By Benjamin Ngutsav
There has been a fierce battle ongoing between Ondo State Government and the federal government over the pronouncement of the Ondo government asking Fulani herdsmen to leave the forests as well putting restrictions on times of grazing in the state.
Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, on Monday 18 January, 2021 issued a statement asking Fulani herdsmen to vacate state forest reserves within seven (7) days, saying activities of herdsmen had for long threatened the security of the state.
In a swift reaction, the Media Aide to President Muhammadu Buhari, Garba Shehu, responded where he argued saying, ‘’insecurity is not alien to any group, the language they speak, their geographical location or their faith.’’ Garba went on to ask Ondo State government to concern itself with fighting all forms of crime in the state and not picking on one tribe.
The crossfire of words did not cease as the Ondo State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr Donald Ojogo replied the presidency saying, “The statement from Garba Shehu is brazen display of emotional attachment and it is very inimical to the corporate existence of Nigeria.”
This is just a small fraction of what Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State faced from the government at the centre and its agencies. The Ortom administration dammed the consequences and braved all odds to ban open grazing in the state for which today Benue is reaping the benefits.
But can Akeredolu conquer? Does he have the balls? How about the political will? Can he be an Ortom for Ondo people? These and more are the big questions awaiting answers as events unfold in the western state.
It is instructive to point out how Governor Samuel Ortom succeeded and did not yield his position even as the forces were all against him.
Governor Ortom made it clear that the safety of his people comes first. His priority was and has been the safety of his people who without, he would not have become the governor that he is his today. His message was clear, single and consistent.
The Benue State Governor did not just ban open grazing; he provided a viable option to ending the perennial attacks on farmers by herdsmen. Ranching he said, was the solution. He backed his argument with facts and figures thereby dwarfing vague sentiments and skewed views.
Ortom has been calling for an option better than ranching and till date, no one has come up with one. This is a clear quality of one who had studied the issue before becoming governor.
Governor Ortom’s refusal to shift grounds with the federal government saw the death and burial of several obnoxious policies like, Ruga, cattle colonies and grazing routes as championed by the federal government.
One thing hugely worked for Ortom: the people. When Benue people saw his selfless determination to fight for them, they supported him across party lines. Benue was united. Even when he the governor was in the All Progressives Congress (APC), same as the President, he did not stutter to make the position of Benue clear.
Governor Ortom literally gave his life and political ambition to ensure the safety of Benue people. It was at that time he left the party to join the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The governor gave up the benefits governors from the same political party with the president enjoy for the security of Benue people. He did not mind losing his second term election which the federal government tried to rig him out but got fierce resistance from the people.
Ortom was criticised and blamed by some of his governor colleagues whose states have today come under heavy attacks from herdsmen. He warned them but they would not listen.
It is interesting to note that enforcement of the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017, has also been successful.
Therefore, If the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, hopes to succeed in this fight to provide security to his people in the face of armed Fulani herdsmen attacks, he needs to adopt the Samuel Ortom example. The Ortom example mandates a leader to be on the side of his people at all times. Gov Akeredolu has to be courageous, but he must also be willing to let go political correctness and the favours that come with it from the Villa. Sacrifice is key in this endeavour! Ondo must enact a law to ban open grazing which will also evict herders from Ondo forests. Gov Akeredolu should propose an alternative – Ranching.
He has an opportunity on his hands to be another Samuel Ortom. True leadership comes with sacrifice, integrity and selflessness.
Ngutsav is a public affairs commentator.