•We’re fully mobilised in Benue to prevent election rigging
•’Why I support southern president for 2023′
By Peter Duru, MAKURDI
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state, in this no-holds-barred interview, accused the presidency of having murdered justice, fairness and equity in Nigeria thereby creating room for separatist agitations. He also spoke on defections in the PDP, the sponsored media attacks against him, his support for the south to produce the next president in 2023 and power shift in Benue state. Excerpts:
Some critics have accused your government of not achieving anything since you came on board in 2015. How will you respond to that?
In politics, you will always expect attack from your opponents. Even when there’s nothing to say, they will find a way to portray you as a bad person in order to generate discussion and try to castigate you and make you feel bad before the people.
But I’ve always said I’ll not be distracted. I had the mandate in 2015, I had another one in 2019; my commitment is the renewed effort to ensure the dividend of democracy to the people. My stand against the injustice, unfairness and inequity that is going on by the federal government of Nigeria, headed by the presidency has orchestrated the renewed attack on me.
They feel that they will send a narrative that will impact negatively on me, but I think that our people are wiser, more than they think. And I’m more committed, even with the attacks, to ensuring that we have justice. Without justice, there can be no peace in the land. And I’m more prepared, just like Martin Luther said; “if I keep quiet in the face of injustice, then I am worse than the people who perpetrate the injustice.”
I am not prepared to be part of that, my people require justice. I’m appealing and begging the presidency and those people who are not happy with the kinds of things I say to ensure that they give justice to my people. If they feel offended, I’m more offended than them and I will not be distracted by what they say.
That alone will not make me to be silent. I will continue to say it as long as God gives me the strength and the spirit to continue in this life. I will continue to say that this presidency has murdered justice, murdered equity and murdered fairness in this country. And that’s why you see various agitations.
I don’t support what Kanu is doing, I don’t support what Igboho is doing, I don’t support it because I believe in the unity of our country Nigeria. It is the presidency that is promoting this unwanted agitation for the separation of this country. So the president should come out and give justice because he cannot deny that he is the president of this country.
He is the leader of this country, he has the mandate of our people to govern at this time so everything rests on him. If the head is not right, nothing will be right. So I am saying that Buhari should rise up; it’s not enough to raise your ministers, raise those who are working with you, raise those you have appointed to take crumbs from the table of the presidency and then insult patriotic people who want justice, equity and fairness for their people.
If I don’t speak, who will speak? I was elected popularly by the people of Benue State in 2015 and in 2019. So if I can’t speak who will speak for Benue people? So I stand committed even to the extent of those who are oppressed in other parts of the country that people cannot speak on their behalf; I speak for those oppressed people in this country.
What is happening in Nigeria is not right, things are not going well, the President must arise. It should not be enough to raise people to insult me and to say things that are not warranted. If I did not perform in 2015, my people wouldn’t have elected me in 2019. If I did not perform in 2019 till date, my people wouldn’t have continuously passed vote of confidence on me.
Those people who are in Abuja and are paid and are eating crumbs with appointees of government, let them come to Benue state and issue press statements, let me see the reaction of the people in Benue state. For me, I’m committed in delivering dividends of democracy.
There are quite a number of projects to be commissioned and I am going to do that. I’ve commissioned some before and I’m still going to do it. And I think I will ask Mr President to come and commission some of my projects.
I will also invite the Minister of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs to come to Benue state and commission some of our projects so that they will appreciate and not continue to sponsor people to rant against me and my government.
There are growing concerns that your party, the PDP has become polarized and that is the reason some governors are leaving the party. There are also rumours of plans to remove the national chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, how true is this?
You know politics, as defined by one of the greatest philosophers in our time, is a game of interest, no permanent enemy, no permanent friend. People are free to defect to any political party for whatever reason that they find expedient.
I was in PDP when things did not go down well with me I defected to APC and I won the election in 2015 and several other people were carried on my back as a result of my defection to APC and they won.
In 2017, when things did not go well and I was defending my people and some people felt that I should not defend my own people, I defected back to PDP and also won election. So I have no issue with those defecting here and there.
