From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom has said that former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has started the pursuit of his presidential ambition on a wrong note by saying he will continue from where President Muhammadu Buhari stopped in 2023.
Governor Ortom who made the remark on Thursday while assenting to the amended Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 declared that the APC-led Federal Government under Buhari has failed the people. He spoke on various issues
Why the amendment to the ranching law?
As a government, we believe in rule of law because without that, there will be anarchy. We all know the history of the Benue Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishments Law of 2017.
It came as a child of necessity. Our people were being killed, our people were being maimed and our children and women were being raped. Our villages were destroyed. The ancestral homes of our people that we represent were being destroyed and the people were sent packing. And today as I talk to you, we have over I.5million people who cannot access their ancestral homes.
We tried to mediate, we tried to work with even herders who turned out to be terrorists, criminals who we discovered were not Nigerians; they came from Niger, Senegal, Cameroon, Mali, Chad, from Mauritania and Libya’ they came here to forcefully take over our land.
If they had come seeking our permission to live peacefully with us, we wouldn’t have said no. But they came here saying they do not need us that we must yield to them and that they would take over because it is their land. This is after they have destroyed Libya, after destroying Mauritania, after they destroyed Chad, Mali, Niger and they came into Nigeria to take over.
The open grazing thing is a camouflage, the real intention is to take over our land. I met with Benue stakeholders and they said no. And we took a position. What I did by ensuring the enactment of the anti open grazing law was done on behalf of the people.
That was when they decided to look for ways to frustrate, intimidate, blackmail and malign me. They even went to the extent of attempting to impeach me as governor of the state using eight lawmakers of the state Assembly.
But because the voice of the people is the voice of God; and because I was working with the people they could not succeed. In all the intimidation and harassment that I suffered, I was not tempted to succumb and withdraw the mandate the people gave me to ensure that the law is in place.
Are you not afraid for you life for speaking truth to power?
I cannot be intimidated with death, for standing with the people of Benue State. It is only a fool that dies 20 times before his actual death and I am not one of them, I am not a fool.
If you hear of my checkered life experiences, where I am coming from and where I am today and what I have been doing for not just the Middle Belt but for our country Nigeria, you will know that I have been doing much despite my checkered life experience.
So I remain committed to the service of the people because my primary responsibility is to the people that elected me. I was not elected by Abuja or from any other place.
So, nobody in Abuja has right over me. It is the people here in Benue that was why when they came from Abuja to remove me as governor, the people of Benue stood with me. So I remain committed to them and I want to assure Benue people that I remain committed to them and no power will change that. My service is with Benue. Benue is my home and not Abuja, all my attention is in my state. That is why I appreciate Benue people, they have shown commitment and I have no reason to disappoint you but continue to do my best.
And where I see that there is a gap or a lacuna in the cause of administering the state, even where I cannot see every Benue people, when I see the Speaker and member of the State Assembly who are representing the entire state, I know that the state is with me.
But don’t you think the penalties in the amended law are too stiff for offenders?
That is why I said that there was a lacuna in the Benue grazing law. We meant well with the Benue grazing law. Even a child would have thought that those killing people, those terrorists and bandits will also respect the law of the land but they refused.
The law made provision for moderate charge of N2,000 per cattle impounded by our Livestock Guards for violating the law. But we realized that a cow goes for as much as N200,000. So, the violators did not bother because they felt that they can destroy our farmland with the cattle and if the cattle are arrested, they can easily pay the fines. These are people who come well armed, Fulani militia who come to attack and kill our people.
Our conventional security personnel have been killed, our Livestock Guards have also been killed. At a point, they were going from one house to the other where they suspected that we have Livestock Guards and where they did not find them, they kill anybody they find around the neighbourhood.
Thank God other states bought into the law that we enacted long ago. And we discovered that these states have charges that are higher than ours. States were charging N30,000, some N40,000 up to N70,000 for every cattle that was arrested for violating their law.
So, what are the amendments that have been made in the law?
