From Adetutu Folasade-Koyi and Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has condemned the Water Resources Bill at the National Assembly, saying it is an evil legislation that must not be allowed to survive and has mobilised lawmakers from the state to oppose the bill.
He said the controversial Water Resources Bill is another RUGA and that the cattle colony encourages open grazing, domination, Fulanization, and Islamization of Nigeria through the back door.
Ortom also threw punches at the Federal Government, insisting Nigeria is under siege.
Ortom also lambasted the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government as “barefooted,” not prepared to do anything that will add value and make life meaningful for citizens.
Ortom, who was in Abuja after a visit to the United Kingdom and the United States of America, disclosed that he was in Europe and America to change the narrative about the menace of herders in Benue and why the PDP should be changing the leadership structure.
Your state, Benue, is the food basket of the nation. But it has been bogged down for several years now by farmers-herders clashes. What is Abuja doing to help you?
Look, one impression I want to clarify is that there is nothing like farmers-herders clashes. It is about invasion! It is about taking over the land of Benue. We don’t want to talk about other states, but, I talk about Benue State. It is about a calculated plan, orchestrated by Fulani men, not herdsmen, to take over our land and make it their own land and then, turn every other person to slaves and then preside over the land. It is not coming from me; it is what they have said. And, that is their plan. For a very long time, they have deceived the people. In Nigeria here, they talk about a different narrative. If they go to the international community, they talk about a different narrative. Here, they say it is farmers-herders clashes. In the international community, they try to deceive people by saying that it is farmers-herders clashes and also, they manipulate and bring in issues of Climate Change and deforestation and all these issues, just to try to convince them. And that was the impression they (outsiders) had. That was what led me to go to the United Kingdom, to America, to clarify those issues because that was what was trending. So, let nobody talk about farmers-herders clashes. There is nothing like that. It is an evil plan by this government of President Muhammadu Buhari to enslave Nigerians.
Benue State is a target for them. For some of us, we remain committed. So, you can ask me about something else, but not about farmers-herders clashes. It is about invasion. Ask me about invasion, not about farmers-herders clashes. There is nothing like that because, how can you tell me or justify a herdsman bringing 50 herds of cattle? I am a farmer. I have a ranch and I know that cattle are just like human beings. They give birth once in a year and it takes up to nine months. So, when you look at the issues critically, you will discover that these people are a very crafty set of people. They deceive people and that is what they are doing – to colonise, Fulanise, to rugalise, and, of course, to (encourage) open grazing. But their real agenda is to take over the land. No man should deceive me oooooo! These Fulani people are very crafty, coming from Niger, from Mali, from Senegal, from Ghana, from Chad, from Libya, from Mauritania and all of that. It is their plan and we know all those ones. So, that is it.
Your open grazing law, how effective is it? Is Abuja helping out or is Abuja against it?
Ah! Abuja has always been against it. They will not come out openly, the Miyetti Allah, which is their mouthpiece; they said they are against it. They took me to court, I defeated them, but they will not stop. They went on appeal; we are there with them and I am sure we will defeat them again because we are standing on the truth. So, back home, the law has been very effective. We have not done anything wrong. What we did was in line with the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As a state, we are allowed to make laws as long as it does not conflict with the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That was what we did. Legitimately, we enacted a law. It went through due process; to the House of Assembly. There was a public hearing and we came out with the law in 2017 and that is what we are implementing.
Today, as I talk to you, we have arrested more than 20,000 herds of cattle and the law stipulates that they will pay a fine and they pay. Once you pay, you collect your cattle but once you don’t pay, the law stipulates that it will be auctioned after seven days if the owners do not come to pay the fine and collect them. That is what we have been doing. We have convicted more than 200 people; herdsmen who have trespassed upon our land. There are over 250 people who are facing prosecution. It is ongoing. So, for us, the law has succeeded. If not that we were alert and by the grace of God, we were proactive to enact a law, by now, we would have been overran by these Fulani herdsmen with their craftiness to take over the land of Nigeria and, of course, Benue State. This is what they are doing now. This thing we have done, everybody knows.
