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Benue News, Interviews

Governor Samuel Ortom in his reaction to the comments of Nigeria’s Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali on the invasion of the state and killings by Fulani herdsmen stated that they were an indication that the minister was part of the conspiracy against Benue State. He spoke with newsman at the Benue Peoples House today. Below are excerpts:

What’s your reaction to comments credited to the Minister of Defence that Benue and Taraba Killings are as a result of Anti-Open Grazing Laws? It’s unfortunate but I want to console myself that that thing is not coming from the Honourable Minister, but if it did, I’ll say that it is very very unfortunate. Then the solution to the security challenges we have in this country is not in sight having those kinds of people in position who are not able to give quality advice and to also proffer solution to the security problems we have here. Take for instance, if you say it is because of the law that killings by herdsmen are going on in Benue, is there any law prohibiting open grazing in Adamawa State? Is there any one in Plateau State? Is there any law in Kaduna, Ondo, Bayelsa, Imo, Ebonyi, Delta or Edo States? In Edo state, cattle have taken over even schools. This is provoking. It is like dancing on the graves of those people who were murdered and slaughtered in this state on the first of January. It’s unfortunate that you have those kinds of people who are saddled with the responsibility of providing security for our contry. I do not want to join issues with him but I will personally see him and try to find out why he had to say that. The other day, a report came from the Department of State Security, DSS, that it was the Islamic State of West Africa, ISWA Terrorist Group Organisation that is taking over and I also heard that the minister was quoted as saying we should accommodate foreigners; foreigners who come here illegally should be accommodated? So if a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is coming out to encourage our citizens to do illegal things, I now begin to see why they have given immunity that is the prerogative of the President and the Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors to herdsmen who kill and to even cattle. So cattle in Nigeria have immunity more than human beings. This is unfortunate and I look forward that he will apologise to us and retract what he said because it is an insult on our collective leadership. It is wrong and let the minister know that we are more intelligent than what he thinks we are. We will continue to do the right thing, we’re not asking for anything outside the laws of this land. The law prohibiting open grazing that we have enacted was legitimate as enshrined in the Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria and as law abiding citizens, we will continue to do this. I want to advise the federal government to face this challenge squarely because it is their responsibility to provide security for lives and property because we as a state don’t own security apparatus of this country, so it is their responsibility. So instead of diverting attention, today they will say that Ortom is arming 6,000 militia and tomorrow they will go and sponsor people to write rubbish about me and all that just to try to divert attention. Why not face the real issue that is confronting us? This is a monster that has the capacity of consuming the entire country and we must arise as leaders and support Mr. President to ensure that we surmount this. Don’t you think some of these comments coming from appointees of Mr. President and agencies of the Federal Government are indications that they are acting his script? Well, I’ll see what Mr. President will do because I’m sure that he must have also heard what the minister said and I expect that he’ll respond to that because it’s wrong. But I don’t want to believe that the Mr. President I know and whom I supported and I’m still supporting is an upright person who is always truthful and he’ll say the right thing and caution his minister because I can’t believe that a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at this time will come and add salt to our injury. We are pained by what this man came out to say yesterday. Are you not scared that these people might be ganging up against you? Whatever it is I say that it does not matter as long as I’m on the side of the truth and doing the wish of my people, I’m satisfied. I don’t care about any gang-up. It doesn’t matter. But I heard it – gang up to do this and that but it doesn’t matter. We understand that apart from the 73 people that were given mass burial, people are still being killed. Can we get an aggregate figure of those killed since the renewed attacks on Benue communities on first January, 2018? I’ve not gotten the complete figure but there is a committee working on that. But even on the burial, I did say that the deaths were more than 73. Even yesterday, there were some killings in Guma including a police man, one police man was wounded and one is still missing. You see these people are joking. If terrorists that are hired by herdsmen under the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore that are known by the Federal Government have gone beyond killing our people who are civilians to killing security personnel, if security men are being killed in this manner, where is our safety? That is what the minister of Defence should be concerned about. They know where these people are so they are making me to believe that the Minister of Defence is also part of the conspiracy against Benue State and is not about grazing. It’s about occupation, taking over the land and that is what Miyetti Allah said and they have accepted that it should be so. This is not correct.
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Interviews

Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, interacted with the people of the state on a Radio Benue live programme for two hours on Wednesday, 1st February, 2017. The first one hour was devoted to the process and content of the recent Agatu, Fulani peace accord. This first of a two part series is a transcription of the discussion on the issue.

Excerpt: Anchor: Good morning, my dear listener. Welcome to another edition of the Radio Benue current affairs phone-in programme, Issues of the Moment. This avails Benue people another ample opportunity to interact with their Governor, His Excellency, Samuel Ortom, for the purpose of seeking clarifications on issues of governance and development as well as cross-fertilizing ideas to promote frontiers for development. This is equally in keeping with the Governor’s promise on assumption of office to be in constant touch with the masses. In this edition, the overriding issues will be the recent peace meeting between Benue and Nasarawa States to address the herdsmen/farmers crisis in Agatu and the economic benefits Benue stands to gain from the recent trade mission to South Africa by a Benue delegation headed by the Governor himself on the invitation by the Aid Trade Foundation. In the course of the programme, a telephone line 07038267479 dedicated for voice calls will be opened for those willing to participate. Meanwhile, the telephone line 08034787173meant for short text messages only has been on since yesterday and listeners are free to send their text messages even now with their full names and location. Already, the State number one citizen is in the studio to lead discussion. Your Excellency, you are welcome on board. Governor: Thank you David and thank you listener. Anchor: The Governor is accompanied to the Studio this morning by some members of the State Executive Council and other stakeholders. In the studio today are the Chairman of the State Economic Team who is also the Commissioner for Education, Science, and Technology, Professor Dennis Anongo Ityavyar, the Acting SSG, Doctor Bem Melladu, the State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Honourable Barrister Michael Gusa is also here and the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Hon. James Anbua. I also see my Commissioner, that of Information and Orientation, Chief Ode Ageh, the Commissioner of Finance and Economic Planning, Hon. David Olofu and the Special Adviser to the Governor on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Titus Zam. The Sole Administrator of Agatu, Hon. Mike Inalegwu is also here, Hon. Akpa Iduh is the Chairman, Peace and Reconciliation Committee of Agatu-Fulani Crisis. Special Adviser to the Governor on Project Monitoring, Alhaji Isah Usman is also here. Also in the studio is the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and ICT, Hon. Tahav Agerzua and of course Mr. Terver Akase, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor. My co-anchor is Patrick Omora and I am David Ukuma, your guide. Your Excellency, on the 18th of last month, you were joined by your Nasarawa State counterpart, Alhaji Tanko Al-Makura in Obagaji on a peace meeting to address herdsmen-farmers crisis in Agatu Local Government. This development continues to attract reactions from people within and outside the State with different people giving different accounts of what took place. Can you tell us what actually transpired? Governor: Thank you very much, David, for providing this forum for me and my team to interact with the people of Benue and give analysis of what transpired between Benue and Nasarawa concerning the conflict between Agatu people and Fulani herdsmen. I want to restate my commitment to the Benue people because of the confidence they have in me. I came here without money. I did not buy them but they voted for me overwhelmingly. I saw people bring money and there was so much violence but yet the people stood firm with me and voted me to overthrow the government that was on seat and I think that these people are still dreaming. It is amazing that close to two years after becoming Governor, they still feel that telling lies, spreading falsehood can turn my victory to their victory. Even when I won overwhelmingly they still took me to the Tribunal, by the grace of God, I won, they took me to Appeal Tribunal, I also defeated them and the final confirmation was at the Supreme Court and it was clear as I declared that day, there is no vanquished, no victor; it’s about Benue State. Let’s come together. If any other person was the Governor, it would have been about developing the State and I would have supported as I have done that in the past. At least when Senator