#NaijaLiveTvThe Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, in this exclusive interview with DAILY POST Editor, Adoyi Abah Ali, speaks extensively on his efforts towards rescuing Benue State from herdsmen, saying their invasion of the Benue valley is an attempt to conquer and take over Benue territory. He also speaks on different projects ongoing in the state, and why he parted way with former Governor, Senator George Akume. He equally clears the air on payment of workers’ salaries and how he has sustained payment. He did not leave out his explanation on his decision to dump the All Progressives Congress, APC, for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and his continuous riff with Miyetti Allah.The interview will continue after this first part…Excerpts…Despite the daunting economic and security challenges in your State, we have observed that a lot of projects are ongoing. What magic are you doing?Well, we appreciate God. The passion to serve and deliver dividends of democracy is also paramount while we contend with other challenges. We are driven by the fact that we want to do our best. It has not been easy though, but the covenant with the people is constantly reminding us that we need to do more.Though we are constraint, like you observed; the security challenges, the economic problems; but we just have to put something on the table. We hope that we will be able to surmount the security challenges.The projects you have seen today cut across the 23 LGs. In all the LGs, we have tried to make some impact because we were voted in massively by the people.This is because without a secured society, there can be no meaningful development and we cannot do it alone. We require development partners to come in. We require the private sector to come in. We require spirited individuals and cooperate organizations to come in. But no one will be willing to come in, when his life is not secured or his investment is not secured. Some of the projects that we undertook even with the meager resources are not going on currently because of insecurity.So that has been a challenge. I know of a road in Guma LG, another one in Gwer West, several other Local Governments where herdsmen have taken over. It is difficult to do the work. This is where we are, and I know that tomorrow, we will have the challenge of whether these funds will be diverted and we begin to struggle to see how we can recover them. Though it is not the fault of the contractors, they had mobilized to site but they had to leave. One of the bulldozer contractors was a victim around February. He was killed while working there. The challenge is still there.Operation Whirl Stroke are still there, they are doing their best, they are also victims just like the other security agencies. On record, more than 30 of them have been killed since January. It is a big challenge.We are praying and with the recent directive of the President that security agencies should deal with this bandits ruthlessly, we hope that there will be hope for our people, because I can see famine, I can see poverty, I can see underdevelopment with this going on.180,000 IDPs are in the displaced camp we have established and more than 500, 000 people who have been are displaced are living with relatives. It’s not an easy task.For a state that the economy is driven by the civil service and actively supported by peasant farming, when the farmers are displaced and are no longer contributing to add value to the economy, it becomes a problem.It’s quite challenging, and in the next few years, if this continues, whatever economic activities that are happening around this area can no longer go on; so we pray that the matter will be over.Are you paying salaries?Yes, we have been consistently paying our workers since January.I inherited when we took over in 2015, over N69bn salary arrears, pension and gratuity. Over 70 billion for other engagements of government.We tried to cope with the issue of garnishing our account because people who went to court and secured valid judgement had to be paid. We tried to pay judgement debts, we tried to pay for other several commitments. It’s been quite tasking, but we appreciate God for how far we have gone.The 23 LGs welcomed us and we felt that there was the need to try to do something. The issue of payment of salary has been the biggest challenge of this government because Benue state economy is driven by the civil service. No much of commercial activities are going on here, no industries, so there is no engagement of the private sector providing commercial activities, so it has become very challenging.Once salaries are not paid, it becomes a big challenge.This is what we’ve been battling with. Since the beginning of the year, because the economy is improving, the federal allocation has improved compared to what we used to have. Throughout the period that we were in recession, the total allocation that was coming to the state was an average of 5 billion and then you have an IGR of about 500 million, it becomes a problem.But we also appreciate the fact that today in Nigeria, despite the low IGR that comes into the state, Benue state is number 3 in terms of payment of high salary.In the North, we have 19 states