Nigeria: Battle For The Soul Of Benue, Revealing Extent Of State’s Backwardness


Ortom-Akume

Governor Ortom and former Governor Akuma

 

By Ogbaniko Onunugoga

There is no gainsaying that Benue State is currently embroiled in a war of supremacy sweeping through the state arising from the rift between Governor Samuel Ortom and Senator George Akume, a former governor of the state, known as his godfather.

The obvious crack in the relationship between the two political gladiators has no doubt generated political tension of unimaginable proportion leading to a sudden alignment and realignment of political forces in the state.

Just like in the previous struggle for the soul of Benue, the condition of state in terms of development has remained the worse for the current fight.

The state has been buffeted by what many describe as “poor governance and an unabated sleaze by power obsessed politicians who lead the state.

Or so it is believed in many circles.

Sections of the public in this school of thought say that since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democracy after many years of military intervention in the nation’s body polity, many states of the federation that were created in 1976 by late Gen. Murtala Muhammadu, have attained some marked levels of growth in the area of ICT, governance, infrastructure, agro-allied industry, capital, human capacity and economic evolution.

But Benue, despite hitting 42 years since its creation, has never passed the assessment of any analyst on development and governance.

Analysts and experts alike have never ceased to thumb down the development status of the poorly run state that is peopled largely by Tiv ethnic nationality, whenever the state is in the news.

This is since indices of development are either non-existent in the state or a few structures once built by First Republic governor, late Aper Aku, are abandoned to decay.

Even the younger states of Enugu, Delta, Ekiti, Osun, and Akwa Ibom, among others, that were birthed post Gen. Murtala era have no less believably dwarfed Benue when it comes to comparing the levels of development of the agrarian middle belt state with its counterparts.
In the view of analysts and newspaper columnists, among them, Sam Omatseye, Benue, a state which has refused to get off its cradle is still crawling, more than four decades after its creation in 1976, despite all the human capacity and natural endowment.

For its particularly present poor status, a state governed since 1999 by three successive governors, Sen. George Akume, Gabriel Suswam and the incumbent Ortom, the latter had once come under the knocks of Omatseye.

His words: “Ortom is wagging the dog’s tail. He has been an abysmal failure as governor, owing about a year in salaries and presiding over Makurdi that still looks only a little better than a village in the 1980’s . The herdsmen crisis is an opportunity to ride to a second term. It is a boon for him from the enemy.”

In tacit corroboration with the ace columnist, critics generally opine that Benue is not developing as it ought to, despite the billions of naira that have been accruing to its treasury from the Federation Account over time, especially from the period 1999 to date, a time the country was said to have enjoyed unprecedented boom in its mainstay – Oil.

As part of the results of the grisly situation in the Food Basket of the Nation which many would want to attribute to mis-governance on the part of the leadership of the state in the period 1999-2018, and true to Omatseye’s words, this magazine’s findings show that workers in the employment of third-tier of government across the 23 council areas have currently been worse hit.

Eleven months’ salary arrears have not been paid to the local government workers, while civil servants in the fold of the state government are not paid their monthly emoluments for seven months, running.

Also payment of pension and gratuity has been difficult, resulting in death of scores of many salaried workers who for survival depended only on their earnings from the government, but which are not forthcoming to them.

At some point in the midst of the salary crisis it had become so grisly that two government workers in Obi LGA of the state dropped dead same day.

Apart from that, reports had been rife of increased death toll in other local government areas occasioned by the inability of Ortom to pay workers’ salaries.

The Ortom administration, however, believes it could not be wholly blamed for the grisly state’s situation.

The governor had said that he inherited parts of the problems buffeting the state from his predecessor, Gabriel Suswam, adding for the umpteenth time that he has nevertheless not rested on his oars in the face of the crisis, because to him government is a continuum. And that he has been up and doing to fixing the state. So he wants the public to believe.

Ortom had cried out at the inception of his administration that he inherited N69billion debts in salaries, pension and gratuity put together, from Suswam administration.

PowerSteering learnt some of the measures the governor had advanced towards bringing solution to the state were the interventions his administration had sought from the federal government.

He was subsequently granted some loans including a near-zero-interest N28billion bailout from the Central Bank for the purpose of clearing a backlog of salaries he said he inherited from the Suswam administration, albeit he has been hit severally by cynics for allegedly diverting the funds, reason, his critics say, he has been unable to clear the outstanding salary arrears from the previous administration, in spite of the grants by federal government.
According to the governor, however “the interventions which included the bailout and Paris Club refunds could not avail much because the huge shortfalls from the monthly allocations have made it impossible to clear the arrears.”

Ortom had explained further that, “at the time we took over, the monthly wage bill of the state, including pensions, overheads and gratuity was N8.2 billion and with the implementation of minimum wage for teachers by our administration, the bill increased to about N8.5 billion.