George Akume was Governor, I was in a different party, but I decided that I will work with him and support him to succeed. I joined PDP and the potentials in me elevated me to the position of the State Secretary of the Party even though I came in new and I went on and on and I became the National Auditor of the party, but I actively supported George Akume to the end because it’s about Benue, it’s not about me, it’s not about the party and I keep saying that in politics, there is no permanent friend; there is no permanent enemy, but permanent interest, and in this case, the permanent interest that I have is about the Benue project, how can we develop? How can we turn around the economy of the State? How can we restore security? How can we make things happen for the ordinary man on the street? How can we put food on the table for our people? How can we make our farmers comfortable? How can we add value to our primary products? How can we give employment to our children that are graduating every day from Benue State institutions and other parts of the country? So, this is the interest we have. Then I worked very hard for Suswam and he became Governor and I supported him throughout his eight years. I supported him and he ended up betraying me anyway, but I took it as an act of God and I took my prayers to God and by the grace of God, God made me Governor. They fought against me, they shot at me, they destroyed my offices, my campaign materials were pulled down by thugs who were armed by the then Governor, but I did not take to violence. I went into prayers and reported to law enforcement agencies as a law abiding citizen and I expected that Suswam would have known, he goes to Church, at least he hears what the Bible says that whatever you sow you will reap and if I have sown hard work, if I have sown commitment, loyalty to him, now that I am the Governor, I expect the same thing rather than pushing people to spread falsehood, lie against me in the name of politics. Me, I wasn’t in the party that tells lies, spread falsehood against PDP the way they are doing today but they should remember that one day we may work together because as I say, no permanent enemy or permanent friend but permanent interest so it is possible that they can join me tomorrow in APC and we will work together or I can even go back and join them in PDP, we’ll work together but in the end, the bottom line is about the Benue project. So, how do we develop this State? It’s amazing, it’s surprising that the matter of security which we took a bold step and took Agatu people and the herdsmen along, sat together, allowed them to discuss as brothers and sisters, they have turned into a theatre of politics. Security matters are not treated like that because the life of an individual is valuable to me and I have sworn to protect lives and property and that’s the primary responsibility of any responsible government and that is what I stand for, so I am always running here and there. We met the Nasarawa Security Council with Benue State last year in January and we decided that we must find a peaceful way of resolving this matter because conflict will not bring development. Fighting will not bring the solution. The way forward is about living together. Let’s look at where we can start together and find peace so that people will go back and sleep with their two eyes closed and it was resolved in that meeting that myself and the Governor of Nasarawa State should take a trip to Agatu and bring the herdsmen so that they will talk one-on-one and seek reconciliation, where there was need for apology, let it be done and this is what we did with the Agatu people and at the end, we allowed the two groups to dialogue and it was then that they came out with the conclusion that, yes, now that the Fulani people have come and tendered public apology, they will accept the apology but no land will be ceded to herdsmen.  They also identified the herdsmen or the militia group that came to attack them as not people who have been with them because in the course of discussion we discovered that the herdsmen were not left out, they too had issues, their leader was killed, their cattle were rustled and then the reprisal came from the herdsmen militia. It was clearly told that there is no way now that we are talking about promoting agriculture and ensuring that we all go back to farm that we can concede the land to herdsmen. Herdsmen should look for elsewhere but in the interim, there are people who were born and bred in Agatu land who are of Fulani stock. So, these kinds of people, it was resolved in that meeting that between herdsmen and the Agatu people that these ones can come back since the apology was given and they have accepted the apology, they can come back with their families and continue with their lives but they will not allow the foreign herdsmen to infiltrate the land of Agatu again. Now, we also heard from the herdsmen and the Agatu resolution that they will carve a route that will not infiltrate the Agatu land but will lead to the river and then through to Angbagala in Kogi State but that the indigenous herdsmen, this is what people have said but what do you expect when people, Idoma people of Agatu extraction are in Nasarawa State? I know that Tiv people are in Nasarawa State. I know them, I know that Tiv people are in Taraba State. Tiv people are in Plateau State. They even have appointment there and I know that Tiv people are in Kano State, like Abubakar Tsav, he is from there and I know that people from Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, are in Benue State here; they even have appointments in my government. So, this is the point, this is Nigeria, we are all free citizens and you cannot go and stop anybody from residing anywhere. I don’t have those powers but it’s a way of seeking peace and this matter was a resolution between the herdsmen and the Agatu people and I am happy that the Chairman of the Peace Committee is here and also the Sole Administrator is here. They were there with us with other stakeholders and people went out and decided to politicise this and started insinuating a lot of things that Ortom has conceded land to the herdsmen. There is nothing, and I say, nothing like conceding land to herdsmen was done. Let me tell you, the truth of the matter is that these people who are making noise like the former Minister, Abba Moro, he is not from Agatu, but the truth of the matter is that, go to Okpokwu, there are a number of herdsmen with a large number of cattle in Okpokwu. Some of these people making noise from Guma and Makurdi and all these to discredit this government, go to their local governments, go to their villages and see the number of cattle that are roaming the streets and see the number of herdsmen that are roaming the place and they are living in peace because I made this appeal to our people that yes the position of our government is that ranching remains the global best practice for breeding and rearing cattle so the only way is for establishment of ranches. This will bring an end to all sort of problems that we have been having between herdsmen and farmers but it is something that cannot be achieved overnight. It needs careful planning, it needs financing to provide infrastructure that will help and support these herdsmen. We need to give the herdsmen a new orientation because this is what they have been doing for decades all their life, we need to bring them back, so it will take the support of the federal and state governments. This is what we are working on but it will take some time. It is not an overnight thing. That is what we have done but meanwhile, we have told our people that find a way of living in peace with the herdsmen and that is what we have succeeded in doing. I come from Guma Local Government. My home and entire village where I come from, my ancestral home was completely razed down and destroyed with a large farm of over 200 hectares burnt in one day. More than 50 of my kinsmen were killed in one day but we said look, there must be a way forward, life and death belong to God and vengeance belongs to God. Let us allow this thing and move forward. Today our people are very happy. Farmers have gone back to farm, it wasn’t like that in 2014 when nobody was at home. Today every person in Guma Local Government has gone back to his village or is having plans to go back. So, there is peace. One thing that we have said is that we will ensure the rule of law whether as farmers or herdsmen. Today, I tell you some herdsmen who were caught with arms are in prison. We have done that and we will continue to do this because we have told them that the enforcement of security is for the conventional security agencies of the State but not in the hands of any herdsman or farmer. You don’t take an unlicensed arm and move around and begin to terrorise others. We will not allow that and we have been working very hard, security agencies in the state are working as a team, constantly we are meeting as a security council and decisions are taken to ensure that our people live in peace. But because of what we inherited, the magnitude of insecurity we have inherited in the State with all the amnesty and all that, we are still having challenges, but we are equal to the task and we’ve been fighting and so far, so good. So I want to round up to say that this is coming from our detractors who do not mean well for our government and because we came in and we are very transparent, we are God-fearing, we want to ensure that there is equity, fairness, and justice for everybody who is in the land. As Governor, it is my constitutional responsibility to protect lives and property and this is not restricted to those people who are indigenes of Benue State alone. Whether you are a visitor, whether you cohabit with indigenes of Benue, it is my responsibility to protect you and guarantee your safety and that is what we’ve been doing. So, it is completely false, no land has been ceded to any herdsman. Which herdsman and where? There is nothing like that. This is falsehood to tarnish the image of this administration and of course my government. They have said it loud that by now they will destroy us so that in 2019, they will have their way. But I can assure them there is no way, government house is no longer for those people who are out to loot, who are out to embezzle in their own interest, it is no longer. It has to be someone, even if I am not going in as Governor, I don’t think that these are the kind of people that Benue people will accept as leaders, we are wiser now and our