We are in a democratic rule, democracy believes in the rule of law and due process. And they, too, know why they are trying to disobey and bring their impunity to bear on the law. They still appreciate the fact that these people are law-abiding people and at least, we are somewhere. They know that what they are doing is wrong. At least, that is the point we are trying to make. They have done the wrong thing and we are committed because we can never be slaves to Fulani people. Nigeria is a secular country, Nigeria is a free country; everybody should live his life and not enslave other people. The era of slave trade is gone. Today, we are a free country. And so, how can I be a slave to Igbo man or Yoruba man or Fulani man? The Igbo man has never attempted that; very industrious people, they have done so well. The Yoruba man minds his business, but, the Fulani man wants to dominate and take over and create emirates in Benue State. We will never accept that! As far as we are concerned in Benue, we remain committed to what we inherited from our forefathers. And that is where we are. Nobody will intimidate us, whoever you are.
Will Benue support the Water Resources Bill?
How can we support the Water Resources Bill? I don’t want you to finish that question before I respond to you. It is another RUGA, cattle colony, open grazing and domination, Fulanization and Islamization. That is what they want to do; when they will come and settle there. We did not solicit, nobody consulted me in 2021 when they went and gave a contract to establish RUGA in Benue State. And I resisted it. I said no! This is not acceptable. Thank God they, too, saw it and because of the body language of Nigerians, they withdrew it. Now, they went and brought back the Water Bill. Water Bill will allow them to come, the Federal Government to control the waterways and as for the waterways, you have some portions of the land that will be given to the Federal Government to appropriate in all states where you have waterways. That is another form of RUGA, cattle colony and open grazing so that when they send their cattle there, they will say ‘Noooooo, this one is their own’. It will not be acceptable. One thing they don’t know is that they think that they will continue to rule infinitum. But, they don’t know what Nigerians are saying and what God will decide at the end of the day. They will not be there forever.
But the truth is that the Water Bill, the way it is structured, is a contradiction to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria because the Land Use Act says clearly that issues of land is the prerogative of the state, specifically, to the state governors who act on behalf of the people of the states. So, every state, the 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory, the Land Use Act allows states to appropriate the land; not the Federal Government. This is what they want to change. It is not going to be accepted. We will resist it with what we have. If other states with waterways decide to say ‘yes, we will allow it,’ fine and good to them. But for us in Benue, I have the mandate of my people to resist it and to say ‘no.’ So, if they do this, even the Government House in Benue State, will be part of it because we are close to the river bank. So, it means you come and take over the Government House and you would, then allow Fulani herdsmen to come into the Government House and graze with my flowers that I have planted? Haba! Just like they are doing in Abuja here! In the Aso Rock Villa, when you go there, the herdsmen are grazing and their cattle are eating flowers in the Villa, in Abuja here! Even me, kai, I feel so sad and I weep for my country. Anytime I come here, I have to wait for cattle to pass before I can move on the road. Where have you seen this? Ask anybody who has been to America. The entire Europe and even the entire Asia countries that are looked unto as developing world, developing countries, tell me anywhere you see this kind of thing. I have been to Dubai, I have been to Qatar, I have been to Israel, I have been to several countries in the Middle East, I have not seen a single cattle roaming the streets. I was in Brazil; Brazil that has one of the highest numbers of cattle in the world; I have been to India. I think India and Brazil are ranked as the highest. In those places all, I did not see one single herd of cattle on the street. But here, right at the airport, you start seeing them. The other day, I was told that some flights could not land because there were herds of cattle grazing in the airport. And I said, “what kind of a country are we?’ This is what we are saying and Nigerians must rise up because this barefooted government of APC is not prepared to do anything that will add value and make life meaningful and help the Nigerian public.