“But after a series of screening exercises, the bill has been reduced to about N7.8 billion, which still remains one of the highest alongside industrialized states like Kano, Kaduna, and Ogun, while the total monthly allocation to the state stands at an average of N6 billion.”

He said following the development, the state government had reached an understanding with the state workers whose leaders had been involved in the disbursement of state bailout funds, that two months allocations would be combined to pay one month’s full salary.

According to the governor, “we have kept this arrangement since 2015 and sometimes more is paid with the interventions,” he added.

Ortom had laced his excuses for the woes of his government and by extension the state in the past three years with a number of things including the once dwindling allocation from the federation account to the state, due to two factors: the drop in oil sale at the international market due to crude price drop too, and two, the bombing of oil facilities at Niger Delta by militants, a situation which had occasioned a reduction in the supply of crude to the market from Nigeria.

The misfortune from the oil at the time of recession, as explained by Ortom administration, tapered down to the collapse of the Benue economy, because being a state that is largely dependent on accruals from the Federation Account to be able to power itself, any shortfalls in the allocation to the state had, therefore, meant his administration would not be able to pay salaries, neither have the funds to execute projects and bring the state to par with its counterparts in terms of development.

Apart from the dwindling accruals to the state, the Ortom administration had also blamed its woes on the deficit treasury bequeathed to it by Suswam administration.

It has also cried out many times over that salary padding, ghost worker syndrome in the state civil service which acted as a drain on the state treasury had weakened the capacity of the administration to perform, to deliver on its campaign promises.

One of the reasons beside general corrupt practices for which the Benue people preferred Ortom’s candidature on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, to the People’s Democratic Party, PDP candidate, Terhemen Tarzor, in the 2015 election, was the inability of Suswam of the PDP to pay salaries for more than four months.

Non-implementation of minimum wage for primary school teachers which forced the teachers into a prolonged strike combined during the last lap of Suswam administration, with over four months unpaid workers salaries was the gap created in the governance of the state by the PDP that the APC’s Ortom had come with a bang to fill – to clear all the outstanding salary arrears, diversify the state economy, reinvigorate the Internally Generated Revenue system to boost economy and or perhaps reduce the overdependence on allocation from the federation accounts.

But more than three years into the four-year tenure of Ortom, and at 42 years of the state, the narrative of the agrarian state has believably not changed from its poor development, economic or political status. Instead, many believe the crawling state still remains a tale of backwardness, a fest where politicians who struggle for the soul of the state do so for the sake of enriching themselves and leaving the people and the state in deeper impoverishment.

Observers of the happenings in the state are quick to point to Justice Elizabeth Kpojime probe panel report that indicted former governor, Suswam and 51 other people for allegedly looting over N107billion during a period that spanned the eight-years that Suswam governed the state.

Despite the shocking amount involved in the looting of the state treasury by only 52 out of six million people of the state, it was later to be seen that political dynamics as they played out in the build up to 2019 elections had made those who should prosecute the recovery of the loot to abandon it. Or so it has appeared.

The seeming non-pursuit of the indictment of the former governor and his 51 minions – which has left the culprits walking the Makurdi streets free men and women – has been interpreted either rightly or wrongly to mean that Ortom has abandoned the state’s cause for selfish political gains. He has allegedly gone ahead to reconcile with Gabriel Suswam and gone on his knees to beg for forgiveness from his political opponent.

And the situation in the state is said to find expression in the unfolding battle for the control of the state which has pitted the governor and Sen. Akume the adjudged godfather and leader of APC in the state against each other on one side, then executive and legislative arms of government on the other, just barely months to another general elections in the country.

Genesis of the power tussle
Having resigned his appointment as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria prior to 2015 General Elections, seeking to be governor of Benue State, a desperate Ortom who was said to be denied the People’s Democratic Party, PDP ticket by former Governor, Gabriel Suswam, defected to the opposition APC.

Typical of desperate Nigerian politicians, Ortom subsequently emerged candidate of the APC in the April 2015 governorship election in the state.

As it were, until the day Ortom was pronounced candidate of the party by the state’s APC leader, Sen. Akume, he was a member of the PDP and guber aspirant of the party.

But moments after losing the party’s guber ticket to Tarzoor, Ortom surfaced at the state APC secretariat in Makurdi where Akume handed him the APC ticket.

Analysts say that was in utter negation of the principle of primary as prescribed by the Electoral Act and INEC.

Ortom himself would later gleefully declare, before Television cameras that he did not emerge candidate of APC through any primaries but ‘through God’s doing’.

His controversial emergence polarised the state APC, with original members of the party wondering why a stranger should be allowed to reap where he did not sow.

As it were, the defeated PDP candidate relied on this to ask Tribunal to declare that the APC did not have any candidate for election, Ortom having emerged through ‘God’s doing’, a process alien to the law.

