TEXT OF AN ADDRESS AT A PRESS CONFERENCE BY SEN. GEORGE AKUME, fnim, HONOURABLE MINISTER OF SPECIAL DUTIES AND INTER-GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS WITH THE ELDERS/STAKEHOLDERS OF THE ALL PROGRESSIVES CONGRESS (APC), BENUE STATE ON MONDAY, 30TH AUGUST , 2021 IN ABUJA.
We the stakeholders of the Benue State Chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) are alarmed at the lonesome bitter and sustained campaign of calumny launched by the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom on the person and office of our President, Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR.
2.This unwarranted and ill-motivated attack has been going on for over one year now, and it seems President Buhari’s silence and incredible display of magnanimity to the Governor and the people of Benue State has not been enough to pacify the Governor. We recognise Dr. Ortom’s right as a free citizen of our country to air his views and promote them wherever he wants; but we also expect him as an elected Governor to be conscious that his public statements are weighty enough to be construed as the general opinion of the people of Benue State.
3.We cannot however, stand by and watch this brazen show of shame by the Governor through infantile and irresponsible public statements on Mr. President and the possible destruction of the cordial relationship Benue State as a federating unit has always enjoyed with the centre.
4.This press conference is therefore called to address three (3) key areas that have often characterised Governor Ortom’s regular outpourings in the social media, television networks and other media, this will include a review of his manner of approach, the true perspective of insecurity in Benue State and most importantly the true position of affairs in the state, kept away from public scrutiny.
IIMANNER OF APPROACH
5.We are outraged by Governor Samuel Ortom’s manner of approach to President Buhari which is devoid of simple decency and respect required of a younger person both in age and official government hierarchy. Democracy or no democracy, the hallmark of values in Africa and particularly in Nigeria are hinged on respect for age, and authority. Many other Governors in Nigeria are affected by various cases of insecurity, but none has over used such uncouth, belligerent and provocative language to insult our President or cast aspersions on his government. We are ashamed to be identified as Benue State citizens, where its governor speaks in gutter language like a tout and has no respect to superior authorities. We train children to seek honour and imbibe egalitarian values in which the dignity of individuals, older or younger are respected. We cannot tolerate such rude, irresponsible and uncivilised acts from the leadership of our state, hence we condemn it totally.
6.It is most disturbing that President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, has never publicly insulted or undermined the office and person of the Governor of Benue State or any other state for that matter, talk less of joining issues with Governor Ortom’s postulation about his instant armageddon of Nigeria. As far as we know, the President has delivered all his obligations to the Governor and people of Benue State by ensuring regular and prompt releases of state’s and local government’s monthly federal allocations, all which amount to about Five Hundred Billion Naira (N500 billion) since Ortom’s assumption of office as Governor in 2015. Furthermore, President Buhari had released Forty Billion (N40 billion) Naira to the Ortom administration as bail out funds to enable him pay outstanding salaries, pensions and allowances, as well as another Twenty-Eight Billion Naira (N28 billion) released to Governor Ortom as refunds from the Paris Club refund, just as also, the President graciously sent an extra Ten Billion (N10 billion) to the Benue State Governor to enable him provide infrastructures for the people of Benue State the Federal Government in Nigeria”
9.By Governor Ortom’s utterances, he creates an impression that Benue State is a sovereign nation which he reigns over to the exclusion of President Buhari. He fans embers of ethnic bigotry and hate emphasising that he was the leader of the Tiv nation while President Buhari is the leader of the Fulanis. He discountenances the fact that to fight insecurity in any part of the nation is a joint effort among the Federal, State and local governments, of which President Buhari regularly assigns various Armed Forces formations to help Benue in the exercise. Rather, Governor Ortom has destroyed the local government system which should help nip in the bud, cases of insecurity; allocates to himself a monthly allocation of Eight Hundred Million Naira (N800 million) as security votes, squanders same and then sits back to criticise President Buhari for his failure to arrest and prosecute criminal elements in Benue State. Does Benue State not have an Attorney General to prepare cases for prosecution? Does the Police reject Governor Ortom’s orders to arrest criminals because the President has given counter orders?
10.We are dismayed by this crass incompetence exhibited by the governor. His rantings are irritating and smacks of tricks of a conman. It is crystal clear that the ultimate solution to the Benue insecurity would be, as Governor Ortom himself had earlier this year said that the President should declare a state of emergency in Benue State with approval of the National Assembly. Governor Ortom is clueless, his gangsterist and foul language to disparage decent people could further deteriorate the security situation in Benue State. We urge security agencies to immediately arrest all criminal elements Governor Ortom is using to perpetuate insecurity and bring normalcy to the troubled state.