But the only challenge is that, let those people come clean because you heard the former National Chairman of APC saying that when you defect to APC you will become a saint, even if you are a devil. And so people who have mismanaged themselves and mismanaged public property are afraid. And that’s the instrument that the federal government is using on our people.
They came to me and I said no, I have no skeleton. Let them bring it out. If you don’t do well I will take you to court and we dig it out there. You have also heard about a current minister serving today who has embezzled a lot of money and bought an estate for $37million and $20million was recovered from her house.
And up till today we have been calling on the presidency to expose that Minister and let there be justice. But have you heard anything from the presidency? And even the EFCC, I want to challenge the EFCC Chairman, he is a young man, he should stand on his integrity and what he told us when he was confirmed.
Let there be justice, equity and fairness. He should unearth that Minister; it is not enough to say a serving Minister. Let him come out to tell us who that Minister is and how far he is going about the investigation.
We have heard about several former Governors who were being prosecuted by the EFCC but today because they are in the APC everything is silent. What kind of justice are you talking about in this country? What kind of integrity is the presidency talking about?
The presidency should come out and tell us if its hands are clean. He that comes to equity must come with clean hands. Where are Mr. President’s clean hands in this matter that we are talking about? How can you be accommodating people who are perceived to have criminal tendencies in your government and you tell me that nothing is happening?
It is not fair. This is not the Nigeria we bargained for. This is not what Mr. President stood for in 2015 that prompted Nigerians to vote for him. Somebody stole a chicken, he is arrested by the EFCC and jailed but somebody stole billions and because he is in the APC you allow him. Posterity will not forgive Mr. President if he continues in this manner.
The name Samuel Ortom has become a household name because you do not hesitate to speak out on issues that affect the generality of Nigerians. At the end of your tenure in 2023 what do we expect from Governor Ortom?
After 2023, I am prepared to go back to my farm. Thank God I’m one of the biggest farmers we have here in Benue and indeed the North Central zone. I have been doing that since the year 2000, I am grateful to God and if nothing happens I will go back to my farm.
But God has not spoken about the future. I said it long ago that God spoke to me in 1992 that I would be Governor and in 2012, about 20 years after, God said that it would be 2015. And by the grace of God with all the challenges I became Governor.
And in 2017 when things became difficult for me I opted not to contest for second term, and decided I was going back to my farm. But that night, God told me ‘I’m not done with you, you have not committed any offense I will still be with you and give you victory.’ And by the grace of God, we all saw it and how it went.
There was federal might, inconclusive elections but all those were not able to stop me and by the grace of God I am Governor today. I have faith in God. I’m a born again Christian, I trust in God. I will do what God directs me to do.
My desire as a human being is to go back to my farm but if for any reason God directs me to do something else, I’ll be ready and I can assure you, just like I said in 2015 and also said in 2019, if I tell you tomorrow that this is what God has ordained for me to do, which he will tell me, I want to assure you that it will be done.
In your first term you did set up a committee on privatization, that committee did a good job concluding with a piece of advice that your government privatize and commercialize its businesses. You did not do that because people kicked against it, but till date those government businesses have remained moribund….
(Cuts in) Thank you very much. I demonstrated in 2018 that I am a true democrat. If you are representing the people, and there is an agitation and a call for certain things, you respect them.
When I saw that globally the private sector is responsible for driving the economies of various nations, it was no longer about government, we wanted to do the needful in Benue state. Government can only provide the best policies, regulation and monitoring. But driving the economy is purely the responsibility of the private sector.
Go to China, Europe, America and indeed other continents of the world, it is the private sector that is driving the various economies and not government. So you can see what is happening even in Nigeria. Government has privatized more that 80 percent of its commercial enterprises.
So why should we do a different thing in Benue state? We needed to do that (privatize). But when the agitation and blackmail became too much I decided to withdraw. Especially when the Tiv Traditional Council rose in support of those who were agitating against privatization. I then decided to jettison it.
