Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom and the minister of special duties and intergovernmental affairs, Senator George Akume, took to the trenches over the governance of the state and the running verbal battle between the governor and the presidency.
Akume fired the first shot when he and some elders/stakeholders of the Benue State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) called on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a state of emergency in the state to bring the security situation in the state under control.
He also accused Ortom of corruption and asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the governor on how he managed the N500 billion federal allocation that accrued to the state since Ortom came to power.
In his response, Ortom asked the EFCC to backdate the suggested probe to 1999, to include the period when Akume was governor, saying the minister has some explanation to make on N2 billion missing from the state coffer.
The stakeholders also called for the disbandment of the Livestock Guards in Benue State for their involvement in nefarious and criminal activities leading to the breach of peace and massacre of innocent citizens of the state.
Akume, who made the call on behalf of the group in Abuja yesterday, said there was a high level of proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Benue State, calling on the federal government to thoroughly comb the state to recover those arms.
“Since Governor Ortom has consistently alleged that the security situation in Benue State has deteriorated in such a manner that the lives of Benue people are not secure, we call on Mr. President, as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, to declare a state of emergency in Benue State to bring the security situation in the state under control.”
Akume called on the anti-graft agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to thoroughly investigate the application of the total federal allocations to Benue State from May 29, 2015 to date.
The minister also called on Governor Samuel Ortom to tender an unreserved apology to President Muhammadu Buhari, for using foul language and for operating outside the set rules of engagement between the state and the federal government.
He stated that the stakeholders are alarmed at the lonesome bitter and sustained campaign of calumny launched by Ortom on the person and office of the president.
Akume said the unwarranted and ill-motivated attack had been going on for over one year now, adding that it seems President Buhari’s silence and incredible display of magnanimity to the governor and the people of Benue State had not been enough to pacify the governor.
“We recognise Dr. Ortom’s right as a free citizen of our country to air his views and promote them wherever he wants, but we also expect him, as an elected governor, to be conscious that his public statements are weighty enough to be construed as the general opinion of the people of Benue State.
”We cannot, however, stand by and watch this brazen show of shame by the governor through infantile and irresponsible public statements on Mr. President and the possible destruction of the cordial relationship Benue State, as a federating unit, has always enjoyed with the centre.”
Akume said the state had benefitted from the federal government’s numerous programmes, such as the establishment of the Federal University of Health Sciences, Otukpo, and the Federal College of Education, Apa.
“They also include the Federal Polytechnic, Wannune, among others. As far as we know, the president has delivered on all his obligations to the governor and people of Benue by ensuring regular and prompt releases of the state and local government’s monthly federal allocations all of which amounted to about N500 billion since Ortom’s assumption of office as governor in 2015.
“Furthermore, Buhari had released N40 billion to the Ortom administration as bailout funds to enable him pay outstanding salaries, pensions and allowances, a.mong others, ” Akume explained.
He, however, said the forum had recognised Ortom’s right as a free citizen of Nigeria to air his views and promote them wherever he wanted, but expected him to be conscious of his statements on the president.
Akume used the forum to appeal to Buhari to declare a state of emergency in the state, to curb the prevailing security challenges.
He pledged the group’s total and unflinching support to Mr President and his administration, even as he condemned the senseless killings that had been going on in Benue State, perpetrated by criminal groups.
Other stakeholders present at the press conference include a former Senate President Ameh Ebute. Senator Barnabas Gemade, former deputy governor, Steve Lawani, Gen Lawrence Onoja. Senator John Tile Gyado, and Senator Joseph Akaageger, among others.
Governor Ortom, however, asked the EFCC to begin the probe of the state from 1999 when Akume was governor.
The governor, who was reacting to Senator Akume’s call for the EFCC to probe the governor, declare state of emergency in Benue, among others, said doing so will enable the former governor to also bring back the missing N2 billion at the twilight of his administration.
The governor who spoke through his chief press secretary, Terver Akase, said the conference was one in a series of an organised smear campaign against him.
“The outing of George Akume and others in Abuja was nothing more than a massage on the ego of the Presidency to curry personal favours. As long as he and his group secure their meal tickets, Benue can go to hell, because a media attack on Governor Ortom instantly attracts a package from the Villa,” he said
“The leadership of APC in Benue, having lost grip of the party membership in the state, with hundreds defecting to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) every week, now sees a window of opportunity to relaunch themselves into relevance.
“As a two-term former governor of Benue State, it is shocking that Akume is now calling for the declaration of a state of emergency in the state to dismantle democratic structures.
“Is it not contradictory that Akume faults Governor Ortom over his statements on the President’s handling of the security situation in the country but goes ahead to brand the governor as a criminal and sponsor of militia? We challenge the minister to provide evidence to back his claim that the governor is involved in corruption and sponsorship of militia.
“We recall that when he was governor, Akume challenged the then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, for not doing enough to end the Jukun/Tiv crisis on the borders of Benue and Taraba State. He is on record to have confronted President Obasanjo and said uncomplimentary things to the president. Now he finds it convenient to give lectures on respect for hierarchy in government and age.
“On his call for a probe, we have no objection to that. Governor Ortom is running a transparent administration and has nothing to hide. We, however, invite EFCC to begin their probe from 1999 when Akume became governor. The N2 billion that went missing at the twilight of his administration is yet to be accounted for.
“Akume’s utterances in 2019 are still fresh in the minds of Benue people. After the state came under herdsmen attacks and hundreds were killed, he accused Benue people of killing themselves, after which the people angrily voted him out of the Senate.
“As expected, Senator Akume and his group avoid responding to the issues of insecurity in the country which the governor has repeatedly and rightly accused the Presidency of complicity.
“Akume and his group must have been under immense pressure to hold the press conference and hurl vituperations on the governor. This, they had to do to keep their jobs. Lastly, we expected APC to hold the press conference in Benue to test their popularity among the people of the state.
Unongo Accuses Benue NASS Members Of Abandoning Ortom
Elder statesman and former minister of steel in the Second Republic, Paul Unongo, has blamed those representing Benue State at the National Assembly for abandoning Governor Samuel Ortom to act alone in the fight against insecurity which has portrayed him as a bad person before the president.
Unongo, who made his views known during the stakeholders’ meeting in Màkurdi, the state capital, threw his weight behind the governor, insisting that the governor was not inciting a sectarian crisis or spreading falsehood in the country.
According to him, the message the governor had consistently passed across to President Muhammadu Buhari and the entire country is that Benue people are being killed like chickens by suspected armed Fulani herdsmen and that the development was becoming unbearable.
He said Governor Ortom, whom he described as “my son”, is not fighting the President – as alluded to by the Presidency and some Nigerians in certain quarters – but fulfilling his constitutional role of responding to the security needs of his subjects.
The former minister who until recently was a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, expressed disenchantment at the killings in the state, stressing that he was ready to raise two million fighters in 2018 when 73 Benue citizens, who were killed by armed herders, were given mass burial in the state.
He urged members of the National Assembly from the state to brace up and support the cause the governor was fighting to stop the erroneous impression in certain quarters that the governor is fighting a personal cause against the president.
Unongo said, “I will advise those who are painting the picture that Ortom is fighting a personal or political war with the president to desist forthwith.
“Ortom is only doing what every man, with his people in mind, will do. The best thing is for Mr President to listen to Ortom without a biased mind. Those who are trying to paint Ortom bad before the president are really doing him (the president) more damage.”
He pledged to communicate with the president on the issue.