I don’t know if Benue will support Buhari in 2019 —Ortom

WHAT’S the situation in Benue State now with the Fulani herdsmen killings?

The situation is that we are praying that God should help us. My main concern is that the killings are still going on though not in the magnitude of the one that took place on the 1st of January, and the security agencies are doing their best. It’s just that the capacity is not enough. The areas are very wide and so it’s guerrilla killings that are going on. It’s not that they are stationed in one place. So, it’s a major problem. But the security agencies are doing their best. But I’m deeply concerned about the IDPs. The IDPs are my worry. They are increasing every day because each time they attack a community, the neighbouring communities too will begin to run for the fear of the unknown. And this has continued. The rains are coming in. The people need to go back to do their farm work. That is why I have already raised the alarm that there is going to be famine. The issue of food insecurity in Benue State is a concern to me now. As the food basket of the nation, when you have over 170,000 people in IDP camps that cannot have access to their farms, then that’s a problem. We have attempted to encourage them to go back. It is a major concern. We are discussing with the security agencies, with the friendly MACBAN (Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria) to see how they can restrain their people. They have no problem with our law. They too accepted that truly, based on the lack of land and the growing population, there is the need to adopt modern ways of cattle rearing, which is ranching. They too have accepted it. It’s a matter of time. But we have agreed that we will implement the law with a human face. So, if people who are willing to cooperate with us, we can find a way of accommodating them so that eventually, they establish their ranches in the state. But the thing has impacted negatively on the economy of the state. There are no commercial activities going on, no farming activities going on and the burden on the state government in taking care of these IDPs is another source of worry.

We appreciate God, God has been very helpful, there is no major epidemic taking place around these untidy camps, but having 34,000 people in a primary school is not good enough. And anything could have happened but God has been very faithful. Several good spirited individuals have made donations of food and non-food items, providing medical facilities, providing several things to support them. Some providing cash to take care of them.  We have competent management teams in eight of these camps that are providing services for minimum comfort for all the IDPs. So far, it is well. I have contacted the Presidency and the president has assured me that he will direct more relief materials and also try to send help so that repairs will be done on these homes that were destroyed, so that people can go back. Because truly, going back now, where are they going to stay especially now that the rains are setting in? But it cannot be government business alone. I still want to call on those with the capacity to still support us.  Nothing can be too small; nothing can be too big to be given to these people. Like I always say, it could have been me in that camp. It could have been anyone in that camp. It could have been my children or your children in that camp. So, they are the same human beings. That is my major concern now. The truth is that I can’t sleep with my two eyes closed. I’m deeply worried about this but I want to appreciate the assurances from Mr. President that he is going to send help.


It’s been a major distraction for your administration. How do you balance the demands of the crisis with day-to-day running of your government?

Like I said, it’s a major concern to me. About these IDPs and the crisis itself, because the security agencies must be supported and there must be cooperation with security agencies for intelligence gathering. They are doing their best; they are cooperating with me very well now, largely because they too are not spared by these herdsmen. They kill them. We have lost about 11 policemen, two civil defence corps; the vigilante group has also lost some people. So, it’s a concern to all of us. We appreciate God, we have not broken down. We are still working. It’s very hectic and tedious trying to cope with the challenges of day-to-day running of government, especially in a state where you don’t have enough money. It becomes a very difficult thing. And coping with issues in this IDP camp, one thing is that I pray every day that God should help us. Let nothing happen to them because it’s a source of concern. But so far, the Executive Secretary of SEMA [State Emergency Management Authority] is doing very well in trying to cope. There are competent management teams in each of these camps. Information dissemination and the task of providing minimum comfort for these people are being carried out by these people. So, it makes it easier. Once in a while I go to supervise. The Executive Secretary goes round. Just last week, I was in all the IDP camps, I had fellowship with them, sat with them, listened to them to know their plight. I also brought a renowned evangelist who also encouraged them with the word of God and they were very happy and excited. We were able to praise God and dance together, I also participated and they were very happy. All of them expressed their interest to go back home. There is nothing like home. So, whatever we do there, they are still appealing that I should appeal to Mr. President to help them go back to their homes. And that is what I have done.


How do you quantify the losses recorded by Benue in this crisis so far?

Well, before 2018, we had said we lost over N195 billion and over 1,800 people were killed and many people were displaced. Many people were wounded and homes destroyed and all that. So, that is where we are. The year 2018, we are still doing some information gathering. But we are going to put it together. But before now, from 2011 to 2017, we had lost over N195 billion, over 1,800 people were killed.


