In political times like these, it is difficult to see someone sitting on the fence, and claiming neutrality. If you see a person in Nigeria today, claiming neutrality, you know right away that he is married to hypocrisy or, worse, he is beholden to subterranean interests that will neither permit him independence of thought or freedom of action.
So, being without such shackles, I state here, upfront, that I am not neutral: I am partial to Benue and Nigeria, and I am partial to Democracy and Development
. But beyond all these, I am partial to Life; and in this partiality, there is no apology, hesitation, equivocation, or ambiguity.
As I have argued elsewhere before now, the biggest issue facing our beloved nation today is neither the galloping poverty that is giving the Giant of Africa a limp nor the 2023 General Elections that ordinarily should be dominating public discourse by this hour. The biggest issue is the alarming insecurity that has made Nigeria a deadly player on the terror tracks, coming only behind Afghanistan and Iraq, but beating countries like Syria, Somalia, and Yemen! We may look at Syria, Somalia, and Yemen and wonder, but it is the reality: for where other countries just contend with terrorists and kidnappers, in Nigeria, terrorists are assisted by bandits, agitators, ritualists, kidnappers, and killer-herdsmen from foreign countries!
The issue is so serious that it does not only threaten the 2023 General Elections – it equally jeopardizes Nigeria’s corporate existence. In fact, it is so grave that the Federal Government, evidently sworn to press freedom, on 7th July 2021, barred the media from giving details of terrorist attacks and the identities of victims.
Although killer-herdsmen are not the only cause of insecurity, they form the major plank of the hydra-headed problem – the other, being the intractable Boko Haram terrorists. Although Boko Haram terrorists are no juveniles when it comes to the terror-business, killer-herdsmen have carried the trophy: for while the former have limited their operations, largely, to the North-East
, the latter have democratized terror, ensuring that death and mayhem are visited upon every state in the country – and not only continually, but continuously.
But the menace of killer-herdsmen is not new, and if Nigeria had been more proactive about it, she would today be contending with only the Boko Haram insurgency.
And this is where Gov. Samuel Ortom comes in. Like other aspirants to public office in 2014/2015, Ortom saw the menace that killer-herdsmen posed to national stability. Perhaps, as someone whose local government was under direct occupation, including his homestead and the ancestral home of the then Tor Tiv (the late Orchivirigh Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula), he had to see the problem much clearer than others.
But he did not just see – he decided on a course of action. For someone who had buried too many relations, attended too many funerals, and taken up the upkeep of too many orphans, widows, and widowers, a remedial course of action was an emergency. He was decided, even then, that no one would say of him, in the days to come, that: “Ortom SAW nothing, HEARD nothing and DID nothing.”
This was why on May 29, 2015, as he took his oath of office at IBB Square, he unveiled his plan, with a declaration: “We will do everything possible to contain attacks on our people by criminal gangs and herdsmen. We will, through appropriate legislation, encourage those with livestock in the state to keep them on ranches.”
This means long before his governor-colleagues, especially those from victim-states, would see the problem in their second terms, Ortom had seen it! That is vision.
Ortom knew that if the menace of killer-herdsmen was not checked early and decisively, it had the potential of hobbling Nigeria and bringing the Giant of Africa to her knees! And he kept his promise: On 22nd May 2017, two years into his four-year tenure, he signed the Open Grazing Prohibition Bill into Law! This was not only promise-keeping – it was keeping faith with the people.
In fact, he signed another bill into law on that day too i.e. the Anti-Kidnapping and Cultism bill. And we know that herdsmen terrorism and banditry go hand-in-hand with kidnappings and abductions. It is a great disservice to the Ortom administration that Nigeria is quiet about this second law when this and the ban on open grazing complement each other in securing peace, safeguarding life and property as well as generating win-win outcomes for both crop and animal farmers. That was May 2017!
This means long before his colleagues woke up to the ugly reality with the Asaba Declaration on the Tuesday of 11th May 2021; long before the South-West governors would ban open grazing in their states on 25th January 2021; and a clear four years before the South-East Governors’ Conference (SEGC) would wake up and prohibit open grazing in the South-East states on February 1st, 2021, Gov. Ortom had acted! And what he did was not an afterthought, but aforethought. No matter how we feel about Ortom, we can only describe this for what it is: Leadership!
