Ortom: The Rise of a Patriot
By Frederick Adebayo
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom will go down in history as one outstanding Nigerian who calls truth by its name and rebukes injustice and impunity.
Those who hate truth and justice have hated him in equal measure. But there is another quality of Ortom that even his fiercest adversaries cannot quell.
Samuel Ortom sees the future and tells it with near perfection.
Since 2015, Governor Ortom has made his views on national issues known with the courage of a trojan and the things he warned that if steps were not taken to avert would indeed have come to pass.
The latest of Ortom’s calls that came to pass sooner than anyone could have expected was the recently postponed National Population Census.
Two weeks earlier, Governor Ortom, while receiving a delegation of the Middle Belt Forum at Government House, Makurdi, urged the Federal Government to postpone the census until the widespread insecurity in the country was addressed. He cited the plight of millions of internally displaced people living in IDP camps in his state and other parts of the country.
Ortom boldly said should the Federal Government go ahead with the census, it would amount to grave injustice to the innocent people who have been chased from their ancestral homes to IDP camps since the National Population Commission had already indicated that Nigerians would only be counted in places where they lived.
That was vintage Samuel Ortom! He got it spot on again! Once more, he has proven that he is indeed the voice of voiceless Nigerians! Two weeks later, precisely on Friday 28 April, 2023, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the postponement of the census as Ortom had suggested.
Samuel Ortom is writing his name on the sands of history as one of the great leaders of this country who stand for justice and truth, equity and fairness.
In 2015, Governor Ortom after carefully studying the Fulani herdsmen attacks on farmers in Benue State, came up with the novel solution of ranching and the banning of open grazing in the state. Through the enactment of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017, Benue bade farewell to open grazing to welcome ranching. However, the backlash the Governor received was from just one ethnic group, the Fulani tribe who have taken open grazing as a way of life and would not like it challenged or changed.
Through their social-cultural groups: Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders, Fulani Nationality Movement, and other northern elites and governors, they opposed the ban on open grazing with threats of attacks on Ortom’s state. The attacks have been carried out unhindered in the past couple of years even as the President and security agencies were timely alerted by Governor Ortom.
The opposition could only last for a while because today, they are singing the Ortom song of ranching. They have all agreed with Governor Ortom that open grazing is not practicable in the present circumstance of Nigeria. Northern Governors Forum in February 2021, resolved that open grazing was out of date. Their resolution was contained in the forum’s communique which read: “The current system of herding mainly through open grazing is no longer sustainable, in view of growing urbanization and population of the country.” The forum only repeated what the Benue Governor had said a few years ago which they opposed.
Today, the ranching crusade led by Governor Ortom has reached the nooks and crannies of Nigeria. All the regions, North, South, East have banned open grazing as many of the States have signed into law the Open Grazing Prohibition law with several other states have done the same.
The entire 17 states of Southern Nigeria rose from a meeting in Asaba, Delta State in May 2021 with a strong ban on open grazing across the region. They also called on President Buhari, to as a matter of urgency and importance, address Nigerians on the frightening state of insecurity across the nation and convoke a national dialogue. Recall that Governor Ortom had earlier made a similar call.
While the attacks by Fulani herdsmen were heavy on Benue State with the denial from the Presidency that those attacking Benue were not Fulani herdsmen but bandits, Governor Ortom warned that if nothing was done fast, the so-called bandits will be hard to contain. He urged the Buhari administration to declare a state of emergency on security in the country.
Today, the reality is here. Fulani bandits have become more vicious than Boko Haram and even President Buhari’s home state Katsina is not spared from bandits’ deadly operations of killing, kidnapping and shutting down the economy of northwestern states.
In December 2020, in a reaction to the killings of 43 farmers Zabarmari village, Jere Local Government Area in Borno, the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar -led Jama’atu Nasril Islam, could not hide their anger and disappointment even as their tribesman is the President. They told Nigerians that they are on their own in terms of security under the present Federal Government when they said: “No Nowhere is safe under Buhari.”
“Wanton killings, acts of banditry, kidnapping for ransom, high rate of unemployment among the youths, rape and all forms of terrorism have now become the new trend in our communities. Nigerians have become so terrified, as nowhere is safe; the home, the farms and the roads. Bandits now rule in many communities; they set rules that must be obeyed,” they said.
While bandits have occupied every part of the country with their lethal operations, Governor Bello Masari of Katsina State vindicated and validated what Governor Ortom had said that those attacking his people are Fulani herdsmen. Speaking to Channels Television in September 2021, Masari said “Majority of those involved in this banditry are Fulani, whether it is palatable or not, but that is the truth.”
The question to ask at this time is, how is Governor Ortom wrong when he says those attacking and killing his people are Fulani terrorists?
The ‘fight’ against banditry by the Federal Government has been treated with kid gloves which is why they have continued to fearlessly operate on Nigeria’s territory unchallenged. Just like the Federal Government was quick to proscribe the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and declared it as a terrorist organization, Governor Ortom rose to demand that the gun-wielding Fulani herdsmen who are today nicknamed bandits be declared as a terrorist group which after all is the fourth deadliest terror group on the Global Terrorism Index. In the usual way of the people from the North, particularly, Fulani and the Presidency, they came against the Governor as a lion going after its prey.
When Governor Ortom advocated for the licensing of AK-47 to private individuals for self-defence, it first appeared as though it was an unpopular opinion. Of course, Ortom knew what he was saying; he knew things were getting out of hand as the situation has not gotten any better even today. Just like his other patriotic calls, which took time before the authorities accepted, it does appear that it would only take some time for licensing of guns for private individuals to begin in Nigeria. Now, you can call it ‘Ortom: The making of a true prophet’.
Shockingly, the Presidency and other members of the All Progressives Congress, APC, both at the Federal and state have baselessly regarded Governor Ortom as an enemy of President Buhari when he speaks on issues concerning Nigeria. How is Ortom an enemy of the President? When did it become an offence to look your leader in the face and tell him where he is wrong and where he is right? Governor Ortom has, on several occasions, commended President Buhari when he does the right thing. But the Governor also owes no one any apology when he tells the President where he is wrong.
Only a few days ago, Governor Ortom commended the President for postponing the 2023 census.
In my opinion, Governor Samuel Ortom is the best friend of President Buhari who wants him to succeed. Those who flatter Mr President with lullabies to lure him to sleep while Nigeria burns are the real enemies of this country, not Ortom.
It is worthy of note that when the Benue Governor speaks, he speaks the minds of the majority of Nigerians and from the information at his disposal. Governor Ortom’s position has been collaborated by many other people including Buhari’s tribesmen. Two years ago, Comrade Isa Tijjani, former National Labour Congress NLC National Chairman at the memorial lecture in honor of Maitama Sule in Yola, without mincing words, declared Buhari a complete failure and warned that his type should never be given an opportunity to ascend to power again. “We should not pay attention to religion, we should not pay attention in choosing leaders by ethnicity because we have done so and we have failed woefully. That was what we used in electing Buhari and we have seen the result today. The government has failed thoroughly and totally”, Tijjani stated.
Governor Ortom has stood out as one of the outspoken Governors in the times where many have tucked their tails between their legs for fear of losing power and money. The Benue State Governor is the crusader of justice for all, the justice the country needs to correct the many decades of impunity, injustice, marginalization and subjugation.
Governor Ortom speaks from the vantage point of one who is concerned about the unity and progress of the country and he has said a lot that were ignored but have come to pass as the country battles with the grave consequences of its negligence, the negligence of the voice of reason.
Adebayo writes from Lagos.