Tarzoor’s case was helped by INEC which also testified that APC never conducted guber primaries. He was, therefore, in his petition, asking the Tribunal to declare him winner of the governorship polls.

In the election in point, Tarzoor polled 313,878 votes to come second against Ortom’s 422,952 votes.

Ortom’s woes were also compounded by his opponents in his party who were pained by the manner he was imposed on the party as its guber candidate.

One of them was his rival for the APC ticket, Emmanuel Jime who was in January 2015 chosen by the party as its consensus guber candidate before Akume gave Ortom the party ticket.

A leader of the party in the state, Sen. Joseph Waku was once equally up in arms against the governor.

Apart from Tarzoor, Jime and Waku were also in court contesting Ortom’s choice as their party’s governorship flagbearer. But the duo of Jime and Waku later reconciled, when the Gen. Muhammad Buhari presidency intervened, by also settling Jime with a federal plum job, in the interest of the party.

The whole legal tussle that was taken to court by Tarzoor seeking nullification of Ortom’s election ended in favour of the governor and the APC at the apex court – The Supreme Court.

Enter Akume factor of godfatherism in Ortom administration.

No sooner did the litigation ended than the effect of Sen. Akume’s alleged overbearing influence on Ortom’s governance of the state began to be felt in the manner in which the senator representing Benue North West was allegedly calling the shot while the governor seemingly acted as a puppet.

Before the ongoing fight between Akume and Ortom over who controls the state broke out, this magazine gathered that almost everybody that mattered in the past three years in the recently sacked state executive council was allegedly there on Akume’s say-so. This can clearly be seen from the allegiance shown by those loyal to Senator Akume amongst the House of Assembly Members, the sacked Executive Members and Heads of Departments and Parastatals.

The senator allegedly dictated to Ortom in matters of appropriation of money, appointment into key ministries, bureaus, parastatals and boards.

Akume alongside the chairman of the governing party in the state, then, Abba Yaro, also reportedly controlled the structures and organs of the party not only to the negligence of the interest of the governor, but also to the detriment of internal democracy in the party, as the situation would later have Ortom cry out.

The allegation of lack of internal democracy had become evident in the primaries of the local government election that held last year and the congresses of the party that followed later this year, in such a way that virtually all the local government chairmen and party exco from ward to the state level were all an imposition on the APC by one man, Akume.

There were also allegation of how some of the Ortom aides loyal to Senator Akume received a large sum of money from Hon. Emmanuel Jime with the view of talking to their godfather, Sen. Akume to reconsider fielding him for the 2019 governorship election without Akume’s knowledge. It alleged that Hon. Abuwa and one other close aide of Sen. Akume collected a large sum of money from Hon. Jime and printed banners, T-Shirts, Caps and Handbills purportedly campaigning and publicly chanting praise of Emmanuel Jime’s governorship aspiration during the last APC Convention in Abuja after graciously benefitting from Ortom government without Senator Akume’s knowledge. Both of those people were sacked by Gov. Ortom last month. This itself is very unhealthy for the image of Senator Akume who many people respect for his uprightness.

In the midst of all of these allegations against Akume, the Distinguished Senator has always denied them and said that all he had always demanded from the Governor was responsive, honest, transparent and productive governance of the State, which was the reason he left the PDP in the first place, bringing APC to rescue the people of Benue. The people of Benue should experience the needed change and a sharp departure from the past system, he asserted.

Interestingly, allegations are milling in public circles without a scintilla of rebuttal that each local government chairman loyal to the godfather paid a monthly sum of N5million through the sacked chairman of the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Titus Zam.
However, a very close aide of the Distinguished Senator, Mr. Chris Tarka, said in defence of his principal: “You know Oga is a moralist so he can never do such a thing. People are just lying to rubbish the image of my Boss.” But it is evidently clear that Mr. Titus Zam may have, through such backhand dealings with the Local Government funds, made so much money for himself. He is alleged to have risen from virtually nothing and nobody, apart from being an LGC chairman almost twenty years ago, to the status of “One of the richest men in Benue State.” This implies that he had used Sen. Akume’s name and position to extort money from LGA Chairmen and enriched himself from the LGC funds.

This can be buttress by the recent happenings – 30th August, 2018, to be precise, when he gathered the Benue State Indegenes in Abuja to declare his ambition to contest in the next election for the governorship of Benue State. It was discussed in some quarters during the event that Zam is worth over N10 billion and ready to spend all of that the next gubernatorial election in Benue State from primaries to finish at the detriment of development in Benue State.

The recent sack of Zam and Mimi Adzape-Orubibi who was in charge of Benue Internally Generated Revenue Service, among numerous others considered to be Akume loyalists during the cabinet shakeup, lent credence to the allegation that Akume was dictating to Ortom while the governor on his part was believed by many to be guilty of conspiracy of silence because the senator drafted him into APC on which platform he became governor of the state.

