Thursday, February 14, 2019
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or quite some time now, it has become apparent even to the most dire heart of Governor Ortom's fans that the man's woeful performance and the serious moral and integrity issues bedevilling his person and his close associates have made any talk of his re-election a forlorn proposition. This state of affairs has, not surprisingly, led to a recrudescence of popular support and goodwill for the APC and its candidates ahead of the 2019 elections.

Symbolized by its indefatigable, people-oriented leadership, as represented by Senator George Akume and Barrister Emmanuel Jime, the APC in Benue State has remained within the progressive fold, with landmark elections effectively won in 2011 and 2015, respectively, under the ACN and its latter-day incarnation. Remarkably, all that electoral success was achieved while in the opposition. That winning streak is bound to continue this year, what with the dismal track record of Ortom whose decamping to the PDP has been a huge contributory factor to the groundswell of support currently being experienced by the APC in the state. During the three years that Ortom misgoverned under the APC banner, support for the latter had dwindled and could at best be described as lukewarm or latent.

This brief perspective on the state of Benue politics is important in setting the records straight. In the fog of the noisy retrogressive propaganda by Ortom and his PDP which has vainly sought to portray the governor as a selfless folk hero single-mindedly championing the salvation of his people from marauding barbarians hell bent on a primitive territorial, tribal-cum-religious conquest, otherwise rational media and other public voices have inadvertently been reduced to regurgitating, in a kneejerk fashion, reductionist but mostly misleading narratives whose key objective is first and foremost one of distraction from the wanton corruption, rank incompetence and other serial failures of Ortom and his underachieving government.

Today, faced with imminent defeat, Ortom and his fumbling PDP regime are resorting to, amongst other antics, the most desperate and ungodly of tactics ranging from despicable fake news, character assassination, unconscionable innuendo, crude attempts at manipulation through the compromise of sections of the media, blatant hate speech, violence and, of course, the use of divisive antics like bigotry and pseudo-religiosity for the purposes of regimentation against perceived or imaginary enemies.

Early in the administration of Samuel Ortom of Benue State, there was this in-your-face, if suspicious attempt on the part of the man and his acolytes to portray the governor as a righteous individual whose ascendancy was simply God-ordained as opposed to it being the result of the hard work and sacrifice of a long-suffering electorate of believers and their mainly APC leaders who toiled and persevered in order to bring about qualitative change to their lives. Governing with the soi-disant "fear of God" mantra thus became an article of faith that was thunderously mouthed at every turn in what has been a gargantuan ploy of public deceit and treachery in the face of proven incompetence, sleaze and malfeasance.

The questionable religious rationalization at the heart of the Ortom misrule has sought dubious reinforcement in the form of costly bazaars or pilgrimages of Pentecostal religiosity and, lately, a self- intoxicating dose of bigoted ethno-religious propaganda that hardly add any real value to the way Benue has been administratively managed in the past three years. The ultimate tragedy of the abdicating Ortom regime is that as the average Benue citizen has gotten dangerously much poorer and much more despondent since May 29, 2015, due, mostly, to the paucity of government projects and a lack of an abiding vision of development by the current administration, the personal fortunes of the governor and his family have soared astronomically and obscenely to a point where communal harmony is greatly threatened on account of the mass impoverishment and socio-economic dislocation in a context of wanton profligacy and self-enrichment by a few in the corridors of power. This state of affairs is at once unethical, anti-democracy and unacceptable.

It is significant to restate here the critical case we have been making elsewhere, namely, that the elections of both 2011 and 2015 were essentially about repositioning Benue State after the awful PDP legacy of Governor Gabriel Suswam. The reiteration has become necessary because those who choose to ignore the lessons of history are bound to repeat its tragic errors or mistakes. Thus, in a nutshell, the elections of those years were also about building on the achievements of previous governments and especially those led by Aper Aku and George Akume, respectively. Alas, today, as the country prepares for the next round of polls, it is pertinent to attest that the imperative to reposition Benue State has never been more pressing, thanks, mainly, to what we have described earlier as the tragic abdication of governance on the part of Mr. Ortom and his administration. The tragic dereliction and its equally tragic or nefarious consequences on Benue and its citizens must be seen as the central focus of the 2019 elections in the state. It follows therefore that any attempt to divert the attention of potential voters away from what should be the crucial issues of the campaigns by an unwarranted, divisive and rabid resort to untenable narratives of fake news and ethno-religious bigotry should be rightly rejected. Importantly also, beyond the refutation, it is critical to elucidate what is at stake in this year's gubernatorial and other elections.

