kobo on his enemy, you know. We were at a function when one of our stakeholders stood up and said that he appreciates this man and that even if you are his enemy, and you run into trouble, he can save you and then you can continue talking from there. This is a fair minded man who loves the people and has the people at heart; he loves the people; he is always with the people; he is appreciated based on what he did; he supported me; he stood with me to be Governor and I appreciate him and in governance he does not interfere with my government. If he wants a thing and it’s possible for me to do it, I do it because the Bible says you should not do evil to one who does good to you. If you do that, evil will never depart from your house. My relationship with him is that of a leader. But at this age and as Governor, I have my right. If he recommends something to me which I don’t like, which I have been doing; I will explain to him politely that this we cannot do but the things which are doable, I allow to be done. He is a major stakeholder; a man who worked and retired as permanent secretary, became Governor for eight years, has been Senator for three terms; he is a major stakeholder in Benue politics and in Benue development. So you cannot just brush him aside and say that he is nothing. But that does not mean that I must always do his bidding. Even if I were his biological son, once you come of age, you have the right to do the things that your father may not like. And so, that is our relationship and he has never imposed anything on me. All recommendations coming from him are very genuine which I appreciate. But I am telling you that the issue of selecting and appointing traditional rulers is something that I am under divine instruction not to interfere or allow anybody to interfere. Let us do the right thing. And I repeat, even as Governor I am not interfering, so who will come and interfere in the matter?

Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, on Monday last week interacted with Benue people on a Radio Benue programme, Issues of the Moment. The programme lasted for two hours. In this second part of the serialization of excerpts from the session, Governor Ortom explains why Sole Administrators have been appointed for the 23 councils in the state.


Question: After extensively talking about appointment of traditional rulers in Benue State who are resident in rural areas where 70 percent thereabout of the people live brings to mind the recent appointment of sole administrators to man the 23 local governments. What informed that decision when people of Benue State constantly reminded you that local government elections were long overdue? Answer: You can recall that even on this forum we did discuss the issue of local government elections and you recall that sometime ago, I went round the state and I had the opportunity of interacting with the Benue people through town hall meetings and this issue came up too and the sole administratorship came out as a result of popular view of our people and myself and government and the House of Assembly. Today, as I keep saying, my wage bill is an average of N7.8 billion per month; that is if you include pensions, overheads; pension which is over N550 million at the state level and then about N400 million at the local government level and overheads which is no longer regular because of the paucity of funds but is over N500 million at the state level; at the local government too it should be over N500 million. Because of the paucity of funds, we don’t even talk about this. But the actual figure in Benue State is an average of N7.8 billion. Since August of last year, 2015 to about July of this year; we were receiving an average of four billion naira though in between interventions like NLG’s came in and with the monies we borrowed, we were able to sort out some things but we were receiving an average of four billion naira from the Federation Account and then our IGR at a point went to N500 million but today we are back to about N250 million. Now, it became a problem trying to raise money to fund the local government election. BSIEC alone; what they required from us is close to one billion naira. We have been able to manage and pay salaries. BSU has been paid up to date but there are issues of other allowances which we are yet to settle with them. But their understanding with us is because of our constant meetings with them and explanation and possibly showing of figures that come. At the state level, we have been able to pay but we are owing four months; at the local government level, we are owing up to five months. There are some staff who have issues which I have directed they should be sorted out if need be and we will find ways of evening up and so on. So these are the challenges but I want to say to the people of Benue State that despite the fact that we are owing four months and five months at the local government; other states are worse; even those which are receiving 13% derivation like Bayelsa and Ondo; they can find out – eight, nine months they are owing staff and some states have resorted to payment of half salaries or quarter salaries. But in my discussions with the unions, they preferred that we pay full salaries and we allow the outstanding, but everything we do is transparent. So there wasn’t money to say we will give to BESIEC one billion naira to conduct election. And outside that, you must make provision for security for the election and other things that accompany it. So it’s not just giving BESIEC one billion that is the matter, the state government and the local governments have to put heads together to fund other issues that concern this election. So you should be talking about close to two billion naira if you want to conduct local government elections; that can go a long way in settling the salaries of our people. I want to remind us that during Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s days, when it became necessary, even something that was outside the law, the National Assembly decided to make provision for the doctrine of necessity, you know. I know that the constitution recognizes election and I want to do election. I am a product of democratically elected government and so I should encourage democracy at the local government but where you do not have the money, you cannot do it with bare hands. And then I consulted with the people. I did not just stand up one day and appoint sole administrators like one of our states did here and they have issues with the House of Assembly and all that. So we went round the state, consulted with the people and at the end it was decided that let us put in place sole administratorship because even the last caretaker chairmen we put at the local governments, we were not able to pay them up to date. I’ve been appealing to them, the bailout money we had at the local government level, about N1.4 billion that was left after we did screening and paid to workers. Other workers who came and had genuine complaints, we directed that they should be paid – about N600 and something million and we had intended that the local government officials who were caretaker committee members should be paid out of this bail out money and those local government staff who were omitted payment for October to November, 2011 should be paid and sundry things like that but unfortunately the money was garnished by the industrial court. We are still in court trying to clear this. So we have not even paid these caretaker committee officials; there was no money so we went back to the House of Assembly after discussing in the State Executive Council that the best alternative for us now is that a temporary measure should be that we appoint sole administrators for six months. We cannot allow the local governments in the midst of insecurity and other challenges that we have; we needed experienced people who could hold these local governments instead of leaving it in the hands of civil servants. That was why we approached the House of Assembly and they went through the process. We did not do any illegal thing and at the end of the day the House amended the local government law and made provision for the appointment of sole administrators. We have done this in the best interest of the people and we believe that within six months, if we are able to raise money, first of all we want to clear these arrears of salary of our people; once we are able to clear these salaries and we have some change, we will definitely go ahead and conduct the local government elections so that democracy will be felt at that level. Question: While the issue of paucity of funds has been explained time and time without number, I’m sure Benue people have come to the realization that you are saying the truth. But they have also argued that when the government chose to appoint sole administrators, they should have been experienced civil servants not politicians. Answer: That is the way you think but we are in a political era. There are certain things which the politicians will do which the civil servants cannot. As I have said in the midst of insecurity, in the midst of economic hardship, the people will understand a politician better than working with a civil servant. These people we have appointed understand the terrain very well and they are with the people and the people understand them. They will listen to them better than civil servants and in the case of disseminating information, and having control and if possible sanctioning those who err in the society, the people we have appointed who are politicians will do better than the civil servants. The civil servants will be there to support them, guide them in bureaucracy; but in terms of leadership, it is the political class that can give the leadership that is required to man these local governments. They will do better.