III.INSECURITY IN BENUE STATE
11.There is no doubt that the trouble of herdsmen has unsettled the harmonious relationship that hitherto existed between the herdsmen and farmers in Benue State. This has been the case in all the administrations in the past ranging from that of Sen. George Akume (1999-2007) to Sen. Gabriel Suswam (2007-2015). In all these conflicts and clashes in the past, some of which led to the emergence of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, these past two leaders had managed to sustain a meaningful symbiotic relationship between the herders and the farmers through dialogue and mutual respect. The Ortom era has, however, thrown all these successes overboard through his false narrative of an islamisation and fulanization agenda of which he is the self appointed Messiah and Defender of the Benue Valley!While we do not deny the various attacks of the Fulani militia on the Benue farmers and vice-versa on account of economic survival, we do not however subscribe to the divine agenda of Governor Ortom as a matyr. We are not docile citizens to allow our resources to be wasted in promoting such empty ego trips by someone whose lifestyle of greed and avarice contradicts Christian living. These attacks have nothing to do with islamisation as Zamfara, Katsina and other predominantly muslim states are witnessing similar attacks. The attacks are a function of economic determinism not religious.
12.Nobody is victimising Governor Ortom for performing his duty as Governor of Benue State. But so far, he is not doing the right thing. We demand that our Governor steers the government to meaningfully engage with other tiers – the Federal and local governments to make our state more habitable, secure and conducive for investors. We demand that the Governor renders account of the arbitrary N800 million monthly allocations he appropriates to himself as security votes as well as the over N200 million monthly deductions he makes from the Local Government Joint Account in the pretext of catering for the IDP camps, and yet he funds no solution to the insecurity and IDP camps situation. We also demand true accountability for the billions of Naira released to Benue broad funds. We invite the EFCC to step into the matter and help the Benue people in this evil extortion. Note: between July – December, 2020 alone, N22billion
13.At the same time, Governor Ortom is masterminding a certain narrative of hate and tribal bigotry based on his wrong perception of history. His persistent allusion of the Buhari Administration as the reincarnation of the 1804 Sokoto Jihad is mischievous and treasonable. Nations are respected for their population and diversity; our leaders should be patriotic enough to harness the positive aspects that unite us rather than those that further put us asunder. In this regard, we agree with the late renowned Historian, Dr. Bala Usman, who said that inter-group contacts in precolonial times were not merely inter-tribal or inter-religious wars, but were indeed about mutual cooperation at the levels of economy and culture, which gave rise to a reasonable homogenous identity before the coming of the Europeans. We strongly frown at Governor Ortom’s faulty knowledge of the Nigerian history and particularly his attempt to fan ethnic and religious ambers at a time Nigeria needs unity and progress.
14.For us in the North-Central area of Nigeria, the highly complex multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-cultural society notwithstanding, our communities actively interacted with others through migrations, trade relations, marriages, festivals and religious rituals. In the course of these interactions, conflicts arose as in all human relationships, wars were fought and treaties signed until the arrival of the colonial rule at the beginning of the 20th Century.
15.The Benue Valley is also inhabited by a multiplicity of ethnic groups, the major ones being the Tiv, Idoma and Igede in Benue State; the Igala and Igbira in Kogi; the Alago, Eggon, Mada, Bassa and Gbagyi in Nasarawa. Many other smaller ethnic groups are sandwiched in the midst of these relatively bigger ones.
16.Most of the major ethnic groups have diaspora groups outside their geographical compact concentration centres. For example, the Tiv are not only in Benue but are also found in high numbers in Nasarawa, Taraba, Plateau, Niger and the FCT. The Idomas are found both in Benue and Nasarawa States while the Igedes are also found in Cross River State. The rich terrain of Benue equally attracts other Nigerian ethnic nationalities most of who find Benue as a second home to live and conduct businesses.
17.The Fulani herdsmen in their itinerant lifestyle also lived among our people peacefully for centuries as they tended their livestock. Through their legendary and historical affinity with the Tiv people, the Fulanis have always regarded the Tiv people as partners and friends in rural livelihood. Successive generations of Tiv and Fulani sons and daughters have inherited this mutual respect and jokes their forefathers passed onto them. We have seen a true manifestation of this affinity between the Tiv and Fulanis since the time of the Late Sardauna of Sokoto, late President Shehu Shagari, through the time of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and now to President Muhammadu Buhari. We cannot allow Governor Ortom with a faulty sense of history to evoke enmity and hatred between Benue and the Fulanis simply because he lacks the statecraft to handle contemporary challenges.
