<<< By Iorliam Shija >>>
THERE is a phrase in his governorship campaign theme song that summarizes Samuel Ortom’s winning streak in life. “Though the giants may be on the way to hinder, God will surely give us victory.”
Before embarking on any trip the politician and his entourage would sing the song containing the phrase and pray. On return they would do same. This happened throughout the campaign period. Attempts by giants to hinder this man abound but at every point he comes out victorious.
The first giant appeared on his path in 1979. He had been admitted into Idah Secondary Commercial College, Idah, Kogi State. He did two years in the school before his father’s retirement that year brought an abrupt end to his dream of completing formal secondary school education on account of inability to pay school fees.
Before this he had an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ and attributes the successes in his life to this. Indeed he continually quotes Job 36: 11 and 12 as the success or failure recipe for any Christian. He dropped out of school. But instead of idling away at home to mourn his fate, he got into the Gboko Motor Park as a tout. It was in the park that a Good Samaritan taught him how to drive on account of his honesty and dedication to duty. Another helped him to obtain a drivers licence and soon after he became employed as a professional driver.
On recommendation, he became the driver and confidant of a prominent Gboko based Christian leader and politician, Pa Samu Ihur. One day after close of work he hung around voluntarily in the house of his boss waiting in his usual manner, whether his services might still be required.
That wait opened a chapter in his life that has contributed greatly in raising him up to his present status.
While sitting on a bench outside the house, the wind blew a piece of paper which was an advert for enrolment into the National School of Salesmanship, Manchester, toward him. He picked it, read and decided to enroll for it by correspondence, thus launching himself into the world of acquiring knowledge and certificates by correspondence.
Ortom thereafter acquired education through conventional and unconventional methods capping it up with a doctoral degree. The real story lies in the fact that he has fought with the poverty that tried to keep him down and defeated it.
He became local government chairman, party administrator at the state and federal levels as well as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. At one time he held two portfolios simultaneously. He was Minister of State, Industry, Trade and Investment as well as Supervising Aviation Minister.
Besides he had been a successful businessman who founded the Oracle conglomerate that has offered employment to over 400 youths. So successful is the outfit that it had established the Oracle Business Foundation Limited with tentacles into several aspects of philanthropy.
It handles redemptive, restorative and empowerment services. Under this foundation, Ortom set aside funds in St. Theresa’s Hospital, Makurdi and Rahama Hospital, Gboko road, Makurdi for treatment of hernia and snakebites free of charge to the patients.
Through the foundation, Ortom reaches out to prison inmates, preaching Christ as well as offering love and care while paying the fines of many who couldn’t.
Another outreach of his has been the Oracle Driving School which turns out qualified drivers on a regular basis.
All these have demonstrated clearly that the giant called poverty had not been able to hinder Samuel Ortom.
Flash back to 2000. Ortom had been state treasurer of the All Peoples Party.
Chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP realised his worth and wooed him into their ranks.
When he came in there was an opportunity for him to become state secretary of the party. Suddenly a giant emerged. A chieftain from his area who was an elected Senator vowed that it would not happen and another person was chosen. Later that secretary lost out and Ortom stepped into his shoes becoming one of the longest serving and most effective party secretaries any political party has ever had in the state.
Again, giants couldn’t hinder him.
Ortom had completed his Judges Quarters residence and wanted the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, to be his first guest. He was putting finishing touches on it when armed robbers struck. Two days before the august visitor arrived, the robbers came to attack with seven AK47, three pistols and 640 rounds of live ammunition with their car and four robbers inside. They took away his driver and car. He went and stood at the gate and saw the ring leader driving away. He prayed and said if he served the living God faithfully, he would go after the robbers and arrest them.
By the grace of God, he went without a pin and at the Wurukum roundabout in Makurdi God in a divine manner helped him and he arrested the ring leader. The man had three pistols by his side with one AK47 corked and ready for action and yet, God in a divine manner gave him (Ortom) the anointing and the power to arrest him. He was arrested and handed over to the police. It was at the police station that he attempted to escape and they shot him but Ortom said he wanted him to live and give testimony one day. The following day the robber enquired from the Commissioner of Police when he was in pains (his two legs were broken by the same gun he brought to rob) that he wanted to know what manner of man that arrested him.
