Presidency has denied us our dues in Benue —Ortom
Sam Ortom of Benue State is the leader of the group of five governors of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), christened G5, at odds with the national leadership of the main opposition party over its choice of presidential candidate and running mate. Despite the elections being a few weeks away, he says that the group is focused on its cause. Ortom spoke to journalists in Makurdi. Leon Usigbe was there and brings the excerpts.
On the feud with the PDP national leadership
I think we are on course as far as I’m concerned with our group. As faithful party men, we have given enough time. And we had thought that the leadership at the national level will take advantage of the opportunity we have given them to address those issues. There are many ways of addressing issues. Even when you are not able to meet the demands of a group or individuals, you will find a way of meeting. And I will quote (former military) President (Ibrahim) Babangida who said, “a little to the left, a little to the right.” And then you find the meeting place. Where people decide, do things as if the other person does not exist and try to do some things, as if they have won election, and they don’t need any other person, it becomes a problem. But, election cannot be won when ballot is not cast, because I know, as a veteran politician of over 40 years, most of these key actors you see today in politics, when it comes to the school of politics, are my subjects. I can lecture them; I saw them coming up and I participated in grooming them to be where they are today. I’ve been there since 1982. The good thing about someone like me is that I started from the grassroots, and I built myself from that level to where I have gotten to today. So, arrogance, impunity, mischief, will not really help matters. One will expect humility, it is said that you stoop down to conquer even if you want to make it. Above all, politics is a game of interests.
As you see all of us at the national level, state level, and even me going round in the manner that I have done within this period, it is because I’m also interested in something. In this election, I want somebody that is familiar with the programme that I›ve been doing to win the election so that there will be continuity. Governance is a continuum. It is not just ‹soldier come soldier go.” It doesn’t add much value when it happens like that. But, if there is a development plan, that people are ready to follow to the end, it will make more sense and it will add more value. So, I cannot fold my hands and see somebody rubbish me. You can be older, you can be richer than me, you can be above me, but when it comes to this game, we are masters of the game. We have played it. We have cases where we lost election, we have cases is where we won, but the ones we won are more than the one that we lost. So, we are committed to issues of integrity, issues of fairness, equity, and justice.
It is not new to anybody. For me, a governor in the North, when the southern governors met and said that ‘For equity, fairness and justice, the presidency should go to the South after eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari,’ it is just naturally fair, that it will go to the South. And, that is why I commend and appreciate President Olusegun Obasanjo, a great patriot. He made some mistakes, especially on the issue of Third Term that came. Otherwise, nobody should contest the integrity and the patriotism, forthrightness and the zeal to see a greater Nigeria more than President Obasanjo. But, I can tell you from history, that Obasanjo is a patriotic personality. When he was leaving office and there were reputable aspirants from the southern part of Nigeria. (Peter) Odili was one of them, he said: ‘No! This is no right. I›m from the South. I›m leaving office, let it go to the North.’ That is why he brought one of the most creative presidents that we can ever have. And truly, God knows why (the late President Umaru Musa) Yar›Adua had to leave us that early. Yar›Adua was a great man. Despite his short time in governance, he did so well. When he served as governor of Katsina State, he did so well. As a party man, he was able to bring all the people together. It is one of the things that I learnt from him. Yar›Adua will not just allow people to go for an election,he will prefer to discuss with them and agree on who is the best material to be given out as a candidate. That was his secret. President MuhammaduBuhari contested election at that time, he lost. He could not win Katsina State because of this strategy. That is what I use. I have learnt politics of inclusiveness, bringing everybody together, discussing and dialoguing to ensure consensus where everybody will be carried along. And that is why in my gubernatorial contest in Benue State for this election, the first thing we did was to bring everybody together. I had 36 aspirants contesting for the governorship of the Benue State. I brought all of them together. I constituted them into a committee. We had a chairman, we had a secretary, we had a treasurer, and I charged them, ‘work within yourselves, give me the best person you think can take over for me.’ They did their best, but they could not. And they came back to me and said, ‘Your Excellency, we cannot do it. So, please take it. Whatever you decide, we›ll accept it.’ And I said ‘no, you are giving me the opportunity, but I won›t do it alone.’ This is politics. This is democracy; it is about the people. So, I consulted widely, and at the end, majority of the people said it should be Titus Uba, the Speaker of the House of Assembly. He won election two times as House of Assembly member and got elected by his colleagues two times as Speaker. There has not been any crisis whatsoever. No attempt, no notice of impeachment throughout his tenure. And so, he›s a humble man, a gentle man, a man that accommodates other people›s feeling. They accepted that he should be the candidate. Yet, some of the aspirants dissented and said: ‘No, we›ll go to the polls.’ And we allowed them. So, we went to primaries. Titus Uba secured more than 80 percent of the total votes cast in the primaries. And, that was how he emerged. No single person has taken him to court from our party. All the aspirants that contested with him are going with him; they have adopted him; they have accepted him, and we are working together. So, this is one strategy that I borrowed from President Yar›Adua and it has been very effective. Check what Obasanjo has been doing. Obasanjo was also instrumental in bringing Goodluck (Jonathan), who was running mate to Yar’Adua and eventually, as God would have it, he became president and all that. He supported Goodluck in 2011. In 2015, he felt that it should go back to the North, and he supported Buhari; Obasanjo supported Buhari. So, people try to forget history and say he is not a patriotic person. But, how many people have been military heads of state and then civilian presidents? Obasanjo was one, coming from prison and becoming president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria after serving as military head of state. The second person is President Muhammadu Buhari. But you have seen where we are. And in contrast, you can see where we were with Obasanjo, despite all the challenges that were there.
If there is someone that is looking ahead and wants the best for our country, Peter Obi will be recommended. Honestly, if I were not in PDP, I would have been the one at the forefront of carrying Peter Obi›s bag and campaigning for him because so far, he is the best material. He is what this country needs to get things right; he is somebody with clean records. That is not in question, though nobody is perfect. Nobody is God, no human being is God. But, here is somebody who has distinguished himself. So, if I were to offer advice on the best material for president, I will tell you that it is Peter Obi. But it is just that I›m a PDP. I›m handicapped. Honestly, that is my candidate.
Which dilemma are you talking about? Whether our chairman is contesting or not contesting, it does not really matter. Did Abuja vote for me to become governor? Did any presidential candidate vote for me? Look, go back to history. I talk about myself. I was denied nomination in PDP in 2015. But, everybody knew in Benue State that I was the candidate to beat. The leadership of the party decided to deny me the nomination. If they had allowed a free and fair process, I would have won the nomination. But, they had to coerce people. In today›s Benue, talk of anybody who has added value, who has created jobs, who has created wealth, it is me. Before I became governor, I had enterprises that provided jobs, created wealth and several people were on my scholarship. I treated people who were bitten by snakes, low-income people. By the time I was handing over the project to government, from the year 2000, I had spent N680, 000,000 from my personal fund, not government›s business. I treat people, I have retained Rahama Hospital that treats people, and I have retained Bishop Murrey Hospital that treats those people with snakebites free of charge. I sponsored several people to higher education and taking indigent pupils, students, pay their school fees. So, I was the candidate to beat. I was neglected. So, I was going to one mushroom party, but when APC came, that please, I should come and join them, I did, and I won my election overwhelmingly against the PDP candidate. But, when I perceived and saw injustice in APC, I left and came back to PDP and won election again against, several people›s wish. Nobody from Abuja voted for me. I don›t need the presidential candidate or those people at the national level to come and vote for me here. All politics is local. So, it depends on your locality. I am working with my people. You have been around. Have you seen anywhere any form of resentment against me? I consult with my people. What I›m telling you is the view of Benue people whether traditional rulers or religious leaders, whether Christians or Muslims. We are working together because I stand for equity, fairness and justice. So, there is nothing like being afraid of winning election or not? I am doing the wish of my people, whatever you hear me speak. And I told them if I›m not doing their wish, they should draw my attention to it.
