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Samson Ochono: Posterity will vindicate Samuel Ortom 

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Former Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom is being persecuted by his successor, Governor Hyacinth Alia. A lot of things, half truths and blatant lies have been leveled against the Guma-born politician and philanthropist. The Alia government has one target – to bring Ortom down. A friend of mine who works at EFCC told me last week that Governor Alia and his government have written several petitions using different people to the anti-corruption commission against Ortom. Do not forget the two probe panels that Alia has set up to ensure that Ortom is indicted. I also understand that Governor Alia is doing everything to destroy Ortom’s business investments, to bring him to his economic knees.

I am not close to the former Benue Governor, but he is a leader I have admired from a distance and I can tell anyone who wants to listen that Ortom will ultimately be vindicated of all the persecution, the same way he has overcome other difficult circumstances in his life.

His name is not Peter. He is not one of the apostles who followed Jesus while he was on earth. But everything Samuel Ortom says and does bears the emblem of a man who was born to help solve problems confronting his people and the groups he belongs to.

Samuel Ortom has shown time and again that he is a pragmatic leader who thinks not about himself but more about the people. He wears the carriage and air of a charismatic man, yet humble and unassuming. He makes decision-making look easy in very difficult situations. He proffers solutions to knotty issues that others crack their brains trying to solve. This is why he is successful in business too.

Needless to say that Ortom has established and located all his companies in Benue State to provide employment opportunities for teeming youths of the state. That again is something his detractors don’t want to see or think about.

Going back a bit down memory lane, the struggle for the soul of Benue State against the conquest agenda of Fulani Jihadists is another story that has had Ortom’s name inscribed permanently on the slate of history of this country. Today, Nigeria has risen to embrace Ranching and condemned open grazing of cattle. When Ortom, as Governor, began the crusade against open grazing, many people vilified and castigated him. Even some of those who were close to him betrayed his trust in them. They thought he must be insane to think that the age-long nomadic cattle practice of Fulanis who are the self-acclaimed “owners of Nigeria” could be easily phased out. It got to a point that some of his colleague Governors also betrayed him, blaming the attacks in Benue State which led to the death of hundreds of people on the enactment of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law.

But Governor Ortom, like a prophet, kept his focus. He made a prediction which turned out to be a prophecy during a lecture he presented at University of Nsukka in 2019 that some day soon, Nigerians will embrace Ranching as the best method of animal husbandry like June 12 was recognized after many years. But Ortom’s prophecy came to pass sooner than many had expected. Just the following year being 2020, some state governments started making moves to enact laws to ban open grazing. By the year 2021, the entire 17 states of the south took a unanimous decision to ban open grazing. The move came on the heels of the decision of some northern states to also ban open grazing.

It was the making of prophet Ortom! What he saw some years ago sitting down, others couldn’t see standing on a mountain. Today, Nigerians are singing the same song against open grazing. As you read this piece, the governor of Niger State, Umaru Bago is planning to ban open grazing in the state to stop the wave of insecurity that is returning to the state. In Delta State, worried about the flagrant violation of the Delta State Anti-Open Grazing Law, which became effective in 2021, the Delta State House of Assembly Committee on Legislative Compliance recently gave local government councils in the state a 17-day ultimatum to constitute committees to enforce the law.

Before Ortom left office, his critics, having found nothing to use against him, adopted guerrilla tactics of saying that he had not performed well. Governor Ortom again shut such critics up when he invited other Governors including Nyesom Wike of Rivers, Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, Seyi Makinde of Oyo, among others who commissioned numerous projects such as roads, schools and other infrastructure in Makurdi, Gboko and other parts of the state.

Ortom is a man who does not mince words or pretend about what he believes to be the right thing. He fears God but not man. He only respects those who earn his respect. He stands firmly and resolute and shows the inner strength of a man of purpose and conviction who would do everything in his power to give his people direction.

It is sad that Governor Alia is on a mission to destroy every legacy built by Ortom in Benue State. The present administration attempted to repeal the open grazing prohibition law but public outrage made them recoil. While the Benue governor is bent on repealing the law on open grazing to please the Sokoto Caliphate, other states are fast emulating the example set by his predecessor Samuel Ortom. Many have already enacted the law while some are in the process of passing the bills.

Alia doesn’t want any government establishment initiated by Ortom to remain standing. The probe Alia has instituted which I read in the papers the other day that the courts have halted is a pure act of vendetta against his predecessor for whatever reason only he knows. But one thing is certain; Ortom will not be destroyed! We have seen men with vengeful tendencies like the current Benue governor previously in other states, but where are they today?

There is a popular saying that when you are pointing your finger at someone, you have got three pointing back at yourself.

History will be kind to Samuel Ortom as a man who risked everything to preserve the heritage of his people! It will soon dawn on Governor Alia that he engaged in a wild goose chase!

Ochono writes from Apo in Abuja.

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