Thus, Akume adjudged to be the godfather of Benue politics believably played the Lord of the Manor in the current administration of Ortom, until the recent move by Ortom was beginning to be seen by many as good to shake off Akume’ burden of godfathering on his administration, but the timing and approach was wrong.

The alleged stranglehold on Ortom administration, which many believe is false, has left the state evidently impoverished, retrogressed and backward in such a way that not only are state and local government workers unable to get paid of their arrears of salaries, but payment of pension and gratuities too have become problematic.

Worse still, observers say, it has been difficult to point to any new project executed or completed in the current administration, leaving the masses to groan under penury and lack of development of the state, despite that economy had since picked up at the federal level with more funds now accruing to the state.

Consequently, the ticking of clock close to 2019 has meant to the electorate that the forthcoming election is going to be issues-based.

Discourses in public spaces and especially on the social media is rife, pointing to near certainty that Governor Ortom was not going to have it rosy over his reelection bid, if the grisly situation in the state remains what it has being in the last three years.

Ortom vs Akume
In what was perceived to be the beginning of a long drawn battle to wean his administration of the alleged godfather influence and control of Akume, the governor in a do or die fashion in July sacked almost all members of his cabinet in the first cabinet dissolution of his government. All the members of the cabinet affected by the dissolution were perceived loyalists of Akume.

Buoyed by the unchallenged sacking of the “Akume loyalists”, the next lieutenant of the senator to come under the axe of the governor was the BIRS boss, Mimi Adzape-Orubibi and Richard Agwa. No reason was given by the governor for the sack but the public understood the action with mixed reactions. While some hailed the removal of the BIRS boss and the Akume loyalists, saying such action was long overdue on the part of the governor, others who berated Ortom for allowing his godfather call the shot for the better part of his four-year term, said his second term ambition informed his sudden wake up rather than the masses’ plight. They promise him loss of reelection on the ground of his inability to clear unpaid salaries, still.

Ortom jacked up the onslaught against Akume and the APC by defecting to the People’s Democratic Party, PDP citing a red card given to him in the party implying that the leader of the APC did not want him for a second term under its fold. He also described the party as having slided to a one-man-show. But Akume says what the APC demanded of the governor was good governance.

Akume’s fight back
Akume’s perceived reply on the war declared against him by the governor was to come in form of impeachment to be meted out to Ortom using his loyalist members of the Benue State House of Assembly when the last time the full-30-member House sat before it adjourned its plenary to August 15, 2018, to reconvene.

Before the adjournment, plots by members loyal to Senator Akume to use impeached speaker Terkimbi Ikyange to impeach Governor Ortom were reportedly foiled by the governor’s loyalists in the Assembly. This was the beginning of the crisis that has now enveloped the state House of Assembly.

In a tough action that seem to have outsmarted Akume and his loyalist lawmakers, 22 members loyal to Ortom did not wait for the August 15 date to reconvene, as they found their way into the heavily police-blocked complex of the legislative assembly through the back door from the Government House and impeached Ikyange and other principal officers of the House with a borrowed mace from the Local Government– all Akume loyalists.

But the remaining seven members led by the impeached speaker, enjoying police protection, later re-entered into the assembly complex and issued the governor with an impeachment notice in a melodrama playing out between Akume and Ortom forces. The public and experts had been condemning the action of the minority 8 lawmakers as illegal, unconstitutional and null and void though. But legality cannot be built on illegality. Analysts have argued that the entry of the 22 members through the back door when they were supposed to be on recess in the first place was illegal. Therefore, any illegality done as a reaction to legality is still illegal.

Who Is The Current Speaker Of The Benue State House Of Assembly In The Eyes Of The Law?

On the 24th day of July 2018 or thereabout, the social and mainstream media was avid with the news that the Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly Hon. Terkimbe Ikyange and his Deputy, Hon. James Okefe had been impeached unanimously by about 22 members present and voting at a reconvened session of the house.

Section 101 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(As Amended) empowers the house to regulate its own procedure, “including the procedure for summoning and recess of the House”

It is pursuant to the above cited provision of the constitution that Benue State House of Assembly made rules for the regulation of its activities in the House. The Rules being premised on the clear provisions of the constitution is sacred and not merely sanctimonious.

The Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly was elected by the house in accordance with its Standing Rules and the same House reserves the right to impeach him in accordance with the same rules.

