By Tahav Agerzua and Iorliam Shija
There is a phrase in the Benue Anthem which had been Samuel Ortom’s governorship campaign theme song that summarizes his winning streak in life. “Though the giants may be on the way to hinder, God will surely give us victory.”
Before embarking on any campaign trip Ortom and his entourage would sing the song containing the phrase and pray. On return they would do same. This happened throughout the campaign period. Attempts by giants to hinder this man, born on 23rd April, 1961, abound but at every point he has come out victorious.
The first giant appeared on his path in 1979. He had been admitted into Idah Secondary Commercial College, Idah, Kogi State. He did two years in the school before his father’s retirement that year brought an abrupt end to his dream of completing formal secondary school education on account of inability to pay school fees.
Before this he had an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ and attributes the successes in his life to this. Indeed he continually quotes Job 36: 11 and 12 as the success or failure recipe for any person. But he had to drop out of school. However, instead of idling away at home to mourn his fate, he got into the Gboko Motor Park as a tout. It was in the park that a Good Samaritan taught him how to drive on account of his honesty and dedication to duty. Another helped him to obtain a drivers licence and soon after he became employed as a professional driver.
On recommendation, he became the driver and confidant of a prominent Gboko based Christian leader and politician, Samu Ihur of blessed memory. One day after close of work he hung around voluntarily in the house of his boss waiting in his usual manner, whether his services might still be required.
That wait opened a chapter in his life that contributed greatly in raising him up to his present status.
While sitting on a bench outside the house, the wind blew a piece of paper which was an advert for enrolment into the National School of Salesmanship, Manchester, toward him. He picked it, read and decided to enroll for it by correspondence, thus launching himself into the world of acquiring knowledge and certificates by correspondence.
Ortom thereafter acquired education through conventional and unconventional methods capping it up with a doctorate degree. The real story lies in the fact that he has fought with the poverty that tried to keep him down and defeated it.
He became local government chairman, party administrator at the state and federal levels as well as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. At one time he held two portfolios simultaneously. He was Minister of State, Industry, Trade and Investment as well as Supervising Aviation Minister.
Besides, he had been a successful businessman who founded the Oracle conglomerate that has offered employment to hundreds of youths. So successful is the outfit that it had established the Oracle Business Foundation Limited with tentacles into several aspects of philanthropy.
It handles redemptive, restorative and empowerment services. Under this foundation, Ortom set aside funds in St. Theresa’s Hospital, Makurdi and Rahama Hospital, Gboko road, Makurdi for treatment of hernia and snakebites free of charge to the patients.
Through the foundation, Ortom reaches out to prison inmates, preaching Christ as well as offering love and care while paying the fines of many who couldn’t. Another outreach of his has been the Oracle Driving School which turns out qualified drivers on a regular basis.
All these have demonstrated clearly that the giant called poverty had not been able to stop Samuel Ortom.
Flash back to 2000. Ortom had been state treasurer of the All Peoples Party, APP. Chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP realised his worth and wooed him into their ranks.
When he came in there was an opportunity for him to become state secretary of the party. Suddenly a giant emerged. A chieftain from his area who was Senator at the time vowed that it would not happen and another person was chosen. Later that that preferred person lost out and Ortom stepped into his shoes becoming one of the longest serving and most effective party secretaries any political party has ever had in the state. Again, a giant couldn’t stop him.
Ortom had completed his Judges Quarters residence and wanted the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, to be his first guest. He was putting finishing touches on it when armed robbers struck. Two days before the august visitor arrived, the robbers came to attack with seven AK47, three pistols and 640 rounds of live ammunition with their car and four robbers inside. They took away his driver and car. He went and stood at the gate and saw the ring leader driving away. He prayed and said if he served the living God faithfully, he would go after the robbers and arrest them.
By the grace of God, he went without a pin and at the Wurukum roundabout in Makurdi God in a divine manner helped him and he arrested the ring leader. The man had three pistols and one AK47 corked and ready for action and yet, God in a divine manner gave Ortom the capacity to grab him and call for support. The robber was arrested and handed over to the police. It was at the police station that he attempted to escape and they shot him but Ortom said he had wanted him to live and give testimony one day. The following day the robber enquired from the Commissioner of Police when he was in pains (his two legs were broken by the same gun he brought to rob) that he wanted to know the manner of man that arrested him.
The commissioner asked him, why do you want to know the man? He said that something mysteriously happened to him when the man arrested him. That he became very weak and had no strength to struggle. That he believed that Ortom had something extraordinary. Indeed, Ortom admitted that the extraordinary thing he has is Jesus Christ. He recovered his car and driver. Again, another giant couldn’t stop him.
On October 24th, 2014, Ortom resigned his position as minister to seek the governorship ticket in Benue State on PDP platform. Manipulation by the then leader of the party in the state ensured that he was edged out and made to come third in the primaries. Thereafter, he defected to the All Progressives Congress where he picked the ticket, ran and won. Before his entry into the APC, that party had five governorship aspirants engaged in a struggle as to who would emerge as flagbearer among them. In the ‘umbrella’ party, there had been 20 governorship aspirants, but only eight ended up at the manipulated finishing line with Chief Dr Ortom in the third position.