people are willing to resist it. Even if it is not me, it should be somebody who can do better than me and I will stand with that kind of person and we will support him. This falsehood that these people are spreading will not find any place in Benue state because Benue people are wiser and above all, there is no way you can suppress truth, truth will always find its way and come out gloriously and I can assure you that this falsehood very soon will be gone. Some of them will have to go to jail for looting this state and bringing us to where we are. With every support we have gotten from the federal government and the people of Benue state, we are still having some challenges but we are equal to the task and I can assure you that we are on top of the situation and by the grace of God, God prepared me for this job from the Local Government level, serving at the State and at the Federal level. Is it private sector that I don’t know? I have been there, what is it? Is it agriculture that Benue State has comparative advantage? I have been there. I know what it is. So, there are several areas God has prepared me for this job and I am ready and as a God-fearing person, I will continue to do my best. I want to challenge my detractors who are just spreading these falsehoods. If they have any evidence of anything against this government, let them bring it out. Anchor: Alright. I thank you very much, Your Excellency, for providing that elaborate explanation, especially as regards the issue of peace in Agatu Local government Area. Two issues came up – ceding of part of Agatu land to Fulani herdsmen in Nasarawa State and, of course, the issue of indigenous Fulanis. I think those were the two issues that were prominently discussed in the media when you were away in Cape Town, South Africa. Thank you for providing explanation to that effect. In the studio, we have the Chief Security Officer of Agatu Local Government Area himself, the Sole Administrator of the Local Government, Hon. Mike Inalegwu. I think it will be nice for him to give his own side of the story. Hon. Inalegwu: Thank you very much. This is an ample opportunity for me to throw more light on the rumour being spread on the social media. The people of Agatu Local Government, we are peace loving people. All these noise were not emanating from Agatu people; it was coming from those who are sinking; who lost popularity in Idoma land and other areas in Tiv land, in Benue State, who are out to discredit this government. Let me give you an instance. Since we commenced the process and the Governors of Nasarawa State and Benue came to our land, the people at the grassroots have been rejoicing that peace has returned, that this is the first time in the history of Agatu that peace came to Agatu. That four years ago, nobody spent two months at home but since this administration came into being, we have been able to celebrate Christmas this year for the first time since 2012. We lost over three 3, 920 human beings in our land, property worth billions of naira were destroyed. Then people of Agatu unanimously agreed in a meeting that though our wounds are fresh, peace is paramount and we have to embrace peace. Even the party that is spreading this rumour, PDP, the State Chairman of PDP, current State Chairman of PDP, John Ngbede, was in the meeting with us and was in agreement with us. So, no part of Agatu land was ceded, no right thinking person from Agatu will think of that. Instead of political insinuations, we should leave politics apart and see that our women who are roaming the streets in Otukpo, our young girls were being impregnated, people that we ran to their place to take refuge, they will impregnated our wives, such things cannot be allowed. This government is a government of change. We want to be focused, that let my people return from Otukpo and wherever they are, and we agreed that peace must be attained. Now, there is an instance that would expose these bad elements in the society. When they have nothing to offer, they resort to distortion of facts. Abba Moro went on air to say land was ceded, the full meaning of ceding a land is that you have no land there again, you cannot use it, you cannot go into it that is what the English word ceding means. If we cede land and Agatu people are still there, it means they are not properly using the word. They should better go back to school. We have not ceded any part of our land. Secondly, Adamu Entonu, in one of their sittings went and petitioned the State Government, the Local Government to the National Assembly with the signature of Oche of Egba, who died last year, Oche of Aku, Chief Mike Adanu, who died last year, Oche of Ogbaulu, who died three years ago, his signature is there, then Oche of Okpanabi, who died three years ago, his signature was there. Has he gone to the graves to manufacture these signatures? Moreover, these Chiefs were not educated throughout their reign. When I was the Chairman of Agatu Local Government sixteen years ago, these people normally thumbprint. They cannot sign a signature! Let them come out to tell us the part of that communiqué that land was ceded and now as am talking to you, if you go to Ologbaji, all these places, Akpeko, the Fulani people are interacting freely with the people. Even when you say they should not come until the end of February, they are enjoying themselves. The villagers are even sending fish to us that we are happy that the Fulani are not touching them and we are not touching them. Do they want us to be excavated from the surface of the earth after losing 3, 920 persons? The lives of our people are more important to me than this thing about propaganda machinery. They should go and face what they can do. How can a right thinking person go to Guma and erect a billboard of David Mark? Is David Mark a Senator from Guma? These are the people that have no focus. I want to thank the people of Benue State and ask them that they should continue praying for us for peace in Agatu and peace in Benue. Any part of Benue that is not in peace, Ortom administration will not be in peace and that is how we will be having sleepless nights. Why are they crying for us while we are not crying? In Okpokwu Local Government in Ichama, if you go to Eke, Obotu, if you go to Okpoga, everywhere is filled with Fulanis. In the seven Local Governments of the Zone C, you have Fulanis residing there. The Fulani are fighting the people at Agadagba, they are fighting the people of Eke and Edumoga people and this thing happened last week and they have resorted to peace. Why has Abba Morro and others settled in peace in their area and they don’t want Agatu people to have peace? My people must have peace. They should go and rest and leave us alone. Anchor: Thank you very much, Hon. Mike Inalegwu. Am sure that the essence of this programme is to put the right thing in the right perspective. Now, we are talking about propaganda and lies in the media. You were quoted in the media you signed an agreement and you were forced to sign it. Give us the true picture of what transpired. Hon. Inalegwu: I want to tell the general public that I am a matured person and a seasoned administrator with a good record. How can a Governor of the State force me to sign something? As a sole administrator any decision you take there you have to analyse it, calculate it and sensitise it, is this decision in the interest of the people? And when interests conflict, you go for the general interest. In this case, the lives of the people is paramount and now they cannot come with guns, harass anybody from Nasarawa where they came from. So that decision was not borne out of any government directive but my own personal analysis that this thing will bring peace in the area and save the lives of my people, the Governor or any Executive of the State was not privy to it, it was purely my own decision. Governor: Let me say this before you go away from this matter. I am happy that the Sole Administrator has clarified the matter, but I want to add here like he said, I have 23 local governments, I have given them the mandate to ensure security of lives and property and these are human beings and they are subject to errors. In our discussion between me and my colleague from Nasarawa State, we said that whatever agreement between Agatu and Loko Local Government was an effort to find peace, which I personally commend them because the truth of the matter is that this is a sole administrator who is resident in Agatu, who is working to ensure that there is peace but somehow it was an error for him to go and meet with his counterpart in Nasarawa State. That is a different State, he was exceeding the boundary of Benue State. If something happened in Agatu and they held that meeting, it’s a different thing but going to Nasarawa State, I would have known as Governor, I would have given my consent and of course I cannot just give my consent, I will have to contact my counterpart there. So we have discussed this and I told them that whatever agreement they had was null and void. We said it in our meeting and it was out of overzealousness to ensure peace because it is only peace that can bring development, its only peace that can make things happen, that can add value to lives and to whatever we are doing, it is only peace. So I just want to collaborate with him. And to say that nothing like that is existing, whatever agreement is null and void, it is not in place as far as my government and the government of Nasarawa State are concerned, we have overruled whatever agreement that was entered into. Anchor: I thank you very much, Your Excellency. Now, the Chairman, Peace and Reconciliation Committee of Agatu-Fulani crisis is also here. Hon. Akpa Iduh, can you also give us your own side of the story. Hon. Iduh: Thank you very much, Your Excellency and members of this panel. I want to thank God today for giving me this opportunity to say one or two things to Benue people. There is no alternative to peace. I am the Chairman of the Peace and Reconciliation Committee on Agatu-Fulani Crisis. Since we started we have been working towards peace in the land. In fact, the Fulani have apologised to us that they were wrong to have attacked Agatu. Anybody who knows Agatu, Agatu is a land of peace. Agatu people have no weapons; we are mere farmers and fishermen. When this crisis started in 2013, I told the Fulani who are members of my Committee that if they had taken legal steps we would have fished out those who murdered their Ardo and rustled their cattle but because they didn’t do that they saw their mistakes. I