Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, tells some journalists that the All Progressives Congress leadership and Senator George Akume should be held responsible for the fresh crisis brewing in the state. JOHN CHARLES was there
What is your reaction to the impeachment move against you by eight members of the state House of Assembly?
It is a deliberate plan to destabilise the state. What they did was the first phase of an agenda to do away with the legitimate leadership of the House so that they could carry out their illegallity. I still don’t understand why eight members of the House under the cover of policemen, as directed by the Inspector-General of Police, (Ibrahim Idris), and the Director General of the DSS would sit in the chamber and serve the governor an impeachment notice.
I believe that Mr. President is not aware of this because he had completely exonerated himself. I think what is left now is for him to caution the IG and the DG SSS who are his appointees, to order. He should ask them to do the needful because all of us are on oath to protect the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. So I expect more than that, I am not asking him for too much. I am not asking for any extra ordinary measures to be taken in Benue State but that the right thing should be done. So, mine is to provide intelligence gathering which I have done.
What is next now since you said serving you the notice is the first phase of a grand plot against you?
The Plan B is that Senator George Akume and his people, with a full cover of the IG and the DG DSS and the army, would make sure that the state is destabilised and they have held meetings to achieve their aim. It is not a hidden fact. They have approached the House of Assembly members with huge cash so that they could plot any illegality against the state while they enjoy full security protection.
So, my duty is to alert those who are charged with the responsibility of ensuring law and order, to make sure that there is peace and if they want to act contrary, my duty is to point it out to them and also draw the attention of Mr. President.
What are you doing about the development now?
I have summoned an emergency security meeting and all the issues would be tabled at the right time. We are going to make our own security report known to the President. We are being proactive because we are also aware of the plan by Akume and others, to connive with strange people from neighbouring states to ensure that Benue do not know peace.
Armed herdsmen, who had been chased away from the state following the introduction of the Operation Whirl Stroke have started returning as they have been sighted by the people of Guma Local Government Area. We must commend Mr. President for deploying the security operatives in the state and they are really doing well but that narrative is about to change now.
The report I got from the chairman of Guma LGA yesterday (Tuesday) was that more than 10,000 herds of cattle with strange faces of people leading them, were seen in different communities within the council area.
So, this is a proof and I hope the security agencies would take up the matter. I have communicated already to the commander of the Operation Whirl Stroke as I hope they will continue the good job that they are doing.
The EFCC is probing you, why do you think you are been investigated?
How can the EFCC single me out for investigation? If you are talking about my security vote, I am not afraid of that because I have not committed any crime. The records are there, but the investigation should start from 1999 when George Akume was governor. He should also be prosecuted. I am aware that Akume has a case with the EFCC where he was accused of gross misconduct and should have been investigated. Why is EFCC persecuting me? Why starting the probe from 2015 when I took over? This is nothing but persecution.
The EFCC should not be used as a tool to intimidate us. Another aspect that I will want Nigerians to look at is that, why did they wait until I defected to the PDP before they started the investigation? This is a clear case of witch-hunt. They should give justice to all, they should investigate all. What about the 36 states? Why is the agency not probing the Presidency as well? They should investigate all.
The presidential spokesperson had once said that nobody should investigate security vote. He also said clearly that nobody would disclose his security vote because the life of a Nigerian is more important than money. You are all witnesses to the security challenges we experienced in the state.
We have also been proactive and I challenge the EFCC to bring out the records of other governors in Nigeria including those of the APC so that we can prove whether I have done anything wrong and let them prove whether I have stolen one naira or diverted anything for my personal gain. They should treat everyone equally, nobody is a sacred cow, they should come out clean, or else, I will term what they are doing as deliberate persecution, blackmail and intimidation.
As a sitting governor, why do you think you are being persecuted?