The PDP had earlier fixed its primaries for 29th November, 2014 before that of the APC which was scheduled for December fifth. However, the PDP, at the influence of the leader of the party in Benue State at the time, revised the time table and moved the governorship primaries to December 8 foreclosing any chance of any of its losers moving over to the APC which had planned to conclude the exercise before that date. Close observers noted that the giant, who was Benue State Governor at the time had influenced the shift, particularly, to block Ortom’s chances of crossing over to the APC if he lost at the PDP primaries.
Like the Biblical story of Lazarus and the rich man, a big chasm had been fixed such that none could cross over from either side to the other. But that was as far as man was concerned.
Did the former minister contrive this arrangement? Certainly not. Flashback to pre-primary events.
At a PDP state caucus held at the Aminu Isah Kontagora Arts Theatre in Makurdi shortly before the ward congresses of November 2014, Governor Gabriel Suswam, who held the reins of the umbrella in Benue State, extracted a commitment from gubernatorial aspirants on oath that they would support whosoever emerged as party candidate.
Ortom and one other aspirant refused to take the oath and insisted that they would submit to the decision of the party on the condition that the primaries was transparent, free, and fair. Subsequently, it became common knowledge that the PDP ward congresses could have been anything but transparent, free and fair as the majority of party members were disenfranchised with the deliberate objective of excluding or putting some aspirants, including the former minister, at disadvantage.
Ortom and a few other aggrieved members took up the matter with the national leadership of the party to no avail. At this juncture, stakeholders of his governorship project across the state advised him to seek an alternative platform and mandated him to open discussion with other political parties, which he did but later retreated when PDP leaders promised to address his concerns but subsequently never did. The unprecedented intimidation and inducement of delegates to vote for an anointed candidate and how the PDP primaries were won and lost have now become history. A giant, once again, had stood on the way to hinder.
However, in the evening of December 9, 2014, stakeholders of the Ortom Governorship Organisation met with him at the Oracle Farms in Makurdi, and reiterated their earlier suggestion that he should seek an alternative platform having exhausted opportunities in the PDP.
The groundswell of opinion was that there were only two options: to go with the APC or the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA. In unforseen circumstances, the window in the APC still existed on account of a curious twist of events. One of the party’s gubernatorial aspirants had gone to court and obtained an injunction which restrained the party from conducting its primary on the grounds that he had been excluded from the exercise.
The injunction which was later vacated on December 10, 2014, following an order that the aggrieved aspirants be included was followed by a litany of others from some of the other four aspirants on various grounds such that the party stood the risk of not submitting any name for the governorship election within the INEC timetable since the injunctions had made the conduct of the primaries impossible.
Was Ortom responsible for the injunctions? Not at all. However, at the time he emerged on the scene, everything seemed to have worked in his favour. The APC had amended its constitution in October, 2014 to provide fertile grounds for new members to contest elections the very day they got into the party provided they were given the requisite waver by the National Secretariat. It had also made room for consensus candidature.
With these provisions, some of the giants that stood in the path of Ortom becoming Governor had been removed as his name was submitted as the consensus APC governorship candidate on 11th December, 2014. Time and space would fail if one were to record how there were miraculous interventions for him to pick the APC nomination form and how the judiciary went on strike nationwide making it impossible for him to be stopped through the judicial process.
In the morning of April 12, 2015, a day after the governorship and assembly elections nationwide, the giant that had stood on his way in the PDP called to congratulate him and say his victory was divine. Yes, it was. That giant couldn’t hinder him! Just as the subsequent judicial process up to the Supreme Court.
Fast forward to July, 2018. Ortom was on the verge of contesting for re-election the next year when the leader of the APC in Benue State, Senator George Akume, suddenly gave him a red card to quit the game. Another giant had stepped into the middle of the second term road. The awesome federal might was moved in to instigate the State Assembly to impeach him. However, through deft political strategy, Ortom moved back to the PDP and picked the party’s ticket for the second term on 1st October, 2018.
Subsequently, in the General Elections of February, 2019, Ortom clearly won his election and fulfilled all the requirements to be declared winner. Yet another giant, called inconclusive, emerged. Once again, Ortom defeated this giant on March 21, 2019 to emerge re-elected for a second term.
On Saturday 20th March, 2021, Governor Ortom, a month before his 60th Birthday Anniversary, ran more than one and half kilometres to escape assassination from Fulani herdsmen militia. On that fateful day the living God whom he serves gave him agility to outrun the messengers of evil. These giants couldn’t stop him.
The Governor is also overcoming paucity of funds, security challenges and a hostile federal might to keep faith with the Benue people through the execution of milestone projects. This is clearly a man giants cannot stop.