It was a former US President, Theodore Roosevelt, who said: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
So, did Ortom do nothing upon the assumption of office like other governors? No – he did something. Did he do the wrong thing? Not in the least. So, what does he do? He did the right thing. How can we be so sure of that? The fact that slumbering governors in the North and South have woken up finally is ample proof of that.
His lone voice in 2016/2017 has become a national chorus in 2021. The erstwhile voice crying in the Benue Valley has today become an unstoppable national movement, with loud reverberations in the North and South!
He hasn’t done everything, but that was not his campaign promise as only God can have promised that. The biggest arguments against Ortom are: that he has not given Benue world-class infrastructure; that he talks about herdsmen too much and that he is not paying salaries.
This is pure propaganda. Funnily enough, people who peddle this pernicious propaganda ambush him by turning around to accuse him of propaganda. What they don’t tell the people is that, although we have many infrastructures like social infrastructure, physical infrastructure, the infrastructure of ideas, there is no infrastructure bigger than the infrastructure of life! And pray, how can someone who is always burying the dead or rehabilitating widows and orphans stop shouting for help?
Of course, the worker deserves his wages, and Benue deserves world-class infrastructure too, but only the living receive salaries and other entitlements; and only the living go to school! This is a fact of life, and not propaganda. And Benue people reacted accordingly in 2019 by revalidating Ortom’s mandate. The fact is: those banking on propaganda and strange loyalties will still draw nill at the electoral counter, Come 2023.
Other people tend to commonize the Open Grazing Prohibition Law, asking asininely, most callously: “Did herdsmen killings start with him? Why always: Herdsmen, herdsmen?”
The great wisdom of this sort of people seems to say: “It didn’t start with him, so he should do nothing about it!” Others tell you the law was not Ortom’s original idea. And yet he promised ranching in 2015? But even if it wasn’t – doesn’t it advertise the democratic credentials that he surrendered his executive might to the popular will?
We also hear that he has personalized it! And it’s such a big sin? Which governor has killer-herdsmen announced as their target for elimination? Which governor has lost (and is losing) personal lands or personal relations to killer-herdsmen? Which governor has bent over backward for peace with killer-herdsmen, even calling some of them “indigenous Fulanis” to the chagrin of many who questioned how he could tell the difference? Which governor has been opposed by his party and its hierarchy when he put his people ahead of his ambition and party loyalty? Which governors will have time to plan when his state has been targeted for a forceful takeover, with very heavy liabilities: Masses of corpses to bury, hordes of survivors to camp/rehabilitate, and volumes of letters to write?
People are free to point at Borno state, but they should also tell us the volume of funds that are accruing to Gov. Babagana Zulum from all sources. Who will know if he doesn’t open up? If masari didn’t open up about the N6.5bn for Abuja gave him for ranching, wouldn’t we have laude his prudence, managerial competence, and executive dexterity?
The truth must be told, and it is hereby told: As far as the issue of ranching is concerned if we want to compare Gov. Samuel Ioraer Ortrom with any previous Benue state governor, we have to bypass all his living predecessors and go all the way to the grave of Gov. Apollos Aper Aku, who in his foresight, set up the Ikyogen Cattle Ranch!
One can only thank God for validating Ortom’s voice like that of John the Baptist. John’s was alone, even if strident, voice, but in the fullness of time, that voice birthed a Movement that lit the Levant and took the world by storm. More than 2000 years later, the Power of that Movement still impacts our world today. If you are reading this piece in a car or aircraft, you know where it came from. And if you are in your sitting-room, just look around: the TV, the electric bulb, the fan, the AC, the chandelier, the couch, the computer, the gas-cooker, electricity, the solar panel, shoes … all came from the Light of the enlightened West. And yet, John the Baptist, the man who announced the birth of the global movement, and Jesus, who gave it flesh, were both killed, prematurely.
Ortom stated this, and Nigeria has caught it. Even if God allows him to be killed for the common good, he will make good company. After all, he is not too young to die. Plus, he has already beaten the life-expectancy threshold of 59 for men in Nigeria in 2021!
…Imobo-Tswam, a public space commentator, writes from Abuja.