Drawing the curtains on Gov Ortom’s era

Gov Ortom
Benue state governor Samuel Ortom

There’s an English saying that a bad workman quarrels with his tools. It takes root in the pre-industrial revolution era where human activities were rudimentary and full of drudgery. If a man fails to manipulate his hands and tools to achieve the desired results, it is easier to deny responsibility for the failure and to innocent, inanimate tools with profuse blame. At least the tools won’t talk back or put up a defense. In actual sense, however, the tools were not the problem, but the incompetency and lack of skills on the part of the worker or labourer. This blame-shifting game has continued to this date and is being employed by men in all fields of human endeavour to escape the responsibility for their failures. A good example is the way Governor Samuel Ortom used it in overdose to excuse his abysmal performance in Benue for eight solid years.

The Ortom administration which started on May 29, 2015, and will end on May 29, 2023, started with blame games and will end with blame games. At inception, the recession and paucity of funds was the veil, when the country pulled out of the recession, the governor turned his search light on what he called the loot of public funds by the government of Sen. Gabriel Suswam. He later blamed his benefactor and godfather. Even the evil spirits were not spared. Interestingly, at the commissioning of a meager 3.5-kilometer road, barely ten days to the end of his infamous tenure, the same governor blamed paucity of funds as reasons for his inability to complete more projects.

As usual, the governor blamed his inability to pay salaries on the non-release of the federal government interventions such as the N20 billion infrastructure funds and N42 billion loan facility approved for the state, but not released because of what he described as “vested interests.” For a man who failed to judiciously use or account for the consistent federal allocations, budget support facilities, internally generated Revenues (IGRs) and many other funds released to the state for development. This is just another attempt to shirk responsibility for his failures.

Ortom’s ‘quarrels’ were manifold; first, it was with his predecessor, Gabriel Suswam, which culminated in the setting up of the Justice Elizabeth Kpojime judicial panel of inquiry. Sen. George Akume, Ortom’s benefactor, became the next punching bag. He made unsuspecting Benue people believe that his inability to perform was because he was under the fangs of Sen. Akume. When Akume lost his re-election bid to the Senate, Ortom boasted that he had retired from politics. This battle too, he lost as Akume was shortly appointed a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

President Muhammadu Buhari was not spared; Ortom, under the veil of the deteriorating security situation occasioned by the herders’ persistent attacks, hinged his incompetence on the security situation. He had no kind words for the president, demeaning the president from one media house to another and blinded from harvesting anything good for the state. For many whose expectations of the government are meager, this seemed to be Ortom’s highest achievement in office.

Using the instrumentality of the G-5 Governors led by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state, Ortom attacked and demonised Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It is the opinion of political pundits that Ortom orchestrated the suspension of Dr. Ayu as the national chairman as result of the fall-out of the PDP primaries where Wike, an Ortom loyalist lost and Atiku Abubakar won. This too was a lost cause with no political gains for Benue people.

Ortom understands that when spirituality is mixed with politics, it becomes an easy way to delude the people. This Ortom used very well. His popular slogan has been “in God we trust.” He painted a picture of a messiah who has come on a mission to deliver the state from some sort of mighty spiritual attack of under development. Having run out of excuses, at a point, he stated that he had exorcised the evil spirits in the Government House. Our governor became an exorcist, but this also did not help in any way and was just another whimsical attitude of a bad workman.

Ortom’s campaign speeches and promises revolved around the inability of Gabriel Suswam’s inability to pay salaries, pensions and gratuities for four months as well as the attendant hardships that were experienced. After riding on the people’s hopes for a better Benue, Ortom has back-pedalled. He owes Benue workers over seven months of unpaid salaries and uncountable months of unpaid pensions and gratuities. Under Ortom, pensioners protested and slept at the gate of the Government House for two weeks with brute harassment.

Very disturbing is the issue of the herders’ attacks on farming communities in the state. This issue assumed a disturbing dimension in the state and country. The governor signed the Anti-Open Grazing and Ranches Establishment Bill into law and promised to establish six pilot ranches. This law gave room for the establishment of the livestock guards, with a mandate to enforce the law. How this law has achieved the essence for which it was enacted will be a topic for another day. This too is another tactical way Ortom has used to bluntly refuse being accountable for his woeful leadership and glaring corruption.

After failing at the polls together with his party and facing a precarious future at the end of his tenure, which will likely be uneventful with a lot of scrutiny, the governor intends to foist a narrative that his loss at the polls is as a result of his stand against injustice in the country. In fact, he has said it many times recently that his “principled stand” against injustice in the country is the reason. This is another bogus excuse to escape the responsibility for loss which was directly a product of his failure and the anger of the Benue people over the wasted years and resources.

For Ortom, whatever ‘giant strides’ he lays claim to have been dampened by the protracted non-payment of pensions and salaries, inability to build a single industry in the state, the lack of infrastructure and human development, the IDPs that have remained in pitiable camps, the general air of hardship and poverty that has pervaded the state since the inception of the administration. The Benue people will not be remembering his years in power with nostalgia, but it will remain the days of pain and locust, the Egypt they will never want to return to.

…Hon. Msuaan, a public affairs commentator and an advocate of good governance and responsible leadership, writes from Abuja