Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue, is one of the biggest critics of the federal government’s handling of security. He believes insecurity is on the rise in his state, and the country at large, because the government at the centre is overwhelmed.
In this interview with TheCable, Ortom shares his two cents on how to improve Nigeria’s security architecture, the clamour for state police and national dialogue, surviving an attack on March 20, and his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Question: Despite your efforts to keep Benue safe, asking people to take up arms that are not prohibited by law to defend themselves, why is insecurity still on the rise?
Ortom: I want to quote from the Bible, the Bible says ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter’. Everything is about the head, if you don’t have the correct leadership at the top it becomes difficult to regulate, especially for a country like Nigeria that we believe to be a federation. The federating units are not practising what the federal government is. (There’s) too much concentration of power at the centre. As governor, I do not have control over the security men, it is the federal government.
You already heard that Fulani men attacked me. An investigative team was sent here and they also confirmed that they were Fulani men, only for me to hear that the (former) inspector-general of police was in the presidential villa and acted a script of Garba Shehu to say it is not Fulani men that attacked me, that I was lying. Garba Shehu was not there, (former) IGP was not there, an investigative team was here and verified that it was Fulani men that attacked me. So that is a typical example of what is happening here in Nigeria.
So, that is the challenge and that is why we will continue to clamour for the state police. It is happening in the UK, the US, it is happening in China and several other countries. You would see that there is security in those countries, not here in Nigeria where the federal government is overcrowded with everything. Things are not working, why can’t we experiment with this (state police) in the country.
Here in Benue, we have done our best, but I must say that the issue of last resort should be adopted by ensuring that people should also take up arms in self-defence. The self-defence is yet to fully take off, that is why you have seen the level of insecurity around here. The community volunteer guards are going to be a community-based security outfit. Every armed robber, every kidnapper, herdsmen, they come from the localities where these people live.
So if you had people overseeing the security of the society within the community, the local community for that matter, we will be able to nip some of those issues in the bud and people should take control of our security. We will get there, we have not lost hope. Truly the security architecture of this country is completely overstretched and it does not have the capacity to contain the level of banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, criminality that is going around. We have to get our own people to adopt the community volunteer guards which are legally backed with a law — and this will help us. Our community volunteer guards are going to work with the police and other security agencies.
How do you think the APC government has done in terms of security?
Ortom: This APC government is not serious, I have also said it. Tell me what they have succeeded in doing? Is it the economy, security, political or social activities of our country?
They have succeeded in ruining the entire country. The APC-led federal government has completely failed in all aspects. Is it corruption they are fighting? I can name several people. Where is (senator) Abdullahi Adamu that was being prosecuted by the EFCC, have you heard anything about his prosecution? Tell me about Akpabio – after Oshiomhole said “if you join APC you will become a saint, your sins are forgiven”. He was the minority leader of PDP (in the senate) and he was being prosecuted. As soon as he left and joined the APC, have you heard anything about his prosecution again? Tell me about the former governor of Gombe, Danjuma Goje. He was being prosecuted, he contested for senate (presidency) and they told him to leave and they will withdraw EFCC charges against him. Have you heard of anything like that?
What kind of injustice is that? Do we have two constitutions in this country? One of sacred cows and one for some of us. You hear every day EFCC coming to arrest my subordinates for nothing. They will just frame lies and say they have taken this much. My chief of staff was arrested, my adviser on sustainable development goals was also arrested, they said he stole N5 billion, the other one N4 billion and there was no trace of any form of stealing that had taken place. There are people around the country who have stolen billions and go to APC, they become saints but those who stole chicken are jailed.
This kind of injustice will not hold. That is why we keep saying that, look, the APC has gotten it wrong. I have a formula to rescue security, the economy, to rescue all the problems in this country and it is what our elite elder statesman, Maitama Yusuf Sule, said to Buhari when he went to congratulate him in 2015 before he was sworn in. He said “look Mr President, there can be no peace or development in the midst of injustice – ensure peace”. He repeated it, I have watched the video clip several times. He repeated it, “ensure justice, equity and fairness to the people, you are president for all, not a president for one”.
I think the scriptwriters of Mr. President imposed what an American president did say, that he will be president for everybody and nobody.
Look at the appointments, where is justice, where is equity, where is fairness in the appointments? Do we no longer have the federal character commission in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Do we no longer respect equity to ensure that all sections of the country are represented?
So this is the challenge we have, we can never have this and development – without equity fairness and justice. That is all I have been crying about. I tell him (Buhari) the truth, I tell him what I think will bring prosperity, will bring peace, will bring development to our country.
You said there is a need for a national dialogue and a need for volunteer guards…
Ortom: Of course, I have said it, there is every need for the government at the federal level. I don’t have that capacity, if I had, I’d have done it to declare a state of emergency on security in this country.
Things are falling apart. There are many other things. I would have also suggested that we declare a state of emergency on the economy of this country. We cannot take all things at the same time but the first thing is to declare a state of emergency on the security of this country so that all hands will be on deck to address this matter, all stakeholders will come in and proffer solutions.
There are superior suggestions that can make things work for our country. It is important that Mr President comes out and addresses this country, not Shehu Garba or as one of my mothers say, “Shehu Adesina”. It should be the president himself, he was elected, he appointed these people, so we are demanding that he should address us. One thing in politics is that it is a game of numbers, so when you win an election, even those that oppose you, who did not vote for you, have voted for you once you win an election.
The federal government should organise a security summit, let’s have a dialogue, let everybody come together. They say two heads are better than one. Many people have suggestions that can take Nigeria out of the quagmire that we are in today if they are given the opportunity. We have opinions from the north-west, north-east, north-central, south-south, south-west, south-east. If we have all these opinions that will be blended into a programme, it will stop the secessionist agitations that are going on today.
As a result of the inaction or action of the presidency and the federal government, several people are not comfortable and it is leading them to plan things that are detrimental to the development of our country Nigeria.
Is the Nigerian project working for us? There must be that form of discussion. I don’t have the powers to do that, it is the federal government.
How have you been able to manage COVID-19 in Benue?
Ortom: I see COVID as a wave that came and it will go, if it has not gone, at least in Benue state. I see it as a wave that came. We lost very prominent personalities, my deputy chairman of the action committee on COVID-19 died as a result of COVID. Several other people too but we have been able to observe all the COVID-19 protocol.
Today by the grace of God I can say that, reasonably, we are out of the woods. For more than two months I have not heard about any death recorded as far as we are concerned here in Benue state. And I have not even heard of anyone who is sick as a result of COVID-19.
Through the action committee on COVID-19, anyone who had contracted COVID-19 has been healed through the protocol we offer here.
What will be your legacy after office?
Ortom: Peace. Peace for the people. Ensuring the rule of law and due process, because that is what I stand for. That is why since 2015, we have legislated and enacted over 30 laws. We have laws on the prohibition of cultism, kidnapping, open grazing, all sorts of criminal activities here
We have ensured that we have laws to regulate the activities. Because we have found ourselves in a country where the country does not believe in the rule of law – where they believe in the rule of law but they are using a different constitution alien to the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.
So it has become extremely difficult to accept it. For instance, Miyetti Allah, a former socio-cultural organisation, said they will never obey the laws that we have enacted legitimately, so that is the problem. But we are committed and concerned that while we do other things to impact on the lives of the people of Benue state in terms of developing infrastructure, in terms of roads, in terms that we promote agriculture which is our mainstay in the economy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In terms of reaching out to our people, we have succeeded in making people understand the need for the rule of law and peace so that there can be development and we believe that without the rule of law there will be anarchy, like what we are seeing in our country. If there is anarchy everything will be apart.