So, to the issue of Water Bill, for me, if I had the power, it is dead on arrival. It should not have any place whatsoever. Why is the House Chairman on Waterways in Nigeria insisting that this law must come to pass when you know that there are more serious problems in the country? Security problems, economic problems and social problems that we have in Nigeria today, why is the Federal Government and the so-called sponsor of that bill not concentrating on what we can do to stabilise our economy, stabilise our security, stabilise the social life and wellbeing of our people and they are insisting unless we enact a law to take over the river banks on the waterways in this country? I mean, it is an evil bill and must not be allowed to survive. I have told my members in the Senate and in the House of Representatives that they must kill that bill. If they don’t do it, the people back home will stone them because they have no intention to give support to the masses.
You have always stood for justice, equity and fairness in ensuring that power must rotate to the South. Why didn’t the PDP governors help Peter Obi before he left the party to secure the ticket?
You see, I don’t like talking about other governors. There are dynamics in politics – dynamics in various states. I talk about my own state, I talk about my personality. I believe in equity, fairness and justice. When I made a pronouncement that I was supporting the South, there was a reason for it. And, I said look, for equity, fairness and justice that I am preaching, which will translate to development, support and help our people, I said something. After eight years rule of the North, the presidency should go to the South. Unfortunately, the southern people themselves, whether Igbo or South-South or Southwest, betrayed it. They betrayed it. Shame to them!
Can you be specific? Can you name the actors?
Why should I name the actors? Are you not aware? Name them. I don’t want to talk about that. Governors, stakeholders and all that, because of their personal interest, look, they will one day die. Nobody will live forever. What will live forever is the legacies we leave; the institutions that we are able to build. Our capacity to work and make things work beyond our life in this world, that is what will matter. Globally, where countries have made milestones and have developed, it is because people who were there laid the foundation that others came and built on it and, today, those countries are thriving. Those people are not alive. So, you work beyond your stay on this earth. That is what some of us believe and that thing is only anchored on equity, fairness and justice. If you do that, you can never be wrong. That is what some of us believe and I hope that people will look at this and jealously be guided to ensure that we provide equity, fairness and justice for our people.
Your party, the PDP, is against the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC for 2023. Yet, Nigerians are looking at PDP, that you are gradually becoming a northern party. You have a northern national chairman; you have a northern presidential Candidate. Is that not hypocritical?
Some of us don’t believe in having a northern party. PDP should be a national party. We have been president from Obasanjo to Goodluck Jonathan and we should maintain our status as a national party. This is something that even some of us are concerned about. We have raised it and the leadership of the party is going to meet and discuss the matter. There is no way you can have a BoT Chairman from the North, a national chairman who is from the North and a presidential candidate who is from the North. Something has to be done before the election to give confidence to Nigerians that we are looking beyond that. We can do something to support others. And so, it is not out of place. The leadership of the party will definitely meet. After the primaries, everybody went on vacation. I didn’t go on vacation, I went on assignment, but, I am back. So, we can meet and look at those issues. What can we do to make things work, to make some adjustments? All that we are interested in is to ensure that we rescue Nigeria from where it is – from top to bottom.
My challenge has been that we are not just at the bottom. If we are at the bottom, it is okay; we can move from there. But, we are going to the grave! We are going beneath the bottom. So, we are going to the grave. My take on the matter is that I agree that there is no way we can’t balance it. How can we have a national chairman, Board of Trustees chairman and a presidential candidate from the North? That thing will not work. It will not send a good signal to Nigerians. Something has to be done and I believe that the leadership of the party is also ready to sit and dialogue and see what they can do to give confidence to Nigeria.
In a recent television interview, you said a cabal is holding Nigeria hostage and that Nigeria is under siege. How do you mean?
Ah, ah! What else do you want me to say?
Can you name the cabal?
Are you not in Nigeria? Are we not under siege? Let me not go deep into it but to say that security issues, economic issues, social issues that we are having in our country, today, can you tell me, whether you are coming from the East, or the South-South or the West, can you tell me that you are comfortable where you are living? Is there security? I feel so sad when I am travelling by road from Makurdi to Abuja and from Abuja to Makurdi, the number of security personnel that accompany me on such trips. And I say look, this is not fair. I judge myself. I just came back from the United Kingdom and America. I boarded a taxi without security escort! I boarded a taxi without security escort in the United Kingdom; in the United States, I boarded a taxi. I didn’t even take an executive chauffeured-driven cab. I just boarded an ordinary taxi.