and Benue state is the highest.In fact, it may interest you to know that some states in the north, their salary is 1/3 of what Benue State is paying, so it becomes a very big task.In the whole country, Benue State is number 3 in terms of payment of high amount of salary. While Lagos is first, Rivers is second and then Benue State. But if you compare our IGR to these two states, you can see the difference, so it’s a big challenge.As we have more money, we will pay the arrears. Nobody can tell you anywhere that there is misappropriated money. All those lies on social media and others can never be justified.In fact, we have had some issues with some people who we thought were responsible and because of their irresponsibility in their utterances, we have tried to prove in a civil way that we have not done anything wrong, so we have taken them to court to prove their wild allegations of embezzlement of funds.How will you take money in this time of BVN and this time where accounts are open to other security agencies? Go and prove where monies have been diverted to. We have utilized our resources very well and our accounts are ready for everyone to see. We are transparent and we publish them for everyone to see.It is a difficult thing contending with payment of salary in the state, so what we have done as at today; from January we decided that let us suspend all the projects because salaries must be paid.I have been advised by traditional rulers, politicians who are close to me, the clergy and all the people that were consulted that we must suspend every other thing to consistently pay salaries, and that’s what we have been doing.They say, ‘If you construct a bridge and there is no one to make use of it, it doesn’t make any meaning, so pay salaries.’So we have suspended all projects. From January by the Grace of God, we have been able to pay up to date and what is left now is the arrears which is seven months at the state level, 11 at the LG level. This is an accumulation of all the arrears.But we must appreciate the workers for their understanding. They understand our plight because we are transparent. We are open to them. In the LG joint account, the workers are also part of it, so that they can also see what comes in and goes out. So it has made things very easy for us instead of trying to answer some of those wild allegations that people make which are lies. They are there themselves. I don’t play with LG funds, and at the state level, whatever we spend, all the figures are there for anyone to see.So we are hoping that things will be better. As the allocation is improving, we are hoping that if at the end of every month, we are able to pay salaries and we have some surplus, we should be able to pay from the arrears and if there is any other opportunity that will come my way in terms of money, priority will be given to settlement of these arrears so that people will be happy, that is where we are today.What exactly is the security situation in the state at the moment?On security, as I said, we are working with the security agencies to see if the IDPs can go back to their homes because that is my greatest worry as at today.God has been very merciful to us in the state as we have not had a major epidemic and our prayer is that God will sustain us and not allow any major epidemic in any of these camps. We have had supports from some states in the country, spirited individuals, cooperate organizations, development partners, the civil society have been very wonderful, the media have played a major role, we commend them for the support that they have been giving to us. I know the passion that Nigerians have; words cannot express my inestimable appreciation on behalf of Benue state government and the people.To all those who have shown one concern in one way or the other, those condemning the act of impunity and lawlessness that is reigning in Nigeria today against Benue people; they have done well, we appreciate them because we have seen the reaction of the government and so on.Even when we are not able to reach out to the presidency, the people are there to speak on our behalf and so the presidency hears.Several times, have heard statements coming from the presidency, saying that we are not part of this including the impunity of impeachment that took place recently in Benue state.Eight members of the House of Assembly out of 30 coming to say they have issued impeachment notice on me; up till today as I speak to you, I have not seen any impeachment notice.They know that they were doing an illegal thing. Yes, we have seen some actions from the federal government, we are expecting to see more because democracy is anchored on the rule of law. When you put rule of law aside and you begin to do things the way you want, you are asking for trouble, you are asking for anarchy. And if there is no law, then nobody is protected, even you as a president or governor or LG chairman or traditional ruler, nobody is safe.On the street, if you go, you will see some powerful people and they will run over you and you will be no more.On the road, you’ll see these trailers, you see drivers of trucks, some drive anyhow, but the only thing that gets to them is that they know that if they crush