<<< By Tahav Agerzua >>>
Minister of State, Industry, Trade and Investment, Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom, who is aspiring to be Governor of Benue State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, interacted with journalists at his residence in Makurdi last Sunday, 27th July, 2014. During the session he spoke about his plans for the state as well as answered questions raised on current issues surrounding the governorship race. In this part one of the serialization of the interactive session, he explains the pruning of aspirants by the Tiv Area Traditional Council, his relationship with Governor Suswam and other issues. Excerpts:
Pruning of aspirants by the Tiv Area Traditional Council.
I have been in this game of politics for over thirty years now and I know that in this game, you are dealing with people. In political calculations, one plus one can be two, and the same one plus one can be ten or even five. Those of you who were there when we did the primary elections that Suswam emerged in 2007 the rule then was that even with your highest number of votes, you most have 50% of the total votes otherwise you will go for a runoff with the person next to you. At that time to suit the peculiar situation we found ourselves in we had to adopt a method that was convenient for all the stakeholders. We said that they should donate votes and nobody was coerced into doing it and people willingly came and donated votes for Suswam to attain the fifty percent that was required and he became the winner. Did he not become the Governor? So, I really want to commend what our traditional rulers did, coming together to say that look, of the five ruling houses in Tiv land covering Zones A and B, it is only Minda that has not taken a shot at the governorship position, now it should come to Minda.I think it was a positive development for those of us from the Minda axis. In this axis alone, we were 18 and I know that every Minda son and daughter that has come out is qualified to rule Benue State. But the unfortunate thing is that the seat is only one. Even the four of us that were recommended the seat is just for one person. There are no four Government Houses and so there is no way all of us will be there. Even if the method that was used by the Tiv Area Traditional Council to arrive at the four of us was not perfect, I believe that it can lead us to somewhere that we can dialogue. Let me say that what was done by the traditional council was not meant to be binding or imposed on anybody. Even those who were not chosen are free to contest because at the end of the day it is the party that will perfect it. So what the traditional council did was more of an advice. Those who want to respect the advice have taken it in good faith and have accepted it, but some who say they still want to go on with the race, they are free. This is democracy and we should not be seen to be coercing or boxing people to a corner to do what we want against their wish. People should be allowed since democracy itself allows people to express and exercise their freedom. Nobody is disqualified yet. I have taken it as an advice that our traditional rulers gave to all of us, but in the end, it is the party that will decide, but ultimately, it is God that gives leadership and at the appropriate time he will decide who becomes the Governor of Benue State.
Perceived rift with Governor Suswam and alleged association with Senator George Akume
I don’t know where this thing is coming from, but may be one of you will tell me where Suswam stood and was insulting or complaining about Samuel Ortom.
Body Languge, the journalists shouted: Body language or whatever can be a logical fallacy. I want to assure you that I have no single problem with the Governor. The Governor is my friend till tomorrow. Let me tell you, this house where all of you are sitting now I completed it in 2007 and I want to tell you that it was the Governor that built it for me. When he was at the National Assembly, he sowed the seed. The first two million naira that I ever had in my life, even when I was a local government chairman, I never saw it because the whole allocation was less than one million, was given to me by Suswam. When I started my printing and publishing company, the Governor was then at the National Assembly. He visited me and saw what I was doing. Where our headquarters is now, that is where I was operating in one room trying to start off the business. When he saw it and I opened up my vision to him he was moved and invited me to Abuja. I went there and he gave me two million naira. That was what I started my printing and publishing company with, and today, we are where we are. Through that business, I was able to build this house. I was also able to establish other factories that are today giving employment to our people. In 2006 when the party in the state had crisis and the national secretariat dissolved the state executive committee, it was Suswam that lobbied and secured the position of deputy chairman for me. In 2007, when my tenure as the deputy chairman was about to expire and Suswam had won election in which I participated fully. You will recall that for three days I anchored the primaries that ushered him in as the candidate of the party. When he eventually got elected and I could not be made a commissioner he asked me what I wanted and I told him that I wanted to serve the party at the national level. Then the position of the National Auditor of the PDP was zoned to Kogi state. Suswam took it as a challenge and went to Abuja, met with his colleagues and the then President Yar’adua, and they were able to reverse the zoning to Benue State and made me the National Auditor of the party. Today as I am standing before you as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it was Suswam. We were not