They are doing this for two reasons; one, because we enacted the anti-open grazing law which to us in Benue State is the panacea for the frequent clashes between farmers and herdsmen. It is a win-win law and it was based on the popular demand of our people. Democracy is about doing what the majority of the people want and I have no regret whatsoever, enacting the law. Whatever they want let them go ahead and do but the day of reckoning will surely come.
The second reason is my defection to the PDP. I am a free citizen of this country and I have contributed immensely to the nation’s political development.
I served as an elected chairman of a local government between 1992 and 1993. I have also served meritoriously in various political parties from the national level of the APC to the PDP, so I should be free to express myself, I know it is not a crime to defect to any political party of one’s choice, even in the developed democracy like the USA, it is done and I know our democracy is drawn from America and we should also respect it. We have freedom of speech and freedom of association. This includes freedom to associate with any political party. There is no permanent enemy in politics but permanent interest. Once your interest is not protected in one political party, you can look for where your interest can be protected. At this time, the interest of Benue people is not being protected by the APC. That’s why l have decided to join the PDP that has been rebranded, reformed and restructured to meet the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians and I think Benue and myself are safer in the PDP today because it would protect us and our interest.
What proofs do you have to show that Senator George Akume is involved in your planned impeachment?
Whatever l discussed in the Government House here, is also known to him. The senator has been holding meetings. In fact, he held a meeting where he attempted to buy the 22 members of the House of Assembly and each of them was offered N4m. Some of the 22 members, who have been approached, got back to me. As you are aware, l defected with 10 out of the 17 APC members in the Benue State House of Assembly. My loyalists among them were actually approached and offered money and were told to destabilise the state by serving me an impeachment notice, for no just cause. Let Akume and the APC deny that. These are the same people who were praising me that l have been very good, that l have managed the party very well. Look at the case of the National Chairman of the APC (Adams Oshiomhole), who was castigating me the other day, he owed civil servants in his state, many months of unpaid salaries. Up till today in his own state where he ruled for eight years, the state still owed pension, gratuity and salary. He who comes to equity should come with clean hands. I am aware from the report l got from members who were approached to be part of the plot that they were asked to find anything to indict me of misappropriation and then initiate an impeachment process, which they rejected. The report got to me. Their Plan B, is to ensure that they bring herdsmen to Benue State to attack us and l have seen the traces yesterday. Therefore, l hold Senator Akume responsible because he has not said anything to condemn the attacks on Benue State especially his constituents where he is representing. Tell me what he has said against the invasion. Rather, he came to me and pleaded that we should repeal the law that there are two powerful people that weren’t comfortable with it. What is the meaning of that? Should we surrender our state to invasion because some people are powerful? Is that what we should be doing? So, this is the point and as far as am concerned, time will tell.
What legal action have you taken to contain this situation?
The state Chief Judge issued an injunction against the police and the DSS but it was discarded. Rather, the security agencies still went ahead to enforce illegality in the House of Assembly. We have gone back to court because we are law abiding citizens and I have told them that there is the need to find a legal means of pressing on with our case. That is ongoing and l believe that the impeached speaker and other members who plotted the ‘coup’ are on the run and that is being done. I understand that court proceedings is going on against them. But, from our own end, we have taken every necessary legal step against whatever that is trying to cause destabilisation in the state.
What evidence do you have to show that the police are collaborating with others to perfect the illegality in the state?
There is no doubt that the police are collaborating with our enemies to destabilise the state. As you can see, the House of Assembly was sealed and when I spoke with the commissioner of police, he told me, it was an order from above and that he can’t reverse it until he gets a counter-directive from Abuja There are legitimate members who are elected by the Benue people and there is no crisis. It is very clear that the 22 members have taken over the leadership and as of today, the lawmakers who are legitimately elected by the people to conduct the affairs of the assembly have been stopped from performing their duties. They have gone to court and the Attorney General of the state had already petitioned the Police Service Commission in Abuja and l expect that they will respond and ensure that there is no impunity and illegality again.