At every turn these days, Ortom and his subalterns harp on the mythical good works of the governor which are said to include, amongst other things, his alleged refusal to share the people's money with key stakeholders while he was in the APC, his role as a so-called "defender of the Benue valley" against Fulani herdsmen incursions and the putative Fulani -cum- Muslim agenda of conquest and despoliation. And pursuing the enumeration of fantastic claims, Governor Ortom has suddenly developed a victim complex - that because of his self-proclaimed stature as the protector of the people against the Fulanis, President Buhari and his APC federal government are persecuting him through the use of agencies like the police and the EFCC. At other times, in what is no doubt an offensive indulgence in disinformation ( "fake news" ) coupled with hate speech peddling, the governor and his attack dogs have mischievously ranted that Senator Akume is facilitating the invasion of Benue land and especially Guma local government by Fulani herdsmen, their mercenaries and ten thousand cows! Sadly, with his shrill histrionics which underscore a rash and discomforting posture of schizophrenic rabble rousing and hysteria, Governor Ortom has irremediably degraded his statesmanship to a point of a self-indicting caricature.

Ortom's blatant lies must be exposed for what they are. In the first place, apart from arming thugs like the ones operating within the Livestock Guards outfit who, by the way, have been playing controversial roles concerning the security situation in the state, the governor cannot portray himself as the defender of Benue State, talk less of defending the Benue valley. As they say, the greatest guarantee for the security of any people is good governance and this value has been terribly lacking from day one since Ortom began his stewardship in Benue.

Since May 29, 2015, at least 402 billion naira, through various sources ( like the federal government's bailout funds, the Paris Club refunds, the statutory monthly allocations, bank loans and internally generated revenue, IGR )has accrued to the state treasury with nothing to show for in terms of infrastructural development. To compound matters, the state owes state workers as well as retirees a huge backlog of salaries and pensions. Also, social intervention programmes like the school feeding one initiated by President Buhari's APC administration have been subjected to grave abuse and corruption by actors of the Ortom government.

It may interest one to note that these alleged acts of corruption and malfeasance have been well documented by anti-corruption agencies and especially the EFCC. It is in this context that one must unfortunately situate the shrill crying foul and other desperate shenanigans by Ortom and his fellow whiners in Makurdi.

On the other hand, President Buhari and the APC government in Abuja have objectively been the ones consistently offering good governance in the service of the people of Benue and Nigeria as a whole. This can be attested in the various social investment programmes (SIP) like the N-Power which is aimed at youth employment in particular, Trader Money and School Feeding. Essentially and agriculture-based region, Benue State, like the rest of the country, is greatly benefitting from the APC administration's emphasis on the diversification of the economy through the extension of incentives in the form of credit facilities and fertilizer to farmers. Other aspects of the Buhari/APC development initiatives that target the common man, that is to say the majority of Nigerians, are in the areas of railway and road infrastructure and security. In Benue State and much of the trouble areas of the North and the Middle Belt, the security situation has vastly improved from the near-anarchy of the President Jonathan PDP government. President Buhari has pacified much of Benue State and the Middle Belt through Operation Whirl Stroke which has incidentally received wide, if grudging acclaim even from Ortom. Specific infrastructure development projects in Benue State include, amongst others, the construction of the Loko-Oweto bridge across River Benue to link Loko in Nasarawa State to Oweto in Benue State, the dualisation of the Keffi-Lafia-Makurdi-Otukpo road and the reconstruction of the Makurdi-Gboko road. In the fight against corruption, the implementation of the TSA as well as the intensified efforts of the anti-corruption agencies has led to greater probity in the management of state funds and the enhanced recovery of our stolen matrimony. All these laudable schemes do help in the creation of an enabling environment for business. That is how to protect and secure a people and not through an egregiously divisive rhetoric like the kind being perpetrated by Ortom that is indicative of the administrative meltdown Benue State is experiencing under him and his clueless government.

