I am Tiv, from Benue State. This clarification needs to be made right at the start so as to put my opinion into a proper perspective.
Benue State is blessed with abundant agricultural resources; the land is fertile, the people are hard-working, the oranges here are juicy and sweet like no other, yams grow for fun, Benue cassava stems are as big as yam tubers, tomatoes and pepper sprout everywhere. No wonder Benue State is known as “The Food Basket of the Nation”.
In spite of these abundant natural resources Benue State remains a very poor state and is in a very poor state. Please if you don’t know the definition of poverty, visit Benue State and interact with her indigenes and you will witness first-hand what it is. Poverty in Benue State walks around with a swagger. Don’t be deceived by the mostly cosmetic life style of the people you meet in Makurdi the state capital. Take a drive (if you find a road to drive on) to the rural areas like Naka, Agasha, Utonkon, Oju, Gbajimba etc and you will come face to face with a level of poverty that will astonish you. Now the question is, why would a state as blessed as Benue remain so poor?
The answer is simple; dearth of leadership.
Since its creation on 3rd February, 1976, Benue State has had only two governors who were also leaders; Aper Aku who was in office from 1979-1983 and to a lesser extent Rev. Moses Adasu 1992-1993, both of blessed memory. All other governors of Benue State, whether military or civilian, have all exhibited a rudderless streak to governance and therefore do not merit being referred to as leaders. To drive home this point it will interest you to know that most of the key establishments that you find in the state today were initiated or set up by Aper Aku; the Benue State Secretariat, Makurdi Modern Market, The Aper Aku Stadium, Benue Brewery, Benro Packaging, Benue Bottling Company, the Ikyogen Cattle Ranch, etc and the list isn’t even complete. Read Collins Uma’s Aper Aku the Greatest Man to Ever Serve as Benue State Governor . Rev. Moses Adasu set up the Benue State University.
In this piece my focus is only on the elected governments of George Akume and the immediate past governor, Gabriel Suswam. This is because the military governments were imposed on the people and therefore if they carried out any development it would just be a bonus. A government of the people, elected by the people bears more responsibility for development and therefore must be held accountable for whatever it does or doesn’t. More so, whatever wrong earlier military administrations that took over after Aper Aku or Moses Adasu must have done the governments in question had ample time to correct.
George Akume a man of humble beginnings rode on the crest of the momentous occasion of the return to civilian rule in 1999 to become governor with so much goodwill. The goodwill was fuelled by the joy of doing away with the tribulations the people suffered under the misrule of the military typified by the likes of Group Captain Joshua Obademi. And what was his reward to the good people of Benue State? Nothing. Absolutely nothing! He created a beautiful blueprint tagged Benue Advancement Plan (BAP) but it never took off, it remained just a plan. All George Akume did in his eight years as governor was hand out money and other government resources to people he liked. It is very heart rendering and even embarrassing when you realise that while George Akume was doling out our commonwealth as if it was from his personal purse, his colleague governor from the neighbouring Cross River State, Donald Duke, was mapping out and implementing a strategy that today has put Cross River State firmly on the pedestal of economic prosperity. On the other hand, most Benue indigenes especially in the neglected rural areas continue to wallow in penury, disease and ignorance.
Gabriel Suswam came in with a lot of promise. Surely a young dashing lawyer, with a sophisticated disposition capped with two terms as a House Member would do better than his predecessor we reasoned! And he started brightly, but after sometime in office and after being deservedly awarded the prestigious Thisday Award as Best Governor for Infrastructure, he flipped mode. Under his watch primary school teachers were owed half a year’s salary and their classrooms closed for a longer period, Benue State University and indeed staff of the entire Benue State civil service is owed salaries. His avowed infrastructural development has ground to a halt with contractors being owed. What would have been his one shining legacy, the Greater Benue Water Works, meant to provide Makurdi and its environs with portable water, remains without reticulation due to poor conceptual strategy on his part. Most people even attribute the gains of the marauding mercenaries ravaging parts of Benue State to his initial dalliance and lack of proactive response.
