<<< By Tahav Agerzua >>>
Today marks another birthday anniversary of Governor Samuel Ortom, who was born on 23rd April, 1961. The Governor hails from Guma Local Government Area of Benue State.
He was enrolled into the St. John’s Primary School, Gboko in 1970 but moved to St. Catherine’s Primary School, Makurdi in 1974 where he completed primary education in 1976.
Governor Ortom was admitted into Idah Secondary Commercial College, Idah in Kogi State in 1976. He did two years in the school before his father’s retirement in 1979 brought an abrupt end to his dream of completing formal secondary school education on account of inability to pay school fees.
His story which he told before the Nigerian Senate on Wednesday, 6th July, 2011 when he was being screened for appointment as Minister of the Federal Republic was so moving that he was asked to take a bow and go.
Senators were stirred by an account of his background as a school dropout, a motor park tout and one who struggled to attain education through very difficult means.
Nevertheless, he braved all the odds and attained prominent positions in the society at the local, state and national levels.
After running through his curriculum vitae, Senator Ehigie Uzamere, moved a motion, asking the Senate to allow him to take a bow without further questions because of his sincerity in uncovering his background.
Senators described him as a veritable bridge between the poor and the rich.
He resigned as Minister of State, Industry,Trade and Investment in October, 2014 to contest for Governor of Benue State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party.
When he couldn’t clinch the PDP ticket he switched over and picked that of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and won the governorship election in Benue State on 12th April, 2015.
In spite of the difficult circumstances and deliberate booby traps in which his administration found itself it has recorded major milestones.
On his inauguration day the Governor announced an amnesty program using first the carrot approach which led to surrender and destruction of over 600 sophisticated arms and ammunition leading to the reduction of crime in the state with over 900 youths embracing the program.
The second phase is the stick approach which features major assaults on criminals with the logistics support which the state government provides to security agencies.
Meanwhile, Governor Ortom has ensured sustained engagement with the Presidency, the Chief of Army Staff, and the Inspector General of Police to ensure deployments to flash points across the state.
The State Security Council under his leadership has held joint meetings with neighboring Nasarawa and Taraba States and moved to troubled areas for on the spot assessment and peace meetings.
The initiatives have facilitated relative peace in the state although insecurity remains a challenge in some local government areas following concerted attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen as well as actvities of criminal gangs.
Governor Ortom and the people of Benue State believe that the permanent solution to the farmers and herders violence is ranching which has been adjudged the best global practice in animal husbandry.
He signed into law the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 which originated from the aspirations of the people following years of violence which resulted from the grazing activities of herdsmen across the state.
The State House of Assembly followed due process and passed the law unanimously.
Although assent was given on 22nd May, 2017, the law took effect from first November, 2017 to allow time for those interested in ranching to undertake the processes for their establishment.
When Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore held a press conference in Abuja on May 30 and vowed to resist the law and mobilize their kith and kin across the world to invade Benue State, chase away indigenes, and occupy the land to graze freely Governor Ortom reported to all the appropriate quarters.
Unfortunately, those in charge of the security agencies did nothing to forestall the renewed attacks, killings and current occupation of several communities by armed Fulani herdsmen in the state.
Despite series of attacks and antagonism towards the law, its implementation is ongoing with many lawbreakers arrested, detained and prosecuted and those found guilty already jailed.
Governor Ortom has responded to the situation by making continuous appeals to the Presidency and heads of security agencies to rise up to their responsibilities of ensuring the rule of law and protecting lives and property even as he has provided security agencies with logistic support.
He has directed the establishment of eight camps for most of those displaced and also provided them with relief materials including food and none food items, water and medical care.
The Benue State University was under lock and key and medical students at the institution stagnated for upward of 12 years when Governor Ortom took over. He ensured it’s reopening, paid accreditation requirements that have led to the graduation of four sets of a total of 152 medical doctors in quick succession.
The institution has also increased its carrying capacity and secured accreditation of seven major courses with staff salaries paid up to date.
Even staff of the Technical College at the University whose salaries were not paid for five years have had the situation rectified.
The Schools of Nursing and Midwifery, as well as College of Health Technology, Agasha, which lost accreditation for several years have regained same with their reconstruction, furnishing and provision with state of the art equipment. Admission of students and academic activities have resumed at the schools.
In the same vein primary school teachers were on a prolonged strike over non implementation of the minimum wage when the Ortom administration was inaugurated. He convinced them to call off the strike, and commenced the payment of the minimum wage to them. Moreover, there is ongoing facelift for primary schools with 740 projects being executed across the state.
There has also been a major intervention in the health sector with the completion of 42 Primary Health Care Centers most of them provided with boreholes across the state through partnership with the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGS have also constructed Skills Acquisition Centers and agro-processing factories in some local government headquarters in addition to the provision of referral ambulances as well as classroom blocks and exercise books.
Contractors were recalled to site on 11 abandoned roads with the completion of that of Oshigbudu to Obagaji, and Zaki-Biam-Afia- Gbeji road while contract has been awarded for the construction of two major highways for which work is ongoing in addition to six new ones for which work has also commenced on some.
This is in addition to 34 ongoing rural road construction and electrification projects being carried by the Bureau of Rural Development and Cooperatives which is also completing 38 similar projects left behind by the previous administrations.
The old House of Assembly Complex has been rehabilitated while the new one is being completed just like the Deputy Governor’s Office, with the completion of renovation on 13 units at the Commissioners Quarters, that of the VIP Lodge at Gboko which serves as Tor Tiv’s temporary residence and several other renovations. These include Government Girls Secondary School, and Government College, Makurdi, as well as the Ministry of Justice headquarters, to mention a few.
In the water sector more than 500 motorized and hand pump boreholes have been provided in partnership with development partners while contractors are being paid to sustain water supply in Otukpo and Katsina-Ala.
The Ortom administration has increased advocacy for a return to agriculture and the development of the entire value chain with major stakeholders while encouraging dry season and mechanized farming with the provision of farming inputs promptly.
The Governor has partnered with the Bank of Industry and encouraged the Central Bank of Nigeria to provide loans to indigenes of the state to boost it’s economy.
Through his initiative five hundred youths were trained and provided with startup kits by the Industrial Training Fund.
The transparency and accountability posture of the administration is unequalled as it abides by full disclosure and the rule of law. No one, no matter how highly placed, is above investigation in his government.
However, one of the major challenges of the administration remains the irregular payment of salaries as a result of dwindling resources at the disposal of the state government and the huge wage bill.
Yet the Governor has demonstrated sensitivity on the issue by making the payment of salaries a priority. On assumption of office he directed the payment of two months salary arrears from the N10 billion take off facility he secured.
He also implemented the minimum wage for teachers and paid four months salary arrears to workers from the N28 billion bailout.
In December, 2016 he paid salary areas for two months from the Paris Club refund. Every month, salaries and pensions are being paid to one category of workers or the other just that the allocation has never been enough for all.
Governor Ortom is making concerted efforts to reduce the states wage bill through several salary verification exercises and the deployment of Information and Communication Technology best practices and exploring solutions to the salary and other challenges.
A man who always wins against the odds Governor Ortom believes that “though the giants may be on the way to hinder, God will surely give us victory.”
On this note we join millions of well wishers to say happy birthday.
Mr Agerzua, who is Special Adviser to Governor Ortom on Media and ICT, sent in this piece from China, which is seven hours ahead of Nigerian time.