Between Ortom and Presidential tantrums, by Niran Adedokun

Niran Adedokun

The President has shown extraordinary patience stomaching a lot of the garbage that Governor Ortom has been pouring about him. I am not sure that in the history of this country, there had been any president who would have taken all of the insults that Governor Ortom has been heaping on this President, and on the President’s directive, we have ignored him.”

The above statement was made by Garba Shehu, veteran journalist, former President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, former longtime aide of ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar and now, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd).

Garba was speaking on Channels Television in reaction to what has become the unending diatribe of Benue State Governor, Mr Samuel Ortom against Buhari. The governor, whose state has arguably been the hottest spot of the herders/farmers crisis in Nigeria (with a record of close to ten thousand deaths and over one million displaced persons in the last eight years), has been on an incessant grumble against the president. Ortom’s angst is over what he considers to be Buhari’s failure to curb what he sees as the murderous and expansionist incursion of the herders into the largely agrarian state. Just before this intervention by Garba, the governor had in fact, accused Buhari of nursing a hidden agenda to “fulanise” Nigeria. These utterances, amongst several others inspired the presidential spokesperson’s response quoted above.

That utterance however says a lot about the quality of public service in Nigeria. Listening to Garba offer these words on national television, I wondered how easily people who are appointed into political offices in Nigeria forget or try to hoodwink the people. Garba claimed that no president has had to endure as much insult as Ortom has allegedly passed on Buhari. But that is not true, not even in the recent history of Nigeria. In any case, if he chose not to endure, what would the president have done to a governor, whose major complains are about the welfare and security of the people who elected him into office. Would he had asked the Department of State Services to arrest him or mobilised his impeachment by members of the state assembly as we saw in years past? The huff about condoning and enduring was therefore unnecessary. But more than that, not one Nigerian conversant with the state of affairs in Benue in particular would not worry about the wanton loss of life in the north- central state. And what do you expect a governor, who, himself almost lost his life to a group that later claimed to be members of a Fulani association do in the circumstance?

More importantly, have Garba and the presidency answered the questions that Ortom posts in these outbursts, which has gone on for about three years? It is true that his ceaseless campaign about the impending fulanisation is divisive and probably uncomplimentary of a leader, but has the presidency tried to comprehensively address the concerns of this man, whose people have become sport in the hands of marauding killers? Have there been arrests made of killer herders who have ravaged this state over the years, killing, maiming, raping and compounding the country’s food crisis? If so, how many of those so arrested have been charged to court not to speak of conviction?  Does it occur to them at the presidency that addressing Ortom’s fears, would have been more of service to the people of the state, (whose support he clearly enjoys), than what the high horse riders at the villa might consider to be a dignification of the governor?

What is even more significant is that Ortom is not the only governor who is speaking up about the threat to life and property in many states in northern Nigeria. Although, he is perhaps the only one whose complaints have been about Fulani herders, terrorists, that the authorities romantically refer to as bandits have literarily taken over the affairs of three or more states in the north west. Last week, the Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle called for a state of emergency to cover the 19 states in the northern Nigeria. While some may consider that request weird, Matawalle must have considered how the connectedness of these states facilitate easy movement for the criminals, such that any enduring solution must be collaborative.

Just before Matawale’s ventilated his opinion, there was the outcry from Aminu Masari, who is Governor of Buhari’s native Katsina State. In his own case, Masari was so frustrated that he called on unarmed citizens of the state to defend themselves against criminals who legendarily move in large numbers armed with some of the most sophisticated weapons possible. And even though Governor Nasir El-rufai of Kaduna State has been more circumspect in his own reaction to the colonisation of his state by these terrorists, who last week stormed the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) and retainthe custody of a military officer one week after, events in the state tell of the effective hijack of state powers by non-state actors.

It was in Kaduna State that students and staff of the first private university in the state were kidnapped, five of them killed and others released only after the captors got ransom monies running close to two hundred million naira as they requested. In the same state, 31 of the 121 students abducted from Bethel Baptist Secondary School Kujuma in Chikun LGA of Kaduna State on July 5 are still in captivity of criminals who torture them daily according to the accounts of the batch released last weekend. The piecemeal release of these children, is dependent on the payment of ransom by the poor parents since government has washed its hands off!

So, if children, whose treatment great Nelson Mandela said reflects the soul of a country are treated this shabbily, Governor Ortom should not need to shout himself hoarse before we understand that the country is in unmitigated mess. Not just that, we should also realise that every one unit of governance is at its wits ends and that there is need for urgent and collegiate action to get out of security crisis that threatens to swallow up the country.

The exchange between Ortom and Garba leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of Nigerians who are like the grass continuously being trampled upon by two fighting elephants.  Even if Ortom, given his office as a leader of a sub-national authority chooses to heat up the polity by making unsubstantiated accusations as Garba wants us to believe, a national government sworn to the development of the country should, in the first, instance, take these criticisms in its stride, follow it up with a response that gives confidence to the accuser and thereafter investigate and address the issues raised robustly. With the level of daily assaults that Nigerians face from assorted types of crimes that assail them lately, confidence is so thin that members of the national government should avoid altercations that detract from the already fractured peace in the country.

When they show the public that they are unable to aggregate the public’s welfare needs and collectively come up with actions that alleviate their sufferings, they give a conclusive impression of their inability to save the people. If elected leaders are unable to sit at round tables to look at issues dispassionately, resolve policy differences and come up with solutions that would benefit everyone, you can then only imagine why the polity is fraught with overwhelming lack of functionality, system corrosion and total subjugation of the idea of public service for the triumph of self-aggrandizement. Nigeria is where it is today because those who lead have misunderstood that public office is for the service of the people rather than the glorification of the office holder, that fundamental misunderstanding of purpose alongside the pathetic level of incompetence is the harbinger of the appalling level of misgovernance, irresponsibility and lack of peoples’ interest that pervades the public space in Nigeria.


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