The Benue State House of Assembly Standing Rules 3(11a) states that when a sitting is adjourned and a matter of public interest has arisen, a petition by 1/3 members addressed to the Speaker of the House notifying him of the House’s intention to convene earlier than the adjourned date, the Speaker may give notice accordingly to the members to reconvene.
On the 24th day of July 2018 the House was reportedly recalled from recess for a matter of “urgent public importance” which was to have the Speaker and his deputy impeached!
Before a successful impeachment can take place, there must be a duly convened or reconvened session of the house. The first question is whether there was a duly convened session of the house. The indisputable fact is to the effect that the house had earlier been adjourned to the 15th day of August 2018. The speaker, Hon. Ikyange has maintained that he was neither given notice of any request for a reconvention of the house, let alone notice of any allegation that precipitated the purported impeachment to enable him react. These assertions have not been contradicted.

There was not even a preliminary remark to the effect that the requirement of reconvention pursuant to Rule 3(11a) of the standing rule preceding the purported session and subsequent impeachment.

From the foregoing, it means that there was no valid legal session of the House on the said 24th day of July 2018 and anything done in any such purportedly reconvened session of the house is null and void and of no effect. Yes, it simply never happened! This is why Hon. Ikyange has maintained, quite rightly, that the House remained adjourned to the 15th day of August 2018 as earlier unanimously agreed and that remains the Speaker of the House.
The House can only be reconvened from recess under matters of urgent public importance. The matter of urgent public importance was for the purported impeachment of the speaker and his deputy for alleged “high handedness”. Is this a matter of urgent public importance? The notorious fact is that the Governor of the State, Samuel Ortom had just decamped from the APC to the PDP and there was that unethical urgency to change the Speaker of the House who is of the APC. There is certainly not an iota of any matter of urgent public importance here.

The rules of fair hearing, natural justice, equity and good conscience were recklessly breached when no notice of allegation and/or notice of reconvention of the house which was for the sole purpose of the purported impeachment was given to the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the house before their purported impeachment.

Furthermore, no activity was reported to have happened during the recess. The question that readily comes to any reasonable mind in view of the allegation of “high handedness” against the Speaker is at what point did he commit the offence stated as the reason for his impeachment? The allegation sounds more spurious when it is recalled that about a week to the date of the purported impeachment, the same house passed a vote of confidence on the speaker before it went on recess and was adjourned to 15/08/2018
The Police intervention on the 26th July` 2018 at the instance of the Speaker, Hon. Terkimbe Ikyange, to prevent the purported new speaker and his crew from sitting in the House is proper and apt in the circumstances of this case to maintain law and Order.

The purported new leadership of the House must be careful and immediately rescind their patently illegal acts as they could be liable for criminal impersonation and breach of peace.
On Friday July 27 2018, I received another information that there is a pending Order of the State High Court obtained via Eparte application restraining Hon. Terkinbe Ikyange led Leadership of the House from parading itself as the original leader of the House. If this is true, then the Leadership of the House is advised to immediately take steps to challenge the Order. Once a step is taken to challenge such order, the law is trite that they are not under any obligation to obey such Order and no contempt proceedings can be maintained against them.

The Judiciary has always cautioned against Ex Parte Orders obtained without a hearing from the other party. An Ex Parte Order is given when only there exists an urgent need to preserve a perishable res. What is perishable or liable to be destroyed beyond repairs if Hon. Ikyange leadership of the House is first accorded a right of hearing before the Order?

Many Judges have been punished for giving such exparte Orders. A petition accompanied by a verifying affidavit to the National Judicial Council (NJC) is enough to galvanize the NJC into action.

We all have the collective duty to make the system work. This can only be done through adherence to the rule of law. We must not ridicule our judicial system by dragging it into politics. If anybody is desirous of dissolving the leadership of the House, the relevant procedures must be observed. Otherwise, a head-on collision with anarchy is inevitable.

Yours Most Trusted,
Alexander Oketa Esq.

Alexander Oketa Esq is a Legal Practitioner and APC pioneer Member, one time sole Administrator and APC Candidate for House of Assembly in the 2015 general elections from Ado LGA, Benue State.

There is also a court injunction on ground as prayed by the 22 lawmakers, restraining the speaker and the seven other lawmakers loyal to Akume from parading themselves as members of the state Assembly, since they were earlier also suspended from the Assembly for act of misconduct.

Fulani Killer Herdsmen and EFCC
In the ensuing tussle between Akume and Ortom, it is believed that the first reason the APC does not want to field the latter as its governorship candidate in the forthcoming election may be because of his brush with the presidency.

Suspected Fulani killer herdsmen have, and still upend the state with killings.

Governor Ortom has constantly accused and has been raising alarms that a group, Miyetti Allah, has been responsible for the killing of Benue people, yet he says no arrest has been made of the leader or member of the group also accused of being behind the killings and sacking of Benue people from their ancestral land for the purposes of occupation to graze their cattle on the land.