want to thank our Governor and the Governor of Nasarawa State. His Excellency, Dr Samuel Ortom is not an Agatu man, but the love he has shown to Agatu people is unprecedented. In fact, the last time I went home and saw the road construction that is going on from Oshigbudu to Obagaji, since the world started, since God created the world, we have not ever tasted that kind of road. If a person of his type has done this for us, what is more than that? And if there is no peace, can that work go on? The Federal Government is also constructing Otukpo-Oweto road. If anybody that goes there knows that, this Governor loves our people. We want development and without peace, there can be no development. Those people who are making noise that we ceded our own land to Fulani, nobody has done that. When we talked of indigenous Fulani, Audu Boderi, who is the Vice Chairman of my Committee, was born in Agatu, he speaks Agatu fluently and many of them are like that. In Obagaji, part of Angwa, Angwa Agatu in Obagaji, people from Kano have been there for over fifty years. Are they not part of us? We inter-marry, so we need to live in peace. When I did my presentation on the 18th of last month in Obagaji, I quoted when Lt. Col. Philip Effiong led Biafra to surrender to General Gowon in Dodan Barracks and when Gowon said no victor, no vanquished, he embarked on three Rs. I appealed to the federal government to borrow a leaf from there because we are in pains, our people are living in made-shift houses. They are living in squalor. We are appealing to government to extend their hand of friendship to us. What is being done to people in North East can be done to us. We have appealed to government and that day we met our Governor and the Governor of Nasarawa State have given us some money to take off and they promised that they will take our matter before the Presidency. If the government is coming to re-build our country, which I believe they will do it in the face of this economic recession, they are finding ways of building Agatu for us. I appeal to our youth that what happened to us it was not our fault. The Fulanis only took advantage of us and dealt with us but God in His mercy will pay us back and those of us who are alive will benefit. Very soon, the Oweto-Loko Bridge will be completed and Agatu will be a beehive of activities, economic activities. Those of us who are alive to see it, we are thankful to God. I never dreamed that I will drive on a tarred road to Obagaji to my village. I remember when I was a student, I had to carry a bag of rice, divide it into two, carry to Ojantele, which is twelve miles from Obagaji. Then I rode a bicycle back because the bridge broke down, just to sell it at five naira to pay my school fees, today I can travel on a good road. I tell people that today Agatu has the best road in the state if not in the country and that is wonderful, and in the absence of peace, we will not get there. So, we want peace. Those of you who are quarrelling with us that why did we have to sell Agatu, I am an Agatu man, my mother is from Agatu, my father is from Agatu. I have a house in Agatu, my life, sixty years of my life, I spent it in Agatu. So, I love Agatu and anybody that loves Agatu should call for peace and I know over 99 percent of people of Agatu are happy with what is going on now. We can sleep well. In fact, the last planting season the lord blessed us. My tenant, I went to Obagaji, he gave me tubers of yam, and they are wonderful. Those who planted rice harvested bags of rice that are even selling for N13, 14, 15 thousand. We used to sell a bag at N2,000, 3,000, 4,000 – what you have laboured for a whole year, but this time around we are enjoying it. If there is no peace, can they farm? With the cost of living now, if our people live in Otukpo, if you are housing like ten people in Otukpo to get water to use a toilet is a problem, a bag of rice is more than N25 thousand, how much of it can you buy to feed them? It’s better that we remain in our home and with Fulani apologizing to us, this is the time to come together, we cannot be enemies forever. If any Agatu man is not a Christian, he is a Moslem. If he is not a Moslem, he is a traditionalist and all these religions want peace. The Bible says, blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God. So, we want peace, please. I am appealing to all and sundry to join hands with Agatu and seek for peace. I understand that the Idoma National Forum will be meeting and we will tell them our mind that Agatu wants peace. If anybody is saying we should not go for peace, then he doesn’t like Agatu. When somebody’s mother dies, you come and say, I feel the pain more than you do, if anybody stays outside and is telling us that he feels the pains of Agatu, the agony, the trauma that we have passed through more than the Agatu people, then he is not being fair to us. I want to thank God for using our Governor, he has always said this thing many times that he comes from Guma and whatever he does for Guma he will do for Agatu and we have seen it. The road is going on, electrification is going on, what else do you want? We want progress; we want peace, thank you. Anchor: I thank you very much, Hon. Akpa Iduh. There is no alternative to peace. That’s what you said. Your Excellency, you raised two fundamental issues while you were talking about this issue of Agatu. We have two overriding issues here. Very soon we will switch from this issue of Agatu to your trip to Cape Town in South Africa. But briefly let me go through this one that whatever agreement that the Sole Administrator of Agatu Local Government entered into with his counterpart from Loko in Nasarawa State is null and void and of no effect, that’s what you’ve just told us. Then you said that Fulani cattle are roaming around across the state and so what efforts is your government doing to ensure that sooner or later, such issues do not arise? Governor: Thank you very much. I am very happy with the outcome of this programme and I hope that the Benue people are listening to us. Like I said, truth will always prevail against falsehood and that is why the Bible says you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. Today, because I am emphasising of being truthful, being honest, being fair, being selfless, being transparent, being accountable, it has become alien to those who have no fear of God and so it is alien to see that Ortom gets money from the Federation account and declares it, that this is what I have gotten. It is alien to a lot of them, they never did it, even when they were confronted, they came out openly and denied and when we say we have documents they kept quiet, and so these are the issues. I am happy with the outcome and we are going to arrange a forum to address this issue with the Agatu people and many be, to a large extent, the other Idoma people will come together and open up so they don’t take on this matter as others are peddling rumours especially on the social media. I always warn people, don’t listen or don’t see something on social media and conclude, otherwise one day they will say you are a dead man and you will  be the one reading it. You will be alive and they will say you are dead and will be arguing with you. Look at the case of Buhari. Can you imagine I read something yesterday somewhere that somebody posted that the African Union met and observed one minute silence. Imagine, with all the pictures we are seeing. So I am warning people; listen to Radio Benue, listen to national media that have credibility, Harvest FM and all these ones not even all radio stations that you will listen to and accept. So, we have to be very careful. We have already sent a bill to the Benue State House of Assembly that global best practice in ending this crisis is by providing ranches. Initially we had issues with even the Federal Government but later they also saw that what we were advocating was the right way to go. We championed the issue of providing ranches in this country and I am happy that it’s given some level of prominence now. The last one I knew was the Federal Government saying okay, let us do the two, grazing and ranching. Grazing where there is land, and I came out powerfully and said, look in Benue State, we don’t have land for grazing. We are farmers and we want to develop agriculture so we don’t have it. But I keep saying that it is something that cannot be done overnight, it needs a process that should be undertaken. Meanwhile we should check this conflict, we now put our security men on the alert, we have gone further to even involve our traditional rulers and civilian JTF and also vigilante group and other stakeholders. Let us collaborate with security agencies so we have established State and Local Government Committees, we are about establishing at the ward level and then the kindred level where all these stakeholders will be involved and what we have simply done is that there should be no trespass whatsoever, by both sides. Where there is, it should be reported to the police instead of taking laws into their own hands, whether herdsmen or farmers, nobody should be above the law. If we observe this, it will work. I give you an example on how we achieved peace in Gunma Local Government. We have done this for the past two years and we have peace and like the chairman, peace committee in Agatu said, today our people are smiling home with thousands and millions of naira every market day because they are able to sell their produce at good price and they are also in peace. We have told people that we want peace despite the pains that were inflicted on us in Guma Local Government. Everywhere, our people were refugees and we were suffering same just like Agatu but I rose up and told my people that look, two wrongs cannot make a right. The fact that we were killed, the fact that our property were destroyed does not mean we should not move forward. As a predominantly Christian state and local government, let us know that vengeance belongs to God. Let us move forward; they listened to me and today we are there. I tell you the truth, these people who are making noise, I find people making noise who are from Makurdi here, who are from Guma because of political difference, they go and make these statements about this peace that we have brokered with Agatu people and if you go to their villages, their own is even worse. Their people are even residing with their herdsmen, they are residing in their villages and they are enjoying this peace. The refugees that were in Makurdi are no longer there and they don’t want Agatu