At the height of the problem, you announced that you were taking a break from partisan politics. But it looks like you are edging back into politics. Is the break over? What informed your turn around?

Of course. Maybe I was misquoted. I did say that I was going to step down my activities of campaigning for myself or for any other person. And that, I have done. I’ve not gone out to campaign. I know that as a party man, I have attended one or two meetings. And, of course, those people who will also help me to solve this problem as it is today are here in Abuja and, of course, they will understand me better if I am with them. So, it’s another strategy of working with the people to help me come out of this problem. This is something that I cannot manage; it is beyond me. I need the president. I need my colleagues, the governors. I need the ministers. I need all these people. So, we don’t have to run away completely.  But, honestly, I’m not doing any campaign activities until I’m able to settle my people to go back. Or how will I go to do any campaign or to IDPs camps? So, the level at the crisis got us into, we needed all hands to be on deck. So, I did reach out to even members of PDP and other political parties to join me so that together, we can work to surmount the challenge. This is not caused by me; it is not caused by President Buhari. As I said, the crisis started from 2011. So, it predates his coming in as president. So, no one is saying that he started the crisis. It is something that we need to work together on.

These people have a different agenda that is not known by many people. They have a different agenda. These herdsmen, I see them as Boko Haram; I see them as ISIS; I see them as ISWA, you know, because they are working together. And I believe that the security agencies should look deeper into these things and fish these people out because it is not good for our security system.


How far did you go with your mobilisation of Benue leaders irrespective of their party affiliation, particularly PDP members, towards maintaining a common front in this crisis? Are you on the same page?

We are working together. We came together and agreed. In fact, I did call that the situation we are in, we needed to work together. And so, we must put aside our political differences. We must sheath our swords. We must push away the fox before we come back to take the remaining chicken. That is what our people say. In times of trouble, you send away the fox. When the fox comes to kill your chicken, you come together and send it away before you come back and take the remaining part of the chicken. So, that is what we have agreed we do. There is no doubt that we had strained relationship with my predecessor, Dr. Gabriel Suswam. The Tor Tiv called us and said ‘look, the crisis we are in is beyond two of you, it’s beyond political parties. Because if you politic and you have no persons to get votes from, what will it profit you?’ So, we should work together not minding our political differences. We can be in different political parties but we can work for the interest of the state. The Benue people are paramount. They become the first thing. First thing first. So, when we secure the land, we can now politic. So, that it where we are. We are working together. They are also reaching out to me. Any advice that can help to solve this problem will be welcome.


You once said you are prepared to sacrifice yourself over this crisis. What exactly did you mean? Do you still stand by that statement?

You know in the midst of these kinds of things, there is always the Judas; there are always people who want to take advantage of situations, even if it is with people’s blood. So, you hear people planning against you to say ‘ah, people are planning against you, your second tenure and all that.’ And I say put that behind me. That is not my priority for now. My priority is to secure the people. So, people were telling lies and trying to manipulate things against me and to their favour. And I did say ‘look, I don’t care about second tenure.’ If standing for my people will earn me my second term, so be it. After all, they voted me in. So, by the grace of God, I have immunity as governor. So, I am the only one that can defend them. There are certain things some people will say or do and they will go to jail. But me, I cannot. That is why the constitution of our country provides that, so as to give the people protection. And my understanding about governance is that the priority is about securing people’s lives and properties. That is number one before any other thing. If you don’t secure the lives of the people, what are you doing? If you don’t provide security for them, what are you doing? So, for that, I will do my best. I will not mind whatever happens. The point I am making is that whether it costs me anything, I am ready to sacrifice. I’m not afraid of anything in defending my people.


There is a feeling in Benue that President Muhammadu Buhari has let your people down. How has this affected your relationship with him?

No, you see, there are different people with different styles of management. He can explain why he delayed in going to Benue for instance. But the truth of the matter and to be fair to Mr. President, when this incident took place and I called him, he quickly said ‘where is the Inspector General of Police?’ and immediately directed him to relocate to Benue State. So, issues of whether obeying or not are things on the table that we are discussing. But the truth is that he acted. And when later I requested that I needed additional soldiers, he directed and they came. But there are issues of whether he delayed. I think that is his style. It’s not that he visited other states and neglected us. When he started, he went round. So, people have different styles of administering the people and I think that is his own style. All the same, it was good that he came to us in Benue State. It is said that ‘better late than never.’ He came. But most importantly, if those issues that we raised are addressed, our people go back to their communities and there are no more attacks and people are law abiding and are obeying the ranching law and all that, you know, there will be peace. We will take it like that.