Ortom was particularly deemed by the presidency to have disobeyed its order not to give a mass burial to the Logo and Guma over “70 victims” of the killer herdsmen massacre, but which he carried out against the will of the federal authorities.

The fall out of that was that the APC controlled presidency would never have wanted Ortom back for a second term. In his place, this magazine gathered that the former aspirant, Emmanuel Jime is preferred to take over from Ortom.

But the counter-allegation is that Gov. Samuel Ortom and his cohort have been crying wolf when there was none. It is alleged that the Governor had severally raised false alarm about the killings in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of Benue State and when security operatives had responded promptly and rushed there to find out that it was a mere ruse. Ortom is alleged to have done this severally to the point that even some of his close aides hardly believed him anymore, just to justify his security vote spendings.

He would raise false alarm at Guma end of the State boundary with Nasarawa State and while the security operatives will be rushing to Guma, he would now raise another in the direction of Logo LGA. The power tussle between Senator George Akume and Governor Samuel Ortom has also revealed another dimension to the mass burial in Benue State in January, 2018. A close aide of Gov. Ortom who is loyal to Akume has alleged that the number of people killed during the January 1st 2018 were fewer than the reported 70 victims.

He added that in order to make up for “the lies” already told by “the servant of God” –Gov. Ortom, yams were packed into the empty coffins in place of dead bodies in order to win global sympathy and acceptance. This allegation however, could not be verified immediately.

Akume on the other hand has been accused of doing the bidding of the presidency to ensure Ortom is kicked out because as alleged he is also said to have been promised the senate presidency on his return to the red chamber of the National Assembly in 2019, reason Ortom believably had to strike or resign to fate by forgetting his 2019 ambition.

It was why, as learnt, the minority lawmakers loyal to Akume had to summon Ortom to explain how he spent N20billion security vote or face impeachment.

But when the attempts of the minority lawmakers to impeach the governor were deemed as unconstitutional, the weapon of coercion left in the hands of the federal authority would be the next to be deployed. Hence the use of EFCC to probe the governor’s security votes and others.

Meanwhile, the battle for the soul of Benue State between Sen. George Akume and his ex while political godson, Governor Samuel Ortom has taken a more dangerous dimension as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has renewed a petition filed by the former Commissioner of police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav and are investigating Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom and many members of the House of Assembly for alleged diversion of N23,088,586,206.

The governor who said that he had no fear over the probe, only demanded fairness, even as there are speculations that, Sen. Akume could be behind the renewed case to influence the assembly members to crush the Governor out of government house through impeachment. “Akume is using a renew case against Governor Ortom and assembly members as “haagedege” to frighten the already caged assembly members to booth Ortom out of government house through impeachment.

According to EFCC, about N22, 713, 586, 206 was withdrawn in cash, allegedly on the governor’s instruction as security votes and other “curious” overheads.

The Assembly members are also expected to account for N375million.

The anti-graft agency said some of the cash withdrawals were made in bits of N10million over the counter.

The EFCC found it “ridiculous” that N500 million was cashed in one day.

Besides the governor, more than 30 suspects are being investigated. They include 21 members of the House, three permanent secretaries, four cashiers, a contractor, directors of Finance, some accountants, and bank managers.

The EFCC believes that most of the funds were diverted, with, according to the agency, the governor directing permanent secretaries to destroy the disbursement lists.
Below are the breakdowns of the funds allegedly diverted:

N1,916,635,206 (withdrawn from the Government House two accounts);

N19,468,951,590 (cash taken from two accounts of the Bureau for Internal Affairs and Special Services);

N1, 328, 000, 000 (withdrawn in cash from the account of the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs); and

N375million meant for the purchase of Prado SUV for House of Assembly members but N275m shared by 21 lawmakers

These highlights were released at a session in Abuja by top officials of the anti-graft commission.

On the alleged diversion of N1, 916, 635, 206, the fact-sheet said: “On the 31st of January, 2018, an intelligence was received that some officials of Benue State have diverted about N8billion. Based on the intelligence, the EFCC commenced investigation. It was discovered that between June 30, 2015 and March 2018, cash was withdrawn from the Government House accounts and diverted.

“Two accounts actually belong to Government House.

“These accounts received about N1, 916, 635, 206 between June 30, 2015 and March 2018.

The huge sum was withdrawn by some cashiers, namely Emmanuel Aorga; Patrick Aba; and Ochoga Peter.

“From bank details, Aorga withdrew N369, 728, 950; Ochoga cashed N704, 041,000 and Patrick Aba N130, 199, 386.

“In most cases, they were issued N10m cheques in order to withdraw the money in bits.

“For the Government House, the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Gabriel Iangba, who was interrogated, claimed that these are funds for security, governor’s travels, protocol services and security votes, among others.

On the N19, 468, 951, 590 taken from the Bureau for Internal Affairs and Special Services, the EFCC’s fact sheet indicated that the money was withdrawn from the Bureau’s two accounts.