You boarded an ordinary taxi?
Ordinary taxi! You can just call a taxi, come to your house to pick you up. But, here in Nigeria, I cannot do it. In my house where you are interviewing me, today, I cannot take a taxi alone and go back to Wuse; I cannot take a taxi from here and go to Benue State Government Lodge because of the security implication. This is a problem. So, our country is under siege. Our country is under siege! I cannot go to Benue State without security support because people are already planning that this man is outspoken, we will eliminate him. And they have attempted seven times to eliminate me. It was only God that saved me. And this government is complicit and does not do anything to show that they don’t want this to happen to me because the last time when Fulani men attempted to assassinate me and they came out and took responsibility that they were responsible, 13 Fulani men were arrested. Have they been prosecuted? No! They were freed. This is the point.
Our country is under siege by these people who want to Fulanise and Islamise. Islam is being used as a shield to Fulanise. The real agenda is not Islam. Islam, we have lived with Muslims. If I say we don’t have any problem, we lived with them. Anybody, Christians, Muslims, pagans, atheists and all that, they are free to live anywhere. The truth is that these people want to Fulanise but they use Islam as a shield to deceive people and have their way. So, as I said, the country is under siege until we rise up and make things work.
Some people think that they are wise. Look at the recent happening. The unveiling of a vice presidential candidate, you go and hire 419 people, mechanics in Lagos and in Abuja here, people who don’t even go to Church and they came to portray… ;how can you go and hire people from Wuse Market and make them bishops? It is a sacrilege against the Church of Jesus Christ. But we are not violent, so we cannot talk about stoning anybody and all that. That is not right. It is unfortunate. You go to Wuse Market and sew uniform and cap and give to people to say that they are bishops. Which bishops? Tell me, which denomination? Which church do those people belong to? Can you name them? You go and sew Catholic cassock and other things and say that these people are clergymen. Not just clergymen but bishops. A Bishop should be a leader who presides over several other pastors and reverends and all that. Can you imagine! It is sacrilege but I will leave it for God to judge them. This is very unfortunate. That is the difference between us who are Christians and other religions. God will judge them. You leave them to God to judge them.
On April 11, 2016, you were part of a delegation of six governors, 10 ministers and other government officials who accompanied the president to China, on a state visit. So, at what point did you part ways with President Muhammadu Buhari?
I parted ways with Muhammadu Buhari because he never listened to me. I did advise to ensure equity, fairness and justice. But, I never saw that coming. And, I said ‘look, I cannot work with this president. Whatever it will take me, whether it will cost me my election, whether it will cost me whatever, it is better I leave because silence is consent and I cannot be silent in seeing injustice in Nigeria.’ A president who clearly believes in Fulanization, who believes in Islamization to act as a shield to Fulanise; a president who does not respect the rule of law and due process. If I stay silent, they will say I am complicit. At least, let me say that I was not part of it.
During that visit, I remember seeing you in Beijing with Chinese businessmen. From Beijing, you moved to Shanghai for other engagements. So, I was embarrassed to hear you saying that Nigeria is a slave to China. How did you arrive at that? Or, are you extending your animosity towards the president to the Chinese people?
Is it me that you want to hear from me? I don’t know whether you are a Christian or a Muslim.
I am a Christian.
You are a Christian?
So, is it me that you want to hear from, the people who killed Jesus Christ? Is it me that you want to hear from when you have read from the Bible? The account in the Bible is the right thing. It is not from me. Is it not the Jews who killed Jesus; who came to serve the world? So, why do you want to hear from me that the Jews killed Jesus when you have read from the Bible? If you have not read as a Christian, go and read.
What legacy do you want to leave behind in Benue State?
I want to leave a legacy, first of all, the fear of God. And, the fear of God is anchored on truth, fairness and justice. When you have that, you have no more problems. God will help you.