From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Things came to a head on Wednesday last week, in the ongoing face-off between Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, and Senator George Akume, Minister of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs. That day, Benue mothers, youths, and the elderly, in their thousands, took to the street of Makurdi, to call on Akume to tender an unreserved apology to the people of the state to avoid the wrath of the gods of the land.
Led by the Convener of Benue Women Forum, BWF, and former House of Representatives member, Mrs Rebecca Apedzan, they marched into the Benue Government House where they were addressed by government functionaries, including Governor Samuel Ortom. The protesters, who were described by Akume’s supporters as “a rented crowd,” bore placards with inscriptions like “Akume is an agent of Miyetti Allah;” “Benue people stand with Ortom;” “We demand an apology from Akume;” “Akume is dancing on the graves of our people;” “We cannot accommodate our killers;” and “Ortom is our hero.”
Akume’s grouse with Ortom
Nobody knows whether Akume will heed the people’s advice and apologise or not. Nobody knows when the wrath of the gods, which the protesters talked about, will fall on him. Or, if at all, it will, but in his address, Governor Ortom assured them that he would continue to do the bidding of Benue people. “I remain committed to Benue people,” he said. “Whatever you want me to do, I will do. Nobody will intimidate me. I am grateful to all of you for always standing with me. Those people who criticize me, including our minister, should tell us what I have said that is wrong.”
Akume has spent all his time, and money, doing that in the past weeks. In fact, the battle started two weeks ago, following a press conference that Akume called, and in which he accused Ortom of being disrespectful to the President, Muhammadu Buhari. Accusing Ortom of corruption and stockpiling arms and ammunition, he noted that the governor is incapable of handling the security situation in Benue State. He capped his address at the press conference attended by some prominent sons and daughters of the state, by calling for the declaration of a state of emergency in Benue.
Sources reveal that the press conference was organised in reaction to what Ortom said in his recent interview with Channels Television, and in which he raised the alarm over the deteriorating security situation in the country. In the interview, he called on the President to rise to his responsibilities. He raised a lot of issues bordering on security, adding that some policies of the Federal Government tend to portray the President as a sectional rather than a national leader of the whole country.
In response to Akume’s accusations, Ortom filed a N60 billion legal suit against him, insisting that he has to prove in court the allegations, especially the one concerning the stockpiling of arms. Since then, several groups and individuals within and outside the state have continued to express their views at the development.
Groups defend Ortom
One of such groups, Jemgbah Unity Forum condemned Akume for his allegations against Ortom. Akume hails from Jemgbagh, made up of Buruku, Gboko, and Tarka Local Government Areas of Benue State. In its public statement, the group wondered whether a state of emergency in Benue being canvassed by Akume can help to put an end to the incessant kidnappings, maiming, rapes and killings going on almost on daily basis across the country.
“We found the outing of the minister condemnable and unacceptable,” the statement from the group read. “Jemgbagh people are not known for such despicable acts. Akume has put the entire Jemgbagh in disrepute and we won’t tolerate it anymore. Since his infamous press conference, any Jemgbagh person seen in any part of the country is considered a traitor and one who hates the progress of others.”
Another group, League of Unique Friends Association, expressed shock over Akume’s call for a state of emergency in Benue. It described his call as influenced by personal political selfish interests.
The Paramount Ruler of the Tiv Nation, Prof. James Ayatse, at a stakeholders meeting held in the Government House, Makurdi, noted that Ortom’s genuine call for responsibility and accountability should not be misconstrued as insulting President Buhari. The Tor Tiv, who lamented the degenerating level of security in the country, called on the Federal Government to critically look at all that the governor has been crying about and address the issues squarely.
Others who spoke in defence of Ortom include Paul Unongo, the Minister of Power and Steel, in the Second Republic; elders and leaders of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Benue North East Senatorial District, popularly known as Benue Zone A; Benue Youth Forum (BYM), and Benue Concerned Mothers (BCM).
While Unongo would want the president to listen to what Ortom is saying with an unbiased mind, Azua Ashongu, Chairman of the PDP in Zone A argued that Ortom spoke the minds of not only the Benue people but also of other Nigerians. He called on the Presidency to stop harassing Nigerians who hold contrary opinions on national issues, noting that such would not make things augur well for the country’s relatively young democracy.
Terrence Kuanum, President of BYF in a statement called on the President to sack Akume over what he described as his “sacrilege” in calling for a declaration of emergency rule in Benue, and replace him with “a credible Benue son or daughter.” “We will not accept sabotage from any son of Benue in the struggle to liberate our people,” some parts of his statement read. “The objective is clear: we will protect our people with any commensurate measure of action.”
Akume’s take on the raised issues
So far, none of the calamities being wished for Akume has befallen him. He has not been sacked by Buhari nor has he been killed by the gods. And, there is no guarantee that any of the two will happen to him any moment soon. That, perhaps, explains the reason for what is seen, in some quarters, as his continuous recalcitrance. Wondering at the reactions that his recent press conference in Abuja had generated across the country, he defended his action by noting that all he did was to call out the state government to address all the issues that he raised.
“We crafted what we thought was in the best interest of Benue State, and we expected the governor to carefully go through the documents and see the remedial measures,” he said. “If we ask the government to pay the salary of workers which is their right, are we making a mistake? If we ask of our poor parents who have toiled and sweated and got bloodied to train us to be paid their pension, are we making a mistake? Is that too much to ask? Talk about gratuities, they are pending and will continue to ‘pend’ (sic). So, we just invited the government to act on that. Instead of answering the queries raised, it rather generated a lot of insults in press conferences. ‘Akume is this’, ‘Akume is that.’ I ask: Is that the answer to the questions that we raised? I have never called myself an angel, and I am not one. But in this world of ours, demons become saints, and saints are demonised. Such is life.”