WHO is afraid of Governor Samuel Ortom? That appears to be a major puzzle that the authorities are set to unravel. His narrow escape from the hands of suspected gunmen on March 19 while on his farm introduced a new dimension to his travails over security issues in a state regarded as the food basket of the nation. Various theories have since emerged since the diminutive Tiv-born politician provided further insight into the March 20 episode. One of them is that it is a consequence of his decision to stick to the gun over the enactment of a law against open cattle grazing in the state. The other hypothesis is that the incident was a fluke designed to elicit public sympathy, given the security usually around governors, while another school of thought claims that it borders on the political intrigues preparatory to the next dispensation.
Nonetheless, Ortom remains an issue in the debacle of herders’ onslaught in the North-Central down to most states in the Southern axis of the country. It is recalled that he came into office on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015 as the fifth executive governor of Benue and hinges his life and rise to power to divine arrangements. He once personally gave a story on how he single-handedly confronted and demobilised gang of three robbers that snatched his car at a gunpoint some years ago. He said the car was snatched closed to his house at Judge’s Quarters in Makurdi, the state capital and instead of resigning himself to fate and report to the police, he rushed back home, picked another car and gave the dare-devil robbers a hot chase. Luckily for him, he caught up with them around the popular Wurukum Roundabout in Makurdi and used the vehicle to block the snatched car. “I ran out of my car and rushed into the robbers’ car and held the man with the gun, demobilised him while the two others ran away. The armed robber was subsequently taken to police station,” Ortom said.
The story of Ortom will not be complete without reference to his background. Having grown up in a motor park as a tout, by providence, he rose steadily to the Government House. After serving as a junior minister in the Jonathan administration, Ortom was unsuccessful in his bid for the governorship seat under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the power-that-be then robbed him of the opportunity to fly the party’s flag as he came a distant third in the party primary. So, he forged an alliance with his former boss and third executive governor of the state, George Akume, who is the leader of APC in the state and eventually triumphed as the standard-bearer of the APC in 2015. But the ice on the Akume-Ortom tie soon melted over irreconcilable differences.
Since the enactment of the Benue State Anti Open Grazing Law 2017, Ortom has consistently raised the alarm about acclaimed threats to his life allegedly by armed herders opposed to the law. The law was apt, considering the herdsmen’s clashes which started in the state in 2012 and took a dangerous dimension in 2014 when the entourage of a former governor of the state, Gabriel Suswam was attacked in Guma Local Government Area. In Suswam’s entourage were; police commissioner in the state then, some executive council members, journalists and security details. So, with collaboration with the Civil Society Organisations (CSO) in the state, the state government initiated a bill prohibiting open grazing to the state assembly, which passed into law after due process of legislation before it was signed into law by Ortom.
Last Saturday’s attack on him, according to the governor, was not the first time. In one of his interactions with newsmen, he had claimed in 2017, at the time of signing into law, both the Miyeitti Allah Kataore and the Fulani Nationality Movement, allegedly threatened his life, as well as vowed to make the state ungovernable. On January 1, 2018, ethnic militias formed a ring round the whole state and unleashed terror, killing and maiming innocent farmers. At least, 73 people were killed within few days, with the victims given a mass burial in Makurdi. But relative sanity returned to Benue, following the deployment of troops of Operation Whirl Stroke to the state by the Federal Government. On the latest attack, the governor claimed that he had an intelligence report prior to the incident but he was confident that his life was not in the hands of anyone. His words: “And this is not the first time. I heard intelligence report before that these people said that they were going to kill my security aides and then capture me alive and give me gradual killing. Like I always say, my life is in the hands of God…. I still remain firm, I will fight for truth, equity and fairness till when God permits that I will not be here again; then, I can go. It is only God that can permits my exit on this earth.”
In a recent interview with the Nigerian Tribune, Ortom had a special message for President Muhammadu Buhari on the problem of insecurity in the country. He said: “The president, as our leader, is not doing well; that is why I am calling on him to step up his action and act faster than the way it is being done right now: declare state of emergency on security so that all resources, all strength would be channeled towards ensuring that we have security of lives and property in this country.”