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Governor Ortom and his little Davids

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Samuel Ortom

Poor Samuel Ortom. Still there is no respite for this beleaguered governor of the embattled Benue State. Sitting perilously in the eye of the storm, or much worse, on the horns of a dilemma since the herdsmen – local or the ruthless invaders from the Sahel region, have not let up in their murderous exploits in his state, Dr. Samuel Ortom, has been running, as the cliché would have it, from pillar to post, all in search of an elusive peace.

The news from Benue remains predictably consistent and horrifying – the herdsmen, according to media reports, have not stopped killing defenceless people in their various communities. The police have not stopped patrolling but its presence has not done much to stop the bloodletting that follows the intermittent foray into the rural communities by these audacious gunmen.

The army, drafted there to show its might and enforce deterrence, has ended its exercise in the state. When the soldiers were around they instilled some confidence in the people and gave them a sense of enhanced security but it is not known how much fear they instilled in the herdsmen. That they have continued their attack with impunity shows how much regard they have for constituted authorities. This audacity has left the governor utterly confused and bewildered. He is simply at his wits end.

Things got worse for Governor Ortom last week when his paramount ruler the Tor Tiv, Professor James Ayatse and some other prominent citizens of the state berated him for advising internally displaced persons in the IDP camps to go back home and defend their homes and hamlets with stones if they are not allowed to carry arms.

Like the Palestinians who habitually demonstrate their moral indignation in the face of fire power from the Israelis by throwing stone at the army of occupation, Ortom, I guess, might have resorted to the throwing of stone as an act of desperation, knowing fully well that stones or even dane guns cannot withstand the fire power of AK47 and other such lethal arsenals in the armoury of these unrelenting intruders.

I am even tempted to dismiss this stone throwing as a metaphor of what the underdogs can do to defend themselves in the face of unconscionable acts of persecution. When Ortom gave the advice to his people, he referred them to the biblical story of the underdog called David who dealt with a monstrous warrior called Goliath.

I quickly recalled my early school days and the compulsory scripture lesson we took in a Catholic school. I recall the biblical version of the story of David who has become an immortal celebrity – an all-conquering little fighter in the army of King Saul. David, so the legend had it, had come to visit his three elder brothers in the army just to deliver bread to them. While there, he heard the story of the mighty Goliath of legendary invincibility. The under aged David volunteered to enrol in the army. His wish granted, he prayed and picked some pebbles into his bag and made to confront the nemesis of the Israeli army.

Face to face with Goliath who, according to the custom of the time, had come to taunt the Israeli soldiers, David brought out his sling and after murmuring some prayers, dealt a deadly blow at Goliath.

This legend is shared in the Islamic history. David or Dawood became king of the children of Israel and he settled in Jerusalem. I can understand why, the Palestinian youths, lacking appropriate armaments, resort to raw courage and desert Arab braggadocio, armed with nothing better than catapult and stones to defend themselves when the modern day Israeli army of occupation engage in grim confrontation with the Palestinians in Gaza. But I cannot, in the same breath, understand why Ortom would advise his unarmed youths to throw themselves in the line of fire, armed with nothing but stone.

I am even more scandalised by the reaction of his people, especially the intellectually endowed Tor Tiv, a professor whose last port of call in the academia was as vice-chancellor of a Federal university. Without any doubt, bad times like this have an uncanny capacity to drain from us the sense of humour that one must possess in abundance to face life’s cruel joke, the type Nigerians are confronted with daily either from Boko Haram or the cattle herdsmen or the dare-devil kidnappers among others.

The Tor Tiv should have taken Ortom’s stone throwing advice as the act of a desperate man or as a metaphor to drum home the sufferings of his people. The Tivs that I know don’t possess the spiritual prowess of the ordained little David in the Bible who had been sent by God to save his people from the hands of the Philistine war-monger and terror. Modern day Goliaths at the totem pole of their vain gloriousness don’t even give a damn about the platitudes of the weak – exhortations to be their brother’s keeper, to respect other people’s rights and freedom to life and property. The only language they speak is the brutish language of impunity and a crude sense of entitlement. Until one day, when in the local parlance, monkey goes to the market and does not return.

I take Ortom’s stone throwing admonition as I once took Prince Tony Momoh’s stone throwing challenge – a metaphor and no more. A chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and a worthy Prince of Auchi, Tony Momoh, a media tycoon and former minister of information, had, in defence of the Buhari administration, asked Nigerians to throw stones at government officials if after one year, President Buhari had not substantially fulfilled his election promises by putting food on our tables, secure the country from the fangs of assorted agents of insecurity and put the economy back on the path of full recovery.

But mercifully nobody has thrown any stone – not even metaphorically. Except the ones from the slings and arrows of President Olusegun Obasanjo and those from the slings and arrows of former military President Ibrahim Babangida. But, as many Nigerians have wondered, what do they matter?

But some stones matter – the ones called PVC from INEC may matter when the day of reckoning comes. And there may be no postponing that day when the poor and the pauper, the flotsam and the jetsam of the society will call their leaders to give account of their stewardship.

Bravo, Buhari bravo!

It takes courage for a man who, by his own admission, is hardly ever in a hurry to do anything, to shock his party men and women and declare, as he did last week, when they least expected him to do so, that he would be running for a second term. By that act alone, President Muhammadu Buhari has shut the door against further speculations.

From the day he made the declaration, Buhari had become both an aspirant and president all rolled into one. He is now expected to play politics, to campaign and to ask his party men and women to vote for him in the party primary. But as president, not a lame duck one, he is also expected to govern. And that is the crux of the matter – how to play politics and how to govern effectively and how to successfully keep the two in separate compartments.

To the best of my knowledge, Buhari has never really succeeded in lying to the public. But how will he convince the people, from now on, to accept his truth for what it is – the truth? That when he says something, he means it.

I worry for Buhari, the aspirant, because he had all the opportunity to keep the public glued to him for his apparent principle and integrity. But if you look back and review the last three years, you might see a graveyard of promises made and promises broken and buried. I worry for his much advertised integrity, probity and sense of accountability for all these and more will come under the microscope in the days ahead.


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