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Ortom the tough

By Tony Afejuku
05 March 2021   |   3:22 am
The Tiv and Idoma people of Benue State in our country’s Middle Belt’s geographical region are my people. I call them my people primarily because I have quite a number...

[FILES] Samuel Ortom. Photo: IREPORTERS

The Tiv and Idoma people of Benue State in our country’s Middle Belt’s geographical region are my people. I call them my people primarily because I have quite a number (of some) of my firm friends among members of the two respective ethnic groups, right from the days and years when they belonged to Benue-Plateau State. It was in General Yakubu Gowon’s glorious years when Nigeria was truly a halyconian country and place to live in despite the turbulence of the nineteen sixties and our civil war experience. The Tivs and Idomas are also respectively our in-laws conjugally. But this is a story that belongs to what does not belong here.

The Tivs and Idomas have been political rivals, as far as I know, especially since Benue was sliced out of its union with Plateau to become the autonomous Benue State that has been since Tuesday, 3 February, 1976. The Tivs have consistently produced the governor of the state since its creation forty-five years ago. Both ethnic groups that are blessed with inter-group love affairs and marriages have managed to ease their political tensions – although the Idomas have been tormented by the restless desire to occupy the Government House in Makurdi that the Tivs have not allowed them to penetrate into.

One or two of my Idoma pals have even told me that they have a larger population than the Tivs, but the Nigerian disease has made it impossible for them to have a fair democratic demography. In fact, they have been ravaged by the astonishing Nigerian cancer of demography. What of the Igede ethnic group? The following is the answer I got: “Igede is a dialect of Idoma, but the ruling Tiv class has given the two local governments (created for Igede) some political advantage. This has given the Igede man a false identity and made him to forget that the late Och’Idoma, Abraham Ajene Okpabi was an Igede man.”

Interestingly, the late Och’Idoma, Abraham Ajene Okpabi was on the Idoma throne in the mid-twentieth century for a pretty long time – as a matter of fact, he was on the throne for well near half a century, if not more.

I tried in vain to reach two of my Tiv bosom friends to give me their unquestionably counter-blast tale. I surrendered my attempts after a while. In any case, my concern today is with something more valuable than a blast and a counter-blast of Idoma and Tiv tellers of political tales. His Excellency Samuel Ioraer Ortom, the executive governor of Benue State is the tough governor of the Middle Belt State. His toughness is unquestionably kin to a Tiv man’s native intelligence.

How this Tiv man has demonstrably united his Tiv people and their Idoma neighbours and in-laws against the marauding outlaws wrongly called Fulani herders foraying, ravaging Benue lands is worthy of praise. I am celebrating him here rightly as Ortom the Tough for the governor is a tenacious toughie. He is a Middle Belt loner of a governor whose tenacious stand against the almighty Buhari and his savannah-and-desert federal government’s pampered foragers is a worthy labour of edification that is spread out over the Middle Belt and beyond it. Ortom knows his onions and his action is relative to his goal and his people’s in Tiv land and Idoma territory. Benue State is by no means a rich state. But the governor whose state can rightly be called the food basket of our country has been using his people’s scant resources to wage a patriotic struggle to smash the smash of the Fulani robbers, farms’ destroyers and burners and land grabbers and arsonists setting fires to people’s homes and livestock. The governor, in my reckoning, is a militant at heart, sustained and continuously re-born and re-created by the security project-and-picture that transcends him, and which finds him shelled from mishap: as long as the Tivs and Idomas stand by him and with him he is sheltered in their cooperation and protection.

Ortom’s utterances, his words, against Buhari in a video posted to my phone (a recent Channels Television recorded event) are the utterances, the words, of a man of patriotic will. In this respect, he reminds me of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State. But unlike Wike’s and Akeredolu’s terrains, Ortom’s cannot be viewed and seen as a “positive construction and the systematic and progressive production of new social forms” that can be employed to undermine the aggressive Fulani senselessly ruthless order. Yet Ortom the Tough employs his unique nature to withstand the odds. His people recognize his uniqueness, which he is gradually handing over to them. What is this uniqueness of Ortom?

It is his selfless glory to give glory to Benue people. From my distant perception of him the young man is not unprepared to abandon a part of himself and being to the collective good of the other, that is, his Benue servants to whom he is equally a servant as any Excellency actually should be. But not every Excellency can be as militantly tough at heart as Ortom the Tough. Yet I must say this: why did Orotm abandon Gana, the Tiv warrior branded a bandit who was more than a handful for the security people who badly wanted him to die and who eventually killed him in cold blood? His handling of the Gana affair was not seen by several persons within and outside Tiv land as an affair of happy happiness. Has Buhari not been selfishly and unpatriotically constructing the Fulani project against Nigeria and Nigerians? As the controller-in-chief of Benue security personnel and security matters, why did Governor Ortom allow Gana to be picked and killed just like that?

But Ortom’s one error cannot count tragically against him. He is too much a hero and an outstanding patriot of the Middle Belt who is not a parasite of his people. Ortom can’t be branded negatively no matter what his traducers may say or do to so brand him. He positively is Ortom the Tough any time any day. Water splashed on a drake does it no harm. And Ortom is a thorough one of Tivland. He is a well-bred one and son of Benue. He can swim in and out of any tide. In and out – of any tide. Yes. This is why I must enjoin him urgently to compel the security personnel in his state to apprehend the killer(s) of ex-governor Suswan’s elder brother three days ago.

Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.