August 4, 2022

Samson Ochono: Nigerians owe Ortom a token of gratitude

Last week in my column titled ‘Time To Take Ortom’s Patriotic Calls More Seriously’, I stated that whenever the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom speaks, he does so on behalf of millions of voiceless Nigerians. Ortom is not a glib. He is not flippant. He doesn’t focus on frivolities. He goes for substance. He sees what others only get to see weeks or even months later. He is a leader with uncommon depth whose utterances are guided by divine foresight. Governor Ortom is forthright. He says it as it is. All his predictions and warnings, particularly about security and economic matters, have come to pass.

Nigeria is in dire need of leaders who love this country and want it to avoid hitting the iceberg and sinking like the famous Titanic ship. Governor Samuel Ortom is such a leader. Though he is only governing a component of the country – Benue State, Ortom has shown uncommon patriotism by constantly watching the country’s back and making timely interventions with his statements and objective opinions on national issues. In all instances, what the Governor says turns out to be the right alarm and caution that jolts Nigerians to the reality of the danger ahead.

Ortom was the first to introduce a law banning open grazing of livestock to pave the way for ranching. He received numerous attacks from Fulani social-cultural groups and was bitterly vilified by the Buhari administration. But the dogged statesman did not let the barrage of insults and media attacks discourage him. He took the campaign against open grazing to every forum and made a passionate case for ranching as the global best practice of animal husbandry. He would always reel out the statistics of countries with higher numbers of cattle, yet are ranching the animals such as Brazil, United States, India etc. He would then question why Nigeria, with a tiny number of cattle (a mere 20 million), finds it difficult to keep the animals in ranches.

That argument by Governor Ortom about open grazing having no place in modern day society and why ranching should be embraced by all has not been defeated till this day. Those who try to fault him only end up making a fool of themselves. He crowned his presentation during a lecture at the University of Nsukka in 2019 when he stated that one day, ranching will be accepted in Nigeria the same way June 12 was recently accepted and made a national day. It took less than two years when the entire country rose to embrace ranching with some northern governors and all the 17 southern governors banning open grazing in their states. It was a huge vindication of Samuel Ortom!

Another landmark achieved by Governor Ortom was his rejection of Ruga, which means (Fulani settlement) that the Buhari government attempted to smuggle into the country. The policy was designed to take away ancestral lands of indigenous Nigerians and hand them over to Fulani pastoralists. Ortom again was the first person who saw the evil plot and alerted Nigerians. In less than 24 hours after Governor Ortom raised alarm over Ruga, Nigerians rose in condemnation and rejection of the illegal plot. Ruga was defeated! But Ortom did not stop at that. He went on to call on EFCC to probe the Ruga contracts that had already been awarded. That was vintage Samuel Ortom – the patriot!

Suffering yet another defeat in their bid to grab the lands belonging to indigenous Nigerians and give to Fulani at all costs, the Buhari Government went back to the drawing board and came up with cattle colonies. Former Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh was the one asked to champion the policy with his flowery grammar. Again, Governor Ortom led the campaign against cattle colonies and that evil plot was also roundly defeated! But the Buhari administration was not ready to give up that easily. They invented another name for cattle colonies and called it National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP, which they told states to key into. The office of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo was asked to coordinate the NLTP. At a meeting in Abuja to discuss the programme, Governor Ortom who was invited as one of the Governors whose states were selected as pilot states for the NLTP, stunned the meeting when he said bluntly that Benue would only accept the livestock plan if it conformed with the state’s law against open grazing.

Those present at the meeting thought the Governor could be persuaded to shift ground especially when the huge billions earmarked for the NLTP to benefit the states were disclosed to him. They got the shock of their lives when Governor Ortom restated his earlier stand on the livestock programme at a meeting between a team from the NLTP office and his government in Makurdi. That was how NLTP began to wane. Benue, which is the state most cherished by Fulani herders, was technically out of NLTP. The conditions Governor Ortom gave were at the core of the programme. The NLTP and the law of Benue can only cohabit with one of the policies lowering its provisions, but Benue was not ready to amend its law to accommodate all the aspects of NLTP.

Up next for the Federal Government was the National Water Resources Bill. This time, President Buhari thought that at last, he had got something to gift his kinsmen for which they will forever remember him. The Water Bill was sent to the National Assembly before the end of the 8th Assembly and the process commenced for its passage. It was rejected and the Buhari administration stealthily reintroduced it during the 9th Assembly. Not many Nigerians knew what was going on. The bill would have denied the people of this country, particularly those living near the river banks of their ancestral lands.

Sensing the danger, Governor Ortom called on the National Assembly to reject the National Water Resources Bill in the interest of the country. The Governor said the bill which sought to bring all water sources (surface and underground) as well as river banks under the control of the Federal Government through its agencies was anti-federalism and negated the right of Nigerians to their God-given resources. The bill suffered another defeat in the National Assembly.

Last month, Buhari sent the bill back to the House of Representatives through one of the legislators from his state, Katsina. But once again, the patriot Ortom raised another alarm against the reintroduction of the water bill into the National Assembly. He described as curious the reintroduction of the National Water Resources Bill, which was rejected by the 8th and the current Assemblies. Governor Ortom was convinced that those pushing for the passage of the bill at all costs have a surreptitious motive which is not yet clear to other Nigerians. He said the bill, in addition to its provisions which are at variance with the Land Use Act, is a disguised land-grabbing legislation designed to grant pastoralists unhindered access to river basins, adjacent marine and coastal environments across the country. The Governor maintained that the bill is another version of Ruga which objective is to create grazing areas in the 36 states of the federation for herders and their livestock.

Earlier this month, Governor Ortom was in the United Kingdom and United States of America where he made a passionate case for helpless Nigerians who are being slaughtered by terrorists. He called for religious freedom and an end to terrorism in Nigeria. That is the mark of a true patriot! One who thinks not much about what can benefit him personally but more about what is good for the people of his country.

I doff my hat for Governor Samuel Ortom!

* Ochono writes from Apo, Abuja.

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