Sunday, 18 December 2016

Read Excerpts Of Gov. Ortom Interview With Vanguard

Governor Samuel Ortom, in this interview, speaks on the farmers/herdsmen crisis in Benue State, the controversy dogging the selection of new first class chiefs, construction of a new cargo airport in the state inspite of the backlog of unpaid salaries, among other issues.

Excerpts: On the fear of  bloody crisis between Benue farmers and Fulani herdsmen ahead of the dry season.

The dry season is the period we have herdsmen trooping into the state, and I want our people to understand that two wrongs cannot make a right. To check the conflict between herdsmen and farmers in the state, we have set up various committees at the state and local government levels.

At the state level, we have a committee that is compared of my Adviser on Security, the Commissioner of Police, other security agencies including the Army, Maiyatti Allah and vigilante groups in order to check any crisis. At the local government level, the sole administrators are the Chairmen of the committees which include the traditional rulers. We also went down to the ward levels where the district heads are the Chairmen while Maiyatti Allah and the Civilian JTF are members. They will continue to keep vigil to ensure that there are no trespasses on farmlands and  where any occurs we make sure that the persons concerned are sanctioned.

The people also know that the carrot approach, the amnesty government declared on assumption of office, is over and now we have moved to the stick approach. So, anyone caught with arms will not be spared, whether you are a farmer or Fulani, we are going to arrest you. And where you resist, security agencies will deal with you. I want to appeal to our people that we do not want problems again.

The herdsmen should restrain themselves. Where they are not permitted to go to or enter should be respected and complied with. The herdsmen should ensure that their cattle do not stray into people’s farms. The committee will also ensure that foreign herdsmen do not infiltrate and create problems. We are also going to take census of all the indigenous herdsmen that reside in the state. Our position on grazing is that there is no more land for grazing, more so that we are diversifying our economy and going to where we have comparative advantage hence everybody is going back to agriculture, so there is no land for grazing.

The position of government is that we must adopt ranching as a way out of this problem. We have already sent a bill to the state House of Assembly and it is being given attention. We expect that the House will go ahead and pass that bill. Now, the fact is that the issue of ranching cannot just be done overnight. We need to find ways between the local, state and federal governments to create infrastructure that will create opportunity for these people to begin to ranch and where possible we need to indoctrinate and give the herdsmen new orientation that will pull them out from the jungle into civilized life. This will go a long way in helping. But the appeal to my people is that let’s not take the law into our hands and begin to do things that will further generate heat and problems for us. My advice is that if we will stand together we live better, it is live and let’s live.  We will stand better wining and the other side too wining. We are better off that way. We have adopted these in several local governments and we can see that we have maximum peace in the state. These are dangerous times and we are at alert, myself and others are not sleeping again. We expect the people to feed us with any information that relates to threat to peace so that we can act immediately. I want to appeal to youths and farmers not to go against any herdsman or his cattle and where there are infringements we should be informed and decisive action will be taken to deal with the matter. I also want to point out that we have men here who have lived with us though the years, from other states, some were born here and inter-married here, so we know them; they are not violent, they relate peacefully with us. Nigeria is for everyone of us. But even if the troublesome ones allow their cattle to destroy anybody’s farm, they will be held accountable. But we also know that foreign ones come here.

 Gov Samuel Ortom Why is the state constructing a new cargo airport at this time of recession when workers salaries are not being paid?

We are constructing a new cargo airport because the one mooted by the Federal Government at the Air Force Base was not feasible because of security implication.  It was in a military airport which  allowed commercial planes  to operate within the airport but with restrictions.

The cargo airport concept is a private initiative by a consortium which came through our advocacy for investments in Benue. Government, as you know, lacks the capacity to generate employment for our people and so, from my experience as a former Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, we saw the recession we are experiencing today coming. We were very active in ensuring Foreign Direct Investments, FDIs, into Nigeria and promoting made in Nigeria goods and things that could add value in our states rather than develop other countries through capital flight.

We laid a very solid foundation for governance and the influx of FDIs. So when I assumed office  as governor, I decided it was better to reach out. It was through our advocacy and reach out that we were able to attract this private sector initiative put together by a consortium. The project has received kudos and knocks. It’s kudos from those who understand what international trade is. Kudos from those who appreciate the magnitude of value addition to development in all spheres of life that the project will bring to Benue State, the food basket of the nation.

It is going to be a hub that will attract attention not only in Nigeria but across West African countries, who will come and do business here. So those who are giving us knocks over the project are completely ignorant and uninformed. How I wished they would have sought for clarifications on the matter. This project is completely a private sector initiative. We need N38billion to complete it. It’s not just putting in place a cargo airport, we are talking about constructing a road network which the consortium is going to develop to enable the transportation of the agricultural produce that will be airlifted.

It involves a training school, it involves clinics, it involves housing estates that will accommodate staff and because where this project will be sited is going to be a mega city, there would be a lot of shopping malls and several other things along the value chain that will be added. It is going to serve as a training school for air transport, pilots and accessories and several other things that will come with it.

