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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ProgrammeOrtom: 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 LawI 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 fastingBut 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 appointedOrtom: 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 processOne 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 lifeMy 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 checkedUkuma: 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 godfatherOrtom: Who is the godfather? The Almighty God? I have no political godfather. God Almighty is my Godfather and I am executing his bidding. I am here to execute the counsel of God over the land of Benue and that is what I keep saying. All these things that people insinuate are not correct. If you talk about my leader; Senator Akume or Senator Gemade but especially my leader, Senator George Akume; when people insinuate; we don’t relate like that. Akume is a fair minded man who also has the people at heart. This is someone who can spend his last kobo on his enemy, you know. We were at a function when one of our stakeholders stood up and said that he appreciates this man and that even if you are his enemy, and you run into trouble, he can save you and then you can continue talking from there. This is a fair minded man who loves the people and has the people at heart; he loves the people; he is always with the people; he is appreciated based on what he did; he supported me; he stood with me to be Governor and I appreciate him and in governance he does not interfere with my government. If he wants a thing and it’s possible for me to do it, I do it because the Bible says you should not do evil to one who does good to you. If you do that, evil will never depart from your house. My relationship with him is that of a leader. But at this age and as Governor, I have my right. If he recommends something to me which I don’t like, which I have been doing; I will explain to him politely that this we cannot do but the things which are doable, I allow to be done. He is a major stakeholder; a man who worked and retired as permanent secretary, became Governor for eight years, has been Senator for three terms; he is a major stakeholder in Benue politics and in Benue development. So you cannot just brush him aside and say that he is nothing. But that does not mean that I must always do his bidding. Even if I were his biological son, once you come of age, you have the right to do the things that your father may not like. And so, that is our relationship and he has never imposed anything on me. All recommendations coming from him are very genuine which I appreciate. But I am telling you that the issue of selecting and appointing traditional rulers is something that I am under divine instruction not to interfere or allow anybody to interfere. Let us do the right thing. And I repeat, even as Governor I am not interfering, so who will come and interfere in the matter?
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, on Monday last week interacted with Benue people on a Radio Benue programme, Issues of the Moment. The programme lasted for two hours. In this second part of the serialization of excerpts from the session, Governor Ortom explains why Sole Administrators have been appointed for the 23 councils in the state.