to get two slots in Benue because it was argued at the national level that we have the Senate President, so why should we be given two Ministerial slots? Suswam was with me in Abuja for a whole week for me to secure the position I am holding today. So I don’t know, if you hate someone, will you also contribute in building him to the level I am today? Where have you heard me complaining or insulting the Governor? You talked about the relationship I have with Akume. Akume is my neighbour. Look at his house there and I am here. At my age of 53 years and as a born again Christian who believes in making peace and building bridges of unity, which I have been practicing for many years and you want to bend me? Yes, if I have my way today I will reconcile Akume and Suswam so that Benue State can move forward. Politics is a game of interest, no permanent enemies, no permanent friends. If tomorrow Akume returns to PDP, will we not accept him? We will accept him. Today he is in APC and I am in PDP. When he contested for Senate in PDP, I supported and worked for him and he won in my polling unit, council ward and in my local government. But when Akume contested on the ticket of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Akume lost in my polling unit. Tsegba who was not the best of my friends then, (now we are best of friends), won in my polling unit, won in my council ward and also won in my local government. In fact, he got the highest number of votes in my local government. ACN lost heavily in Guma local government. So how do you now talk about my association with Akume and all that? I don’t believe in forgetting the past so soon. Akume was my leader, I served under him for seven years and we worked together very closely. In those days somebody came and told Akume that I was a Paul Unongo man, later we were able to convince him that look that is not the case. I’m a different person; I’m a Christian who works for peace and respects elders. Up till today, I respect Paul Unongo and everybody. That does not translate to me doing their bidding. So I told Akume that look, one day, all these people you see around you, sycophants and mediocres, tomorrow you will turn round and you will not see any one. Some will even go to blackmail you, but if you turn, you will see Ortom. Today I’m being blackmailed that I’m an Akume man. I don’t even see him often, but any where I see Akume, I respect him as a former Governor of my state and the Senator representing my Zone. But I don’t share in his disagreement with the Governor. At my age, I’ll try to make peace and build bridges rather than create problems. I stand to be corrected, all the stakeholders and leaders in Benue state I relate with them, whether in opposition or anywhere. That is why you need me as the Governor of Benue State because I will unite everybody and bring all of them on board. Some of these leaders if they invite others for a meeting they will not come but if I do they will all come and they will eat on the same table and then we can settle our differences for everybody to talk Benue, forget about our differences so that Benue will move forward. We have suffered for too long. We don’t need to be fighting. As a Christian I always tell people that when God puts leaders it is our duty to continue to pray for them rather than casting aspersions on them. When we insult our leaders we are insulting ourselves. So I want to tell the whole world that I have no problem with His Excellency, the Governor of Benue State. He is my friend, my leader and he has supported me all this while. He has contributed to whatever I have been able to do to add value to the economic development of this state. I have no issue with the Governor. The Governor chose to leave a level playing field for all of us to aspire. He has said it repeatedly that he has not anointed any candidate because people were dropping names but the truth is that he has consistently said that the people of the state will decide. What he has said close to amounting to him anointing someone which I heard him in many public fora in Makurdi here, in Ugba and many other places is that he thinks that the person who should take over from him should be an experienced politician who has connections from the state to the federal level and above all someone who fears God. Amongst all of us tell me who has these qualities? When he said this, many people called and were congratulating me, and somebody is telling me that I have issues with my Governor? I have no problem with my Governor and I want you to know from today.
The Tor Tiv and Governor coming from the same place
Look, I am a Nongov man and the Tor Tiv is Iharev man. We are the eldest in Minda. The Tiv have two components, the Ichongo and the Ipusu. The other part of the Ichongo is in Zone A that is the Turan people. In Minda here, Nongov is the senior. I want to tell you that Tor Tiv is a paramount ruler which has nothing to do with political leadership; after all, he is the Tor Tiv and not Tor Benue. He is the Chairman, Benue Council of Chiefs. We are talking about political leadership not the traditional leadership. When people say Tarka did it, I told you that in politics, one plus one can be many things. If Tarka were to be alive today, he would tell you a different thing.
Whether he will decamp if he fails to win PDP primaries.
I am not a pessimist and so I don’t see how I will not win nomination. By the grace of God I will be given nomination. Why will I have to leave the party that has been very helpful to me? I have been the Secretary of the party for six years, deputy chairman of the party for one year, National Auditor for four years and now I a Minister for three years as a PDP man. What will I be looking for in another party? By the grace of God I want to assure you that I will be given nomination in Jesus name.