This matter is that I have been branded a bad man by the presidency.If my people tell me to soft-pedal, I will go back and apologise to the President. I have not seen the President for four years. They have blocked me. I said fine, let me stay and do my work because I was not elected by presidency. I have been denied a lot of things that would have come to Benue State. Nothing comes here. Those people are against me, especially members of the APC, because they don’t want me to have any access to the presidency. With that, what have they attracted to Benue State? Nothing! When they are doing appointments, Niger State, Nasarawa State, Kogi State, Plateau State and all that get everything in the North-Central, nothing comes to Benue. They have not been able to impact on the lives of Benue people. I challenge anyone to come out in all sectors of the economy in this state. I have projects that I›ve executed, despite all the problems that I have. And so, it›s not about being afraid of whether I will win my election. That is it. Long ago, even my life, I have given it out. How many people have been ready, even governors, to make sacrifice? I sit among my colleagues who asked me, “my brother, are you not afraid for your life? I say, look, life belongs to God. The day God wants me to die, nobody will stop me. I cannot stop myself. And it›s only a fool that dies 20 times before his actual death. Otherwise, a wise man should die once. When that time comes, you cannot stop it, and it happens. So, as far as I’m concerned, I›m not worried about election. Look, being a senator, for instance, is not the issue but service. First things first. First is what have I done? The day I will stand before the judgment seat of God, God will ask me, what did you do when you were local government chairman? What did you do when you were secretary of PDP? What did you do when you were deputy chairman? What did you do when you were national auditor? What did you do when you were minister? What did you do when you were governor? For me, as a student of the Bible, the Bible teaches me to make use of the little I have, because it depends on what you do with the little that has been committed into your hands. If you do well, you can be given more. In the Bible, we talk about the talents’ parable. Those who did well, they were given more. The one who was given one talent, he could not perform, it was taken away from him and added to the other man who did well. So, it is what you›re able to do with what you have. Promotion comes from God. It doesn’t come from another person. And so, I am not worried.
And the same thing with my colleagues. We are fighting for equality, fairness and justice. And that is what Nigeria wants. And that is the problem that the current leadership has refused to address. You push your appointments to one section of the country and one religious group, and you think that people should keep quiet; people should not say anything because you have become king. You have become emir even as an elected president. You will stay there and preside or do whatever you want. Some of us, we will fight this, and we will continue to fight anywhere. And mind you, some people thought that some of us, we are fighting Buhari. I wasn›t fighting Buhari. Buhari is a nice man, honest man but he is surrounded by hawks who are not nice people. Some of the people are criminals of first grade, who are not interested in Buhari himself, who are not interested in this country. They are interested in how much they can get. I don›t know how much at their various ages, what they can keep for themselves and their families, but they will destroy the country. This is important. So, I wasn›t fighting Buhari, but I was fighting against injustice. I was fighting because the government was not fair to people, to me and my own people. I was fighting because no country will allow its citizens to be going under this kind of terror that is happening in our country, surrounded by terrorists from Niger (Republic), from Chad, from Mauritania, from Libya, from Senegal, from other parts, from DR Congo and all that, to come and take over and make Nigeria their land and make people their slaves. I will not be party to that. So, it is a matter of principle that we›re fighting. It is not about personal gains. It is not I want to make money. It does not matter whether you lose your life, or you lose your position, or you lose whatever. We›re talking about democracy. For me, I›m indifferent. Whatever happens, tomorrow, the people themselves, will pay the price. But, so far, I tell you that my people are with me, they have given me an assurance, day and night; they stand with me. Wait and see the result of the election.
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