you, the law will catch up with them. So the law is very important in democracy. If we must succeed, we must respect the rule of law.So I appreciate Nigerians, they are at alert and I thank God. Mr President, I believe that he’s the same person I know as a man of integrity and a man who respects the law.And we are not asking for too much, we are asking that let the right thing be done, let there be justice, let there be equity, let there be fairness in whatever we do so that if I don’t go to Abuja, I should know that this is what the law says that should be done.The herdsmen attack, like I said, the operation whirl stroke put together by the Defense Headquarters, where you have the army, the Navy, the police, the Civil Defence, the DSS, the Air Force has really helped.But frankly, these mercenaries are out for business. They are out to subject the people to deeper pains. There is more to what we are seeing and it’s all about occupation; let nobody deceive you that this is herdsmen. This is beyond herdsmen. My worry is about the sponsors of this heinous act of destruction, killings and so on. Up till today, and as I speak to you, some are hiding in neighboring states and come out to attack and go back. I think the Operation Whirl stroke at a point pursued them to some of our neighboring states and they caught them. But some areas are still being occupied by the mercenaries. In my own LG, half of the place cannot be accessed. They are still there.They have taken advantage of the rainy season. Some places cannot be accessed by road, the whole place is riverine, even part of Makurdi here, these people are still here. They are very stubborn, they come from neighboring state with their cattle. The challenge has been that the security personnel are grossly inadequate to cover the entire terrain that are affected; there is no doubt about that.Like I said, the security personnel that have been posted here have done their best, maybe we need to do more, the FG needs to do more because it’s their responsibility, but the ones they have sent here are really doing well. They have really shown commitment. They are working very hard and like I said ,more than 30 of their personnel were killed by these mercenaries. They are doing their best but they are grossly inadequate and I know that the security challenge is not only in Benue state; several other states are affected, including the north east and so on.We have constantly told our traditional rulers and the stakeholders that the issue of security should be looked beyond just allowing them to do their thing. We too have a role to play. If you have security men in your society and you provide water for them, you have added value and if you have vehicle around that you can spare for security operatives, you have added value and so there is so much that can be done. We also support the security agencies by intelligence gathering. We provide intelligence because this is a guerrilla warfare, it’s not a normal thing like you are confronting your enemies, sometimes they come from the backdoor and so on. So if you allow the security men alone, it may not work.So all of us are working together. We also have vigilante group in place. They are not armed but they can be very effective by providing information for us in the state. This is the result of our Amnesty program.So anywhere we get information that there are criminals or bandits, we move against them, using the security agencies. So we have to manage what we have.There are challenges even with us providing logistics and all other supports but when the resources are not there, it becomes a very big problem and the FG is challenged in providing funds and the states are expected to give support, the LG and all that, but sometimes when the resources are not there at all, it becomes a very big challenge. So the security operatives have been doing a lot of sacrifices too.I think that as I have said, the new directives of Mr. president, urging the security agencies to do more; if they honour that, I believe that more will be achieved but for now, they are trying to do their best.You have been complaining about Miyetti Allah’s activities in the state, yet no arrest has been made so far. They have become even more vocal. Are you helpless now that no action has been taken against them?Well, I’m not helpless, but I’m disappointed because if you talk about providing intelligence to security agencies to help them apprehend impunity, lawlessness and sanction those who are perpetuating evil act like Miyetti Allah are doing and then nothing is done to them, then you begin to wonder whether they have immunity like I have, like Mr president or like my deputy has. Do they have immunity? And if they do, which part of the constitution and if they are not covered by the constitution, which constitution are they using, are they Nigerians? If you talk about hate speech, if you talk about instigating violence, if you talk about suspects who are killers, it should be Miyetti Allah.They have instigated violence in this country. We have reported them and nothing happened. They have been promoting hate speeches and what amazes me is that they go publicly and say it and nothing happens. They are completely lawless