By Yemi Itodo
When Benue State was created by the military administration of General Murtala Mohammed, on 3rd February 1976, it was a dream come true for Benue people, especially for the founding fathers, like the Late Joseph Tarka, who led the struggle for the creation of a state for the Middle Belt minorities for so many years.
At creation, Benue was like a finely built rocket waiting to be launched into the space. Hopes for the new state was high. But little did anyone know that the state would become the epicenter of Fulani herdsmen terrorism in few decades.
After the many years of military juntas and military interruptions of civil rules that slowed the development of Benue, like every other state in the country, power was finally returned to civilians in 1999. And the hope of the people was once again reignited.
But unfortunately, all that hope was dashed by the egregious corruption that characterized the civilian administration that took over from the military in the state.
Benue people were once again marooned!
Even more threatening, was the rejuvenated Fulani jihad sweeping across North Central Nigeria. Benue people were being targeted for extermination.
The people could no longer go to farms, Fulani herders were encroaching on their lands and destroying their farm produces. Their leaders were afraid to speak. Politicians were playing politics with their (Benue people) lives. The people were in a state of helplessness.
Then came a ‘Messiah’!
When His Excellency, Governor Samuel Ioraer Ortom, came into office as the 5th civilian Governor of Benue State in 2015, the state was facing an existential threat; marauding Fulani militias were killing farmers and ransacking villages. Communities in Agatu were razed down in a manner that could not be salvaged, in February, 2016.
Like the heroic former UK Prime Minister, orator and leader, Winston Churchill, who led Britain to victory in the Second World War, Governor Ortom swung into action immediately by declaring a state of emergency on insecurity.
His action earned him a lot of apathy from Abuja and the Fulani oligarchy, but he was firm on his stance not to compromise or play politics with the lives of Benue people. At the same time he was fast becoming the ‘Face’ of the fight against Fulani bellicosity in Nigeria.
After all, the basis for the existence of any government, and the only role assigned to any responsible and responsive government by the Nigerian constitution, is the protection of lives and properties of its citizenry.
Bearing that in mind, in May, 2017, Governor Ortom signed the Benue Anti-Open Grazing Law which prohibits open grazing of cattle and other livestock and provides for establishment of ranches, in order to stop Fulani herdsmen militia from junketing farm settlements and killing villagers and destroying crops.
The Fulani herdsmen under the umbrella of Miyetti Allah Hautal Kore, did not make secret their threat to “deal” with Governor Ortom and Benue State, despite the fact that the law also provided stiff penalties for those found guilty of cattle rustling. It was therefore, clear that the herdsmen have an ulterior motive.
On the 1st January 2018, the Fulani herdsmen made good their threat, by murdering over 73 villagers in Guma local government area of Benue state. And again, Governor Ortom, like Churchill, used his great oratory to call the attention of the world to the genocide and the constant terror attacks on Benue State by Fulani herdsmen.
This further deteriorated the sour relationship between him (Governor Ortom) and the Presidency, vis-a-vis the Fulani oligarchy, who made no secret of their apathy for the Governor of the once robust food basket of the nation.
But the good people of Benue who know and value the great battle their leader, the ‘Defender of the Benue Valley’, Samuel Ortom is fighting for them, overwhelmingly reelected him in 2019, to continue the good work; after he was issued a “red card” by the agents of the enemies of Benue State.
Interestingly, Governor Ortom soon became the darling of most peace loving Nigerians, who would often make statement: “I wish he (Ortom) was my Governor”, anytime there is a Fulani herdsmen attack on their states. And other state governors started copying Governor Ortom’s model of enacting anti-open grazing laws to quash herdsmen attacks.
This too angered the leadership of the Fulani marauders and they again threatened to “deal” with Governor Ortom and Benue State for starting the anti-open grazing law trend.
In April, 2021, the convoy of Governor Samuel Ortom was attacked on his farm at Tyo-mu, along Makurdi-Gboko road. The Governor narrowly escaped. What an effrontery!!
A group called Fulani Nationality Movement, FUNAM, claimed responsibility for the attack. But till today, the police authorities, neither the secret agents of the state, did not make any arrest in connection with the attack.
Despite all these, the Governor refused to be discouraged. Today, he is a hero, not just to Benue State but to all the states in Nigeria where his wisdom of anti-open grazing law was borrowed.
As Benue celebrates her 46th anniversary today, let’s not forget that the state is existing peacefully today because of the love and courage of Governor Samuel Ortom, the Winston Churchill of Benue State.
At a special thanksgiving and prayer session organized to commemorate the 46th anniversary of Benue, at the Chapel in People’s House, Makurdi, on Thursday, the Governor told whoever that cared to listen that he was not fighting a personal fight, as some erroneously construed.
Rather, he said it was a fight for equity, justice and fairness.
“I challenge anyone that feels that I have said anything outside these 3 things (equity, justice and fairness) to come out, and I will apologize. But when there is none of these 3 things, God will rise by Himself from the throne and do justice and I think the time is ripe”, Ortom said Thursday morning during the service.
The visibly elated Governor testified to the fact that Benue is now low in reported cases of banditry, armed robbery and local crimes; attributing it to the grace of God and strong political will to tackle them.
He believed that “this session of prayers we have made here today, will turn things around for Benue”.
Also, during the service on Thursday, the Governor reiterated his allegiance to the people of Benue State, whose mandate he has sworn to defend.
He said, “I’m committed to stand by truth and say the truth. I will stand and defend the people who voted for me. My allegiance is to Benue people and not to any other group or persons”.
For the doubting Thomases and the unending Naysayers, Governor Ortom assured that he would do all within his powers and God given time, to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people, not minding the many distractions within and outside Benue.
“I want to assure you that, better is the end of everything than the beginning thereof. It doesn’t matter even if it is one year remaining. All the programs that God has ordained me to do, I will do them before leaving”, he told the congregation.
As the Governor goes about doing his constitutionally assigned duties of security and safety of Benue people and by also delivering quality governance to the people, as promised, it is therefore incumbent on Benue sons and daughters, including lovers of Benue, to commit him in their prayers.
We must, as a people, acknowledge that we must first have to be alive, before we talk about material things. Thus, if we are opportune to have a selfless man who puts his life on line for us to live; the least that is expected of us, is to support him with prayers and wish him well. For if we wish him otherwise, we are inadvertently scuttling our chances of corporate existence, as a people.
But that will not be possible in totality. After all, our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ who laid his life for mankind, was never appreciated by his people. Even as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who stood for his people during the Second World War, Winston Churchill was not loved by all.
But like the Bible posited, after his brothers sold him out and a serious famine hit the land, Joseph’s worth became glaring and unparalleled. You don’t know the worth of a thing, until you have lost it. Only time shall tell!!
Happy 46th anniversary to our dear Benue State!!!
Itodo is the Senior Special Assistant on New Media to Governor Samuel Ortom