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‘Security challenges in Nigeria today not about the President’

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Samuel Ortom. Photo: TWITTER/BENUESTATE

The governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, has expressed dismay over comments suggesting he stage-managed an assassination attempt on his life. Gunmen suspected to be herdsmen reportedly attacked Ortom’s convoy last Saturday while on a visit to his farm.

Dismissing the comments as wild insinuations, the governor, who spoke to The Guardian after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, wondered what benefits he stood to gain from claiming what did not happen.

The distraught governor, who stated that he was at the Villa to commend the President for his statement condemning the attack, hoped that his predicament in the hands of the attackers does not befall his worst enemies.

You came to Abuja to see Mr President, how did the meeting go?
You see, I prefer to keep my suggestion to Mr. President between us. He has accepted and advised me on what to do. The rest is to follow up with security agencies, and that I am going to do. But impunity should not be allowed to continue to thrive in this country.

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Like I said earlier, Mr. President did advised when he was condemning the attack on me and pleaded with Nigerians that they should not politicise this matter. I want to appeal and beg everyone that we should not politicise the issue of attempted assassination on me. If a governor is attacked, then it is an attack on all.

I appreciate my colleagues, the governors, irrespective of party affiliation. The chairman of our Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), chairmen of Northern Governors Forum, Southern Governors Forum, PDP Governors Forum, Progressives Governors Forum, all of them, by way of call or text messages or press statement, have communicated with me condemning this attack. That is how it should be. We should know when to play politics and we should know when to work as a team to salvage the country.

But some people believe you could have stage-managed the attack?
What benefit do I have to come up and say I was attacked? My security agencies, not all of them are from Benue State. You have Fulani, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo people among my security personnel with me on that day. So, what benefits do I have to gain by stage-managing an attack on me? I leave those people to God; I see it as mockery. They are trying to mock me, but I pray that what happened to me should not happen to anybody else.

The truth of the matter is that we know what is going on round our country; we know that there are AK47 everywhere. But it is amazing, even when some people came out and took responsibility for my attempted murder, and some people are trying to doubt it; I find it difficult to explain that.

When Miyetti Allah went to Yola and said I am their problem, they had planned whatever they want against me, because it was just last week that they held a press conference and came out to say that I am their problem and that the law prohibiting open grazing should be repealed.

What exactly did the President say to you?
I have been able to recommend some measures and the President accepted my suggestions on the security situation in the state, including that no one should be a sacred cow. If people are found wanting, they should be prosecuted by the Police, and I think this is what is good.

The other time, he also gave an order for all those carrying AK 47, irrespective of where they come from, should be shot on site and I believe it is the best thing to do in a situation like this.

The order for the Immigration and other security agencies to protect our borders is commendable. So, its not just enough to criticise the policies of the Federal Government or the President, but when he does what is good, it is our responsibility to team up with him to ensure that that is done, because it is when we are peaceful and have security that we can talk about tomorrow.

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I am aware that the security challenges in our country today are not about the President or we governors; they are about every citizen of this country, so we must work together to surmount them. I also want Nigerians, especially those responsible for making inflammatory statements, to know that we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder and everybody is not in doubt in Nigeria today about the security situation. Without security, there can be no meaningful progress and so it is important to put heads together. Let’s do the things that are lawful and protect the provisions of the constitution, so that everybody will be secure. Let there be equity, fairness and justice; that is what I stand for.

I condemn the palpable impunity in the country, a development that has been allowed to fester, while the Federal Government should immediately prosecute anyone found culpable of breaching the law. The anti-open grazing law passed by the state House of Assembly is not targeted at any ethnic group, as being insinuated in some quarters; we cannot continue in this manner. Democracy is anchored on the rule of law. I have not done anything illegal, including the prohibition of open grazing, which my people told me to present to the House of Assembly and was eventually signed into law.

That law is not targeted against any ethnic group or individual, but it is meant to regulate the activities of herdsmen and farmers and I think we have very good stories to talk about this. Today in Benue State, those who trespasses against the law are arrested, their cattle impounded and they are prosecuted. Those who rustle cattle from herdsmen, we also go after them, so nobody is spared; even the people in Benue State – Idoma, Tiv and other ethnic groups – have been prosecuted when they contravened the provisions of the law.

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My lawyer is going to make a petition against the leadership of MACBAN, because they came out to target me and behind the scene, they are planning to eliminate me in my own land. If I can’t go to the farm as governor with entire security around me, who else can go to the farm? You can imagine the pains we have in Benue State. I appreciate the security personnel attached to me; they were able to repel and stop them from having access to me.

So, we must work together; security matters are not just for the security agencies alone; the led and we as leaders have a responsibility. It is only when we team up together that we will be able to surmount this challenge. But I think there shouldn’t be room for people who are creating problems for us. We have a constitution, we have laws of the land, if people are found wanting, they should be arrested and prosecuted.

There are calls for a repeal of that law, what is your reaction?
How can I repeal it? It is beyond me; it is not about Ortom, it is about Benue State and Benue people. I didn’t just sit down and wrote and signed the law; it went through due process and everybody was invited when we presented the Executive Bill to the Assembly to also ensure that there was fair play. There was also public hearing in three designated places and we insisted that there should be a fourth one in Makurdi. So, we did public hearing in the four places.

The law is meant to regulate the activities of herdsmen and farmers, so that there is no conflict. So far, we have done very well; we have arrested over 500 people; over 200 people were prosecuted and convicted, while over 13,000 herds of cattle were arrested and fines were paid and they were released. We have told our people to ensure that they maintain rule of law, and that is what is going on.

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Nigerians should not to allow their aspirations in the 2023 general election to scuttle the unity and progress of the nation. 2023 yes, to a politician is not far, but it is still a long way. If we secure our country and everything is going fine, then we can talk about 2023. But the way things are going, if we don’t secure the country, there is no way we can be talking about 2023.

I want us as leaders of this country, having taken oaths of office, to work together as a team, to leave politics and ethnicity aside and secure the country Nigeria. We have no other country than the Nigeria we live in.

Are there issues with land grabbing by the governor?
Well, that is the same politics I am talking about. There is nothing of that nature; I have no problem of land grabbing anywhere in the state. When I went there, the entire community was with me, those who took me there also had to run for their dear lives. So, I don’t know where that one is coming from.

But let me say that when people came out and took responsibility for the attack, people are talking. People have threatened my life and I have reported them to security agencies and believe that the security agencies will apprehend and prosecute them. I have no land issue with anyone whatsoever.

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Some people who think that they own this country should be apprehended and prosecuted. Otherwise, they will begin to think that they are sacred cows.

Miyetti Allah, FUNAM and all those ones are responsible for creating problems all over the place by what they say. That is what I am saying we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder in this country. What offence have I committed by ensuring that democracy is anchored on the rule of law? Some people are insisting that they will not respect the rule of law, and you want me to keep quiet? I will not, but I won’t take laws into my hands.

What I am doing is to ensure justice, equity and fairness, and I challenge anyone in this country to come out and point out to me what I have done in Benue State that is wrong and prove to me. If your argument is superior, I am ready to join you to find ways of changing whatever we have put in place, because I know that I am human and subject to mistakes.

But as long as I remain governor, I will continue to prosecute the agenda of the rule of law and abide by the oath of office I have taken, there is no going back.

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