people and no one is prepared to even question them.You can see they are gradually moving from one step to the other. I appreciate Nigerians who have been vocal on this matter. We just have to take the destiny of our country into our hands and to ensure that the rule of law in our country prevails, if not, we will all be consumed.Those who are keeping quiet and thinking that Ortom is making a noise, their time is coming. I’m a target for this people to be killed. I have said it but I have also said my life is not in the hands of any Miyetti Allah agent or anyone at all. It is in the hand of God, it’s only when God permits, that my life will leave this world. I’m not afraid to say it that after me, they will go after another person, so it is our collective responsibility. If we want this democracy to continue, we must ensure that those who are becoming lawless are punished so it will serve as a deterrent to others. If not, tomorrow, another group will also spring up.For us here, we have maintained that we want to be law abiding. Despite all the provocations and insults, we have restricted ourselves to allow the rule of law to prevail as two wrongs can never make a right.For so many times, Miyetti Allah have come out to admit to killing our people. In the January massacre, they said they were responsible, and that their cattle were rustled. Because of that, you come and kill? Why not go after the people that rustled your cattle and report them to the police and get them arrested, than going to kill innocent people, toddlers; you kill pregnant women, you kill old men and others.How can a 74-year-old man go to rustle cattle? Can a toddler go to rustle cattle? How can a pregnant woman of 8 months go to rustle cattle?These are very painful things and we must not keep quiet. We must speak, Nigerians must rise up to say something, otherwise, like Danjuma said, we are going to lose our territory. This is not about herdsmen rustling cattle. It’s about conquest. After all, Miyetti Allah, Boko Haram, Isis are the same thing, no difference. These are agents of the devil.Their duty is to kill, to destroy, and to steal, and to us Christians, that is the attribute of the devil. ‘The devil cometh not but to steal, to kill and to destroy. This is what these people are doing. So you don’t need an Angel to tell you that these people are evil people.So the fact is that as long as these people are not apprehended, they will continue to graduate from all forms of impunity and lawlessness to another. What is the business of Miyetti Allah for God’s sake, by calling on the Senate President to resign, otherwise they will force him out? Are they members of the Senate?Have Miyetti Allah become lawmakers? The constitution is there, the rules in the senate are there guiding them, those who are members of senate know what to do. The constitution is there and there are rules, they know how to elect, they know how to impeach and it’s not the first time we have seen senate president removed through due process; it’s very easy. Once you have two-third, you decide what happens; that is the law; it is the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.Miyetti Allah is not mentioned in our constitution. So many people will not share my pain/opinion today, but tomorrow, they will accept it. We have decided that we will stay by the truth and work with it and I’m not intimidated by anyone.All that I’m asking for is justice, equity and fairness for everybody, for every Nigerian. Those who talk about the anti-grazing law being responsible for the security issues in Benue State have forgotten that it’s a global best practice. Excluding Africa, it is what is practiced everywhere in the world. And the entire cattle that we are talking about in Nigeria that is creating trouble today are less than 20 million.In India, we have over 200 million, but they ranch. In Brazil, they have over 200 million, yet they ranch. In America and Argentina, they have over a hundred million, and they ranch.Even on African soil, ranching is taking place in South Africa and Swaziland. I was in Swaziland 5 years ago, and their major export earning is beef, but they ranch. They ranch even in Kenya. They ranch everywhere, even in Ghana here. Last year, they ordered that if you can’t ranch and move about with your cattle, it should be turned to ‘suya.’Why can’t we ranch? We are still thinking that we are in the 50s. What was the total population of Nigeria when we were in the 50s; less than 40 million. Today, what is the population? We are now over 200 million. And this is something that has been analyzed and discussed and accepted. If you look at it and check where we are today and where we will be in terms of progression in 2030, Nigeria will be 450 million people.So if you have 200 million sitting on 923,000 square kilometers and you are having this kind of challenge, what will happen when you are 450 million. Schools alone, I can imagine the space that it will occupy and then you talk of roads, hospitals, several other activities; so what are you going to do? So it’s better to start planning now. And globally the best practice in animal husbandry is ranching.To be continued…
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