But more than four years now, nothing has taken place or changed. That was why when the tenure of the former council for privatization expired, I decided to reconstitute it; and now I don’t think anybody will stop me, no matter what it is. I am not going to stop it because privatizing and commercializing will help rejuvenate the existing industries that we have.
Today the plastic industry is working in Benue state, the fertilizer blending plant is working and they are providing a lot of employment opportunities for our people. If tomorrow Taraku oil mills, Otukpo Burnt bricks, the roof tiles company, the Agricultural Development Company and several other government enterprises are commercialized and privatized, they will definitely be recruiting more of our people.
So I am not going to be intimidated by anybody. In fact I’m even ready to give out those enterprises for free to capable hands as long as they meet the requirements of law and the rules set by the privatization council.
Because what is important is how we can get our children employed in these enterprises. So it doesn’t matter whatever the opposition, or whatever those who hate me will say about it, but by the grace of God I am not going to relent.
Why have you decided to back the southern governors on the rotational presidency?
Why are you asking me that when you know that I stand for equity, fairness and justice? In Nigeria today we know that we are north and south, isn’t it?
So, if the north has got eight years as president, for the sake of justice, equity and fairness, the south should also have it. Whosoever comes from the south is not my business.
Once the people accept him, I’m ready to support that person. And I stand on that based on my stance on equity, fairness and justice.
Will you support an Igbo presidency if it goes to the south?
Why not! I have several people that are in my own calculation in Igbo land that can be president of this country and can rule well. However, I cannot decide for the southerners because I am not a southerner.
For now, I’m a northerner. We are in a democracy. Whatever the people decide to do in the south is what I will support. All I’m saying is that let there be a southern president. The north has got presidency for eight years and what have we got? Injustice, unfairness and inequity in our land. No security, the economy is in shambles.
As I talk to you now, the federal government has borrowed over N27 trillion and we don’t know what they have done with it. People are just pocketing the money for their own interest. That is the point. So let us try another zone.
That is the point I am making. And look, I did not just support the southern governors on rotational presidency alone. I support their resolution to ensure a deadline for the enactment of prohibition of open grazing law in the southern states.
Thirdly, I support that all the tricks they are making so that they will rig in 2023 must be checked. I support that there should be electronic transmission of results so that there will be no rigging. In Benue State here, anybody who is coming here to rig, I’m telling you, you will not go back to your house o.
Before you leave your house to go and rig in election, pray for your family that God should keep them very well because here we are fully mobilized to ensure that the right thing is done. We are fully prepared for the 2023 elections and whatever intimidation that people bring. We believe that by the grace of God, the God of righteousness will help us to achieve the desired result.
As a man of justice, the people of Benue South Senatorial district have been clamouring to succeed you as governor in 2023. What is your position on that?
Well, let me tell you, I’m a man of justice and I always say that anytime I attempt to deviate, please, remind me. You (media) are between me and the people. So, you have the opportunity to remind me when I’m going wrong.
2023 is open to what the people want. There are several definitions about democracy. One, it is said that democracy is a game of numbers. But for me if you ask me, I have not seen this in the course of my study but I can tell you that democracy means the decision of the majority of the people. So, people come to me from Zone C, and Zone A, of the state, meanwhile nobody has come from Zone B that he wants to be governor.
It’s from Zone C and Zone A and I’ve always said please, go and dialogue with your people. It is not impossible for Zone C to become governor but they have to discuss with their brothers. At the end, I am going to ask especially in my own political party, the PDP.
I will request that let there be a dialogue because there are people in Zone C in my party that want to be governor. There are also people in my party in Zone A that want to be governor too. So, I will put them together, let them discuss.
If they agree that Zone C should produce a candidate, fine. If not, if they say it should be Zone A, I will consent to that. But if not, we are going to follow the rules of the game which is primaries. And by the grace of God, as leader of my party in Benue State, I will ensure equity, fairness and justice for all the contestants.
And at the end, whosoever emerges as a candidate, Samuel Ortom will support that person.