From Rose ejembi, Makurdi
In this chat with newsmen, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State said he would continue to criticize the presidency so at to keep it on the right path.
The governor who stated this after going round Makurdi, the state capital to inspect some ongoing projects embarked upon by his administration said his criticism would however be constructive and not destructive, stressing that, “Where the presidency does something that is good, I will commend them but where they do the one that is wrong, I will criticize.”
He also spoke on other salient issues affecting both the state and the country at large.
You may wish to comment on the news making the rounds about your Commissioner of Education inviting the Fulani herdsmen to come and do business in Benue.
In the last few days, I have heard so much about the mischief that is being peddled around on the social media and it is important for me to clarify that we have not shifted ground. We have not done policy summersault in any form. Right from 2017 when I signed the prohibition of open grazing and ranches establishment law, I did not say that I was sending Fulani or Hausa or Igbo or anyone away from Benue State. I said everybody was free to do legitimate business. And in that law, it is a win win for Fulani herdsmen, for Hausa, for everybody including white people. They are free to come to Benue. There is land and I have maintained this, I have not shifted grounds. And non of my aides, including the commissioner, after reading the content of that headline that was meant to cause mischief; I discovered that it was just plain mischief. Otherwise, the Commissioner didn’t say anything that was wrong. He said that there is land for ranching and till tomorrow, be it Fulani, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and everyone who want to sojourn in Benue and do business is free to do that, provided you respect the provisions of our law. That is the point. And we have not stopped any ethnic group from coming to do business in Benue. Nigeria is our country. There are Benue people who are in other places and are doing business. And we have no apology for what we did. We have been under pressure to make amendment of the law or rescind the law and I said, no, we will not do that. This law belongs to Benue people. We are 100 percent against open grazing. Whether I die or not, I still remain committed to prohibition of open grazing in Benue. That is what the people want. And the only people who can reverse this is Benue people, not even me. The issue of reversing open grazing prohibition law is beyond Samuel Ortom. And so, the question of reversing that does not come in. And that is why I will onto Jesus call on President Buhari to rescind his decision to insist that open grazing must continue in Nigeria. Open grazing is outdated; there is no need for it and we must ranch our cattle. And that is what we are saying, whether you are a Fulani man, Hausa man, Igbo man, Yoruba man, if you want to do ranching, we have land for you. Come and apply, we will give you that land on lease. That is what our law says. So, nobody should accept that kind of blackmail, taking advantage of what my Commissioner said and making a headline and not reading the body of the story. I stand with him. What he said was the right thing. We are ready for ranching. We have no problems with Fulani people. We have lived with them for a very long time. But these foreign herdsmen who come to take away our land and kill our people, we are against hem, we will not accept them and we will resist them. We are not their partners. So, I stand with my Commissioner on what he said and there was nothing wrong in saying that there is land for ranching. There is land. Anybody who wants to do ranching, whether you are from Europe or America, China, anywhere, you can come, we will provide land and restrict you to your land and there, you feed your cattle and you will not go with your cattle to people’s farms to destroy them. That one is not allowed. And our law is still in place. We are still prosecuting and we will arrest and prosecute anybody who trespass against our law in Benue. And I cannot be blackmailed by anyone in this country. Benue people elected me. So far, I am doing their will. Projects, they are here, prohibition of open grazing, we are enforcing the law, we are equal to the task, we are working with the security agencies with our community volunteer guards to solve the insecurity that is gong on in our state. And investors are coming into Benue to invest despite all these because we have the potentials. Our people are hardworking, they have gone back to the farm despite all these. Our concern is to ensure that the conventional security agencies and our community guards work very hard so that the over one million internally displaced persons can go back to their ancestral homes so that we can have food security. Otherwise, there is threat to food security in Benue and of course, once that happens as the food basket of the nation, Nigeria will also be affected. So, we must all work together to ensure that this is achieved.
You seem to be very critical of the presidency, why is that?
And I will not stop. Where the presidency does something that is good, I will commend them but where they do the one that is wrong, I will criticize. My criticism is about construction, not destruction. So, people must differentiate this. And as a Christian, I am committed to the principle of Christianity to ensure that we pray for our leaders even when they do the wrong thing; God can still turn them around and they give us what we need. All that we are asking for is good governance. All that I’m asking is equity, fairness and justice, that is all. And I will not stop crying, I will not stop speaking where there is injustice. Where those who are oppressed cannot speak, I am doing that on their behalf. I stand with them to ensure that the right thing is done.