people to enjoy the same thing. The Bible says, why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye without seeing the log of wood in your own eye? You should remove the log of wood in your eyes to be able to see clearly to remove the speck in your brother’s eye. So, these people are the real enemies of Benue, all they want to do is to discredit this government. but I tell you this is how they did, I am sending message, this is how they attempted to stop me but I told them that I was on a divine mission. God was going to bring me. God is going to use me to sanitise the State and nothing will stop me from sanitizing the state and so it is not going to deter me from doing what I know should be done. The final solution to this problem will be ranching but that cannot be done overnight, we need time, we need finances. I am happy that the National Assembly discovered recently that during Goodluck Jonathan’s government, N100 billion was released through the Central Bank for the establishment of ranches all over Nigeria and the former Governor was the Chairman of that Committee of Governors that was meant to collect this money and distribute. From what we read, they said this money was collected and no single ranch in Nigeria was established. I tell you the truth, that N100 billion was enough to have helped stop this problem we have because most of these things will be there. I am just coming from South Africa, I went to Cape Town, what I saw there, the cattle I saw there were in a ranch and the team I went with can testify to this. There is no way you could see any cattle roaming round the street, so it will take time, that is what I think we should do. I appreciate the people of Benue State and I want to advise that two wrongs cannot make a right and that the security agencies and other supporting security networks are there to support us and so any report will be acted upon promptly. I am always in touch with the security agencies, getting security reports and I am always acting immediately. So, nobody should take laws into his own hands. It doesn’t help, you don’t have the capacity, I don’t have the capacity, I will use legitimate means established by the law to ensure that there is peace. Anchor: Thank you, Your Excellency. Attorney-General, we will get back to you very quickly, but from the narrative of the peace chairman in Agatu local government, it has been established that there are some people that were born and brought up in Agatu local government who are Fulanis, now the question here is that, are there measures in place to ensure that those who infiltrated the Agatu and other parts of the State are identified? Because those ones that are indigenous or have been living peacefully with our people; are there structures put in place to ensure that those ones do not come into our State again? Governor: I have already told you that we have established committees made up of the Security Adviser as the Chairman at the state level with all the security chiefs in the State. Then we have also brought in other members of security agencies with the indigenous Fulani people who are born and brought up here that we know. In my Local government we have them, some of them I have given them appointment in my government. So, they are working with us. They have an association, Miyetti Allah and they know those who are indigenous, who are here. If you see them, those who are in Tiv land they speak Tiv very well like the Chairman of Agatu Peace said, the ones in Agatu they speak Agatu, who are born and bred there. Anchor: Your Excellency, are we sure that there are no conspiracies between those that we are calling ‘our people’ and the other ones outside? Governor:  Well, whatever, whether there is conspiracy, we will fish them out. One thing that we are saying is that impunity cannot survive in this government. We will not allow it because we are transparent, we are honest so we want everybody in the state to know, though it’s a difficult thing taking people from dishonesty and bad elements into doing good, but we will do it. That is why I came here, that is why I told you that these people wanted to stop me. God still made it possible for me to be Governor and that is one thing that has given me confidence that am going to succeed in this government. After all, the Bible says that better is the end of a thing than the beginning. When we were campaigning, people said it’s impossible for me to be Governor but what happened? At the end, I became Governor and so whatever they are saying and again with all the challenges, payment of salaries, gratuity, and pension, and all that which I inherited as a result of mismanagement of our resources. If I get N107 billion that Kpojime Commission brought out that these people looted, that alone is enough to clear everything. But outside that I am still working very hard with the Federal Government and whatever support that I can get anywhere to clear some of these things especially the issue of payment of salaries, which I inherited. But I can assure you that we are going to leave the State better than we met it. Anchor: Alright, Your Excellency. Let’s try to move away from that issue of Agatu crisis but then, Mike Inalegwu; you were itching to say something. You can be brief, please. Hon. Inalegwu: The question that you put up that is anything put in place to herald this agreement to function, we have government at the grassroots and a lot of things have happened at that level. We have strategic places in Agatu land that the State Government deployed security men there. We have 35 soldiers to one officer at Abugbe, 35 at Okokolo, 35 at Ologba, 35 at Obomagba, 35 officers to one at Oweto. What we have put in place in synergy with the State Government is that by the time we are going to implement this agreement signed by the two governors, we are the government of change and as a policy statement, implementation will be followed to the letter. We had formulated some structures that when these people are coming, census of indigenous Fulanis is going to be taken and committees have been put in place in the ten council wards of Agatu local government. These committees will identify the areas they have been staying with us before the crisis. We have the prominent leaders of Fulani at Ayila, Obagaji, and other areas of Agatu. These groups will identify and soldiers will be arranged with mobile policemen. Whenever they are coming, the committee will take them to where they were staying before the crisis and vis-à-vis our decision that no foreign one should come. I want to emphatically tell this audience that immediately the communiqué was signed, about 50, 000 heads of cattle were in Udenyi, Abachi, Aku in Nasarawa and other areas, but when they heard that the ones who were not indigenous or settlers should not come, they have all migrated from that area since that day. So, we on our own part in conjunction with the State Government as far as we have here, anything from Monday the Committee will start identifying the abode. We call them the Luga, the Luga of the Fulani are known to Agatu people and Fulani that live in those places are known to us and they know us even our names, we call ourselves. So basically the policy and means of resettling these people to co-exist and integrate with us is put in place. Anchor: I thank you very much, the Attorney-General. I would want you to round off this issue of Agatu Peace accord but quickly we have another Agatu son in the studio, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Projects Monitoring, Alhaji Isah Usman, your take briefly in few sentences. Isah Usman: Thank you very much. My take is very simple and it’s an appeal to the people.  In the past, especially when I was in form three in Keffi, I used to pass through Loko because there was no road. When my mother died, she was pregnant, I have to carry my mother on a bicycle coming to Otukpo, and my mother had to die on the way because there was no road. What these people are doing to us now is that, they are jealous because they enslaved the people for too long. Now they have realised that we are educated and government has come to our aid. It took me eight minutes to drive from Oshigbudu to Obagaji today. It took me one hour, ten minutes today from Otukpo to Asha. On Friday I was there, so please, I am appealing to my people to forget about the detractors, they are our enemies because they don’t want our progress and they should leave us alone. What we used to do to my knowledge is that what this government is doing today, if the previous government had done up to little of that, we wouldn’t be where we are today. But they succeeded in buying arms for our boys to go and kill themselves while their children are somewhere in other places going to school. They should leave us alone. Anchor: Alright. The State Attorney-General, briefly. Attorney-General: Thank you very much. I think the only thing I can say is that our people should learn to appreciate hard work. Since we came in, the Governor, Samuel Ortom, has been very passionate about this issue of security in the state and you will agree with me that he was the first person to speak out against the issues all in favour of ranching. He said that is the only thing we can do because you cannot stop people from rearing cattle and so the only way to go because Benue State, predominantly, we are farmers and the only way we can go is to ranch your cattle. I want to say that when you talk about ceding of land, it makes no meaning as far as the issue of Agatu and the Fulani is concerned. The history of the crisis in Agatu is not that of land dispute. So, where is the issue of ceding of land when there is no land dispute? We have not disputed land, the Agatu people in Benue State are not disputing land with Loko in Nasarawa State, so, the issue of ceding of land does not even arise at all. You had the issue of ceding of land in Bakassi when there was land dispute so are we disputing land here? We are not disputing land so we cannot have the issue of ceding land to the Fulanis. They came, they settled with the Agatu people as you can hear the testimony of people from Agatu.  They have been living together for a very long time, crisis erupted because these are herders and these are farmers and then you are now saying that Benue State has ceded land to the Fulanis; Fulani of which State? So, that is the question. So, let us learn to appreciate hard work. The Governor has gone an extra mile to ensure that he brings peace to Benue State. Let us appreciate him so that we can encourage him.