Yet, if through his rudderless-style governance Ortom has virtually imposed what is tantamount to a socio-economic hemorrhaging on the people of Benue State , what his PDP is proposing through its presidential flag bearer, Atiku Abubakar, is not much different - a recipe akin to the perpetuation of the Augean Stables of wanton sleaze by the same greedy and avaricious kleptocrats whose reign of mindless profligacy and terror all but ruined Nigeria from 1999 to 2015. Specifically commenting on the politics of Benue State, Atiku has reportedly insinuated that he is opposed to the anti-open grazing law passed by the state legislature in its bid to halt the perennial herders/farmers conflict. Curiously, Ortom, the self-proclaimedd defender of the Benue valley has not deemed it fit to comment on Atiku's strange stand. That is the governor for you.

Ortom's story is a tale of destructive hubris versus the common good of Benue State and the country as a whole. It is the yarn of gluttony and insouciance writ large in stark confrontation with the legitimate aspirations of the people. At a deeper philosophical level, the meaning of the Ortom allegory is that as a politician, the man is hardly a team player imbued with a profound vision of where we as a people are coming from and where we should be headed. The way and manner he has run the state with the exclusion of wise counsel from major stakeholders of the APC and the wider Benue family do attest to both his narcissism and the worrisome failures of his government. The governor appears to harbour a troubling attraction to criminal or unsavory types with little formal education and lacking in sagacity who either act as members of his kitchen cabinet or have at various times held key positions in his government. This should be cause for alarm. As the saying goes, any government essentially catering to parochial proclivities and in which thugs or dimwits occupy central roles is bound to be mired in controversy and disaster. This is where the governor and his administration have been and his self-serving migration to his former party has indeed made matters much worse. If governance under Ortom was until a few months ago characterized by the paralysis of mediocrity and wanton profligacy, today, any semblance of it has come to a damaging standstill. Like a drowning man, Ortom is busy holding on to very expensive straws of patronage held his way by his godfathers in the likes of David Mark and Iorchia Ayu even as Wike, Fayose and Secondus, amongst others, continue to beat their drums of PDP divisiveness and retrogression. But things don't have to be so.

If he is truly God-fearing, instead of futilely dissipating his energies and the state's scarce resources on the chimera of an elusive or unattainable second term, the governor should dedicate his "fin de règne" to trying to salvage what is left of his tattered image by putting in place some deeds of redemptive epiphany. Like instantly resigning after apologising to the APC (whose mandate he is immorally holding on to) and the rest of the Benue family. It is probably not too late. Ortom can quit the stage and mitigate his odium through a show of genuine remorse and repentance. We are perhaps being carried away in our enthusiasm for things to be done right. The stark reality, however, is that in his narcissism and self-denial, Governor Ortom is most probably thinking that by moving back to the PDP, he will escape the terrible yoke of his self-inflicted woes. Fat chance! As for the APC, as they say in local Nigerian parlance, good riddance to bad rubbish! Panicky and disoriented on account of his dismal performance, Ortom has awarded himself a red card and he must bear the dire consequences of his choices. The good people of Benue are already bearing the brunt of his maladministration and general misconduct.

The savage, anti-social conduct of wanting to overnight be the Croesus ( a Dangote ancestor) of Benue by, amongst other things, controversially buying up everything in sight, when your state capital and the entire socio-economic and physical landscape of the province are blighted and left terribly sordid and desolate even as a few families amass scandalous wealth while paltry salaries are denied workers and neglected pensioners experience slow, agonizing deaths does invariably destroy one's claim to being the protector or saviour of the people. Benue is essentially an agrarian society which prides itself as the 'food basket of the nation.' Yet, that motto is daily being challenged as the basic needs of our farmers like the provision of fertilizer and tractors are largely ignored to a point where we are fast becoming a basket case of development in the agriculture sector.

