Shortly after he dumped the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and a section of the Benue State Assembly made him both a subject of investigation and impeachment
ETravails of a governor vents have moved at amazing speed in Benue in the past two weeks as operatives of the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) have since commenced probe over huge sums of money allegedly misappropriated by the government under Governor Samuel Ortom. The EFCC probe is also extended to the state Assembly and other officials of the Benue State Government.
While this is ongoing, the APC, both in the state and the national level, has also been critical of the governor, who they blamed for financial decay of the state, as well as his inability to clear workers’ unpaid salaries.
Describing his probe as a clear case of persecution and witch-hunt, Governor Ortom reportedly urged the anti-graft agency to start the probe of security vote from the Presidency if it was not after him for dumping the APC.
This is even as the stalemate in the Benue Assembly continues, as both parties to the political saga are yet to come to a compromise after suspending each other in their separate sittings at the Government House and Assembly premises.
At the moment, Ortom appears to be enjoying the sympathy and goodwill of the PDP in the state and at the national level, occasioned by his familiarity with the personalities in the party, having served in various capacities under its umbrella for 16 years, including being a minister before leaving the platform to for the APC to win election in 2015.
The PDP has warmly accorded the governor a rousing welcome back to his family fold, even as it stood in his defence after the APC leadership stood up to challenge him over an alleged misuse of state fund. As a returnee bride, Ortom now enjoys the support of other PDP governors, former Senate President David Mark, Senator Barnabas Gemade, who has also rejoined the PDP, Senate President Bukola Saraki and his counterpart in the lower National Assembly chambers, Yakubu Dogara, as well as the Sir John Ngbede-led PDP executive at the state level.
The recent solidarity visit of the national chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus and four other PDP governors to Governor Ortom in Makurdi is a pointer to his re-admission into the fold of his former party. Secondus had, during the visit, described Nigeria as a country in crisis and insisted that the whole world must rise against the impunity going on in the state as he condemned the recent impeachment notice purportedly served the governor by eight out of the 30 members of the state House of Assembly.
“This country, particularly Benue, is in crisis. The whole world has watched the drama in Benue, where only eight members out of 30 served the governor an impeachment notice. We are aware that the powers that be are behind it. Are they not aware of the killings in Benue? What did they do about it? They claim they don’t know. What will they ever be aware of? We insist that Benue is for God and the PDP. They will never impeach the governor,” he said.
To many pundits, however, Governor Ortom is one politician that has surmounted political storms and crossed several bridges while navigating the turbulent waters of politics. To them, therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising if he again emerged victorious from the abyss of his current travails, just as it happened to him for dumping the PDP previously to join the APC. Troubled waters However, his emergence as flag-bearer in 2015 threw the APC in the state in turmoil as virtually all the aspirants who lost out in that contest cried foul, alleging that Ortom was foisted on the party by the leader of the party in the state.
Although they enjoyed the initial political honeymoon with his so-called political godfather, things gradually started falling apart and there was no more love lost between Governor Ortom and the leader of the APC in the state, Senator George Akume. As a result of conflict of interest, especially over the forthcoming 2019 elections, the political status of the state has been redefined.
Similarly, the goodwill he enjoyed with the people of Benue State started fading, following allegations that his APC-led government in the state had reneged on its campaign promises, especially with the gradual accumulation of unpaid salaries to workers in the state. His promise of creating jobs and empowering the people assumed a theatrical dimension in May last year when the media was awash with reports that he donated branded wheelbarrows to the youth.
The gesture, which was reportedly aimed to make the youth self-reliant, was, however, greeted with a barrage of criticisms, especially from the opposition PDP in Benue. Former Senate President Mark had, while commissioning some projects in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, reportedly mocked his state governor, Ortom, for distributing wheelbarrows while Governor Nyeson Wike (Rivers) was commissioning roads and bridges.
“While people are commissioning roads, bridges and good projects, in my own state, Benue, we are giving out wheelbarrows to empower people, so you can compare and contrast,” Senator Mark was quoted as saying.
Although Ortom denied the wheelbarrow story, saying the carts were donated by the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) for victims of armed herdsmen attacks in the state, it took quite some time for the dust generated to settle.
But to Governor Ortom, his current travails leading to his return to the PDP are the climax of political persecution following the passage into law of the state’s prohibition
of open grazing law in May 2017.
The bill was said to be the brainchild of pressure groups in the state, such as the Movement Against Fulani Occupation (MAFO) who severally occupied the Government House and state Assembly complex until the governor adopted the draft bill which he sent to the House of Assembly for enactment.
While believing that his role in the anti-grazing law had endeared him to the minds of his people who had suffered as a result of killings from herders’ attacks, Ortom believed that the move had pitched him against different groups, including the Miyyeti Allah who saw the law as an attempt to chase its members out of Benue State. When things fell apart The outcome of the APC congresses held in Benue State was said to have deepened the crack within the party that paved the way for Ortom’s defection to the PDP. Aside losing out in his bid to control some of the delegates in the state, Ortom was said to have completely lost out in the battle to control the party in the state to Senator Akume; hence his ‘red card’ theory that heralded his eventual defection.
Addressing supporters in Makurdi ahead of his defection, Ortom said he had been given a “red card” by his political party, the APC; hence he was floating and awaiting any party to admit him.