The government of Benue State is not committing one Naira to the project at this time, but because it is being  sited in Benue State, the consortium and my economic team entered into an MoU and an agreement that it is not good to have this project in the state without having Benue State participation in it. They appreciated the fact that we do not have money, so they agreed to give us 15 percent equity so that the government could be part of it. They therefore agreed and arranged that the 15 percent equity that we are supposed to pay for which is about N5.7billion will be paid only when the project is completed and we have started receiving dividends. The dividend that will accrue to Benue will then be used to liquidate the debt which will be the payment for equity share. It is that simple. So the consortium is arranging money from China EXIM Bank to the tune of N32billion. And, of course, in a conference in South Africa, the President of China declared they have over N64billion for Africa. So those who understand this appreciate it because it is being done at a zero financial commitment of the state government. You can imagine the magnitude of opportunities that will be created as a result of this project.

The number of jobs that will be created, wealth that will be created, the excitement around. On the issues surrounding the appointment of a new Tor Tiv and other first class chiefs in the state. We came in when the law to make provision for the establishment of the Benue State Council of Chiefs and Traditional Councils in the state and other purposes connected therein was enacted and assented into law by the former governor; but there were issues. The law did not capture the collective will of the people. There were loopholes and some were tailored towards favouring some individuals and we felt that this was not correct. And we took a look at it. One, it was hurriedly done and so many things were left out and so we took our time; unfortunately, may his soul rest in peace; our Royal Highness, the Tor Tiv, in the course of this died, so there was a vacuum. But we felt that before the next appointment, there should be a reflection of what we saw and what can be done to make it better for everyone to be seen as the law is protecting him or her. And so we started the process, though it has taken some time. First of all, it went through the State Executive Council, then the House of Assembly and they took time because they too decided to work with the people because we need public input and so there were public hearing in all the zones and then we had input from traditional rulers in the state. We got input from intellectuals; from all the people and, finally, the bill was passed and, recently, I assented to it and it has become law.

The process of selection has started from the 14 local government areas of Tiv land. The time table came out and the various LGAs did their mock selection in their domains and we are restricting it to the replacement of kindred heads where vacancies exist as a result of death. But because we want to fastrack the selection of the new Tor Tiv, we decided that the third class chiefs should come first and thereafter go ahead to select the first class chiefs. That process is on. Some have complained that they are not comfortable with the arrangement in their domains but it was through the public hearing that the final copy of the law came out. When we conclude in the Tiv area, we will then move to the Idoma speaking area of the state and then do the same, so that we can have a full compliment of the royal fathers in place. I must point out that in the entire process no politician including myself had input. And I’ve warned the chiefs that if for any reason they take bribe in order to select a new Tor Tiv they will not eat the money because they will have to contend with God and not man. Because it would have been me that would do the imposition but we have left  the job to the royal fathers of the land so that it will be done in a free and fair atmosphere in line with the dictates of God who makes a king. I have told them that as governor I have the right to accept any selection that is done fairly and transparently and also done in consonance with the law we have signed but where it is done contrary to that, I also reserve the right to reject it. So we are advocating that the whole thing should be done by consensus because they know where the various positions should go because they know the history.

Some people in Benue State, particularly in Tiv land, have been insinuating that your godfather ( Senator George Akume) could just make a pronouncement and a new Tor Tiv will be appointed. Who is the godfather?

I have no political godfather. God Almighty is my Godfather and I am doing His bidding. I am here to execute the counsel of God over the land of Benue and that is what I keep saying. All these things that people insinuate are not correct. If you talk about my leaders, Senator Akume and Senator Gemade, but especially my leader, Senator George Akume; when people insinuate; we don’t relate like that. Akume is a fair- minded man who also has the welfare of the people at heart.

This is someone who can spend his last kobo on his enemy, you know? We were at a function when one of our stakeholders stood up and said that he appreciated this man and that even if you are his enemy, and you run into trouble, he can save you and then you can continue talking from there. This is a fair-minded man who loves the people. He is appreciated based on what he did. He supported me; he stood with me to be governor and I appreciate him and in governance he does not interfere with my government. If he wants a thing and it’s possible for me to do it, I do it because the Bible says you should not do evil to one who does good to you. If you do that, evil will never depart from your house. My relationship with him is that of a leader. But at this age and as governor, I have my rights. If he recommends something to me which I don’t like, which I have been doing; I will explain to him politely that this we cannot do, but other things that are doable, I allow to be done.

He is a major stakeholder; a man who worked and retired as a permanent secretary, became governor for eight years, has been senator for three terms; he is a major stakeholder in Benue politics and in Benue development. So you cannot just brush him aside and say that he is nothing. But that does not mean that I must always do his bidding. Even if I were his biological son, once you come of age, you have the right to do the things that your father may not like. And so, that is our relationship and he has never imposed anything on me.

All recommendations coming from him are very genuine which I appreciate. But I am telling you that the issue of selecting and appointing traditional rulers is something that I am under divine instruction not to interfere with or allow anybody to interfere. Let us do the right thing. And I repeat, even as governor, I am not interfering, so who will come and interfere in the matter?

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