The above synopsis does not begin to capture the misgovernance Benue State has endured for the past 16 odd years; it is only a tip of the iceberg. While Benue indigenes living in the urban areas of the state have had a semblance of a modern life; periodic access to portable water, healthcare and security the same cannot be said of the majority of mostly subsistent farmers in the rural areas. The successive governments in view here have not laid any roadmap to developing agriculture and elevating it to a revenue generating venture thereby bringing hardship and misery upon the rural dwellers.
One would have expected that these governments following Aper Aku’s footsteps would invest in agriculture via research to improve yields; processing industries to create employment and market for produce; develop infrastructure to encourage investment. It begs the imagination to find feeder roads in the hinterlands impassable (it is common knowledge that some burials due to take place during the rainy season in the Guma axis are put off until the dry season due to the poor condition of roads there) or fruits (especially oranges and tomatoes) laying rotten by the roadsides due to lack of preservation and nonexistent market for them.
This lack of foresight by these governments have left the people improvised and reduced the once proud tribes of Tiv and Idoma to beggars who are also susceptible to the allure of sharing their land with the Fulani for money. The latter being one of the excuses for the attacks by the Fulani. Most importantly however, with the rural population improvised and without any economic resources defending themselves against such a modern force as that wrought upon them in the form of the Fulani herdsmen/mercenaries becomes impossible. Yes defending themselves you heard me right! If these governments had invested in agriculture and the people had the economic means to acquire modern weapons they would not have been left at the mercy of the Fulani herdsmen/mercenaries. The Tiv and Idoma all have a proud historical heritage as warriors and ordinarily cannot be cowed by anyone.
Let us not deceive ourselves, the Federal Government has its hands full combating Boko Haram and it also lacks the political will to deal decisively with or it is ready to confront the Fulani herdsmen/mercenaries. If not, how can one explain the impunity with which the killings in Benue are being carried out? Just like we get electricity through personal generating sets and water from private boreholes; Benue indigenes should gear up and get security through self-help. The Federal Government only gives lip service to the issue of protecting Benue lives; it is not walking the talk. Meanwhile my people continue to perish.
From the foregoing it is clear that Samuel Ortom has taken the reins of power in the state at quite a difficult period; Fulani herdsmen/mercenaries are wantonly killing Benue citizens, the state is wallowing in debt, almost all the tertiary institutions’ staff are on strike, the revenue accruable from the centre is dwindling, and violent crime is on the increase in the urban centres. These are only but some of the challenges the governor is faced with. He indeed has his work cut out for him. He has hit the ground running with the reversal of some of the controversial actions Suswam carried out at the twilight of his time in office; and his pronouncements about his vision.
This is a good beginning, but he must not make the mistakes (some of which are listed above) of the governors before him. He must do all within his power to set the state on the path of industrial growth such that the agricultural potentials of which the state is famous for will be harnessed to the betterment of the teeming youths, many who are jobless and are a fodder for the fire of crime ravaging the state. The state is in adversity and times maybe difficult but great leaders are known to prevail above difficult times. It was Horace who said “Adversity is wont to reveal genius”; for the sake of the Benue State primary school teacher who goes for months without a salary Ortom must be a genius, for the sake of the Benue civil servant whose salary is owed for months unending Ortom must be a genius, for the sake of the Benue students in the state’s tertiary institutions who are idling and wasting away due to strikes, while their peers in others state are in school Ortom must be a genius and finally for the sake of the victims of the senseless killings by the Fulani herdsmen/mercenaries Ortom must be a genius.
But in the meantime when next you learn that a Benue farmer is murdered by the Fulani herdsmen/mercenaries look no further for whom to blame. The governments of George Akume and Gabriel Suswam have so impoverished the people with their visionless governance that a once proud and vibrant people are vulnerable and incapable of upholding and defending their dignity.