Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, cut short his leave abroad to return on Thursday this week and face the worsening security situation in the state. Speaking with newsman at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, he appealed to Nigerians to rise and stop the ongoing killings nationwide. Excerpts:
Question: You have cut short your vacation, what informed that decision?
Governor Ortom: There is no way my state would be on fire with the magnitude of what we are seeing today and I’ll still be on vacation. I cannot be on vacation when the entire state is on fire to this magnitude. I never expected what is happening to have taken place. I know my Deputy, the Acting Governor is doing his best. I’ve been in touch with him on daily basis but at this particular time he needs me and other stakeholders of the state to come together, and of course the Presidency, to stop this pogrom that is going on. This is unwarranted. There is no basis for this whatsoever. The fact that we have chosen to be law abiding should not be seen as weakness on our side but we’ve chosen that we’ll support government and ensure that at all times we follow due process, we respect the laws of the land and that is why we’ve not taken laws into our hands. I’ll continue to appeal to our people to be law abiding but this thing has to stop. Like I keep saying after Benue it’ll be another state. So it’s not just about Benue. You can see the killings going on all over the place. But the climax of this is the killing of clergymen worshiping in the house of God. That is what has led me not to even think about sleeping but to come back. I believe that the Presidency would definitely act on this. We appreciate Mr. President for coming out to condemn this act and I believe he will also direct that these people must be arrested because they are known. The security operatives know where they are and there is every need for us to support the security agencies because I’ve also appreciated the fact that they’re really overwhelmed with the situation. The communities must come together and do everything that is law abiding to defend themselves. I’ve always said that self-preservation is the first law of nature. There’s no point running away. I’m aware that people who ran away to IDP camps were also killed so why are you running? Those who did not run were killed, those who ran were killed. So it is better, if you make some attempts and support the security agencies, you may have some way of helping so there is no point running away. The Federal Government is aware of this, the state Government is aware of this, and the security agencies are aware of this but they are completely overwhelmed. Nigerians, Benue State people must rise up so that together we can work with security agencies and see where we can come in whether by way of logistics, by way of physical support to the security agencies to ensure that they overcome this. It’ll be better for all of us. There is no point running away. Every Benue State man and woman must be prepared because Benue State is under siege and we have no other place to go. We can’t go to any other state and take over the land of another state. It’s a land we have and we must stand to defend it but we must be law abiding in all that we’re going to do. I believe that based on the statement from the Presidency action would be followed and these killings would stop. I want to condole Benue people especially the Catholic Church. This is unwarranted, people who have made sacrifice of their lives to preach peace and bring love for mankind to pass through this kind of thing I think it’s unwarranted and this will not be accepted.
Question: The National Assembly summoned the President to appear before it and explain the killings in Benue and other parts of the country. What’s your reaction?
Governor Ortom: I’ve reacted on the operations of the security agencies before and I’ve just said it now. The Federal Government and the National Assembly also have a role to play. They’re doing their role, let’s see how it ends. All that I’m calling for is that let’s all team together. Let’s all work together. There’s no point in a blame game but the focus should be how we can overcome this and whatever can be done whether by the National Assembly or the Presidency should be done to stop this killings, that’s what I’m saying. This has to stop. It is not right and nobody will accept this. This has been going on since 2011 in Benue State so it is time now to effect a change. That is what our government represents. The All Progressives Congress, APC government represents change. We must change the way of doing things in this country by ensuring that we stop the killings. Life is precious and when it goes to the point of killing Reverend Fathers in the church who were not armed then that is where it is more daring on all of us so every leader in this country should bury his head in shame on this matter because it’s something that we must collectively work together to surmount at this particular time.
Question: Some people blame you for doing an amnesty programme and disarming Benue people thereby making them vunerable for the ongoing killings. What’s your reaction?
Governor Ortom: I can never support lawlessness, I can never support it. I still stand by the amnesty programme I did. I did the amnesty programme to disarm youths who were using their weapons to terrorize the people. They acquired these weapons illegally. I did not do amnesty to collect arms from various communities. I never did. If I did to one community let them come out and say it. But I collected arms from criminals and destroyed them in the presence of the Presidential Committee of Small Arms Proliferation, PRESCOM, and the United Nation’s observers. This is the right thing to do, you cannot continue to be lawless in a society. Two wrongs can never make a right. The people that I collected arms from were all criminals. It was not community weapons that I collected and so if people come out to blame me for collecting weapons, I don’t understand what they mean. As far as I’m concerned I did the right thing and given another opportunity I’ll do the same thing. Even today the criminals don’t go to fight the insurgents. They stay around and rob market women, rob our fathers and mothers and children and business men. These are the kind of people I collected weapons from and I challenge anyone who has a contrary view to bring it up on this matter. I want to also say that for those who are blaming me also for enacting a law, I did not just enact it. A Governor cannot enact a law alone. It’s a whole process generated from the people to me in the executive. The bill went to the State Assembly, there was public hearing and as I talk to you the bill that I signed into law is a very popular law in Benue State. Even the small children, the old men and women who are displaced and all the people are still in support that there is no going back on this. And if those insurgents, if those who are perpetuating this, if those powers that be somewhere and are sponsoring these insurgency against Benue State and are thinking that one day we will have a rethink to rescind the law, they are wasting their time. This law is a popular law generated from the people and the people are standing with me and I have their firm commitment that I should stand with it. There’s no going back on the law. It’s not accepted that they think that they will use this as opportunity to do ethnic cleansing and bring Jihad and so on it will not be accepted. I want to continue to say that security agencies should arrest the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore who threatened and are perpetuating these acts. They brought these foreigners whether they are from Libya, they are ISIS or ISWA or where ever they are, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore led by Bodejo and Hassan Saleh brought them into this country. I’ve reported them to security agencies. Until they stop these killings, we’ll continue to cry out. Whatever it will cost us we are ready to pay the supreme price for this cause that we’re fighting that is right, it’s just and the only way that can restore peace in this country.