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THE BUHARI-ORTOM TANGO

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By Amanze Obi (Broken Tongues)

We all know too well that the Governor of Benue State,  Samuel Ortom, is not a friend of the Buhari Presidency. But it was not so from the beginning. General  Muhammadu Buhari (retd), who emerged as the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2014, used to be dear to Ortom. The Benue State Governor was one of those Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) faithfuls who had reason to quit the Party and joined forces with Buhari’s APC to unseat President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election. Ortom was a Minister in Jonathan’s cabinet before then. His desertion of Jonathan and defection to APC earned him the Party’s governorship ticket in his Benue State.

But the Buhari-Ortom romance did not last. Like most Nigerians who blindly stood behind Buhari to oust Jonathan, the scales fell from Ortom’s eyes soon afterwards. By 2017, he had begun to see clearly. He discovered to his chagrin that he had a jaundiced and exaggerated notion about Buhari. But Ortom did not allow the past to hold him hostage.

He broke loose from its unfortunate hold on him. That was how he began to see the Buhari design for what it is. The President’s kinsmen had infiltrated Benue and other parts of the Middle Belt and south of Nigeria. The claim was that they were cattle rearers. But they went beyond their declared mission. They were now invading and destroying farms with their cattle. They were also killing and maiming at will. Ortom’s Benue was one of the victims of the Fulani invasion. Ortom, unlike some other governors whose states were equally affected by the unwholesome activities of the herdsmen, did not fight shy.

He confronted the oddity. As a way out, Benue State under him outlawed open grazing of cows. This set him on a collision course with the then putative body called Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria ( MACABAN). They wanted Ortom to repeal the law against open grazing. But the governor would have none of that. This set the stage for a cat-and-mouse relationship that was to follow between the governor and MACABAN.

To get back at Ortom and his Benue people, armed herdsmen, on New Year’s Eve midnight, December 31, 2017, embarked on freestyle murder of Benue people. Scores lost their lives at the dawn of the new year. For Ortom and his people, the year 2018 began on a mournful note. Since then, the battle for the soul of Benue has continued unabated, with attendant loss of lives.

In all of this, Ortom had thought that  Buhari, whom he helped to install as President, would see something wrong with the activities of the killer herdsmen. But he was utterly mistaken. What he saw instead was a presidency that seemed to take sardonic delight in the daredevilry of the Fulani herdsmen. Ortom, like most Nigerians, was stunned. But the difference between him and many others was that he stood up to be counted. He rejected the effrontery of the murderous herdsman and dared him frontally.

In his battle with the killer herdsmen and the duplicity and complicity of the presidency in all this, the governor has come to acquire a certain image. He has come  to be recognised as a man of courage. When he talks, you will readily know where he belongs. He neither stalks nor equivocates. He also does not suffer fools gladly. More than anything else, the insecurity that is ravaging the country had brought out this streak in the governor. He usually brings the message home to all concerned. Ordinarily, Ortom’s frank displays should be sobering to those whose responsibility it is to secure life and property. But it is not. Rather, the  truth he tells is bitter and hurting to those who live a lie.

Scene at the burial of the 73 murdered in 2017 December night/ 2018 January morning

Since the unfortunate massacre of New Year’s Eve midnight of 2017, Ortom has stopped at nothing to draw the attention of the world to the threat and danger armed herdsmen pose to peace and progress of Nigeria. Each time he does this, he zeroes in on the Presidency. He has always asked President Muhammadu Buhari to take steps to stop the bloodletting in the land. But the governor, like majority of Nigerians, has always been disappointed by the lethargic disposition to and tacit support of  the Presidency for the menace of the herdsman. Each time Ortom blurts out, the Presidency squirms with discomfort.

Not too long ago, the governor was targeted for elimination by killer herdsmen in his farm in Benue State. The governor’s account of the incident shows that he escaped death by the whiskers. Only last week, killer herdsmen invaded the camp of internally displaced persons in Abagena, Benue State, killing seven people. This sparked outrage in the state. For the people, it was a case of double jeopardy. Those who have been displaced by Fulani herdsmen from their homes are still targets of murder even in the camps where they are taking refuge.

This latest incident is responsible for the present inelegant exchanges between Ortom and the Presidency. Regrettably, rather than work towards arresting the slide, the Presidency has chosen to engage the governor in a drag-out fight. A statement issued by the Presidency has expressed disappointment at Ortom’s charge on Buhari to convene a national security summit with a view to finding lasting solution to the growing insecurity in the country. The statement claims that President Buhari is pained and disappointed by Ortom’s disposition in this matter. The government of Benue State has since faulted the statement issued by a presidential aide, insisting that Buhari knew nothing about it. The Benue government berated the presidential aide for being criminally silent on the criminal activities of Fulani herdsmen. The rage is on. Each side is holding tenaciously to its position.

But it will not be out of place to assume that President Buhari did not join issues with Governor Ortom. He hardly does with anyone. His silences are so suspicious and confusing that Nigerians, most times, do not know what to make of them. This absentee personality of the President is largely responsible for the crisis of confidence that he faces before Nigerians. The people do not know what he knows or does not know about the country. The overall impression is that the President is disconnected from the people of Nigeria. He does not know what troubles them.

However, there is a corollary to all this. The President is known not to have wavered in his preference for and endorsement of the actions of the Fulani invaders. He is as constant as the northern star when it comes to this matter. What that suggests is that the President knows what he is doing after all. He is deliberately ignoring Nigerians.

Dr. Amanze Obi is a columnist with the Sun Newspapers

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