We know that policies or laws are dynamic. We have decided to revise the charges that we gave to cows that were arrested in Benue State who have trespassed against our laws. Other provisions of the law as were enacted in 2017 still stand. But two areas that we have amended are, firstly, the charge for every cow that is arrested has now changed and secondly, the seven days period that we give to allow people to claim their cattle and the charges thereof have also been amended. We sat in the executive council to discuss this matter. We then sent it to the House of Assembly and the House of Assembly agreed with us, that for every cattle, instead of the N2000 that the law prescribed for the owner of the cattle to pay and based on the national outlook of those who have enacted laws prohibiting open grazing and what we feel that we should do and the kind of resources we spend to help them bring these cattle to the quarantine centers, we sent to the House of Assembly and the House of Assembly has approved that for every cow arrested by our livestock Guards, the owner should pay the sum of N50,000 instead of the meager N2000. Because they came here sometimes, 2000 cows are arrested and they come and say how much is the fine? And they will just pay and go away. And for every cow that is arrested and kept in our quarantine center, if you don’t collect it the same day, you will pay additional N20,000 for each cow per day and if after seven days you don’t pay, the law permits us to auction the cows. This is the amendments we have done. As from today as I’m signing this amended law, that is the implication. For those whose cattle are arrested, N50,000 per cattle for one day and if they are kept in our quarantine for one day, you pay additional N20,000 on each cow. If they are kept there for seven days you pay additional N140,000 per cattle. For two days, you pay N40,000 in addition to the N50,000 fine for the arrest of the cow.
We are doing all these to tell the herders wherever they come from whether Fulani, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and so on that open grazing is wrong in Benue State.
What’s your take on the recent amendment of the electoral law?
I want to appreciate the National Assembly for heeding to the advice of the PDP governors forum that was held in Port-Hacourt in Rivers State which I was in attendance when we appealed to them not to give the APC-led government the opportunity to truncate the amendment of the electoral law. Because there are several other things that must be done. Electronic transmission and several other things that should be done. And the issue of primaries for various political parties should not allow the President to decline passing the bill again and pushing it back to the National Assembly. Thank God. And I want to commend them (National Assembly) that they all deleted the clause that the President vetoed. And at least, we believe that this week or next week, they will be sending it to the President. Let the President sign. For some of us, whichever way you sign, whether direct or indirect or option A4, anyone you sign, we can contend with the problems in our party and be able to get candidates that can compete with that of the APC. One thing we know is that APC has failed.
Go and check the records. When PDP handed over power to APC in 2015, how much was the dollar? N190. Today, a dollar is now over N500. When we handed over power in 2015, what was the unemployment rate? When we handed over power, what were the security problems that we had in this country? We used to hear about Borno, we used to hear about suicide bombers outside this country. But it is from 2015 that we started hearing about suicide bombers in Nigeria. This (Buhari) government has nothing to offer.
So, for the national Assembly to attend to President’s request, some of us are ready and that was why even when he vetoed the direct primaries, we supported him and the reason was that we wanted him not to have any excuse. So, I want to appreciate the National Assembly for accepting Mr. President’s veto and agreeing with the President to allow indirect primaries and all that. It’s commendable and I want to thank them. This will not give him the excuse again to continue to inflict pains on us.
Recently, the national leader of the APC, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu declared his interest to run for president come 2023. What do you have to say about this?
I heard about one of the presidential aspirants who said he would continue from Buhari’s good legacies. I want to tell him that if nobody has told him, me I want to tell him that Buhari’s policies and programmes are not good. And anybody who is saying that, some of us, in our own little way, we will fight him and tell our people to vote against him. So, he has failed ab initio.
How can you continue with Insecurity? How can you continue with hard economic policies?
Look at our schools. I saw one video clip where Boko Haram raided a boarding school and asked our children to undress. Children to undress and be naked! If it were your child, how would you feel? These children were stark naked; boys and girls. I saw another clip, Zamfara is taken over by bandits.