“The N19.4billion was withdrawn between June 30, 2015 and March 2018. These funds were cashed in similar manner like that of the Government House Accounts. The withdrawal was effected by a cashier in bits of N10million. In a day, the same man withdrew N500million in a N10million per transaction method.

“During interrogation, the Permanent Secretary for Bureau for Internal Affairs and Special Services, Boniface Nyaakor, claimed that they normally gave six security outfits some of the cash. When asked to give details, he said while the highest remittance of N10million will go to one of the outfits, the rest will get N5million each.

“He said memos were usually raised and the governor was always approving. He said once the funds were cashed, he will list out how the funds will be disbursed. After the disbursement, he will bring back the paper to the governor Ortom and he will ask him to tear the distribution list.

“We discovered that once the monthly allocation hits these accounts, the withdrawal of all the funds is a maximum of two days.

“It should be noted that all the cashiers were invited with their supervising accountants.

They confessed that once the money was cashed either in Government House or at the Bureau, they have a place they used to deposit it and the affected permanent secretaries will take over disbursement.

“And apart from banking transactions, all records of disbursement have been destroyed.”

Asked if a governor can be questioned on security votes, a top EFCC official said: “The governor has to show records of how security funds are spent.

“In the case of Benue, the Security Votes Schedule was not even captured in the State Appropriation Act. They only put ‘Tentative’. This is done as a cover-up.”

Concerning the N1, 328, 000,000, the EFCC gave details of how it came about the discovery.
The commission’s fact-sheet said: “A petition was received from a Commissioner in the Public Complaints Commission (PCC), ex-Commissioner of Police Abubakar Tsav on June 10, 2016 alleging that pensioners and workers were going through hardship due to non-payment of salaries and pensions. The petition by Tsav was against Governor Ortom and his former Adviser on bureau for local government and chieftaincy affairs Mr. Titus Zam.

“The petitioner alleged that the governor withdrew N 929, 903, 967 from the account of the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs.

“Based on this petition, an investigation was carried out and it was discovered that about N1, 328,000, 000(N1.328b) cash was withdrawn from the account between October 2015 and June 2016.

“In the course of further investigation, it was one John J. Bako, who is said to be a member of security outfits in the state that withdrew N28million from the account while N1.3billion was withdrawn in cash by Andoor Festus, who is said to be a cashier of the Bureau. The money was withdrawn in cash in bits of N50m, N100m, N120m, and N260m.

“A letter of invitation was sent to the State Government. The first letter was sent on July 18, 2016 and reminders were sent but no reply. The last letter was sent to the Permanent Secretary, Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs on July 9, 2018 but Bako and Andoor are yet to come.

“These are people the EFCC cannot trace. This commission believes the state government should know who they are since they were linked to the account.”

In a follow up to the allegation that apology was sent to Ortom by Tsav recently, a top official said: “The petition bordered on a case against the state. The money he claimed was being diverted was not his money but it is public funds.

“We owe Nigerians a duty to see to the conclusion of this investigation. If Tsav apologized, he has blown the whistle, he cannot retrieve the petition.”

As part of the sleaze in Benue State, the EFCC also uncovered how the state government allegedly paid N80million into the account of a killer Boko Haram suspect Aliyu Yaminu, who is nicknamed Tershaku.

Tershaku, an aide and a relation of Governor Ortom who was arrested by the Nigerian Army in April, has since been in custody.

Alhaji Aliyu Tershaku was the Commander of the Benue State Livestock Guards, a quasi-security outfit established by Governor Samuel Ortom to enforce the State’s anti-open-grazing law that came into force last November. Aliyu Tershaku, an identity he has been known with from his days in Maiduguri, Borno State, when he stayed and worked with the Late founder of the Boko Haram Sect, Mohammed Yusuf, before the group was proscribed in 2009. A known notorious Tiv Muslim from Benue State and a Boko Haram ranked commander said to have repented and granted amnesty by the Benue State Government of Samuel Ortom, was alleged to have been behind some of the killings of hundred of Christians across the Country including the killings of the two Catholic Priests and the Parishioners.

There are unverified allegations about how Gov. Samuel Ortom, who is known to be carrying the heaviest Holy Bible in Nigeria today, could be behind some of the killings in Benue State in the name of the Herdsmen Invasion.

While the Governor had claimed that arms were recovered from these criminal elements, he had at the same time empowered them economically by appointing them as revenue consultants to render revenue services to the Benue State Board of Internal Revenue (BIRS). He had also provided adequate security for them by attaching security personnel to them with State Government branded vehicles. It is estimated that over 249 persons have been killed in Sankara by Gana Killer Squad empowered by Gov. Ortom. This notorious criminal elements had once attacked General Victor Malu when he visited his ancestral home in Katsina-Ala. The notorious gang leader, Terwase Akwaza, a.k.a Gana was also given prominence like his comrade-at-arms Aliyu Tershaku by Gov. Ortom.

