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Shehu’s Shots At Ortom: An Image Maker’s Burden

“If you live in a glass house, don’t throw stones,” says Peter Tosh.

Mallam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari, doesn’t seem to subscribe to this wisdom nugget from Peter Tosh, the legendary reggae artist. If he does, perhaps, he wouldn’t have attempted to join issues with Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State the way he did in a piece titled “The incongruence of Governor Samuel Ortom on Arise TV,” dated January 25 and published in the social media.

The erstwhile President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and an otherwise experienced image maker ought to have known better than to juxtapose his principal with  Governor Ortom in a self serving and ego-massaging classification of Nigerian politicians. By Shehu’s assessment, President Buhari belongs to the first category of “politicians who are leaders that offer solutions to the challenges facing the voters” while Ortom belongs to the second category “who offer excuses for the challenges voters face.”

President Muhammadu Buhari, (left) Governor Samuel Ortom

He cited three solutions which the President had offered Nigerian voters  in nearly seven years to include the repatriation of “billions of dollars of stolen funds from overseas” and the discovery of “more  than 500,000 bank accounts operated by Ministries, Agencies and Departments” through the introduction of the Treasury Single Account (TSA). He did not say what happened to money so repatrated saved.

Other achievements, according to the media aide,  are that the “President brought forward the first and only plan to address farmer-herder clashes in 100 years, supporting states to rediscover grazing reserves and create ranching lands that have successfully reduced tensions while increasing harmony and saving lives.” Another thing  that made Buhari a leader who offers solutions, in Shehu’s assessment, is that “the President has not failed to pay the salary of those working for the federal government and declared the failure of states to do so “ ‘a national disaster.’ ”

On the other hand, the President’s media assist classified Ortom as one of the ‘failed politicians” because “he inherited unpaid salaries and pension arrears – and rather than find a way to raise the funds to pay them, he has blamed the President.”

This outing by Shehu in defence of his principal is half-hearted, lame and debasing of not only Buhari but also (and more importantly) the institution of the Presidency. Would it have been necessary to elect people considered to be of impeccable character, possess special leadership qualities and have tall credentials if the most important yardstick for measuring their performance is payment of salaries? Any average cashier can do that. Or, did we have to go so far as to recruit a retired army General and former Head of State as our President just for him to bring forward the century-old grazing routes as solution for the current ravaging farmers-herdsmen clashes? Any average Fulani Herdsman can do that.

What we look up to see in our leaders, especially the President, is someone who can fix the country’s economy and secure the lives and property of citizens. These happen to be among the core promises Buhari made to the electorate in 2015 and 2019. Incidentally the security situation in the country, Benue state in particular, was the main theme of the interview which Governor Ortom granted Arise Television.

Shehu’s write-up was supposed to be a reaction to that interview, in which the Governor spoke on the lingering and escalating insecurity in the country. He was unequivocal about what he considered as solution: the intervention of the President as head of Nigeria’s armed and security forces, convening of a security stakeholders meeting and substitution of open grazing with ranching.

Shehu’s rejoinder was a good opportunity for him to prove Ortom wrong; to convince Nigerians that the security and economic situations in the country today are better than what Buhari inherited. But he fluffed that chance.

Shehu put the Arise Tv interview and what Ortom said about security aside. Not even once did he make any reference to the word “security” inspite of the facts and figures reeled out by the Governor to prove the despicable deterioration of the security situation nationally and in Benue State and under President Buhari’s leadership. The media aide did not disprove Ortom’s assertion that the President’s body language suggested his acquiescence with the murderous and expansionist activities of the Fulani who infiltrate Nigeria from neighbouring countries.

He did not challenge where Ortom said the scope of insecurity under Buhari had expanded geographically to most parts of the country, militarily with Boko Haram’s collaboration with ISWAP and other foreign terrorist organizations and in the multiplication of criminal activities (banditory, kidnapping, armed robbery, farmers-herdsmen clashes, etc.). He did not fault Governor Ortom when he reported that the state’s anti-open-grazing law had helped to put the herdsmen attacks on Benue communities in check. This is a clear evidence that Shehu had nothing worthwhile to say in defence of his principal.

For want of credible defence, Shehu resorted to blackmailing the Benue state Governor in order to earn cheap points and his pay.  He compared the President “who has not failed to pay the salary of those working for the federal government” with the Governor whom, he said, would rather blame the President than pay salaries. Shehu must have forgotten that the payment of salaries to Federal Government workers by Buhari’s administration is neither new nor special. Workers were paid as and when due at that level in the 16 years when PDP was in power. In any case, Ortom sufficiently explained the salary situation in Benue state without blaming the President and has commenced the implementation of the Contributory Pensions Scheme in the state as a permanent solution to the problem of pension arrears.

The President’s man should also be told that it is not only Governor Ortom that regrets voting Buhari as President. Majority of Nigerians, including his die-hard supporters in 2015 and 2019 do, and it is only those who are deaf, probably like Shehu, who cannot hear the loud cry by Nigerians to be “rescued by the PDP” from APC’s mismanagement of Nigeria’s political leadership since 2015.

Nigerians don’t need to be reminded, as Shehu did, that “President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, APC respect term limits and the constitution, and will stand down next year at the end of his second democratically elected mandate. Who does not know this? And who is arguing over it?  Governor Ortom, too, will be leaving office next year for the same reason. The difference between the two, however, is that while the President’s popularity is waning on account of his inept management of the country’s security challenge, that of the Governor is soaring on the wings of his stout defence of his people and the innovative solutions he has brought to bear on the challenge.

In the light of the forgoing, it is clear that the stones aimed at Governor Ortom by Shehu have failed to fly. It was a bad market day for him. He has a bad product. It will not sell.

Uloko is Special Adviser to the governor on Information and Orientation.

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