What’s your reaction to the high rate of insecurity in the country?
We are fast becoming Afghanistan. When I talk about Afghanistan when they took over their land, I said one day if we don’t address this matter, Nigeria will become like Afghanistan. People thought it was a joke. Where are we going now? In Zamfara and other parts of the country, bandits have taken over. They mount roadblocks where police and soldiers cannot go. In Benue State here, more than 100 hardworking security personnel were killed and over 3000 of our people have been killed and you want us to keep quiet? And you want to continue with those kind of legacies? Me, I will do my best. If it’s beyond me, I will accept but if it is not, I will lead those people who believe in me to stop it. And those who are keeping quiet especially those who have immunity like me who do not want to say anything should continue. I know that others don’t have impunity and if they say it, they will be arrested and prosecuted but me, at least I am covered by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to say the truth to ensure justice, fairness and equity. That is the oath of office that I took and I remain committed. And what I say here affects other parts of Middle Belt and Nigeria. We must do the right thing.
So, I want to appeal to those who have the same immunity with me because it is not a matter of political party. Where we are now, we should not be talking about party but about how we will rescue, rebuild and restore Nigeria. It’s not about political party. And I appreciate patriotic people who are in the APC but they feel that what is going on is not right. I appreciate those of them who are joining hands with us to ensure that we salvage this country.
What’s your message to Benue people and Nigerians as regards the forthcoming general elections?
I call on all of you to get your PVCs ready. The report I am getting from Benue State is not a pleasant one. For everyone of you, government appointees, government officials in the Judiciary, in the Assembly, it is our duty to educate our people to ensure they update their PVCs or get new ones. For those who are eligible for new PVCs, they should please, try to get one in time because no matter how pained you are, you cannot vote a government in place without your PVC. We believe in peaceful transition, we believe in peaceful elections that will usher in credible people who will be able to deliver. But I implore our people to get their PVCs and be ready to vote out bad governance.
If you see President Buhari today, what will you tell him?
Since I have been barred from seeing the president, I always speak to the press to tell him until the day he will call me but I will still tell him the truth as I have always told him. Mr. President, Benue State is not enjoying your government and that is why even your party members from the APC are all coming into PDP because they have felt the impact of your government. Even yesterday, I received so many that are going to defect. Even APC members from the House of Assembly and House of Representatives have defected to the PDP because the impact is not felt. The pains are too much. The economy is in bad shape, the security is in bad shape, everything is in bad shape. All those 419 rice pyramids will not help Nigeria. Do policies that will help us. And the first thing is to chase away all the marauding Fulani men who are your kinsmen to stop harassing us so that we can farm and produce enough rice for Nigeria and for Nigerians. How can you explain to me that you pack 5000 sacks of rice and put them in a pyramid and say you have done something. You have not achieved anything.
Those people are deceiving you. From Central Bank to all those other people, they are deceit. They are 419, they are telling you lies. So, do policies that will help the country. This government has not fought corruption the way we expected in 2015. All the people they are prosecuting are just perceived enemies. Why is it that you have only two Christian governors who have been jailed? How about the other people who stole more than these Christian governors? These are things that create problems. I don’t have any religious issues but you jail former Governor of Plateau, former Governor of Taraba and jail them, then you allow other governors who have stolen so much and are in your cabinet and you are telling me that you are fighting corruption? Which corruption are you fighting? This government is not fighting any corruption.
My take is that let us do the right thing. Let us protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, let us ensure equity, fairness and justice for everybody, then things will work. Mr. President, all is not well with Nigeria. And you must arise to your responsibility because you’re the head. The Bible says “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.” Nigerians are scattered, they don’t know what to do. Sycophants and mediocre in your government, corrupt people that you have put in your government are deceiving you, but I will tell you the truth that all is not well. You need to listen to us, you need to listen to the voice of the masses who elected you that you have been deceived. And we are sorry that we elected you as the President of this country.