Bala And Ortom: Time For Statesmanship

Issa Aremu,

It is saying the obvious to accept that Governor Bala Mohammed (born 5 October 1958) is the 4th democratically elected governor of Bauchi State. Similarly it is an open knowledge that Samuel Loraer Ortom (born 23 April1961) is the third elected governor of Benue State in the current democratic dispensation. But that is where the obvious “difference” lies. Both Ortom and Bala share a lot in common than they would want us to believe. The two preside over second generation states: Benue State named after the Benue River. It   was formed from the old Benue Plateau state in 1976 just as the state of Bauchi was formed the same year out of the then North Eastern state.

The two were once privileged Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Bala Mohammed was the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), formed in 1976, between 2010 and 2015. Samuel Ortom was a Minister of State Trade and Investment during the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan making him co-cabinet member with Mr Bala. The two are tested veteran politicians of this era in which the end seems to justify the means, regardless of the costs to party principles, the communities, comradeship and even wellbeing of their followers. Indeed the two are typical pro-types of “political butterflies” of this republic.

In April 2015, Governor Ortom contested for governorship of Benue State and won under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). But in July 2018, Ortom announced his departure from All Progressives Congress to decamp to PDP. In March 2019, Benue State’s Ortom was reelected as Governor with 434,473 votes to defeat the runner up, Emmanuel, of APC who had 345,155 votes. On 21 January, 2020, the Supreme Court affirmed his election.

Similarly, Bala’s political trajectory follows the same pattern of pursuit of power through many political platforms with an eye on the goal: political power! Under the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) he was elected to the Senate representing Bauchi South Senatorial District. In March 2010, he fell out with his “god-father”, Isa Yuguda. He was among the Senators who championed the controversial “doctrine of necessity”, which appointed then Goodluck Jonathan as acting president to replace incapacitated President Yar Adua. Following the death of Umaru Yar’Adua, Bala Mohammed, joined the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and became a close associate of President Goodluck Jonathan with worthy portfolio to match.

In 2018, Mohammed emerged as the governorship flag bearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for Bauchi State. On 26 March 2019, he polled 515,113 votes to trounce the incumbent Governor, Mohammed Abdulllahi Abubakar, who received 500,625 votes. His election was also later upheld by the Supreme Court.

Bauchi and Benue States ranked 7th and 9th in terms of populations with 4.6 and 4.2 millions respectively. The two states are not among the 10 leading states by GDP. Benue is ranked 15th with $7billion GDP, Bauchi 22nd with $5billion GDP compared to Lagos’ $33billion and Rivers State’s $ 21billion GDP respectively. Poverty headcounts of the two  states average 60 percent.

Interestingly the two are from the same party (PDP) whose publicity scribe , Kola Ologbondiyan, hailed their victories in March 9 2019 polls with fanfare.

Certainly, both Bala and Ortom are united by history, geography, underdevelopment, poverty of their peoples, conferred political privileges than they want us to believe through their recent diversionary diatribes. The devil is in the details of the star words: Bala Mohammed reportedly said, “AK-47-bearing herdsmen are forced to do so because the government has failed to secure their lives and livelihoods”. Mohammed said herdsmen need the AK-47 rifles to defend themselves from cattle rustlers and other challenges encountered on the road”. He took a swipe at his Benue counterpart for alleged “anti-Fulani sentiment”.

In turn, Ortom verbally assaulted his “brother, friend, and colleague, Bauchi Governor Mohammed”. Witness him: “I am beginning to think that my brother, the governor of Bauchi State is part of the terrorists Fulani organisation that is terrorising this country.

Critical question begging for answers is:  “Who speaks for Nigeria and Nigerians when governors who took oath to defend the constitution of Nigeria unacceptably pitch their tents behind unknown parochial constitutions of their peoples. The two governors are of my generation (born at independence). Without Nigeria possibly they would not be known. It’s time to reinvent statesmanship in place of the current brinkmanship that is worsening the security challenges in the country.

The exchanges between Bala and Ortom are unhelpful to their peoples who deserve good governance which can only come through cooperation and solidarity of governors not grandstanding of dubious value. I recently hailed the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) led by its chairman, Dr Kayode Fayemi for the recent engagement with all the stakeholders, including the leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), security agencies and other stakeholders on the recent security challenges in Ondo State. The way to go is robust communal ownership of policing through cooperation between states and with the federal government. What is at stake is development and productivity for a nation trying to exit a recession in a pandemic.

Fayemi noted that the 1999 constitution describes all Nigerians as citizens. Only criminals would profit from unconstitutional profiling of criminals and their victims based on their language and religion instead of their crimes. Every avoidable clash between farmers and herders pushes Nigeria further into food insecurity and import dependency. The urgent need to ensure security for national development should guide the national security narrative.


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