18.Few of the notable reckless killings under Ortom’s watch include the death of late Chief Dr. Terkula Suswam, a PDP chieftain and elder brother of the former governor of Benue State, Senator Gabriel Suswam, who was killed in cold blood at his country home at Anyiin. Others are the late prominent politician Atoza Ihindan, Ortom’s late Security Adviser, Mr. Denen Igbana, his late economic adviser, Dr. Tavershima Adyorough, the late renowned academic, Dr Akase Angou, and the late AIG Christopher Dega (rtd), all who were allegedly killed in brutal cross – militia encounters. To say the least, Governor Ortom has lost control of the state and the residents live in fear of untamed youths and gunmen.
19.It is difficult to understand how the loss of control by the Tiv traditional institutions and the state government over the unruly youths of the land or the complete collapse of the local government administration at the grassroots has anything to do with President Mohammadu Buhari. His ill-conceived and poorly administered Amnesty programme for bandits of Sankera led by the late Terwase Agwaza, alias Gana had also nothing to do with Mr. President. Rather, the Federal Government has consistently made available to Governor Ortom various interventions of the Armed Forces like the “Operations Ayem a Kpatuma and Whirl Stroke” for his maximum use.
20.We appeal to the Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, to mind his business and attend to the work given to him by the good people of Benue State. We also gently remind him that to run seven (7) thriving personal industries at the expense of the State’s treasury while the State government has no functional industry is a moral and economic crime against the people, for which he must be held to account, sooner or later. We advise him to apologise publicly to Mr. President for operating outside the rules and principles governing the federation. Governor Ortom should also bury his ego and seek the wise counsel of those who have occupied the office of Governor of Benue State in the past on how best to manage the present insecurity in the state. He must leave Mr. President alone, please. Note: Governor Ortom had embarked on over 50 foreign trips and signed over 300 MOUs, which have translated into nothing for the benefit of the Benue citizenry save for his Oracle conglomerate.
IV.TRUE SITUATION IN BENUE STATE
21.Like most other states in Nigeria today, Benue State is engulfed in one form of insecurity or the other. However, Governor Samuel Ortom is not giving the world the correct picture of what is really going on in Benue State. The state suffers from altercations with Fulani herdsmen of which the state Governor as the Chief Security Officer, appears to have no answer, in spite of financial resources as well as the Police and Armed Forces formations available at his disposal. He is clueless, ignorant and docile, and as such embarks on hysterical yelps slandering President Buhari.
22.The Governor’s misadventure or even deliberate mischief creates more security problems. He has created a personal army of criminals called the Livestock Guards whose job is to hunt down political enemies and to help him win elections. His earlier attempts to hobnob with other set of criminals led him to an ill-fated amnesty programme with bandits in Sankera area which he claimed was endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. The deal collapsed sooner than it had started, and further bred various other groups of bandits that now terrorise the state, kidnapping people for ransom, killing political opponents, raping women and engaging in ritual killings. The security situation in Benue State is so dire that a group of bandits were able to disarm and kill an officer and men of the Nigerian Army who were on peace keeping mission. The proliferation of small arms in Benue State is alarming and deserves immediate action from the centre.
23.On his part, the Benue state governor brags about the enactment of his magical Anti-Open Grazing and Ranches Establishment Law of 2017 as his most outstanding achievement as governor in six years. This is definitely a fraud, as it does not translate into the needed infrastructures or other dividends of democracy, neither does it guarantee peace to the troubled state. Rather, it appears to have provoked the rise of several other militia groups taking laws into their hands and causing mayhem in many communities in the state. Ortom’s official militia group, the livestock Guards is particularly engaged in rustling cows from herdsmen and cheaply selling them to highly placed government officials, extorting illegal dues and killings in some villages unannounced.
24.Governor Samuel Ortom is a loquacious busy body, whose preoccupation is to dabble in national controversies beyond his competence. He throws himself on remote issues like the disagreement between the Federal government and Twitter; the campaign for the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the call for the convocation of the sovereign national conference; the proclamation of the State of emergency and the promotion of the Neo-Judaeo-Christian narrative over the alleged fear of the Islamisation of Nigeria. The reasons for these digressions from his duties of governance into extraneous activities are obvious. However, it is disingenuous for this governor to equate his failure as governor to the excellent records President Buhari has with the people of Benue State. Meanwhile, Governor Ortom himself does not believe in democracy as his illegal and arbitrary suspension and removal of elected local government in Benue State leaves much to be desired.
25.The people of Benue State are at present immensely grateful to President Buhari for citing three tertiary institutions in Benue State all within a pace of one year. These include, the Federal University of Health Sciences Otukpo, the Federal College of Education, Apa and the Federal Polytechnic Wannune. The Branch Atser-Vandeikya-Obudu road has been completed. Work on the dualization of the Federal highway from Abuja to Makurdi is fast nearing completion, while those of Ankpa-Adoka-Naka to Makurdi as well as, Makurdi to Gboko, Gboko to Katsina Ala and Gboko to Aliade are at varying degrees of completion. Investments in the Federal Government in infrastructural development in Benue State is over N270 billion.