The state voted Buhari in 2015. Given their perception of him at the moment, how can you convince them to go back to him if he chooses to re-contest?

Well, they will wait. First thing first; now, let us secure the land. Let us secure the people. Then, we can talk politics. There are certain things that can make Mr. President get even more votes even with the current situation. So, Mr. President had the opportunity of talking with the people, we spoke to him frankly and it was very civil. We spoke to him; they bared their minds. I did the summary. And Mr. President was patient to wait to listen to 16 people, stakeholders, who spoke and he appreciated it and responded that he was going to get back to us. So, it’s one of the things I have reminded him. And I believe that action will be taken and those concerns that we have raised will be treated. We are all leaders. Then we can go back to politics. Like I have said, I have stepped down campaign activities. So, I cannot go to be talking about assessing what will happen or not. But I tell you, our people are committed and I believe that once we are able to resolve this one, we can now go back to them and I will be able to give you a feedback.


There were speculations that you may dump APC over this matter. Did you consider that move? What’s your thinking at the moment?

That is not on my table for now. The fact is that I am concerned with the crisis. Let it be resolved. Let the people go back.  Dumping the party, the situation does not call for it now. Politics is democracy. That is what we are practising here; so, you are working with the people. There are stakeholders; I don’t just take decisions on joining party or leaving a party like that. There are stakeholders that will determine what happens. But for me, now I’m in APC.  You can see me attending caucus meeting, NEC meetings and all that. We are still there. If there are other challenges, they will be taken care of when we are able to resolve the matter on ground. But I tell you the truth, my priority now is to see how these people can go back and wherever I can get help, I’m ready to accept it. If I had not made that statement and if I had not taken this approach, support would not be coming from PDP. So far, we’ve got support from the PDP at the national level. [Nyesom] Wike is PDP governor of Rivers State. He came [Governor Ayo] Fayose came, he donated, and several people who are not even in parties at all. So, in situations like this, it is better to downplay politics, leave it aside. But most importantly like I said, first of all, chase away the fox, then, you can come back and take the remaining chicken. But if you don’t chase it away, it will cause more harm and damage to your chicken.


Benue and Taraba states share the same fate over herdsmen attacks. How do you react to the call in Taraba by Gen. T.Y. Danjuma for people to engage in self-defence, because the military cannot be trusted to protect them from the attackers?

I also heard the frustration of Gen. T.Y. Danjuma. You know this is a statesman, a very respectable person just like President Buhari. Every Nigerian knows where this man is coming from, who he is and what he is. His concern is about adding value and contributing to the growth of this country. His foundation has done so much for so many indigent children and also supported women and youth in so many empowerment programmes. And so, his concern has been that we make development. And so, these killings, honestly, one can be frustrated about them. You recall that I earlier made this statement that people will have no choice but to defend themselves, because it is said that self-preservation is the first law of nature. Those who are saying Gen. Danjuma is calling for arms, I am not sure that is what he is saying if I heard him well from what the media reported. And I heard him verbatim saying it. He was frustrated. He was angry. I could read anger and frustration from his face because if it were you, you will also feel so because of the manner these people come in and viciously kill and leave as if there is no law on ground, as if there is no security on ground. These are the kinds of things that are happening. But I’m not sure he said that they should take prohibited arms. But honestly, it is not right to say people should come into your house and slaughter you and you watch them slaughtering your child or wife or husband. If you have any other weapon even if it is a stick or mortar you have, you can use it to fight, or with your hands.

I once disarmed armed robbers that came to my house and took away my driver and my car. I went after them. They were four with seven AK-47s and three pistols. I went after them and disarmed their gang leader and recovered four AK-47s and three pistols. Yes. I recovered my car and my driver without a pin. So, if I say defend yourself, this is the kind of thing I am saying. If I had not gone after them, they would have left with my car. In 2009, I did it in Makurdi. The testimony is there. I held this ring leader, the people wanted to mob him, but I protected him and took him to the police headquarters and handed him over. So, we recovered four AK-47s, over 600 ammunitions and three pistols with a knife and all the charms he had. So, these are the kinds of things I think that Gen. Danjuma was trying to communicate. But it can be frustrating. I can imagine from what happened to me. I can feel the pain that he is going through.

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