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Interviews

On Tuesday, 29th November, 2016, Governor Samuel Ortom granted audience to a team of the management staff of National Mirror newspapers. Below are excerpts from the interactive session.

How have you been able to bridge the gap between promises made and the reality now?

We’re keeping faith with our promises to the people in our government and so far, so good, we’re in touch with the people and in spite of the recession we have today in our country and Benue State is also affected. We’re not able to pay salaries as at when due. Our wage bill is N7.8 billion on average in a month and since August last year we’ve been receiving an average of N4 billion, though once in a while we have interventions like the bailout funds, like the infrastructure fund, like LNG fund that came in. But that is where we are. You may recall that we did promise that for us we’ll ensure that we industrialize the state to ensure value addition to our primary products, and then we’ll promote micro, small and medium scale enterprises we’ll also promote and develop trading and commercial activities within the state. Most importantly, we’ll attract investments into Benue State and so far, so well. We came and met a very distressed situation on ground, one, the economy was bad, arrears of salaries were owed, arrears of pensions were owed, and arrears of gratuities were pending. When you put these things together it amounted to over N69 billion. It’s unprecedented in the history of our state and we inherited a deficit treasury, even our accounts overdrafts were hanging on them and so it was a very difficult thing taking off. Worse of all was the issue of security. Security for lives and property is the primary responsibility of every reasonable government. We took over a government and inherited an insecure state and armed robbery, kidnappings and killings, assassinations and several other crimes were going on in the state. But by the grace of God, God gave us the wisdom to introduce an amnesty program. First of all we applied the carrot approach when we pleaded with the criminals and the response was massive. More than 700 assorted weapons were recovered from these hoodlums and more than 900 of them came up to surrender to the amnesty program.  Today we’re applying the stick approach; the amnesty program is in two folds, the carrot and stick approaches. So after the expiration of the period we gave for the carrot approach we introduced the stick approach and today you can see that our state is relatively calm. We’ve been able to reduce criminality to its barest minimum and people are going about their normal duties because we knew that no investor would come to invest in Benue State in an insecure environment. We knew that no commercial or trading activities or the development of micro, small and medium scale enterprises or industrializing the state to realize our dream for an industrialized state would thrive in a state of insecurity. We appreciate God that we’ve been able to come this far and we believe that moving forward becomes very easy and there is an influx of investors coming into the state. As at today several investors have come from Europe, from America, from Asia, and we are providing the enabling environment because we believe that with these kinds of efforts we’ll turn the state from a civil service economy to an industrialized economy that will drive the system. Currently the state is more of civil servants who are driving the economy and when salaries are not paid it becomes a very big issue in this place. So we want to take people away from that. Now that the Federal Government is faced with reality and a recession has been declared in the entire country for us we believe that it’s an opportunity to look outside the box of government and begin to be creative and innovative. For now, we’re taking advantage of areas where we have comparative advantage. For us in Benue State, as the Food Basket of the Nation, we want to not just feed Nigeria; we want to feed Africa because we have the capacity. We have no business importing rice. If the opportunities that we have here in Benue State are harnessed properly rice production alone we can hit N1.5 metric tons right here because the population is there, the land is there, and we have water. All the advantages are there for us, it’s just the will and the technical support that the people need. Of course, once the market is also created and farmers are able to break even as it’s happening now and our people are really excited, I’ll tell you the truth, an average farmer here is excited with the change program of the APC. They’re very excited, they’re happy with Mr. President, they’re happy with me because for the first time in the history of this state people are getting returns on their investment in farming. I’m a typical farmer and for a very long time it was difficult for me to sell a sack of rice for N8 thousand, they gave me six to seven thousand at harvest. Today, I’ll tell you, the benefit is great. Last year’s harvest, I was able to sell mine at N15 thousand but the other people who had little patience after I sold mine the following week it went to N32 thousand and I calculated 1, 500 bags and I was losing N25 million. We have the capacity for the production of soyabeans, it’s massive and sesame seed, and several others, of course yam which is the traditional product of Benue State. It’s massive, all that is needed it to put processing factories that can add value to these primary products. Because we’ve secured the state today investors are coming and we’re very excited. Because of the challenge we have in the payment of salaries we initiated this year again that even the civil servants should go to farm and today our civil servants almost all of them are farmers. We declared Fridays work free day in July and August for planting and for harvesting November, December, January, we’ve also declared Friday work free day for civil servants, except those on essential services. If you go to our villages todayyou’ll see that people have really taken the advice of government and they’re working very hard on their farms and we expect a bountiful harvest this year. If people need food they should just come to Benue State. Do you have any program to scale up the production in the agriculture sector and also provide storage facilities? Yes, there is. All those things are on the line, we’re being proactive. For this year’s budget we had over N800 million for the construction of earth dams in order to give opportunity to our people to do dry season farming. We also had about N900 million for land clearing because if we must go into commercial agriculture, we must clear the land. We also made provision for the purchase of 60 tractors with all the implements on them and we’ve made a wonderful arrangement for the procurement and supply of fertilizers, working with the businessmen and supplying it directly to our farmers. We pay subsidy to the businessmen but the business supply directly to the farmers. With all these in place and of course the issue of storage and off taking in the event that prices fall, because we want to maintain and sustain the tempo, we want to engage our people, we decided to work towards getting the Benue Investment and Property Company, BIPC, which is an agency of government that handles investment activities to establish marketing boards which will be off takers of all products that are not bought immediately at good prices so that our farmers will continue to be encouraged to do more. In the area of education we’ve been able to keep to our promise. We did promise that for us show us your level of education and we’ll show you the level of your development and so education is a priority of this administration. We want to make our tertiary institutions strong; at the secondary level we want to make it stronger and to make it strongest at the primary level because that is the foundation. When we came teachers were on strike we had to talk to them to come back. Apart from that we have secured the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, funding after paying the counterpart funding, put together its N7.6 billion. We’re doing massive renovation and construction of new classroom blocks and we’re massively providing learning aids to our primary schools. We have also embarked on training of teachers. This year alone we were able to train 10, 000 primary school teachers and 6,000 others at the secondary school level and it’s a periodic thing that we’ll continue to do because we believe that building their capacities will make them more effective in handling our children to acquire knowledge. At the secondary school level too we’re making the environment more conducive by renovating most of our secondary schools and also planning to give back to some of the original owners of the schools, the missionaries and private people because government does not have the capacity to continue so let the private people do it. We set up a committee, they’ve completed their work and we’re working on the white paper. All these things we believe will strengthen the system. At the tertiary level especially the Benue State University because of the priority attention that we have given to education because we believe that even if you’re not able to bequeath anything to your children as parents you’ve given them everything. The Benue State University in particular, the other institutions too we’re supporting them to continue to operate but Benue State University it is connected to almost all the families in Benue State and we’re not joking with it. Despite the fact that we’re not able to pay salaries as at when due, Benue State University we’ve been able to pay them up to date as I talk to you. There are challenges about some allowances but it’s understood. This is where we are and since coming on board Benue State University used to have some challenges especially with the College of Health Sciences. For 12 years medical doctors were not graduated from that school until we came on board. We were able to fulfill all the conditions for the accreditation and the team came and did the accreditation and as I talk to you we have graduated up to four batches of medical doctors from the Benue State University. We also met the Schools of Nursing and Midwifery which accreditation was withdrawn for over four years. We went into it, injected money and we were able to fulfill the conditions and we have been reaccredited and so today we’ve advertised for admission of students. For four years admissions were not done in those schools so we’ve been able to do this. Likewise the College of Health Technology Agasha we believe that early next year we shall have accreditation and our children will return there. We’ve been able to support the NKST School of Nursing and Midwifery, their accreditation was withdrawn too, it has been restored. These are efforts that we’ve made in the health sector. For health services we’re working closely with development partners and they’re really supporting us. Of recent we were able to pay our counterpart funding of N1.2 billion to the Sustainable Development Goals and they matched it with another N1.2 