Ortom: The joke is on us

By Andrew Agbese

The trending news over the weekend was the attack on the Governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom.

While many have condemned the attempt on the Governor’s life and had tried to use the incident to point out what it portends, few others have chosen to use the incident to mock the Governor.

Governor Ortom was attacked on his farm at Tyo-mu on the Makurdi-Gboko Road.

Recounting the ordeal at the farm, the obviously exasperated Governor said he escaped by running for more than one kilometer on foot as the militia stepped out to kill him.

“I thank God for my fitness to have run for more than one and a half kilometres without stopping. It means that God has given me strength and I am grateful to God,” he said.

The Governor said the six security aides who were with him took on the 15 armed herders who came for his life and that while the security agents with him engaged and repelled the assailants,  he seized the opportunity to take to his heels, running a distance of over one and a half kilometres.

His words: “I appreciate the security men attached to me. They were able to repel them and they could not have access to me.”

For this, the Governor has all of a sudden become a subject of ridicule with caricatures of him in Usain Bolt’s outfit being circulated to drive home the point that his story is not worthy of belief.

The few who try to ridicule the Governor said the story is not plausible because at the age of 59,  Ortom cannot do a 1.5 kilometer sprint.

Secondly, they ask how the Governor was able to count the number of his assailants.

Three, they wonder how the governor did not sustain any injury while running in the bush and four, how his security were able to repel the assailants with none on either side harmed.

And lastly, how was the Governor able to establish the identity of the assailants.

It is not surprising however that these questions could come up.

Any time certain groups of people attack communities and kill at will and a mention is made of their identities, the general reflex is to rush in defence of such persons without verifying the claims.

For years, while the people of Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna were constantly under attack, many were prepared to live in denial because they felt that in the course of narrating the incident, the identities of the gunmen would be revealed.

Hence thousands were killed and buried quietly until of recent when the situation became unbearable and we began to see images of the assailants being circulated in public.

Recently, when abduction of students became rampant in the North and a certain cleric decided to go and negotiate with the bandits in their hideouts, the images confirmed all what have been said in the past about the identities of the suspects.

The Ortom claim about the identity of his assailants, naturally, has to be questioned because it may add credence to his claims that there are deliberate plans to dispossess his people of their ancestral lands.

Another thing is that, some consider the manner the Governor speaks as politically incorrect because it does not sit well with those who will rather that certain things be left unsaid for Benue to belong to the mainstream of politics.

Though there are gaps in the Ortom story, what people should understand is that no victim of a crime comes out entirely with the true picture of what transpired until investigations are concluded.

In fact, with some crimes, the onus of proof is usually too heavy on the victim due to the trauma involved.

That was why when the Chibok abduction happened, those that wrote it off as not likely on the basis of their intelligent analysis found out to their regret later that they were wrong.

Ortom has narrated what he saw, it is left for competent authorities to do the plus and minus, but not to dismiss the ordeal as unlikely.

The second issue is about the age of the Governor and whether he can still run the distance he claimed.

If we condemn generalizations, then why do we suppose that because most people in their late 50s cannot run more than 200 meters at a stretch, then the Benue Governor must succumb to that challenge and be feeble.

Have we not seen videos of septugenrians lifting weights and giving good account of themselves at the gym by doing what 30 year olds cannot do? So why do we assume that because it does not suit our purpose then Ortom must fall in line with that narrative?

On the identity of the assailants, while some have tried to suggest it could have been anybody including the remnants of the Gana gang, it does not take away the fact that the Governor has made an observation that should guide in investigations.

From what I know about Nigerians, if the governor had for instance said that by the features of the people he identified at the farm that day, they were his fellow Tivs or something close to that, those asking how he came about that would have been too pleased to say ‘ you see, we told you so.’

On how the governor was able to count the number of people that attacked him, I dare say it is possible since he was not the only one at the farm at the time. What this simply means is that it is easy for others who were not directly in the way of the assailants to take such mental notes.

On why nobody was hurt, I cannot conclude because there are conflicting reports on that.

But the one that probably needs explanation is why the governor had no bruises or at least had his shirt torn from the sprint in the bushes. But again, we fail to agree this is possible probably due to what we imagine.

It is possible the Governor made the first dash on seeing the men in black at top speed, then after observing he was out of danger decided to take the remaining steps surely but steadily until he was assured the coast is clear.

I imagine this possibility because he did not at any point say the assailants were few metres behind him after he took to his heels.

The attempt to ridicule the Governor based on his ordeal, is unfortunate because it underplays the magnitude of the security threat in this country.

Whether we like it or not, we have a big problem in our hands.

I would have thought that with what we suffer in this country, if someone at any point feels threatened and reports the matter,  that the best we could have done is to show concern no matter how doubtful the possibility.

We have too many high profile unsolved murder cases in our hands that we cannot afford to laugh anything that has to do with life and death.

Had Senator Gyang Dantong and then Majority Leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Mr. Gyang Fulani who died while attending the mass burial of victims of attacks escaped unhurt, we would have said they were lying as no gunman would have the nerve to show up at a mass burial.

Who would have believed that a former Chief of Defence Staff would have been killed so easily without a single shot fired in response if Alex Badeh had survived?

Who would have believed that urchins could take a stroll into the house of a retired General, kill him and walk away without trace if Mamman Shuwa had escaped?

We play too much in this country but we should take issues concerning human lives more seriously.


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