“I have been given a red card and I’m outside the pitch. So, if I have been given a red card and I’m standing outside, I’m a free man. I don’t know what will happen next, but I’m waiting. If approached, then I will tell the Benue people that I’m joining another football club. I’m a child of destiny and it’s only God that will decide what I will be,” Ortom said.
Although the national leadership of the APC made efforts to dissuade him from leaving, Ortom eventually announced his movement to the main opposition party on July 25, 2018. His defection followed a failed reconciliation meeting on the invitation of the deputy national chairman (North) of the APC, Sen. Lawal Shu’aibu, who had invited Akume and Ortom to Abuja for “an urgent meeting.”
Four days after his defection, Ortom’s deputy, Engr. Benson Abounu, announced that he had decided to follow his principal to the PDP, just as Ortom’s APC ward chairman also followed suit. This was followed by some serving and former commissioners in the state, as well as some APC members of the state Assembly.
His defection opened a new chapter in the politics of Benue State as the state House of Assembly became sharply divided along the lines of loyalty to either the APC or the PDP. While the Speaker of the Assembly believed to be loyal to Senator Akume was impeached, he, along with seven other APC members, served impeachment notice on Governor Ortom. The eight lawmakers who gained access into the Assembly chambers to carry out the impeachment threat include Terkimbi Ikyange (impeached speaker), Barr. Adanyi Benjamin, Terhemba Chabo, Benjamin Nungwa, Bem Mngutyo, Adams Okloho, James Okefe (the impeached deputy speaker) and Nick Eworo.
Ikyange and his colleagues were allegedly aided by the police to gain access into the Assembly chambers where they began their impeachment against Governor Ortom while the new Speaker, Titus Ugba, along with 21 other PDP lawmakers loyal to Ortom were reportedly prevented from entering the Assembly chambers to carry out legislative duties.
A High Court sitting in Makurdi last week restrained the eight lawmakers from continuing with the impeachment process initiated against Ortom. The presiding judge, Justice Theresa Igoche, also ordered the affected lawmakers to stop sitting forthwith, just as she upheld their suspension by the other 22 members pending the determination of the motion on notice.
“I agree with the Senior Advocate of Nigeria that the applicants have made out a case for the grant of orders sought therein. The order also restrains the Chief Judge of Benue State from receiving or acting on any process or request, issued pursuant to the purported sitting, proceedings and resolutions of July 30, 2018, aimed at or commenced for the purpose of removing the governor of the state pending the determination of the motion on Notice,” Igoche ruled.
The Benue State Government has formally complained to the Police Service Commission, seeking an end to the police siege on the state’s House of Assembly premises.
A letter dated July 31 and delivered to the office of the chairman of the commission in Abuja on August 1, 2018 stated in part: “We call on you to intervene and direct the Inspector General of Police and the Commissioner of Police, Benue State, to withdraw the officers and men from the illegal invasion and sealing up of the Assembly complex.”
While requesting that the new Speaker, Titus Uba, and the other members be allowed access to the complex to carry out their duties, the letter added: “The change in leadership of the House is a routine legislative affairs to which the police are not expected to take sides and unleash chaos on the legislative arm of the government of Benue State.”
Several others, especially PDP chieftains, have condemned the move, saying Ortom was being prosecuted because of his defection to the opposition party. But the APC at the national level and in Benue view Ortom’s defection as good riddance. While the APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole said Ortom left because of poor performance, the party’s director of publicity in Benue, Peterhot Apeh, said it amounted to a plus for the party, which could rather not continue to harbour a candidate that may not lead the ruling party to victory in the 2019 gubernatorial elections of the state.
“It is a plus for us because with him (Ortom), we can’t win the 2019 elections. Without him we will have a resounding victory in 2019,” Apeh said. ‘From grass to grace’ Born on April 23, 1961 in the present Guma Local Government Area of the state, Samuel Ortom was enrolled into the St. John Primary School, Gboko in 1970. He moved to St. Catherine Primary School, Makurdi in 1974, where he completed primary education in 1976. He was later admitted into Idah Secondary Commercial College, Idah in Kogi State in 1976, but had barely spent two years in the school when his father retired in 1979.
This was said to have brought an abrupt end to his dream of completing formal secondary school education on account of inability to pay school fees. Faced with this reality, Ortom was said to have girded his loins and entered into the Gboko motor park as a tout. While in the park, a Good Samaritan was said to have taught him how to drive while another helped him to obtain a driver’s license. Thereafter, Ortom was said to have been employed as a driver.
Perhaps his background as a driver opened new routes through life’s journey, one of which is through the vehicle of politics. In the political sphere he has been state publicity secretary of the National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN); state treasurer of the All Peoples Party (APP); and state secretary as well as deputy chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), all in Benue State.
He served as a director of operations of the PDP governorship campaign in Benue State in 2007 and director of administration and logistics of the Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation in 2011 and later became PDP national auditor before his appointment as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in July 2011.
His grass to grace story, which he told the Senate on Wednesday, July 6, 2011 as a ministerial nominee was said to have stirred the lawmakers who asked him to take a bow. Senators were said to be particularly stirred by an account of his background as a school dropout, a motor park tout and one who struggled to attain education through difficult means.
Perhaps, Ortom’s journey through his most turbulent political history started when he resigned as Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment in October 2014 to contest for the governorship position of Benue State on the platform of the PDP. Failing to clinch the PDP ticket he switched over and picked that of the APC and won the on April 11, 2015. His victory was largely attributed to his personality and not on the account of his new political platform.