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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Samson Ochono: Ortom came to power with a rich pedigree

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I initially didn’t want to waste my time reading the newspaper interview of Governor Hyacinth Alia of Benue State until I saw the reaction of the former Governor, Samuel Ortom who, as a more experienced administrator, counseled Governor Alia to concentrate on fulfilling his campaign promises to the people and stop diverting attention to frivolities.

Governor Alia had boasted in the interview published by Vanguard that he does not receive salaries. He also accused Ortom of using the Fulani herdsmen attacks on Benue people to make monetary gains while he was the governor.

It is deeply concerning and utterly irresponsible for Governor Alia to make such baseless and inflammatory accusations against his predecessor, Ortom.
From my observation as someone who has keenly watched and followed all leaders of Benue State for many years, I can say that Governor Alia’s insinuations against Ortom are reckless and lack any basis in reality.

We are all very familiar with the story of Samuel Ortom who rose from humble beginnings to stardom, fame and wealth through his hard work, diligence and the grace of God. Before assuming office as Benue Governor in 2015, Ortom was already a successful businessman and a well-known philanthropist and humanitarian in the state. His track record of service and dedication to the people of Benue is laudable, and he served with a sense of patriotism that Governor Alia should rather strive to emulate.

I have read the inspiring story of Ortom who as a young entrepreneur, founded the Oracle Business Group more than two decades ago. Today, that conglomerate has employed thousands of Benue youths under different companies. It is obvious Ortom did not come into governance to enrich himself but to add value to the people, a mission he accomplished excellently.
Ortom was not a church rat to take advantage of the people’s misfortune during the Fulani attacks, as Alia wants us to believe. Ortom was already a renowned philanthropist who was reputed for free medical treatment of thousands of people across the state who suffered various illnesses especially snake bites and hernia. There are incontrovertible records that by the time Ortom was taking over as Governor in 2015, his foundation had already spent millions of naira on free treatment of people in two major hospitals in Makurdi, namely Bishop Murray Hospital and Rahama Hospital, and this can be verified in those hospitals.

If anyone ever came into government with nothing to show as his pedigree of achievement, that person is Hyacinth Alia. There are no records anywhere to show that Alia brought development to the churches where he served as a priest. He was a priest for more than 32 years before he became governor in 2023. There is nothing to show for all those years, aside from selling salted water for parishioners at the many “healing masses” that he organized. But he built for himself a multi million palatial house with the taste and size of a palace around New GRA in Makurdi where he still prefers to live till today.

Within just one year of being in office, there are reports that Alia has bought mansions in choice locations in Abuja and other cities in Nigeria and has done the same abroad. He is rumoured to be in the process of establishing his personal construction company so that all state government contracts will be awarded to him. Different critics and activists have challenged Governor Alia on transparency and accountability but he has failed to take the challenge. Some groups have written to anti-corruption agencies to probe Alia’s government over the reported missing N66 billion of public funds. He is said to have increased his security vote to N1.5 billion monthly, yet insecurity is worsening in the state under his watch. Security agencies do not receive any support from him, not even a single patrol vehicle.

Alia should stop deceiving Benue people that he is working for the masses. He is working for himself. Why is it that no one knows anything about the finances of the state under him? Federal allocations to the state have tripled as a result of fuel subsidy removal but no one knows what Gov Alia is doing with the money. On IGR too, he is silent. Other governors also inherited salary and pension arrears but they have since cleared the arrears while their Benue counterpart has refused to do the same. President Bola Tinubu has been telling the state governors to make sure that their people are happy because he has played his own part by giving them adequate funds. The President has also asked Nigerians to hold the governors accountable for the huge resources at their disposal.
I will visit the Federal Ministry of Finance to get all the details of allocations to the state and help Governor Alia to publish the information as a good citizen since he is not willing to make known what his government has received from Abuja.

Alia needs to be reminded that Governor Ortom took a strong stance against the occupation agenda of pastoralists and enacted the anti-open grazing law in Benue State to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people. Far from using the Fulani herdsmen attacks for personal gain, Ortom’s actions were aimed at safeguarding the interests of the people of Benue and addressing the security challenges facing the state.

Governor Alia’s attempt to tarnish the reputation of the former governor who worked tirelessly for the good of the people is not only disrespectful but also exposes his insecurities and inferiority complex. It is crucial for leaders to exhibit decorum, respect, and integrity in their public statements, rather than resorting to baseless accusations and divisive rhetoric.

I advise Governor Alia that Samuel Ortom is no longer on the stage. He is the one on the stage now as governor, so he should get down to the business of governance. He should also retract his misguided statements and offer a public apology to Ortom for his irresponsible remarks.

Ochono writes from Apo in Abuja.

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