Suffice it to mention that the infamy of the excesses and grandstanding by the Ortom government has not ensured the security of Benue State in its various ramifications. The neglect of other key sectors like education and infrastructure development is worsening the socio-economic situation of the state. Democracy is bastardized with the brazen onslaughts by Ortom and his government on critical democratic structures like the local government system which has all but collapsed mainly due to the systematic looting of its statutory monthly allocations and the illegal and unconstitutional removal of local council chairmen and councillors who, like some state legislators, have refused to join Ortom's decamping to the PDP.

Indeed, a potent justification is that it would be both morally wrong and against the democratic aspirations of our people to allow those who are wickedly wrecking our common patrimony to use ill-gotten resources in order to perpetuate themselves in power. So, the least we can do as democrats with the best interest of the people at heart is to give adequate publicity, in all the local idioms, to the brazen atrocities of the governor and his clique. Constantly resorting to hired agents and other retrogressive voices in order to cry wolf in the face of mounting and irrefutable evidence against them as Governor Ortom and his hangers-on are doing is tantamount to saying that they are against the rule of law and that they prefer the type of impunity that allows them to get away with murder, figuratively speaking.

Cynically but dangerously manipulating the state's security challenges, first as a diversion from his known failures or foibles and also as a weapon for personal political and sundry gains, Governor Ortom and his ready and rascally resort to ethno-religious stereotyping and the whipping up of bigotry against known social categories must be rejected as reckless and harmful to communal harmony and national unity. In the final analysis, his "the Fulani are coming" scare tactics have the potential of harming our legitimate and just struggle to decisively rid Benue State of criminal elements, whether they are herdsmen, their sponsors or their mercenaries or even local bad boys. At the same time, the point needs stressing that neither the Tiv people nor any other social group is at war with either the Fulanis or the Muslims in Benue or elsewhere. What we are against is criminality that is a present and continuing danger to our society. It is a settled fact that the various ethnic entities of the state do consider the land bequeathed to them by their ancestors as a sacred trust that cannot be the object of disputation from any quarters.

The Benue people have proved beyond any reasonable doubt and need no lessons from anybody that they are a very accommodating lot. That is why Ortom and his co-travellers pretending to be protectors of our people must be told in no uncertain terms that their self-seeking skulduggery has no place in the APC's progressive agenda of tolerance and development for all and not just for a sleazy and privileged few.

In conclusion, it requires restating that Governor Ortom is his own worst enemy and perennially crying foul as he does will not change that. He was bad news for the APC. He is bad news for the PDP who must now see him as an avoidable liability. Ortom is most certainly bad news for Benue State and the country as a whole. Beyond that, there are obvious lessons to be gleaned from the Ortom tragedy.

The first obvious lesson is that progressive governance is serious business that is meant to empower by creating an enabling environment through the putting in place of policies and mechanisms that help in unleashing individual and collective energies that drive communal advancement as opposed to it being a self-serving, criminal enterprise of kleptocratic aggrandizement and money laundering for a select and destructive club of misfits and carpetbaggers alike. The second practical lesson is that as a people in search of sustainable development, we are bound to make honest mistakes and significantly, we should never allow those mistakes of judgement or omission deter us from continually striving to seek remedies, if and where necessary. It is a mark of both humility and moral courage to admit that one has made errors in one's patriotic bid to nurture leadership in our yearning for purposeful democratic change. The inherent wisdom here is that any objection to such calamities like the Ortom debacle must not be personalized and should of necessity bear the seal of principled, moral and philosophical justification as has been the testimony by the APC, including both its leadership and its general membership in Benue. In that regard, Barrister Jime and his reaffirmation of the APC's message and mission of progressive development could not have come at a more propitious moment.

The long and suffering people of Benue State have a solemn responsibility to protect their vote by seeing to it that those who have unjustly enriched themselves at the expense of the wider community do not use those ill-gotten resources in order to remain in power. On February 16, 2019, they should come out en masse to vote for President Muhammadu Buhari, for Senator George Akume as well as the whole cast of APC candidates. They should follow that injunction and vote for APC contenders all the way and make it a point of duty by voting for Emmanuel Jime, the people's governor, on March 2.