The EFCC said: “Between December 20, 2017 and April 6, 2018, the Joint Account Allocation Committee (JAC) had remitted N20 million to the account of Al-Tershaku Global Security Limited allegedly owned by Tershaku. JAC posted N80million to this account as at the time of Tershaku’s arrest. This is aside suspicious cash lodgments by Tershaku himself into the company’s account.”

In the same vein, the EFCC confirmed that about 21 members of the Benue State House of Assembly and a contractor have a case to answer over N417million contract for the purchase of 30 Prado SUV for lawmakers in the state.

Some of the lawmakers were said to have allegedly conspired with the contractor, Alh. Ahmed Baba, who owns Mia Three Nigeria Limited.

“It is a case of diversion of contract funds. A N417million contract was awarded to Mia Three Nigeria Limited (owned by Alh. Ahmed Baba) by the Benue State Government for the supply of 30 Prado SUV for members of the Benue State House of Assembly for oversight functions.

“With less Tax and Value Added Tax (VAT), the worth of the contract amounted to N375million. The cost of each car was around N12.9million. But out of the N375million, about N275million was diverted by the contractor in connivance with members of the Benue State House of Assembly.

“Eight members of the Assembly took delivery of the Prado SUV, one did not benefit because he hijacked a vehicle from the convoy of the Deputy Speaker but 21 others only collected cash from the contractor instead of vehicles.

“The EFCC team has so far recovered N244million from the affected members of the Benue State House of Assembly. Four members refused to pay back the full value of the SUV after remitting. They reluctantly refunded N1million each to EFCC after much pressure.

“These four members and outstanding sums are as follows: Addingi Ngunan (N9million); Kester Kyenge (N9million); Terkaa Ucha (N4million) and Terseer Adzuu (N9million).

On the allegation the, Sen. Akume is using the Commission to frighten assembly members to finish his battle against Ortom, EFCC said;

“We have been interacting with the lawmakers since 2016; it is not as if we have just started the investigation. Some of them, including the Deputy Speaker, came to honour EFCC’s invitation last Thursday. It was while we were interacting with the Deputy Speaker that he was impeached.

“They were asked to report on Monday (30th, July 2018) except a member that applied to perform this year’s Hajj.

“These lawmakers and the contractor have a case to answer because the Prado SUVs were not meant for leisure

“The members have been reporting because their case file is with the Legal Unit of EFCC. We asked them to be reporting because we do not know the exact date they will be arraigned.”

More than 30 suspects are being investigated. They include 21 members of the House, three permanent secretaries, four cashiers, a contractor, directors of Finance, some accountants, and bank managers.

Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom had challenged the commission to be fair in the case hence according to him, his hands are clean. “Let the probe be fair’

Benue State officials also reacted to the planned probe of Governor Samuel Ortom. His Chief Press Secretary Mr. Tever Akase called for a fair investigation.

“The point is that Governor Ortom’s government is transparent. He has nothing to hide. Since he became the governor, every year he published the statement of account in national newspapers.

“This is to show that he has nothing to hide. So we welcome the EFCC investigation. This is anti-graft and we believe they are doing their job. However, we are asking that they should be fair in their investigation. A man who is suspected is not guilty until he is found guilty.

“As I said, we hope that the investigation by the EFCC will be fair without any political undertone. We don’t want to read any conspiracy into it because we have nothing to hide.
“Governor Ortom has been faced with security challenges and he is expected to address them. And this he has been doing. He has not embezzled public funds. Neither has he converted public funds to his personal use. In all, we want a fair hearing, fair investigation.
Special Adviser to the Governor on Media Tahav Agerzua said: “The EFCC can probe any person or organisation based on allegations which may turn out to be true or false. In the case of Governor Ortom, they can probe but I assure you that they will find nothing at the end of the day.”

Notwithstanding, Governor Samuel Ortom has publicly complained about the EFCC constant harassment and subjection of the government officials in Benue State to intense grilling. He has described the action of the anti-graft agency as persecution and rather “ridiculous”.

Ortom’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Terve Akase, who raised the alarm on Wednesday, August 15 in Makurdi, said no day passes without the commission adding one more angle to their harassment of Benue Officials.

Where and when the struggle of supremacy for the soul of Benue state will end, and when real governance and development will take over for the betterment of the condition of common man is at the mercy of the hegemonists, the power mongers of the Tiv ethnic who have been governing the state from its inception to date as elected governors.
The answer is also in the womb of time to tell.

Source: POWER Steering


Facebook Comments

Posted by on 11/10/2018. Filed under Feature, Opinion, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Please Leave a Reply