‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
By Cosmas Omegoh
But for providence, Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, could have been dead, and gone the way of other mortals. He would have made the list of high profile political office holders who died while in office.
But here is Ortom still trudging on, refusing to accept distractions no matter their content or colour.
Two Saturdays ago, Governor Ortom was attacked by gunmen suspected to be Fulani militia about noon at Tyo Mu along Makurdi-Gboko road in Benue State. He was returning to Makurdi from his farm. Luckily, his gallant security details repelled the attack and Ortom escaped.
He confirmed the incident himself. “You know (it) is normal as a farmer; I usually go to my farm; so I went to my farm along Gboko road and on our way back, we started hearing some gunshots and we discovered people who were dressed in black and from experience we now discovered that these were Fulani militias and I did not want to take things for granted because few days ago the media were awash with statement from MACBAN who met in Yola, the same place they met in 2016 where they decided that they will take Nigeria and every other person as a slave; that was when they started infiltrating the entire country.
“My lawyer is going to make a petition against the leadership of MACBAN because they came out to target me and behind the scene they are planning to eliminate me on my own land. If I can’t go to the farm as governor with entire security around me then who else can go to farm? You can imagine the pains that we have here in Benue State.”
Some critics of the governor had said that he stage managed the attack, wondering where he stored up all the energy to do a whole 1.5km at his age.
Fulani group, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore has dismissed his ordeal. Even the national leadership and Benue State chapter of Miyetti Allah have done so, insisting it was gaseous.
Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore National President, Abdullahi Bello Bodejo, said that Ortom was talking out of malice for the group after it sued him following the controversial anti-grazing law in Benue State.
“Ortom lied; we don’t know anything about the said attack. Ortom hates Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore ever since we took him to court. We are still in court with him,” he said.
The Benue State chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Risku Mohammed, also denied claims that Fulani herders tried to kill Ortom.
However, amid the wave of denials, a Fulani group, Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM) has claimed responsibility for the attack.
A statement by one Umar Amir Shehu on behalf of the group, said that FUNAM attacked Ortom to revenge his actions against the Fulani, revealing that 11 of its members were involved in the attempt to kill the governor whom he said “escaped because of a slight technical communication error.”
So far, the Presidency, parties and some notable Nigerians have condemned the attack on Ortom, with the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mohammed Adamu, ordering “a full-scale investigation surrounding the attack and alleged attempt.”
Buhari while condemning the attack said: “The string of brutal attacks on individuals and communities in the state, with the latest one targeting the governor, was unacceptable.
Northern governors and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum equally urged the security agencies to go after the alleged hunters of Ortom’s head.
Also the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) condemned the attack.
Some theorists are drawing from FUNAM claims that Ortom’s travails might be linked to his outspokenness and penchant for speaking truth to power.
Recall that Ortom had earlier written a treatise to President Buhari, calling on him to tackle the wave of insecurity threatening Nigeria, while asking the president to consider allowing Nigerians to bear arms to defend themselves.
The Benue governor in his letter entitled: “Appeal to Act before Herdsmen Drag Nigeria into a Civil War,” lamented lack of willingness on the part of President Buhari to tackle herdsmen/farmers’ clashes, wondering why he is unwilling to arrest some members of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association who claim responsibility for various attacks.
“These security challenges have assumed new dimensions where the now emboldened assailants and armed herdsmen daringly enforce their will on legitimate owners and occupants of ancestral lands,” he lamented.
He also raised some other hair-raising issues in his letter, including the proscription of the Miyetti Allah, as well as the prosecution of those who had owned up to the killings.
Recall that in 2017, Governor Ortom enacted the State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017, now in its third year.
But the Fulani groups in the state would have none of it. Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, at a press conference in Abuja vowed to resist it, claiming that the Benue trough belongs to its members.
Other Fulani groups, including the FUNAM were said to have also belched out threat warning that the law be withdrawn.
But enforcers were said to have been arresting herdsmen and their cattle for contravening the law. Hundreds of people have been tried, and either convicted or discharged.
When Ortom last Tuesday emerged from a meeting in Presidential Villa in Abuja where he went to interface with President Buhari over the attack on him, he again bared his mind on the myriad of insecurity challenges in the country, saying that “there will be no 2023 elections in Nigeria if insecurity persists,” leaving pundits with so much to ponder about.
He spoke about the protection of the constitution, and appealed for equity, fairness, and justice in the land.
Again, he defended the Benue anti-open grazing law, emphasising that that its repeal remains beyond him, since it passed through due process.
Such is Ortom and the content of his character – a typical Tiv man to whom someone who knows him well succinctly said: “Ortom goes straight for the meat, no bullshitting.”