By Yakubu Ahmed-BK
These cannot be the best of times for Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State. For one, he is the only governor in the country that has a twin problem of a rancorous defection from the All Peoples Congress (APC) to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on one hand and a looming impeachment by the Benue State House of Assembly on the other. Long before these debacles however, Ortom has had a running battle with a number of people including some elders and political heavyweights of the state on what the Benue state government should do, or not do, to contain an alleged rampage and killing spree by the so-called Fulani herdsmen. The Governor has successfully defected and from situation reports, the man must have settled down to the business of wrestling control of the party apparatus in the state in order to, not just corner the party’s gubernatorial ticket, but to be able to take charge of the instruments of deciding who gets what in the party. Despite the weight and potency of the chain of controversies staring Ortom in the face, the one that is unique to me is his response to the allegations that, in spite of special bailout interventions by the federal government to assist Benue state to discharge its obligation on payment of salaries, Ortom has not been able to pay civil servants for upward of ten months. He intoned, in response that the billions of Naira he had collected, were channeled to fighting the marauding herdsmen that have held the state by the jugular, or so it seemed.
The attraction for me to write on this subject was spurred by this line of submission by Ortom and to draw a line of comparison between the so-called Fulani herdsmen of Benue and the Boko haram insurgency in Borno state. By the sheer scale of its brutality, despicability, ruthlessness, reach and bloodthirstiness, there is no way the pogrom in Borno could be compared with the boys scout nuisance of the Tiv Militia who masquerade and hit targets as herdsmen in Benue. The reference to the herdsmen and the clear attempt to link all the killings in Benue to the Fulanis has long been punctuated by the arrest of the Tiv men who have confessed to the killing of some Catholic Priests. It shows, by the arrest, that the killings in Benue have different faces of culpability, with most of the killings linked to career criminals under the payroll of the Benue state government. The conclusion, therefore is that while an attempt was afoot to magnify the killings in Benue by profiling the herdsman in order to shift the blame and thus amplify scale of damage to lives and property, the truth of the matter is that, compared to the mindlessness of the insurgency in Borno, the Benue crisis can, at best, be described as a politically colored and self-inflicted calamity, cooked up to change the narratives of the forthcoming electioneering campaigns that are approaching. The question therefore, is, if Samuel Ortom can explain away his inability to pay salaries on the flimsy stencil of a self-induced disaster, what can we say of a Kashim Shettima, who inherited Nigeria’s most violent insurgency which is still festering, but has not, for a single month, been found wanting in the payment of salaries to civil servants?
Let us situate it more succinctly. Ortom is owing workers their 12 months’ salary and apart from his demonstrable nonperformance in the area of infrastructural development, the man is not only re-contesting, but has changed party platform and has the courage and shamelessness to shift the blame of not leaving up to expectations on all fronts, to a questionable altercation in the bushes of the state. On the other hand, all the governors of the North Eastern states that are still battling with an orgy of relentless blood-spilling have been up-to-date with, not just payment of salaries, but have pursued ambitious infrastructure development policies in their respective states that are second to none in the country. Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states fit into this category. Borno is the epicenter of the insurgency and the huge direct allocation and special interventions to support different layers of security formations have, without doubt eaten deep into its meager finances. When Kashim Shettima assumed office in 2011, the state government pushed in more resources to these security agencies such that a big chunk of its monthly allocation was entirely committed to the effort to win the war.
Almost all of the Commanding Officers that have led the war at different times had admitted the strain on the coffers of Borno the war had wrought and showered encomiums on Borno state for the volume of support it has continued to render in cash, logistics, feeding, welfare and incidentals just to fast track the process of ending the war to enable the state pick the pieces of its life and move on. At a time, one of the Commanders confessed that the burden on the state had the capacity to stymie development of other sectors like education, roads, health and agriculture. Conversely, these are basically the areas in which Governor Kashim Shettima has posted his best output. All these achievements were recorded in the midst of gun fire, street fights, suicide bombings, sacking of towns and villages and total security lockdown. Borno in particular is a classical case of a people determined to outlive a senseless terror campaign. Kashim has defied the kind of war that was programmed to erase the state from the map. An Ortom would have capitulated. The case of Benue is therefore a nonissue and the Governor’s lame excuses for not paying salaries absolute bunkum.
Ahmed-BK wrote this piece from Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State.
By Yakubu Ahmed-BK