Can you assess the APC under the leadership of President Buhari?
Right now, there is nothing in this country under this APC that we can say that they are getting it right. Is it security? How can Northern governors, Southern governors, National Economic Council, come out with a policy that will stop the killings that are going on in this country and the presidency will say that no, it will not accept that it must be open grazing? Where are you going to do open grazing? Is it in Vandeikya, or in Guma or Otukpo, or in Makurdi, or where without them encroaching on somebody’s farm? I think those who are advising Mr. President are the ones creating problems for him. And he needs to think twice. The national economic council is a council made up of all the 36 state governors of this country. If they sit together and resolve, under the chairmanship of the Vice President, why should you reverse that? Why should he allow an appointed person who has not worn councilorship election in his life to come and reverse what 36 governors who are elected by the people have done? That is not right. So, I’ll repeat again that Mr. President is the one creating insecurity in this country. The day that he says let’s solve this insecurity problem. that problem will be solved. That is the truth. Because like this one on open grazing that he is insisting, it will only succeed in bringing crisis and chaos and lawlessness because most of us, I won’t speak for other people but in Benue, there is no room for accepting open grazing. And no room to allow them to talk about reviewing land use act. Land use act is a constitutional matter and before it is reviewed, it will come to the states. And Benue, even without the review, is saying no. We are not going to allow that review. Land still remains under the custody of the state governors on behalf of their people. Security that we were promised in 2015 is not there. Talk about corruption, we have never seen worst corruption like what we are seeing today in this APC led government. Where is that Minister that the EFCC Chairman apprehended for buying property for 37 million dollars and remitting 20million dollars? Where did she get that kind of money if not from government? Look at what is happening in the petroleum industry? Stealing all over the place. Look at members of the federal executive council who had known EFCC cases that amounted to billions. Today, because they are in the ruling party, their sins are forgiven. But if somebody steals a chicken you will go and jail that person. Is that justice? That is not Justice. Where is the electricity that we were promised in 2015? Corruption all over the place. And they go after people without any form of corruption. In Benue, everyday, EFCC are on the neck of my servants. They are there all over the place. But they have not found anything and we have not done anything. Why can’t they get those ministers who are hiding because if they remain in any other place, EFCC will apprehend them? I want to tell them that APC will not remain there forever. PDP was there before. But one day, it came that PDP was no more. And today, it’s APC. They will not remain there forever. And all these things they are doing, when the day of reckoning comes, all of them will be apprehended. Nobody will escape justice. Yes, they can have their way, but one day, when God decides that this is the day, nobody will escape. Many days are for the thief but one day is for the owner. Let this be known to APC government that what they are doing, going about to intimidate people to join them, I have refused to join APC. I remain in PDP and I remain with my people and continue to work with them and I will continue to ensure that the mistake that PDP made before are corrected so that together we can move this country forward. Today, APC has failed this nation. All that they are doing is to intimidate and coerce people and try to blackmail some people to let it look as if they’re saints, they are not saints. They are all evil agenda. So, Please, let no one be deceived. There is no u-turn in what we are doing in Benue State. We can never do u-turn anyhow.
Closely related to what you have just said that you are not defecting from PDP to APC, two of your colleague governors in the country; that of Zamfara and Cross River states have defected to the APC. What is your comment?
My comment is that I am not defecting to APC. Politics is a game of interest. So, they are free as it is democracy. In democracy, there is freedom. I don’t know what their reasons are but whatever they felt that is necessary, it is their business. But for me, I remain committed because APC has failed. They have nothing to offer, so why should I go and join them?
A few days ago, we read in national dailies that Benue leaders, coordinated by a former governor, is making a peace parley with Miyetti Allah. We also heard the demands by each group. Although, you were exonerated from that parley, we want to know whether you have given them the blessing to go ahead or it’s a fallout from the meeting you had with your predecessors?
I don’t know anything about that. If the former took that step, he is a leader in his own right but when it comes to Benue, I am the leader of everybody. Whether they voted for me or they did not vote for me, whether they are in my party or not, I remain the leader of Benue State. If he is making efforts, there is nothing wrong about that. Even when you fight, you sit down to discuss. I don’t think that is a problem but as far as I’m concerned, I’m not aware, I wasn’t privy to that meeting; my counsel was not sought. But just like every other stakeholder in Benue, the former governor is also free to reach out but whether their resolution will be accepted by us is another thing. So, if they make attempt, there is nothing bad in that but I believe that at the end, they will definitely come to my table.