Benue State governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Governor Samuel Ortom, in this interview explains to JOHN CHARLES why he has been talking about herdsmen attacks in the state
The opposition parties in the state have accused you of cashing in on herdsmen attacks in your campaigns. What is your reaction?
I am doing what my people want and that is all about democracy. Even now, killings are still going on. I should be bothered because the primary responsibility of any government is to protect lives and property. The issue of protecting lives and property squarely remains the responsibility of the Federal Government which has the security apparatus. It is not my own. There is no way I will leave my people without protecting them.
Can you react to the allegation by former governor George Akume that you are the richest governor in the North Central? Even the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomole, accused you of diverting funds meant for payment of salaries.
I don’t know, but the truth of the matter is that Akume cannot hold me responsible for not being able to bring in investments by ensuring that he provides jobs, provides opportunities and other things for the people. I was a billionaire before I became governor. Those of you who are in Benue State know. But because of my public office, I had to resign from the chairmanship of my company when I became a minister.
The company is doing fine, borrowing money from NEXIM Bank, Bank of Industry and from the Central Bank Agriculture Development Programme. You can check and confirm. When I discovered this window through the current Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, that there are funds available for agriculture development programmes, especially those that can add value to our primary product, I drew the attention of Akume that with his assets around, he could secure up to N5bn. The central bank was willing to give it to him, but he later told me that he did not have the capacity to run any company, even a farm.
Akume would have gone to jail by now if he was prosecuted. Where did he get money to build the palace that he has in Makurdi with all the houses that he has around this town? What about the ones he bought? Where did he get money to build the house he is living in in Abuja?
You have nothing to offer as a senator for 12 years; you have nothing to show and you make those wild allegations, it is laughable. Where is my house in Abuja? There is none. It’s just last year that I started building a house even in Makurdi which is ongoing. So, where is the richest man?
You have been accused of arming Livestock Guard to torment the people of the state.
Akume is doing that to blackmail me. He also accused me of arming the militia. I remain a very peaceful person. You can go round and see the PDP billboards that they destroyed . We did not respond. They have destroyed my billboard on Lafia Road. Even in Gbajimba, my own hometown, they were responsible for the shooting that took place. I have been reporting to the security agencies because I don’t want anything that will create violence in this state, but that is what they want because they know that they have lost the support of the people in Benue State.
It was alleged that you are using the farmers/herdsmen clashes to project yourself.
On the allegation that I’m using the farmers/herders crises to project myself, how can a government allow herdsmen to continue roaming about after the anti-open grazing law was enacted? So, it is not about me. It is about them and you will recall that recently I raised the alarm that Akume said in a rally that when we got closer to elections, they were going to invite more herdsmen into Benue and they would also direct security agencies not to apprehend them so that there would be insecurity in Benue State and elections will be declared inconclusive.
As I talk to you today, so many herdsmen are coming in with their cattle into the state. We have reported this to the security agencies and we are waiting to see the response that they are going to give. If they don’t stop them from coming in, then, we know that what Akume said was planned and is being executed.
I’m aware that it is a plan by Akume and the APC administration to allow cattle to come in to make the state insecure so that they can rig the elections. Otherwise, they have no hold whatsoever in the state. You would recall that we were to hold our youth rally in 22 local government areas of the state, but because the President was coming to Makurdi, we shifted that of Makurdi. I will continue to defend my people. I will not allow my people to be killed. I prefer to stand with my people even if I’m not the governor.
You talked about killings, but could that be the reason why the opposition said you had wasted three and a half years with nothing to show for it?
Most of you here are always with me, you have gone round and seen the milestone we have achieved, in education, health and other sectors. You have seen these projects some are almost completed.
They are shifting the narrative now. They used to talk about salary, but now we are paying salary up to date. The chairman of the governors’ forum said that 24 states could not pay salary.
The projects are there in all sectors. We have achieved a lot despite the challenges we have.
You know that all the projects were going on until last year when we had problems of payment because of the huge wage bill of the state.
Aside from Lagos and Rivers states, Benue is the third in the country. and the highest in terms of payment of salaries in the North.
There is no way anybody can talk about me diverting or siphoning money anywhere but Akume has that record. This government was investigated by the ICPC; let anybody come out and tell me where we have diverted money.
There is this belief by your opponent that as a Christian that you claim to be, you have not lived up to it. That your yes is no and that you believe so much in propaganda.
Let Jime explain to the people why he was accused of padding budget. It is then you appreciate who is a Christian.
No one is to judge me whether I am a Christian or not. It is left to God; my yes has always been yes. Tell me one thing that I say that is not right; what have I said that is not in line with the teaching of the Bible. There are some things that you forgive; that is the atonement from God.
You forgive others so that God will forgive you. The fact that you are a Christian doesn’t mean you are a saint. But the interesting part of it is that Bible says if you forgive God is ready to forgive you too.
So, even if I sin, I am a human being, I can make mistakes but the onus is on me to reconcile with God by confessing and asking for forgiveness. God will forgive and I have done that several times.
Do you feel threatened by the alleged plan by the APC to use federal might in the state?
I am also state might. The federal might will not go to elections, it is the people. It is Akume that is arming people. I know the trick he is trying to play. He wants the President to give him the opportunity to have security agents with him during elections.
At the inception of your administration, you set up a commission of inquiry which came out with a report that your predecessor went away with N107bn. Today you and Suswam are back as allies. Has he returned the money?
You know we are in court, but those who are liable have refunded the money. The other ones are in court. They are there until it is sorted out.