<<< By Samuel Ortom >>>
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, interacted with listeners on Radio Nigeria Harvest FM station program, Democracy and the People, yesterday. The host, Simon Iwar, asked why the operation in Gbishe, Katsina-Ala local government area, took place last Saturday.
IWAR: Let’s start from the area that most people are so concerned about; that is the issue of security and the stick approach that you’ve embarked upon now and of course the deployment of the military in one of the local governments in your state. Let’s hear from you, what’s really going on sir?
ORTOM: I appreciate God for how far we’ve gone; for leading us to where we are today. You’ll recall that it was during my inauguration on May 29, 2015 that amnesty was brought to Benue State. If you cast your mind back to what I said then, it was that the amnesty program was going to be two fold. One, I was going to provide the carrot approach which would require criminals who were into assassinations, killings, kidnappings and armed robbery and into all kinds of wicked acts against humanity to voluntarily, come to government and surrender their arms. We said we would in turn give some stipend for these arms which they would surrender and place them on three months allowance and also work out a program to integrate them into the society and make them good citizens so that we would work together knowing full well that the past administration armed a lot of youths.
Some were actually innocent and after the election and more so that they lost, these youths were isolated and left on their own; no one cared to look after them and so some of them were carried away into this wayward life because of these weapons that were provided to them by the past administration. I felt that these are our own children and if there is any way that we can try to rehabilitate them and bring them back into the society, we’ll do that. As a Christian, I felt that the first thing to do was to try and show love and that was exactly what I did and that program succeeded to a large extent. I won’t say it was 100% because not all the youths turned in their arms but more than 600 different kinds of arms and explosives were turned to government to embrace the amnesty and I know that more than 900 of the youths came up and denounced criminality and violence against humanity and embraced the program. And we started the program of trying to integrate them into society; finding an engagement that will keep them busy. It was at this time that PRESCOM came and UN too had indicated interest and said this was a good initiative and there was need for them to collaborate with us and see areas where they could support and all that.
And so we were waiting to synergize and harmonize all these processes. Our initial arrangement to integrate them properly was on hold pending the processes of the international community coming in to support and then the PRESCOM. So it took some time but those who were willing, especially those who were educated and came forth for one to support we did and quite a number of them as I talk to you they are engaged.
The most notorious gang leader who was responsible for kidnappings, raping, and killings and cattle rustling which has created a lot of challenges for us here in Benue State as a result of this rustling business also came. He alone out, of these 600 weapons that were turned in, he returned over 87 in one day. Since he had a gang of youths around him who were involved in this criminality; we decided to rehabilitate him, to integrate him into the society by providing him with something that will also help him to engage the other youths. So we gave him produce, by extension it covers the entire state so all his supporters in all these places, we wanted them to be engaged so that they do not go back to their criminality. It’s unfortunate that he was not sincere despite the fact that after the program, he took us to Gbishe and knelt down on the altar of God and asked for forgiveness and also said he was never going to return to his wild again.
Unfortunately, he was deceiving himself; I won’t say he was deceiving us because you cannot deceive God; you cannot mock God; on the altar of God you knelt down and you were telling lies? And so he was back into it rather than use this opportunity that we gave him, he was using it as a shield to cause more havoc on the people. Behind it, he was still doing kidnappings and killings and armed robbery and rustling cattle again. What pains me most is that this man, he will go to a far distance within the state and rustle cattle but as soon as the Fulani militia come, they will not know where he went and they will rain havoc on the communities where those cattle were rustled thinking that it was the people within those communities. So these were the evils but we were on our own investigating him, following him up to know whether this man’s embracing of our amnesty was genuine or fake. Things came to limelight when my late Senior Special Assistant on Special Security apprehended him on some of the kidnappings that were taking place in the state and he felt threatened and then decided to assassinate him. This was done and it was very clear. And when Denen was dying, his dying confession was that it was Gana that killed him and during our tenure, the Senior Special Assistant did an impressive thing because he succeeded in rescuing more than 13 kidnap victims without paying a ransom; 13; he did; very active. And so they were not happy that having that kind of person, they will not have a place to hide. The late Denen being an ex-police officer, who was involved in anti-robbery and so on. He knew most of the criminals who were within the state and he was very active and they assassinated him.
He identified him as being culpable for his assassination before he died. And then I said the police should do their investigation and I was not going to interfere. And they did that and Terwase Akwaza, alias Ghana was invited and he declined. So when he got to me that the police were inviting him and that he did not kill Denen, I told him that look, even me as Governor, I’m not above the law; I still operate within the law and you cannot be above the law. Once you have a police invitation, no matter how highly placed you are, or whoever you are, you must honour that invitation. The worst that will happen to you is that the police will arraign you. You can arrange your lawyer to go and do the process but I’m not going to interfere, I want the police to do their independent investigation and whosoever is culpable should be sanctioned. That was why even when my Special Adviser on Special Duties was accused and arrested by police and arraigned; I never interfered, I allowed the process to continue until he got his bail. I did not interfere or do anything to stop his bail because I want the law to take its course. So this was the point. So when Ghana came to me, I told him; report yourself to the police and I said if you decline it means that you are responsible for the killing of Denen, if not; “the wicked runneth when no man pursueth but the righteous is as bold as a lion”. So if you are innocent of this crime, report to the police and he declined. So I’m left with the belief that he was responsible for the killing of Denen just like Denen said.
Thereafter, you saw the new wave of kidnappings and robberies and all kinds of criminality that were going on. And so we decided in the state Security Council that we will look for him, that was why the military went. Of course the amnesty program, the carrot approach is ended, now it is the stick approach. That was what I said during my inauguration, that after the carrot approach, it will be the stick approach and we will go after you wherever you are hiding and since then we have recorded tremendous success. I don’t know where this state would have been if not for the wisdom of the Security Council to go after these criminals. We have recorded a number of successes; some of them who rose against the security agents were killed and brought and sophisticated weapons and explosives have been recovered from these youths who were in Ghana’s gang.
The last one was when we decided that we will go after him and visit his home.
When he was tracked and discovered to be in Gbishe we went there but unfortunately he had an alert and he escaped. But one good thing that happened and I must commend the security agencies for abiding by the rules of engagement and ensuring that there was no civilian casualty in that operation and ensuring that nobody else’s property was destroyed. What was destroyed in Gbishe was Ghana’s property; his houses and those of his wives where they were harboring criminals and also harboring Indian hemp. We got of bags of Indian hemp from the houses and other weapons that were recovered. The so-called school that was established was a training school for criminals; body building equipment were recovered from there and weapons were also recovered from there. We are going on with the stick approach and there is no hiding place for any criminal in Benue State. This criminal must be arrested because I’m very clear about it; I have no other interest other than to provide security for lives and property. The carrot approach of the amnesty program was meant to bring peace and take these arms off these youths but since those notorious ones have decided to deceive us, we are going to go after them and by the grace of God; Benue State will be safe for everyone. I want to assure the people of Benue State that we are committed because the basic responsibility of government is to provide security for lives and property. And when we did that amnesty program – the carrot approach, there was a lot of peace within Benue State and the people really appreciated it and we are going to continue with this one and by the grace of God we are going to win.