GOVERNOR SAMUEL ORTOM IN SEARCH OF ENEMIES
By Kanshio Orchina
At his screening to be appointed a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the hallowed chambers of the Senate in 2011, Samuel Ortom shocked Senators with his grass to grace story.
According to him, he started life as a motor park tout when his father retired in 1979 and he had to drop out of school because of poverty. He claimed to have overcome all odds and proceeded from his position as motor park tout to be awarded a string of diplomas by ABU and the Benue State University where he also obtained a Masters’ degree. He crowned his academic career with a Doctor of Philosophy from the Commonwealth University of Belize through long distance learning or so he claimed.
He was once an elected Chairman of Guma Local Government in Benue State from where moved on to become a party technocrat in the state.
Ortom served different political parties in Benue State including the National Centre Party of Nigeria as State Publicity Secretary; State Treasurer of the All Peoples Party (APP); and State Secretary as well as State Deputy Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He was also Director of Operations of the PDP gubernatorial campaign in Benue State in 2007 and Director of Administration and Logistics of the Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organization in 2011. He was PDP National Auditor before his nomination for appointment as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in July 2011.
The Senate was evidently impressed with his presentation. There was no deep probing of his rather staccato academic career or his itinerant political adventures. He was confirmed as a Minister.
Since then, his conduct especially in his office as governor of Benue state has called to question his academic claims. There are many unanswered questions about his diplomas and Masters’ degree. The one answered question is about his claims to a Phd. The University of Commonwealth where he claims to have that degree does not exist. That degree is fake.
But as the old saying goes, ‘old habits die hard’. His habits of a motor park tout perpetually in search of enemies have manifested themselves in his style of politics and governance.
After four years as a Minister in a PDP government, Samuel Ortom was expected to have made friends with those who called the shots both at the state and federal levels of the party. Strangely, when he declared his intention in 2014 to vie for the gubernatorial office of his state in the 2015 elections, he met a cold shoulder everywhere he turned in the party. At the primaries of the PDP in the 2015 elections, he lost, rather woefully.
Leaders of the All Progressives Congress in Benue magnanimously offered hm the platform of the party overnight. In April 2015, he contested for Governor of Benue and won under that platform.
It was a very controversial victory. He was not a known member of the APC in Benue. Some aggrieved gubernatorial aspirants of the APC went to court seeking to void his victory. They were on the verge of getting their prayers granted by the court when President Muhammed Buhari prevailed on them to withdraw the case in the over all interest of the party. They did. Ortom became more comfortable as governor.
But it did not take long before the bad old habits of a motor park tout – fighting everybody – began to rear their heads again. He waged a ferocious war against his former party comrade in the PDP and immediate predecessor in office, Gabriel Torwua Suswam. He established many, many panels to probe his predecessor’s government, one of them with judicial powers.
All the panels indicted Suswam but it was the Judicial Panel led by Justice Kpojime that finally nailed him. It came to the conclusion that Suswam had pocketed over 100 billion from the Benue State kitty. Pronto, Ortom forwarded the conclusions of the Judicial panel to anti-graft agencies who used it drag Suswam to several courts of law.
His next hit was President Muhammadu Buhari. Using the perennial clashes between the roving Fulani herdsmen and sedentary farmers in the state as a pretext, he started a campaign of calumny against the President who by coincidence happens to be Fulani. Ignoring the fact that the clashes had been going on long before Buhari was elected President, he did not spare any opportunity to hold the President responsible for the clashes in his state. Suddenly, he forgot that it was the President who secured his gubernatorial seat by prevailing on the aggrieved APC gubernatorial aspirants to withdraw their court case, a court case he was bound to lose.
After his scuffle with President Buhari came the one with Senator George Akume who was largely responsible for foisting him on the APC in the 2015 elections. He accused Akume of being an overbearing godfather who had also given him a red card. The National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomole made frantic efforts to resolve the problems between him and Akume. It soon became clear to the National Chairman that Samuel Ortom was not interested in any resolution for he left the APC in a huff.
One of the blunders of the Suswam government that made it easy for the APC to take over Benue was the failure of the government to pay salaries of civil servants. As at the time of the elections, the state government was owing civil servants four month’s salary. In a rural, non industrialised state like Benue where the civil service is the biggest industry, the failure to pay salaries was a major stain on the image of the government. Very much aware of this, the street wise Ortom promised during the campaigns to clear the arrears of salaries and pay all salaries when due after his election.
Like all his electioneering campaign promises, this one was also made to be broken. He has declared war on civil servants. Today, the government of Ortom owes salaries and pensions to civil servants for periods ranging between seven to twelve months!
Not satisfied with the enemies he has accumulated so far, Ortom has gone back to his old enemies who had made it impossible to emerge as governor of the state on the ticket of the PDP. Former Governor Gabriel Suswam, Senator David Mark and Governor Nyeson Wike who had made jest and ridiculed him in the media over allegations of buying and distributing wheelbarrows; Senator Iyorchia Ayu and others who spoke contemptuously about him in the past have become his best friends.
Governor Ortom says he is happy now that he is no longer under the godfather in the APC whom he now classifies as an enemy. But with this his contingent of fair-weather friends in the PDP, who also double as his godfathers, does he still an enemy?