and we have massively provided some health facilities at the rural level to be handed over to the Primary Health Care Board which has taken off and it remains the process of the integration of local government staff transferred to the board that we’re working on. We’ve been able to secure $1.5 million grant from the Federal Ministry of Health and the process of utilizing it is on. Our intention is to provide primary health facilities for our rural people so that they benefit. Apart from the health services the Sustainable Development Goals are providing water, skills acquisition centers, and orange packaging, garri and rice processing plants. On our own the Ministry of Works and Bureau for Rural Development are massively providing roads for our people in various villages. Because of paucity of funds we’re not able to say we’ll tar all of them but at least construction of bridges and culverts and then opening and lateriting of these roads and making them accessible to our peasant farmers and all that is being done and it’s been welcome by the people. We’re also providing electricity and reaching out to them and the communities are really excited about these things that we’ve undertaken in this regard. I tell you the truth that it has been difficult getting funding because like I said we have a wage bill of N7.8 billion and we’re getting an average of N4 billion and our internally generated revenue is around N250 million it becomes a very big challenge solving all these problems. What about your promise of accountability, transparency and recovery of looted funds? I’ve kept faith with those promises. When I came in the transition committee did their work and I was not satisfied and they also recommended that we should set up a commission of inquiry which we did. It was headed by a sound judge of the Benue State judiciary. It gave opportunity to all that had issues because we didn’t want to witch hunt anyone but wanted the facts to be unveiled. That was done and the commission recommended that due to time factor they were not able to conclude investigation on some alleged N44 billion diversion so we should probe it further. But they recommended that N107 billion should be refunded by the former governor and his team, about 52 of them. So far, we’ve been able to recover about N355 million for a contractor who collected money and disappeared so he brought it back into the treasury while the other ones are dragging. I think about 29 of them out of the 52 took us to court and they have been losing almost all the cases. I think to the best of my knowledge only one won on technical grounds but we’ve gone on appeal that it’s not right, they must refund it. We’ve also petitioned to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, and even the police. We decided to get the police involved to do some independent prosecution and that is on-going. Many people have been arrested and a lot of things have been unveiled even beyond what was in the contents of the commission’s report. There’s no going back, we must recover all these have looted funds. I tell you we’re committed to our promises. we are constantly reminded of what we told our people. We said we were going to lead with the fear of God and we’ll ensure honesty, justice, fairness, accountability, selflessness, integrity into government, discipline, and we’ll be selfless in the course of our service. So we have kept faith with these. Everything we do is transparent. Today even our inability to pay salaries as at when due workers are not on strike because they appreciate the fact that we’re transparent. Every fund that comes from the federation account and the IGR is put on the table and they’ve been deliberately included in the sharing committee. They are so everybody sees it and that has brought a lot of peace and harmony and understanding with the labor unions. So I can assure you that we’re keeping faith with these. Honestly I must say that despite the challenges the people too appreciate that I’m open to them. The state government was said to have secured a N10 billion infrastructure facility, we want to find out… That is what I said, you’ll recall that I did say we receive an average of N4 billion from the federation account but we had interventions like the infrastructure loan which we received from the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, through the federal government, the bailout funds, N28 billion which we used in settling four months arrears. At the state level we had N12.5 billion and because of the screening method we adopted, we were able to save up to N1.6 billion and we injected it back into the treasury. At the local government level because of the screening method we adopted we were able to save up to N1.3 billion and it’s currently in the account though it has been garnished by some Taraku Mills staff but we have made an appeal and we believe that when this money comes out we’ll pay back to workers. So the N10 billion was allocated for infrastructure and we had already given it out to the various critical infrastructure that were needed in the state. We’ve been able to call back all the contractors who were on site but because of lack of funding they abandoned all these projects and so we recalled them. Right now in the three senatorial districts of the state massive work is going on. Some of them are near completion and they will soon be commissioned. Some of them are ongoing. We were able to channel some of the monies for rural development as I told you; specifically it went for infrastructure in the state, so that is it. You were in China, we want to find out about the visit, what has it brought? We were in China, we held a business forum and then signed Memorandum of Understanding, MOUs, with many companies and organizations. Some have visited us twice and some are doing their due diligence and some have indicated interest in one or two areas. As you are aware the Chinese government made available over N64 billion to develop Africa and the opportunities are there but it’s not something that can just happen overnight. Due diligence is going on as I speak to you and I believe that at the end we should have something to put on the table. What’s your relationship with local governments here and the idea of abolishing the joint account structure? I don’t think we operate joint account in Benue State. The local government is completely independent from the state in terms of funding. The federation account specifies what goes to the local governments and what comes to the state. What I’ve done as Governor since I came in was to abolish the project account that was operated between local governments and the state. I decided that that one should go. Local governments should know what is good for them and they should fund themselves and all monies accruing to the local governments should go to them so they sit and decide what to do with their money. I don’t interfere with them but as Governor I once in a while advise them. If things are going wrong I have the duty to advise them and to ensure that prudence is ensured. How have you been able to tackle the incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen in your state? This is as a result of commitment and sincerity. This peace you are witnessing todayhas come because of commitment and sacrifices from the state security council and the people of the state who stood by me to ensure that we resolve this matter. Our position is very clear that the way out of this quagmire of herdsmen and farmers is to ranch the cattle. Global best practice is that cattle are ranched. There’s nowhere in the world including parts of Africa that you continue grazing the cattle which stop vehicles right on Ahmadu Bello way in Abuja in the city. You have cattle going to the airport and trying to cause problems to flights. You have cattle going into peoples’ farms, this is not allowed elsewhere. You ranch your cattle. That is the position of the Benue state government and the people. We have no land for grazing and our land is for farming. In some other states where they have idle lands they can allow this but for Benue state the best option is ranching. But you see I’ve always said that this is something that requires understanding. The nomads all their life for decades, they have lived that wild life of grazing and all that, not appreciating the fact that the population is growing and the land is decreasing and so these are illiterates that require education, require to be informed of the happenings globally. I’m not sure the man in the jungle knows what is happening around the world, how the towns are expanding, more of people, more schools, more hospitals, more clinics, more roads, more of these things. So there is decreasing land for grazing now that we have a recession and the need to diversify the economy especially the focus on agriculture there’s almost no more land again except you encroach. Anywhere you take your cattle you encroach on somebody’s farm. So I believe that the state and federal government will have to think together, work out a modality to support and assist herdsmen to ranch their cattle. If you leave it on their own they will not have the capacity because ranching will require infrastructure, will require new methods of raising these cattle and so you must give them some kind of induction, you must stimulate them by supporting them, providing certain incentives that will attract them to it. I know they will be better off for it because they will stay in decent houses, they will drink better water, they will eat better food, their children will go to school and the cattle will benefit. In my farm in Makurdi here when you go there I’m ranching my cattle. I’ve domesticated grass cutters, I’ve domesticated rabbits, I’ve domesticated pigs so these are things that can be done. It’s just to summon the will and look forward that we’ll get to it. Benue is known for a very vibrant culture in Nigeria, is there any strategic plan to promote tourism in the state generally? We have done that. We have a development plan spanning 10 years, the first of its kind that we are doing for the state, and culture and tourism is a major component. If you ask me three areas where we have comparative advantage I’ll tell you agriculture, number one, then solid minerals is there then the third one will be culture and tourism. There are other areas too. So we’re working out a strategy just that funding has been a problem, security used to be a problem too but today with the stability we believe that investors will come. From 250 million IGR in your state, you moved it to N500. How did you do it? Well I set up the board of the Benue State Internal Revenue Service. At the initial stage they were able to do that, more strength, more vigor, more commitment and more zeal. But as we went on the challenge was that people started resisting. You know people, our people don’t like to pay tax, no we will not pay, no we will not pay and so they started resisting and you know as a listening government and a democratically elected one you begin to retract. You have a limit to how far you can go with the people especially when they are trying to cast aspersions about you and the government you try to mellow down.