26.President Buhari has completed the construction of the Oweto bridge that links the State with Nasarawa State. Work on the rehabilitation of the two major bridges at River Benue and Katsina-Ala has also completed. President Muhammadu Buhari also approved the construction of a multi-million dollar power line with sub-stations at Zaki-Biam and Yandev to improve the power supply in Benue State. The biggest yam market was built at Zaki-Biam to enhance the leading food basket status of Benue state in this troubled spot. Similarly, the Federal government of Buhari commissioned the vast solar hybrid power station at the J.S. Tarka University of Agriculture earlier this year. In addition to constructing more paved roads and faculty buildings in the University.
27.This is the auspicious season of reckoning, being also the 6th anniversary of most State governors in the country. Result oriented governors are busy showcasing their achievements in the provision of infrastructure and dividends of democracy to their people, but Governor Ortom has nothing to show. Rather he gallivants to various States where projects are been commissioned, uses the limelight of the occasion to pour invectives on President Mohammadu Buhari. Increasingly his idea of using insecurity as an alibi for his ineptitude has now fallen flat on his face. The Governors of war-torn States like Borno, Yobe, Ebonyi, Zamfara and Kaduna are shinning examples of superlative performance in spite of seeming instability. It proves that good governance is driven by honest and patriotic service, which Buhari exemplifies, and not infantile sloganeering and gutter–snipe language associated with Ortom.
28.Governor Ortom who once boasted that he could turn Benue state into a London, if he only he got the N107 billions alleged to have been embezzled by the government of Gabriel Suswam, today has no single project to his credit and with about N500 billion that have passed through his hands. The only project he commissioned with fanfare was the new Tortiv’s palace in Gboko which was jointly executed by the 14 local government areas of the Tiv land, a disused borehole at Adikpo two short streets in Gboko and in Makurdi. Benue civil servants are being owed six months of their salary arrears and gratuities while pensioners are languishing in throes of death with the 27 months pension arrears unpaid by Ortom. And in December last year, it was discovered that the government of Ortom swindled the suffering masses of their COVID-19 palliatives sent by President Buhari, and most of the food item means for Benue were found sold in some markets in Kano State. The N1billion COVID-19 funds sent to Benue State to set up testing centres cannot be traced.
29.Benue State and the Tiv nation in particular have a long standing political relationships with the North. Sen. J. S Tarka of blessed memory sent Alhaji Ibrahim Imam of Borno State to the Northern House of Assembly in Kaduna State under the UMBC Jemgbagh Constituency of Benue State. He later became the leader of the opposition. We must as a people continue to build bridges for our generations yet unborn.
30.While Governor Samuel Ortom is very critical of Mr. President and calls him names, he does not tolerate criticism from any opposition member in Benue State. Members of the APC social media team are indiscriminately arrested on the orders of the Governor and are facing frivolous charges in Benue State courts.
We call on Governor Samuel Ortom to tender an unreserved apology to President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, for using foul language and for operating outside the set rules of engagement between the State and the Federal Government.
We call on the EFCC and ICPC to thoroughly investigate the application of the total federal allocations to Benue State from May 29, 2015 to date.
The Federal Government should as a matter of urgency direct the disbandment of the Livestock Guards in Benue State for their involvements in nefarious and criminal activities leading to the breach of peace and massacre of innocent citizens of Benue State.
There is a high level of proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Benue State. The federal government should thoroughly comb the State to recover those arms.
Since Governor Ortom has consistently alleged that the security situation in Benue State has deteriorated in such a manner that lives of Benue people are not secured, we call on Mr. President as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to declare a state of emergency in Benue State to bring the security situation in the state under control.
30.Let me use this opportunity to commend President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, for his resilience and steadfastness in driving the development agenda of his administration nationally and especially in Benue State. The men and women of good conscience in Benue State are in full support of his administration and stand to condemn the ethnic profiling propagated by Governor Samuel Ortom. We are better than that as a people. We, the APC elders/stakeholders in Benue State pledge our total and unflinching support to Mr. President and his administration.
31.Finally, we hereby roundly condemn the senseless killings that have been going on in Benue State perpetrated by criminal groups, be they the Fulani herdsmen, militia groups and political mercenaries acting the scripts of so-called political leaders. Benue State should not be allowed to degenerate into a primitive and mindless killing field at a time other states are reaping bountiful dividends of democracy.
32.Our hearts go out to all the families that have lost loved ones, some of who are presently mourning their unburied dead relatives. We pray that the Almighty God should grant them the fortitude to pass through thus trying times without losing hope in a one united and indivisible nation.
33.We pray for the Almighty God to continue to bless President Muhammadu Buhari other leaders of our dear country.
May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.