The commissioner asked him, why do you want to know the man? He said that something mysteriously happened to him when the man arrested him that he became very weak, he had no strength again to struggle and so he believed that Ortom had something extraordinary and he (Ortom) admitted that the extraordinary thing he had was Jesus Christ. He had also recovered his car and driver.
Another giant couldn’t hinder him. Ortom had resigned his position as minister to seek the governorship ticket in Benue State on PDP platform where he came third in the primaries and thereafter defected to the All Progressives Congress where he picked it. Before his entry into the APC, that party had five governorship aspirants engaged in a struggle as to who would emerge as flagbearer among them.
In the ‘umbrella’ party, there were 20 but only eight ended up at the finishing line with Chief Dr Ortom in the third position.
The PDP had earlier fixed its primaries for 29th November, 2014 before that of the APC which was scheduled for December fourth.
However, the PDP revised its time table and moved the governorship primaries to December 8 foreclosing any chance of any of its losers moving over to the APC which must have concluded the exercise before that date. Close observers noted that one giant, who was Benue State governor, had influenced the shift, particularly to block Ortom’s chances of crossing over to the APC.
Like the Biblical story of Lazarus and the rich man, a big chasm had been fixed such that none could cross over from either side to the other. But that was as far as man was concerned.
Did the former minister contrive this arrangement? Certainly not. Flashback to pre-primary events.
At a PDP state caucus held in Makurdi shortly before the ward congresses of November 1 last year, Governor Gabriel Suswam, who held the reins of the umbrella in Benue State, extracted a commitment from gubernatorial aspirants on oath that they would support whosoever emerged as party candidate.
Chief Dr Ortom and one other aspirant refused to take the oath and insisted that they would submit to the decision of the party on the condition that the process was transparent, free, and fair. It is common knowledge that the PDP ward congresses could be anything but lacking those three elements as the larger percentage of party members were disenfranchised with the deliberate objective of excluding or putting some aspirants, including the former minister, at disadvantage.
Ortom and a few other aggrieved members took up the matter with the national leadership of the party to no avail. At this juncture, stakeholders of his governorship project across the state advised him to seek an alternative platform and mandated him to open discussion with other political parties, which he did but later retreated when PDP leaders promised to address his concerns but subsequently never did.
The unprecedented intimidation and inducement of delegates to vote for an anointed candidate and how the PDP primaries were won and lost have now become history. In the evening of December 9, stakeholders of the Ortom Governorship Organisation met with him and reiterated their earlier suggestion that he should seek an alternative platform having exhausted opportunities in the PDP.
The groundswell of opinion was that there were only two options: to go with the APC or a virgin platform. The window in the APC still existed on account of a curious twist of events. One of the party’s gubernatorial aspirants had gone to court and obtained an injunction which restrained the party from conducting its primary on the grounds that he had been excluded from the exercise.
The injunction which was later vacated following an order that the aggrieved aspirants be included was followed by a litany of others from some of the other five aspirants on various grounds such that the party stood the risk of not submitting any name for the governorship election within the INEC timetable since the injunctions had made the conduct of the primaries impossible.
Was the former minister responsible for the injunctions? Not at all. However, at the time he emerged on the scene, everything seemed to have worked in his favour. The APC had amended its constitution in October, 2014 to provide fertile grounds for new members to contest elections the very day they got into the party. It had also made room for consensus candidature.
Those conversant with politics know that consensus within a party resides in the realm of major stakeholders with or without aspirants for various elective offices. If they chose him, what wrong did he do? None.
Ortom did not collect the mandate previously given to any other aspirant in the APC. The leaders of the party chose him to fly its flag based on their assessment of his electoral value. He may not have been a member of the APC but had played politics with most of the stakeholders in that party for decades and they could repose confidence in him.
They knew the stuff he was made of even as they also weighed the other aspirants and preferred him. The political history of the country is replete with a list of politicians who defected from one party to another and won the mandate of the people. Ortom has joined the ranks of such people.
In the morning of April 12, a day after the governorship and assembly elections nationwide, the giant that had stood on his way in the PDP called to congratulate him and say his victory was divine. Yes, it was. That giant couldn’t hinder him!
- Mr. Shija, a historian, wrote from Makurdi and it was published in The Nation of 4th July, 2015, a year ago.