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Interviews
Let me say this, all over the world economies are being driven by the private sector. Government provides the enabling environment, provides policy, provides regulation and monitors to ensure that these are effective, and also provides security for the investors.
Even before my election what I sold to the people of Benue was that I knew that the economy was going to be down and all that we needed to do was to work closely and ensure that we provide the enabling environment for the private sector to come into Benue State, that’s what we’re doing. We’ve been doing it in almost all sectors, in health, in education, in infrastructure, in transport, and all that. All that we’ve been fighting all this while is to ensure that we bring in private sector investment. That is what we’ve done in respect of the cargo airport. The cargo airport in the transport sector is one private sector driven project that is coming to Benue State. A consortium that is handling this cargo airport provided us the opportunity, they’re going to arrange their money. But let me say that the cargo airport is completely a private sector driven project. It has nothing to do with expenditure from the Benue State government, Benue State government is not paying one naira to the consortium. The consortium, because we’re providing the enabling environment, is giving us 15 percent equity share in the project. Yet, they’re making their own arrangement to provide this money and they’ve provided the money already and waiting for the Chinese Exim Bank to provide the balance. They’ve already provided N5.7 billion, the Chinese are going to provide the balance of slightly over N32 billion and that will make N32 billion. But government is not going to pay anything to any bank as at this time. Government will only pay from our equity that we’ll get when the project is completed and its making profit. This is where we are on this project. It is important for us to make this clarification that we’re aware that we cannot pay salaries as at when due, we’re concerned with the plight of the people but we cannot run away from this responsibility that this private sector people are bringing to us. We know that massive job opportunities will be created, there’ll be wealth creation, there’ll be opportunities that’ll be created through this cargo airport. We may call it cargo airport but it’s not just cargo airport that we’re going to have when this project is completed. In the Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, we’ve signed, massive training institutes will be established, there’ll be dualization of roads, there’ll be massive housing projects around the airport, and several other things. And it will be given to commercial airlines that can do conventional air services outside the cargo activities that will be going on. This is a very good initiative and I don’t think that anyone at this time of our recession will resist this kind of project from coming to his own state. I beg to say that its either these people that are criticizing this project are ignorant, they’ve not sought our opinion or tried to ask us to clarify on this matter, that is why they’re taking it the other way or they’re doing it out of mischief. But I think that its out of mischief. They’re jealous because this government out of nothing, because we trust in God and God is opening up opportunities and opportunities are coming and they’re not happy with us. But I want to assure the people of Benue State and Nigerians that we’re not insensitive to the plight of our people, we’re always there on ground with them and we’re working with them and so this is where we are on the cargo airport. Emmanuel Gwaza, Radio Nigeria Harvest FM: I spoke with Abubakar Tsav and he said the Makurdi Cargo Airport is a white elephant project and conduit pipe for your government to siphon funds. Ortom:  Abubakar Tsav is one of the persons that supported the stealing of N107 billion which we are asking them to bring back and he is not happy.  He has never supported this government and has never said anything about the N107 billion that we are asking those people who stole to bring back.  He was part of the past administration.  He worked against us and we defeated him.  He is not known here for positive things.  Abubakar Tsav is not an indigene of Benue State.  He has been denounced by his people in Vandeikya local government, it’s in writing.He was given a chieftaincy in error and the chieftaincy was withdrawn.  Throughout his service, he did not contribute anything to this state.  Before I became Governor, I provided industries, companies that are generating jobs and wealth up to today. Abubakar Tsav wrote petitions against me as I talk to you.  He has written more than 20 petitions against me but all of them are false.  There is no iota of truth in them.  He is out to discredit this government but he has no grounds whatsoever. Let him go to Kano where he belong to and talk about Kano local government, let him leave us in Benue State alone. Aloysius Umalo, Voice of Nigeria: The ground breaking ceremony took place and those who want to keep faith with the project would want to know how soon equipment would be mobilized to site for the commencement of construction… Ortom: Like you said it was ground breaking, it was not foundation laying and so there are technical issues that needed to be completed, survey of the land, compensation to the communities, those who will need to move will have to move, and several other things, these are the things that are going on. But the 15% equity share that the consortium has arranged is already in the bank as soon as these processes are completed we shall go back there and do flag off, that will be foundation laying and it will take off, there’s no cause for alarm. Raphael Akume, Core TV: There are complaints that the CDC Consortium cannot be traced on the internet, that there are no records of jobs that they have done anywhere, how well do you know these companies? Ortom: You have to start from somewhere. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one. There are several known companies in this country but they have not done anything for us. Some we have even tried them and they have failed. This ones they came and so far they have not failed, they have delivered. They told us that they would provide the equity funding of the state government and we will not pay anything and they were able to secure the money is in the bank, so why should I doubt them? I’m not a pessimist, I’m optimistic that by the grace of God, the project will be completed. It doesn’t matter to me whether they’ve just starting once they have the capacity to deliver, that’s all, but we’re monitoring them closely. Benue State has nothing to lose, it’s their own investment and it’s their own money, it’s not our money, we’re investing no one naira into the project. What we stand to benefit are the dividends that will come to us. Again, the concession will be for 25 years, after that we can renegotiate. Tamenor Kwaghzer, News Echo: What do you make of the Sultan of Sokoto’s comments on the airport and before then his opposition to your stand on ranching? Ortom: I’m not sure that it’s true that the Sultan criticized the cargo airport, if he did, he did it out of ignorance because he may not have been fully briefed about the project like I’ve told you now, if he made any comment at all, but I’m not sure he would just speak because I speak with him and he would have spoken to me to make clarification. As to whether Sultan opposes ranching he can oppose that in Sokoto, not in Benue State as far as I’m concerned. These are two different states, we must appreciate that. I sent a delegation to him and he has offered to come here and support our position so I’m not sure that he spoke against ranching as you’re quoting him.
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Interviews

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?
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Interviews
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.

WHY WE APPOINTED SOLE ADMINISTRATORS

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.
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